As Ned crept up to the gate, he was struck by the eerie glow emanating from the yard. The last thing Ned wanted was eerie glow all over his face but it was too late. Besides, Susan was in there somewhere and he wasn’t going to cut and run. Not now. Ned wiped some eerie glow onto his jeans, took a deep breath and moved into the yard.
The glow was coming from somewhere in the distance, partially blocked by rows of evergreens. Ned made a mental note. It was an E-flat. Then cautiously, he crept forward.
Footsteps. Voices. Coming this way. A moment of panic.
Ned dived into a row of junipers. He knew he was going to pay for that tomorrow with juniper burns.
The footsteps were almost on top of him now. And that eerie glow. Closer. He wedged himself deeper into the juniper row. He could hardly breathe. Juniper needles in his nostrils. That was really going to smart tomorrow.
Two humanoid shapes appeared. A man and a woman. Carrying…something. Something with a glow. Ned winced and looked away. The couple stopped. Ned froze.
“Is this enough?” asked the female, her face framed in a Toulouse-Lautrec-like mask.
“Trust me,” said the male, his eyes burning with laser-pointer intensity.
And they walked on. Ned pulled a juniper needle from his nose, watching them move away. “Fools,” he thought. “You don’t know what you’re doing.” He had to find Susan, before it was too late.
Ned hated leaving the shelter of the evergreens but he pressed on, moving cautiously. The glow was stronger now. Instinctively, he reached into his pocket for his sunglasses. Not there. He remembered accidentally sitting on them on Tuesday and cursed under his breath. There was little to protect him from the glow now. Just some wind chimes. Not much at all.
Shading his eyes with his hands, he moved forward. Another couple approached, pushing a basket with that—glow. No time to hide. Maybe they would think he was one of them. He glanced up.
“Um, hi,” said Ned, trying to move by quickly.
The couple stopped. They looked at him.
“What do you think?” asked the woman, referring to the glow in the basket.
No way out. No way to avoid looking at the glow. He would have to risk it. Make it quick, he thought to himself.
He looked into the glow. And he understood. Ned smiled. He wanted one. He wanted one more than anything he had ever wanted in his life. He felt himself being drawn into the oneness of existence with the glow. A distant, fading voice in his brain told his hand to reach into his pocket. He deliberately cut himself on a credit card. The spell was momentarily broken. He lurched forward, gasping for air. They watched him silently, then moved on.
Ned knew. He now knew the power of the glow. He knew that neither he nor Susan could remain in the yard much longer without succumbing to this, this…monster, this evil. He knew that he would have only one chance to save her and he could no longer hide.
Ned strode towards the glow. As he got closer, more and more humanoids moved past him, carrying or pushing smaller glows. He stumbled past them, sometimes even jostling them. They didn’t seem to notice.
The glow was now separating into various colors: pink, rose, white, but mainly purple. He knew instinctively that the purple glow was the deadliest, the most intoxicating, the one that stole your soul. The colors were in rows. Row after row after row of one-way tickets into prison. He felt his will being sapped. Didn’t they know? Didn’t they understand? It’s all an illusion. It’s a con, a deceit. The glow won’t survive here. The conditions…not right. He was getting woozy. Midwest…soil chemistry…climate…all wrong. They tell you it’s okay but it isn’t. Compaction…organic matter…fiddle with pH…bark mulch. The glow…fade and droop and wither and die…you’ll think it was your fault. You’ll come back here over and over again…seduced by glow…you’ll get more…still think it can work. But it won’t, it can’t…
Ned looked up. How long had he been out? There was Susan, beautiful Susan, holding a glow.
“Isn’t it beautiful? It’s a rhododendron.” She smiled.
“Yes, I know.”
“I love purple. It will look wonderful in the front yard.”
Ned stared into the purple glow.
“Yes, it will. Yes, it will.”