The Little Shop Of Horrors had nothing on this place.
Hannah and her friend, Jerry, pressed their noses against the cold glass, their breath leaving a mark. Inside they could just make out different plants. It was like a jungle right in the middle of their own little town.
Of course, Hannah and Jerry weren't really into plant life. They were more interested in the creepy man who ran the shop.
Mr. Jonathan Willard arrived in Timber Falls not too long after the New Year, and upon arriving he opened up his own plant store just off Main Street. According to Hannah's mother, Mr. Willard specialized in exotic plants and had a little greenhouse out back where he conducted experiments, all in the name of cross-breeding.
Jerry pulled away from the window. Ever since his arrival, Mr. Willard had frightened most of the kids. His bug eyes popped slightly out of the sockets whenever he got excited, his black hair that looked like it hadn't been washed in years, hung limply around his eyes, and he always stared over the tops of his glasses whenever he spoke to someone, regardless of their size.
“Are we going do this or not?” Jerry asked Hannah, lazily scratching his chest.
It was late in the afternoon on a hot Summer's day. Earlier that day, while enjoying an ice cream in the park, they were confronted with their school bully, Daryl Hardbrow. Daryl was a mean kid. For the last two years, he had stolen Jerry's lunch money, given him atomic wedgies and had even pushed him in a mud puddle before urinating on him. If that wasn't bad enough, Jerry was preparing for another year of torture seeing as Daryl had flunked eighth grade. For the third time.
Today was no different. After swiping Jerry's ice cream, and pushing him into an ants nest, Hannah had stood up for Jerry. Daryl had narrowed his eyes at her, then taunted Jerry for having a girl fight his battles for him.
Jerry had stammered like a buffoon while Hannah gave Daryl a piece of her mind. Daryl just mocked her, infuriating her further. Just when it all seemed fruitless, Daryl leaned in close. “You're alright, Collins,” he said, slapping Jerry on the back. “Even if a girl has to fight for you. Tell you what, since my two boys have 'graduated', why don't you join my posse.”
Jerry hadn't heard him right. Here was his tormenter, Daryl the bully, asking if lowly Jerry wanted to join his gang. Hannah had watched while Jerry stammered out an answer. Daryl's grin turned menacing. “Good,” he said. “Now all you have to do is pass the test.”
“What test?” Hannah demanded. Daryl turned to her, his dark eyes narrowing at her. Hannah folded her arms across her chest, holding her head high as she demanded that he answer her.
Daryl had wrapped his arm around Jerry's shoulders. “You know that plant freak, Willard?” he questioned. Both Hannah and Jerry nodded. “I've heard rumors from some seniors that he works on experiments. He's trying to create a super plant that will go to war instead of solders. Now, you're little test is to sneak into his greenhouse out the back, find this plant and bring it to me. Then you're in my gang.”
“That's all?” Jerry had asked, forcing himself to laugh. Daryl nodded before skulking off.
For the rest of the afternoon, Hannah and Jerry argued over doing what Daryl wanted. On one hand, being part of his gang would mean no more lunch time fights. But breaking and entering at the age of twelve wasn't very appealing.
Hannah pressed her nose against the glass hard, her eyes straining, searching for any signs of Mr. Willard. She pulled away from the window and flashed Jerry her goofy grin. “Let's hurry. I don't want to get caught.”
They grabbed their bikes and walked into the alley way that ran alongside the store. The trees were overgrown, the bushes were in serious need of trimming and a chain link fence ran the length of the alley way. Not even the bright light from the afternoon sun could break through the thick overgrowth of the plant life that surrounded them.
“I still don't see why we couldn't just borrow my Mom's venus flytrap,” Jerry grumbled as they lent their bikes against the fence. Hannah sighed. “Because, Daryl would know,” she said, placing her hands on her hips.
"But how would he know?” Jerry really didn't like the idea of sneaking into a mad scientist lab and stealing some plant that was probably programed to strangle them. He scuffed his sneaker in the dirt. What was so bad about being beaten up everyday anyway?
“He just would. Daryl knows everything about Mr. Willard.” Hannah was already walking towards the greenhouse. Jerry jogged behind her, trying to keep up.
Hannah moved part of a bush, peering into the backyard. The greenhouse loomed before them. Well, it wasn't really a greenhouse, but rather a garden shed.
The sun was setting behind it, casting an eerie orange glow over the yard. Hannah pushed through the plants, a twig scraping against her skin. “Oww,” she moaned, pulling her arm back, studying the long scratch that was beginning to bleed.
“You know, for a guy who loves plants, he sure as hell doesn't like to garden,” Jerry mused as he pushed past Hannah, his eyes trained on what could only be described as a jungle. Tropical plants lined the fence, palms and flowers winding around a simple dirt path. Jerry glanced down. Knowing his luck, the plant that he was squashing at that moment was probably poison ivy.
He glanced over his shoulder, his eyes focusing on the scratch on Hannah's arm. “Hannah, are you OK?” he asked, his voice full of concern.
She nodded, spitting onto her arm and blending her saliva in with her blood. “Just a scratch,” she replied, before moving to where Jerry stood.
The greenhouse door blew back and forth in the Summer breeze. Jerry gulped as he felt Hannah dig her nails into his arm.
“Are we really going in there?” he asked, his hands trembling like a leaf on a tree. Hannah nodded, her mouth dryer than the desert winds that swept through town.
Together, they stepped closer to the door. Hannah extended her arm, her hands shaking. Closer. Closer. Her hand touched the door handle.
Jerry jumped. The back door to the shop had opened and closed and Mr. Willard was making his way to his greenhouse.
Grabbing Hannah by the arm, he dragged her back into the bushes, pushing her head down as Mr. Willard approached.
Mr. Willard whistled when he walked. It was a cheerful Summer's eve. Nothing could ruin his mood.
He stopped walking, his head turning. His eyes bugged out of his skull as they widened with rage. One of his precious plants had been stomped on.
He dropped to his knees, his eyes studying the plant. It's green, pointed leafs were squashed beyond repair, it's purple fruits staining it's otherwise flawless roots. Mr. Willard got to his feet, wheezing hard, his stocky middle finger pushing his glasses up his nose.
“Alright! Come out!” he bellowed, his face growing pinker with each deep breath. “I know you're hiding. Come out and I promise I won't hurt you.”
Jerry gasped as Mr. Willard's feet came into view. Hannah covered his mouth with her hand just as Mr. Willard muttered, “Much.”
Mr. Willard's eyes roamed over his back yard. A tuft of red hair stuck up among the grassy undergrowth. Mr. Willard grinned menacingly. He reached down with a chubby hand and grabbed hold of the red hair.
A scream tore through the jungle, and from their hiding place, Hannah and Jerry could see Mr. Willard lifting Daryl out of his hiding spot near the greenhouse door.
Daryl thrashed about like a fish on a hook, his arms swinging, his hands balled into fists. “Let go of me you freak!” Daryl screamed, his fists pounding against Mr. Willard's chest.
The creepy gardener just grinned, his rotting yellow teeth just inches away from Daryl's face. Daryl writhed, twisting his body away and making a face at the stench of Mr. Willard's breath.
“You've been a very, very naughty little boy,” Mr. Willard sneered. Daryl kicked, connecting with Mr. Willard's knee. Mr. Willard didn't even flinch.
From their hiding spot, Jerry and Hannah's eyes grew wide with fear as they watched Mr. Willard drag a kicking and screaming Daryl into the greenhouse, locking the door behind him.
“Let's get out of here,” Hannah said, grabbing Jerry's arm and tugging him towards the hole in the fence where they had entered the jungle of terror.
Normally Jerry would have been agreeing with Hannah. In fact, he normally would have run out of there so fast, he wouldn't have left any footprints.
Instead, he held his ground, eying the greenhouse. “I want to know what's going on in there,” he told his frightened friend. Hannah looked at him like alien antennas had sprouted out the top of his head. “You want to what?” she shrieked, her voice so high and shrill that it caused a stray dog in the alley way to bark.
“I want to know what he's doing to Daryl,” Jerry repeated, grabbing Hannah's arm and dragging her towards the greenhouse.
From outside, they could hear Daryl's pleas for mercy. Hannah tilted her head and smiled. Daryl the bully, was crying.
Jerry motioned for Hannah to follow him. Around the other side of the greenhouse was a dusty old window. Jerry stood on his tiptoes, peering inside. “I can't see anything,” he declared after a couple of seconds. “The window's too high and too dusty.”
Hannah didn't respond. Instead her eyes were wide as saucers.
A shadow appeared over his shoulder and Jerry turned around slowly to see Mr. Willard standing less than a foot away from him, his eyes bugging out as he stared at them.
“M-m-m Mr. Willard,” Hannah stammered, taking a step backwards. “W-w-we're very sorry, sir. We didn't mean to intrude.”
Mr. Willard smiled, baring his rotting, yellow teeth at the kids. Jerry ran his tongue across his own teeth, trying to such the plaque off, making a mental note that should he ever get home, he was going to brush them more frequently.
“You're not intruding, my dear,” he said, his fingers interlocking, his tongue running across his chapped lips. “Why don't you come inside where the view isn't obscured by a pane of dusty glass.”
He grabbed their arms and dragged them inside the greenhouse.
Daryl was lying on a wooden bench, pinned down by vines coming from a large plant. Hannah's eyes grew even wider as she stared at the plants head. Large, red with white spots and filled with jagged, razor sharp teeth that looked like they belonged in the mouth of a shark.
Daryl was sobbing uncontrollably and there was a dark stain on his jeans where he had clearly wet himself. His hands tugged at the vines, in a desperate attempt to escape.
“Now, is this the boy that has been giving you so much grief?” Mr. Willard asked, his hand landing on Jerry's shoulder. Jerry nodded. “Yes. That's Daryl Hardbrow.”
Daryl's eyes filled with tears. He screamed as Mr. Willard snapped his fingers and the plant came to life. The head lent down, the mouth opening, drool dripping from it's thick lips.
Hannah turned away as the plant bit down, sucking Daryl into it's mouth with a loud slurp before biting down on the school yard bully.
Jerry watched with fascination as the plant happily munched on Daryl, the bones grinding and cracking under the pressures of the jagged, shark like teeth.
The plant burped, before holding a leafy arm up to its mouth. Jerry was certain that the plant blushed.
“That was so cool!” he cried, his face beaming with joy. He turned to Mr. Willard. “Can you teach me how to create a plant like that, Uncle Jon?” he asked.
Mr. Willard smiled, patting his nephew on the back. “All in good time, my boy.”
He reached for a small shovel and began cleaning out from underneath the mutant plant. Hannah craned her neck to see what he was cleaning up.
“Mr. Willard, what's that?” she asked, pointing to the pile of dirt and white powder that lingered at the base of the plant. Mr. Willard grinned. “It's Daryl, my dear,” he said, pushing his glasses back up his nose.
Jerry grinned at Hannah, his eyes dancing with delight upon realizing that Daryl was now plant fertilizer. “We always said that Daryl Hardbrow was full of crap,” he said, his eyes bugging out of his skull as his smile turned menacing.