Mandrake



A bright, midsummer moon lit the clearing. Shadowed fir arms, saggy with cones, swayed over dewy grass. Soft, twisted mushrooms poked above the blades. A lone weed with heavy, chard-like stems grew, alone, in the clearing's center.

A rustling sounded. Beneath the low firs, two heads poked into the clearing, dragged by dirty, flannel elbows. One head, possessed of a grizzled beard, turned to the other: The round face of a young boy.

"There, Tim" whispered the beard, pointing with a dirty, calloused finger. 

The boy's brown eyes went wide. "That's it, Pa?"

"Aye. See the dirt piled 'round the stem? That's how ye can tell" said Pa. 

"How long's it been growin' here?"

"Didn't grow here, son. Buggers move. Plant 'emselves anew every night. This'n's been roaming the hollow for a month. It's a luck I found it" said Pa. 

"Ol' nan says they're terrible dangerous."

"Aye, they are." He looked to his lad. "Got nary a choice, though, son. Need that root to help yer mum, for her pain."

He grimaced, watched the weed closely, eyes asquint. "Just keep a sharp eye on and hold quiet."

For a long while, they lay in the silence and the damp. Dew gathered on their backs. The smell of mushrooms stuck in their throats. A nightjar called, broke the silence just once.

A moth circled the clearing, bobbed drunkenly in the air. It dipped, alit on the weed's waxy stem. A leaf twitched. The moth darted away.

Pa shifted. His eyes grew wild. "Gimme the axe, Tim. S'about to move."

Tim jerked awake from a half doze. He stared, frozen. "Does it know we're here?" he said, panicked. 

"Shh, lad. Put yer wax in yer ears and gimme the axe!" whispered pa, hoarse.

Tim shifted on the wet grass, put the handle of a splitting axe to his father's rough palm. "I'm scared, Pa."

"Aye, so am I" said Pa, rising to stand at the clearing's edge.

The weed twitched, began to rise atop a dome of shifting soil. Dirt dribbled to the grass, revealing first a skew-jawed skull, vertebrae, clavicles.

A skeletal thing straightened in the moonlight. Soil sloughed from its frame, equal parts twined root and ragged flesh. The weed wobbled atop its cracked skull. Spongy, reddish root-flesh filled the cranium, bulged from empty, broken eye sockets. 

Pa hoisted his axe, set a quick pace towards the thing. Boots thumped into soft earth. Teeth gritted under grizzled mustache. Moonlight flashed in the sharpened splitting blade's edge. 

The thing jerked, turned to face the charging man. Its jaw dropped, jutted as if to roar. 

A click broke the night air, sharp and painful as an icepick to the back of the skull. Pa tumbled, dropped the axe. He clutched his head, bellowed. Runny blood trickled from his eyes and nose. 

The skeletal thing stepped over Pa, stooped. It moved in a stilted, contracted manor. It knelt over the man, head-weed drooping. Feelers, like the pale outgrowths of an over-ripe potato, snaked from the slack-slung jaw. Twitching, they felt for his eyes and mouth. Pa moaned, dully, face screwed up, bloody.

There was a sharp crunch. The thing jerked up, whipped its head about. Feelers writhed, furious. A second swing sent the skull rolling to the grass.

Pa peered up, saw his son, axe in hand, silhouetted against the moon. 



In the light, they are innocuous weeds; no more interesting than a sprout of burdock. In dark, they are hideous nightwalkers; dangerous as any necrocyte.

They are mandrakes: Human bodies commandeered by a species of parasitic plant.

Mandragora ambulates

This root makes its nest in human skulls. It eats up the brain, connects to the spine, and takes control. Portions of the body needed to ambulate and dig are preserved. Everything else is allowed to rot, become fertilizer.

The root and its host is know as a mandrake. Most mandrakes resemble human carcasses with broadleaf weeds protruding from their broken skulls. 

During the day, mandrakes stay hidden. Buried, save for their leaves. At night, the plant unearths itself, looks for a new location. This habit of relocation is procedural. Its occurrence depends on the mandrake's current state.

If a mandrake is lacking in sun, it will move to a new location. If its lacking in food, it will, as well. Wandering increases a mandrake's chances at encountering an animal or human. If it encounters the former, it will simple kill it, enjoy rotting carcass for a week or so. If a human is encountered, the mandrake will attack. 

Assuming it kills the unfortunate human, it will proceed to perform one of two actions: Either the mandrake will claim a new host for itself, discarding the husk of the old, or it will reproduce. To do so, they simply crack the skull of a fresh kill and insert their seeds. (Mandrakes are not pixifers. Their flowers are poisonous, as are their roots. They merely store the seeds.)

The Mandrake's Scream

To kill, mandrakes utilize an ability unique to their species. The root, when conjoined with a human body, possesses the ability to project a powerful infrasonic attack, so powerful as to incapacitate any human. This attack, colloquially known as the mandrake's "scream," is nothing like an actual scream. It is perceived only as a single, terrible piercing of the skull. A single painful note, describable as a "click."

If a target is not totally incapacitated by the mandrake's scream, it may be easily dispatched by the creature in melee, given it's weakened state.

Mandragora Root

Litorans* have concocted a broad range of uses for mandrake root.** When extracted as a serum, it is known as an effective painkiller, sedative, poison, or aphrodisiac, depending on preparation and dose. Root (knotty, red, and stuck in a skull) is work upwards of a crown per kilogram. Mandragora roots frequently weight more than six kilos.

As a result of this usefulness, folk have devised methods of hunting mandrakes. Little can be done to reduce the efficacy of the scream (save for specialized headgear.) Thus, other plots are concocted.

The traditional means of mandrake hunting involves creeping up on the plant during the day, tying a goat to its stem, and slowly walking away. The goat (as its a goat) will eventually graze the area and wander away, tugging the mandrake. Theoretically, this causes the monster to emerge and scream at the goat, who will serve as a distraction while the hunter swoop in.

Tradition

Some individuals, out of concern for tradition, refuse to hunt mandrakes. It is believed ælves keep mandrakes as garden pets. to kill one would be to incite the wrath of an ælf (an idea many Northerners dread.)

Though few know it, ælves are attracted to the scent of Mandragora serum. Throughout history, many a patient, an addict, or a lover has complained of visions of ælves. To ease their suffering, they consume more. Unbeknownst to them, the mandrake's milk only worsens their plight.


*Any native of the Coast is called a Litoran. 
** Or, debatably, mandrakes have evolved to be desirable.

Benton

Chief Producer of Typos at Incunabuli.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are currently disabled, due to the disconnection of G+. They will return in time.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.