The Enchanted Gardener
When Lyssa the Fair swept into the greenhouse, I knew right away she was bad news. First of all, she’d bypassed my security system at the front of the store which, okay, consisted of a bell on a string and a retired cat-demigod-librarian napping on the job. But the bell should’ve tripped. Instead, the famed and much esteemed enchantress Lyssa had seen fit to muffle the bell and walk around like she owned the place.
To be clear, she didn’t. I did.
This was my nursery, started way back when I was struggling to complete my major in Thaumaturgical Theory and Poetics. I’d wasted months trying and failing to cram long, wriggling lines of magic into my head. To distract myself, I turned the dorm courtyard into my personal garden. To make some coin on the side, I started selling plants to my classmates. I charmed my wares to start wailing when they needed water or sun, so they were basically unkillable, and made buckets of money. This led to that, and I ended up running my own nursery straight out of college.
Of course, I’ve had help: my university friends, my kid brother, my mom, and my aunties, too. I let the aunties water the pothos, and if any of them ask when I’m going to start dating, I let my resident cat-demigod-librarian Calliothes piss on their auras. Still, I don’t think I’ve slept more than five hours straight for the last year.
The only thing that makes it better is the plants.
Naturally, I’m already baseline pissed when Lyssa the Fair waltzes in. I only let trusted customers into the backmost greenhouse and for good reason. The rarest plants are here, including the infamous Dragon’s Breath. And then here comes this lady, who thinks she’s hot stuff just because she’s super magic and beloved by the court. What the hell.
She keeps picking flowers to sniff and toss. She’s lucky I don’t grow anything too poisonous, or she’d be staring down a scaley, cursed nose in no time. I have to get her out of here, and fast. Her sparkly midnight cape already knocked over a pot.
“Welcome! Is there anything I can help you with?” I call out with a friendly chirp. No response.
Clutching my apron, I hop to see over the heirloom tomatoes just in time to catch Lyssa the Fair about to pluck a golden bloom. I feel the rage rush up my throat so fast, I burp a little fire. The other flowers I can forgive, but not the Phoenix Tears. They’re dormant year-round, and they only bloom when the stars align just so.
I run up to the enchantress, dodging stray seedling trays. She gives me an arch look, her blood-red lips curling into a smile that’s stark against her pale skin. I recoil for a second, reminded of the weeds you find growing under bricks — a tight mass of corpse white threads among all the riotous green life.
“Are you the shopkeep?” Her gaze skims over the dirt under my nails and the stained, patchwork apron I’m wearing. “You look it. How quaint. You’ve even got a leaf in your hair, like some woodland creature.” She reaches out with a languid motion.
I flinch back and her gaze hardens. I take another step, putting an overgrown chrysanthemum between us. Soft yellow petals brush against my wrist, and I feel a spark of life shiver up my veins. I put on my best salesperson voice. “What can I do for you today?”
“This.” The enchantress caresses the Phoenix Tears bloom. “I want to buy this one.”
“It’s not for sale,” I say automatically. I’m not even lying. Phoenix Tears are beyond priceless. Just the dew from its fern-like leaves has geriatric academics salivating in their pentagrams.
Lyssa lets out a tinkling laugh. “How much do you want for it?”
“It’s really not for sale. I’m sorry,” I say.
“Oh, come now. Name your price,” she says, smiling at me. I feel a wave of something hit me with that smile and I sway on my feet. I blink and it happens again, this overwhelming sense of clammy coldness and dread.
The enchantress’s tongue darts out to wet her lips. She’s enjoying this. “I can give you gold. Or get you an audience with the royal court. You’d like that wouldn’t you? Gardener to the queen. A step up in life, I imagine.”
“We take cash only,” I manage to say. The squeezing cold has left my fingers numb and I can’t seem to move my feet. “I mean, for anything else here. The Phoenix Tears aren’t for sale.”
“I can give you anything. What do you want?” Lyssa snaps her fingers and laughs again. “I know! You want a love potion. Those are so hard to come by these days. And a plain girl like you… oh, you must be so lonely.”
“I’m fine, thanks,” I mutter. My head swims, my vision warping, and I stumble.
Thorns bite into my leg, drawing blood, and suddenly I’m flushing hot again. My arms are all pins and needles, but I can move. The humid heat of the greenhouse wraps around me like armor as I inhale the sweet scent of osmanthus.
Lyssa is still buzzing about something, but I ignore her. I reach back and crush a leaf in my hand, letting the juice seep into my fortune lines. I mutter an incantation in the mother tongue and feel the power well up in my throat.
I brandish my stained hand at Lyssa. “Get out,” I say. “Business hours are over.”
“You can’t–” I flick some leaf gunk at her, and she flinches. I grin at her. She looks like she’s just eaten a bit of fluff, and I was the one who brought in the shedding dog. I pick up a fallen stick and snap it, letting tongues of flame flow out and dance along the broken pieces.
“You need to leave,” I say.
What the gossip columns don’t tell you is that Lyssa the Fair doesn’t take rejection well. Her beautiful, coiffed hair starts to writhe and the shadows around her lengthen. Before I can say anything like “I can offer you a discount on lavender,” she shoots me a look of pure murder.
“I’m afraid you know what comes next,” she says sweetly.
“I don’t.” But I have a feeling. The capital’s ecosystem is out of whack from all the bewitched frog-princes hopping around, messing up the food chain and philosophizing in wells.
Lyssa laughs. “Cross an enchantress, pay the price. A curse is standard fare.”
“We could just skip it. You’re Lyssa the Fair. Everyone says that you’re one of the good ones. Good enchantresses don’t curse civilians.”
“Ah, that’s the thing,” Lyssa says, brightening. “I’m helping you, poor girl. It’s obvious that you’re a cold, loveless thing…” She goes to take my hand, but I pull back. She scowls. “You see what I mean?”
A gust of freezing wind blasts through the greenhouse, sending clay pots crashing to the floor. I know I should do something, anything — set off the wards, summon Calliothes, chuck a garden gnome. But I can’t quite tear my gaze away from the shattered pieces of pot on the floor, the exposed wriggles of root, and the slash of dark soil.
“I curse you,” Lyssa intones. “I curse you… Hm, what’s your name?”
“I hope your entrails crawl up and choke you in your sleep,” I snap.
“Never mind. The name is but a formality.” Lyssa waves a hand at me, and a tendril of shadow wraps around my ankle. “I curse you, young lady, to an endless sleep. But since I’m feeling generous, I’ll allow you a simple way to break the curse. All you need is the purest, most beautiful thing this world can offer: true love’s kiss.”
Well, I’m fucked.
I sneeze myself awake. Calliothes, the smug little shit, is sitting on my chest, paws tucked in. I love a good cat loaf, but not when I’ve got a cat butt parked near my face and bits of semi-divine fur going up my nose.
When I lift a hand to wipe my nose, I find out that Lyssa’s made good on her curse. My hand is half see-through. When I sit up, I pass straight through Calliothes. I look down at my sleeping body and suppress a shudder. I look dead.
My arms are folded up and crossed with my hands barely touching my shoulders. Someone — my mom, I hope — has pulled off my work boots and changed me out of my tunic so that I’m wearing a nice collared shirt. I’ve been laid out on my bed on top of my faded rose-patterned comforter.
I should be freaking out, but it’s not like I haven’t seen the textbook diagrams of astral projection. Figure A: the body, asleep. Figure B: the spirit, out and about.
The dull pressure I always have between my eyes is gone, and I feel weirdly well-rested. I guess that’s what happens when you transcend your mortal body.
The disappointing thing is that I don’t even get to float around like a real ghost. I’m rooted to the ground, just a hundred percent more intangible than before. I try walking away from my body, but I can’t get much further than the door before I start to feel this terrible, hollow ache. So I’m trapped.
I spend a good five minutes trying to pick up a pen so I can write an SOS message, then another ten minutes poking Calliothes. One emerald eye cracks open to regard me before shuttering. Cats and demigods don’t give a shit about anyone, and that’s the truth. I could use an apprentice right about now. My best friend Leiyin is always saying I need to hire one, but I just never had the time.
Just when I’ve resigned myself to taking a nap, Leiyin strides in. She’s short, with severe cropped hair, but she’s got that kind of personality that makes her seem tall as the heavens. My little brother trails after her. He casts my body an anxious look, lips pinching into a thin line.
I want to shake him, tell him not to worry, but he can’t sense me. He’s got an unbelievably low score in supernatural sight. Even on festival nights, my grandmother has to knock over a trash can or possess a dog to get him to notice her. Amah’s a ghost, but that doesn’t stop her from minding the family.
Leiyin, on the other hand, is hyper perceptive. I wave frantically as she looks around my room, and she squints briefly in my direction. “Hey! I’m right here!” I jump up and down, but all she does is shake her head.
“When I track down that enchantress, she’s finished.” Leiyin glares at my body. “And why does Percy look like that? She’s asleep, not dead.”
“I think it was one of the aunties,” says my brother. “They came by to snoop earlier.”
Leiyin snorts. “Figures. Here, Taylor, give me a hand–” She wiggles my comforter out from under my body while Taylor gingerly lifts me up. With a disgusted meow, Calliothes stalks away. Leiyin moves my arms so they’re less corpse-like, then fluffs up my comforter.
“Do you think–” Taylor’s voice wobbles a little. “Do you think she’ll ever wake up?”
“Of course she will,” Leiyin says briskly.
“But what about the curse? The lady said there’s only one way to break it.” Taylor looks up, blinking rapidly. Something twists in my gut. There’s nothing like family to make you feel guilty as hell.
“We’ll fix this, if I have to fistfight Lyssa the Fair myself.” Leiyin punches my brother’s shoulder. “We’ll figure something out.”
“You’d better,” I tell them. Of course, they don’t hear.
The stories make enchanted sleep look so romantic and peaceful. Really, it’s just boring.
Maybe I’m doing it wrong. From all the accounts I’ve read for school, it sounds like people hit with a sleeping curse just pass out cold and then, next thing they know, they’re waking up to fanfare and a royal engagement. Because, of course, you only ever hear about the cursed princesses and princes, never mind the commoners left to languish for all eternity — and okay, that’s not helping me feel better about all this.
To pass the time, I putter around my room. The only thing I can touch is Calliothes, who allows me scritch his ears. I spend hours with Calliothes in my lap and my fingers buried in his soft fur. The rumbling thunder of his purrs lulls me to sleep, right there in a square of butter-yellow sun.
I jerk awake to find my mom tiptoeing around my bed. She brushes the hair from my face and murmurs something in my ear.
I have a feeling it’s “I love you,” sappy as that is. She never said it to me when I was a kid, but now she sneaks it into every conversation. No idea why. Maybe she’s making up for lost time, or she read in an advice column that parents were supposed to do that.
My mom straightens up. Her face is more lined than ever, and she’s got crusty white stuff in her eyes. If I were awake, I would’ve told her to wipe it off and she would’ve done it, but not before telling me to mind my own business.
“Ma!” My brother crashes into the room. He staggers under the weight of a massive clay pot carrying my Dragon’s Breath.
“Taylor, what the hell,” I say. “You can’t take that out of the greenhouse! It’ll dry out.” Of course, he can’t hear me. My mom rushes over to help lift the pot.
“Are you sure this is the right one?” Taylor asks anxiously. “Percy’s gonna be real mad when she finds out we touched her stuff.”
“Don’t be silly. She’ll thank us,” my mom says. “This one’s her favorite. She’ll like having it nearby. It’s her treasure.”
“Now come on, your auntie knows someone who can help us find this Lyssa woman.” My mom’s already out of the room. I hear the front door slam. Taylor gives my body one last look before following.
When they’re gone, I drift over to examine the Dragon’s Breath. This isn’t the ideal environment for it, but yeah, I’m kind of glad it’s here. The broad green leaves will be fine, but the tight buds of red and orange bloom might shrivel up outside the greenhouse. I check the soil moisture. It’ll survive for a few days.
More than ever, I want to wake up. But I don’t think I can.
The aunties arrive in a mob. I’ve actually never seen an auntie in the wild by herself. They always move in flocks, handing out unsolicited advice and smelling of menthol. I think only three out of the entire auntie entourage are actually blood-related to me. But they all act like I’m their business. Today is no different.
They start by snooping around. Second Aunt peers out my window. First Aunt sniffs at the drying squash seeds on my desk. Her friend clucks at the Dragon’s Breath.
Finally, they settle down around my bed. I hover at the edge, watching as they pull out packets of dried squid and melon seeds. One of them balances a bowl on my ankle and drops cracked seed shells into it. Another empties her thermos into my Dragon’s Breath pot. I contemplate murder.
“Ai, this business is no good,” Second Aunt says.
The other aunts murmur their agreement. Yes, so terrible. How could such a thing happen to our Percy? Such a nice girl. Very respectful.
“Maybe it’s for the best,” says First Aunt. She cracks a seed between her teeth, considering. “This one certainly needs a break. You know how young people get. Always so busy. They don’t even eat breakfast!”
To my aunties, all failures in life can be traced back to skipping breakfast, vitamin C deficiency, and disrespecting your elders.
Her friend says, “One of my co-workers has a son who went through the same thing. He was cursed by a warlock, but his partner came along and woke him up. Some lawyer gentleman.”
Third Aunt sighs. “You’re certain Percy doesn’t have anyone to break the curse?”
“Her parents think she doesn’t,” says First Aunt. “Young Taylor says no as well.”
Great. My aunts are discussing my non-existent love life. If I weren’t already practically a ghost, I’d curl up and die right then and there.
“So, what do we do about this?” Second Aunt prods my body.
“My doctor knows someone who can get us a meeting with this enchantress,” says Third Aunt. “I’m sure we can come to an agreement with her if we have her over for tea.”
“I see.” First Aunt taps her nose. “We fold a hex into her snacks.”
“No, none of that,” says Second Aunt. “This lady has court connections. You won’t believe what I’ve heard about her…”
The aunts talk for a little while longer, then clean up their debris and file out, still gossiping. I don’t have to look to know that they’ve all lined up to use the bathroom. Some things never change.
When night falls, my grandmother sails through the wall and into my room. I’ve never seen her do this. She always goes through the door, because that’s what’s traditional, and we’re nothing without tradition.
“You!” She goes for the old lady wrist grab before I can escape. “What did I do to deserve this?”
“Sorry, Amah,” I say automatically. I yank ineffectually at my wrist, but her grip is iron.
“I worked two jobs to put food on the table, raised your father and his brothers all by myself, and this is what I get?” Amah lets go and floats around the room, spiraling higher as she screeches. “My very own granddaughter falls to a curse, and no one thinks to tell me?!”
“Well, I can’t leave the room–“
“You know how I heard? Your aunts were gossiping near the temple! I had to learn about the fate of my descendant like some… outsider!” She spits out the word like it’s a fish bone.
“Maybe they didn’t want to bother you.” When Amah turns her glare on me, I hastily add, “You know, because they hold you in such high esteem.”
“Perhaps,” she says, drifting down. “But they should have consulted me. It’s not as if they know what to do about a curse like this.”
“Do you know? What do I do?”
“It’s obvious. You do what I tell you.” Amah squints at me. “Now, do you have anyone you want to kiss? You don’t even have to be in love. If there’s someone you want to go to bed with…”
First of all, ew. Not something you’d ever want your grandmother to ask. Second of all, I don’t even know where to start.
I’m fine with who I am, really, but there’s something awful about putting it into words. I hate that I’m too weak to own it, that I still stumble when I try to explain that I don’t do romance or sexual attraction or any of that. And thanks to Lyssa the fucking Fair, I guess I have to come out to a ghost.
“I don’t have anyone. It’s just… I don’t really…” It all makes sense in my head, but when I try to say it aloud, everything goes to mush. I take a deep breath, steeling myself. “The thing is…”
“It’s okay.” Amah cuts me off. “You don’t have to tell me.”
She won’t even look me in the eye. Here I was, psyching myself up to bare my soul after getting cursed by a world-class enchantress for all eternity, and that’s what she says? Fuck that.
“What if I want to tell you?” I snap. “There’s nothing wrong with it. There’s nothing wrong with me–“
“Of course there’s nothing wrong with you,” Amah says. “We don’t need to talk about this.”
“Why not? Everyone else is talking about it. You know how embarrassing it is to know that everyone probably thinks I’m going to stay cursed forever because I’m just not good enough, or mature enough, or beautiful enough to have a partner? That I’m some kind of failure for not being worthy of love?” I think I’m shouting at this point. “Well, they’re wrong, and I’m fine, and I didn’t ask for this–“
“I understand,” Amah says. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
At that, the rage drains out of me, and all I have left is the knowledge that, spirits save me, I just yelled at my grandmother. Toss my body in the compost, I might as well be dead.
“I’m right?” I croak. “You’re not going to tell me to find someone? To get married so that I don’t grow old and die alone?”
“We all die alone,” Amah says sharply. “I would know.”
I finally look at my grandmother, really look at her. She’s older than I remember, her shoulders more bowed. Her wispy white hair glows in the light, and the wrinkles around her mouth have deepened. I didn’t even know it was possible for ghosts to age.
“You’re really okay with this?” I gesture helplessly at myself. “With me?”
“Percy.” Amah says my name the way she always does: Pah-see, made soft by her accent. “I can’t expect you to be someone you’re not. As for marriage, it’s not something I would push you into. It didn’t go so well for me. Sometimes…” She falters. “Sometimes, you’re better off alone.”
Oh, spirits. What do you say to that? “Amah, I’m sorry–“
“Ai, it’s in the past. And I outlived your agong, didn’t I? That’s the best revenge.” Amah grins.
“Look, ah, what I’m saying is that I would not wish my life on you. You have to make your own path, you know? There’s a reason I stayed behind when I passed, instead of going to be with your agong.”
“You said you stayed so you could look after your grandchildren. You said I couldn’t be trusted to boil water!”
“Both can be true.” Amah sees the look on my face and starts chortling. Her laugh sounds like a cat hacking up a hairball, a series of mirthful gasps and creaky wheezes. I wish Taylor was around to hear it.
There was a time when my grandmother never laughed. When she was alive, she would shuffle silently through the house, usually holding a pail of murky water to throw into the garden after rinsing homegrown vegetables. Her wrinkled, tanned face was inscrutable, her eyes only ever dark glimmers of calm.
She rarely spoke to me or Taylor. A typical interaction consisted of her wordlessly offering us bowls of pork over rice.
When she became a ghost, she started talking a whole lot more, and soon after that, laughing. Now, she’s always nagging me about this or that, or telling me to nag Taylor for her.
Once I asked her why she only started talking to us after she died. She thought about it for a while before settling on, “I can’t feed you anymore like I used to. I can only tell you to eat.”
So it’s nice to see her laugh now, even if it’s at my expense. When she’s finally done, Amah stoops to examine Calliothes, who’s been stretched out on my bed this whole time.
“You really shouldn’t let that cat sit there,” she sniffs. “It’s not hygienic.”
“He’s a demigod. He doesn’t have germs.”
She knows I’m right so, of course, she ignores me. She fixes Calliothes with a scornful look and drifts out of my room, this time through the door.
“Unhand me!” A shrill voice cuts through my nap. Lyssa the Fair storms into the room. She’s traded in her dark cape for a crimson one that billows out behind her.
Leiyin’s hanging onto her arm, but the enchantress shakes her off with a clap of energy. “First, these old harpies come after me, inviting me to tea, and now I must be manhandled?”
“Don’t even think about trying anything,” Leiyin growls. She gets between Lyssa and my bed. Taylor hovers nearby, glancing anxiously between the two.
“Nonsense,” Lyssa says. She steps closer to Leiyin, reaching out to cup her chin. “I’m here to check on the poor girl, not hurt her.”
“Um, Miss Lyssa,” Taylor pipes up. “No offense, but you’re kind of trespassing. This is our house.”
Spirits above, my little brother is going to get himself killed mouthing off to an all-powerful enchantress over private property laws. I try to smack him upside the head, but my hand passes straight through.
“How fun!” The enchantress lets out a tinkling laugh. “Do you think I’m the villain here?”
“Uh, yeah?” Taylor says. Leiyin is shaking her head, mouthing something that looks like ‘shut up, shut up, shut up’. He shrugs. “You cursed my sister. Doesn’t that make you the bad guy here?”
“Certainly not. I punished this errant gardener, yes, but the curse I laid is easily broken. All you need is true love’s kiss. Unless…” Lyssa gives my body a pitying look. “She doesn’t have anyone who loves her.”
“It’s none of your business,” Leiyin snarls. I realize with a jolt that she’s been stuck there the whole time, her chin pinched in Lyssa’s hand. Her hands are balled into tight fists, knuckles almost pale through her brown skin.
Lyssa shifts her hand to stroke Leiyin’s cheek. Her voice is at once soothing and sultry. “There’s really no need for the hostility. I’m just here to help your friend.”
“Then undo the curse,” says Leiyin.
“Oh, I can’t do that,” Lyssa says. “That’s just not how it’s done. It must be broken with–“
“I don’t care. Just fix this.” Lightning fast, Leiyin snaps her head to the side and bites Lyssa’s hand. Just sinks her teeth right in. There’s a sharp intake of breath and then–
And then Leiyin’s body hits the wall with a dull thud. Taylor yelps, his eyes going wide. For a moment there, my best friend looks impossibly small and vulnerable, a bruise already blooming on her thigh.
Leiyin pushes herself up, eyes flashing, and she’s back. “What the fuck,” she screams. “You piss-streak, soul-shriveled, hack of a magic tapper…”
Leiyin’s panting, listing to one side as my brother props her up, but she continues her litany of insults. Lucky for her, Lyssa’s examining the ring of teethmarks on her hand, too distracted to blast Leiyin again.
“Don’t you think you’ve slept enough?” My grandmother appears in the doorway. “You have to wake up now.”
“But I can’t,” I say helplessly. “Unless you can snap your fingers and make me a different person.”
“Tch, haven’t you figured it out by now? You don’t need all that.” Amah herds me toward my bed.
“I told you, I can’t wake up. I’ve done this a thousand times,” I say. I lie back to demonstrate, letting my spirit settle into the contours of my body. “It doesn’t work.”
“Try waking up,” she urges. “Just try.”
“Hello, I’m cursed, remember?”
“What do you need to break a curse, ah? Love.” Amah jabs a finger at me. “Love is everywhere. So easy to get, like buying cabbage or picking up dirt on your shoes.”
“But I don’t have the right kind–“
“No such thing as ‘the right kind’. The living are so picky, but do you think the spirits care? They’re greedy. They’ll take anything for a curse.” Amah fixes me with a stern look. “And you have plenty. Your mother, your aunts, your friends, your brother…they all love you.”
My one and only grandmother, this tiny ghost of a woman, pats my knee. “Your amah, she loves you too.” She glances away, avoiding my gaze.
I look away, too. “I know.”
“Then it should be easy to wake up.”
“I said, I already tried!” My voice comes out whiny, but I can’t help it. “It’s not going to work, and Lyssa’s going to hurt Leiyin again, and then Taylor, and–“
“Just try, one more time,” she says. “Do you need an alarm?”
“I don’t need an alarm!”
It’s too late. Amah straightens up with a mischievous smile. “I’ll be your alarm. See?” She tilts to one side and then the other, like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. “Hear that? Ling, ling, ling…”
“Amah, you’re so weird.” I close my eyes, warm with laughter at my grandmother’s antics, and settle back into my body. I shift to mimic the way my arm branches away and bends.
And somehow, it takes. For the first time in ages, I feel my comforter pressing down on me, the puzzle piece way my legs fit together, the sweat gathered at the juncture of my chin and my neck. It’s all so heavy, existing in this body of mine, but it’s like coming home.
“See? I told you,” Amah crows. I force my eyes open to glare at her, and she’s already gone.
Everything rushes back, loud and bright. The air is filled with steady chanting. I turn over and get an eyeful of Lyssa the Fair about to lay another curse, this time on my best friend and my little brother. They’re frozen to the spot, Leiyin’s arm curled protectively around Taylor, who’s started crying.
I roll out of bed, hitting the floor in a tangle of blankets. I thrash my way out and land in front of the pot of Dragon’s Breath. Everything in me is screaming to save Leiyin and Taylor, and then kick Lyssa’s ass all the way back to the Villeian court.
I press my hands to the base of the Dragon’s Breath, where the stem segments into weathered roots. The bark scrapes roughly against my skin.
“Remember me?” I mutter. “I just need this one thing, and then you can eat all the perennials you want.” I tighten my grip, and a faint filigree of light starts to form between my hands. When I close my eyes, I can see the map of branches above me and the fine web of desert-red roots below the surface.
The rustling of leaves overhead is all the signal I need. I let go of the Dragon’s Breath, and a single vine wraps around my wrist.
“Get her,” I whisper. A stream of vines shoot out, snaking across the floor toward Lyssa the Fair. Their leaves sprout as they move, a sunrise of yellows and greens.
The first one that reaches the enchantress makes her stop chanting. She twitches her foot, but the tendril tightens around her ankle, flushing red on contact.
“What is this?” Lyssa says. She spots me and barks out a laugh. “Oh, the gardener–“
The vines have all reached her by now. They twine up her legs, wrapping around her as tendrils work their way further up, pinning her arms to her sides and tangling in her hair. When she’s fully covered, I close my fist, and the vines stop writhing. Only her face is visible now, and it’s twisted in a mask of fury.
“I did you a favor,” Lyssa hisses. “I don’t know when it happened, but someone must have broken the curse for you. I helped you find true love. I brought light into your sad little life–“
“You didn’t do anything. I helped myself,” I say. I consider letting the vines wrap up her face, but I don’t want to scare Taylor. “And you’re not going to curse anyone ever again.” I open and close my hand again, letting the vines squeeze Lyssa briefly. She squeaks.
I sweep my hand away, loosening the vines, and Lyssa collapses. I grin at her, relishing the feeling of roots and vines and veins all linked together, more awake than I’ve been in the last year. “But thanks for the nap. I needed it.”
With a thunderous clap, Lyssa vanishes herself. It’s messy, and there’s a blackened ring of smoke on my bedroom floor. Oh well. At least she’s gone. And maybe now she’ll think twice about throwing around curses and crossing gardeners.
I kneel beside Taylor and Leiyin, and they pull me into a hug. Taylor’s crying in earnest now, blubbering about how afraid he was, and Leiyin lightly punches my arm.
“I missed you,” she says. Her head drops to rest on my other shoulder, the one not being completely soaked by Taylor’s tears. This kid.
Calliothes comes rushing in with a yowl, followed by footfalls. I can hear my mom’s voice, high-pitched and anxious, and the cacophony of my aunts reassuring her.
“Leiyin, I think I’m going to hire an apprentice,” I say. Leiyin lifts her head to smirk at me.
“Finally,” Leiyin says. “We’re here for you if you need help, you know.”
“I know, I know.”
Amah sweeps in ahead of my mom and aunts, filling the room with laughter. They’re all crowding around me now. A tender new leaf unfurls in my hand, and I reach out, at last, to the people I love.
About the Author
Jessica Yang is an SFF writer and windowsill gardener. In years past, she wrote puns for money as a game writer. Her writing has previously appeared in Lightspeed Magazine and Anathema: Spec from the Margins. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @jamteayang.