If you haven’t read the first part of “Bloodrose,” click here. Otherwise, enjoy the second (but not the last) part!
The stairs have never been so squeaky. It’s like they’re out to get me or something. I half-expect Mom to barge out of her bedroom and throw handcuffs on my wrists, tie me to the bed or something.
Okay, maybe that’s a little much. But still.
With one last slippered step, I reach the front door. The keypad glares at me, as if daring me to set off the alarm for the third time. Exhaling, I go over the possible combinations in my head one more time, then punch in the most likely one. No blaring alarm, just a click and a green light. My mouth gapes. I did it. I figured out the combination.
Stifling a squeal, I reach for the bronze doorknob, then yank the door open.
A frigid wind assaults my face, cutting right through my pajamas to my bones. It’s glorious. Snow blankets the ground, drifts from the glittering sky. I clamp my lips shut to keep from screeching and step carefully onto the porch. I’m outside. Oh my word. Is this even real life?
With shaking hands, I close the door. My eyes catch on a keypad, identical to the one inside. Let’s hope it uses the same combination, or I’ll be stuck out here all night. Then Mom and Dad would definitely figure out what I did.
What will they do if they catch me?
Whatever. That doesn’t matter right now.
I spread my arms wide, taking in a lungful of cold, clear air. It’s like before, my lungs weren’t filling, and my heart couldn’t beat quite right, but here, in this crisp, beautiful, icy air, I can finally breathe.
Happy birthday to me.
I step into the snow. My slippers sink into the white, fluffy powder, and I yelp as snow seeps through the fabric and burns my ankles. When I lift my foot, the slipper stays buried beneath the flakes, and my bare foot presses against the snow. I let out an involuntary shriek, hopping up and down. The other slipper dislodges itself from my now-freezing foot.
“Oh, come on!” I wail. If Mom and Dad had given me shoes other than slippers, this wouldn’t have happened.
Now what to do? Should I go back inside? It was hard enough to escape the first time… and there would be no way I could steal Mom’s shoes or something. No, I’ve just gotta stick it out. Or find the slippers?
I dig my hand into the snow and find a slipper, then place it on my foot. Even soaked with snow, it’s better than nothing. I find the other and shield my other foot.
Well. Not exactly what I expected when I decided to go outside, but this works. I wanted to feel pain, didn’t I?
I gaze around at our land. Dad says we have three acres, whatever that means. All I know is it’s massive. Snow-covered land stretches as far as I can see, and the sky is even more vast, shrouded in clouds like a giant fluffy blanket.
How could my parents have kept this from me?
I grab a handful of snow, gasping as it touches my already-frigid hands. How do people make snowballs without dying of cold? Oh, right. They have gloves. Mom and Dad never got me winter stuff, like, no coat or anything. What’s the use since I’m not supposed to go outside?
But Mom and Dad can’t control everything.
I make the snow into a defiant little ball and throw it as far as I can, which is not far at all. It disintegrates when it hits the ground. Snow tangles in my eyelashes, and I laugh, blinking rapidly to try to dislodge the flakes.
For once in my life, I’m perfectly happy––unless you count the fact that my feet feel like they’re going to freeze off, and the wind is blowing right through my pajamas, and my hands are all red and wet. I wipe them on my top, which doesn’t help much. My hands are going to freeze off too. But whatever. I’m outside. What better way to die?
I take a step, then another. I’m going to figure out how far three acres is. A grin splits my face, and I practically dance across the snow––at least for the first bit of walking. Then my feet start to go numb, and the snow loses its magic. The wind gets fiercer and fiercer––didn’t know that was possible since it was already freezing when I got out here––and I hug my arms to my chest, my teeth chattering. But the worst part is my hands. I bet fire feels something like this––pain scorching my reddened hands, more and more insistent with each moment. I rub my hands against the flimsy material of my nightgown, which does nothing except make them hurt more.
So this is pain. Okay, I think I’m good. Got that fix out of my system. No more pain for me.
The skin of my hand splits. I wince, but the pain is soon eclipsed by wonder––there’s blood on my hand. This infamous, strange red liquid I’ve never seen, so foreign and strange. It drips onto the snow, a crimson patch digging into pristine white. I gaze at it for a moment, amazed by the beauty that can come from pain. Then the ground trembles, and a red stalk shoots from the ground.
I gape. Plants aren’t supposed to grow that quickly, are they? None of my textbooks ever talked about a plant that grows within seconds, let alone one that sprouts from blood. And their stalks are supposed to be green, not red––
The stalk keeps growing until it’s waist high, then slows. A giant bud forms, and with a great cracking noise, the petals are flung wide, almost like those videos Mom showed me of a bird coming out of its shell except quicker and more violently.
It’s a rose, though not like any rose I’ve seen in a textbook. There’s something ethereal, almost otherworldly about it, like it belongs in a fairy tale. I reach my dry, cracked hand toward it, pulled by some hypnotic tie toward this plant that came from my lifeblood. My fingers brush the petals, blanket-soft, and I shiver. This rose––or whatever it is––it’s almost like it’s a part of me, an extension of me, born from my blood.
A bloodrose. Yes. I’ll have to come up with a scientific name later. Then I’ll show the world this beautiful flower my blood has created, and people will know my name, and nothing Mom and Dad can do will keep me inside. I won’t be a nobody anymore. I’ll know people. I’ll have… friends. What would it be like to have friends?
I withdraw my fingers from the bloodrose’s petals and stare at the wound on my hand. The cut is thin enough that the blood has already stopped flowing. But I squeeze it anyway, trying to get one more drop. Just one! I need to know if this was a strange miracle or if my blood always has the ability to do this.
Oh… this is why my parents kept me so protected. They didn’t want to deal with bloodroses sprouting everywhere, which is dumb because why wouldn’t you want pretty flowers in your house or in the world? My blood is pretty dang awesome.
Oh, Mom would be so mad that I even thought the word “dang”––too close to a curse, she says. But I don’t care. They should have told me about this bloodrose thing, not hid it from me all these years. And they definitely shouldn’t have kept me inside, not for something like this––not for anything.
I squeeze my hand again. No luck. I guess I could scratch my hands, but that would be painful and probably wouldn’t work super well. Hm….
The thorns! That’s it! I reach toward the thorn.
A rumbling sound catches my attention. It grows louder and louder with each moment. What in the world is it? Should I run away? I can’t run very fast in the snow, or, like, at all. Will the bloodrose protect me?
Stupid Raisa. It’s just a dumb plant.
The yard light illuminates the snow-covered landscape enough for me to see the faint outline of a rectangular shape. I stumble backward, losing my slippers again. “Goodness gracious!” I hiss, fumbling for the traitorous shoes and shoving them back on my feet. I shouldn’t have wandered so far away from the house.
The thing comes closer, and as it does, the shape clarifies. It’s red and massive, with giant wheels churning up the snow. I squint at it. I’ve read about those machines. I think they’re called tractors. Farmers use them. I didn’t realize so much noise could come from one object.
Then my eyes flick higher to the silhouette poking out of the tractor’s top. A person is sitting there. A person besides my parents. Oh. My. Word. Am I actually about to meet another human being? I think I’m going to hyperventilate.
“Hello?” the person calls.
The voice is unlike any I’ve ever heard, not deep like my dad’s, not high and airy like my mom’s. The form clarifies as the tractor rumbles on, and I can see broad shoulders, dark hair peeking from a cap. Is that a boy? Wow. They exist.
Wait. It’s a boy. Suddenly my nightgown and slippers seem so childish, and my hair, tangled from the wind, seems like one of those bird’s nests I’ve read about. Why can’t I have something more presentable? Not that I’ve ever cared before, but now…
“Who’s there?” the boy calls.
Oh, am I supposed to say something back? Right. People have conversations with each other. Why are words so hard? “I’m Raisa,” I blurt. “Raisa Briarly.”
He turns off the tractor, making the night strangely quiet. Then he steps down from the machine. Goodness gracious, he’s tall, taller even than Dad. His cheeks glow red, though not as deep of a red as my bloodrose. I think he’s like my age, not that I’m qualified to judge things like that, or, like, anything.
“Briarly?” he says. “Like, the people who live over there?” He gestures toward what is probably the direction of my house.
I nod, my head bobbling for far too long. Goodness. How does one do human interaction?
“But I’ve never seen you before.” He frowns. His eyes are lighter than any I’ve ever seen, as is his skin. I almost forgot that there were skin tones and eye colors besides brown. “And why are you out here so late?”
“I don’t get out much.” Understatement of the year. “I’m homeschooled and stuff.” Yeah, way to make him like you, Raisa. Nice job.
“Oh.” He thrusts his hands in the pockets of his coat. “I was checking the heifers. They’ll be calving soon.”
I nod as if I understand what he’s talking about. Why do I feel so strange, so warm inside despite the cold?
He recoils, his eyes fixed on the rose. “Whoa, where did that come from? Did you plant it or something?”
“Um.” The words tangle in my mouth. “Something like that.”
“Um. Who are you?” I ask before he can question me any further.
“Peter,” he says. “Your neighbor, I guess.”
I have a neighbor. Wow. And I’m actually speaking to him.
Oh, wait, he’s holding out his hand. Right! The social custom is to take the hand offered in greeting and… kiss it?
No, no! That’s olden times, and the male does that to the female, anyway. What people do now is shake the other person’s hand. Dumb Raisa.
I snatch his hand and shake it, maybe a bit too eagerly. Am I smiling too much? Probably. I just can’t believe there’s a boy in front of me.
I should let go now, shouldn’t I. I withdraw my hand. He’s staring at me like I’m really strange, and I guess I am. I mean, who else can sprout roses from her blood?
Oh, and the fact that I’ve never been outside until tonight. That’s pretty strange too.
“Um… aren’t you cold, Raisa?”
Yes. Very much so. I almost forgot about the numbness in my feet, but now it throbs in my consciousness.
“Seriously, where’s your coat?”
I don’t know how to answer that. “Uh…”
“You should go inside.” He paused, then added, “I can take you on my tractor if you want.”
Wow, I’m being invited on a tractor ride by a boy? What an amazing night! Mom and Dad would never believe me!
They’re also never going to find out. So.
“Raisa?” Peter asks, quirking an eyebrow.
Oh, right. I’m supposed to answer. Um… being warm would be fantastic. Absolutely. But I can’t just leave my bloodrose. Someone could chop it down or something. Besides, I need to figure out if my blood will create one of these awesome flowers on demand.
Hm. If I want to show the world what I can do, I’ve gotta start somewhere, right?
“Peter?” I say. “You wanna know where the rose came from?”
He cocks his head. “Uh…”
I’ll take that as a yes. Goodness, I hope this works. If it doesn’t, I’m going to look like an idiot. “You might want to stand back.”
He blinks. “Um…”
I fold my arms over my chest. After a few moments of icy silence, he holds up his hands and takes a hesitant step backward. Exhaling, I reach my hand toward the stalk of the bloodrose.
“Wait,” says Peter, but I’ve already touched the thorn.
Excruciating pain rips through my body, like what they say a stabbing feels like. I gasp and try to rip my hand away.
“Raisa, are you––?”
I can’t get away. The thorn has latched onto my finger and is draining the life from me––draining the blood from me. And the rosebush grows––climbing higher than me, no, higher than Peter––“Run!” I scream––higher than the trees, reaching even into the night sky and toward the clouds.
I finally tear my hand away with a cry, but before I can react, blood drips from my finger, and another bloodrose sprouts, then another. A thorn pierces my arm before I can move away, and I scream again as it takes my blood and grows. And more roses are growing around me, born from the blood on my finger.
The plants eclipse the sky so that all I can see are red stalks, vicious thorns, and way up on top of the stalks, silky bloodroses.
“Raisa!” Peter shouts. “Are you okay?”
I’m crying now, holding my finger to my chest to try to stop the bleeding, but blood blooms across the material and drips to the ground, creating stalks that sprout inches from my face, almost goring my eyes. They’re closing in.
My chest heaves up and down. I can’t go anywhere, can’t run, can’t escape these horrible, beautiful bloodroses. No wonder Mom and Dad kept me in the padded prison––Why didn’t they explain? Then I wouldn’t have––
Stop bleeding, finger! Stop! I stick my finger in my mouth and gag as sickly sweet blood spurts onto my tongue. I retch it onto the ground. Another bout of roses. So many roses.
My head is spinning. The stalks are swaying back and forth, rhythmic and soothing and terrifying at the same time. My throat is tightening, and I can’t breathe; I can’t breathe––
Stay tuned for part 3 of 4 tomorrow! And it’s from Peter’s perspective. Because, you know, Raisa passed out. So that makes it a bit difficult to be in her head.
Can you guess the second (and primary) fairy tale inspiration for “Bloodrose”?