For this piece, I used two characters from my novel, but it’s not an excerpt. It was inspired by an actual tomato plant in a large hanging cage. Similar to the one shown . . . but bigger and . . . well . . . slightly demonic looking.

The Tomato Plant

As promised to Shelby, Solomon found a way to have Italian food delivered to the house. The couple took their time eating a meal that would be remembered as the first dinner together in their new home.

They finished eating simultaneously and agreed to clean up after walking off their chicken alfredo. As they stepped off the porch, Shelby commented, “once again, you pulled off some magic. How do . . . well . . . I already know . . . don’t I?”

“Takes magic to know magic, and nobody knows magic like you know magic,” Solomon’s said fluidly as he reaffirmed his light grasp of Shelby’s hand.

Shelby replied with a grin, “grazie, amore mio.”

The couple casually walked the path to the tree line and back. When they began to approach the apple tree, Shelby tugged on Solomon’s hand, pulling him away from the overhanging branches. She smiled and gave a nod towards the fruit tree before leading him to and up the steps. By the time they reached the loveseat, the lovers were more than ready to drop into the thick cushions.

A ceiling of glittering stars had replaced what had been an beautiful sunny day. The nights were getting longer and colder. Only one hour past sunset, the temperature had fallen ten degrees.

Shelby nudged Solomon and pointed towards the apple tree, “he . . . it’s still there. I didn’t think it would still be perched up there like a parrot.”

“I can compel it to leave if you’d like. Say the word.”

“Nooooo . . . baby. Keep your pet.”

Shelby’s response had been lovingly sarcastic with her customary little grin. Something Solomon had grown fond of seeing more of since she’d moved in.

The first gust of wind of the evening brought a whistling response from the apple tree. Solomon assisted Shelby in rolling down her sleeves, leaned over and kissed her lightly, then asked, “what’s on your mind?”

Shelby grinned and returned the kiss with another before answering. “It seems unnaturally cold tonight, even for this time of year. I . . . Solomon I . . . ” Her words trailed off as she tightened her flannel shirt against the chill.

Shelby hadn’t bothered attempting to conceal the fact that something was bothering her, nor did she believe there would ever be a reason for doing so. Soloman placed his hand on hers, carefully lining up each of her fingers with his own. Shelby giggled when her left index finger shimmered briefly beneath the palm of his hand.

Following a few minutes of comfortable silence, Solomon gently moved Shelby’s face towards his. He looked into and past her eyes, instantly connecting to a ripple of emotion. Within a few heartbeats, the transference was complete.

Solomon repeated, “what’s on your beautiful mind?”

Shelby had already considered telling Solomon what was bothering her. Knowing there would never be a more suitable time to open up and let go, Shelby took several breathes, “Okay, but I’m going to hurry before it gets colder.”

Soloman pulled Shelby closer, “we can keep each other warm.”

“Thank you, baby. Do you remember when I tensed up? Earlier, when we were coming back from the meeting?”

“I remember. It’s happened several times. Always, when the service is taking us to the office or bringing us back to the house.”

Shelby closed her eyes and allowed the image to flash through her mind once more. The memory of the empathic connection she’d made with the creature filled her consciousness, and she could still feel the entity’s pain and torment. First, clearing her throat, she began to explain. “Soloman, I can still see and feel it.”

“What do you see?”

“I see what others must see. And I see what I must see.”

“Tell me.”

“There is a tomato plant hanging from the awning. It’s one of those inverted tomato plants. Do you know the kind?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, what I see is this. Someone has constructed a cage and attached the cage to the awning. The cage is interwoven of earthly materials and spiritual enchantment.”

“I know the kind.”

“Instead of a Tomato Plant growing within that cage with leaves and vines . . . ” Shelby’s words trailed, but she continued almost immediately. “I see an otherworldly entity.”

Shelby could feel Soloman connecting to her emotional pain. She continued, “I see a demon incarcerated within a spiritual prison. The creature has a terrible scowl on its face, and the arms are long and skinny. The hands are large with wickedly sharp, dirty claws.” She stretched her small hands out, her manicured but unpainted fingernails flickering in the darkness.

Shelby and Solomon smiled together. She added, “of course, my fingers are much smaller.”

“And cleaner, I’m sure.”

“Yes, baby. Cleaner and prettier.”

“What happens when the connection is made?”

“When I see the beast, it sees me as well. Our eyes lock, and there is a transference of energy and emotional trauma. Within a few moments, the connection is complete.”

“And the pain?”

“I feel all of it, everything. All of the suffering and regret.”

“Regret?”

“Yes. The creature hates itself for being tricked. Even more, than that which betrayed it, the beast hates itself. I can see the words within its mind. Screaming, how, and why.”

The couple sat in silence for nearly a minute. Soloman hugged Shelby before speaking. “The world passes by and sees a plant, but you must see both. It’s always been this way, hasn’t it?”

“Yes, since childhood.” Shelby looked towards the apple tree and then clasped Soloman’s hand within her own. “You see these things as well, is that so?”

“Yes, it’s similar for me. I’ve seen the cage. The house is white, is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“The second to the last corner before we turn on to the street that takes us to the campus?”

Shelby looked at Soloman. Without any outside lights on, the porch was shrouded in darkness. She could feel his eyes penetrating the shadows and connecting to her green eyes, now sparkling in the starlight.

“Yes, baby, that’s the house. Tell me why someone would do such a thing.”

“Quite possibly, a person trapped the creature and then didn’t know what to do with it.”

“Maybe they didn’t want it moving past the porch.”

“Like, please leave all demons outside.”

Shelby giggled and planted another kiss on Soloman’s cheek. “Orrrrr . . . please check your little demon at the door.”

“Or, keep them in the apple tree, huh.”

The lovers shared a moment of laughter. What had begun as a painful conversation had been transformed. Once again, Shelby’s pain had been released by Soloman. One of the many reasons she loved him completely and without limitations.

Soloman brushed Shelby’s hair back and reaffirmed his gentle but firm clasp of her hand. “Or . . . maybe the creature is a sentry.”

Shelby smiled, “Interesting concept. Although such a task would require an incredibly high level of skill.”

Soloman could see the wheels turning within Shelby’s mind. He knew with absolution that she possessed such skill within her craft. He chose not to move the conversation in that direction. Instead, he waited patiently to see where she would take the discussion.

Shelby perceived Soloman’s thoughts immediately. Smiling with their mutual decision, she offered, “Whatever the reason, such things cannot be healthy for the property or the residents.”

“On so many levels. Eventually, something else will show up.”

“Are you referring to another entity?”

“Yes, another demon will sniff out the prisoner.”

“Are you suggesting . . . ” Shelby’s words trailed off, but she knew where Soloman was heading with his following sentence. “

Joseph Shanklin

2020

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