The high-class limousine speeding down the dusty, old country highway made an interesting contrast with its surroundings. Or rather, it would have, if anyone, aside from a few lazy cows, had been around to see it pass. There was also an interesting contrast between the passengers riding within the limo too. One was a woman with honey blonde hair tied in a bun, dressed in a stiff formal blouse and dress, the kind a secretary with a retro sense of fashion might wear. Her bright red lips were pursed over the Haruki Murakami book she was reading with focused intensity. On the other side of the limo was a woman with perfectly coiffed, ebony black hair, dressed in a tight and revealing business suit. The expensive jewelry she wore showed she like to display her wealth. Her shiny skin, as if every pore had been exfoliated and cleansed, showed she spent a lot of money to make herself look good. At the moment she was furiously tapping at an iPad.
"Sell, goddamn it, sell!" The dark haired woman yelled.
The blonde looked up from her book and sighed in exasperation. She rolled down the window, grabbed the other woman's iPad and threw it out of the car. She rolled up the window and went back to reading her book as if nothing had happened.
The dark haired woman was so stunned that she stared at her hands for a few moments as if the iPad was still there. Then she glared at the blonde and crossed her arms.
"You're fired, Daphne!" She fumed.
"Sure I am, Evie." The blonde replied skeptically, without looking up from her book. The blonde--Daphne--was employed by a powerful financial services company to make sure the black haired woman--Evie, that company's major earner--didn't suffer another stroke related to work stress. Daphne's primarily responsibility was to force Evie to go on vacation before her job sent her blood pressure off the charts. As long as Evie was healthy and making the company money, Daphne's job was secure.
Evie looked out the car window. "Where am I resting this time?" She asked tensely.
"Not at the usual spa." Daphne told her. "We can't pay them enough to take you after you nearly torched the place over a bad latte. A friend from Yale suggested a secluded inn in the country. He said it changed his life. That's where we're going."
"You went to Yale?" Evie said with surprise. "How did someone as smart as you end up babysitting a hedge fund manager?"
Daphne closed her book. "I studied literature so I could become a writer. My friends and family kept telling me I was crazy. They said I would never get a job and I would never make any money at it. I didn't listen. I was determined to follow my dream. After graduation, I tried selling a few stories but all of them were rejected. So I gave up on writing and got the highest paying job possible--babysitting you."
Evie barely stifled a derisive guffaw. Daphne shrugged and went back to her book. Evie started tapping away at her smart phone.
"Sell, goddam it!" Evie yelled. "Sell!"
After several more hours of driving, the limo finally arrived at the inn, a rambling Tudor mansion of several stories. Daphne and Evie got out while their driver unloaded their luggage. As they waited, a BMW sports car tore up, kicking up some gravel before coming to a stop. A handsome man in an expensive suit stepped out and immediately stomped into the inn.
"Nice guy." Daphne said sarcastically.
"And easy on the eyes." Evie added, licking her lips.
"Don't even go there." Daphne warned. "Lets check in."
Daphne and Evie, driver in tow carrying their bags, entered the inn. The man who had gone in before them was talking with an older woman with long gray hair, dressed in a bland full length dress, standing behind a check-in counter. He spoke to her in a harsh voice and then marched off, room key in hand. Daphne took his place in front of the counter to check in.
"Hi. Party of two from Toland Investments." Daphne said in introduction.
The woman nodded and produced two keys.
"So, how big is the Jacuzzi in my room?" Evie asked. "I need to relax after that long car ride."
"There is no Jacuzzi." The woman told her.
"What about the spa?" Evie asked
"There is no spa." The woman replied.
"Sauna? Pool?" Evie quizzed.
The woman shook her head.
"Then how the hell am I supposed to relax?" Evie cried.
"All you need is in the garden. Out back." The woman said.
"What are we supposed to do for entertainment? Do you have a yoga class at least?" Evie asked.
"All you need is in the garden." The woman replied again.
"You've got to be kidding me!" Evie yelled at Daphne. "This was supposed to be a relaxing retreat. We might as well be camping and I hate camping! Hate it, hate it, HATE IT!!! My blood pressure is skyrocketing! Fix this now, you cunt!"
Daphne's face turned red. She was getting angry herself. She leaned close to the clerk and said tensely, "When I called to make reservations, I made it quite clear there were certain requirements that had to be met..."
"All you NEED is in the garden." The woman interrupted.
"Well this is unacceptable..." Evie said angrily.
"Yes, yes, I know it is." Daphne interjected. "But unless you want to spend all night driving back to the city, I suggest we make the best of this place for now. Let's stay the night and go somewhere nicer and better tomorrow."
Evie nodded jerkily as she strove to contain her anger.
"We'll take our rooms for tonight." Daphne told the woman. "Just tonight!"
The clerk slid the two keys across the counter.
Daphne and Evie found their bedrooms upstairs, each lavishly furnished with antiques and comfortable poster beds. Evie looked out her window to see the BMW guy who had preceded them walking into the garden behind the inn.
"Maybe he can make me more relaxed." Evie mused, deciding make the best of this hell hole with a one night stand. She left her room, hurried downstairs and out of the inn to catch up with BMW guy.
Evie swung open the gate to the garden's entrance and passed into its sculpted landscape. She made quick steps over the sandy walkway, past plants both familiar and strange, laid out in orderly fashion or grown chaotically as nature willed. There were fountains and gazebos and sub-gardens dedicated to certain plants, shrubs cut to look like animals, pillars covered with ivy and flowers. It was scenery that would have captured the attention of any casual visitor but Evie was oblivious to the world around her. There was only one thing that she had on her mind--screwing that BMW guy.
The deeper she got into the garden, the stranger the plants became. They were larger, more exaggerated, almost cartoonish versions of their forms. A bush bloomed with purple roses the size of a fist. The limbs of trees ached with strange unnamable fruit. There were lilies as tall as a person. Evie took no notice, wondering where that man had gotten to. She should have caught up to him by now.
Suddenly, there was a masculine cry of surprise down a garden path. Evie assumed BMW guy must have had an accident. Maybe he had tripped and fallen. She decided to play his savior and hoped that he would be very, very grateful in all the right ways. She hurried down the path in the direction of the voice. Turning the corner around a large hedge, Evie saw BMW guy not far away, taking labored steps as if he were struggling through a thick mud. Evie squealed in delight as she hurried toward him. All was going according to her plan.
Or was it? The closer she got to the man, the weirder he started to look. Something was happening to him! His body was bulging and throbbing as if his flesh and muscles were inflating and breaking loose from his bones. The clothes he wore began to strain against the growing mass and finally surrendered to the pressure by tearing into shreds. Seeing Evie, the man reached his distorted arms out to her, as if in plea to save him from the torture from his own body. The limbs stretched out before him beyond their normal length, his fingers bending awkwardly like thin twigs as they extended outward. His increasingly bulbous, pulsating flesh oozed in elephantine flaps, covering his legs like melting wax flowing down a candle, leaving him standing stuck in tall mound of viscous skin. Lifting his arms above his head, he moved his lips as if to say something to Evie, but all that came out was an inhuman bellow. His shoulders suddenly began to creep upwards, building mass over his head and taking his still growing, elongated arms with them, fixing his form in a perpetual reach for the sky. The new pliability of his body was lost in an instant as his skin became hard and cut by narrow grooves and ridges as if it had been desiccated. His flesh had long lost its healthy pinkness and taken on a cast of mottled gray. Thin branches shot out of his now indiscernible arms, each grew buds from which sprung leaves of dark green. Large limbs emerged and sprung out of his bizarrely stretched torso, joining his former arms in decoration with lush foliage. Nearly all the man's movement ceased as his former skin sealed him in a prison of bark. All that remained recognizable of his former humanity were traces of his face, fixed in a knot on the tree he had become, his eyes darting and his lips moving to convey an inaudible whisper.
Evie was bent over in terror before the tree-man, trying to find the voice to scream. Finally, she tore off down a path in panic, not knowing which way she was headed but determined to get as far away as should could from him. Her flight was cut short as she suddenly fell to the ground. She had broken a heel. Pain screamed from her scraped palms and knees. Her twisted ankle throbbed in protest.
.... There is more of this story ...