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Heaven’s Herb – Part Three

To read “Heaven’s Herb” from the beginning, click here.

To read Part Two, click here.

Deciding to use the amrita on my own was more difficult than I had imagined it would be. The preparations would be easy enough to mimic, but the warning that its consumption required a chaperone gave me pause. It was only after I had sat for a time in the darkness, staring directly at the plant, that I began to feel more confident. There were whispers speaking to me – perhaps just the blood rushing in my ears, but maybe the sound of the herb growing – that offered the encouragement I needed. I set my kettle to boiling, then selected a leaf that looked to be about the same size and shape as those with which my friends and I had been presented. The sharp aroma filled my apartment as I sliced the cutting down its middle, and I watched with the beginnings of awe as its color shifted from green to red on my skillet. When the ruby beads seeped up to the surface, I pulled the leaf from the heat and deposited it into a waiting mug. The tendrils of pink explored the steaming water, and after steeling myself for the burn that I knew was coming, I downed the tincture in a single swallow.

My bed was not as soft as Yannis’s cushions, but it was enough.

The world stretched out in front of me.

I surrendered to the darkness.

There is an effect, present only in dreams, that can alter what a person thinks has occurred. It mirrors the sensation of remembrance, but attaches itself to new images and feelings. This phenomenon can skew the progress of time and rearrange events, or even influence the unwary into drawing connections between unrelated concepts. The opening of a book might lead to the closing of a door, and this will make perfect sense, even (or especially) if the dreamer had first closed the same door on their own. Someone half-asleep but dreaming might trick themselves into following a given thread of thought, only to look back and find that they are lost in a tapestry of nonsense. Nightmares in particular bring a menacing element to this experience, as they snare their victims in an inescapable weave. Attempts to break free only tighten the bonds, and the terror persists even in waking.

I did not dream while being held by the amrita, but I remained trapped nonetheless.

My first thought upon coming back to the world was that my throat hurt. The rawness registered as though from miles away, muted by a sense of relaxed whimsy, but it was still noticeable enough to give me doubts about whether I had truly managed to let go. Appropriately, those doubts themselves hinted that I had again resisted. An unpleasant tingling in my hand pulled me still further into the realm of apprehension, and I discovered that I had fallen onto the floor. Blinking felt difficult, and despite there being little to see in the dim light, my vision seemed blurry and uneven. My stomach churned as I pushed myself upright, bringing the taste of bile to my tongue.

This was not the relaxed emergence that I had wanted, though the previous sense of simultaneous reverence and contentment had returned. I held my arms out, stretching, but stopped when my fingers encountered an unexpected object next to me. Somehow, I discovered, my mug had been knocked to the carpet. Its presence struck me as delightfully peculiar, given that I had left it in the kitchen. I nearly stumbled over other items as I stood and walked from my bedroom, and when I finally turned on my living room light, I burst out into uncontrollable laughter at what I saw.

My entire apartment was in shambles, with not a single one of my possessions having been left untouched. Furniture had been toppled, clothes had been thrown about, and the contents of drawers and cabinets had been strewn in every direction. Only one corner seemed to have escaped whatever force had done this, as I noted when I saw that the amrita was still upright and intact. It maintained its place on the inner windowsill, a sentinel looking out over the carnage. My mood remained pleasant and jovial, but even that inner warmth could not mask the insistent alarm in my mind as I stepped gingerly over obstacles toward the plant. The shadows it cast seemed to have grown still longer, even though a brief look at my cellphone – which had thankfully remained in my pocket – confirmed that only an hour had passed. I had little time to contemplate that detail, however, as my attention was quickly drawn to the shallow scratches which had been made in the wall beneath the window.

A still-capped ballpoint pen lie on the carpet, flecks of white paint clinging to its ends. I let loose a childlike giggle as I imagined the scenario implied by that, picturing someone so desperate to leave a message that they had forgotten the necessity of exposing the ink. The writing was indecipherable; little more than rough gouges in an arrangement of haphazard lines. Twice, then, the author had failed, and their frantic thoughts were all but lost as a result. Perhaps, I mused, an intent analysis could divine some sort of meaning… but the chaotic patterns in the disorder behind me were much more enthralling, even when viewed in the reflection of the blackness behind the window.

I cannot honestly say that I was in denial. As I well knew, it was all but certain that I had been responsible for both the disarray and the markings on the wall. That conclusion slipped from my mental grasp each time it occurred to me, though, always being replaced by either a new distraction or a wandering tangent, with even my few attempts at focusing doing little more than pushing the idea away. There was a blind spot in my memory, and it served as a deterrent against any inquiry about what might have taken place while I was allegedly unconscious. The uneasiness remained, as did an intangible question about the herb’s true nature, but both remained out of examinable reach.

It soon occurred to me that I had still yet to eat, though the prospect of reveling in an exploration of flavors was far more compelling than any physical hunger which might have prompted the thought. While sitting amidst the smashed plates and misplaced cookery that covered my kitchen floor, I gorged myself on everything from handfuls of freezer-burned sorbet to dry noodles, stopping only when the tightening ache beneath my sternum eclipsed the pleasure of my indiscriminate feasting. My bed was cold when I finally returned to it, though the coolness was a welcome respite from the heat I had not noticed I was feeling until crawling between the sheets.

Sleep came easily.

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That my job performance suffered should come as no surprise. While there are doubtlessly places where wide-eyed stares and absentmindedness are considered appealing traits in an employee, they lend themselves poorly to an environment of fast-paced deadlines and insistent coworkers. Monday passed without much incident, but I knew that my strange behavior had drawn attention. I did what I could to avoid my fellow employees, though it was not self-preservation that motivated me: Each glimpse I got of a passing face sent horrible images through my mind’s eye, tormenting me with visions of grime-filled crags surrounding disapproving scowls. These were not people, I felt, but caricatures of depravity and decrepitude; stains upon a tapestry that would have been welcoming without them. By two days later, I had been summoned to a superior’s office, then sent home with instructions to either return the following week with a clear head or not return at all.

In truth, I was relieved, as my existence had become little more than a sleepwalk through a barrage of hypnotizing senses followed by a hasty trip back to water the amrita. I occasionally wondered how Robert, Jeff, and Ann were faring in their own lives, but my attempts at contacting them went perpetually unanswered. The ever-present longing for a connection only grew in those moments, amplified as much by the absence of communication as by the prospect that I would still be unwashed in their eyes. I questioned whether they would view me as I had those around me – as an impure visage of ignorance and antipathy – or if that apparent rancor would even be evident to them. More frustrating still was that I lacked an excuse to pay another unannounced visit to Robert’s house, fearful as I was that the desire on its own would separate me further from my friends.

The solitude itself eventually presented an option, and with it came a second thought: I could make the journey with the herb in tow, under the guise of presenting it as a gift. My desire to share would no doubt be welcome, and it would grant me passage into the lives of those who had left me. I would be their watcher as they once again partook… and I would see firsthand what occurred while they slept. Though I might not find the reconciliation I so desired, at least my misgivings about the herb (and its effect on me) would be quieted, if only in part.

As it had been before, Robert’s door was unlocked. The three had changed their clothes and their positions in the living room, but beyond that, there was no sign that any time had passed since I was last in attendance: Ann lie sprawled out on the couch, her head resting on Robert’s lap, while Jeff sat on the floor, using the armchair more as a backrest than for its intended purpose. Once again, they greeted me with warm recognition and apparent glee, seeming to not even notice the plant that I carried. I placed it on the coffee table, then resolved to make no mention of it until someone else had.

Evening approached and passed with maddening languidness. A cycle of sorts began to make itself evident, in which I was first beguiled into relaxing (and indeed, into forgetting my goals and my worries), then harshly snatched back into a state of clarity by the pounding in my chest each time the conversation lulled. This sequence repeated a dozen times or more, causing me to waver between peace and near-panic with every instance. It was Jeff who finally disrupted the rhythm, when he offered what may have been intended as a joke.

“Okay, so, like,” he began, stifling chuckles of anticipation, “what even is that?” The others looked first to the young man’s outstretched finger, then followed the direction of his gesture to the amrita.

“It’s… a plant!” replied Robert. Laughter filled the room, escaping even my lips.

Jeff leaned forward, furrowing his eyebrows in a show of exaggerated scrutiny. “Yeah, but what is it doing?”

“Sitting there!”

More merriment followed, and I was swept up in it. My plan had been all but erased from my mind, suppressed by the gaiety that made all else irrelevant. Had it not been for our heightened senses, the moment may have been lost, but Ann’s next words restored my agency.

“It smells familiar,” she said. Robert shifted as the young woman rose to a sitting position. “Almost like the other night.”

Jeff’s eyes widened at hearing this. “Hey! Hey, yeah! Yeah, it’s Heaven’s Herb!” He turned to face me with a grin. “You brought Heaven’s Herb!”

“We should make some of that tea!” Robert continued. I could feel my face growing pale and my ears burning, a sensation I had only previously encountered after having been caught in a lie. “We could do it right here!”

“Nah,” answered Jeff. A sickeningly cold sensation hit me as the single syllable reached my ears. “Nah, we should do it in the kitchen. There’s a stove in there!”

Once again, the others giggled and snorted with amusement, but I was brought only the relief of an undiscovered traitor. Preparations were made quickly after that, with the four of us leaving our places and walking down the hall. I noticed that the door to Andre’s room was still closed, and I briefly wondered what had befallen him, but the thought left my mind as the carpet beneath my feet gave way to linoleum. Although we had spoken nothing of it, I could detect that the decision had somehow been made for me to prepare the tincture. It was easy enough to assume that the responsibility fell on the amrita’s guardian, but I saw it as still more evidence of my distance from the others.

My hands moved nearly of their own accord as I boiled the water, heated a skillet, and arranged a collection of three mugs on the counter. The steak knife I used to cleave through the leaves was clumsy and dull, but adequate enough for making each slit after I forced myself to concentrate. I felt the first pangs of doubt as the spicy scent filled my lungs and the crimson pearls began to appear, yet those same manifestations strengthened my resolve: The point of no return had been passed, and answers would soon be presented to me.

“Wait, why are we in here?” Robert suddenly asked from behind me.

“Heaven’s Herb!” came Ann’s response.

“Right, but why are we in here? We should lie down on the couch or whatever.”

Murmurs of agreement were offered, and I was left alone with my endeavor. For some reason, it struck me as darkly absurd that they had all walked from one side of the house to the other, only to make the same trip in reverse mere minutes later. It was a mundane and innocuous event on its surface, yet it seemed to mirror my own actions over the past week: Not only had I driven back and forth from Robert’s house and vacillated between tranquility and torment, but the rest of my activities had also been governed by similar routines. Had my existence always been a series of recursive loops, I wondered, or had it adopted that quality after the night in Yannis’s hut? Were my friends trapped in similar coils, or had their aimlessness freed them?

Pink clouds filled the steaming water, and I carried the mugs back to where my companions were seated. Another stab of alarm leapt into my chest when it seemed like their purpose there had been supplanted by a continuance of conversation, but the unwieldy weight in my hands was all the reminder that was necessary. With enthusiastic smiles, the three took their beverages, then downed them all in unison as I stood by and observed. The pulse of my heartbeat quickened as they settled back… and a moment later, I was the only one left awake.

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The telltale sighs of deep, relaxed breathing became audible. I stared intently at each pair of closed eyes, looking for signs of the movement that would indicate a dream. Seconds crawled by with no such evidence becoming visible, leading me to fear that I would learn nothing and remain disconnected. Just as the last embers of my hope were threatening to extinguish themselves, however, they were reignited by the sight of Ann slowly turning her head. I rushed to her side and leaned as close as I could without touching her, searching once more for anything that might provide answers.

Her eyes opened.

There is no word for the sound that ripped itself free of the young woman’s throat. It was at once a howl of absolute terror and a shriek of utter agony, as unmistakable and yet indescribable as the tortured expression that deformed her face. I stumbled backward, panicking, and felt my fingers clutching my ears as Jeff and Robert began to scream, too. Their backs arched, their limbs convulsed, and their raw, primal wailing went on for what seemed like an impossible length of time, continuing even after I was roughly grabbed from behind and dragged out of the room.

I did not struggle. My legs backpedaled just enough to keep me upright, but the nightmarish cacophony dominated my senses. I could hear it even after a door was slammed behind me, and its echoes remained in my skull until a brutal slap – the second one to hit me, I realized – brought Andre’s presence into focus.

“What the hell did you do?!” he demanded. I looked around, not answering, and saw that I was seated on the young man’s bed. “Are you working with that creep? Is that it? Answer me!” Another blow stung my cheek, and my vision blurred with tears. The screaming seemed to have stopped, but it was still all too fresh in my mind.

I held up a hand, wordlessly begging for a reprieve.

Andre glared down at me, and for the first time, I noticed how disheveled his appearance was. Several days’ worth of blond stubble shaded his chin and his neck, and his normally pristine hair was a mess of oily and sweat-soaked tangles. A repulsive smell emanated from somewhere nearby, with the dark stains on my captor’s shirt being the likely source. He was illuminated only by a bare bulb from a desk lamp, which cast curious shadows, like…

“Stay here!” the young man barked. “Don’t go drifting off!” I blinked twice and shook my head, trying to keep myself in control. For the first time, tones of sympathy and concern softened Andre’s glower. “Look, just hang on.” He opened a drawer in his nightstand, pulling forth a large pocketknife. “This won’t feel good, but it will help.”

A sharp pain flashed up my arm, and a line of blood followed the blade. I grimaced, pulling against Andre’s grip on my wrist, realizing in the same instant that he had taken hold of me. Unpleasant though it was, the wound had its intended effect: I was spurred into lucidity more quickly than if I had been drenched with icy water. Unlike the duller discomforts I had so easily dismissed before, this one refused to be relegated to the realm of other sensations.

Andre nodded, apparently satisfied with my reaction. “Good. I’m going to give this to you, alright?” He closed the pocketknife and held it out to me. “If you start to… you know, go away… cut yourself again. Can I trust you to do that?”

I offered a nod of my own, then took the tool and held it tightly in my palm.

“Okay. I want answers now.”

Not for the first time in recent memory, I found myself struggling to explain my perspective. After all, how could Andre hope to comprehend what I had been through? He had never seen the filthy scowls of passing strangers, nor felt the surreal seduction of a previously unnoticed texture against his skin. What surrogate did he have for the isolation invoked by an incomplete transformation; for the innocent wonder of the amrita’s enchantment?

The uncertainty must have been evident of my face, because Andre spoke again before I could. “I think I understand. I know you don’t believe me, but seriously… I get it.” He glanced over his shoulder at the closed door behind him. “We need to get out of here. Someone might have called the cops. You can tell me everything in the car. You drove here, right?”

In response, I simply gave Andre my keys.

Our escape from the house was immediate, interrupted only when I darted back to the kitchen to retrieve the amrita. Andre protested at first, but relented when he realized that its presence might cause trouble if discovered. We hurried up the street to where I had parked, and I dropped into the passenger seat as Andre took the wheel. The vehicle’s forward motion called to mind images of a flowing river, and another red lined joined the first on my arm as we drove away.

“So, I guess it didn’t work on you?” Andre asked. “The Heaven’s Herb, I mean.” He glanced at the pot between my legs before turning his attention back to the road. “I should have guessed. Those three have been together practically nonstop since they got back from Kenwood.” His words made perfect sense, but his meter was faltering and disjointed. There was a kind of unhinged hysteria hiding just beneath the surface. “It’s been horrible. They sit there, you know? Talking… but it’s like they aren’t really there. I couldn’t even leave my room. I kept remembering the… the screaming.”

Vivid recollections flashed through my brain, and I shuddered involuntarily.

Andre clenched his jaw and spoke through his teeth. “I heard it after I left. Inside the hut. I just started running. I had to schedule another Lyft. I thought about calling someone, but I didn’t know what would happen to you.” He adjusted his grip on the steering wheel, guiding us toward some unknown destination. “I couldn’t think about anything else for days. That’s when I started doing research. I think you’re an asura now.” I didn’t recognize the word, as Andre surmised after looking in my direction. “It means ‘barbarian.’ Well, it means a lot of things. ‘Barbarian’ is one of them, though. I found some conspiracy forum that talked about Heaven’s Herb, and someone said that people who don’t… change, I guess… start getting all weird. Like you.”

I could scarcely deny the accusation. That same dreadful longing threatened to overwhelm me again, and for the third time in as many minutes, I gouged a thin streak into my arm.

“Careful with that,” Andre said. “We can’t go to the hospital. Everyone who does gets locked away. They say it’s a government plot – the forum people, I mean – but it sounds like patients get diagnosed with dementia or something.” We took another turn, and I finally recognized the route to the highway. “That’s if the stories are even true. A lot of them sound made-up. One of them mentioned a cure, though.”

That caught my attention. If there was a way to be free of this madness, I wanted it… and yet, the prospect of losing the otherworldly euphoria was almost too sad to consider.

I pressed my thumbnail into the slashes on my arm.

“The problem is,” continued Andre, “nobody can agree on what the hell it is. Some people say it’s a different plant, other people say it’s just a different way of preparing it. I know how we can find out, though.”

He did not need to elaborate; I knew where we were going.

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Andre kept talking throughout the entire drive to the abandoned vineyard, perhaps making up for his self-imposed seclusion. Wild theories dominated his monologue, ranging from borderline insane to disconcertingly plausible. I fixated on all of them, combining the adrenaline they prompted with the stinging ache in my arm to keep my head clear. When at last we arrived to the dirt road in front of Yanni’s hut, the car slowed to a halt and we climbed out into the night.

“Why did you bring that with you?” It was only after Andre had spoken that I realized I was holding the amrita. “He probably won’t be happy when he finds out you stole it. That’s how you got it, right? You stole it?” Once again, I couldn’t deny the indictment. “Here, look, leave it underneath the truck. If we need it to make the cure, we’ll grab it on the way out.”

Something very odd occurred to me then. As I begrudgingly followed Andre’s advice, I noticed our surroundings as though they had been invisible to me since our arrival. The rusty pickup truck was too large to miss, and yet somehow I had until that moment. Even the hut itself – set before the graveyard of rotting wooden poles – had been little more than a backdrop, and our walk from the car might as well have taken place in a dream. I thought to blame the darkness for my lack of perception, but I knew that my preoccupation with the plant had been the more likely culprit. When I rose from depositing the herb in its hiding place, I saw that Andre had retrieved a shovel from the truck’s bed.

“You know,” he said, “just in case.”

We did not bother knocking. The door swung outward as soon as Andre pulled on its handle, and he stormed into the hut with an air of confidence. Yannis was seated on one of his cushions, staring at something on a laptop computer.

“Hey!” the man shouted. He jumped to his feet, balling his hands into fists. “What are you doing?!” In truth, my own thoughts were similar to his. This sudden assault was far from the most effective means of beginning a dialogue… but the damage had been done.

“We just want to talk!” Andre yelled back. “Just talk!”

“That is my shovel!”

Though I was watching him from behind, I could tell that Andre’s gaze didn’t waver. “We just walk to talk!” he said again. “Tell us about the cure!”

A look of confusion crossed Yannis’s bearded face. “What are you saying? Get out! I have a gun!” He took a step backward, apparently in the direction of the refrigerator near the back of the hut’s interior, but tripped on the cushion where he had been sitting. Andre seized his chance as the man fell, rushing forward and brandishing the shovel like a spear.

“Tell us about the cure!” Andre repeated. His voice cracked, and I could see his arms quivering. I stepped forward, moving around so that I could make eye contact with Yannis.

“Please!” the man said, looking up at me. “He is crazy!”

Andre pressed the tip of the shovel against Yannis’s throat. “No, I’m not! You’re a liar! You sent that girl to tell us about Heaven’s Herb!”

“What girl?!”

“You know what girl!”

Yannis squirmed beneath Andre’s onslaught, reaching up to knock the shovel away. He rolled to one side and scrabbled on the floor, but was stopped by a savage strike to the back of his head. The man curled into a ball and yowled in pain, reaching up to cover where his skull had been hit.

“Stop!” he cried. “Stop, please! You say you want to talk! You are here to kill me!”

“Don’t try that again!” Andre replied. He looked over his shoulder at me. “Go see if he really has a gun.”

I searched the area where Yannis had been heading, and sure enough, a black shape was visible behind the refrigerator. It felt unexpectedly light as I picked it up, and I discovered that while it looked real enough, the pistol was of the variety that fired plastic pellets.

Andre laughed aloud. “Oh, you have a gun, do you? What, were you going to annoy us to death?”

“Please,” Yannis moaned. “Please, you do not… my daughter.”

“What are you talking about?”

Yannis pulled one hand away from his head and made a slow, calming gesture. He rolled over, revealing a face that was streaked with tears. “There is a cure, but I cannot give it to you. My daughter, she is asura.”

That time, I recognized the word.

“What, a barbarian?” Andre asked.

“No, not barbarian. Slave.” Yannis sat up, and Andre kept the shovel held ready to swing. “I did not lie. I spoke of amrita. I did not say there are two parts. The drink will make you new. The fruit will make you whole.” He shook his head and winced. “It is very rare. Rarer than amrita alone. It must be cultivated.”

Andre took a step forward and snarled. “How?”

How odd, I thought, that my own persistence did not match his own.

“You drink amrita,” said Yannis, “you find peace. You expel all anger. You expel all darkness. Some resist. They keep a piece of their soul.”

“This is bullshit.”

“It is the truth!” The man thumped a hand on his chest. “The soul holds our evil! It holds our pain! We are born without souls. We cultivate them as we grow. Like amrita. Amrita makes you new by releasing your soul. It feeds upon this darkness, like other plants on air. Enough darkness, and amrita will flower. Enough evil, it will bear fruit. This is all around us, in this room.” He gestured at the planters that lined the room. “I do not cultivate amrita for money. My daughter is asura.”

“You said that already,” Andre replied. “What does it mean? Is my friend asura?” He jerked his head at me.

“I do not know. I swear it!” Yannis held up his arm as Andre made a motion as if to swing the shovel. “Some who keep a piece of their soul go on. They feel good, then normal. Some become asura; become slaves. They are drawn to amrita. They are…” He paused, apparently searching for the right word. “They always search for something they cannot find. Always alone. Driven to madness. My daughter is asura. I cultivate amrita to bring her back.”

A moment passed in silence. “What about the others?” asked Andre. “They changed all the way.”

“Deva,” answered Yannis. “They will stay at peace until cultivating new souls. They are like children. Innocent, without guilt. This is eternal life. Eternal youth. Amrita tea does this.”

“What…” Andre faltered as he began to speak. “What happens if they drink more of it?”

“They will die.” Cold dread washed over me as Yannis continued. I could see Andre’s grip tightening on the shovel’s handle. “If amrita cannot purge a soul, it purges life. Asura can drink again and again with no effect. Sometimes they do things. They write poetry. They destroy. Anything to release their sadness. This is why amrita requires a chaperone. Deva have no sadness to release.”

Andre stood, perfectly still, for several seconds.

Then he turned to face me.

“You killed them.” The words came out as flat, dull tones. “Do you get that? You killed them.” He stared into my eyes, visibly seething with anguish and rage. “What, are you deaf?! Say something!”

I could only stare back.

“Your friend cannot speak.” Yannis stood up behind Andre. “Asura are without voices.”

The statement seemed ludicrous… and yet, as I thought back on the days since first imbibing the amrita, I could recall nothing that I had spoken aloud. Moreover, I had indeed been searching, and the scratches I had left on my wall could very well have been an attempt at letting my unconscious mind run free. Destruction had certainly come easily enough – I caught myself happily smiling at the image of my ransacked apartment – and it was true that I had been inexorably drawn to the amrita.

These inner epiphanies were interrupted when Andre howled with unbridled fury, bringing his weapon up over his head. I should have cowered or flinched, but my limbs didn’t move. Perhaps I knew that nothing would befall me, because before he could swing, Yannis wrenched the shovel from Andre’s hands and slammed it down with a sickening crack.

Andre fell to the floor. His arms and legs jerked as Yannis brought the shovel down again and again, the sound of metal on bone giving way to wet crunches. Horror and revulsion gripped me as I watched, but as so many such feelings had before, they disappeared into a blur of fascinating sensations. The young man eventually stopped twitching, and Yannis wiped spatters of blood from his forehead.

“Come,” he said. “We will bury him in the vineyard.”

We took turns digging, creating a hole that was as deep as it was long. I had never dug a grave before – not even for a deceased pet – and I found the experience to be remarkably soothing. My previous disquiet had all but entirely vanished, and the tingle of sweat touching the cuts on my arm was almost pleasant. I felt neither remorse nor fear, though I did remind myself of Andre’s deranged behavior since pulling me from the chorus of deathly wails. I could not think of him as human, really: He had merely been another corrupted creature.

When our task was finished, Yannis pushed Andre’s body into the pit, then turned to me with a sad smile.

“Do you pray?” he asked.

I stepped forward, and the man opened his arms to embrace me.

In response, I reached out – having prepared for this moment – and plunged Andre’s pocketknife into Yannis’s throat, just beneath the filthy lines on his face. A fast, hard motion severed one artery or another, and the man gurgled as he lurched backward. He reached for me, clawing at the air, through which black jets of fluid spurted out into the starlight and landed invisibly on the grass. Those geysers suddenly stopped coming as the man toppled over, and the grave welcomed its second occupant.

I buried two bodies that night. Replacing the upturned grass was like assembling a puzzle, and the first rain would wash away any lingering blood. I knew that the hut was too isolated for anyone to visit by accident, and was far enough from neighbors that the frequent screams would draw no attention. Still, my work was far from finished: The corpses of my friends would one day be discovered, and the call logs on their cellphones might be traced to me. Yannis had spoken of a daughter, too, which suggested that he might have other family who would miss him.

More compelling even than those details, though, was the violet bud I had noticed while hiding my plant beneath the pickup truck. It was small, but as I had learned, it was a sign that my salvation was within reach.

For that reason, I will stay here, offering the scalding tea to any who ask for it. I will cultivate the herb, providing it that immaterial nourishment which brings forth its bounty. Even if there were another choice, I doubt if I would take it.

There isn’t, though, of course. This is how it was always going to be.

After all, and as you well know… amrita requires a chaperone.


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Credit: Peter O’Shamseign

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Creepy Pasta

by cnkguy
Heaven’s Herb – Part Three

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