Ichor Falls

Lemon Blossom Girl

by on Oct.30, 2008, under By Kris Straub

My father used to take me to the Natural History and Science Museum, downtown, when I was six. That was where I first saw her.

I remember thinking what a pretty name for someone that was, the “Lemon Blossom Girl.” I have never been able to forget the time I laid eyes on the Lemon Blossom Girl, imprisoned in the tall glass case smudged with the fingerprints of all the other children who had come to stare at her. But she could not stare back.

She lay on the floor of a papier mache cave, curled around herself, her smooth head cradled and face hidden by tattered, crossed arms. I watched her for a long time, with my dad standing there, reading to me from the placard that described the way she became mummified.

Although I wasn’t able to put it to words at that age, I must have been asking myself why anyone would name her “the Lemon Blossom Girl.” This was a name for someone who skipped in fields of flowers in spring, laughing and playing; not this awful, trapped, parchment-skinned thing. The word I would have wanted at the time was “irony.”

I had the first nightmare a few days after our visit.

I was there in my bed, in the dark, when my eyes opened, somehow outside of my control. I couldn’t move anything except my eyes, but I couldn’t shut them. And I knew, with that knowledge one is given only in dreams, that she was here, in our house somewhere.

The Lemon Blossom Girl. She was no longer lying on her misshapen side in the museum behind glass. Or perhaps that’s how she was in the house, in that same position, curled up beneath the kitchen sink. I couldn’t see her in the dream, but I felt her presence. I knew that she was on the other side of the house, waiting for something, thinking bad thoughts with that smooth, yellowing head of hers. Thinking of me.

I woke up screaming. My mother came running in and comforted me, and my father must have been scolded for taking me to the part of the museum full of old, dead things. I had the same nightmare several times in the weeks to follow, but like all things, it eventually stopped and I was free to worry about whatever it is that six-year-olds worry about.

When I was twelve, my family moved to the East Coast, to Boston. My father had been transferred to a new position and given a raise, and since my mother wasn’t working at the time, moving was the sensible thing to do. I said a few awkward goodbyes to my friends; at that age, it doesn’t really dawn on you that you won’t be seeing them next summer, and chances are you won’t see them ever again.

But I made new friends easily enough. The grade school I went to in Boston was much more reputable than my old school, but I didn’t really notice, other than how we took a lot more field trips. Field trips were never about learning; they were about leaving the classroom and being able to talk to your friends in an environment where your teacher didn’t notice as easily. That’s exactly what happened when Mrs. Hafner took us to the Harvard Museum of Natural History.

I paid absolutely no attention to the droning tour guide, and continued to pay none until I heard a phrase I hadn’t heard in what for a boy of twelve was an eternity.

“Lemon Blossom Girl.”

My stomach sank. That name, that sickly-sweet name that belonged to that monstrous thing.

I snapped to attention and realized that the guide was talking about mummies now, as the class approached the “Human History” room. My eyes darted among the cases — she was here. It was here. Somewhere. I glanced at the other mummies, with their long and awkward Egyptian names, ending in Amun, Hotep, Tiri. They sounded exotic, impressive. Regal. The sarcophagi were gold, with bright expressive faces painted in blue and black on the heavy lid. These did not bother me, nor did the X-rays of what they looked like beneath the bandages. Their eyes were closed, their arms crossed on their chest, at rest. These were kings at peace.

Not like the Lemon Blossom Girl — whose glass I now stood in front of. She was no longer on the floor of that papier mache cave, now laying starkly upon a plain, gallery-white platform. Somehow, I saw more this time than I did, or remembered I did, when I was six — the room was brighter, and I was taller, almost tall enough to peer between her crossed, gnarled limbs and see dead eyes. How weird, I thought, that I would move to Boston only to see her again? Was there more than one? No, they must have moved her as part of some program.

I learned more about her that day, listening to the guide. I learned that she was named for the area the archaeologists found her in — that it used to be a bog somewhere in South America, and that her odd, contorted position probably resulted from the way she died: struggling as she drowned. A diagram on the wall showed how she had been X-rayed in the 1960s, and how scientists discovered an almost fully-developed infant still inside her. She died pregnant.

This added a new dimension to my nightmares, which returned that night. I awoke, back in my old room, as I had so long ago — in the dark, paralyzed, knowing that she was in our house somewhere. But now I knew she wasn’t curled up in a ball. She was walking, shambling slowly, carrying her infant in her arms, its skin a cross between leather and paper, stretched tightly across blackened bones.

I knew these things, was made to know these things by the dream, but again never laid eyes on her. But she was in that dark house, in my mind, somewhere. The nightmare ended and I sat upright in my bed, throwing and kicking my arms and legs to make sure I could indeed move them. I didn’t cry to my parents; I must have decided I was too old for that. But I didn’t sleep the rest of the night.

Again, the nightmares subsided after a few dreadful weeks, but not before I failed a morning exam or two for lack of sleep. School came to an end in Boston, junior high was a blur, with high school even more unremarkable. I was an average student; I sent applications to several large colleges in the area, only to receive letters of condolence in return. On a whim I sent an application to Maple Grove University, a small school in West Virginia, just to see what would happen. Lo and behold, they accepted me, and even offered a partial scholarship.

I’m not sure why I decided on West Virginia, but I did. I suppose I wanted to be out of my parents’ house, on my own, taking full responsibility for myself. I don’t think the scholarship hurt, either. Freshman year, my parents helped me move my things into Poulsen Hall, one of the two undergraduate dorms, and said a tearful goodbye. But I was free now. I felt like an adult.

Friends were harder to come by in college for some reason. Maybe it had to do with me being a child of two coasts, and West Virginia being close to neither. The first several months I spent largely alone.

Our Communications 15 study group broke early one Saturday night at about 5:30, and I suppose I didn’t feel much like heading back to my dorm room and dealing with my suitemate and his filthy socks. So I wandered a little. Near my dorm on the hill were a few buildings, administrative and such. There was something called the Harold Ferris Cultural Center, a great ugly green building with a pigiron modern art globe in front. It was next to my dorm; I thought it might have general information about the area, the town, and maybe somewhere I could go on a Saturday night.

When I got there, I discovered the information booth only had pamphlets about cultural studies and outreach programs. That and a little old lady. She said the center closed at 6:00, but since I was the only one here, I could stay a while after and look at the exhibits.

Something about that word always bothered me. An exhibit was something on display for others to stare at, to watch. The plural of the word was worse, as it implied a cold room with dim lighting cast on ancient, quiet things. The exhibits.

She pointed me at the room, but it wasn’t until I was in the archway that I realized what I was looking at. It was a cold, cold room, with dim yellow lights in the ceiling, focused on pots, arrowheads, and other historical trinkets. And one large display in the center of the room.

Lemon Blossom Girl.

I stumbled backwards. She was here.

For the third time in my life, in a town I considered the middle of nowhere. I can only imagine the expression on my face as I edged forward into the room. “South American Relics, 1200-1500 AD,” the sign said. Lemon Blossom Girl. And now I was thinking that it was peculiar, very peculiar that this exhibit, of all things, would be here. Here, of all places — the Harold Ferris Cultural Center at Maple Grove University.

I felt as though I were six again, seeing her for the first time. She looked smaller than I remembered, but somehow that made her more pitiful, more terrifying than before, more like the desiccated, curling thing she guarded in her womb.

I began to doubt it could have ever been human; what cruel processes of nature would allow such a thing to continue to exist? I did not picture the Lemon Blossom Girl as a woman with child who became trapped in some swamp in South America, while Europe suffered through the Dark Ages. She had always been like this, somewhere or other, dried and dead and paling under electric lamps since the beginning of time, carrying a smaller mockery of herself inside her, twisted and splitting and curling in her own womb of glass. No, no, this thing had never been a human being.

She was Lemon Blossom Girl, forever staring out with empty sockets through crossed arms and legs, trapped in a place where children can watch her. But she could not watch back.

There was a square, dimly-lit button on her display case, and beneath it, a grid of holes indicating a loudspeaker within the base. The button stated in loud, block letters: “START.” Though I knew, when pressed, it would blare a dull, scratchy narration explaining mummification, my heart dropped as I backed away from the case. There was something very, very wrong about having a “START” button near that thing. All I could think was START MOVING. START BREATHING. START SCRATCHING AT THE GLASS.

“Time to close up,” an old voice called from the front desk, and I uttered a startled noise, halfway between the letter U and a gasp. The sound echoed in corners of the hall that the dim lights didn’t reach.

That night I wasn’t in my dorm room. I was at home, in my old bedroom. My eyes were open, but I couldn’t move. But it was different this time; this time, I didn’t know if she was in the house with me. I didn’t know, until I heard a sound like splintered wood sliding against burlap, and wet paper. I smelled something thick and ancient, like parchment and, faintly, cloves. A sickening, thick, spicy sweetness.

She was here. In the dark, I watched, unable to even shiver, perhaps held in place by the same abominable forces that would allow a corpse to be preserved, to stay whole, to persist for 800 years.

And now from the black doorway the Lemon Blossom Girl shuffled in, her thin, reedy breath amplified by the dead quiet of night. She lurched forward, slowly and unsteadily on bone-splinter legs, stopped in the middle of my room and turned. Now she was watching me.

She held something close, something I did not want to see. Something I was beginning to make out in the moonlight.

It squealed.

That was six days ago. Six days ago, and she hasn’t stopped since. I know she is down there, my Lemon Blossom Girl, behind glass, closer than she has ever been. She can follow me as far as a museum display, but she needs my dreams to come closer, to watch, to hold her young. I know she is down there, thinking bad thoughts in that dead, dry head of hers. Thinking about me.

This morning I went to the gas station, and returned with one gallon of gasoline and a box of hurricane matches.

Tonight I think I will pay her one last visit.

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24 comments for this entry:
  1. Chris Hickey

    oh jesus

  2. ZenMonkey

    I won’t be thinking about this at all when I go to sleep tonight. Not one bit.

  3. Chris

    Why did I read this right before bed?

    Seriously though, that is an excellent story.

  4. kaiki

    One question “Natural History and Science Museum” Where is that museum supposed to be? Ichor Falls, Boston or anywhere USA?

  5. IncredibleGeek

    In a word, awesome.

  6. Avidguru

    Oh man. OH MAN. Well, I guess I’ll get a lot done tonight on the computer.

  7. darkmayo

    Damn, nice

  8. Martin

    I like your writing but it seems that you’re stretching the microfiction label a bit.

    A great story but a bit long IMHO to be microfiction.

  9. Kris Straub

    It’s cool, I just changed the definition of the site to invalidate your comment. BAM!

    Actually I run into a lot of sites that say “microfiction” or “flash fiction” and then I have to slog through a 10,000-word story, and then I think the definitions don’t really mean anything besides “this isn’t long enough to make into a book.”

  10. Dublin Jack

    An objectified person, returning to objectify an apathetic onlooker. The thought isn’t all that frightening in theory, but your details, your descriptions, your accounts of the mummy’s sheer malevolence, are what really make this story. You’ve reverted us all into frightened six-year-olds, curled in our beds from the scary thing we saw today.
    Excellent story. You’ve wrested mummies from the “action” genre and put them squarely back where they belong, among the horrors of the night.

  11. blade

    This story marks the first time I recognized mummies were actually really, really scary.

    Thanks for putting this back online.

  12. Don J

    I love the ending of the story. It leaves me wondering where it goes from here. Does the protagonist a) succeed, not get caught, and end the nightmare forever, or b) succeed, get caught, and get committed to an asylum or imprisoned or who knows what else, or c) succeed, only to find that he has failed, and the Lemon Blossom Girl comes back, in another exhibit, and in other nightmares, more angry than she has ever seemed, or d) some horrifying combination of b and c?

    Great story. Masterfully crafted.

  13. yotan

    ffffffffffff

  14. venti

    It’s great how everything that happens in the story can easily be just the product of the narrator’s overactive imagination. He had traumatic childhood experience, and he was unlucky to encounter it’s catalyst later in life. Still, we all have our secret fears.

  15. Ralphomon

    This, from the guy that does chainsawsuit?! Wow.

    You just made me realise that I love horror fiction.

  16. Brentwood

    kaiki asked: ‘One question “Natural History and Science Museum” Where is that museum supposed to be?’

    Its name has been recently changed but Kris is right to have the narrator call it by the old name based on time period. The museum is located in Denver, Colorado. Yes, there are mummies there.

  17. B. I. Flight

    Yet another great offering! A poster on the forum that led me to this terrific site mentioned this as one of their favorite stories.

    I think the thing I like best about this story is how effectively it uses a very simple premise. It’s so unlikely that the Lemon Blossom Girl could be being moved around to wherever the protagonist happens to be as to be effectively impossible. From that simple “this can’t be” precept, the horror builds as the narrator is faced with something that he/she doesn’t dare tell anyone else about, yet has no choice but to face. Let’s hope it at least ends better for her/him than many other stories on this site!

  18. Flaggerty

    There’s something about the part where he feels that she’s in the house, maybe curled up under the sink. Curled up under the sink. Jesus Christ, I don’t know why that gets me but just the idea of it sitting there, just sitting under there in that dark, wet, horrible place, thinking about you. That’s terrifying.

  19. Milo

    This is one of the few on this site that genuinely creeps me out rather than just entertaining in a spine-tingly way.

    I do wonder if the dreams would have taken on a different tone if the narrator were female. To the boy, growing older, the nightmare changes from a frightening object being in the house, to the object coming to get him, to a representation of something that tends to haunt boys as they turn into men — having to take responsibility for a female and her child. If the Lemon Blossom Girl had chosen a young girl to take on her child, would she be embraced?

    (Doubtful. She is one freaky piece of work.)

  20. Anon

    Brilliant. I don’t think I’ve ever been more on edge in my life.

  21. RangerDanger

    Wow. I have been reading these for the past few hours, and they are mind-blowingly great. Lovecraft and Poe would be proud.

  22. StillbornUnicorn

    Ugh. It’s been nearly twenty years since I last felt that sensation. Thank you.

  23. Esperanza

    I think that I just died a little. that was horribly frightening. thank you.

  24. Banan

    Milo, that’s probably the dumbest, most over-analyzed hogwash I’ve read, all day.

    Just thought I’d let you know.

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