Image courtesy of Pranjall Kumar on Unsplash

[For E.F., who gave me the idea.]

Host: Welcome to the finale of Gardeners Gone Wild! After nine months of fierce — and sometimes fatal — competition, we’re down to our final three contestants! Who will take home the Apple? Will it be Corey, whose living labyrinth has wowed the judges? Will it be Annie, whose single-tree ecosystem has amazed the audience? Or will it be Lizbet, whose resurrected forest has stunned the gardening community? Stay tuned to find out, tonight, on the finale of Gardeners Gone Wild!

[pause for commercial break]

Host: Welcome back! Judges, are you ready?

[Four judges nod, their forms hidden by green hoods and cloaks, clipboards in hand. A brilliant green and gold serpent curls around the neck of one figure, while leaves cover the head of another.]

Host: Contestants, are you ready?

Corey: Yep.

Annie: Of course.

Lizbet: Yes, thank you.

Host: Very well. First up, Corey. What have you done for this final round?

Corey: Ahem. cough Yes, okay, so, this is my living labyrinth. Up ’til now, I’ve been working on the walls, on the hedges, that is. They’re constructed of hawthorn, blackthorn, and hazel, and interspersed with hedge apple trees, beech trees, oaks, holly, and yew — all of which are numinous, of course —

Annie: — Of course they are.

Corey: What? Now listen —

Host: Now, Annie, we’ve been through this several times. Individuals of dryad descent were allowed to enter and compete on Gardeners Gone Wild. We don’t discriminate.

Annie: Well it’s ridiculous! A completely unfair advantage. He can talk to the trees! And it was hardly an accident that that elm fell on Joseph the second week. Or that Adam’s dinosaur topiaries up and ran away — after munching on him, I might add. You all saw that. Not fair.

Host: Yes. Well. Shall we continue? Corey, you were saying?

Corey: Yeah. Okay. So, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I had been working on the hedges themselves this whole time. They’re mobile, which means the labyrinth is never the same twice. It will be a totally new experience each time. So, for the finale, I created the heart of the labyrinth. And — here it is! Anyone who successfully navigates the hedges will arrive here, to find a Fountain of Rejuvenation —

Annie: pfft

Corey: — the effects will only last a few hours. However, in addition to the Fountain, the triad of Crinaeae nymphs who inhabit its waters have agreed to offer one prophecy to everyone who reaches the heart of the labyrinth. Just be sure to bring along some honey.

Lizbet: An accurate prophecy?

Corey: I — well — yeah. I mean, why wouldn’t it be accurate?

[Lizbet walks over to the fountain. Three watery figures emerge. Lizbet holds out something which the camera cannot see. The nymphs take it and whisper in Lizbet’s ear. She frowns, and returns to stand by the other contestants.]

Annie: Bad news?

Lizbet: I guess I’ll find out.

Corey: Did you actually have some honey with you? Just now?

Lizbet: No. Lobularia maritima antiqua. Prehistoric sweet alyssum. The petals smell like honey and the stamens actually produce —

Annie: Don’t care. Can we move along?

Host: Uh, yes. Stay tuned. When we return, Annie will reveal her final surprise on this, the finale of Gardeners Gone Wild!

[pause for commercial break]

Host: Welcome back! Annie, are you ready?

Annie: Absolutely. Here we have my single tree ecosystem. I created the seed myself in my cauldron —

Corey: coughwitchcough

Annie: Yep. Not an insult. I used soil and fertilizer composed of a proprietary blend of dragon dung, minotaur dung, soil from the Garden of Idun, and other ingredients, to nurture the seed until it was a seedling, then planted it here. And, as you can see [gestures towards a tree that towers hundreds of meters into the air], I was quite successful. Not only is the tree itself truly one-of-a-kind, but its branches are home to utterly unique mosses and flowers. They exist nowhere else in the world.

Host: Impressive, but we’ve seen already seen all of this. What’s your finale surprise?

Annie: My surprise is this. [walks over to the lowest branch of the tree and plucks a plain brown nut] Looks like an ordinary walnut, doesn’t it? [hands it to the Host] Pause for a moment and think about your favorite flavor. What is it? Strawberry? Mango? A combination of apple and cinnamon?

Host: Uh, chocolate and marshmallow, actually.

Annie: Good. Now, carefully crack open the nut.

[The Host pries the nut in half. The inside is filled with a clear liquid.]

Annie: Drink it. Go on. Drink it.

Host: [hesitantly tipping the liquid into his mouth] Wow! That’s amazing! It tastes just like chocolate and marshmallow!

Corey: pfft

Host: Well, I have to say, Lizbet, that you are going to be hard-pressed to best either Corey’s living labyrinth or Annie’s yummy arboreal ecosystem. What do you think, folks? Come on back after the break to find out what surprises await us in Lizbet’s resurrected forest, up next after the break, on the finale of Gardeners Gone Wild!

[pause for commercial break]

Host: Welcome back to the finale of Gardeners Gone Wild! Up next is our final contestant, Lizbet. And here we are in her resurrected forest.

Lizbet: Thank you. Yes, this forest is, indeed, a resurrection. I harvested surviving DNA from prehistoric plants and grew them in my botany lab. Once they were mature enough —

Annie: Yeah, we know all that.

Corey: Been here the whole time.

Lizbet: Indeed. These prehistoric plants come from a variety of ecosystems and eras. Actinidia faveolata, which produces a variety of kiwi, comes from the early Pleistocene in Europe. Chaetocladus, which you can see in that pond, is a unicellar algae from the upper Silurian. Those fan-like Ginkgoitescome from the late Cretaceous. Not only was I able to extract enough DNA to recreate the plants, but I was also able to alter it enough that such disparate species could survive, and thrive, all together in the same climate. And I did that without benefit of either a dryad heritage or witchcraft.

Host: And your finale surprise?

Lizbet: First, I should thank Corey for allowing me to hear a prophecy from the Crinaeae. That was the last bit of confirmation I needed that my plan would work. I should also thank Annie, for keeping Corey focused on her as his primary competition. Neither of them paid enough attention to me over the last nine months.

Host: … What does that mean?

Lizbet: I would tell you to ask them, but you can’t.

Host: What …. Where are Corey and Annie …?

Lizbet: Dionaea muscipula gigantica. Derived from prehistoric DNA and modified in my lab. [She points up. A dozen massive Venus fly trap-like plants hang overhead. Two of them bulge and bob as something inside each struggles. The faint sounds of yelling can be heard.] They’re not numinous, so there’s no point in trying to talk to them; and no ready-access to a cauldron or crystals or magical herbs. [Lizbet shrugs.] Digestion begins immediately, but takes about forty-eight hours to complete. Longer, depending on the mass of the prey.

Host: ….

Lizbet: I don’t see any point in posthumously awarding an Apple of Immortality, do you?

Host: … um …. Judges?

[The judges are silent and still for a long minute. The only sounds that can be heard come from the Dionaea muscipula gigantica high above, but those quickly grow fainter, and are soon gone. The judges nod and disappear in a swirl of green-gold smoke. In their place is a small wooden box with an ouroboros on the lid.]

Host: Ahem. cough Well, there you have it, folks. The winner of Gardeners Gone Wild, and the Apple of Immortality. Lizbet Flynn. Con — ahem — congratulations. [The Host lifts up the box and opens the lid to reveal a small golden-red Apple.] What are — ahem — what are you going to do now?

Lizbet: [lifts out the Apple, studies it for a moment, and then takes a bite] Sequence the Malus sylvestris immortalitatis. Considering that ordinary domestic apples have about 57,000 genes, I imagine that the food of the Gods has quite a few more. It will take a while. [She takes another bite.] But I have the time now. And after I do ….

Host: … After you do …?

Lizbet: Clone the Apple. Maybe sell them to the highest bidder. Or just give them away for free. I haven’t decided yet. [She takes another bite, juice running down her chin. High above, the Dionaea muscipula gigantica have stopped moving.] But I have the time now to make up my mind. All the time I need, and more.

[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published works can be found there.]