Beth had only one reality at her disposal until that day. She thought she had many more, and she accessed them through her computer screen. She had enjoyed police procedural realities, sitcom realities, and realities that featured nothing but the creation of food that would only ever have one bite taken from it.
She experienced these realities in bed, covers pulled up to her collarbone, with a bag of assorted salty cheesy things at her side. Unfortunately her primary reality consisted of a retail job. It began with coffee, dragged on with receipts and rewards cards, and only allowed her to dip back into the others at the end of the day.
The last one she had let her mind bathe in the previous night was the procedural, an excellent show about a brave female detective returning to work after a traumatic back injury entitled Back to the Force. Seeing that imaginary woman overcome her struggles made Beth brave enough to grab at the strange thing she found on the street.
She was walking home while it rained lightly. There was an alley near her apartment, a reality all its own, though normally far too depressing to earn eye contact. She knew there was a man who lived there. He too had false realities, but they were fueled by substances Beth would never dare touch. Even her favorite detective would use tweezers to slip them into the evidence bags. She didn’t think herself superior, just lucky enough to have a superior reality-altering device.
Or did she? Something caught her eye as she passed by the alley that evening. There was a scrap of paper with a blot of something discolored. She correctly identified it as some sort of hard hallucinogenic drug, but she had no labels for the thing growing on top of it, aside from the vagary that was flower. The object had one spiraled root that didn’t leave the paper scrap. It drank deeply of whatever chemical was left and translated the energy into a bloom the size of a yo-yo.
Beth stopped and stared. It was sort of a plant, but many of its features were slightly off. She’d never quite seen that shade of green. Its extremely thin stalk looked more like wire. It still had a pale seed casing hanging on near the tip of the root. She looked deeper into the alley. Its resident was nowhere to be seen. Technically, the edge of the paper touched the sidewalk. It was on public property, even if she was being generous and calling the alley his property. He had discarded it.
Touching drugs was certainly illegal, but the plant was quickly sucking up the evidence. Nobody would know. She barely had any friends to accuse her of having a drug problem anyway. Beth dipped down and snagged the flower and its scrap of paper. She did so not because it was beautiful, but because there were clearly things to see in the petals. Not there though. Somewhere more private. Somewhere where she could calm her nerves with cheesy salty things.
She set the flower down, gently, on her kitchen counter. She turned the temperature up, assuming flowers all enjoyed roughly seventy degree weather. She set down her purse, put her elbows on the counter, and tried to make sense of its petals.
She quickly confirmed her initial suspicions. She wasn’t seeing things; she assumed she’d have to take the drugs for that. The flower had done all the hard work, translating the hallucinogen into images playing across each of its petals like films. Ridiculously clear films. 1080p she guessed. Who knew drugs could provide such clarity?
Each one was radically different from the last. The top petal held a reality where sand dominated the landscape. People shrouded in cloth trekked across wastelands in search of oases of both water and water-like technology. She saw someone make it to one on the brink of death. She saw a robot full of water run to their aid, pouring its own power source down their parched throat. She thought that one was great, but the second was even better.
Everything was the circus in that second petal from the top. The sky was red and purple cloth. The vines were all wires arranged in incredible patterns. In place of mice there were tiny lions running about and roaring whenever they ascended an overturned teacup or discarded tin can. She spotted a family of ringmasters taking a peaceful ride through a forest of smoldering hoops. Their mounts were the exact menagerie of animals in Beth’s childhood animal cookie boxes.
The third petal was missing. Beth sighed and put her finger through the little gap in the fence it created. She felt a strange tingle and recoiled, her body striking her fridge. It didn’t hurt, but she knew that petal hadn’t been for her. It was simple enough to move on.
The fourth reality could barely be contained by the shape of the petal. It even vibrated on the flower, threatening to make itself fall. She couldn’t discern much: clashing metal, tides of sparks, and clumps of hair trying to escape it all. Not her favorite. Beth moved down an inch.
This petal was excellent. Its world was made up of birds. People lived on the backs of soaring birds, they passed messages to each other with birds, and they played sports with delightfully springy eggs as the balls. This was the one where Beth really paid attention to the character development. Not all of them had people, and she hadn’t been able to see the faces in the first one, but bird-petal was full of beautiful sympathetic figures.
Beth had committed most of her emotions to various websites and their shows, but she was open to meeting somebody. There was a girl in high school, a crush, adjacent lanes when they were on the swim team, but she was too afraid to take it anywhere. That wasn’t true. She took it out of the pool, dried it off, and stuffed it all in her computer.
This was her chance, she realized. The poor flower, the poor unlucky seed that happened to land on some powerful alley stuff, had become a gateway. Her computer was one as well, but square and limited. The flower was nature, truth revealed by unbalanced chemistry. It was her chance to take it to the next level. That’s why a petal was missing. That’s why the man in the alley was missing. He’d already found the one he wanted, perhaps bonded with it.
The petal full of metal finally shook itself loose and continued to vibrate on her counter. The flower might not last long. She had to choose one. How could she possibly pick? Most of them looked enticing in one way or another. Another petal fell and emitted a jolt of static. It turned black. The flower was unstable; she didn’t even realize how much bigger it had gotten while she examined each petal. The center, now a swirling disc of reality runoff, was the size of a dinner plate.
Beth thought about a new potential girlfriend. She wanted someone to share one reality with. Someone to make that reality enough. There was an old game for this sort of thing. Beth came up with a mantra to get it going, a phrase that addressed the reality of this potential love.
“She exists,” Beth said as she plucked the first petal.
“She exists not,” she added when she took the second one.
“She exists not.”
“She exists not.”
“She exists!” Beth was gone. Over the next few hours the flower’s drug-fueled powers faded. It left behind nothing but black petals, a dried stalk like a vanilla bean, an a clean scrap of paper.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by WolfChkin during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!