With that, Dennon turned into the forest and became the creature once again. He walked through a heavy wood, a mindless object of nature, another splash of oil and acrylic amongst many other strokes of a painting. Below the hood of the forest, he was a blob of color hidden by the leaves.
His mind melting, his body walked strongly in whatever direction the path took. Without hesitation, his legs carried him between the trees. Soon he was off the path, and came into a clearing of untamed grass. Though there was only the light of the moon now, it was clear enough that this garden didn’t hold quite the same majesty as his. Weeds grew in almost every available space. There was little to no organization in the groupings of plants that grew around and within a mangled, unkempt, rocky path.
The creature that now stood at the edge of this neglected field slowly ambled its way into the center. The path, laiden with broken twigs and dead stems, encircled a stand of woody plants and weeds that made up the center. It was within that stand that Dennon’s body finally rested. Laying amid the cool weeds, fading into their shadows, the creature truly became an object of nature.
It transformed from a mindless stolon into the form cursed upon it by the prick of that nighttime flower. The young man was, unwittingly but fairly warned, moments from safety. If, perhaps, what was once Dennon Michaels had hesitated just a few more moments he would have escaped with his prize and his life, instead, reaching for his memento at the zenith of that yellow flower’s deadly neighbor.
Now what was formerly Dennon, a respectable hard working young man, lay degrading and sinking beneath the dirt of another garden – a foreign garden. Skin sloughed and dripped, moisturizing surrounding soil as thorny stems rose through Dennon’s body. The body melted further into oblivion while white flowers, as bright as the full moon on that night, burst to life.
Darker and darker the shadows grew over what was once a good man. As the deadly white flowers continued to bloom, a complete blackness settled on the creature. Its mind was lost already, but now, something further: a veil over the being itself. Almost all knowledge and history of the man had been, not erased per se, but smudged over by the darkness of that spiteful thing.
Other flowers and plants began to blossom around the center. A rustling whisper of the wind kicked up leaves and combed back heavy grass as moonlight cast into the forming garden. The light reached down towards what, under less preternatural circumstances, may have been conceptualized as the creature’s grave. The smudging of his existence made it even more fit to be called, not a grave, but an endpoint. A place where he would all but cease to live and, further, almost cease to exist.
Stale whispers, addressed only to the hellish scene of a mangled rotting corpse, arose in unison:
When daylight has faded; now covered in dirt. You twist and tangle as stems with white flowers, from your skin, begin to spurt.
Darkness unlike any he had ever known surrounded him. Not just surrounded, but enveloped. There was no looking, no smell, no hearing. There was nothing at all but complete dark as he came to recognize consciousness again.
Dennon’s mind returned so slowly he could not panic. A bright, white light descended toward him and dropped into what became a pond. The ripples gleaming brightly from the spot where it had dropped. Pond water glowed bright. Ground and grass formed from shadows the light cast along its banks. The ground and the grass upon it appeared only as dark shapes contrasted against the bright water.
Dennon’s form was no longer corporeal, yet, he moved toward the water, covering the distance which spanned the glow of the pond. He no longer controlled anything, including this movement. The things that appeared before him simply were, he sensed, there was no origin and no recognition of presence. Everything here just happened. The movement itself was an event like the bright white pond and the shadow of ground around it.
Another, larger, white light appeared and descended to the pond. The fogginess around the edges of the new light began to form hard edges, changing into shapes that looked like feet. Feet soon turned into smooth athletic legs, feminine hips, and subsequently an entire woman floated before him. Her form became entirely human, but her skin still glowed and was a chalky inorganic white.
More ground and grass formed as shadows from her light. Though distance and size were hard to judge in the immense dark, she was more massive a thing compared to those around her. It wasn’t until she spoke that she shrunk to a less formidable size. When she did speak, the words first appeared as a rustling of the wind on branches and leaves.
“It was you.” He managed to produce in the near nothingness.
“Yes, I tried to warn you.” a soft, smooth voice ran through the darkness.
Although he so badly wanted to ask, he knew there was no explanation that would satisfy where he was. So his thoughts jumped to the next available thing he could understand.
“What happened? I was in the garden, picking a flower. After that-”
“-nothing.” She finished for him with a knowing projection. There was a pause.
“In short, you have been the unfortunate victim of someone I once knew. Once a friend, now more of an enemy.”
He had no response, but expected more answers. Knowing this, the glowing woman continued.
“This being was once similar in form and spirit to myself. We couldn’t reform him past his lust for me. There was a fight, as there always seems to be, which involved more of us than was necessary and ended in the transformation of his form to that of a more physical being – the one you encountered. His power was dampened by the outcome of the fight, and as such, he could no longer…filter into his more spiritual form.” She struggled a little to find words for the last statement. She again felt that this didn’t completely satisfy the explanation for Dennon’s current state.
“Though he was banished, of sorts, to his physical form-”
“-you’re saying because of the yellow flower I took-” he blurted out but was cut off gently by a raise of her luminescent hand.
“No, the white bud.” She continued softly, “The Midnight Rose. It’s thorn broke your skin. He stole your life and turned you into a device for his propagation. A way to scorn me for my denial of his love.”
More thoughts had since returned to him. He digested this and found an inconsistency in the story.
“If you took his power, how was I affected in the first place?” She gave him what appeared to be a sympathetic look. It was hard to elaborate on her expressions since they were subtle and the glow cast over them all.
“Dampened,” she corrected, “not completely gone. His power has evolved. He has regained some power to the aim of the only thing he still wants: revenge.”
“How is this revenge?” Dennon asked with a hint of exasperation.
“Each soul he takes is a sacrifice to grow his power and an attempt to hurt me. Which, I admit, I feel for each one he takes. So, in a way he wins. Further, it is proof that I have not completely punished him for his selfishness, nor have I found a way to finally subdue him. Especially at the dawn of morning and dusk of evening, he becomes fairly powerful so that through the day I cannot protect wanderers from him. My domain is night, and as such I completely shroud his power from the world in which you lived entirely through the night.”
“You’re saying you can’t fix this?” Dennon begged.
“I cannot undo your present state. Myself and the others still like-minded operate our power within the equilibrium of the natural world. We can make…adjustments, but deliberately avoid upsetting the balance. If I wished, I could raise and lower the tides of the seas to drown his colony or shroud your world completely in darkness until they suffocated but I am not so vindictive and irresponsible that I would ever bring harm to the innocent and such actions would break the balance of natural occurrences. I will take back as much of you from him as my power allows, then I will move you along.”
He doubted the last part of her answer would be worth questioning. Still, one more thought arose.
“Why bother at all then? If you can’t help us, why even try? He’s not your responsibility.”
“I suppose I don’t truly have any responsibilities,” she agreed. “However, I do feel responsible. Perhaps some recompense will come of it. The thorns of the past can become the buds of the future.” She finished with sentiment hanging on her last statement. Silence developed briefly between them.
“I’m ready.” He resolved. He knew protest would be frivolous, especially in light of things he did not fully understand. She nodded in return and raised her arms to level, palms upward.
Her glow enhanced gradually while dark blue marks began to dance across her skin, seeping into the light through her fingers. He began to glow the color of the pond – of the lady. He was dim at first. His thoughts faded as he grew brighter. Eventually, he was as bright as her and his thoughts were gone completely; mindless once again.
She moved his glowing form into the pool. The lawn, the pond, and Dennon conglomerated and rose as a single glowing light similar to the woman’s original form. It rose and then fell fast out of the darkness, over a familiar wood, rushing fast over the leafy tops. The light paused when it reached a pond surrounded by a beautiful garden – the one Dennon once loved. The light faded into the pond and shrunk until it became a white speck on the water similar to those from the perfect reflection of the night sky. She had put him back in place: back to his home garden.
Nothing else in the garden had changed. A bright white flower stood near the center of the garden at full bloom in the moonlight. A new light reflected in the pond, a bright speck that was not there before, and it would continue to shimmer for as long as the pond remained. Though it may seem odd, if you looked into the sky and matched all the stars to their reflections, you would find this particular shimmering speck was missing its star.