The Corpse Flower
By Nick Stephen
What happens when humanity steps out of line and defiles the sanctity of nature? Will nature stand still, not responding? or will it retaliate in frightening ways? This story serves as cautionary tale to respect the boundaries that nature has set. Disturbing those boundaries may have some dreadful consequences.
Long ago, there was a village named Kayung. It was a quaint little village that accommodated around fifty people or so, located near a lush rain-forest. The abundant forest provided the people of the village plenty of wood for all their needs. Not only that, there were lots of different types of resources that were contained in the forest. It became a valuable resource for the village and its people who made their livings through collecting and processing the forest's resources.
The woodcutters would gather the wood from tall trees with their axes. It usually took around two or three to cut one down. These logs would then be transported back to the village, where they will be processed by carpenters. They were responsible for creating almost everything in the village—from furniture to housing materials. Thus, they were the most highly paid profession in the village.
The aforementioned jobs were usually filled by men, but some women also did them. Although there were some women who were woodcutters or carpenters, a majority of them took less physically taxing jobs. For instance, weaving crafts out of leaves. Wood wasn't the only thing to be extracted from the trees. They had wide leaves that could be converted into beautifully handcrafted items—baskets, hats, mats, the list goes on.
Through this great gift, the village thrived for generations, becoming the biggest producer of wood in the land. Naturally, this would attract other villages. They would regularly visit to buy wood; and not just wood, but also handcrafted items. It started off with a couple, but then word would start to spread, attracting more and more people. Increase in demand—along with the growing population—jacked up resource collection. The forest was being extracted for resources almost to an excessive degree. Trees were being cut down at a faster rate than they were being planted, disrupting the careful balance on which the forest was maintained. For the people who were selling these resources, this seemed like a non-issue. More resources meant more products, and more products meant more income. But to a significant portion of the people, this pillaging of resources concerned them.
One such person was a woman named Maya. Standing at almost six feet tall, Maya was certainly one mighty woman. Athletic, energetic, and caring, she would certainly make a solid impression to anyone who met her. While she might be a little rough around the edges, one thing that she kept pristine was her black hair. It usually was in braids, keeping her from getting steamy in this warm climate.
She worked as a woodcutter, a rarity for women in this village. Being a woodcutter was one of her targets in life. She didn't feel that a lot of the jobs that the women usually do were suited for her; precision work was never her strong suit. But her wish to become a woodcutter was shortly interrupted when she had kids with her husband Banja.
Her husband Banja used to be the woodcutter of the family because she was too busy taking care of their two boys, Maul and Walat. She always wanted to help Banja because she could see that he wasn't physically suited to be a woodcutter. He was a lean man with skillful hands that were more suited to crafting. When their kids got older—16 and 15 years old respectively—and learnt how to take care of themselves, Maya stepped in as the family's woodcutter. Meanwhile, Banja became a carpenter—a profession that suited him much better.
Despite pushing towards her 40s, Maya liked being a woodcutter, it kept her fit and let her explore the forest. Though, she was concerned at the amount of trees that were being chopped down. It felt like more and more trees were being cut and none replanted. Keeping the balance between cutting down and replanting was important. Ever since the village started utilizing the forest, they kept this practice in mind. Nowadays, that seemed like it was irrelevant.
Her concerns weren't unwarranted. The forest looked a lot more bare than it was back when she was a child. A lot of older people also noticed how bare the forest was compared to before. She was a bit distraught at the waning of the forest. So much so that she took her concerns to the village head. "Sir, I have a few concerns regarding the forest," she stated.
The village head looked on with intrigue, "Oh really, what is it?"
"I'm worried that we might be cutting down too many trees. You have to admit that the forest is looking a lot more bare than it once was."
The village head seemed to understand her concerns, but he reassured, "Look Maya, you can put your worries aside. I have it under control."
This response didn't seem to quell her worries. "We really need to start slowing down our wood production if we want to restore the forest," she added.
"Maya, trust me, I'll have this matter taken care of." With the village head giving nothing but lip service, Maya returned back home. It was clear that changing things would take more than just a plea. She was also tired from a long days of work, so it would be better for her to rest and wait for tomorrow to sort things out.
At home, she was greeted by her husband and two kids. They have already took the liberty of preparing dinner. Banja was cooking some haruan fish while Maul was making the sauce that consisted of onions, garlic, chili peppers, tamarind, along with some salt and sugar. The smell was quite aromatic, the spices blended perfectly to create a spicy, sweet and sour flavour. Meanwhile, Walat was preparing some rice. After finishing, they set up the dinner table—putting down the haruan fish, rice, and some sauteed fiddleheads.
As they dig in, Banja asked her, "So, how did it go with the village head?"
"Awful to say the least," she bluntly said, "You know how dismissive he is." Her disappointment with the village head was shared by a lot of other members of the village. Unlike his late father—may he rest in peace—the current village head was not quick to take action, even to his own father's disappearance. His father didn't die in the usual sense, rather he seemingly vanished mysteriously.
One day, his father and some other men went to go survey the forest. After an entire day, none of them came back. Days had passed and still no sign of them. At that time, the village head was only 14 years old. One would think that the disappearance of his father would greatly impact him to be extremely attentive to any issues lurking in the village, but no. In fact, quite the opposite. His father's disappearance might have left him feeling hopeless in the face of any issues—thinking that they would most likely take care of themselves one way or the other. The inevitable culling of the forest might just be one of them.
The next day, Maya met with the village head once again. She pleaded the same case to him, with more vigor this time. "As this village's head, you need to be responsible for our greatest gift," she asserted, "Without the forest, our village would be nothing." She thought that her passionate plea would finally convince him to take action, but he still wasn't budging.
"Maya," he said sternly, "While I appreciate your passionate plea, I'm the one who you should be pleading to."
His words struck a chord within her. She's been pleading her case towards the wrong person. Even if the village head wanted to push back production, the countless woodcutters who work on said production wouldn't. This was their livelihood after all; they weren't just going to halt their income. Maya herself was also a woodcutter, her livelihood would also be affected by this change. The rising demand from the other villages also impeded it. It was becoming very clear that a strongly worded plea wasn't going to cut it. They needed to rework this entire system—something that couldn't be done alone.
In order to give the village head some insight into the situation, she suggested for him to come with her and see the forest first hand. Seeing the issue up-close would maybe help him decide what to do going forward. They could also try convincing some of the woodcutters to help their efforts.
When they were at the forest's entrance, they spotted something special. A flower was growing near the entrance—a big one at that. What made this flower special was how rare it was. Only a few have been recorded to exist in this forest, one of them Maya had seen long ago. It was probably around a meter wide, sporting five big petals. Those petals had reddish-brown coloration; along with white spots that were speckled about. In the center was a cavity that hosted its reproductive organs—reminiscent of a gaping mouth. Last but not least, the smell that emanated from this flower resembled rotting flesh. Its distinctive smell has earned it many names—"The Stinky Lily"; "The Rotting Blossom"; or to be more morbid, "The Corpse Flower".
The flower's beauty could not distract from its putrid smell. Many woodcutters avoided getting near it as the smell diverted their focus. Extended exposure to this flower's scent might lead to headaches, according to some woodcutters. But since it was possibly a rare specimen, nobody dared to get rid of them. Even if they wanted to, it would be an unpleasant process. The smell alone made it hard to get close without feeling sick. Other than that, because of its size, the flower was heavy; a lot heavier than flowers usually were. These flowers were only an inconvenience to the woodcutters since the grew deep in the forest, covered by the canopy. It was unusual for it to grow near the forest's edge.
As they went past the flower, Maya and the village head delved into a particularly bus part of the forest. There, the village head could see how much damage the forest has endured. Usually the gaps between the trees could barely fit an adult human, but now, it could fit two people stretching out their arms. The stumps were also removed to be used as fuel. Hardly anybody was replanting these tress, maybe a couple here and there, but not enough to replace the ones that have been cut down. On top of this, the vibrant green grass that covered the ground had withered away from all of the stepping.
A look of great sorrow was plastered all over the village head's face as he witnessed the once great forest—now a shell of its former self. He could not deny any longer; something must be done to stop this forest from deteriorating any further. "All right," he said, facing Maya, "Its high time we fix this." She could not be more thrilled to hear those words. Finally, they were going to restore this vast swath of vegetation to its former glory.
A committee was formed to analyze, investigate, and solve this problem. First off were the countless woodcutters who would need some sort of reimbursement, maybe a reassignment to another job while the restoration was ongoing. They could take up other manual labor jobs that needed to be done.
Then there was the actual restoration itself. A surplus amount of seeds were readily available for use, so plenty of trees could be restored. While the tree's trunk may be gone, the roots were still intact. This could make growing new trees a lot easier as they could connect to the already existing root system.
Last but certainly not least, something needed to be done about the loss income due to the halting of wood production. The forest has been this village's main source of income for quite some time. This may be a good chance for the village to reduce their reliance on the forest. They could expand their horizons to other areas nearby. There was a floodplain near the village that has a whole host of different resources. One of them was fertile farming land.
With a plan in hand, this restoration was shaping up to be a success. All they needed to do was survey the forest. Unfortunately, some other news would greatly impede the restoration.
Tomorrow arrived and the sun was shining down upon Kayung. It was looking like a wonderful day. While Maya was getting ready for the day, a knock could be heard from the door. She checked to see who it was, thinking that the village head might be coming over to go over the plan a bit more.When she opened the door, she was surprised to see that it was one of her neighbors—a young woman. She lived next door with her husband.
She look distraught, almost like something bad had transpired. "Maya, have you seen my husband recently?" she said with a touch of worry in her eyes.
Maya was confused as to why she would be asking that. "No, I haven't seen him. Why do you ask?" she replied.
"It's just that he hasn't come back after going to work at the forest yesterday." Alarming, to say the least. No woodcutter would ever dare spend the night in the forest without equipment. At night, the forest would almost be pitch black. So, most of them would call it a day when the sun was still up.
Maya relayed this news to the village head. He was talking with the committee about the survey when Maya brought the missing woodcutter to his attention. Surveying the forest would have to wait until this man was found. A search party was formed, consisting of three people. They were properly equipped to venture out to the forest. Since their supplies would only last up to a week, they were ordered to return after a week, even if they didn't find him. Most of them were hopeful that the man would be found, but their hope was gradually whittled away after a week had passed and no one returned. Day by day, they waited on their safe return, but nobody was coming back. Now, they had another crisis in hand; four people had gone missing in the forest.
The survey seemed like it was going to be delayed indefinitely, but the village head decided to press on ahead anyway. Maya had some apprehensions about this decision. She felt that it didn't feel right to go on with the survey while the people were still missing. The village head wanted to convince her by suggesting that maybe they could help search for them while surveying the forest. So in addition to the surveyors, they will be another search party joining them, lead by Maya. This time, everybody had to leave the forest by dusk—no exceptions.
Joining the search party was Maya's second son, Walat. At first she didn't want him anywhere near the forest, but because of his persistent, she allowed him to join under the condition that she would be watching him at all times. The entire search party was ordered to keep an eye on each other so that nobody went missing. To be frank, most of the members of the search party didn't have high hopes on finding them. They would likely have run out of supplies. If they managed to find a sustainable food and water source, then maybe survival was possible. Of course the chances of that happening was still pretty slim. Maya was probably the most hopeful out of the group. She clung on to the small chance that they may have survived. At the very least, they could find their bodies to give them a proper burial.
They headed out to the forest first thing in the morning, hoping to make full use of the sunlight. Not a single second should be wasted. They got a good 12 hours before they had to return. The forest itself was very empty that day. The disappearances deterred a lot of people from going into the the forest, less they also disappear.
While 12 hours might seem like a lot of time, being in the forest really messed up their sense of time. One minute the fresh morning air was permeating the forest, the next minute, it was the sweltering afternoon, and yet they still made no progress. They hadn't come close to finding any semblance of the missing people.
At that point, most of the members of the search party were ready to return. The surveyors had already left, so it was a matter of time before they did as well. Of course there was still one person that was still determined to find them. Maya hadn't given up yet. She was going to keep searching until the bitter end, or at least until night. Walat on the other-hand, was over it. Even though he persisted on joining, he was expecting for it to be more eventful.
Maya was none too pleased at him. "Are you serious? You were the one who kept on badgering me about joining. Now you're just going to leave?" she said furiously.
"Face it mom, we're never going to find them," he retorted.
The nerve, the gall, the audacity for him to be saying this when he was the one who insisted on coming. It was hot and humid, she's completely drenched in sweat and Maya just had enough of it. "Well you can take yourself home because I didn't raise a quitter. I'll do this myself," she yelled out.
"Fine," he yelled back. Walat stormed away furiously as Maya watched. This search effort went wrong in every possible way, but Maya was not willing to give up. Despite all of the signs that this was hopeless, she kept on going. Although, something was going to make her leave—if she wanted to or not.
A few minutes after Walat stormed off, a scream could be heard echoing through the forest. Maya heard this shriek and immediately recognized who it was—Walat was in danger. She rushed towards the direction of the scream, avoiding obstacles with great agility. This forest could not stop her maternal instincts. Nothing except for the safety of her son was in mind.
After some time running, the scream stopped as quickly as it started. Maya stopped to catch her breath and reorient herself. She checked out her surroundings to find that flowers were all over the place, one type of flower to be specific. Corpse flowers were littered all over the place, on the ground and trees. The thought of being around all of these flowers was already enough to make her hurl, but weirdly, the smell wasn't what it usually was. Unlike the usual smell of rotting flesh, this smell was more metallic. If the corpse flower usually smelled like a decaying corpse, then this smell was like the blood.
Maya was understandably disturbed by it. This smell was even more unpleasant than the usual. Enough to make her a bit lightheaded. Her vision began to blur and when she felt like she was about to faint, she heard a voice. It was faint, but she could clearly hear it—almost like it was inside her head. She looked for where the voice was coming from. While it may seem absurd, she thought that the voice was coming from one of the flowers.
She approach said flower. inching closer and closer until her face was in front of the flower's cavity. The voices kept getting louder—now a cacophony. In the midst of her daze, the cavity looked like an empty abyss. She kept staring into the abyss, still confused. Eventually, she spotted something—a face. Her blurred vision didn't let her recognize who it was, but she would soon as the face got closer. Not long after, it was clear as day. The face was none other than Walat, looking lifeless with completely whited out eyes. Blood started spilling out the flower as Maya's eyes widen in horror. A few seconds of silence preceded a moment that she would never forget. "Leave this place," the face said in a ghastly voice. Immediately, Maya screamed in terror. She bolted away from the flower, desperately trying to escape the forest. Her mind was filled with a mixture of fear and sorrow, contemplating the loss of her son and complete utter terror.
The other members of the search party were unharmed, while Maya was irreparably psychologically damaged. Her love for the forest had turned into a debilitating fear. She couldn't bring herself to attend her son's funeral.
In other news, the restoration project was definitively cancelled. The corpse flowers have taken over the forest. Turns out that these flowers were parasitic, feeding on the plants they grew on. The forest was closed off to the populace and would not be opened up ever again. Obviously, this had major ramifications for the village. They now would have to set their eyes on new horizons. Several lessons were learned that day, but the most important one was—Don't Fuck With Nature.