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« Solaris (Солярис) | Main | The Red Flower (part 2) »

The Red Flower (part 3)

The conclusion of a story ("Красный цветок") by this Russian writer.  You can read the original here.


That whole night he didn't sleep.  He had plucked the flower because in such an action he saw a heroic deed that he was obliged to perform.  When he had first looked through the glass door, the scarlet petals had attracted his attention, and from that moment on he seemed to understand what he had been put on earth to achieve.  In that bright red flower resided all the evil of the world.  He knew that opium was made from poppies; perhaps this thought, growing and assuming monstrous dimensions, led him to create a horrible and fanatical specter.  In his eyes the flower embodied evil itself; it fed on all the innocent blood ever spilled (that's why it was so red), all the tears, all the rancor of mankind.  A secret and horrible being, Ahriman, the adversary of God, in harmless and innocent guise.  It had to be plucked and killed – but that was not enough: it could not be given the chance to spill all its evil into the world as it expired.  For that same reason he had hidden it against his bosom and hoped that the flower would lose all its power by morning.  All its evil would then be transmitted into him, into his chest, his soul, and there it would either triumph or be defeated – in the former case, of course, he would die, perish, but he would die as an honorable warrior, the first warrior of mankind because until now no one had dared combat the world's evil all at once.

"They didn't see it.  But I saw it.  Should I let it live?  No, death is better."

And he lay there exhausted by his invisible, non-existent battle, but exhausted nonetheless.  In the morning the medical assistant found him barely alive.  Despite his state, after a few hours the excitement prevailed and he jumped out of bed and began walking around the hospital as he once had, conversing with himself and the other patients in a louder and more disconnected fashion than ever before.  He was not allowed into the garden.  Seeing that the patient's weight was still diminishing and that he was still walking and walking and not sleeping, the doctor ordered a large subcutaneous dose of morphine.  He did not resist; fortunately by that time his thoughts had somehow subsided owing to the operation, and he soon fell asleep.  The insane movement had ceased, and the loud melody born from the rhythm of his spasmodic steps that had constantly accompanied him now vanished from his ears.  He forgot himself and stopped thinking about anything at all, even the second flower which he had to pluck.       

Three days later, however, he plucked it – plucked it right before the eyes of the old guard who had not managed to warn him.  The guard gave chase.  With a loud, exultant howl, the patient ran into the hospital and, racing into his room, hid the plant against his chest.

"Why are you plucking flowers?" asked the guard running up to him.  But the patient was already lying on the bed in his usual pose with his arms crossed; he then began to utter such amazing nonsense that the guard merely removed the paper hat with the red cross which he had forgotten in his hasty flight then exited the room.  And the invisible battle began anew.  The patient felt like evil was escaping the flower in long, serpentine streams; they wound themselves around him, squeezing and constricting his limbs and saturating his whole body with their horrible contents.  He cried and prayed to God in intervals between the cursing he directed at his enemy.  By evening the flower had wilted.  The patient stomped the blackened plant into smithereens, then collected the remains from the floor and took them into the bathroom; the amorphous green mound was then tossed into a scorching stone oven heated with coal.  For a long while he watched his enemy hiss, disintegrate, and finally turn into a snow-white pile of ashes.  He blew on the pile and it all disappeared.

The next day the patient felt much worse.  He was horribly pale, his cheeks were sunken, and his fiery eyes had fallen deep into their sockets; although now erratic and staggering, he continued his mad pace around the hospital, speaking without stopping.

"I don't want to have to resort to violence," said the senior doctor to his assistant.

"Yet we have to stop his crazy work.  Today he weighed ninety-three pounds.  If this keeps up, in a couple of days he'll be dead."

The senior doctor thought it over.

"Morphine?  Chloral hydrate?" he asked, only half-inquisitive.

"Yesterday the morphine did not do the trick."

"Order him restrained.  Although I doubt he'll recover."


And the patient was restrained.  He lay in a strait-jacket on his bed, tightly fastened with wide strips of sackcloth to the bed's iron bars.  Yet his rabid movements did not decrease but grew in number.  In the course of many hours he had stubbornly tried to free himself from his fetters.  At length, having jerked powerfully, he ripped one of the knots, freed his feet and crawled out from beneath the rest of his bindings.  He then began to walk about the room, his hands still tied, screaming wildly and incomprehensibly.

"O damn you," cried the guard, entering room.  "Who the hell helped you?  Gritsko!  Ivan!  Come quickly, he's gotten loose!"

The three fell upon the patient and there began a long struggle, fatiguing for the attackers and torturous for the man trying to defend himself with the faint remainder of his dissipated energy.  Finally they threw him in bed and tied him up more tightly than before.

"You don't understand what you're doing!" said the patient, gasping for air.  "You will die!  I espied a third, hardly blooming flower, and now it'll have already blossomed.  Let me finish the matter!  I must kill it, I have to kill it, kill it!  Then it will all be over and everything will be safe and sound.  I would send you, but this is a task that only I can complete.  You would die from the mere touch."

"Pipe down, sonny, pipe down!"  said the old guard who remained to watch over the bed.

The patient suddenly fell quiet.  He decided to deceive the guards.  They kept him bound the whole day and left him in such a condition overnight.  Having eaten his dinner, the guard laid down a covering near the bed and then stretched out atop it.  A minute later he was soundly asleep, and the patient got to work.

He contorted his entire body so as to touch the horizontal iron bars of the bed.  Once he felt them with the palm of his hand hidden in the strait-jacket's long sleeve, he began rubbing his sleeve against the iron quickly and with some force.  After a while the fabric gave way and he was able to free his index finger.  Then everything sped up.  With intelligence and flexibility incomprehensible to a healthy person, he untied the knots behind his back, pulled off the sleeves, untied the strait-jacket, and then listened for a long time to the guard's snoring.  But the old man was still sleeping soundly.  The patient removed the strait-jacket and untied himself from the bed.  He was free.  He tried the door: it was locked from within and the key probably lay in the guard's pocket.  Fearing to wake him, he did not dare rifle through his pockets; he then elected to exit via the window.

It was a quiet, warm, and dark night.  The window was open.  The stars shone against the black sky.  He gazed at these stars, distinguishing the familiar constellations and taking joy in the fact that they seemed to understand and sympathize with him.  He saw the endless flickering rays they were sending him and his mad decisiveness increased.  He had to unbend a large iron bar, crawl through the narrow opening into the back alley overgrown with shrubs, and cross the high stone fence.  Here would come the final battle, and afterwards death itself.

He tried to bend the thick bar with his bare hands but the iron wouldn't yield.  Then, having twisted off a string from the strait-jacket's sturdy sleeves, he hooked it onto an outstanding spear-shaped part of the bar and hung on with his full weight.  After some desperate attempts that almost exhausted the remainder of his forces, the spear bent and a narrow passageway became open.  He squeezed himself through, scratching his shoulders, elbows and bare knees, then crawled through the bushes and stopped before the wall.  Everything was quiet.  Night-lights shone from within the window of the great building; in those lights no one was discernible; no one would notice him.  The old man on watch at his bed was likely still soundly asleep.  The stars gently flickered in rays which penetrated him to his very heart.  

"I'm coming to you," he whispered, gazing up at the sky.

Ragged after his first attempt, with broken nails and bloody hands and knees, he began looking for a comfortable spot.  Several bricks had fallen in the place where the fence joined the wall of the morgue.  The patient groped around these cavities and took advantage of them.  Then he clambered up the fence, grabbed one of the elms' branches growing on the other side, and silently slid down the tree to the ground.

He dashed off to his familiar spot near the porch.  The flower was darkened by its little head, having rolled back its petals, and now stood out clearly against the dewy grass.

"The last one!" the patient whispered.  "The last one!  Today comes victory or death.  But for me it is all the same.  Wait for me," he said, gazing at the sky again, "I will soon be with all of you."

He ripped up the plant, tore it to pieces, crushed it, and, holding it in his hand, went back to his room the way he came.  The old man was still sleeping.  The patient, hardly reaching his bed, collapsed upon it senselessly.

The next morning they found him dead.  His face was serene and bright; his wasted features and thin lips and deeply sunken eyes all reflected some kind of proud happiness.  When they put him on the stretcher, they tried to unclasp his arm and pull out the red flower.  But his hand was stiff and unbending, and he bore his trophy to the grave. 

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