In the first week of August, I served as an instructor at the 2022 Speculative Fiction Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp and Writing Retreat, held near West Bend, Wisconsin.
As part of the fun, the novelists could write a short creative work about the retreat and compete for the prize of a coffee mug filled with candy bars. This is the winner — by Karey Lea Perkins, Assistant Professor of English, South Carolina State University, who is working on a novel set in a utopia with dark, dangerous secrets.
The day before she wrote this, a thunderstorm knocked out the electricity at the retreat center, so my afternoon class was held in the dark. Karey cast Hollywood stars as the characters; I am flattered to be portrayed by Diane Keaton.
By Karey Lea Perkins
It was a dark and stormy afternoon. The thunder crashed, lightning flashed, and rain smashed. Golf-ball-sized hail soon followed, and the trees felled the power lines. The failing lights plunged us into darkness and, even worse, if you can possibly imagine it … the wifi was gone.
Our fearless and humble director, Bob Newhart, and our steady, wise co-director, Susan Sarandon, vowed the mission would continue, weather be damned. Our session instructor, Diane Keaton, a mere silhouette outlined in the dark, murky, gray room, led us, her authors, huddled together, hoisting iPhone flashlights or seeking nearby windows for slivers of light to see the words on the handout.
Behind the instructor, an innocuous philodendron lay quietly in the dark, tucked away in the back corner on the floor — as it always had. Through an opened window, a flash of lightning illuminated it, and a few rain droplets landed on the plant, which stirred.
As we authors intently concentrated, heads down, on our assignment, the lush, verdant green philodendron began creeping. And creeping. And creeping. It took ten minutes to stealthily traverse the twenty feet to its target, enough time to sneak past the distracted humans’ observation. Suddenly, instantaneously, the tentacles wrapped around Keaton’s waist and clamped her mouth, immobilizing her and rendering her silent.
“Bwahahahaha!! My name is Phil Dendron, and Stevland is my friend! You’ll never write about him again! Prepare to die!”
Frightened and shocked, some of us froze and some screamed. Others tried to lunge for the plant to save Keaton. Before they could reach her, our other instructor, Bruce Willis, jumped on the table and yelled, “Unbind her! Unbind her I say!” He then reached into his back pocket for his magic ancient and powerful collapsible sword, which he never left home without. From across the room, his giant bejeweled sword reached the plant’s elongated stems behind Keaton and instantly slashed through them, severing them from their potted roots.
Before the authors could breathe a sigh of relief, Phil Dendron, like a wolf spider, multiplied into ten or twenty more leafy rope-like tentacles, now independent from their roots and far stronger, wrapping completely around Keaton so only her eyes showed. Having their chosen victim safely imprisoned, the nefarious tendrils now groped for the rest of us, approaching us slowly but surely. Some of us ran; some threw notebooks or laptops at it. Undeterred, the monstrous plant crept and crept and crept and began wrapping around each of us.
As one of the larger tentacles reached me, I grabbed its stem and tore off its leaves, to no avail. I hit it with my iPad, and it only laughed. In a last desperate attempt, I threw my glass of Pinot Grigio at it, which drizzled and dripped down its stem. The plant suddenly halted, and within seconds, started turning brown and withering, dropping off of me.
“I’m wilting! I’m wilting!” cried Phil.
I yelled out to the two or three of my compatriots who were still free, not yet strangled by the plant, “There’s more Pinot Grigio in my room! Go get it!” We ran and grabbed it, then ran throughout the building, searching for all the wine we could possibly find. We doused the vines trapping Keaton and all the other ensnared authors, watching the tentacles collapse to the floor into skinny brown weeds, and then flooded Phil’s roots with that miraculous elixir, so he could never creep again.
Moral of the story: In Vino Vita!
Second moral: Always have a glass of wine around; it may save your ass one day.