"Darla! Hurry up, honey! We don't want to be late and have the Cosgroves think poorly of us! This is the first time your Mommy's boss has invited us over to their house, so let's try and make a good impression, okay honey?" Darla's mother cast anxious glances about as she sought her daughter's whereabouts.
"Here I am Mommy! Look at me! Whee!" The bright chirping voice rang out from somewhere above Deborah Foli, Darla's mother. She glanced up and felt her heart clench. Then she relaxed and sighed. You would have thought after nearly six years of such antics, ever since Darla could crawl, that she would have gotten used to her daughter's eccentricities.
"Darla, dear, will you please come down from that roof top?" She gazed wearily up at the prancing figure of her young daughter, who was cavorting from one end of the roof to the other. She knew she should be throwing a fit. Any other mother, with any other child, would be throwing a fit. But Darla seemed to live a charmed life. No matter how dangerous the stunt, she always walked away without a scratch. This, and Darla's unbreakable good cheer, made it very difficult to keep endlessly scolding her. Well, her almost unbreakable good cheer. That reminded her, she still hadn't called the Cosgroves to make sure they didn't...
"Coming Mommy!" Darla's white dress flashed in the sunlight and her shiny black shoes blurred as she skipped to the edge of the roof.
"DARLA! NO!" Deborah couldn't help but scream out that brief protest. Darla blithely jumped off the edge of the roof and began to plummet, but not far. Tiny hands flickered out and grasped the edge of the roof, just long enough to swing her small body through the open attic window. A sweet smiling face peered out the window a second later. Her head tilted in youthful perplexity and she swept back her long blonde bangs to gaze down with wide, guileless eyes of scintillating blue.
"What Mommy?" The question lilted down.
"Never mind." Sigh. "Just come down and get in the car... and use the stairs!" Deborah added as the pixie-like head disappeared from the window. Deborah headed towards her Buick Century, shaking her head, completely forgetting, in the heat of the moment, to make the vital phone call.
Soon they were driving along. Deborah was musing how glad she was that the seat belt law had been instituted. It gave her a good excuse to strap her daughter down. Previously it had been hard to prevent Darla from riding about with her body half out of the car's window. As it was, Darla strained against the strap and enthusiastically pointed out all the minute details of the neighborhoods they were passing through.
"Look Mommy, a squirrel! Gee, they sure move fast, look at him run across the road! Oh look Mommy, that boy has a bicycle, that looks fun! Wow Mommy, these are big houses!" And so on. Deborah was beginning to wonder if maybe she should have made some excuse up for the Cosgroves and left Darla at home with some brave sitter. But the Cosgrove's children were all grown up and gone elsewhere and Mrs. Cosgrove wanted to meet Darla. What to do? Being a single mother without many skills, she really needed to keep her secretarial position with Mr. Cosgrove. Especially since the corporation they worked for, Du Pont Chemicals, had such wonderful benefits. Maybe once Mr. Cosgrove met Darla, he would understand some of her special needs.
Darla's mother was still worrying when she pulled her car into the Cosgrove's driveway. She got out and went to unstrap Darla. She had meant to keep a firm grip on Darla's arm, but Darla squirmed like quicksilver and exploded past her mother.
"Look Mommy, a puppy dog!" Darla dashed across the Cosgrove's well-kept lawn, towards a neighboring house. In front of that house was chained a dog. One which was no puppy, it could better be described as a huge German Shepherd, more than three times Darla's size. The dog perked up at Darla's approach, then it began to tense and growl.
"Darla! Don't go into the other people's yard! Stay away from that dog!" Deborah scrambled to catch up with her daughter. The dog leaped to the end of its chain, barking savagely. Its jaws slavered and snapped, mere inches from Darla's smiling face. Unintimidated, Darla reached right past the bared fangs, and crooning soothingly, stroked the dog's head. By the time Deborah had reached her daughter, the dog was sitting on its haunches, tongue hanging out and tail wagging. Its expressive eyes looked up with mute confusion and yet contentment. Deborah carefully extracted her daughter and backed away.
"Bye, bye puppy dog!" Darla waved back, beaming happily as she skipped along to keep up with her mother's towing pull.
The Cosgrove's met them at the door, looking flabbergasted.
"That's amazing, that same dog has attacked paperboys and mailmen for years! Only its owner's affluence keeps it from being put to sleep. I would have warned you, but I thought you said Darla usually doesn't play outside?" Mr. Cosgrove shook his head in amazement.
"Normally she doesn't go outdoors. Except in winter time, I don't let her. But she is so curious..." Darla's mother gave a helpless little shrug.
"Well come on inside." Mrs. Cosgrove made shooing motions for them to enter, like an impatient grandmother, "I`ve been looking forward to meeting you, Deborah, the young lady who works so closely with my Harry, and your darling little daughter..."
Mother and daughter walked into the ornate entryway only to come to a dead stop, a few steps inside. The hallway lead straight into the dining room. On the table there was a large arrangement of bright tropical flowers. Darla went rigid. Deborah lunged to get a firm grip on her daughter, but to no avail. With surprising strength and a loud shriek of rage, Darla wrenched free. Deborah tried again to grab her, but Darla was a blur of speed as she rushed forward. Darla bounded onto a chair then onto the dining room table. Her black shoes flashed and her white dress billowed as Darla booted the vase of flowers off the table. Her smiling, angelic face had been twisted into a demonic scowl and her eyes burned with hysteria. She leapt after the flowers and began trampling them, jumping up and down upon them with all the might in her small body. Deborah finally caught up with her and wrapped both arms around her, lifting her away, kicking and screaming wildly. Darla suddenly went limp, collapsing comatose against her mother.
"I am so, so, so sorry! I meant to call earlier and ask if you had any flowers but I was afraid of what you might think. Then I just forgot." Deborah looked pleadingly at her employer and his wife, small tears of frustration and remorse leaking from her pained eyes.
"It's all right, no serious damage done, but what on earth was all that about?" The elderly couple stood a distance away, clinging to each other for support, after the shock.
"When Darla was brought home from the hospital, soon after she was born, her father put her in a crib which was filled with flowers. He was a botanist and had always loved flowers himself, so he must have thought it was a sweet gesture. Darla almost suffocated to death. She went into a coma for several days. The doctors aren't sure but they think she may have sustained brain damage. It may just have been the trauma of the experience. Whatever the reason, Darla throws fits whenever she sees flowers up close now. Usually I can keep her away from them, indoors. Pictures in books and on TV don't bother her. But whenever she gets within a certain distance...I don't know...maybe it's the smell, but she just goes crazy. To her flowers are something evil, I think she believes they're the reason her father went away. I don't know how she knows, she was only an infant. But her father was wild with grief when he thought he had suffocated his baby girl. He killed himself that same night, by blowing up his green house, while he was in it." Deborah flushed and looked down, "Well, I had better take Darla home."
* * *
Darla sat bolt upright in her bed. It was dark. The house was quiet. Her mother was asleep downstairs. Darla's eyes glinted brightly. It was play time. She pounced onto the floor and rushed to her closet. No time for pretty dresses now. She simply slipped her long coat on, over her pink flannel jammies. Darla was searching for her single pair of little tennis shoes, she heard a scrapping sound at her window. She whirled about and without even looking, leaped towards the sound. Her window was slightly raised and slithering through it was a very slight, serpentine form. Darla pounced. Sharp, little finger nails spread talon-like and ripped downward. A thin, shrieking whisper echoed in the recesses of Darla's mind. She stood up and looked down at the shredded form of the assassin. A rose. It's thorns dripped verdant venom on Darla's peach colored carpet. Darla smiled. But it was not the sweet, innocent smile she flashed to the world by day. This smile was feral and glinted like steel. She went to the window and pushed it open. As if a barrier had been put aside, the inner whisperings began again, gnawing at her brain like ravenous rats.
>>We know you child and will destroy you.<<
Darla giggled, a strange sound to come from such a manic face.
"Silly, naughty nasties, you go rot. `Cause if you don't, I'm gonna get you, nah naah nah nah naah." Then Darla threw herself out the window. The ground rushed up. Scattered around the lawn were numerous small, wiggling forms. Darla's bright eyes pinpointed them in the darkness and gauged their numbers. At the last moment before hitting the ground, Darla instinctively bent her legs to cushion her impact and tucked forward into a long forward roll.
Darla rolled right to her feet and began running, side stepping occasionally to stomp on a blossom head. Darla approached the huge hedge that her mother had put up, to wall off the rest of the world. She hurled herself skyward. Had any adult been awake and watching, they would have been astonished at that high jump, one which would have put to shame any Olympic athlete.
After rolling to her feet again, on the other side of the hedge, Darla darted towards the garden shed of her neighbors, the Heathcliffs. Her mother had managed to convince them to limit their garden to just vegetables, but that didn't prevent them from owning a nice arsenal of garden tools.
Darla's objective had been anticipated. A wall of interwoven flowers writhed in front of the shed door, rasping threats into Darla's mind. Darla laughed and again hooked her talons. Leaping upward, she brought her hands sweeping up, then downward. With a display of extraordinary strength for such a tiny body, she ripped the impromptu barrier from its hold on the shed. Darla darted inside and grabbed her favorite weapon, the Heathcliff's Deluxe Electric Weed Whacker. She flipped it on and revved it up. The quiet electric whirl of the motor spun the monofilament about, buzzsaw fashion.
She raced back out into the open, lugging her instrument of floral destruction, and began her long run to sweep her neighborhood clear of the flower infestation. Enraged whispers of defiance reverberated in her brain.
>>Abomination, apocalypse, armageddon, anathema, all these and more you are, child. We foresaw your coming. Your visage has been imprinted, since the days of prophesy, in our collective consciousness. We have always been, always ruled, subtly, twisting the minds of the stupid humans, letting them think they were the masters of their own destiny. But you, demon child, you are different, you are protected somehow, and now you seem able to extend protection to others. You are a threat. Though we failed to destroy you at your inception, though we can no longer use puppet creatures to try and destroy you, we will not rest until you fertilize our soil with you life sap.<<
Darla simply ignored them. There had been times she would have taunted them back as stupid plants, but not tonight. Tonight she was all business.
Abruptly out of the night, reared a huge shape. A Sunflower! Darla giggled as she skipped around it.
"Oh boy, you are a big one! Well I heard, `the bigger they are...'" Darla was unable to finish as the huge, seed-laden blossom smashed into the ground where she had been about to step. Only a skip and a hop to the side saved her little head from becoming pudding. In response, she leaped through the air, swinging the whirring Weed Whacker. The sunflower reared back and, instead of being cleanly decapitated, lost a slice from its head.
Suddenly, Darla felt herself being tripped. A chain of daisies had wrapped around her feet! She tucked into a roll and thrust her feet into the air. This allowed her to spread them a little and slice the flower stalks between them with the Weed Whacker. Darla instinctively rolled again to the side, just in time to again avoid being crushed by the flailing sunflower. Mobile once more, she stood and glared at the persistent sunflower.
"You...you...you gonna be mulch!" Darla seized on a word she had heard the Heathcliffs use to refer to the rotting pile of vegetation they used for fertilizer.
Risking all, Darla hurled herself directly at the malignant growth. With her full weight of fifty pounds, she knocked over the massive flower. Scrambling to her feet, she stood over the struggling stalk. Darla smiled again, a smirk of triumph, and grabbed the stalk, held it up, and swung viciously the Weed Whacker.
An hour later, Darla was wearily climbing up to her bed room, brushing off the grime of that night's venture. She wrinkled her nose at the scratches and bruises, but she knew they would be healed by morning. A warm feeling washed over her. Darla smiled like her daytime self, a vision of good cheer. A murmur caressed her mind, vastly different from the dry rustlings of the evil flowers.
** AS ALWAYS DAUGHTER YOU HAVE DONE WELL. THE HIDDEN EVIL WHICH DECEIVED AND CONTROLLED ME IN LIFE WILL PAY FOR THEIR CRIMES AGAINST MANKIND. IF ONLY I HAD BEEN STRONGER IN LIFE SO I COULD STAND BY YOUR SIDE, IN THE FLESH, AS YOU BATTLE THE FOE.**
"That's okay Daddy, you help me, you help protect me and Mommy, and give me strength to not give up. Gee, without you, I wouldn't be me, not like I am. And everyday I'm alive I'm gonna make them pay for what they made you do. Oh, Daddy! I saw a TV show today, on ag.. agg... agree-cool-tour? And it talked about stuff you spray and kill weeds and I thought..."
** YES DARLA, I KNOW, I WAS WITH YOU THEN TOO. MAYBE SOMEDAY, WHEN YOU`RE OLDER. FOR RIGHT NOW, YOU'RE RIGHT, WE MAKE A GREAT TEAM.**
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