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The Moon Flower

by Ron Van Sweringen

It was possibly the most beautiful thing Max Moreau had ever seen. Blooming in the moonlight at the edge of his bedroom window, the Moon Flower, with its curving petals of purple and crimson. It was larger than his open hand, with an eye in the center as black as midnight.

He had heard tales of this flower since he arrived in Tahiti in 1936, but he doubted its existence. In his twenty years on the island he had never seen one.

“You do not wish to see one,” the native woman sitting under the banyan tree said to him the next morning when he brought up the subject.

“I’ve heard that island black magic stuff,” he replied, looking at her over his glasses. “A person would have to be an idiot to believe that crap.”

The old woman did not respond immediately. When she did, her voice was low, almost a whisper, as if she were afraid. “When the flower has bloomed for three days, then you shall have your answer.”

She picked up a small basket on the grass beside her and walked away. Max knew the natives well enough to understand her actions. She was leaving unpleasantness in search of a happier place.

“Now why can’t I do that?” Max said to himself. “Or at least learn how to keep my mouth shut.”

He worked diligently through the afternoon. A soft breeze constantly played with his long hair and the red hibiscus tucked behind his ear. The paint went onto the canvas easily. With any luck he would finish the painting in a few more hours.

“Life is wonderful,” he thought. Max always felt that way when a painting went well. Suddenly, in a burst of enthusiasm, he pulled off his shirt, let his shorts fall onto the sand and ran naked into the turquoise water. It felt like a thousand cool caressing fingers running over his body as he swam.

The shark sensed he was there. They had shared this lagoon before. But never so close.

As he packed up his paint and brushes, Max thought about the Moon Flower and what the old woman had said. Her voice kept repeating, “In three days you shall have your answer.”

“What answer?” he said to himself. “What the hell is she talking about?”

The broiled snapper was wonderful at dinner that night. Mrs. MacRey was an excellent cook. She kept a clean house and made his bed to perfection every morning. Not a wrinkle in sight on the white sheets. Max was the only boarder staying at The Trade Winds Boarding House at the moment. He occupied a large bed and sitting room with its own bath on the second floor. His view of the ocean was magnificent.

He had been a permanent guest for over two years now, paying monthly when his checks arrived from the art galleries in San Francisco and New York. His work was gaining in reputation. For the first time in his life, money was not the most important factor.

Max was tired when he switched off the lamp in his bedroom. He did what he always did before going to bed: he sat in a wicker chair by the window, watching the moon on the ocean. Suddenly it struck him. The Moon Flower was gone. In its place was a large green pod.

As he watched the pod a metamorphosis occurred. Slowly and with hypnotizing motion it began to open. “My God,” Max gasped as the petals unfolded like delicate fingers. The black eye in the center was staring at him. He could not look away from it. “In three days you shall have your answer.” The old woman’s voice echoed in his head.

The next morning after Max woke, he looked for the Moon Flower. He was disappointed to find only the large green pod near the window. “Guess that’s where the name comes from,” he reasoned. “It blooms in the moonlight.” Something else occurred to him. This was the second day since he’d first seen the Moon Flower. There was one more day to go.

“Stop it,” he cursed when a slight chill prickled the hairs on the back of his neck.

An hour later, in the middle of his breakfast, Max heard the phone ring in the kitchen. Mrs. MacRey appeared in the doorway a moment later. “It’s New York, for you.”

Martin St. John, the owner of The Madison Gallery of Art on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, was on the line. Max could tell instantly by the tone of his voice that something important had happened.

“Are you sitting down, Max?” he asked. “If not, you should be. I just sold your last painting, the large one, ‘Tahiti Blue and Gold’.”

Max’s heart pounded. Tahiti Blue and Gold was his finest work. “How much?” he asked, holding his breath.

“I’m looking at a check for five hundred thousand dollars. You’d better insure those hands of yours.”

Max’s scream was so loud that Mrs. MacRey dropped the pan she was washing in the sink.

“So much for that Moon Flower mumbo-jumbo and all the bad luck crap that goes with it,” he shouted. “I’m rich!”

Max raced upstairs to the window in his bedroom. With one sharp jerk of his hand it was accomplished: the Moon Flower pod was torn from its vine and thrown on the floor. “So much for you,” he laughed, stepping down hard on it.

The rest of the day passed in a blur for Max. There were too many drinks at the Beach Bar. Too many pats on the back from too many new-found friends. When he got back to the boarding house it was past midnight and he was very drunk. Mrs. MacRey had gone to bed and all of the lights were out except for those in the hall.

Max didn’t bother to turn the lamp on in his room. He undressed and let his clothes lie where they fell. The open window and its billowing curtains beckoned to him. He slumped into the wicker chair enjoying the soft breeze on his naked body. He was tired and drunk and his eyes were heavy.

It took him a while to pick up on a slight movement in the semi-darkness. Something was lying on the floor below the window. Bending forward for a better look, he froze. His fingers gripped the chair arm, his knuckles turning white.

“No!” he gasped.

The Moon Flower pod was unfolding at his feet. This time the petals did not open gracefully as they had before. Now they writhed and twisted as if in agony. For an instant Max even imagined he heard a tortured scream coming from it.

“I must be going crazy,” he groaned. Then the flower began to move, slowly lifting itself up by the petals and walking as if it were a giant spider. Max tried to lunge forward in an effort to get out of the chair, but he lost his balance and fell. His head was swimming and pounding at the same time. He watched the flower slowly moving toward him. Then he passed out with his head rolling back and his mouth open.

Mrs. MacRey found his body the next day. She had assumed he was sleeping late. When he had not appeared by midday, she became alarmed and opened his door. The sight was horrible. His bloated face was purple and what looked like a ring of white foam had dried around his mouth.

“This guy must have been plenty drunk,” one of the paramedics said to the other, his latex gloves pulling the Moon Flower out of Max’s open mouth. “Imagine trying to swallow something this big. No wonder he choked to death.”

Copyright © 2013 by Ron Van Sweringen

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