Enjoy a short story: The Mechanical Sunflower

And by the seventh day, the silver bullet had grown into a beautiful sunflower.

It was fantastical in more ways than one. The yellow-petaled plants, heralded for their modified carbon-capturing abilities, had only existed in my mind until then – “specialized zoning,” they called it. Of course, we subordinates would not be endowed with the recipe for salvation, but surely this perversion of nature could not be part of the plan – a simple bullet did not just sprout a stem and leaves. Nevertheless, I found myself responsible for this complete mystery of life, following what I thought to be a well-hatched plan. It looked and behaved just like a sunflower, and so I believed we were safe – we’d make it out and it would be a miracle. I had no idea just how it would ruin us. 

Scattered among fields guarded by only the highest of security, these flowers were programmed to face the shimmery cities, our new suns. The foremen, though, could not grant the rest of us the same liberation from the Burning – those most fit to survive had to be prioritized. It was the same Burning in which your mother, my sister, had perished – the cost of human maintenance had totaled countless dollars, yes, but even more bodies. It was a price the authorities decided we could afford; the labor of any pack animal became expendable for another’s. Once, cleanup hadn’t come to our sector for days to pick up the discarded cogs of their machine – what a shame, was all they could say, shaking their heads in manufactured sympathy, what a shame.

With our resolve slowly fizzling out, I knew something had to be done. I told you naught of my plan, just that I was headed to the grocery store a few towns over. Really, I’d gotten the idea into my head that I would bring us home a sunflower – tiptoe past the fortified walls, slip quietly through the automated soldiers, and prevent us from being Burned ever again. As I embarked on my quest, the air that night was not cool, per se, but more tolerable than it had been in months. After trudging through the gloom for a while, I sensed it – turning back would be impossible now that I had heard the fragile heartbeat of the flower, and officially been ensnared by dreams of the city.

Brackets of thorns greeted me upon arrival at the field. It was not as protected as I had thought, but I would still have to be careful. Climbing through the endless brambles wasn’t something I had wanted to do, but nothing could quell my resolve now. Keeping as quiet as I could while thistles scored my body left and right, I couldn’t help but think that the Gardeners could do better to maintain the floral labyrinth. Though the sunflowers stood proud as always, weeds threatened to overtake them, and supply of the precious flower seemed sparse. Allowing my breath to return, I looked up at the open, quiet sky. It was then that I realized there were stars out – small, but still present. They fascinated me for minutes, possibly even hours on end. But fate, ever vengeful, decided I had made it in all too easy, that I had overstepped my boundaries, and sent out a bullet that whizzed just past my skull. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact location of my assailant, or just how many there were, I just knew I had to run. A hailstorm of shots followed it. Against the will of every bone in my body, I squeezed back through the thorny barrier. Voices shouting commands around me became more and more muffled as I curled up and waited for death…

It was not the Reaper that reached me then, but the voice of hope. The pot, probably containing seeds not old enough to be planted in the ground yet, was in my hands before I knew what was happening. It was then that I let myself weep for this bloom of fortune. In the shadow of the factory spires, I began the long trek home.

When I got back, still starry-eyed and twinkling, you were even less happy than usual – with me, I didn’t think so – the swell of your face by the window was so common I had forgotten to ask what you were waiting for. How sure I had been of myself then! The thought that I was making the wrong choice, or hurting you in some way, was impossible to someone who thought himself holding a pot that contained the world. My fault imperceptible, I didn’t understand why you went to bed without eating. It was funny – you didn’t even notice the clearly-foreign object as you passed me on the way to your room. Nevertheless, even if I had screwed up then, I thought, you’d come around when I fixed you. When I fixed us. 

The water of the tap came out the most clear it had ever been when I placed the pot in the sink for its first drink. Our well was hardly reliable, but much better than any sort of “rain” it would have received out there. I wasn’t sure how much to give it, but my thought process concerning this matter was soon interrupted by a noise I did not expect. Instead of softly pattering the soil and soaking into it like they should, droplets practically seemed to bounce off of it. Curious, I turned off the spigot and began to gently part the dirt with my fingers, and they soon struck gold – well, silver. The bullet was a small thing, really, almost… soft to the touch? I wasn’t put off, though. To be fair, none of us had ever seen the production of the sunflowers’ “seeds”, so maybe this was normal. And anyway, extracting the thing seemed impossible – it was as if invisible roots were keeping it firmly in place.

It was a most peculiar thing, the way the moon shone on the soft tufts of your rug that night, giving them the appearance of rolling waves of grain. Though I felt as if I could stay by the plant’s side forever, basking in its freshness, you were the one who needed its healing touch the most. The walls watched in anticipation as I placed the pot on your dresser and waited for it to grow.

My head was beginning to clear up over those next few days, no doubt due to the newest member of our family. I think that was the first time I had ever seen you smile. Sometimes, I’d walk by your room just to get a whiff of its fresh air again. Once or twice I swore I heard it murmuring to you. If this was its way of keeping its retainers alive, though, we had no chance but to continue to bow before it. It was utterly enchanting. And it was developing faster and faster. I wasn’t even sure that it needed this much water, but I couldn’t stop – I liked the plink! of drops on soil too much now to stop.

However, when I awoke one morning to find your room practically smothered in a field of brilliant blooms, vines covering the floor all the way up to your forehead on the pillow, I decided it couldn’t exist near you anymore. Sometimes I pretended it was to keep you safe. Sometimes I knew it was because I wanted its powers all for myself.

“Uncle,” you cried when the plant had become a regular at the table for a few dinners now. “I don’t want this any more.”

“Don’t you think that’s a bit rude to say right in front of it?” I replied, annoyed.

It was true, though, that even I had been breathing worse in the flower’s presence. Thinking on your words, I left it in the kitchen that night, just in case, and vowed to do something about it tomorrow.

It had never grown like this before, never formed a leafy trail running all the way across the house. I followed it until I reached the place it was clearly directing me. Placing a hand on the doorknob to your room that morning, a vague horror snaked its way up my spine, as if I should have just disobeyed its orders, turned back, and never opened it. Perhaps the most idiotic decision I ever made was that I did. Looking at the scene before me, I understood. Your transformation had begun. I hated to admit that I could not touch you; reaching out my hand to a petal only resulted in a retraction, like a natural reflex. The scent was sweet, but sickly so – this couldn’t have been what I had wanted, and I was angry. Lines between your flesh and foliage blurred and my head swam. Your human form was fading away, becoming indistinguishable among the bright greens and yellows of the flower, of the jungle that was now your room. It had become your entire essence, defying any logic or reason. As the world outside marched relentlessly on, you spoke to me in whispers only ever echoed by the rustle of leaves.