I came across this week’s story in Queens of the Abyss, an anthology showcasing some of the women who contributed to the weird and horror genres in the early days. There seems to be a kind of sub-genre of horror arising from the natural world, or often man’s attempts to interfere with nature. This story tells of a plant that has characteristics that make it appear almost human – the white lady…
by Sophie Wenzel Ellis
Brynhild knew that something had waked her, something pleasant and exhilarating, which was to be expected on this strange island in the most remote corner of the warm Caribbean sea, where André Fournier, her fiancé, experimented fantastically with tropical plant life.
Brynhild, I’ve read a lot of stories about men experimenting with plants and, trust me, it never ends well. And beautiful, eerie music is never a good sign. Dump him and run! Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you then…
Presently she heard it again, music so wild and delicate that she felt its rapturous vibrations in her nerves, rather than heard them.
Of course she can’t resist going to look for the source of the mysterious music. Silly woman!
….Nature, in her most whimsical mood, had not been permitted to rule here; everywhere, among frond and spray and giant runner, bloomed hybrid blossoms whose weird forms and colours suggested André’s tampering with Nature.
….Brynhild heard the music clearer now, long notes that had an eerie, half-human sound, like the tuneless music of a demented savage. It baffled her, teased her into wilder plunges through the flower thickets, all jewelled with liquid beads.
Silly, silly woman!
When she mounted a hillock and saw, just beyond, a tiny cage built of copper screen, she knew that she had reached her goal. The music seemed to come from this little bower, which was puzzling, for the sole occupant was a blooming plant.
Uh-huh, a musical plant. That should be a warning even to the dumbest of Brynhilds, surely…
But no, she goes nearer…
….From a mass of thick frondage, white and fleshy as her own bare arms, reared a flower whose round, pallid petals formed a face like the caricature of a woman. Draped around this eldritch flower-face and flowing down to meet the colourless foliage, was a mass of gauzy matter that had the startling appearance of a bridal veil.
….But what brought a cry from Brynhild was not the human look of this fantastic plant, but what it was doing. Just below the head, almost as large as her own, protruded two slender, dagger-pointed white spines, set in sockets in such a manner that they could be moved like arms. These two spines, rubbing together, produced the music that had captivated her.
The plant doesn’t seem to like Brynhild, but it lo-o-o-ves André…
….André was coming. Like a tall young pagan priest he came forward, arms and shoulders naked, sunshine splashing his bronze curls. He had a beautiful, poetic face and a luminous smile that was now turned on the strange plant.
….Instantly the flower music commenced again, louder and more seductive than ever, the queer blossom reeling on its stem as though animal excitement quivered through its pallid flesh.
….André called out in his soft French: “Bonjour, White Lady. Are you happy this morning, eh?”
….The woman-face swayed toward him; the dagger arms caressed each other rapturously.
And quite frankly it appears André loves it right back…
“Ah, ma petite!” André whispered. “My own White Lady! If I could but bridge the gap!”
And still Brynhild doesn’t dump him! Men! Tchah! Even when there’s only one woman on an island, they still find a way to be unfaithful! But perhaps Brynhild isn’t as much of a doormat as she seems…
* * * * *
This kind of over-the-top love-conquers-all stuff isn’t exclusive to women writers, of course, but they do it so well! And while often male writers see the woman as either temptress or victim, sometimes female writers rise above the conventions of the time and let the woman be the stronger, purer one. This one actually falls somewhere in the middle – Brynhild is the heroine, ably assisted by another woman, André’s mother, but even André redeems himself a little in the end. I found it as unintentionally humorous as scary, to be honest, but it’s very well written, has a great dramatic climax and the plant truly is the stuff of nightmares – a story that should be required reading for any scientists about to genetically alter nature!
If you’d like to know how it turns out, here’s an online link.