“The Green Infinity”
by Camille Alexa
The helicopter’s thrumming vibrated through Sharon’s body with teeth–rattling constancy. She gripped the hand–hold and looked out the window at the seemingly endless undulating green jungle which had once been her husband.
California’s population had fled. Pockets of survivors huddled on rooftops against encroaching vines and climbing stalks, awaiting airlift rescue. The verdant growth continued to spread, radiating outward in a pattern reminiscent of wildfire, or of contagion.
They’d tried fire, of course, to stop him. Water, fungicide, herbicide, electricity; planes and tankers of all sizes and functions pressed into service to halt the relentless creeping green. Sharon was the Government’s last resort. Second–last, actually, though dropping a nuclear bomb on California seemed unfathomable.
“Oh, Gary. . . ” Sharon’s words were swallowed by the helicopter’s engine. Back when it was still just quickly–spreading cancer they battled, no drug or therapy or voodoo spirit–prayer had helped. Gary had faced death with dignity and courage. It was Sharon who’d urged him to try experimental DNA recombinant chromosomal therapies using gene–splices from pueraria lobata –– common kudzu. Even now, even with this, it was hard to feel she’d been wrong.
Colonel Bradley touched her shoulder. He gestured directly down into the lushness beneath. She saw her reflection in the wide ovoid mirrors of his aviator shades as she read his lips. Ground Zero, he pointed again into the green. Ground Zero.
Ground Zero was the hospital, with its helipad roof. Her husband’s hyper–rapid cellular growth had ruptured windows, choked all egresses and smothered the brick siding, but he was for the most part a groundcover plant. The rooftop was bare.
Colonel Bradley jumped down and assisted Sharon out. They crouched under whipping wind and noisy rotor blades, Sharon resisting the urge to wave as the helicopter drew up and away.
The silence when her ears stopped ringing was almost painful. Colonel Bradley stood at polite attention, gaze directed elsewhere, granting her privacy. He was brave, she thought, and kind.
Silence of the world smothered by Gary was more complete than the silence of deserted beaches or wild forests. No birdsong sounded, no insect buzz or rushing water. Just the gentle shuckling of Gary’s wide glossy leaves brushing against each other in the breeze. The sun was perfect, golden and high; the sky that amazing forever–blue never captured in paint or film, consisting mainly of light and open space.
Colonel Bradley cleared his throat and glanced sideways, apologetic. “Ma’am, our ride returns in exactly twenty–eight minutes.”
Sharon wanted to touch his arm, let him know it was all right. She didn’t blame him for what was to come. Gary’s body, anything remotely recognizable as physically human, had disappeared in the first minutes of his transformation. As she and the medical team watched, his flesh had turned greenish, then green, then shriveled to brown husk as it was sucked into the tendrils sprouting from his pores. Thousands of tendrils, first the size of green hairs, then growing larger with astonishing rapidity.
Sharon walked to the rooftop edge. She closed her eyes and breathed deep, sunlight on her shoulders, chlorophyll musk in the air. It smelled like Gary––the insides of his wrists, the hollow of his throat, his hair and clothes.
She glanced over her shoulder. Colonel Bradley stood across the helipad with military rigidity, hands locked behind his back, facing away. His short hair was stiff, but wind rippled his shirt across his back in a repeating pattern, like sands blowing across a khaki desert.
She turned again toward the green infinity. As far as she could see, all was greenness. Beneath lay abandoned candy–bright cars, dirty black asphalt, billboards and advertisements all stripes and colors. Never had the city looked so serene.
Sharon ran a finger along a legume–like tendril curling up over the roof ledge, a delicate emerald corkscrew. “Gary,” she said. It came out softer than she’d intended, and more wistful. “I know you are still in here somewhere. Can you hear me? You must stop this.”
Warm breezes whipped her words from her lips. She imagined them swirling out across the dappled green ocean, sinking into the rustling stalks and pulpy flesh of questing vines.
“Gary, I’m sorry I didn’t listen when you were ready to go. I know you took experimental treatments only for my sake.”
Wind flapped her hair across her eyes. Rustling grew louder as the vegetation danced in currents, sunlight glancing off green leaves.
“I couldn’t before, but I can now: I let you go, freely. Thank you for staying as long as you could, but you were right. I was wrong. Forgive me.”
Without realizing, Sharon had gripped tight the roof ledge before her. At a tickle against the back of her knuckles, she glanced down. A curving tendril pushed into her hand. It looked like time–lapse photography, when a seed unfurls into a plant in mere seconds. She opened her palm and the tendril formed itself in her cupped hand as she watched. She closed her fingers around the fuzzy beanlike thing. The vine detached itself, browned, shriveled, and fell away. She shoved her hands into her pockets and turned at the sound of the helicopter approaching.
Colonel Bradley ducked and ran across to take her arm as the helicopter landed. She allowed herself to be helped up, buckled in. Leaning into the bubble–glass window, Sharon saw tendrils questing up toward them as they lifted, corkscrew curls leaping after them into the air like slender green streamers tossed at a parade.
Colonel Bradley studied her face. Keeping her expression neutral, she nodded. He returned the nod and settled into his seat. Twisting to look at the receding rooftop, Sharon watched the brown of dead vine widen from Ground Zero in an expanding ring. As rapidly as the green had initially spread, the brown nearly kept pace with the departing helicopter.
Sharon leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes, her fingers curling tight around the soft slender seedpod in her pocket.
Camille Alexa thinks you’re cool. Really, she does. Her work appears/is forthcoming in ChiZine, Escape Pod, Fantasy, Space & Time Magazine, and other anthologies and zines of excellent pedigree and imagination. Find a more complete bibliography at camillealexa.wordpress.com.
Editorial © 2008 A. Camille Renwick. All other content copyright © 2008 ByrenLee Press
Art Director: Bonnie Brunish