Every culture has myths. The ancient Greeks believed in a monster that had venomous snakes for hair and could turn people to stone with just a simple stare. In parts of Europe, some people believe that small, ugly creatures with wrinkled green skin called goblins hold treasure they would kill to protect. It would be strange then for some mythical creature like this to show up in a small, quiet town like Elmwood. But recently, a mythical creature did.
The flowers outside of the new Moonlight Senior Center were wilted and dead. Weeds grew out of the soil like strange little aliens from another planet. Even the bird feeder was dry and molded. Ten-year-old Agnes Smit saw what looked like part of a dead bird sitting at the bottom. Gross, she thought.
“Attention ladies!” Ms. Cosmina Moroi called from the senior center porch. “And gentleman, of course,” she added, smiling to Mr. Karp, the only man in the Elmwood Green Garden Club, or E.G.G. Club as some called it. “Thank you all for coming. Today is a special day. We get to give the new residents of the Moonlight Senior Center a beautiful garden they can enjoy whenever they want!”
The E.G.G. Club was made up of local volunteer gardeners who helped plant flowers for hospitals, schools, and other places in Elmwood. Ms. Cosmina was the newly elected president of the club, even though she only moved to Elmwood several months ago. Agnes didn’t like her very much. She was pushy and sometimes mean to the members who worked slower than others. She was also very strange.
In July, the temperatures in Elmwood reach near 90 degrees. And Ms. Cosmina hated being out in the hot sun, which Agnes thought was odd for someone who loved gardens. Ms. Cosmina liked to joke that she was allergic to the sun and that her skin burned like paper thrown into a fire. For every club event, Ms. Cosmina wore long pants with socks she pulled over each pant leg so her ankles wouldn’t be exposed. She wore a white long sleeve turtleneck; bright orange gloves; a wide yellow and red sunhat that looked almost like a pepperoni pizza; and large round sunglasses that covered almost her entire face except for her lips, which were coated in bright red lipstick.
“Time to get to work!” She announced.
The group spent the early morning removing weeds and turning soil. They were building a rose garden. Agnes had provided the group with an outline she made based on her research of rose gardens from around the world. She was confident the group would agree with her design. They always did. Agnes wasn’t old enough to be the club president, but even the most experienced gardeners in the club trusted her advice. But that, of course, was until Ms. Cosmina arrived.
“Agnes my dear,” said Ms. Cosmina. “I’m not so sure about this design. It was a good effort, though.”
Agnes put down her shovel, stood up and bluntly said: “There is nothing wrong with that design. It’s modeled after a section of the great garden of the Royal National Rose Society in England.”
Ms. Cosmina gave Agnes that smile that she hated — the one where an adult thinks she’s just a cute kid and doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I know how to garden better than you, Agnes thought angrily.
“Listen dear.” Agnes hated being called “dear.” “I’m going to make a few slight adjustments. I promise you’ll see I’m right after they all bloom.” Ms. Cosmina walked away before Agnes could argue.
Agnes grabbed her shovel and went back to work, stewing over what Ms. Cosmina said. She wanted to throw the shovel down and argue with her, but she knew her mother would send her home immediately.
“Ouch!” cried Mr. Karp, sucking on his index finger. Agnes looked up to see if he was alright. Mr. Karp put his hand down and smiled at her. “The thorns on these bushes are sharp. Be careful.”
Agnes was, of course, careful. She wore the thickest gloves she had, making it nearly impossible for the thorns to get her. She couldn’t say the same for the rest of the club members. Throughout the day there was a chorus of ouches! as people cut themselves on the sharp thorns of the rose bushes.
At one point, Agnes peered up at the senior center and spotted a gentle-looking old woman staring out of a dark window. The woman had a thin, white scarf wrapped over her head. She stood in the shadow of her room and smiled down at Agnes.
The old woman watched Agnes from the window all day. When Agnes motioned to her to come out and join them, the old woman only blushed and shook her head. Must be so boring being cooped up in there all day, Agnes thought. Agnes looked at all the other windows, but they were all covered with a thick black curtain.
By the end of the day, all the rose bushes were carefully planted in their designated spots, and the first aid kit was out of bandages. The garden layout was not exactly how Agnes wanted it, but it wasn’t bad. She was never going to admit that, though.
The sun had set, but there was still just enough light to let the club members pack up their belongings. Agnes suddenly noticed the old woman waving to her in the window. She was holding a small potted plant.
Agnes took off her gloves and went inside the senior center. Inside she was overwhelmed with the scent of a lemon air freshener. The hallway had strange glow from only a few small lights. Agnes couldn’t see people sitting in their rooms because the rooms were so dark, but she could hear them whispering to each other in a language she didn’t know.
Agnes found the old woman in her room, standing next to her bed holding a wilted, dying plant. Dried leaves had fallen into the pot and it looked as if the stem was about to snap in half like a twig. The flower on top was thin and droopy, but hadn’t yet bloomed. And up close Agnes noticed it had a funky smell, almost like spoiled milk.
“Save. Save.” said the old woman in an accent Agnes didn’t recognize.
“I don’t know if there is anything I can do for it,” Agnes tried to explain. “Did you try watering it?”
“Outside!” The old woman said, pointing out the window. “Put outside!”
The old woman had a sad expression on her face as if this flower was special to her. Maybe it was a gift, Agnes thought. She didn’t know if planting the flower in the garden would help revive it. And she was worried the strange plant might make the other plants sick. But the old woman was on the brink of tears. So Agnes agreed.
She went outside, snuck by the other E.G.G. members, including Ms. Cosmina, who was saying goodbye to everyone. The old lady pointed from the window to where she wanted the strange plant to be planted. Oddly, it was between two small hosta plants, which typically grew wide and round, with bright green triangular leaves. They planted them around the rose garden so they would grow big and provide beautiful greenery even when the roses weren’t in bloom. Agnes bent down, scooped up some dirt and gently buried the dying plant’s roots in the ground.
“Ouch!” Agnes snapped back, looking at her finger. There was a single thorn on the side of the stem she hadn’t seen. It sliced her finger, causing a few droplets of blood to slide down the stem of the plant and into the dirt. My gloves! She thought angrily. She had taken them off before going inside the senior center.
“Agnes!” Her mother called. “Ready to go home?”
“Yes!” She replied, squeezing her finger tightly.
As she always did after a project, Agnes got up early the next morning and rode her bike to the senior center to see how the flowers survived the night. She asked her twin brother Hans to go with her but he was too busy tinkering with a model rocket he believed could actually reach space.
When she arrived at the senior center, she was stunned to find one of the rose bushes was dead. The leaves had browned and fallen to the ground. The white rose petals looked like mushy mashed potatoes covered in a dark gravy. What on earth? She thought. For a moment she wondered if this happened because Ms. Cosmina changed her design.
Agnes was also surprised to find the hosta plants had doubled in size overnight. They now completely covered the old woman’s dying plant. Agnes spread apart the bright green leaves and found the small plant still where she placed it. It looked healthier than it did the day before. The leaves on the stem looked stronger, and more thorns had appeared. Even the flower was lifted a bit higher, but still hadn’t bloomed. As she studied the odd-looking plant, she noticed that the longer the sun hit it the yellower the leaves got.
TAP! TAP! TAP!
Agnes quickly covered the old woman’s small plant and jumped up in fright. She looked up and saw the old woman standing in a dark window, hiding in the shadows. But this time the old woman didn’t look so kind and sweet. Instead, she gave Agnes one of the meanest stares she had ever seen.
Agnes backed up, hopped on her bike and raced home. That afternoon she sat on the back porch, using her tablet to research different plants to figure out what the old woman gave her. She used her favorite Gardenpedia app first. She found nothing. Next, she turned to Dexter’s Crazy Plant Guide on the Internet. Nothing again. Finally, she put the tablet down and scanned her mom’s garden library. She stayed up nearly all night combing through every book. Nothing came close.
The next morning after breakfast, Agnes jumped on her bike and rushed to the senior center again. Another rose bush was dead. And the hosta plants were even bigger now. I don’t understand.
Agnes looked up and saw the old woman, once again giving her an evil stare from the shadow of her room. I’ll come back tonight, she thought.
That afternoon, Agnes sat in her room scouring the internet on her tablet for anything resembling that strange plant. Then, just before dinner something caught her eye. A picture of a piece of art that looked similar to the old woman’s dying plant. The link read: VAMPIRE MYTHS. Agnes clicked on it.
The article described a strange plant that grew in the shadows, often in caves, and only bloomed at night.
According to Transylvanian legends, it’s believed that a single plant holds the spirit of an ancient vampire. To keep it alive, other vampires would kill local villagers and water the plant with fresh blood.
Agnes read the article twice, then placed the tablet down. Vampires aren’t real, she thought. Or could they be? She suddenly wasn’t so sure. But she knew she had to see for herself. That night, Agnes snuck out of the house. Her father was working on a research paper for work. Her mother was glued to a book. And her brother Hans was strapped to his 3D video game goggles.
All the windows of the senior center were still blocked by dark, heavy curtains. Agnes hid in a bush across the street. She was about to sneak over to the garden when someone came out the front door.
It was a tall, beautiful woman in a long black shimmering dress. She had wavy silver hair, glowing white skin and bright red lips. The woman took in a deep breath. “Oh what a lovely night,” Agnes heard the woman say aloud, running her fingers along the bare skin on her arm. The woman waltzed down into the garden. Agnes couldn’t keep her eyes off of her. What is she doing? Agnes wondered.
As the night grew darker, the curtains in the senior center began to rise. People she couldn’t see the other day in their dark rooms were now staring at the woman outside. Even the old woman with the dying plant looked on.
Suddenly, a large, black plant rose from between the two hosta plants. It was the old woman’s dying plant, Agnes recognized. Only it was no longer dying. It stood taller than the beautiful woman now, and purple spider-like veins ran up and down the stem, which was as thick as a small tree and covered in thorns as big as daggers. The flower then bloomed into a monstrous mouth with four terrifying black and red petals wrapped in small sharp teeth. And to Agnes’ horror, on two of the petals were two giant white fangs.
The old woman opened her window, and the beautiful woman spoke to her. “Oh mother, isn’t he handsome,” she said. “I told you we could bring him back. We just needed the blood of an innocent child.”
Agnes quickly looked down at her bandaged finger. But she also knew she recognized the voice of the beautiful woman. It’s Ms. Cosmina!
“Feist on the lovely roses we planted for you,” Ms. Cosmina said to the plant. “I’ll have the garden club back here every week to plant you fresh new bushes for your delight.”
That explains all the rose bushes, Agnes thought. All the cuts everyone had from the thorns. Ms. Cosmina wanted everyone to cut themselves to feed that…that thing!
At the bottom of the monstrous plant, a large, purple root ripped out of the dirt like a powerful snake. It then slithered through the garden like an evil serpent. When the root reached a fresh rose bush, with blooming red roses, it wrapped around the branches. Agnes watched in horror as the green leaves of the bush began to droop, turn yellow, then float to the ground. The once lush, red petals of the roses shriveled up until they were black.
Everyone standing in the windows started smiling as they watched the rose bush die in front of their eyes. The vampire plant sucked away all the blood the rose bushes had absorbed up from the E.G.G. members. Agnes didn’t want to look at the people in the windows, but when she did, she couldn’t believe what she saw. In each of their smiles, were two large white fangs.