We waited until our evening meal was over, when Miss Pecksniff nodded off by the fireplace in her room, and then, warmly dressed in our outdoor clothes, left by the servants’ entrance. I locked the door and placed the key in my reticule. Bella and I clasped gloved hands and set off through wisps of London fog, between flickering gas lamps.
Soon we were standing at the gates of what was once a red-brick bottle factory. The walls were now blackened, windows with no panes stared back at us, and charred rafters poked out like bones from the roofless top floor. It was hard to believe this wreck had been elevated to the status of Extraordinary Emporium.
A figure stood at the top of the steps; the door was open, and the entrance hall was brightly lit.
“That must be Ogden,” Bella whispered.
The hairs on my arms prickled at the sight of a very tall man dressed like a clown, with a purple suit, a star-strewn top hat, and a too-wide grin.
“Welcome, my dears,” he purred. “You are my first visitors.”
“The only visitors, I should think,” Bella said under her breath. “And we are not your dears!”
Ogden led us into the wide hall and a forest of different-sized telescopes, all pointing at the charred rafters and a scattering of stars in the misty night sky. Bella made a beeline for the biggest, shiniest telescope I had ever seen. We took turns, gasping at the clarity of the lens, but disappointed with the weather.
Suddenly, it swung around, and we found ourselves looking at a tiny Ogden through the wrong end of the telescope. He grinned.
“That’s not all,” he said. “We have clockworks, our very own Steam Man – some of the latest inventions. We also have rare and unusual plants, some carnivorous.”
A thrill rippled through me. I had never seen a carnivorous plant but had heard of the Venus fly trap. I left Bella to explore the telescopes and clockwork dolls. Ogden ushered me to the rear of the hall. There was a strong smell with a tang of iron, fleshy like the stench of butcher shops on the high street. Despite a surge of repulsion, curiosity got the better of me. Ogden pulled aside a heavy black curtain to reveal a jungle of plants. They were not exactly ugly, nor were they beautiful. I had never seen anything like them before, not even at the Botanical Garden at Kew.
“Would you like to see me feed them?”
Ogden’s voice reminded me where I was. All I had to do was turn around, grab Bella and leave. The safety of home wasn’t far. But he already had a dish in one hand, filled with chunks of bloody meat, and was holding a piece of flesh over the leaf-blade or trap of the one of the smaller plants.
“They are my pride and joy,” Ogden said, with an extra-wide grin that revealed yellow teeth. He licked his lips with a lizard-like tongue. “Wait for it…”
The movement was so fast I was not certain that the plant had actually snapped the meat from his fingers.
“I was under the impression that the Venus fly trap ate only insects,” I said.
“These are not the same species,” Ogden replied. “I created them from hybrids myself!”
“May I ask what you feed them?”
“The smaller ones enjoy birds and rodents. For the sake of propriety, I purchased cheap cuts from a local butcher. However, the larger plants are developing quite an appetite. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for the sake of science and progress.”
His words chilled me to the bone. And then I realised it was not only what Ogden had said that was causing me to shiver. Some of the plants had begun to move. Slowly. Their leaves bristling.
I started as the curtain behind us was pulled to one side, and Bella appeared beside me.
“I have found the perfect hand-held telescope. Look!”
It was brass and quite hefty.
“May I try it, Bella?”
“Of course, dear Dora.”
The plants were just a few feet away. Ogden had his back to us, still dangling morsels of meat, enticing his flesh-eating plants in our direction. I lifted the telescope and brought it down on the back of his head with all the force I could muster. I was not about to let him sacrifice us to his monstrous plants. He turned his head with a grimace and glanced at me, a mixture of surprise and fear in his eyes, before he disappeared into the trap of the largest plant of all.
Back at home, we sat in the conservatory, Bella gazing at the night sky through a shiny telescope while I fed my new plant morsels of meat. Do not be concerned, dear reader, it was only a small one.
Kim M. Russell, 30th May 2021
Image by Jeffery Wong on Unsplash