Lyndsey Croal

              I know the change is coming from the scratch in my throat. Next, my fingers elongate and sharpen as green root-like veins unfurl from my hands to my neck to my stomach. I catch my reflection in my dome’s glass, abdomen distended, so big I worry it’ll burst.

              The scratch grows more intense as the days pass, builds into an irritation I can’t dislodge, no matter how much water I drink.

              On the morning of, the Gardeners arrive. Suited and booted. They sit by the doorway and wait until I begin to retch. Each time I hope, in vain, I’ll get used to the agony, the blades in my throat. I’m given no sedative as I writhe. Then, come the spores. Small, globular things, finally dislodged. It’s hard to believe something so tiny could cause such distress. The Gardeners gather them quickly and leave, and alone again, I curl up into myself to rest.

              My cycle could be worse. During her season, Agapanthus-girl blooms several times a month, so bright I can see her purple shimmer in her distant dome. A jewel in the darkness. I imagine her transformation, her jaw cracking open to reveal the beautiful flower within, only to have its stem cruelly cut away for regrowth. There’s no brightness then. Not until the cycle begins again.

              Sometimes, I dream of being in the gardens outside, though it feels more like a memory. I’m lying within a fern as the fronds unfurl, and I’m free, if only for a moment. Then the Gardeners arrive to uproot me, place me in my dome, where I wait and wait and wait. Until the scratch begins again in my throat.

Lyndsey is an Edinburgh-based author of strange and speculative fiction. She is a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Awardee and her work has appeared in over fifty publications, including Mslexia’s Best Women’s Short Fiction 2021. Her debut audio drama ‘Daughter of Fire and Water’ was produced by Alternative Stories & Fake Realities and was a British Fantasy Award Finalist. Find her on Twitter as @writerlynds or via her website www.lyndseycroal.co.uk.