“Excuse me,” Saunders approached the woman in the green body warmer. “Do you work here?”
The woman – the photo-card on the lanyard around her neck revealed her name was Katherine – pulled her attention away from the bedding plants she was crouching nearby and blinked at Saunders from beneath an unruly fringe. “For my sins,” she smiled, rising to a standing position. There was soil on her cheek, Saunders noticed, and her teeth were large and square like a horse’s. Otherwise, she wasn’t in bad shape, he assessed. It must be all the outdoor working and the lifting of heavy things like those flat, unwieldy bags of fertiliser.
She waited, her equine smile unwavering. Saunders looked her up and down. The green wellies, the chequered shirt, and the dungarees beneath the padded, sleeveless jerkin. He supposed she had to wear this garb as some sort of uniform.
Katherine blinked. It seemed unlikely the tall man currently towering over her was going to say any more so she helped him out with a prompt. “How can I help?”
She looked up into his bland, expressionless face. “Was it the pansies you were interested in? Or…”
Saunders stared at her. “Pansies? No. I do not wish to purchase any plants. My query is something of a contrary nature. I do not wish to buy any plants at all. Quite the reverse. You see, I have a plant of which I wish to be rid.”
“Ah.” Katherine shook her head. “I’m afraid we don’t do that kind of thing. We don’t buy ’em, we only sell ’em. I mean, we have our suppliers, of course, who keep us stocked up – but perhaps you’d like to speak to the manager? Is it a lot?”
“Is what a lot?”
“The plants you want to sell.”
Saunders shook his head but his blank features remained unperturbed by the impatience in his voice. “No, no; you are not understanding me. There is just the one plant. Just one. And I have said nothing about selling it. I wish to be rid of it. I wish to destroy it. I have made several attempts but it seems fortified against every attack. No blade can harm it or even make as much as a scratch on it. It is impervious to fire and I suspect it thrives on the various brands of weed killer I have rained upon it. I have tried everything I can think of but I fear I have reached an impasse. Please say you will help me,” he nodded at the lanyard, “Katherine.”
“Well,” Katherine exhaled an upward puff to dislodge her fringe. “It’s a bit of a head-scratcher.” Her eyes narrowed. “What kind of plant did you say it was?”
“I did not,” Saunders retorted. “Mainly because I do not know. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. I can find no listing for it in any work of botanical reference you can think of.”
“Hmm. Have you tried Wikipedia?”
Saunders hung his head. Katherine bit her lower lip.
“Perhaps you can describe it to me. Then I’ll have some idea what we’re dealing with.”
Saunders let out a sigh, as if he knew it would be a waste of time. “It’s tall,” he began, measuring the air. “Easily as tall as me. Its trunk is as thick as my chest and appears scaly, like it has its own suit of armour. The leaves hang like dead snakes but they emit a noxious aroma periodically; the stench of rotting carrion.”
“Hmm,” said Katherine, trying to picture the plant. “And where did you get it?”
“That is just it. I did not ‘get it’. It just turned up. It is a blight in my garden, Katherine. Everything else is dying. It is a blight on my life.”
Katherine pursed her lips. “I don’t suppose you have a photograph.”
“I do not; but perhaps you would do me the kindness of visiting my garden and taking a look for yourself.”
Alarm bells rang in Katherine’s mind. She snatched up a nearby trowel, ready to defend herself. “That won’t be possible!” she snapped. “We don’t do house calls.”
“A pity,” said Saunders, gloomily.
His head split open from crown to chin and a long, green shoot sprang out, shaking off its human form and snaking around the garden centre worker before she knew what was happening. Tendrils coiled around Katherine’s waist and throat, pinning her arms to her sides and binding her legs. A leaf slapped across her mouth like a sticking plaster.
“A pity you could not be more trusting,” Saunders’s voice tickled her ear. “Now I shall have to ingest you right here and regurgitate you for Mother when I get back. She was so looking forward to a solid meal for a change.”