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  • elliedurkin

short story: The Moonflower

Updated: Jul 19, 2021

This is a short story I've written that I hope to illustrate at some point, but for now this is a second draft. The picture featured is something I drew a while before I wrote the story, but with the idea in mind. Also I tried to write the whole thing in the present tense as a bit of an experiment for some reason. Enjoy!

The days here are marked by the brief passing of the sun and moon across the mouth of the Squashed Forest, breaking up the twilight in gold and silver. Somewhere, as night approaches, Figbert is awoken by the chirping of nocturnal toads.

“Bluurghet, bluuurghet” they cry from their damp hollow, as the glowing moon begins to come into view.

The foliage is too dense to see it fully from where he had slept, but I suppose that’s why he picked that spot to rest. Figbert rises, shaking the blanket of earth from his body, and once standing drapes his leaf over his head to rest on his shoulders, and picks up his mushroom hat. He’ll just carry it tonight, so as to enjoy as much of the moon’s light as he can. The toads are still calling, and they sound delicious. Figbert glances around to get his bearings, and in a moment is certain that a midnight snack lies….that way.

Gently pushing trees and plants aside, he hunches forward and travels through the forest at a decent speed with large, light strides, barely making a dent on the soil underfoot, for a short distance anyway. It is not long before Figbert, so consumed in his effort to look swift and graceful, catches his foot on a root which emerges from the ground in a loop, as if it was planted there to trip things. He is on the floor before he realises what has happened. After a moment he lifts his head from the soggy ground and looks around to see if there were any witnesses. All is quiet, so he picks himself up and carries on, at a slightly slower pace.

Of course, he is being watched the whole time, by none other than Trowl. The creepy, fluffy creature is perched in a tree nearby, just out of sight, stifling giggles as if his life depended on it. He is trying so hard not to make a sound that he actually doesn’t notice at first that Figbert is already long gone. Upon realising that he is once again alone he scowls, then skulks off through the forest after him, though he is not in any rush.

Further along the forest trail, Figbert suddenly appears in a small clearing. The ground is soggier here, with less roots to steal the moisture, and a few step lengths from him the floor gives way to a small pond filled with surprisingly clear water. The toads become quiet as soon as Figbert breaches the boundary of their home, but they don’t go anywhere. If you look carefully you can catch a glint of moonlight on an eye or two as the beasts hide in plain sight, motionless and almost invisible within their surroundings.

While Figbert attempts to spot one of the elusive blobs of fresh, croaking meat, he is distracted by a shimmer of bright colour in the pond. It is fuchsia, clashing against the deep greens and browns. Although Figbert himself is often a purplish colour, when the weather is fine, he has never seen anything quite so vivid as this, and all thoughts of food are forgotten. As he stares he finds himself edging closer to the pool, whilst high above him the moon moves into place, directly centred over the entrance to the Squashed Forest, and before his eyes the glow of the moon fills the area, and the pink apparition becomes clearer as it grows upwards, until the closed flower bud breaks the surface of the water and suddenly blooms, splaying out her petals to softly float. It happens so naturally that Figbert is entirely mesmerised, and once the display is over he finds that he is knee deep in the pool and unsure what to do with his hands. In front of him the flower lies on the water, eight large, pointed pink petals, topped with sixteen smaller, paler ones that curved slightly upwards, and crowned with a small ring of long protrusions. She is about as big as Figbert’s head and rotating slowly back and forth.

Figbert wades slightly closer, then bends down and plunges his hands into the water and underneath the flower. He gently tries to pick it up but finds that it is tethered to the bottom of the pool by a thin, green stalk. Intrigued further, he sits down cross-legged, the water coming up to his waist, and leans forward slightly to follow the stalk down with his hands. In just a few seconds, for the water is not very deep at all, his hands reach something rough and his face is almost pressed against the flower, but he hasn’t yet noticed because his eyes are closed. He only opens them when his nose is suddenly tickled by one of the central stamens, which have begun to wiggle, and a cloud of the sweetest scent enters his nostrils. Figbert quickly draws back, releasing his hands from the water in shock. The flower dances a little, swaying her stalk side to side.

“...Hello?” Figbert whispers. He feels a bit silly talking to a plant, but he has a weird feeling that it might respond. Sure enough, she becomes instantly still.

“Can you hear me?” he asks. The plant remains still for a moment, before the stalk starts to make little jerking motions, pulling the centre of the flower up and down slightly.

“You can, can’t you? I knew it! What a funny little flower you are.” Figbert begins to move closer again. He stuck his face back towards the petals in a rather rude way, examining her intently, to which she aims her filaments towards him and blows a couple of clouds of pink smoke which propel her slightly away. Figbert coughs.

“Oh, sorry!” he says, realising his error. “But what a beautiful smell! And what an amazing specimen you are, I can’t believe I’ve never met any of your kind before.”

The flower has stopped trying to retreat, and begins to curl her petals slightly inwards.

“Is it because maybe you’re the only one?” Figbert asks. “It’s ok, I think I’m the only one of my kind too.” Slowly the petals begin to unfurl. Figbert is rather pleased that for once he has managed to understand another being quite well, but he still comes over quite shy all of a sudden, unsure what to say next. For a moment or two he twiddles his thumbs, then he notices that the flower has started to drift closer to him.

“Do you mind me sitting with you?” he asks. Her stalk starts to twitch again as before, but this time she is less excited and just bobs twice on the surface.

“Does that mean yes or no?”

There is a slight pause before she bobs twice again.

“Well I hope it was a no. Please move once if I’m right.”

She bobs once.

“Wonderful.” Figbert says, and starts to stare off into the trees. He would like to ask more questions, but also feels incredibly comfortable just sitting there in the cold water with his new friend.

“Have you been here long?” he asks after a few minutes.

One bob.

“How long?”

He waits for a response but one doesn’t come.

“Oh sorry! Erm..what’s a better way to ask that question..Have you been here since the beginning?”

One bob.

“Wow, you must have seen so many things!”

Figbert begins to ask questions, yes or no ones when he remembers, about her life here in the pond, and talks a lot about himself as well. He goes on about his dreams of exploring outside the Squashed Forest, and makes promises to take her with him if he finds a way to the surface.

High up in the sky, far above the mouth of the forest, the moon moves swiftly on. Soon it can no longer be seen at all from where they sit, and Figbert is too entangled in conversation to notice that the silver glow has almost completely left them. The flower on the other hand is acutely aware of the moon’s disappearance. She has been slowly drifting towards its dying light for some time, and it is only when she appears to be straining away from him that Figbert notices.

“...and then I ate the biggest..hey, are you alright? Do you want me to leave?”

She bobs twice for no, but is still pulling away from him.

Figbert suddenly realises that she doesn’t seem as bright as she did before, and it dawns on him that this is because it has become darker as the forest returns to its usual twilight state. He looks up to see that the moon is gone, then looks back at the flower which is stretching in the direction it normally falls. Then it clicks with Figbert that the plant must be completely nocturnal. While many of the creatures in the forest have evolved to adapt to various states of the day and night, some of the older ones are very much set in their ways. She must be a night-blooming flower, absorbing all of her energy from the moon’s rays, and here he is chatting away as if they have all the time in the world!

“Do you want a minute more?” he asks.

She weakly bobs once.

Figbert thinks for a moment, then remembers that her base was not made of the same texture as the ground he was sat on, so he dips his hands down into the water again. Once at the bottom, he feels around and finds that the stalk is coming out of one of several holes in a rough rock, which feels about the same size as the flower’s head, and sure enough it’s not connected to the sandy floor.

“Do you mind if I..”

She bobs twice.

Figbert grasps the bottom edge of the rock, not wanting to stick his fingers into any of the holes covering the surface, and begins to lift it out of the water. As he lifts it, the stalk recoils back into the hole, keeping the flower at surface level, until finally the rock is out and the flower rests on top. Water gushes out of the remaining holes in the rock until the thing has become quite light. Figbert wades a few steps out of the pond until he reaches a nearby patch of the remaining moonlight, then holds her above his head. He can just about see the glow hitting her petals, which shine a bright pink once more. They stay there for a minute, but before his arms are even tired, the light is gone. He brings her back down again, and cradles her in the nook of his elbow to rest his wrists. With a small motion, much like a sigh, her petals begin to fold up, and once asleep her bud form disappears into the hole.

Figbert is silent for a moment, then notices that he can feel a vibration of some sort. He holds the rock up to his face to try and listen better, but she is completely still.

“I better put you back.” he says, and makes his way back to the pool. On placing her into the water, roughly where he found her, he whispers “Sleep well moonflower, I’ll come back and see you again one night.”

Once she is down, he steps out of the pool and realises the vibration is still happening somehow. He places his hands on his chest and finds that something in there is loudly humming, and the vibration is coming from him!

“Am I dying?” He whispers. “No that’s not it.” He thinks back to things he’s learnt and stories he’s heard, and then it dawns on him.

“I’m in love!” He says loudly. “I’ve fallen in love with the most beautiful flower in the forest!”

He is so enrapt in this new emotion, this feeling he’s only heard tales of, that he doesn’t notice a small, fluffy creature creeping up on him from behind.

“Aha!” Trowl shouts, making Figbert jump. “You tripped!”

Figbert turns around quickly. He is too scared to breathe at first but begins to pant when he remembers how.

“What?” He says.

“You tripped! I saw you, you tripped! Ha HA!” Trowl takes great delight in highlighting the minor hiccup the Figbert had already forgotten. Figbert is too overwhelmed with the events of the evening; chasing his dinner (he is no longer hungry), finding the moonflower, falling in love, and now being rudely scared by Trowl, that he can’t think of a good response. Instead he simply turns and runs away.

“Hey!” Trowl shouts after him, but he doesn’t bother to follow. He decides to call this a win, and starts to trot back happily. “That showed him.” He mutters to himself.

Eventually, Figbert comes across a hollow tree that looks safe and familiar, and he thinks he must have slept here before. He climbs inside, knowing that he needs a twilight nap after everything that has been through, and he takes the still wet leaf off his shoulders and lays down. His hat is gone, he must have left it by the pool.

“No bother,” he thinks, “I’ll be going back.”

As he closes his eyes, he tries to think about the moonflower and the wonderful time he has had, but Trowl’s words keep ringing intrusively in his brain.

“You tripped! You tripped! You tripped!”

Then, as is often the way when an argument is long done and you finally think of the perfect retort, as Figbert drifts into sleep he tells himself “I didn’t trip. I fell.”

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