A Flower for You
It was in the dead of winter that I first ran the distance between my cottage and the city I’ve renounced long ago. It’s about four hours walking between the two, but the heavy snowfall adds an extra third total onto that. But this was the last year I would be scouting, so by extension, it was the last year I would have to make that walk.
“A flower for you, miss?”
“Sorry dear, I’ve got no change.”
“Free of charge—for Hollow Night.”
“My, then I suppose I’ll take one.”
The young woman (quite a looker by the way) gave another look up and down to the man whom she had initially assumed to be a beggar, or the seasonal equivalent of a can collector. But with my thick, ragged winter coat and soot-blackened snow pants, it was hardly of offense that she did. Around Talisburn, that kind of thing was real frowned upon. It was a cute little upscale bubble, so you’d occasionally see bums in the alleyways beaten, yelled at, or gettin’ dragged out from under the dim of the holiday lights, but never welcome. Though this woman was kind with soft pupils; she meant no harm to a worn-looking man passing out flowers.
Her eyes, shining with a pearly glow, settled on the fluffy bundle of white, freshly bloomed carnations rolled up into my arm. She took the one from my outstretched hand and held it by her chest, giving a hearty sniff.
“You must plan to be out all night with that many. They’ll surely wither in this freezing weather before you can give ‘em all away.”
A small pout from the young lady. Surely she had some interest in flowers herself.
Already, that was more than I could say.
“I’m used to the cold. I’m no regular cityfolk, but I trudge up to Talisburn every Hollow Eve. So I’ll manage, somehow.”
I forced a small grin. Why was I trying to show off?
Of course, I already knew the answer to that. The shiny lips of a cute young damsel directed at me was already more company than I had all year ‘round; there was no doubt that I’d want to enjoy it to the fullest. And here I was supposed to hate the cityfolk.
Yet, this was undoubtedly my favorite and least favorite day of the year, ever since I began handing out flowers; ever since I went to scout out the city.
In this place which I swore never to smile in again.
“It wouldn’t hurt to take a quick rest, would it? My place is just a short walk down the street, and I’d love to hear more about those flowers over some tea.”
“They’re… nothing special.”
I could feel my face flush with a beet red warmth. I lied.
An invitation. Likely to spend the night with this lovely young soul. When was the last time such an offer had been extended to me? Inside of a warm, townhome cuddling up to who was likely a kindred spirit; one who also found themselves a victim of the loneliness and longing that Hollow Night brings. Lights off, curtains drawn, and children silently awaiting; full of excitement and anticipation for the morning after. Oh, how I hated this time of year.
“My, such a reaction to a simple act of kindness. You wouldn’t happen to be misinterpreting me, would you?”
She gave a sly giggle.
Of course I would, when you put it like that. But she wasn’t strange to wonder about the blooms of white tucked under my arm. Flowers—real ones—were highly rare to see nowadays. And when you did, they were fleeting; like a clear night sky, momentarily escaping from the smog that often took reign over the stars above.
“Truth is, I really hate handing out these flowers.”
And it really was the truth. They sickened me. Their perfect, innocent white brought upon memories of past which haunted my idle thoughts during both ways’ travel to this place, as well as on silent nights.
A white so pure can only get darker; can only be stained with corruption. But such thoughts never stopped me from making the walk before, with a bundle of carnations in hand. Hating the city, or its inhabitants never seemed to stop me either. So why did I still do it? For my daughter, who loved this odd breed of flower so? Maybe at first; maybe I just wanted to feel like I was still doing something. Or at this point, perhaps it was just routine.
That’s right, I was simply used to it; it was just routine. Despite the fact that I never even cared for flowers to begin with.
“I see… It’s a shame, considering they’re so lovely. Where do you get them?”
“I grow them myself.”
There I was, showing off again.
“…and yet you hate handing them out? Despite how you look, you’re quite the selfish one.”
Another playful giggle escaped her lips. It pained me how much I was enjoying myself in this situation. Talking with this cute stranger, who was perky and excited during what should have been the most dreary time of the year. I’d get an earful back outside the city if my superiors knew I was indulging like this.
“Well if you’ll excuse me miss, I’d like to get rid of ‘em all before the night is over.”
“I see. Then, I’ll help. It’ll go twice as fast.”
“Perhaps even faster, with such a charming young gal by your side. Don’t you think?”
“Sure. Let’s split ‘em.”
What the heck. It was my last time giving flowers anyway, so why not indulge in a little cityfolk fun? It’s why Charlotte sent me up here to begin with, the first time she proposed we hand out flowers together. She was such a lively urban girl, after all. In love with Talisburn’s stale traditions and shady ceremonies. It would be too late for her to complain about me now, having fun as I was.
So we handed out flowers.
Funnily enough, the further I walked from the girl, the faster her rate progressed. When it was me on my own, it was seen as a kind gesture, or maybe more to a little kid who’d never seen more than shrubs or dead trees, but for a young girl like her to be holding out those white blossoms which glimmered against the pale city under the Hollow Night lights, well… It was as if an angel had descended upon those who chose to take one.
Giving hope during these hard times.
Perhaps giving love to those who had lost it, or would soon.
When she inevitably closed up the gaps I would make between us, that’s how it similarly felt for me, who had been all on my own for so long. I was certainly having too much fun, knowing full well what was soon to come.
The very last flower, which I had given to her at the beginning, she held close to her chest with a warm smile aimed downward.
“You remind me of my little brother. He was outwardly gloomy, but actually quite the cheerful soul when he opened up.”
She seemed to catch herself, but only after the sentence was long finished.
“Ah, I’m sorry. That’s rude of me.”
‘Was’, she said.
Ah, I figured as much.
“I uhm… also lost my own on Hollow Night. So I understand.”
She perked up in an unusual fashion that picked at my brain. It reached deep down into my subconscious in a way that just felt ever so slightly off. But I was too in the moment. Too naive, despite knowing what I had gotten myself into.
“So that’s why you’ve been giving flowers out every year?”
“Yeah… It’s because Charlotte- because she was a city girl. And she liked to grow these flowers—they’re her favorite—so that we could give them out over the holidays, cheery as she was.”
Charlotte… It was always my fault. If only I had kept you outside of Talisburn with me; if only I told you no when you insisted that you understood the dangers. Then perhaps I wouldn’t have to reminisce about you.
“I suppose you could call it her answer to… this whole thing.”
“You mean to Hollow Night?”
I began to fumble over my words, picturing her face in my mind. My one and only daughter. My Charlotte.
“I see… That she was chosen too, along with my own little brother… What a wonderful blessing for the both of us.”
There it was. That uneasy cheerfulness, which I had tried to ignore. As if she heard something entirely different than what had left my mouth. I could only stay silent as she continued with a sincerity that was nothing short of pitiable.
“Happy Hollow Night!”
She held out the flower to me, but I had long since awoken from the intoxication of such a romantic atmosphere.
“You too, miss.”
I didn’t take the carnation. But I really did mean it. I wanted her to have a good night. Because more than likely, this year would be hard for her. It was going to be hard for everybody in Talisborn.
On my way back, trudging through a much heavier thick of snow than during my initial trip, I pulled a small radio from my inner pocket and spoke into it, holding down the button with everything I had in me.
“Locations 1-A, 6C, 8C, 3D, and 7F are go. E5 is a code yellow, and everything else is red. Squad A, B, and C, standby until bombs are armed and ready.
Hollow Night, the one night a year where every child in Talisburn has a chance to be chosen, and spirited away to a higher paradise beyond our comprehension. What a horrible load of shit.
Why couldn’t you want to live in the countryside like the rest of us? Why couldn’t you pick a different city? Why Talisburn, of all places?
Why couldn’t I stop you, Charlotte?
I heard a buzz come through the radio.
“Bombs are go. Squads A, B, and C, are ready to move in. Ready on your call.”
I took a deep breath in.
And then another.
And then one more, before making one final call in response.
I won’t let any more people be fooled, nor children stolen for profit under the guise of some culty nonsense. I was once a complacent idiot, and it cost me my poor daughter’s life. Charlotte’s life.
This was for her.
Or for that poor young miss who had her little brother taken from her.
Or perhaps it’s just so I can cope with my own past mistakes.
It didn’t matter.
I uttered the key phrase into the radio, loud and clear.
“Happy Hollow Night, Ladies and Gentlemen.”