By: Steve Carr
She, who walked out of the woods and into the grade school playground frightened the children playing there during recess, causing them to run away in every direction. Her hair hung down to her waist and was tangled with twigs, pine needles, leaves and the skeletons of field mice and feathers from sparrows, owls, and hawks. The private parts of her emaciated body were hidden by ferns held onto her skin by tree resin. She was barefoot and dirty, her face so smudged with soil and caked with dried mud that she appeared monster-like, definitely not a human.
She watched the children until none could be seen, some of them hiding behind trees waiting to see what she was going to do. Others ran into the school, screaming for the teachers to come see she who had so greatly scared them.
Saying nothing, her mouth formed into an "o", she, who was silent, collapsed to the ground, overcome by the experience of stepping out of the woods.
When she awoke on a gurney in the emergency room of the local hospital and furiously fought the nurses and doctors tending and examining her, they restrained her to the gurney with leather straps. They peeled the ferns from her body, cleansed her skin with antibiotic soap, cut the plants and animal remains from her hair, and lathered and massaged her scalp with shampoo. They put an IV in her arm and fed her rehydration fluids.
"How old do you think she is?" said one of the nurses.
"Maybe late teens," replied Dr. Nelson, the Emergency Room Chief Physician, who had taken an interest in the new patient as soon as she was wheeled in on the gurney.
She, who stopped resisting being touched and prodded, watched them all, her eyes shifting left and right with every movement they made.
They found no bruises, scars, or signs of physical trauma. Her skin was as smooth as silk, without a single blemish.
Fearing that the patient had suffered a trauma that may not be visible on the outside, Dr. Nelson, examined her vagina. "There's no sign of rape. Her hymen is still intact, he said."
When they drew her blood, Dr. Nelson held the tubes up to the light. "Her blood doesn't look right. There's a brownish-green tint to it."
They swabbed her mouth and sent the tubes of blood and cotton swabs along with urine they extracted from her body using a catheter, to the lab.
They took x-rays and found no signs of broken bones or internal injuries.
She was asked a hundred questions but answered not even one.
"She may be a mute," a nurse said, and then attempted using sign language, but got no response.
"She isn't deaf," another nurse said. "She follows our voices and is alert to all of the noise going on around her."
She, who was covered with a sheet was wheeled to a hospital room and was transferred to a bed.
"You're not going to give us any problems, right?" a nurse asked her.
She stared blankly at the nurse and watched without reacting as the three nurses in the room removed the restraints from the body of, she who closed her eyes and while being observed seemed to fall into a sound sleep.
In the middle of the night, she, who had intentionally kept her eyes closed the entire time, relying on her hearing to sense that she was in no danger, opened them and looked around. Other than another patient in the next bed, no one else was in the room. After climbing out of the bed, she removed her hospital gown, went to the window, and raised it the few inches it could be raised. She flattened her body, stretching out to the thickness of a leaf or flower petal, and slipped out.
As soon as Dr. Nelson arrived in the Emergency Room the next afternoon to begin his shift, he was alerted by one of the nurses that she, who had been brought in the day before, had escaped from her hospital room, but no one knew how she had done it. The night shift nurse who had been stationed outside the room was adamant that no one had gone in or come out of the room up until the nurse who had gone in to check on the two patients. It was that nurse who had discovered, she, who had been given the name Patient Doe, was missing. The guards who checked the hospital grounds along with the local police who had been notified of Patient Doe's disappearance, found no trace of her.
Dr. Nelson went about his duties in the Emergency Room until he found time to check Patient Doe's lab results. Mixed in with Patient Doe's normal human blood cells too normal, not a single trace of defect of any kind, devoid of any residual signs of illness many of her cells were surrounded by cell walls, something only seen in plants. Those cell walls contained cellulose, also something only found in plants. There were also traces of chlorophyll.
After seeing the lab results, it took him several minutes to say out loud what had been running through his mind. "How can this be?"
She, who had stood in the water at the edge of a pond in the park the remainder of what had been left of night, and feeling sated by sunrise, made her way through the ferns and brush to an unpaved running path. She left footprints all the way to the street that encircled the park. She stood there for several minutes watching the red and green blinking of the streetlights, ignoring the few cars that slowed, the drivers staring at her as they passed. A sparrow lit on her shoulder and remained there for a few minutes, plucking strands of her hair to be added to its nest. When a jet passed overhead, leaving contrails cutting across the sky, she looked up as the sparrow flew away.
At that moment, a police car came to a screeching halt at the curb. Two police officers got out, one female, one male, and walked to her, cautiously as if not wanting to spook her. The male cop stopped and stayed back, talking into his walkie-talkie, as the female cop walked up. "Everyone has been looking for you. You're our missing Patient Doe," she said. "Are you okay?"
She, who hadn't eaten for several days, despite feeling driven by a hunger in her belly that she couldn't satisfy, tilted her headfirst one way and then the other, then raised her hands and shot vine-like tendrils from the palms of her hand, ensnaring the cop in a rapidly growing cocoon of vines with small thorns that pierced her skin. The cop screamed.
The other cop dropped his walkie-talkie, took his gun from its holster, and fired a shot into Patient Doe.
She, who had never heard the sound of gunfire, felt the bullet enter her body, lowered her hands, turned, and ran into the park woods.
"I tell you; she didn't really know what she was doing," the female cop said, sitting on the gurney in the Emergency Room and peeling bits of dead vine from her uniform.
"How do you know that?" Dr. Nelson said.
"Call it women's intuition, or you'll think I'm crazy." She gazed into the doctor's eyes. "I sensed it, her every emotion, through the vines."
"Through the vines? The same vines that left the hundreds of pinpoint marks on your skin??"
The cop poked her finger through a hole on her sleeve. "It's such a hideous thought, but I think at that moment I was only a possible meal to her, nothing more or less than that."
The doctor wrapped his stethoscope back around his neck. "A walking hybrid Venus flytrap," he mumbled.
She, who sat hidden in a thicket, consumed the last of the edible parts of a rabbit that remained ensnared in her coiled vines, and then flung the rabbit's fur, teeth, and bones into a pile of leaves. She retracted the vines back into her palms and wiped the rabbit's blood from her lips with the back of her hand. In the darkness of night, she, who had remained hidden from the police who had been searching for her for hours, listened intently to the voices of the officers who called out through bullhorns, "Come out, we won't hurt you." These voices weren't like the frightened voices of the young ones who ran from her, or the urgent and caring voices of the ones who touched and poked her. These voices were commanding and strong. She, who had never heard voices like it, knew to stay hidden. The beams of light they shone from the object in her hands wouldn't find her where she was hidden.
Dr. Nelson joined the police in their search at dusk. She saw him too, but it didn't matter. He had touched and prodded her mating place with his fingers but didn't seem interested in breeding her. It left her confused and wary of him. The search continued through the night, during which she slept, but remained alert. With even the slightest vibration from any creature scurrying, slithering, or walking on the ground nearby, her eyes sprung open. At dawn, those looking for her left the park. She left her hiding place, walked to the pond, and drank.
Dr. Nelson had asked the lab technicians and the hospital administration to keep Patient Doe's lab results secret until he was able to fully investigate the matter. He returned back to his flat after a night searching for her in the place she had last been seen. Her face, the fact that she was missing, and the name she had been given, Patient Doe, flashed on the television and news channels and had quickly become the buzz on social media. He removed his clothes, showered, then put on a bathrobe and went to his study. There he sat at his desk and turned on his computer. He began to search the similarities and differences between humans and plants. Had he known a botanist personally he would have called him/her, but not knowing one, he didn't want to call someone out of the blue just to be told what seemed obvious. Plants and humans share few common characteristics other than that they both require air, sunlight, and water to survive.
It hadn't occurred to him or any of the hospital staff to take Patient Doe's fingerprints and she hadn't been in the hospital long enough to see the social worker. Patient Doe's history was a mystery that only she could solve for everyone else.
As he poured over all the information that popped up on his computer screen, the questions that lurked in the back of his mind was had she always lived in the woods, and if so, why did she come out now?
After three hours at the computer, he shut it off, picked up his cell phone, and punched in the number he found online for the Oakwood Plant Conservatory. "Hi, this is Dr. Ben Nelson, a trauma physician from Fulbright Medical Center. I need to speak to someone there about the possible discovery of a new plant species."
"Hold just a minute, Dr. Nelson," the female at the other end said. "I'll see if Alex Truman is around."
While he waited, he listened impatiently to new age elevator music that replaced her.
"Hi, Dr. Nelson, I'm Alex Truman, the conservatory plant research botanist. How can I help you?"
"Hi Alex, I have something of a somewhat sensitive nature regarding a possible discovery I need to discuss with you. Can we meet for coffee somewhere?"
She, who found a hiding place near the edge of the woods to watch the cars and people pass by munched on field mice and chipmunks as she tried to quell the hunger in her belly. This feeling of being ravenous and unable to satisfy the hunger had occurred in previous seasons when every new plant around her seemed to spring up from the ground in unison, but it had never been like this. Others, like the ones who had stalked her during the night, had wandered deep into the woods where she had always been rooted. They satisfied her need for an occasional change in diet from her usual fare, and she would have eaten the one she had just tasted if she had been given the chance to, but that wasn't the food she was looking for.
She, who seldom gave thought to much else other than killing bugs that crawled on her, keeping the birds from plucking her bald, rainfall, and warmth or chill of a season, tried to make sense of what was happening to her and everything she had seen and heard since wandering out of the woods. She rolled around in the palm of her hand the small shiny pellet she had pulled from her mid-section and wondered what it meant that it had been given to her accompanied by such a loud and unpleasant noise. The woods were so quiet. All this noise, and the sounds those outside the woods made, was surprisingly frightening.
Alex peered at Dr. Nelson over the lip of the cup as he took a sip of his coffee. "So, if this Patient Doe, is in fact part plant if that was even possible why do you think she came out of the woods now?"
Dr. Nelson stared at the scone he held in his hand. "She was hungry. She tried to eat a cop." Alex stifled a chortle. "All of a sudden, this plant girl comes out of the woods just to eat a cop? While I may not blame her, it doesn't make sense."
"Some change in the ecology? The effects of climate change?" the doctor offered.
Alex took another sip of coffee. "The woods that surround this town and the woods inside the park aren't much different as far as their respective ecosystems go and neither of them have undergone any change that anyone has noticed."
Dr. Nelson sat back. "I'm at a loss. I can't even prove my first hypothesis that Patient Doe is a hybrid mix of human and plant without having her in a hospital room or a lab."
Alex picked up the check, looked at it for several seconds, and then tossed a ten-dollar bill on the table. "If you go back to the woods to look for her, either in the park, or where she originally walked out of them, I'd suggest you take along a cop who doesn't look as tasty." Laughing, he walked away.
Dr. Nelson remained in his chair for several minutes, fuming, thinking, This is what I get for confiding in an expert.
She, who had remained in her hiding place in the park's woods for two days, venturing out at times only to grab a rabbit or a few birds for her meals, was surprised to feel the vibrations of footsteps rippling under her, and then she heard someone making their way through the brush. Then came a familiar voice.
"Doe. Patient Doe. Er, young woman, if you can hear me. It's Dr. Nelson. We met when you were brought to the hospital."
She then understood her recent insatiable hunger. It was then that she, who like all living things instinctually know about reproducing, but had never done it before herself, came to a realization that there was a ritual that the act of breeding required. The prospective mate first uses his finger on your mating place and then he searches you out to complete the act.
She stepped out of her hiding place, stopping a few feet in front of him.
Surprised, Dr. Nelson, came to an abrupt standstill. "I'm so relieved to find you," he said. "Please come back to the hospital with me." He reached out his hand to her.
She looked at his smiling face, and then his fingers. She stepped closer, opened her mouth, and sprayed him with her nectar.
He staggered back and forth for a moment, as if drunk, and then fell to the ground.
When the breeding was over, she coiled him in her vines and ate him, and then returned to the woods where she had come from.