Volume 24, Number 4

Mother Nature’s Revenge

Stephen Roth

It started with a weed growing in the middle of the living room. James couldn’t explain where it had come from or why it was growing straight up through the carpet. Never had he heard of such a phenomenon happening, though happening it was. There shouldn’t have been enough natural light coming into the living room to support any type of plant. There was no place for the weed to get water. Despite these variables the weed found a way to grow.

James picked the weed and threw it in the garbage. In his mind, that had been the end of the strange incident. A week later Gayle called him into the living room. When he entered the room his wife was looking at something on the floor.

“What is it?”

“Look at that. It’s back.” Gayle moved so he could see the floor in front of her.

There in the middle of the living room was another weed. Like its predecessor, it was growing straight out of the carpet. He stood and stared at the weed in disbelief. It wasn’t possible. How could a weed grow in the middle of his home? And why had it come back so soon in almost the exact same spot as before?

Hands on her hips, Gayle asked, “What should we do?”

“What should we do? This.” James walked over to the weed and pulled it out of the floor. “Problem solved.”

But it wasn’t. Less than a week later, he found his five-year-old pouring a cup of water onto the floor of the living room. He was about to ask Paige what she was doing when he saw the weed. It was growing out of the carpet just as the ones before it. James watched as his daughter watered the plant. When she was done she looked up at him and smiled.

“Look, Daddy! We have a flower!” Paige giggled.

“That’s not a flower, honey. It’s a weed, and we don’t want it in the house.”

James bent over and grabbed the weed with one hand, preparing to pull it out of the floor. Pain surged through his hand. He pulled his hand back. His hand came away with blood on his palm and fingers. He wrapped his hand in a towel from the kitchen to stop the bleeding. On his hands and knees he took a closer look at the weed. It was covered with small thorns.

The two other weeds that he had pulled out of the carpet hadn’t had thorns. He had been able to wrap his hands around them without any trouble. This was different. It was almost as if the plant had developed a defense mechanism in order to protect itself. James didn’t know much about plants, but he did know that such genetic alterations took years and countless generations to take place. Yet this plant had managed to do so after three generations and less than two weeks.

In the garage he found a pair of gardening gloves. He put them on and went back to the living room. Paige was still looking at the weed. She looked at him and took two big steps backwards. James wrapped his protected hands around the weed and pulled. It didn’t budge. He tried again, this time pulling with all of his might. Still the plant remained in the floor.

Without a word he rushed out to the garage again and rummaged through his tools. He came back inside with a pair of hedge clippers, which was probably overkill. The clippers wouldn’t be able to take care of the roots of the plant, but he would worry about that later. He gripped the clippers with both hands and snapped the blade shut around the plant. The hedge clippers should have been more than enough to cut the weed in two. Yet his blade stopped the moment that it met the stem of the weed. He opened the blade of the clippers again and snapped them shut. There was a jarring that went through his entire body as the blades of the clippers met the stem of the weed once again.

He dropped the hedge clippers to the floor and ran back to the garage. A minute later he came back into the living room pulling the starter cord of his chainsaw. Paige’s eyes grew wide, and she ran from the room. James didn’t notice the fear in his daughter’s eyes as he readied himself with the chainsaw. He revved the chainsaw and worked it back and forth against the plant. One fluid stroke from the chainsaw should have cut the weed in two. It didn’t happen. A few minutes later he was forced to stop when the chain on the saw broke. He turned the chainsaw off and dropped it to the ground.

He realized that he was drenched in sweat, and his head was getting light. He sat down on the couch and put his head in his hands. When he lifted his head a few minutes later he found that Gayle and Paige were staring at him from across the room. The look in his wife’s eyes told him all he needed to know about his behavior, though he knew they were about to talk about it anyway.

“What on Earth are you doing in here?” Gayle’s hands were on her hips.

“The weed is back.”

“Don’t you think a chainsaw is overdoing it a tad?”

“No, it’s still there. It won’t go away.” James stared at the weed as he tried to catch his breath.

“What do you mean it won’t go away?”

“I mean, it won’t go away.”

Gayle cleaned up the cuts on his hand from the thorns. She kept sneaking glances at him as she did so. After a few minutes he could take it no longer.

“Would you stop looking at me like that?” he said with a sigh. “I’m not crazy, you know.”

“No? Then what would you call trying to cut a weed with a chainsaw? Totally rational behavior?” Gayle said without looking up.

“It’s not an ordinary weed, Gayle. I lost it there for a minute, I’m sorry.”

She looked up at him. Her eyes were still filled with concern, though for him or the situation he couldn’t tell. “What are we going to do then?”

James did the only thing left that he could think of: he called an expert. He wasn’t able to find anyone who specialized in plants growing in the middle of a carpeted house. Instead he had to settle for a gardener from the local plant shop. James didn’t know if the man would be able to help them, though his expectations weren’t very high.

The gardener came just as James was getting home from work the next day. He led the heavily suntanned man into the living room and showed him the plant growing out of the carpet. The man took off his cap and scratched his head while he stared at the plant. It took him a few moments to say anything.

“Well, you weren’t kidding. There really is a plant growing out of your living room floor.” The man laughed.

When he was done laughing, he added, “Actually it’s not really a plant; it’s a tree. It’s a white oak sapling. I’ve never seen any with thorns on it, but I’m sure that’s what it is.”

“You’re telling me that I have a tree growing in my living room?”

“Yes, sir. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Do you mind if I take a picture for the guys back at the shop?”

“Go ahead.” James collapsed onto the couch.

That evening while watching the news he realized that he wasn’t the only person having a difficult time with Mother Nature. The news anchor said that many people across the nation were reporting problems with unruly plants and saplings growing in unwanted areas. They were resistant to any type of treatment. One man’s house had been entirely covered with vines in the span of two weeks. Many families had saplings growing inside of their homes or in their garages. A family in Missouri even had a sapling growing out of the roof of their house.

It should have made James feel better about what he was going through. The fact that it was a national problem and not just a personal problem should have been a comfort, yet it wasn’t. He still felt that he was in this fight by himself. Over the next six months more and more plants and saplings started to grow in their home and in other urban environments. The new plants were tougher and more resilient than the old ones that they were replacing. They couldn’t be picked or pulled, and no spray was effective against them. It seemed as if Mother Nature was taking back the cities all across the world.

People started to leave their ruined homes in search of a better place to live. With the environment changing and fewer people in the cities, wild animals became more daring. Many dangerous animals now called the once-urban environment home, taking refuge in the abandoned homes that humans had deemed unfit for shelter. Now a family could call 326 Crestway home while a pack of wolves could den at 328 Crestway right next door.

James watched as the neighbors around them left one by one until his family was the only one left on the block. Gayle had started to gaze at him with wonder in her eyes. He knew exactly what she was thinking. When are we going to get out of here? He knew that the time for them to leave had come and gone. He should have acted then. Now he feared that it was too late to venture out into the wilds of the city with his entire family. He was seeing wild animals nearly on a daily basis. What would they do if they ran into a man-hungry bear? And if he did take his family out of the house, where would they go? Would they be forced to live in a cave?

James and his family decided to stay in their home that Mother Nature continued to take over. It may have resembled a forest on the inside but it was still home. Gayle and Paige didn’t leave the house without James and his 12-gauge close by. After a while he was forced to leave his girls to hunt for another source of food. They were running low on canned goods, and he had already taken everything that he could from the surrounding abandoned houses. He was worried about leaving his wife and daughter alone for a few hours while he tested his virtually non-existent hunting skills. They had little choice in the matter if they were going to stay in their home. They needed to eat.

He said goodbye to Gayle and Paige and stepped out into the concrete jungle. A year and a half had passed since the sapling had appeared growing out of his living room carpet. Now weeds were growing out the cracks of the pavement. It was getting harder and harder to tell someone’s lawn from the street. He supposed that in a matter of a couple of years there would be little difference other than a trail of rubble. The houses that had been abandoned were already crumbling under the stress that Mother Nature was putting on them. James was doing his best to keep his house safe for his family, but he knew that the time would come when the tree growing in their living room would break through the roof of the house and their house would start to crumble just like all of the others.

He stopped and looked at the world around him. Mankind’s history had been filled with so many civilizations that would be remembered because their achievements stood the test of time. The Egyptians had the Great Pyramids of Giza. The Romans had the Coliseum. The Chinese had the Great Wall. All of these were a testament to the greatness of the human mind and the ingenuity of the people. It was hard to believe that all of these years later the same race of beings were being brought to the brink of extinction by the very land they called home. What would be left of the current civilization that was the United States of America? What would be left to remember a nation that thought of itself as the greatest nation on the planet?

James looked down at the current condition of the street and around at the dilapidated state of the houses and knew the answer. Within a few years Mother Nature would reclaim for good what had been hers not so long ago. So far she was putting up a fierce fight.

In the backyard of one of his former neighbors, James had a bead on a rabbit grazing on the forgotten vegetable garden. He was about to pull the trigger when a voice screamed from somewhere in the distance. His first thought was of Gayle and Paige back at the house. He pulled the shotgun down and ran for home as fast as he could. The new terrain of the once-urban environment made the going treacherous. Several times he stumbled but managed to regain his footing. In a matter of minutes he was running down his street with home in view.

As he was running up his weed-filled driveway he saw that the front window had been broken. Droplets of blood stood out on the shards of glass still in the window frame. He tried the handle to the front door but found it locked, as it should have been while he was away from the house. He kicked open the door with his boot, not bothering to see if someone would let him in. He raced into the living room where he had seen the broken window with blood on the shards of glass.

The living room was empty. No sign of his wife, daughter, or whatever creature had dared to invade his home. There was a trail of blood on the floor that led down the hallway. He called out his wife’s name as he started to follow the trail of blood. He was hoping not only to receive an answer but also to distract the creature that had managed to gain entry to his home. Any time that he could buy them might save their lives.

He heard a deep guttural growl as an enormous wolf stepped out of the master bedroom and into the hallway. James raised the 12-gauge and pulled the trigger in the general direction of the wolf. He knew that his aim didn’t have to be precise to injure the animal. The wolf let out a yelp and fell to the ground. While the animal was down he took the time to reload another shell in the shotgun. He approached the wolf with caution as he watched the animal’s chest rise and fall as it struggled to breathe with a lung full of birdshot. Standing over the wolf, James put another load into the animal’s head to finish the job. The once-fierce hunter of the wild had breathed its last breath.

James managed to get through the hallway without touching the dead wolf. He stepped into the master bedroom as he prepared his heart for the worst. The bedroom was empty. As he approached the master bathroom he could see several scratch marks on the door.

He knocked on the bathroom door. “It’s me; you can come out now. It’s dead.”

He heard the lock disengage and then the door opened. Gayle stood there with tears streaming down her face. She was holding Paige in her arms, who was also crying. He embraced them both and reassured them with soothing words. As he held them he thought of how much the world had changed and of how his world had nearly ended.