Flash Fiction Competition 2020 — Third Place

Writer’s Block is proud to announce the third place winner of our annual flash fiction competition: Casper Rudolph!

The prompt was: “What are we going to do about the flesh-eating plant in our garden?” Check out what Casper came up with below!


Arjuno and Pohon Iblis
by Casper Rudolph

In a second-hand bookshop in Jakarta, Eefje picks up a paperback—Arjuno and Other Tales of Liberation—for 8000 rupiahs. She shows it to Bas as they sit in a café, waiting on their iced coffee. The cover illustration depicts a young man with an ax in the shade of a big black tree.

“That doesn’t look ominous at all,” Bas says, inspecting the cover. “Who’s the dude?”

“Must be Arjuno,” Eefje says.

“Who?”

“Hold on.” She opens the book and looks at the table of contents. “It’s the first story,” she says, handing him the book.

“‘Arjuno and Pohon Iblis,’” he reads. “What’s pohon iblis?”

Eefje shrugs.

“Do you know what the story’s about?”

“Not really. The woman in the shop tried to tell me about Arjuno, but it was hard to understand what she was saying. I think he’s a hero or something.”

“Okay, check this out: ‘Under the scorching sun, Batavia cast a looming shadow. The White Devils called these lands their gardens, and the people their slaves.’”

“Okay…that’s dark.”

“‘By the river, just outside the coffee plantation, stood the giant tree. Before the White Devils came, many leisured in its shade. In the evening, people gathered round the tree to share food, stories, song, and laughter. But the White Devils poisoned the tree. Its bark had turned black, and from its many jagged branches hung clusters of lianas that would latch onto you, dragging you closer, rending your flesh and breaking your bones, the clusters consuming you. To the White Devils, this transformation didn’t go unnoticed. They found that the tree had come to resemble a flesh-eating plant, and so they began to wonder: What are we going to do about the flesh-eating plant in our garden?

“‘Well, they found a purpose for it.’”

Bas grins at her. “You bought a horror book, babe.”

“Oh joy…”

“You don’t like it?”

She shakes her head. “I was just looking for some light reading…”

“‘As the sun crept across the sky and their slaves harvested their coffee,’” Bas continues, “‘the White Devils idled on the balcony, overlooking the plantation. They watched their slaves like hawks. They could see it in one’s eyes when he dreamed of freedom, and the whip was quick and sharp like lighting, and open wounds would be rubbed with salt.’”

“Bas, please.”

“What?”

“We’re in a café.”

Bas chuckles, and goes on, “‘Those who attempted to escape would be caught and thrown before the black tree. The White Devils would smile and laugh in delight at the carnage, while the rest of the slaves were made to watch, the screams beating against their eardrums, their eyes and hearts filling with horror. The Devils called the tree their flesh-eating plant; but the people had a name for the demon that resided within its bark: Pohon Iblis.’”

Eefje turns her eyes to the bar and begins to wonder when they would bring them their coffee.

“Hey, babe, here’s the part about Arjuno!”

“Bas…”

“‘Arjuno, a mountain of a man, stood up to the White Devils, and he spoke: The wrath of Shiva will fall upon you!

“‘The White Devils laughed at his face, but rather than reach for the whip, their leader pointed and declared: Straight to the plant!

“‘Arjuno didn’t resist but marched riverward. Before he stepped within the black tree’s reach, the White Devils tossed an ax in front of his feet and said: Entertain us!

“‘And so Arjuno came to face Pohon Iblis. Pieces of lianas flew and blue sap covered his skin. He buried the ax inside the black bark, and a demonic howl erupted from deep within the tree, and tears came to his eyes, and he said: I am sorry it has come to this, old friend.

“‘The demonic howl grew into a scream that could sunder the earth. The few lianas that remained moved in unison. Arjuno saw it and ripped the blade from the bark, and more blue sap fountained from the cut. He lifted the ax to cut this once-beloved tree down, but got interrupted by a flintlock explosion and a bullet that pierced into his back. He dropped the ax, and the White Devils laughed.

“‘A pair of glowing eyes, from deep inside the cut, glared at him before the lianas began to take him in for consumption. His fellow slaves watched his demise through their tears.’”

Bas puts the book down and looks at the cover. “Whoa. That’s…something. How much did you pay for it?”

“Like…8000.”

“So, that’s…” Bas googles it on his phone. “That’s a little under 50 cents, so that’s bang for your buck. I mean, it’s no Stephen King, but it’s entertaining.”

Eefje shakes her head. “It’s stupid,” she says, reaching for her phone. She finds the book on Goodreads, and gives it a one-star rating.

“So you’re not gonna read the rest?”

“What?” Eefje looks up from her phone. “No, it’s way too dark.”

“Fair enough.”

Then the waiter brings them their iced coffee. She puts the book away as Bas pays for the drinks. Finally she grabs the glass, which is cool against her palm, and she takes a sip.


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