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Ayls was as surprised as Mr Marsden to the reaction of the flowers. Not only that but the silence was alarming. You could have heard a pin drop.
As Ayls and Mr Marsden walked down the row upon row of vegetation the murmurs and whispered conversation began behind her.
“That’s the one.”
“She’s such a mite, isn’t she?”
“She’s got it over the old man, so I’ve been told.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“Those gossips, can you believe anything they say?”
“Well, the blue hydrangeas say the same thing and I’d trust them to know.”
“She doesn’t look much of a gardener if you ask me.”
“No one’s asking you.”
“You dahlias are so stuck up.”
“Shut up you jealous weed.”
“Weed, you calling me a weed?”
“Yes, weed, weed, weed.”
“You know if I wasn’t stuck in this pot I’d come right over and whack you one.”
“Yeah yeah yeah, you and whose army.”
“Such impertinence I’ve never heard the like.”
All this was going on behind Ayls, and when she looked back silence fell like the curtain on the final act, and everything looked like it had never been disturbed.
“As you can see,” said Mr Marsden, “I’ve created a bit of a monster in here. I applied various potions to different plants thinking I might alter the colour and size but never thought I’d give so many of them personality.” He looked somewhat pained by revealing what he saw as a failure on his part. He created a variety of responses and had no idea as to how to change any of them back. Most of the plants had found a way to get along, but there were as he had observed, pockets of competition and snideness. The geraniums being banished to the outside yard was one such example.
Ayls was fascinated by it all. She had been so from the day she first observed the roses changing colour. But every time she looked back at the plants behind her they slumped into silence.
Being the young person, she was, she turned her back, and when she heard the murmuring again, she spun round trying to catch the plants. But they instinctively reacted, and silence prevailed.
This made her giggle, and Mr Marsden soon found himself chuckling along with her.
“You are a curious one are you not?” asked a voice coming from her left. Ayls looked down to see a small, fragile looking fern growing in a small brown plastic pot.
“Pardon?” asked Ayls not sure of where exactly the voice came from.
“Curiosity killed the cat you know. It’s a sad fact of life, and I’d hate to see anything happen to anyone so young.” replied the voice.
“Who are you?” asked an incredulous Ayls.
“Oh, I do beg your pardon, Algeras Simphilton, at your service. If you look a little to your left you’ll see me, I’m stuck in this fern you see, some people call me a maiden hair fern but that’s just wishful thinking, there’s nothing maiden like about me.”
Ayls looked down and noticed that within the fern there was indeed a small and articulate being living in the stem of one of the fern fronds.
“Oh, my goodness you are a tiny person, aren’t you?”
“I like to think so but Marsden has me imprisoned in this plant, and there is no way of escape, and he seems ignorant of ways to free me.”
“But how did that happen?” asked a very interested Ayls.
“Oh, I was just passing by, you know the sort of thing, out for an afternoon stroll when from out of nowhere I’m rained upon by this vile potion and before I know it here, I am, encased in this frond. Let me tell you the frond isn’t all that fussed about me being here either.”
“Oh, you poor thing,” said a sympathetic Ayls. “Mr Marsden, how did you let this happen?
“Ayls you are being tricked, the creature you are talking to is a fern demon, they are generally not noticed, but when caught they try to manipulate any situation to their benefit. Algeras is a devious character, be careful of him,” explained Mr Marsden.
“But he is so cute and harmless Mr Marsden, what harm could he possibly do?”
“Harmless is what I am, innocent and in need of love like everyone else. We fern demons are a much-maligned race, you tell him girl and get me released together we could make beautiful music,” the fern demon uttered.
It was the tone of his voice that alerted Ayls to the malevolent side of the fern demon. The demon’s voice grated against her better self, and she immediately felt a sense of fear and dread from being so close to him.
Stepping back, she said, “I think I’ll leave you where you are, I sense you are not very nice at all Mr Fern Demon.”
As Ayls walked away, she could hear a faint scream of despair coming from the fern demon.