Do you remember The Skeleton Key from last year? It was a Round Robin Blogvel (traveling blog novel) co-written by various authors, engineered by the awesome Michelle over at Greenwoman. (Click the tab at the top of this page to revisit The Skeleton Key.) Well, she's done it again! This summer's Round Robin Blogvel is called Bloom, and you can get the full table of contents here and follow along from the beginning. Chapter 3 was at Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire, and Chapter 5 will be up next week at Report From a Fugitive.
I lift the wad of toilet paper and peek at the cut on my palm. The tissue is spotted with red and gold, like some sort of bizarre Mardi Gras favor.
“Has it stopped bleeding?” Gran asks.
“I think so.” Specks of dried blood cling to the torn edges of skin. They flake away like gold foil when I brush at them. A little too rough, though, and the cut opens up again on one end, deep red blood pushing to the surface in a tiny bead.
Maybe we imagined the gold. Me and Gran both. Could we have imagined the metallic rivulet dripping from the cut?
Doubtful. And anyway, I can't ignore the evidence on the tissue balled up in my fist.
Gran stands before me, her already-wrinkled brow creased even deeper in concentration. Her lips move slightly as though she's reciting a prayer, though she's never been particularly religious.
She doesn't blink, but her gaze shifts to the ceiling and the metallic roots and vines that continue to invade the house from my bedroom above. And she keeps silently whispering. I wish I could read lips.
“We can take some of the leaves and sell the gold for cash. It'll be more than enough to fix up the house.” The waver in my voice belies my confidence. How would we explain the mysterious plants to a contractor? This stupid metal flower is going to destroy the house my parents grew up in, and it's all my fault. Hot tears sting my eyes. Gran is still whispering. “We can rebuild it. Or just buy a new house if we have to. There's enough gold to—”
“What? No, child.” She snaps out of her trance and picks up her sweater from the armchair. She always has a sweater, even on the hottest summer days. “Show me where they came from. I need to see.”
We head for the back door.
“I found them the other day, just off the trail. Near where it splits before the stream. Have you seen this before?” I look to her for answers, but she's silent. “They grow so fast. The second time I went they—”
I stop. The second time I went, there was someone close behind. I can't take Gran into the woods. It's not safe. It could've been a dog I heard in the woods. Or the wind. Or even just my imagination. But something in the back of my mind is telling me it isn't safe to go back there. Not with Gran, who won't be able to run if we need to.
“Why don't you just look at the ones up in my room? It's all the same stuff.”
“I've seen those. Now let's go. Why are you just standing there?” She turns to me with a steely gaze. I can almost see a glint of bronze in her eyes, like the mysterious metallic plants. “I must see them where they live. You know as well as I do that plants behave differently in the wild.”
I may as well have sprouted my own roots, planted as I am to my spot on the floor. I don't know why, or how, but I know it's not safe for Gran out there.
“I have pictures! I took a lot of pictures when I was out there.” Jamie likes to make fun of me for taking my camera everywhere. I'll never let his teasing bother me again now that my obsessive camera-hauling means I don't have to put Gran in danger.
“Well go on, get your camera then.” She swishes me along with her sweater. “Hurry.”
The urgency in her voice scares me. Like she knows more than I do. I dash upstairs and grab my camera, then take the stairs two at a time on the way back down, narrowly avoiding tripping and breaking my neck. Weird metal flowers turning trees to gold and invading my bedroom, but it'll be the freaking plain oak stairs that do me in if I’m not careful.
Slow down, Jessica! My mom was constantly scolding me that way as a child. I haven't heard her voice in a while, though.
I thrust the camera into Gran's hands and show her the button to push to scroll through the 127 pictures I took the other day. She's quiet as she looks. She's always quiet, but man is she really quiet today. It's unnerving. I pace the floor in front of her. After a moment, she places the camera on the table by the back door.
“Does anyone else know about this?” she asks.
“I—I don't think so. I didn't tell anyone. What is it? Do you know what they are?”
“No. Not exactly.” She takes my hands in hers.
“We should make Jamie come home. I bet he could help us figure this out.” I suppose being an evil genius would come in handy at a time like this. He'd probably figure out a way to grow and harvest the gold plants for money. We'd be rich.
“No.” She squeezes my hands. “No. You cannot tell your brother about this, do you hear me?”
“But if anyone can—” The strength of her grip makes me falter.
“Do you understand me, Jessica?”
“Gran, you're hurting me.” The cut on my palm has opened the whole way, and warm sticky blood seeps from it, coating my hand and my grandmother's fingertips. It burns.
“He cannot know of this. Tell me you understand!”
“Okay, okay. I understand! Please, let go...” We both look down at our hands simultaneously.
This time there's no imagining it. I’m bleeding again, but it's not blood. At least it doesn't look like blood. It shimmers. Liquid gold. Gran lets go of my hand and stumbles back toward the staircase, her eyes wide and mouth open in a surprised O. Instead of dripping to the floor, my blood – or whatever it is – flows the other way, up her fingers. It seems to evaporate the farther it flows, as though it's seeping into her skin.
She sits with a thud on the stairs and looks from her hand, to me, and back again. When the last of the liquid disappears, Gran's hand drops to her lap and she slumps backward.
“Gran?” I approach slowly. What was that? What just happened? “Gran... can you hear me?”
I drop to my knees beside her, but she still doesn't move. She's so still, like she's...
“Gran!” I shake her shoulders, but no response. Her head rolls to the side and her wide eyes meet mine. Except they aren't brown anymore. They're gold. Moving, swirling gold. What have I done?
My hear nearly explodes from my chest when I hear the raspy breath pass through her lips. Once. Then again. She's breathing! But what am I supposed to do now?
I whirl around at the sound of my name to see a woman standing in the doorway.