On the outskirts, follow the path a ways; the variegated cracks, verdant-grey and heliotrope, twist into a deep fissure, the opening still ahead. Pace yourself —one tiny step in front of the other —before the pungent stink assaults you; you’ll know you are on the right track.
The door is a hinged movable barrier that allows ingress into and egress from the enclosure. The created opening in the wall, a portal. Push it, hard, it creaks and groans like violin practice; scratchy like when the bow is placed too close to the bridge. Cover your nose and mouth with your other hand, the smell of carrion, decay, rotting death, is in bloom, and overwhelms. Stop coughing, you will attract the Shoebill. It too overwhelms when aroused. Look down at your feet. Be afraid of black mamba snakes, the ones that coil and writhe and slither. They are all around you. Follow the widening groove until the light dims through overhanging branches. The canopy above is filled with trumpeted song, Spotted Pardalote, Northern Flicker, Bushtit, and Dark-eyed Junco flitting from limb to nest, secreting notes; deafening in the radiant hour.
You do not have much time, hours at most. The legs of the giant huntsman spider, long compared to its stumpy body, twist forward in a crab-like fashion; it will guide you. Continue on past the grey-buff statue, its whale-head, shoe-shaped beak is awesome. Notice it does not move. If it does, let it pass. The Shoebill is prehistoric. It only wants to know you are here in good faith. Offer it a tidbit of cracker, handful of seed. Do not make mention of nile monitor lizards, serpents, or baby crocodiles, you will only arouse its darker impulses.
Notice the mound of dung beetles, flesh flies and armoured carnivorous insects; the procession clamouring toward the central phallus-like structure, surrounded by the spathe, a pleated skirt-like covering that is bright green on the outside and deep maroon inside. The spadix has grown into a large club-like head of blood-red seeds. It is gargantuan. Magnificent. Erotic. A single bloom the size of a small tree, stinky and putrid like rotting death, shooting up ten feet in height. Its leaf structure towering to twenty feet tall and sixteen feet across. Behold—the Corpse flower. This is why you have come. Witness its majesty. It is over much too quickly.
Do not mention this place. It will be our secret —every seven years. Now go.
Karen Schauber’s work appears in fifty international literary magazines, journals and anthologies, including Bending Genres, Cabinet of Heed, Cease Cows, Ekphrastic Review, Fiction Southeast, New Flash Fiction Review, Spelk; and a ‘Best Microfiction’ nomination. The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings (Heritage House, 2019), her first editorial/curatorial flash fiction anthology, achieved ‘Silver’ in 2020 in The Miramichi Reader’s ‘Very Best Book Award” for Short Fiction. Schauber curates Vancouver Flash Fiction, an online resource hub, and in her spare time is a seasoned family therapist.