Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2015
Adult Winners

Second Place

Our second place Adult winner is Keith Downey of Washington, DC.

The Spider Plant

Keith Downey

Based on a True Story

A young couple moved into their first jointly-occupied apartment on a blazingly hot and humid DC day in late August. It had taken weeks of scouring the local area to find something agreeable to them both, but they eventually settled on a two-bedroom unit on the fifteenth floor of a charming building. Kelly loved the swimming pool and the full guest bathroom (she very much enjoyed house guests). Kevin loved the balcony and the bike path that ran along a stream adjacent to the building.

The first few weeks in their new place proved to be an exercise in diplomacy over decor. Great debates ensued over artwork locations, and various paintings were hung, removed, and rehung. Furniture shifted from room to room, and throw pillows began to accent previously unaccented sofas and beds. With the added motivation of soon-to-arrive out-of-town visitors, Kelly and Kevin amicably settled their differences (though it seemed to Kevin that several of his more prized possessions, such as a nerf basketball hoop and framed picture of Wally the Green Monster , were relegated to the guest bedroom). The empty rooms and walls filled up, and the apartment really began to feel like home.

Yet to Kevin, it still seemed that something important was missing. Perhaps to improve their air quality, or perhaps to impress a mutual friend who considered himself a gentleman farmer, Kevin decided to try his hand at indoor gardening and made a trip to a local nursery to obtain some houseplants. Although Kelly immediately noted that she "always killed plants," Kevin promised that he would take care of the newest additions to their apartment. He brought home several different types from the store - one a succulent (did you know that all cacti are succulents, but that not all succulents are cacti?), one a bromeliad, one a weeping fig, one a parlor palm, and one more of an unknown variety - while the others all came with small plastic labels attached, this fifth plant bore no markings. In fact, even the receipt categorized purchase number five as simply, "houseplant - generic."

A long ledge just below the big picture window in the dining room became the display ground of choice for the row of plants. Kevin was very pleased with the garden shelf, which immediately began to collect a fine layer of dirt and discarded flower petals and pollen. Kelly registered a positive, if somewhat muted appreciation for the scene, though she was not as pleased with the dirt.

Nonetheless, Kevin watered and cared for each of his plants equally. Or at least, he tried to care for each plant equally. But his loyalties soon began to shift towards the generic plant. It wasn't particularly beautiful or fragrant - its long, spindly leaves grew outward in all directions, and segmented in several places as they arced down toward the ground. Its central stalk sported one large flower-like structure, which was a bland beige color but did sport four bright yellow spots. But what it lacked in looks or smell, it more than made up for in growth.

The generic houseplant, which quickly gained the fitting moniker "Mr. Plant," grew in leaps and bounds, at least when compared to his housemates (Kelly did not appreciate that Mr. Plant had taken on a male gender, but then again, she didn't actually water him so she really didn't have much of a say in the matter). The long leaves grew noticeably wider, and new segments continued to appear until the tips of the leaves actually touched the ground. Mr. Plant seemed to gulp down water, so much so that Kevin began watering him almost every day. The other plants took their drink only two or three times a week and seemed satisfied enough with that. Mr. Plant's prolific growth also led to his being elevated, literally, on a plant stand to garnish greater glory and premium sunlight. Kelly liked to joke that Kevin was putting Mr. Plant on a pedestal. She loved puns.

Mr. Plant seemed to blossom in concert with the added attention - the leaves continued to grow and had tumbled down to the bottom of the plant stand within another couple of weeks. All told, he was nearly three feet tall from stem to stern, or rather, leaf-end.


Sometime soon after, the first in a series of mysterious events occurred. Kevin noticed that the bromeliad had begun to droop. In response, he increased its water regimen and provided it with a sunnier spot, but whatever decline had set in could not be stopped. The leaves first seemed to grow moldy, and then began to fall off, one by one, until the plant became a bald, lonely, and withered stalk. Kevin was harder hit by this death than was Kelly, as he'd fancied himself as having at least a partially green thumb. He gave the bromeliad a brief eulogy, and then buried it rather unceremoniously via the garbage chute.

Kevin's sadness at losing one of his plants soon changed to alarm, as the both the weeping fig and the parlor palm started to show similar to conditions to those that had afflicted the bromeliad. The leaves on both began to droop and develop a sort of mildew-looking coating. As with the bromeliad, he changed the water ration and moved the plants to either sunnier or shadier spots. He even made a second trip to the nursery to purchase specialty plant food to coax the two back to health (while of course giving a fair share to his favorite, Mr. Plant). Water, sunlight, expensive organic plant food; nothing worked, and the fig and palm continued their spiraling descent. Kelly offered to call their self-styled gentleman farmer friend for advice; Kevin declined, embarrassed that he was unable to keep a few houseplants healthy on his own.

Autumn came early to their apartment, as the weeping fig and parlor palm followed the death cycle of the poor bromeliad. One leaf followed another to the floor, until both plants became disturbingly barren. It was towards the end of their lives that Kevin, heartbreakingly prepared to deliver each to the garbage shoot, noticed that the mildew on the few remaining leaves appeared to be moving. He looked closer, morbidly curious, and then recoiled in disgust. The mildew that he'd long assumed to be the physical manifestation of the rot that was killing the plants, on closer inspection was actually an intricate series of webs; the movement on the leaves was the everyday activity of dozens of tiny spiders, each no larger than the point of a thumbtack.

Kelly, sensing that something was wrong (she had a propensity for predicting when bad things would happen, and was correct nearly ten percent of the time), came over to provide aid and support to Kevin. Knowing of her discomfort with anything approximating an insect, Kevin attempted to explain in the least provocative way possible.

"A spider infestation is murdering our houseplants."

To her credit, Kelly looked closely at the assembled evidence before squealing and pointing wildly at the evil creatures that had invaded their home. Kevin nodded glumly, and promptly removed both the weeping fig (which now looked very sad indeed) and the parlor palm to the trash shoot. He failed to record even an impromptu eulogy.

The once mighty row of houseplants by the window had dwindled down to two, but soon the typically hearty succulent began to show the telltale signs of the spider plague. Kevin had by now embarked upon a thorough campaign of research, and planned a swift counterattack. He strongly believed that the enemy he faced was the spider mite, a tiny insect that enjoyed ruining crops and decorative plants alike. Also, he told Kelly comfortingly, they were not actually spiders. Just little bugs that enjoyed spinning webs. Unmoved, she responded with an ultimatum: at the first sign of webbing, the succulent would have to hit the road. Although his pride and joy, Mr. Plant, had remained healthy and strong in spite of the harrowing plant pestilence surrounding him, Kevin feared that Kelly's ultimatum was an implicit threat to all plant life in the apartment. The spider (mites) had to be stopped!

After gathering intelligence from such impressive sources as wikipedia and a retired gardening enthusiast he met at the library, Kevin went to work by spraying the leaves and soil of the succulent with soapy water. He repeated the procedure several times during the next week, but by that weekend the war was lost. The first webs appeared on the succulent's drooping leaves, and the damned mites had won. Kevin cursed his luck, and cursed the nursery where he'd purchased the plants, and then threw out the fourth of his original five plants. Mr. Plant stood stoically alone.


Just a couple of days later, on returning home from work Kelly noticed a small trail of dirt running from the dining room into the middle of the living room. She harrumphed and vacuumed up the mess, mentally chastising Kevin for muddying the floor with either dirty sneakers or dirty bike tires. She acknowledged that although he was generally very neat and tidy, he wasn't always the most observant person. He'd probably just not realized he'd made the mess in the first place. She sat down to read the mail, and forgot about the incident immediately.

On Wednesday night, after staying up later than he'd intended playing video games with a friend who lived in an unfortunate time zone, Kevin was surprised to find Mr. Plant hanging out in front of the slider leading onto the balcony. Kelly must think that the window sill is either cursed or still infected with spider mites, he thought. Kelly did tend to be just the slightest bit paranoid at times. But he'd wiped down the window sill with bleach; no itsy bitsy spider (mites) could possibly have survived. Besides which, Mr. Plant had continued to thrive in his spot by the dining room window, with or without the spider mite assault on his late neighbors. Kevin picked up Mr. Plant and brought him back to the plant stand in the dining room. He made a mental note to mention it to Kelly (who'd fallen asleep at least an hour ago), but soon forgot.

On Friday evening, after rendezvousing for dinner, the pair returned home to find Mr. Plant waiting at the foot of their bed. The carpet around him was filthy. Kevin soon found the likely culprit: the building manager had performed the mandatory state inspection of the apartment earlier that day; he showed Kelly the notice that had been slipped under their door. Kelly was visibly upset that the manager had found it necessary to move their houseplant into the bedroom of all places and not put it back. Kevin agreed, though he pointed out that Mr. Plant did indeed block access to the HVAC unit.

This pattern repeated itself several more times. Kelly found Mr. Plant in the guest bedroom (with another fine trail of dirt behind him) and figured that Kevin had moved him for some reason; Kevin had band practice that night and so was unavailable to explain himself. The next day, Kevin found Mr. Plant near the front door and worried that Kelly had seen the telltale signs of rot and spiders on him and was giving the hint that he should be tossed down the garbage chute, but he could see no drooping leaves or webbing. Mr. Plant was returned to his pedestal, and Kevin hoped that Kelly had forgotten having moved him closer to the garbage chute in the first place. He needn't have worried.


Late on the following Saturday night, Kelly awoke suddenly, her sleep interrupted by dreams of angry professors yelling at her for not completing her homework (a recurring nightmare). Shaken from the realism of the dream, she tiptoed across the bedroom and used the bathroom. As she crept back towards the bed, however, she thought she heard a rustling sound coming from the living room. She considered waking up Kevin, who as usual had not roused in the least, but decided that he would probably laugh at her heightened sense of hearing. It sounded like the blinds by the slider in front of the balcony were gently shifting. Had she closed the slider door? Had she even opened it? She decided it would be best for her peace of mind to check.

Kelly grabbed the mini-mag light that always rested on her bedside table (a testament to her father's obsession with emergency preparedness), put on her glasses, and walked stealthily into the hallway. Upon exiting the bedroom, she closed the door and turned on the flashlight. Arriving in the living room, she saw that the sliding door to the balcony was closed. The blinds, however, were swaying, having been obviously disturbed. Kelly narrowed her eyes and walked closer to the slider. The air conditioning was off; what could have caused the blinds to sway like that? She peered slowly around the room, her eyes following the beam of her flashlight. As the beam moved lower, she hit paydirt. Or just plain dirt. Another trail of it. She followed the trail back to its source with the light, back to Mr. Plant's plant stand by the window in the dining room. It was empty.

Another rustling sound seized her attention and the light swung back towards the hallway. To where the dirt trail led, towards the guest bedroom. What the hell was going on? Before following the trail, she checked and rechecked that the front door had been and still was locked. It was. Had she heard the rustling again, or was her mind just playing tricks on her? Should she wake up Kevin? She'd have to walk by the guest bedroom anyway, couldn't she just look in and - there it was! That was definitely a rustling noise! Kelly crept up the hallway and stood, heart pounding, just outside the guest bedroom. The door was cracked open. Had it been shut when they'd gone to bed? Kelly couldn't remember. Her teeth chattered and her pulse raced and the hairs on the back of her neck were standing at attention. Half of her psyche wanted to flee into the master bedroom and wake up Kevin and demand that they investigate the weird rustling sound together. But another half, the Wellesley alum half, the staunch feminist half, and the half that wanted to brag to Kevin later about how brave she'd been, that half demanded that she just look herself because this whole thing was ridiculous and that just because her grammy jumped at shadows didn't mean that she was destined to do the same. And so she mentally summoned her inner Xena Warrior Princess, took a deep breath, and pushed the bedroom door open the rest of the way.

She stepped inside, shivering but trying to remain calm, and slowly angled the beam of the flashlight along the far wall. There was the computer, dormant and normal. And there was the window, closed and normal. And there was that goofy picture of Wally the Green Monster, still goofy but perfectly normal. And there was the bookshelf, organized by color and perhaps a bit OCD but otherwise normal. And there was the lamp, right where it was supposed to the RUSTLE interrupted her train of thought and she jumped so high it was amazing that she didn't whack her head on the ceiling. RUSTLE. To the left, near the bed, on the bed? The flashlight beam swung left. To the bed. To the thing on the bed. Was she dreaming? Was it going to ask for her homework? It moved. It MOVED. Kelly screamed. She screamed and screamed and then she fainted.

Kevin, heavy sleeper though he was, couldn't have slept through that. He was up in an instant, his heart rate increasing from 50 beats per minute to 180 in the span of a second. He tried to jump out of bed, stumbled and cursed the tightly tucked-in sheets, stumbled again over a stray throw pillow, and ran to the guest bedroom, yelling Kelly's name repeatedly. The thoughts racing through his mind (not that he was thinking in any rational fashion) wavered from a home invasion to a particularly large cockroach, either of which would likely elicit the same bloodcurdling response from Kelly. He shoved the guest bedroom door open so hard that it ricocheted off of the wall with a bang, and threw on the light switch by the door. His fists were raised to engage in mortal combat with whatever enemy awaited.

The bright overhead light blinded him temporarily, but it also surprised his opponent. Blinking hard and shielding his eyes, Kevin stared down, his mouth agape. Kelly was lying unconscious on the floor. Poised over her, inspecting her, was Mr. Plant. The long, segmented leaves were moving. Apparently they were not leaves. They were legs. Two of the shorter leaves/legs/appendages appeared to be holding something small, sticky-looking, and round. Somehow, in spite of the scene in front of him, a thought registered in Kevin's rapidly weakening mind. It was holding an egg sac. The spiders that killed the other plants, those were Mr. Plant's children. The yellow spots that dotted the petals now seemed to stare at him with far more sentience than he'd ever noticed. He thought he saw the center of the not-quite-flower grin.

Kelly moaned, confirming that she'd indeed just fainted, and Mr. Plant moved. He moved FAST. Encased though his (or perhaps her) lower half was in a pot, Mr. Plant raced on spindly legs away from Kelly, barreling straight for Kevin. Kevin squealed at perhaps an even higher pitch than his fallen partner had just moments before, and he certainly did jump higher because his head actually slammed into the doorframe. Mr. Plant didn't stop to attack, but instead raced into the hall and hung a left. Kevin winced, shook his head, and then knelt to check on Kelly. She was breathing, and her eyelids had begun to flutter. There were no bruises or bite-marks that he could see, but the blood had raced to Kevin's head, and he made the very masculine (and by definition very rash) decision that Mr. Plant was going to pay for freaking out his girlfriend and killing his other houseplants. Laughing like a madman, he picked up the miniature Red Sox baseball bat from its place of honor next to the framed picture of Wally, and headed out into the hallway.

Adrenaline, pride, and the feeling that he wasn't really awake and therefore impervious to harm pushed him to action. Now in hunting mode, Kevin finally noticed the trail of dirt. It led into the master bedroom. Kevin hurled insults at Mr. Plant as he stalked him into the master bath, perhaps to give himself courage.

"You're going down, my friend! I'm gonna bust you up, then you're down the garbage chute. You'll love it, your whole family's down there!" He laughed again, but his face was deadly serious.

Mr. Plant's dirt trail let straight into the stand-up shower. It stood tall, forearms/leaves raised high in self-defense. It looked like a ninja-spider-plant hybrid, although the flower pot took away some of its intimidation factor. Kevin crouched low, wielding the bat like a machete, and attacked. Mr. Plant tried to jump to avoid the blow but the bat connected with the pot that covered the thing's lower half. The clay pot, red and fragile, shattered into a million pieces on the floor of the shower. Mr. Plant retreated into the far corner. The dirt poured off of him as he moved, and the true shape of its lower body became more apparent. Where there should have been roots there was instead a bulbous abdomen, brown and streaked with patches of white. It ended in what certainly seemed to be a sharp point. Mr. Plant, now freed of his restrictive garments, parried left, then rushed right. Kevin flinched, but he swung the bat in a wide sweep and caught the thing on its legs. Mr. Plant flipped over and landed on his flower-ish head, but Kevin also slipped on some pot shards and landed painfully on his right elbow. The bat flew out of his hand, knocking over two bottles of shampoo before crashing down near the upturned Mr. Plant. Kevin shook his head and then reached for the bat, intending to finish the grotesque job he'd started. Mr. Plant apparently disagreed, and with a quick thrust of his abdomen he speared Kevin's hand, and then turned himself back over. Kevin screamed in anguish and withdrew. Mr. Plant stood over the bat, daring him to come on.

At that moment, perhaps roused by her partner's cries, Kelly rushed into the bathroom. Screaming like a banshee, stamping her feet and shouting wildly at the thing in the shower, she somehow managed to slide the door to the stand-up shower shut, trapping Mr. Plant within. Kelly and Kevin collapsed into each other's' arms. Kelly cried, and later claimed that Kevin had cried too (Kevin heartily denied the accusation). They were quickly roused from their self-consolation by a horrible scratching sound. Mr. Plant wasn't done with them quite yet. He was attempting to climb the side of the shower stall. Kelly screamed again.

Kevin suggested that maybe the thing just needed a drink. He stood, banged the side of shower door with his foot to dislodge Mr. Plant, and then opened the door just wide enough to sneak his uninjured hand in and yank the faucet on to full blast. The door slammed back shut, and steam quickly started to rise from the shower. Mr. Plant redoubled his efforts to escape, but quite clearly was no longer able to get a grip on the door or walls. He flung himself about angrily.

"I think I just pissed him off. Maybe we should call, uh, animal control or something."

Kelly, tears still streaming down her face, was shaking her head. In between shudders, she managed to stammer, "I think he just needs a stronger drink. Get the bleach from the linen closet."

Kevin nodded grimly, kissed her, and did as he was told. Soon he found himself pouring bleach over the top of the shower door, down onto Mr. Plant's brown, flower-like head. The results were immediate. The thing cringed, stricken, and tried to run in circles to escape. But there was no sanctuary. It was a big bottle of bleach, and more than enough hit the target to finish the job. When they finally opened the shower door some twenty minutes later, the thing was little more than a shriveled husk. Mr. Plant had met his maker.


Some three nights later, a late-shift maintenance worker was tossing a broken chair from the leasing office into the big central dumpster in back of the building. As the chair landed in the huge metal box, he heard the rustling of dozens of critters moving out of the way. Muttering to himself about how much he hated rats, he walked back into the building, reemerging soon thereafter with a handful of rat poison traps. He placed one hand onto the side of the dumpster, and was about to toss the traps in when a searing pain shot through his arm. He looked down, dazed, and saw something that looked like a brown flower with four yellow spots looking back up. Behind it was another, and another, and another. He opened his mouth to scream, but they were already pouring over the side of the dumpster, pouring up his arm, onto his head. And they were hungry.

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