SF in the Bush
The Botanical Gardens are my favourite part of Dunedin, and the footpaths through the “native bush” are my favourite part of the gardens. The bush is more jungle than forest: it’s almost aggressively green and exudes sheer age. It’s an excellent place to walk or run – New Zealand has no native small mammals and hardly any introduced ones, so it’s pretty much just you, the trees, and a few birds.
And this creepy, parasitic vine.
Amidst all the greenery, there are a few greyish-brown patches. A few trees are dead or dying, with clouds of bare, slender branches tangled in their crowns. Some trees still look strong, but they’ve got this vine wrapped around their trunks, and you know it’s just a matter of time until the vine overtakes the tree completely.
Generally speaking, parasites creep me out. Those spores in the Amazon that infest ants, make them climb tall things, and then sprout through the insect’s head in order to spread more spores? Easily one of the most terrifying things in the natural world (try Chris Lewis Carter’s The Cord for a chilling short story about exactly this phenomenon – you can still find it in the Pseudopod archives).
This vine isn’t quite that bad, but it’s close. The way it coils around other plants, so delicate at first, but so overpowering in the end… there’s one word that fits it perfectly, and that word is sinister.
Naturally, after I got over the initial shuddering, I started thinking of science fiction. I’m sure, one day, some awful parasitic thing will appear in my fiction, and it will have been inspired by these walks through the bush.
But the absolute creepiest thing? This may have been a stupid move, but I touched one of the vines.
It was soft as velvet.