For rent: 2br / 1,600-sq ft
House has 2 large bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms. Includes all utilities. Hardwood floors, central air and heat, with free washer/dryer and storage in the partial basement. Within biking distance of campus. Pictures below.
Johnny scrolled down, and clicked through the photos. He couldn't believe his luck. He wanted to avoid a dorm room situation, a roommate, and the rest of what he vehemently disliked about undergrad. This was by far the cheapest rent he had found thus far despite being a pretty big house. He double-checked the price against his list of student dorm rooms and apartments closer to campus. The house was only half the price of some apartments, and certainly cheaper than anything else he had found after days of searching. Oh this was so happening.
I have to be alert for hidden issues, Johnny cautioned himself, remembering the Undergrad Apartment Incident. But this will be different. I know what I'm doing now.
They reached the second floor on the grand tour of the house. The landlady, a middle-aged woman with a voice like five chain-smokers, had introduced herself as "just Liz is fine," and had then launched into a patter for ten straight minutes by Johnny's watch, without stopping even as they climbed the stairs.
"I've no real use for this old place, since I live in the city now. There have been some other interested parties, you know, even though this isn't as close to campus as those other bleak – I mean modern – apartment buildings frequented by poor grad students." She grinned at him slyly.
Johnny did not oblige her, however, and frowned slightly. He had a sort of nagging semi-conscious suspicion that there was another shoe yet to drop about this otherwise extremely well-priced, under-priced, truth be told, and reasonably situated house. Liz seemed to pick up on his reservations, and gestured to the first room on the left, slightly increasing her rate of patter.
"So here is the smaller bedroom, next to the bathroom, west side of the building. Could be useful as an office space, or if you want to add a roommate to the lease. Across the hall there is the last stop of the house tour, and" – she paused dramatically – "my personal favorite."
She walked him across the hallway, to the master bedroom. It was a large space, with high ceilings like the rest of the house, and all the second floor east side windows. "The space below this," Liz explained, "is the kitchen and dining area. The view out those windows is somewhat limited by the fence, which is quite high, but it doesn't," she said as she walked to the windows and pulled up the blinds, "reach up here."
Liz secured the cord for the blinds, and beckoned Johnny forward. He looked out the window.
The bedroom windows overlooked a sort of botanic garden, a rolling lawn crowded with what seemed to his casual glance quite a variety of plants, each kept in their own plot. Set toward the middle of the lawn was a curious display: a series of irregularly shaped pools, stretching more than half the length of the lawn. In and around them were water plants of nearly as many kinds as their drier cousins, and some of the widest pools had small bridges or platforms by which to access plants growing beyond the shore. Willow trees were scattered here and there, providing shade. There were not many other trees in the garden, though he thought he saw a grove of yews on the far side of the lawn, close to where the land closed off into a dense coniferous forest.
Following the broken line of pools, Johnny noticed that the centermost and largest was like a moat around an island, on which there was a showy sort of greenhouse, like a crystal palace. Crossing the moat was a causeway lined by low shrubs, as well as several sets of stepping stones spaced around the island. Johnny could see that inside the greenhouse were small trees, perhaps fruit trees, and bubbling fountains which nourished large-leafed plants with brightly colored flowers, some of them strange in ways he could not quite place.
His eyes moved from the pond centerpiece to the other garden plots, all connected by tastefully minimal winding paths. There were no geometric shapes or straight lines. Everything appeared very naturally laid out, but in that artful way which improves upon nature ever so slightly, using subtle symmetries. Johnny's gaze moved back and forth around the garden for what stretched into minutes, until Liz coughed politely and said "I'll just be downstairs in the kitchen then, with the paperwork, whenever you're ready. Please take your time," and slipped off down the stairs.
Johnny shook his head, as if to clear it from cobwebs. He very much wanted to visit the gardens. But it was absurd; he knew very little about gardens or gardening, aside from what his mother had taught him as a small child, which was mostly what things to avoid—what things he was absolutely not allowed to put into his mouth or invite, as she put it all those years ago, serious consequences.
He walked down to the kitchen in a haze, and part of him knew that he should wait before signing paperwork, before making decisions. But part of him was implacably, perversely drawn to the gardens, and he had to break his silence and ask the question.
"Are those gardens part of the house?" he asked Liz, in his best attempt at casual disinterest.
"Absolutely not!" she replied, and he thought he detected a slight tremor in her voice. She continued in a conspiratorial tone, so he assumed he imagined the tremor. "Those gardens belong to Doctor James Rappaccini and his daughter." She pronounced the title with something approaching the tone one would use in discussing a real life Doctor Frankenstein. "He is a famous Doctor, who works with those plants you saw and makes them into medicines and other such things. You might even see them at work sometimes, the Doctor and his daughter, gathering the strange flowers and herbs that grow in their gardens."
With that, in contrast to her earlier chattiness, Liz seemed to run out of steam on the subject. They got down to business about the rental contract, and Johnny left the house with a move-in date and a spring in his step.
He moved in during the week leading up to his first semester of grad school. As he unpacked, Johnny found it hard to tear himself away from watching the garden from his bedroom windows, often leaving them open in the warm weather.
He was watching the garden one evening, taking a break from unpacking books, and as he looked out the window he saw a figure walking in the garden. It appeared to be a man, tall and pale – even sick looking – dressed in rugged black clothes with thick boots and thick gloves, much heavier clothing than one would expect for the end of summer. He took careful stock of each plant he passed, bending over and looking, scribbling something on a clipboard he carried, sometimes taking samples, then straightening and moving on to the next plot. He moved in what was almost a dreamlike rhythm, down, up, down, up, until he came at last to the central crystal palace. Here he paused before crossing the moat, and called out, "Beatrice! Beatrice! Are you there?" His voice was weak, but still carried across the gardens.
"Yes, father?" a woman's voice called out, a voice as vibrant and rich as his was thin and sickly. This closely followed the sound of a door closing, from a house heretofore hidden in the woods at the edge of the gardens. "Are you in the garden?"
"I am, and I need your help," the figure in black replied, as a young woman, doubtless his daughter, appeared from the trees and walked over to the causeway by the greenhouse. She seemed to have inherited the opposite of all her father's qualities. She was vivid where he was wan, she wore purple and green while he wore only black, she moved with grace where he stooped and shuffled. As she went toward her father, Johnny thought he saw her bend down a few times, inhale deeply, and even touch some of the plants which her father had carefully avoided contacting. She wore no gloves or boots that he could see, no protection against sun or plants. In fact, he had the strangest impression of her as one of the plants, another flower in this curious garden.
"I need you to come with me into the hothouse," the old man said to her, and Johnny strained to hear him now that he was not calling across a distance. "I am too frail, now, to tend these plants. I must leave them in your care, and only observe." Then Doctor Rappaccini, for so Johnny assumed he must be, took from his belt a mask which had been hidden in his apron, and securely fit this respirator to his face before following his daughter into the greenhouse, at which point Johnny lost direct sight of them.
The sun was sinking on the other side of the house, casting a long shadow across the garden, though the shadow did not quite reach the greenhouse. The wind picked up and carried some of the scents of Rappaccini's garden into Johnny's windows. The aromas were partly floral, partly verdant, but altogether it was a thick, sticky, not wholly pleasant scent. Johnny felt sleepy. He closed the windows, and went to bed.
He dreamed strange dreams of tropical plants reaching out their tendrils and suffocating him with a sweet scent, the plants merging and becoming a strange beautiful woman, her hands around his neck, choking him.
From some dark, deep place, Johnny's mind leapt into wakefulness, summoned by his alarm clock. He saw bright streaks of light streaming across the floor, and whatever his dreams had been faded into forgetfulness. He shambled out of bed and pulled up the blinds in the window he had sat beside last night. The sun gleamed across the dew-covered grass, plants, and pebbled walkways of the gardens on the other side of the tall fence. A slight breeze was blowing, and he noticed large heads of white flowers nodding at him over the fence, swaying on their tall stalks with leaves spread almost as wide as he stood tall. The stalk-flowers seemed familiar somehow, but he could not quite place them at this distance. He became mesmerized by the rising sun glinting off the rippling ponds and the greenhouse fountains. How strange the sights last night seemed, in the light of a new morning. It was hard to imagine that his impressions of the Rappaccinis were accurate; surely his curious impulses had been tainted by exhaustion. The truth was that he lucky to have found a house overlooking such a lovely, peaceful place.
Later that morning, he biked over to the university campus for a meeting with his head of department, an old friend of his father's. When I was little I called him Uncle, he mused, I wonder what it will be now.
"Hello, Professor!" Johnny said, knocking on the frame of the open office door with the name plate:
Peter Baglioni, MD
Chair, Department of Medicine
"Or should I call you Doctor?"
It was a face like Uncle Pete's that looked up at him from behind his desk, but older and grayer, more tired. Then his face creased in a friendly smile that sloughed off the extra years, and he boomed in his jovial way, "By God, if it isn't the little squirt! Has the day finally come when you follow in your old uncle's footsteps?" He rose, barreling around the desk, and clapped Johnny on the back. "Good to see you, lad!"
"It's been a long time, sir! My father sends his regards." Johnny rocked back and forth between the cheer of childhood nostalgia and the more formal tone he was used to using with college professors, or chairs of departments.
"Yes, I got his email about you. Quite a move out here. I trust you found suitable accommodations? I can recommend a few places if you like."
"Oh I found one actually, very well-priced," Johnny answered, feeling strangely awkward.
The Professor seemed to sense it, and looked at his watch. "Well I'd say we could make an early lunch of it, if you want. I know a pub down the way, does good lunch specials." He smiled at Johnny. "What do you say, care to catch up with an old man?"
Johnny grinned back at him, "Only if you think you can handle it, grandpa," he dared, and was rewarded by a rumbling chortle.
"Started talking like your father, I see. Well, well, let us be off. The lunch hour waits for no man."
They spent a raucous lunch hour, or two, downing a glass of wine with lunch, and several beers after that.
"So tell me about this place of yours, Johnny-boy," the Professor asked, sitting back in his seat in that way which suggested a separate gravitational field applied. "Where is it anyway?"
"Ah, I meant to ask you about that actually," Johnny replied. "I have found a most affordable two-bedroom room house which overlooks this incredible botanical garden. I'm told the owner is named Doctor Rappaccini. Have you heard of him?"
The face of the Professor changed from a genial smile to a harder, fixed expression, almost a frown. "I know him." He took a breath. "I would not be honest if I denied that the man is a gifted pharmacologist. But there is a lot more to him than credentials, and I would be doing you a disservice not to at least" – he seemed to search for the right word – "to warn you," he finished. "Doctor Rappaccini might even be one of the most learned specialists in the country, but there are…concerns about his personal character."
"What sort of concerns, if I may ask?" Johnny was intrigued, noting the Professor's apparent conflict between reticence on the subject and some desire to talk about it.
"Are you thinking of taking up pharmacognosy, then?" the Professor tried to joke, but it fell a bit flat. "As for Rappaccini, I do know the man, and I know him somewhat well. He cares about science, about discovery, but not about people. He would even sacrifice people's lives, including his own, if it meant furthering his research."
Johnny remembered how cold and lifeless the Doctor seemed, especially in contrast with his daughter. "I would believe it, even having only laid eyes on him once." He frowned. "But is that not a type of nobility, the single-minded drive to accomplish great things?"
"God forbid we should have such saints of science then," the Professor replied irritably, "unless they possess a much wider understanding of the healing art than Rappaccini. His work is with poisons and toxins, his research is supposed to be that these otherwise harmful or deadly plants are the root of all medicinal virtues. In those gardens you've seen he raises with his own hands plants which can give you a nasty rash, and plants that can kill a man; no, of which just one seed can kill a man. I have even heard that he takes a special interest in creating new types of poisons and plants. He has yet to be accused of anything felonious as far as I know, but the warning signs are there, boy. He may have come up with a few successful cures, but it is my private opinion" – he looked at Johnny as though his gaze were a scalpel – "that such medicinal successes were merely the serendipity which all such research attracts from time to time. His failures, on the other hand…." The Professor paused, and finished his beer. "His failures are real, and they had consequences. More than that I cannot say, but there is a reason he is no longer on the staff of this university."
Perhaps Johnny would have taken this with less of a grain of salt had he known the true history of the two medical scholars, but as things were he saw, or imagined that he saw, an air of competitiveness in the Professor's remarks.
"Clearly there is a lot I don't know," he said, breaking the silence, "but at least it is safe to say that he loves his daughter, is that not true? He seemed to depend on her."
"Oho! So the truth of the inquiry is revealed!" The Professor was back to jovial rumblings, any hint of his earlier testiness entirely erased. "So you have heard of, and even seen this daughter of his! Beatrice is a bit of an urban legend among the medical grad students. All I know about her is that Doctor Rappaccini is presumably teaching her everything he knows, and that she may already be qualified to fill a Professor's chair! Maybe one day her father plans to set her in my place. There are other strange and laughable rumors about her which I will not repeat, and which are not worth listening to. So, Johnny-boy, finish your beer! I'll get the tab."
Johnny had a pretty strong buzz, so he decided to walk his bike home. Consequentially, he saw many houses and stores he had whizzed by unthinkingly earlier in the day. Among these was a flower shop, from which he bought a bouquet without quite knowing why. He told himself it would brighten up the kitchen.
Finally arriving home, Johnny went to his room to hang up his coat. He opened the windows and looked out at the gardens, noticing, as he always did, some new plant or shrub he had not consciously observed before. He also noticed that the gardens were no longer empty, and forgot all about taking his bouquet to the kitchen. A figure approached from the far side, gliding down the rows and paths of plants, leaning down here and there to administer some soft adjustment, or to smell and caress the brightest blooms. It was she! No matter how vivid they were without her, not a single one could compare to her when she stood next to them. She seemed to glow, and far outshone Johnny's memory of her from the night before.
She continued on, until she came to the greenhouse, and entered. As it happened, the angle of the sun at this hour was such that he had a better view into the greenhouse, and saw her approach a plant whose flowers looked to be the floral version of the radiant Beatrice, or perhaps Beatrice was the human version of such a flower. He saw her approach this plant and, throwing all semblance of restraint to the wind, fling her arms around it and bury her face in its leaves and blossoms. She plucked one of the blooms, bowing to the plant as though receiving permission, and walked back out of the greenhouse, stopping to close the door securely against the outside air, surely less warm, less humid, than that within.
At that very moment, a squirrel which had been sunning itself alone on the warm doorstep for the few minutes that she was inside jumped up and began to scramble away. It startled Beatrice, and she dropped her flower next to the squirrel as it fled. Then a most curious thing happened. Johnny could barely make it out at this distance, but it appeared as though the squirrel took a few more steps, twitching, and then dropped. Was it dead? Beatrice picked the flower back up and tucked it behind her ear.
She left the still form of the squirrel and wound her way closer and closer to the fence which Johnny's windows overlooked. The late afternoon sun glimmered in her hair and the flower behind her ear gleamed like a third eye.
Johnny noticed that he had been slowly leaning out of the window, transfixed as he was with watching Beatrice. He rubbed his eyes and found himself wondering, semi-consciously, if he had never woken from his dream the night before, wondering whether the being before him was something beautiful or terrible—either way, beyond his full comprehension.
Beatrice came closer to the fence under Johnny's window, and he could not resist the temptation to continue watching her progress, even though it meant sticking his head out of the window, where he might be visible. As he did so, he saw a butterfly float across the fence from his yard, drawn perhaps by the scents of the flowers blooming here and there in Doctor Rappaccini's gardens. Seemingly drawn by her colorful mien, the insect fluttered around Beatrice's head, and she laughed richly. At her laugh, Johnny could hardly believe his eyes, for it appeared that the butterfly dropped to the ground, unmoving, for no reason which was easily discernible.
Something about his regard, perhaps a sudden motion on his part, drew the attention of Beatrice, and she looked up at him, and waved. She stepped toward him, the butterfly forgotten. Barely thinking at all, he tossed his flower bouquet – which he still held in his hand – out across the fence and, mercifully, at her feet.
"I know you have many of your own flowers to choose from," he heard himself say, and it felt as if it were some other person, not his own voice, "but please accept these, from Johnny!"
"Thank you!" said Beatrice; her voice, like velvet over steel, carried at once the beauty of her outward form as well as a quiet self-possession. "I accept your gift, but I cannot give one back, as if I tried to toss my flower here" – she touched the bloom behind her ear – "it would not reach your window. So my thanks will have to suffice, for now."
Even as Johnny's heart lifted at the implied possibility of another meeting, Beatrice was walking away, back toward her house in the forest, more quickly than he had seen her walk before. It was hard at this distance, but Johnny thought he could see the flowers drooping in her hands. Damn, he thought. That's what I get for holding onto them this long without giving them water. She must think I am an idiot.
Classes began, books were purchased, schedules were kept. Johnny's life became a revolving door of class, homework and sleep. He kept the blinds closed in his bedroom, and did not look out into the gardens. What he told himself was that he could not afford the obvious distraction they provided, but in reality he could not shake the tension between the plant-girl-monster of that first dream and the calm, sweet, real person he had—he really had!—spoken with, however briefly. Sometimes, when he could no longer keep his focus, he thought about moving closer to campus and away from those gardens. Occasionally the idea crept up that he should really try to see Beatrice in person, that surely whatever strange feelings and fancies remained from dreams and imaginings would entirely disperse if he got to know the real person. His dreams had not obeyed the focus of his waking hours; they strayed again and again to the greenhouse, the hothouse with strange, bright flowers and gurgling fountains, and a girl who might at any moment become a plant, or a room full of plants any of which could become human. The images faded when he woke up, but he spent his days in a state of vague apprehension.
After a few weeks, the unease began to interfere with his ability to focus. At times he would skip classes and go on long walks to shake off these autumn doldrums, as he thought of them. During one such walk, he startled out of a reverie as someone grabbed his arm, tall and familiar. "Hang on just a second!" the man boomed, slightly out of breath. "Have you forgotten me? From the looks of things you may have forgotten your own name! What on earth is going on?"
It was the Professor, whom Johnny had been avoiding ever since their first meeting and the events which followed it, from the half-formed worry that the Professor would see through to the core of his disquiet.
"My name is Johnny," he said crossly. "And you are Professor Baglioni. See! Nothing to worry about here."
The Professor squinted at him, not releasing his arm. "I see. Well then do an old man the courtesy of a few words conversation, instead of passing him in the street like a stranger."
"Fine, fine!" Johnny said, "but not too long, as I have somewhere to be!"
As they exchanged these words, a stooping figure, dressed all in black, approached them. As he ambled alongside them he looked past the Professor’s cold glare; his attention was all for Johnny, a strange and penetrating look.
"That was Doctor Rappaccini," the Professor rumbled with alarm, after Rappaccini passed out of hearing range. "Have you met him before? Does he know you?"
"Not that I know of," said Johnny, freeing his arm from the Professor’s grip at last.
"But he must have seen you," said the Professor. "I know the look that was on his face! He intends to use you to further some experiment or other. I have seen that look before, and it does not bode well."
"Is this some kind of bad joke?" Johnny scoffed.
"Perhaps it is his daughter, Beatrice, whom you have met then?" the Professor asked. "Johnny, you have to trust me, this man is bad news. You want no part of whatever it is that he intends!"
But the Professor had hit too close to the mark, and Johnny walked away without another word, breaking into a trot until he was around the corner, and walking the rest of the way home in a fog.
The Professor watched him go without moving, a frown creasing his brows as he thought. Then, seeming to arrive at some sort of decision, he went briskly back the way he had come. He would not lose the boy without a fight, especially not the son of an old friend.
When Johnny arrived home, he was in such a state of inner disarray that he failed to notice his landlady standing in the front hallway. She had to tug on the back of his jacket to get his attention.
"Johnny," Liz rasped, her voice like sandpaper. "You know those gardens next door that you like? I found a private gate in the fence!"
"What?!" Johnny’s voice escaped without any control, his tone somewhere between thrill and alarm.
"My goodness, no need to deafen an old woman." She quirked her lips in sarcastic amusement. "Follow me and I will show you."
Some small part of Johnny noted that the timing of this offering was more than suspicious; it was absurd. But to acknowledge that was to acknowledge the Professor's assertion about Rappaccini, and to acknowledge that was to unearth a host of disturbed nights and half-forgotten dreams. Easier to follow the compulsion where it led than to excavate his unsettling fantasies. After all, if he met the source of those fantasies, surely it would be easiest then to determine what was real and what was just a dream.
Liz put on thick gardening gloves, and led him out the back door to a section of the tall fence. She fiddled with it in a few places, and then a section of the fence swung toward them. She pulled off some of the giant leaves growing on the stalks on the other side of the fence to make a path for Johnny to get through. He thanked her, and squeezed through to the other side, as if he were Alice walking through the Looking Glass.
He looked around the garden, but saw that he was alone. He quickly became absorbed in looking at all the different types of plants on display, each in their own beds. Most entirely eluded his recognition. He could see a few examples of what seemed to be a blending of different plant species, with the hybrid plants located near the parents. Of all the plants that Johnny examined, he could name only a few. Of those, all were toxic, or had some sort of poisonous quality, like the stalks lining the inside of the fence—they must have lost their white flowers in the changing season—which, seeing the splotchy stems up close, he finally recognized as giant hogweed. Absent-mindedly he started rubbing his hands on his pants, but then stopped himself. Liz had cleared enough of a path for him to wend his way through without touching the leaves or stems. In fact, her gloves had been on her hands before she even opened the fence. He shook his head, dismissing this line of thought, and turned toward the center of the garden.
As he approached the greenhouse, he could make out more of the plants in there, in particular the large one with purple blossoms that he had seen Beatrice pluck. It seemed so long ago, but could it have been more than a week? Time seemed slippery in this place, with its thick scents and strange plants.
So softly that he did not hear her until she was quite close, Beatrice approached. Johnny had given no thought to whether he should apologize for entering uninvited, or if he should, as circumstances suggested, assume that he had been invited, albeit circuitously.
Seeing her now, up close for the first time, he saw even more clearly the rich hues of her dress, the textured glimmering colors that made her appear as much a flower as a woman. She wore beads around her neck and her wrists, small glossy red seeds with a black dot at the tip that looked a bit like ladybugs.
Beatrice noticed his presence with a look of polite surprise, and then a welcoming smile. "Hello. Johnny, wasn't it? What a fine eye for flora you have. If my father were here he could tell you everything there is to know about all these plants. Sometimes it seems like this garden is his whole world."
"From what I have heard, you share the same knowledge, and I bet you would be a far better teacher." At times, Johnny really wondered where on earth he found the nerve to say certain things.
Beatrice laughed merrily, "Oh, are there such rumors, that I am skilled like my father in the science of plants and medicines? How droll! No, no. I may have grown up around them and know some little about them, but even that knowledge I wish I could forget at times, when I gaze at them and drink in their beauty. Believe of me, sir, only what you see with your own eyes!" She flung her arms out, impassioned, and as she did so, he saw that along the inside of her left forearm was a tattoo of small Greek letters spelling φαρμακός.
Poisons, plants, things he had seen…his dreams were bubbling back up in an unsettling way. It had not been long ago, had it? Did he remember what his eyes had seen?
She seemed to sense his turmoil. "Believe that what I say is true, and I would never lie to you," she said, alight from some internal fire.
As she spoke, and came closer to Johnny, he found it hard to breathe. The very air around her seemed impacted by her presence, imbued with some heady scent. She looked into his eyes, he looked back into hers, and the dreams all melted away; all that remained was her smile.
They walked back and forth and around the gardens, talking about their families, where Johnny came from, what he was doing, the city, the weather. They asked one another anything that came into their minds. As the conversation lulled into a friendly silence, Johnny was struck by how quickly the vague fears he had been carrying dissolved when confronted with the reality of Beatrice as a living, breathing, very human being.
Now they came back toward the center of the garden, approaching the large greenhouse with the most extravagant and strange-looking plants. Johnny noticed again that purple-flowered plant within, and the similar shade of Beatrice's lips (lipstick?) and dress, and remembered her offer.
"I seem to remember that you were willing to part with one of those purple blooms, as a friendly token," he said, smiling. "Please allow me to take one now, to remember you by." He began to walk across the causeway, toward the greenhouse door. The strange, floral, thick scent that he sometimes caught while walking around with Beatrice was much more noticeable this close to the greenhouse.
But Beatrice's face changed to one of alarm. "No, you can't go in there! You would die!" she said, as reaching out she seized his hand in her fingers. A tingling sensation spread from the points of contact up toward his elbow.
She released him immediately and turning, fled from the garden back toward her house shrouded in the trees. Johnny stood, rooted to the spot, and gazing after her he noted Doctor Rappaccini, who had been watching from just under the shadow of the trees, for how long was impossible to say.
Johnny decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and retreated back through the newfound gate in the fence, back up to his room.
He opened the blinds in his bedroom again, and sat gazing at the deserted botanical gardens. There was so much he did not understand, about Beatrice, about her father, about himself if he was being honest. What on earth drew him to these gardens? They were certainly well-kept, with intriguing contents, but he had never before this had such a fascination. Why did all the little mysteries about Beatrice add up to something that was—in this rare moment of penetrating honesty—becoming strangely like an addiction? The fears and uncertainties and half-remembered dreams of poison had transmuted into something equally unsettling in a different way: desire.
But what is so disturbing about desire? he asked himself. To appreciate beauty, to feel curiosity, to become enchanted by grace and intelligence, it was all part of desire; desire to pursue the mysteries, uncover the hidden depths, learn from the intelligence, mirror the grace.
As he lay down to sleep, the swirling chaos of his thoughts and desires seemed to have only one central point of stillness, and that was the image of her face, holding an expression of serene and pleasant appreciation, as during their promenading conversation.
He woke with the sunlight pouring through the open blinds across his bed, and a burning, pricking sort of pain which his waking mind blearily located in his right hand. There were several marks on his hand, something between burns and bruises. I know I did not touch that giant hogweed plant, he thought to himself in confusion. I wonder what this could be from? But he put the pain out of mind, remembering desire, and anticipating another opportunity to unravel the mystery of Beatrice.
True to his hopes, he looked out his window the next afternoon and saw her setting down a picnic basket on a flat part of the lawn near the greenhouse. As if sensing his regard, she looked up, directly at his window, and waved. He lost no time in making his way through the small gate in the fence, where he noted that the hogweed in that area had been trimmed back a bit further.
They sat on a picnic blanket and had southern tea cakes with nutmeg sprinkled on top, along with some sort of spicy-sweet blend of tea that Beatrice proudly acknowledged as her own invention.
"I drink some every day," she said, "although frequently I make it quite stronger than this! But I thought I would let you get used to the flavor."
"Well it isn't as spicy as all that. I'm sure I can take whatever kick it has!"
She smiled sweetly. "Come back tomorrow, then, and you will taste a stronger version."
Johnny joined her the next day, and the day after that. Weeks passed, and not a day went by without their appointed tryst. If the hour arrived and he had not yet come outside, Beatrice stood by the fence below his window, and called his name in a tone that beckoned him forth from all reverie.
She seemed so uncomplicated now, so simple, this woman who for weeks had tormented him with her mystery. It was clear to him that any qualities he had believed mysterious were merely his own lack of exposure, not from any inherent enigmatic qualities she possessed. She was clarity itself, so boundaried and yet so open. They had yet to share a single touch beyond her grip on his hand in their first meeting, and yet it seemed to him that the intimacy they shared was far more than what his younger self would have believed possible without such contact. He had once reached out, earlier in their time together, to touch her shoulder as they conversed. For a single moment it had seemed as though another soul stirred in her eyes and gleamed with steel until he pulled back his hand, but in the next moment he knew he was mistaken; her tender gaze was steady. It never occurred to him after that moment to touch her, and yet their closeness was a revelation.
It had been quite a long time since Johnny's last conversation with the Professor, which had ended so abruptly. So it was with some surprise that Johnny answered a ring at the door to find the Professor waiting. Johnny showed him inside with a growing inner disquiet.
For a few minutes the Professor seemed content to chat about the university (final exams approaching) and plans for winter break (mostly writing grant proposals). All the while, though, his eyes roved sharply around, and particularly keen was the Professor's appraisal of Johnny himself, who stayed as far away from the Professor as possible while remaining in the same room.
Suddenly he said, "Johnny. I need to talk to you."
Johnny looked at him directly for the first time since he opened the front door.
Taking that as the only acknowledgement he was going to get, the Professor continued, "I have been doing some investigating these past many weeks, and I have found something quite distressing." Johnny looked back at the floor. "I think that Rappaccini has been doing human experimentation. I don't have proof yet, but I have some pretty strong anonymous sources, much more reliable than the rumors I'd heard up until now."
Johnny muttered, "I really don't see what this has to do with me."
The Professor's face hardened for a moment before returning to a neutral expression. He sniffed the air, saying, "What is the strange, heady aroma in here? It is like a flower, but there are no flowers in here. My head is starting to pound; if it were any stronger it would make me feel faint." Johnny's brows flickered together in a mild frown.
"There is no scent here. Maybe your nose carried something in with you."
"Hardly likely, as all my nose has been exposed to in recent memory is acetone and car exhaust, along with the unwashed student masses and the occasional meal." The Professor's tone was light, but his eyes remained fixed on Johnny's face, watching his expressions closely. "Perhaps you have visited next door and brought scents back with you. I am told Rappaccini and his daughter use many flowers in their research."
Johnny's frown deepened. "Look, I know we have a long history, and you knew me when I was a baby, and so on. You want to look out for me. I get it. But you really have no idea what you are talking about! Beatrice doesn't do research, and as for Rappaccini…perhaps it is your competitive nature, and not the truth, which drives you!"
The Professor sighed. "Johnny-boy," he said, "I think I know her better than you do. You will learn the truth about Rappaccini and his poisonous daughter. Yes, poisonous. As I said once before, Rappaccini would not hesitate to sacrifice others to further his knowledge. In this case it is his own daughter who pays the price for her father's scientific zealotry! And what about you? You think I don't know whose company you've been keeping? Doubtless you are to be some new experiment! This could end in your death, or prolonged suffering. Can I make myself any clearer?"
Johnny felt a resurgence of all the thousand tiny shards of fear which had lain dormant for so long under the spell of Beatrice. His dreams and nightmares rushed back toward consciousness; those memories he had dismissed as dreams regained their clarity.
The Professor watched Johnny's face cloud in confusion and alarm, and interjected, "This is a serious matter, and I have given it serious thought. I won't allow you to come to harm. You need to give me blood samples, and I will make you an antidote."
"From my blood?"
"Have you not guessed it? I can smell her scent emanating from you, even across the room. I will make you an antidote, and as long as you avoid seeing them again, I don't think they will pursue you. Not when they believe another willing target can be found."
From his briefcase, set innocuously by the front door, the Professor drew gloves and supplies to draw a blood sample. Johnny looked unhappy about it, but he sat down and offered an arm. The Professor drew several vials, then packed everything away neatly back in his briefcase. He picked it up and opened the front door.
"Johnny, you can't see her anymore. Do you understand? Don't even leave this house until I get back with an antidote. Hopefully, I will have it for you by tomorrow." Johnny raised an eyebrow. "I mean it! I have the resources, and I don't care if it feels like an inconvenience to your addled sense of self-preservation, we are taking you out of this experiment!" After a parting glare, he left.
Johnny collapsed back onto his seat, lost in thought. All the strange instances, all the fears that he thought he had put to bed, were swirling around again in his head. Had he seen a squirrel die from a flower she tucked behind her ear? Had he seen a butterfly fade in the presence of her breath? Had his hand, in fact, been burned by her touch? It was all too much, quite laughable, really. The stuff of stories and nonsense.
But suppose his recollections were the truth. Well, he had talked to her, he knew her. That she was malicious was certainly out of the question. If any person were to blame for her affliction, it would have to be her father. And if that were true, then surely she needed rescuing far more than he himself did. He could walk away at any time, but she was trapped. That was becoming clear. Why else would she spend her life locked up in this garden which she professed to know so little about, aside from marveling at its beauty? The poisoned plants were her father's tools, and she the victim! It was all too obvious. He had to do something. He had to think of a plan.
He went up to his room, to get ready for his daily visit. It was lunch time, but the Professor's visit had left him quite without an appetite. In fact, now that he thought about it, he had stopped eating much, other than during his visits with Beatrice. One meal with her seemed to satisfy his hunger for the rest of the day.
As he stood in front of the mirror, he thought to himself, at least I have not yet been seriously affected. Why, if anything, I look more healthy and strong than ever!
He paused, thunderstruck. What if the Professor had simply been wrong? He had sounded so certain…. There was really only one way to find out. Not by catching a squirrel or a butterfly, but surely a bouquet…if she truly possessed such poison, then he would be able to see it with his own eyes!
He hurried to a nearby florist, and selected a fragrant bouquet of hothouse flowers. As he climbed onto his bike to return home, he did not notice as a mosquito landed on his wrist. As he started biking, however, he saw the mosquito, but before he could brush it away or crush it, it fell off. He puzzled at that for a moment, but decided that perhaps the mosquito had already drunk its fill.
He returned home, and brought the flowers inside to put in water, to ensure their freshness. He took off their plastic wrapping and held onto them as he searched for a vase in the kitchen, and when he filled the vase with water and placed the flowers in it…it was impossible! The flowers had already withered, in his hand.
He ran upstairs, in shock, and stared at his reflection in the mirror. The very picture of health and high spirits had taken hold of him; he had a vivid quality which at last he began to recognize. Had the Professor not described to him earlier that morning the very same scent that he had smelled about Beatrice, and that greenhouse? It was all too strange.
From the corner of his eye, Johnny saw a spider spinning its web in the corner of his bedroom. Generally he left spiders alone if they left him alone, but he had to know. He walked over and exhaled deeply onto the spider. It stopped weaving its web and began stumbling in an attempt to flee, but Johnny blew on it again, and it stopped moving entirely.
He stood, frozen, for a moment, until he heard faintly through his closed windows, "Johnny, I am here! What's keeping you?" It was Beatrice. He straightened up, and strode down the stairs and toward the garden. He knew what he had to do.
Johnny regained consciousness in utter darkness. He could not remember where he was. The last thing he remembered was the horror of his own poisonous nature, and the resolve to save Beatrice from her insane father. Slowly, the rest of his memory filtered back.
He had run out to the gardens. He had tried to convince Beatrice to come with him, to leave her father's house and escape his mad science. He told her about the Professor's determination to synthesize an antidote, and she laughed.
"There is no antidote," she said. That was the last thing he remembered. Had he fainted?
As his vision adjusted to the dark, he saw that he had been arranged in some sort of chair in what appeared to be a laboratory of some kind. The lights came on, blinding him.
A figure entered the room, and as Johnny's eyes adjusted once again he saw that it was Doctor Rappaccini. He briefly considered pretending to still be unconscious, but it was too late. Rappaccini met his gaze. Before Johnny could say a word, Rappaccini put a finger to his lips.
Rappaccini approached him and said, "You must be quiet, and do exactly as I say." His voice was even weaker than when Johnny heard him speak to Beatrice those several months ago. Stunned, Johnny stared up at him.
"What is this charade?" Johnny whispered, as Rappaccini flinched away from his breath and stepped several paces back. "Do you think I don't know that it is your obsession which brought me to this place?"
For the first time, Rappaccini's face revealed an expression: annoyance. But he said nothing, only beckoned Johnny to follow him, again putting his finger to his lips, and turning out the lights.
The made their way through a darkened mansion which had, from what little Johnny could see, many old and quaint architectural features set directly alongside modern renovations. One dimly-lit room he passed contained extensive vivaria with tiny jewel-colored creatures inside. Another room, behind glass doors, had rows of ultraviolet lights and plant beds with what appeared to be many smaller variations of the bright purple flowers he had seen in the greenhouse, their blooms like eerie fingers reaching toward him in the blue light.
Despite the circumstances, Johnny caught himself wishing that he could explore this place, to see what other wonders it held. He reminded himself sternly that no good would come of it, and Rappaccini urged him onward ever faster, down a narrow winding flight of stairs, and through a back doorway into the outdoors, the pine trees surrounding the house with shadows in the twilight.
"I wondered if you would try something like this," said a voice from the trees. It retained the richness and vivacity that seemed part of Beatrice at all times, but some other quality was at work which was entirely strange. Once again, Johnny was stunned into complete immobility and could only stare as she stepped into the light.
"You can't have him, father. I promised that you would be allowed to continue your research if you obeyed me." For just a moment Rappaccini's face flickered from a sour mask into full blown rage, but then just as quickly into a long-suffering compassionate expression.
"Surely this is not the way to go about things, my dear," he said in a tone which matched his expression, not altogether patronizing but with a sort of sickening pretense at respect. "Kidnapping charges are not a good accessory to research."
"Oh, please," her voice thrummed intensely. "He was overwrought, and I simply took him inside." She walked forward toward Johnny, looking directly into his eyes. She came within an arm's length and reached slowly out, touching his face with her bare hand. He made no move to avoid it, could not have moved even if he had wanted to. He felt the coolness of her skin but nothing more—no burning, no radiating pain.
"We can touch each other now, you see," she continued in a calm, almost hypnotic way, still caressing his face. "I was going to wait a while longer to test it, but your Professor" – she said the word with a smile – "has merely sped things up."
Finally, Johnny found his voice. "You said…you said there was no antidote?" he asked, recalling hazily the conversation which must have preceded his unconsciousness.
"There is no antidote for me," she said. "I am a new creature, possessing a new kind of toxin. You are not wholly wrong; we can thank my father for that." She smiled at him, but Johnny could feel the barbs at work. He realized all at once that it was not—as he had previously believed—because she was his victim, but because they were competing.
"Oh my God," he said, stepping back and breaking contact.
"How quaint," she laughed, casually stepping back a few paces. It sounded the same as it had when he believed her to be innocent; he knew it was only his new knowledge which made it now sound threatening instead of merry.
"Why this grand deception?" Johnny asked, desperately buying time for him to think, just think. Maybe some avenue of escape would present itself. "What was the purpose of pretending to be something that you're not?"
"And what would that be?" she asked.
He racked his brain to come up with an answer. Lying by omission? He had never asked her about anything which would have necessitated it. He had chosen to ignore anything strange about her and focus on his own desires. Manipulation, certainly. He had been carefully manipulated; perhaps even the amiable interaction between herself and her father which he had witnessed on his first day in the house had been a sham. Certainly he suspected that her distress at touching his hand when he had tried to enter the greenhouse had not been as altruistic as he had assumed at the time.
"The tea, the cookies, all the things you have fed me. Were you poisoning me?"
"It is true that for some creatures a certain level of toxicity can be achieved through ingesting toxic substances. But it is not so simple in my case. I can increase my toxicity by ingesting certain things, but I also secrete poison. I store poison in my skin, and I direct it with my breath. I am the result of much experimentation, trial and error of my father, but let us be truly honest: in reality I am a miracle far beyond what my father could ever have hoped to accomplish in fifteen lifetimes of work by himself. I will continue my own research to understand my existence, and I will keep succeeding, until my power is as great as my mortality allows! My success with you is after years of preparation, and this man thinks that he can steal you away from me and take the credit, just because he was lucky enough to bring me into existence? Pfah!"
Rappaccini drew himself up, an offended look briefly displacing the mask of pity, but he quickly composed himself and the mask returned. Johnny suspected that Rappaccini's intent had not been to steal credit; it was a power play in an ongoing battle.
"Oh my daughter," said Rappaccini, with exaggerated pathos. "Why did I inflict this miserable doom upon my child?"
Beatrice did not rise to the bait. "Miserable? You foolish old man! Do you call it misery to be endowed with extraordinary gifts, against which no one can hope to compete? Misery, to strike down the mightiest with my breath? Misery, to be as terrible as I am beautiful? Would you have preferred me to be like you, weak, exposed to all evil, and capable of no greatness myself?"
Looking hurt, he replied, "I would rather you had pursued love, not fear. But was there not more poison in your nature from the very beginning than any which I have nurtured inside you?"
That barb appeared to sting. "Love!" Beatrice spat out. "I think what you mean is 'I wish you were still under my control, and that I had not lost supremacy in my domain!' "
She turned back to Johnny, and moderated her tone. "I know this must be strange and confusing, and you feel manipulated." She saw him draw in a breath as if to speak, and forestalled him, "And it's true! I had no idea you would respond so quickly. I thought I had more time. But you must understand, on you this process is reversible. Walk out of here now, don't get too close to anyone for the next few months and you will go back to normal."
He quirked an eyebrow at her, waiting for other shoe to drop.
"Just think for a minute about what you would have said if I had tried to tell you about myself when we first met. Our time together was not an illusion; I just felt like I couldn't show you my whole self. If you stick around, there is a lot of science that can be done!" She paused. "Can we start over?"
"What guarantee do I have of my safety?" Johnny asked, remembering despite himself the alluring rooms and laboratories he had glimpsed inside their mansion. She could be manipulating him even now, but some offers are hard to resist.
"The only threat to your safety was my nature, and you have adapted – with some slight help – so that your body is sympathetic to mine." She smiled at him, and he felt that part of himself which was afraid, which wanted a normal life, begin to crack into pieces.
After all, he could leave at any time.
That night, the Professor came back to Johnny's house with a heavy heart. Nothing in the blood samples suggested something which could be synthesized into an antidote. He rang the doorbell, and when there was no answer, he pounded on the front door. He tried the knob and found it unlocked, but no one seemed to be home.
Hoping to find something, any sort of clue, he raced up to the master bedroom. The windows were all open, the room softly silvered with moonlight. He looked out over the botanical gardens, dark except where the rising gibbous moon lay its pale fingers.
Over by the greenhouse, he saw three figures emerge, the tallest removing something from his face, the other two with their arms about each other.
Leaning out of the windows, he shouted, "Rappaccini! Rappaccini! What has your experiment come to?"
One of the entwined figures detached itself, and cupping hands to mouth shouted back, "It's okay, Professor! Everything is fine!"
As the Professor stood there, too shocked to reply, the figures vanished into the night.
Chapter 6: extra: alternate plot
From what would have been in ch. 1 plus one bit from ch. 4 at the bottom.
A very early idea I had was that Johnny meets Beatrice at a local goth bar. This direction would have departed more significantly from the canon in terms of Beatrice being seen outside the gardens. I decided against it because I figured if her breath was supposed to make people faint after a while in an enclosed space then her going to a bar would not really work.
The middle bit after the first horizontal rule was a thought I had to make Liz a conspirator for hire rather than for Other Reasons (as in alternate ending #2).
The last bit in this chapter is my original wording for the mosquito thing in the end of ch. 4. A beta suggested that calling a mosquito she was a bit weird, so I figured better stick to the safer wording for the final version, but I thought you might appreciate it.
Johnny said, "I'll take mine on the rocks, thanks. Shelf is fine." His eyes wandered to the far side of the bar, and he almost did a double take. There, in her long silk gloves and long purple dress, sat a Mysterious Girl—there was really no other way to think of her. She radiated a sort of goth bar mystique that, to be honest, he really hadn't been expecting to find in the locals out here in Middle-of-Nowhere University.
His potential landlady, who had insisted on buying him a drink while they talked over the house rental, noticed the direction of his gaze, and raised her eyebrows at him.
"Who wears full length opera gloves these days?" Johnny asked. "Not that I'm judging," he added hastily. "She reminds me of someone from this club I went to, back in the city." Only half a lie. She had nothing in common with anyone he had ever met, at least not by her outward appearance. He was pretty sure he had never seen that shade of lipstick before. Some sort of fuchsia that almost hurt to look at for too long but kept drawing the eye.
"Oh, sure," Liz said, her face suddenly conspiratorial. "She's here most nights, at least most nights that I've been here. You would think, the human condition being what it is, that the whole bar would know her business by now. But she keeps to herself, and I don't actually know anyone who has ever gotten close to her. In fact," and here she paused, clearly relishing the opportunity to draw a new person into the intrigue, "there are rumors that her father keeps her on a tight leash. He taught at the university, pharmacology or something, and he got the boot for unethical conduct. It's become rather an urban legend around here to tell the truth. Their name is a bit unusual which just adds to the mythological quality: her father is Doctor James Rappaccini." She pronounced the title with something approaching the tone one would use in discussing a real life Doctor Frankenstein.
Tipping back the rest of his whiskey, Johnny asked, "So why are you acting like this is some grand story? Doctor Frankenstein broke rules at the university and his daughter is…a bar fixture? What did you say her name was?"
"Doctor Rappaccini. The bartender calls her Triss, from what I've heard, but your guess is as good as mine. Speaking of which," she gestured meaningfully toward the barkeep. "Two more, hey? On my tab."
Johnny narrowed his eyes in silence, studying Liz's face as the bartender poured and set down two more whiskeys.
"Okay, spill it, Liz. You are clearly setting me up for something. What is this, con the new guy?"
"Well, she happens to be your next door neighbor, so I figured you might be interested, seeing as how you found the gardens so intriguing."
"Wait, someone lives there?"
"Oh yes." Liz seemed to have gotten the reaction she wanted. "Both of them do. You can see them sometimes, puttering about with pruning shears and the like."
"You ducked my question," Johnny accused.
Liz widened her eyes in exaggerated innocence. "I may admit to some curiosity. And now that I finally have someone installed in that property…"
"You want me to spy on her? Why don't you just do it yourself? In fact," Johnny sat up straighter, no longer quite so at ease, "what is wrong with this property that you don't want to live in it, that you've had issues renting it? We went through the whole place and it seemed fine, if a bit old and dusty. Does the roof become a sieve when it rains? You better tell me," he frowned, "or I'll find some other place."
Liz laughed, taking no offense. "And here I thought I was the suspicious one. The major impediment to renting that place has been that they live next door! People around here don't like to get near them; most freshmen stay in the dorms, and by the time some of them get their own place they know to avoid my street. You can blame your very own department chair for that, by the way."
"He's your uncle?"
"Well not by blood; he's old friends with my dad, from back when they were undergrads I think. He's the one who recommended I get my doctorate here."
Liz pulled a face. "Well don't take my word for it, at any rate. Ask him yourself." She knocked back her drink, and tapped her credit card on the bar. "Hey, Camille, can I pay out?" She turned back to Johnny. "Look, this has been fun, but I have a contract to print and bring to you tomorrow. Still interested?"
"Are you kidding?! I don't care if Doctor Frankenstein does live next door; the rent is worth it." He grinned. "Assuming your paperwork is all in order. My mom used to be a realtor, you know."
Liz smiled back, unperturbed. "Oh, you won't have any problems with it. See you tomorrow at 10?"
"I'll be there."
"You better not have come on too strong." The voice on the other end of the phone was sharp.
Liz laughed. "Oh he is definitely interested. He's coming by tomorrow morning, at 10:00. I've already turned down like six people for this place; what makes him so special?"
The voice on the phone remained sharp. "You stick to your end of the bargain, and I will stick to mine. You want your money, you follow orders, and don't ask questions." The phone line clicked, changed to dial tone.
Liz hung up the phone. What a blowhard, she thought, shaking her head. Thinks he's James fucking Bond or something. Well as long as I get my money, I could care less.
She set her alarm for 9:00am. She had to meet a boy about a house.
[from ch. 4]
He hurried to a nearby florist, and selected a fragrant bouquet of hothouse flowers. As he climbed onto his bike to return home, he did not notice as a mosquito landed on his wrist. As he started biking, however, he saw the mosquito, but before he could brush her away, or crush her, she fell off of her own accord. He puzzled at it for a moment, but decided that perhaps the mosquito had simply drunk her fill.
Chapter 7: extra: alternate endings
Previous versions of ch. 5 - kidnapping plot plus two alternate endings to that version.
In first ending I wrote, Johnny was kidnapped and uses the father/daughter argument to make his escape and calls for help, but then goes off with them in the end anyway, as seen in ENDING 1. But the people who beta-ed for me found that to be a bit too inexplicable, that Johnny would in only 10 offscreen minutes completely change his mind and agree to go with them, thus: ENDING 2.
For ENDING 2 I started writing the scene with Liz as Beatrice's advocate. But as I wrote it I realized that I was spelling way too much out, and it was losing the fluidity of an organic narrative. Too much tell without enough earlier setting up for it. I think it comes across rather like the hackneyed Evil Mastermind Tells The Hero His Entire Plan thing, hahaha. But, bonus alternate identity for Liz! So to make things all work together (without a giant rewrite that I had no time for), I decided to cut the kidnapping out entirely, because although that cut made it less clear that Beatrice is, in fact, Terrible, I figured you might even prefer the additional grey area. :P
(Ellipses below indicate text that remained the same in the final draft, so I cut it for space/clarity. Horizonal rule toward the bottom of ENDING 2 indicates some never-written transition for Johnny to dial the phone number, but I left that ending unfinished because of my problems with the Liz scene.)
Johnny regained consciousness with the feeling that his head had become an anvil. It was dark, and he could not remember where he was. The last thing he remembered...was the horror of his own poisonous nature, and the resolve to save Beatrice from her insane father! Slowly, the rest of his memory filtered back.
He had run out to the gardens. He wanted to convince Beatrice to come with him, to leave her father's house and escape his mad science. He told her about the Professor's determination to synthesize an antidote, and she laughed.
"There is no antidote," she said. That was the last thing he remembered.
As his vision adjusted to the dark, he saw that he was strapped down to some sort of chair in what appeared to be a laboratory of some kind. The lights came on, blinding him.
A figure entered the room, and as Johnny's eyes adjusted once again he saw that it was Doctor Rappaccini. He briefly considered pretending to still be unconscious, but it was too late, Rappaccini met his gaze. Whatever remark had bubbled to the surface died before it was uttered, as in utter bewilderment Johnny saw Rappaccini put a finger to his lips.
"You must be quiet, and do exactly as I say," said Rappaccini in a voice even weaker than when Johnny heard him speak to Beatrice those several months ago. Stunned, Johnny could only stare. Rappaccini approached him, and unstrapped him from the chair, taking care not to touch Johnny's flesh.
"What is this charade?" Johnny whispered, as Rappaccini flinched away from his breath and stepped several paces back. "Do you think I don't know that it is your obsession which brought me to this place?"
For the first time, Rappaccini's face revealed an expression: annoyance. But he said nothing, only beckoned Johnny to follow him, again putting his finger to his lips, and turning out the lights.
"Surely this is not the way to go about things, my dear," he said in a tone which matched his expression, not altogether patronizing but with a sort of sickening pretense at respect. "Kidnapping charges are not a good accessory to research."
"Oh, I think there is little danger of that," her voice thrummed intensely, and she walked forward toward Johnny, looking directly into his eyes.
As they went back and forth, facing each other and quite forgetting about him, Johnny took careful, tiny steps backward until he turned and broke into a dead run, as fast as he could, through the garden, through the tiny gate, into his house, straight for the telephone.
He rang the Professor's private office line, and as soon as he heard, "Department of Medicine, this is the Chair speaking," he broke in—
"Professor, Uncle Pete, it's me, it's Johnny, you need to come get me right away, it is so much worse than you thought. There is no antidote. I've locked myself in the house but I know I'm not safe."
"There in ten minutes," the Professor replied tersely and the line clicked back to dial tone.
True to his word, the Professor pounded on the front door just under eleven minutes later, only to find it unlocked, and no one in the house at all. He called the police.
Hoping to find something, any sort of clue, he retraced his steps back up to the master bedroom, and opened the windows overlooking the botanical gardens, now dark except where the rising gibbous moon lay its pale fingers.
But wait! Over by the greenhouse, he saw a cloaked figure emerge, remove something from its face, and begin trudging back across the gardens. He knew that tread.
Leaning out of the windows, he shouted, "Rappaccini! Rappaccini! Is this what your experiment has come to? Kidnap and murder? End it now before the police become involved!" The figure stopped and seemed to regard him for a moment, before wordlessly continuing out of sight.
Not a moment later, the greenhouse door opened again, and two more figures walked out, each with their arm about the other. They ignored the Professor's attempt to hail them, and they, too, vanished in the night.
As they went back and forth, facing each other and quite forgetting about him, Johnny took careful, tiny steps backward until he turned and broke into a dead run, as fast as he could, through the garden, through the tiny gate, into his house.
But before he could pick up the phone, he heard the front door opening. "Johnny?" It was Liz. Johnny started backing away from her, no longer sure what to expect.
"I know this all seems quite confusing," she said. He gave her a Look, and continued backing away until he reached the foot of the stairs.
"Look, hear me out, okay? I'll stay here, and you stand there. No one is coming for you. There is nothing wrong with you. You are in the middle of a process and only she can finish it!"
"Nothing is wrong with me?!"
"In the strictest sense, you are probably more healthy now than you ever have been!"
"How am I supposed to finish grad school if I kill people by breathing on them?"
"That is a completely fair question, and I think you should give Beatrice a chance to answer it. She and her father…they have some differences at times, and they can fight. But truly, it's just words. I'm sorry if it frightened you."
"Okay, first, being kidnapped is the problem here, not their domestic bliss, and second, who the bloody hell are you?"
"Technically, I am her mother. By donation only, you understand. She is special, Johnny. And she thinks that you are too. It was no coincidence that she sought out your company day after day."
"No, it was to lure me into a trap."
"Think about all you've seen and experienced, about the possibilities. Think about where she is coming from. She didn't tell you about herself because she wanted you to understand it first from the inside. But you responded much more quickly and strongly than she expected."
He rang the Professor's private office line, but it went to voice mail. "Professor, Uncle Pete, it's me, it's Johnny. There is no antidote. I'm…not really sure what to do."
Chapter 8: extra: poison links
Because I did RESEARCH, so I'm going to show off a little.
Poisonous things referenced in this story
1. Booze is a poison, and I consciously included it as one, both in the cut plot with Liz taking Johnny to a bar, and the scene where Johnny and the Professor go to a pub. Also, Johnny walking his bike home is the single most responsible thing he does in the entire fic, probably.
2. "Johnny could see that inside the greenhouse were small trees, perhaps fruit trees…"
These could be a number of poisonous trees, including:
manchineel: Contact with milky white latex causes contact dermitis; standing beneath the tree during rain will cause blistering of the skin from even slight contact with this liquid.
agave: The juice of a number of species causes acute contact dermatitis, with blistering lasting several weeks and recurring itching for several years thereafter.
3. "A slight breeze was blowing, and he noticed large heads of white flowers nodding at him over the fence, swaying on their tall stalks with leaves spread almost as wide as a person."
Giant hogweed is friggin terrifying without being artificially enhanced, so naturally the entire garden wall is lined with the stuff. The sap causes terrible burns when exposed to sunlight.
4. "She wore beads around her neck and her wrists, small glossy red seeds with a black dot at the tip, that looked a bit like ladybugs."
"The attractive seeds (usually about the size of a ladybug, glossy red with one black dot) contain abrin, which is related to ricin, and very potent. Symptoms of poisoning include nausea, vomiting, convulsions, liver failure, and death, usually after several days. Ingesting a single seed can kill an adult human. The seeds have been used as beads in jewelry, which is dangerous; inhaled dust is toxic and pinpricks can be fatal. The seeds are unfortunately attractive to children."
For a minute I thought about using the seeds in a more direct way in Johnny's treatments, but I decided against it.
It is a Greek noun (m&f) meaning both poisoner/sorcerer AND scapegoat. I freaked out when I saw this. There literally could not be a more perfect word for Beatrice to have tattooed on her. Which one is she? :D
(entry in perseus.tufts.edu)
6. "They sat on a picnic blanket and had southern tea cakes with nutmeg sprinkled on top..."
"The intoxicating effects of myristicin can lead to a physical state somewhere between waking and dreaming; euphoria is reported and nausea is often experienced. Users also report bloodshot eyes and memory disturbances. Myristicin is also known to induce hallucinogenic effects, such as visual distortions. Nutmeg intoxication has an extremely long time before peak is reached, sometimes taking up to seven hours, and effects can be felt for 24 hours, with lingering effects lasting up to 72 hours."
7. "the dimly-lit room he passed containing extensive vivaria with tiny jewel-colored creatures inside"
Poison Dart Frogs:
"Adult frogs lay their eggs in moist places, including on leaves, in plants, among exposed roots, and elsewhere. Many poison dart frogs in the Oophaga and Ranitomeya genera: Once the eggs hatch, the adult piggybacks the tadpoles, one at a time, to suitable water, either a pool, or the water gathered in the throat of bromeliads or other plants. The tadpoles remain there until they metamorphose, fed by unfertilised eggs laid at regular intervals by the mother.
The most toxic of poison dart frog species is Phyllobates terribilis the golden poison frog.
In captivity, most species thrive where the humidity is kept constant at 80 to 100% and where the temperature is around 72 °F (22 °C) to 80 °F (27 °C) during the day and no lower than 60 °F (16 °C) to 65 °F (18 °C) at night."
8. "Another room behind airtight glass doors had rows of ultraviolet lights and plant beds with what appeared to be many variations of the bright purple flowers he had seen in the greenhouse, their blooms like eerie fingers reaching toward him in the blue light."
At first I didn't have any specific thing in mind for Beatrice's sister-plant, since it was enhanced/invented by Rappaccini anyway, but for this bit in the end I decided they should be highly enhanced varieties of Digitalis.
From the wiki list of poisonous plants:
Some plants that were definitely in the garden in some form or another:
Columbine, Jack-in-the-pulpit, desert rose (highly toxic sap), aconite, belladonna, snakeweed, autumn crocus, hemlock plant, larkspur, lily of the valley, giant hogweed, castor oil plant (ducks have shown substantial resistance to the seeds: it takes an average of 80 to kill them), bloodroot, manchineel, milky mangrove, stinging tree, agave
Plants that cause contact dermatitis:
aconite (casual skin contact symptoms include numbness, tingling, and cardiac irregularity), oleander, blister bush, giant hogweed, poison ivy/oak/sumac (allergen not poison), mango leaves and skin (for those sensitive to poison ivy and oak), privet pollen, bloodroot (causes lesions, not FDA approved to treat cancer), ragwort, manchineel, agave
Pretty sure I came to this via tvtropes:
Weird thing that happened in real life:
Analysis of a Toxic Death - “A year ago two dozen emergency room staff were mysteriously felled by fumes emanating from a dying young woman. Investigations turned up nothing—until a team of chemists from a nuclear weapons lab got involved."