The Strange
Strange Plant Story - The Strange

(Jackhammer E-zine, March 1998)  ( UPDATE:
Jackhammer E-zine is dead and not archived enough to do anyone any good at all. )

by E. McMahon

I can't believe Keony talked me into this.  Here we are in the studio of URBANUS!, the newest sleaze talk show--first episode.  Whee-ha.  These shows have really gone downhill since Oprah retired.  And they were bad enough then.

The applause sign blinks on and everyone dutifully claps and yells as the cameras pan the audience and onto the silver-draped stage, where an older, well-dressed black man has sauntered out, smiling widely.

Like everyone else, this is the first time I've seen him, yet I must squeal and cavort as if he were Kurt Cobain come back from the dead.

"Welcome to URBANUS!"  The applause dies down.  "Today's topic is . . . Flesh-Eating Plants!"

Keony sighs and slumps in her seat.  She whispers, "What a rip.  On TARARA they had Teenage Girls Reveal:  Mom, I'm a Prostitute!"

"Ssh!  Maybe this one is different."

Urbanus is talking.  "Please welcome the Carnivorous Plant Society and their greenhouse of the rarest of . . . Predator Plants!"

I'm expecting a bunch of Venus flytraps like the one in fifth grade, maybe bigger and greener.  Instead, the drapes part to reveal a gigantic greenhouse full of the weirdest, shiniest, scariest plants you ever saw.  Shaped like Star Trek wormholes, or tall trumpets with come-hither lids, or spoons with glistening tentacles.  Gorgeous colors glow in designs of red, purple, white, pink, salmon, pale green, black-green . . . and yes, there's the Venus flytrap, looking much brighter and healthier than ours ever did.

The audience oohs and ahhs on cue.  A lot of it is real, however; even Keony is entranced in spite of herself.  I hope we'll be allowed to see them close up.  But from the looks of the "Society" it's doubtful; seated in a stern row in front of the greenhouse, nine people in Indiana Jones outfits guard their treasure.

Give me a break!  In their laps they hold whips with heavy-gloved hands.  Afraid a stray tentacle will go for their pinkies?  Anything to boost ratings, I suppose.

"So," Urbanus addresses the Indianas, "tell us how you all got into Carnivorous Plants!"  Here he rolls his eyes at the audience: nervous titters, loud groans.  No one on the stage even cracks a smile.

A good-looking man (though it's hard to tell with those big hats) stands up, whip in hand.  "My name is Daril Severynse, and I began the Society after learning how terribly endangered these special, beautiful plants are."  Were those tears glistening in his eyes?

Keony leans over and whispers in my ear, "I don't see why I had to fill out all those pages of personal info--my grandma would have liked this better.  I mean, why did they need my age, weight, hobbies, and all that--for this?"

I glance around; the audience does seem to be all young, peppy, over-casually dressed.  June in L.A.  I have a sudden suspicion.  "So, Keony, just what did you put on my application?"

"Oh, I made you a bit more like me--to make sure you got in, too."

Great.  Peppy, half-dressed me.  What a laugh.

"I made you weigh one-eighty.  Don't be mad--all the talk shows have chubby people jumping up and down . . . well, it worked, didn't it?"  What a friend.

Vegetation has been brought onto the stage from the wings.  Now a fat man is pounding the floor with his whip-end, a perfectly well-behaved Venus flytrap quivering in his voluminous lap with each pound.  ". . . root rot from giving them fertilizer!" he is saying.  "Or, even more stupidly, giving them dead insects or raw hamburger, rotting their traps!"  He shakes his chins in wonder.  "People who yank these delicate plants from their natural environment for the sadistic pleasure of school children. . ."

"Now, Theo, children as well as adults need to learn about carnivorous plants," the elderly lady on his left interrupts.  "Now about this exquisite sundew. . ."

Urbanus steps up to the sparkling red-tipped tentacles and puts his ear to the sundew she cradles.  "I hear something!"  He switches to a high-pitched voice.  "Sustain us, Urbanus!"  He hops into the audience, clapping his hands in the air as if catching insects.  "Anybody see any bugs?  Quick!  My flytrap friend's famishing!"

What a jerk.  I can tell just how long this show's going to last.

"Carnivorous plants don't need help to trap their prey."  Daril's deep voice and warning look quiets Urbanus--and surprisingly fast, too.  "Proximity's the key.  They've evolved over millions of years to lure the necessary nutrients to themselves."

I revise my opinion of him as nice-looking:  He's much too cold and humorless.  The strange wormhole plant he holds has more animation.

"This is a tropical pitcher plant," he continues.  "Nepenthes rajah, the largest of the pitchers.  Not only has it sticky-sweet nectar like the others to trap insects, but it has rainwater in the bottom of the gourd to lure thirsty animals--rats, small monkeys, even.  They stick their heads in, trying to get a drink, but it's too far.  When they try to pull their heads back out, these inward-pointing spines prevent them."  Here he points to sharp dark red points just inside the lip of the lurid purple and chartreuse wormhole mouth.  "So they crawl in, trying to turn around, but now they're faced with the slippery, waxy walls.  Digestive enzymes are activated by the animal's struggles."

"Oooh!  The poor little monkey!" Urbanus exclaims, putting on a horrified expression for the camera.

"No."  He strokes the shiny pitcher like a pet cat.  "The resourceful plant.  That monkey will feed the rajah for months."

"But what if someone throws a rock in it?"  This from a boy at the end of Urbanus's microphone, obviously one of those flytrap torturers Theo abhors.

"Then the digestive enzymes won't be activated.  After a few hours, the trap bends down; the rock rolls out."


Urbanus runs to a girl in back with her hand stuck up.  She gives a nervous little giggle.  "Do any of them . . . eat humans?"  Where do these people come from?

Daril grimaces indulgently.  "Of course not.  As you can see, these plants are too small for a full-term infant."

"Well, okay!"  Urbanus jumps in.  "We'll take a short commercial break while we convince some volunteers to enter the House of Carnivorous Plants--stay tuned!"

The cameras back off and a soup commercial appears on the monitors.  Urbanus checks himself in a hand mirror and wipes his sweaty forehead.  Keony raises her hand and mine up together as Daril walks up to the front.

"All right--you . . . you . . ."  He points to the raised hands, counting off nine of us.  "All of you, please go on stage."

"I don't like this," I say to Keony.

"Oh, don't be such a wuss, Casey.  It's our chance to be on TV!  Just act . . . you know . . . perky."

Soon all nine of us are on stage next to the door of the greenhouse.  The Society members hover around us--our escorts, I suppose, making sure we don't harm their beloved babies.

The silver curtain descends.

More dramatics?  We hear Urbanus addressing the remaining audience.  "When the curtain rises, you'll see your brave friends in among the flesh-eating plants!"  Were the commercials over?  No way to tell in here.  "Meanwhile, as they get ready, let's hear from an explorer of the jungles who'll tell us about a terrible experience in Borneo . . ."

Daril has taken position at the door.  His voice drowns out the beginning of the explorer's no-doubt harrowing tale.  "The surprise of the show is this: the glass of the greenhouse is a special demagnifying glass.  The plants inside are actually larger than they appear."

I gasp.  A few of the girls start to move back, afraid.

"But please don't worry--it's perfectly safe.  The nine plants inside have evolved to protect themselves from man--but they are well fed with rodents and such.  Each one of us will personally stay close by you.  Just be careful not to touch the plants, and we won't have to intervene."

Intervene?  Would they really use their whips to snap off a precious tentacle and save a kid?

"So why do you wear gloves and reek of Herbal Essence?" I ask, unconvinced of our safety.

He frowns down at me in my baggy sweatshirt and jeans.  "Aren't you a bit overdressed for summer?"

"I always dress this way--so what?"

"Casey!" Keony says.  "Don't argue.  Let's just get this over with and we'll be famous!"

"She's right," says the old lady in her soothing voice.  "All you have to do is stand by your plant while the camera closes in and everyone sees you in miniature.  What a sight that will be!"  She nods at me.  "It is beastly hot in there, though.  Tropical plants need the humidity.  We're used to it, but you really shouldn't wear a sweater, love."

I have a t-shirt underneath.  If Keony goes in, so do I.

I am the last one in.  Daril takes my arm at the door.  "We get to stand next to the Venus flytrap . . . careful!"

Venus persontrap is more like it.  Those spines are as long as my arm!  I peer into a trap.  A lake of bright viscous salmon, shaped more like a giant wet ear than a mouth, waiting. . . waiting . . .

Nervously, I look out the glass.  The curtain is still down.  A movement out of the corner of my eye . . . did the trap move toward me?

Suddenly screams erupt all around!  The plants are going for us!  I yank my arm away to run for the door, but Daril is too quick--his whip wraps around me!

An evil smile transfigures his face.  "You'll satisfy Venus for a while, even if you are a skinny punk."  He shoves me . . . into the gaping trap!

"Aaahhhh!"  I scream in terror, expecting the horrible jaws to clap over me.

Nothing.  Then a fact darts into my reeling brain: you have to touch the receptors twice, the plant's way of conserving its energy when a dead leaf or pebble fell accidentally into it.  Surely this monster had obvious receptor hairs like the little ones did.

I look around carefully--no hairs.  What did it take to shut the trap?  I wasn't going to struggle helplessly in the goo and find out.  I stay still and try to think.

"What's wrong?" Daril taunts me.  I don't dare turn to look at him.  The screams around me are fading.  Where's Keony? I wonder.  "You don't want to disappoint the tabloid boobies out there in TV land who'll be seeing something being digested.  The VIPs at Nutri-Veg Soups paid big bucks for this show.  Fear is the most powerful motivator in advertising, don't you know.  Let's make 'em subliminate and shuffle for the veggie soup . . ."

Suddenly I hear her.  "Casey, Case--it hurts!  My skin's on fire!"

No!  She shouldn't struggle--the digestive juices!  I open my mouth and scream, "Don't . . .!"


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