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Return of the Corphid, Part 1

A tale of a mysterious plant, mummies, and obsession

01·23·2016

About the Author: Han Zhiliao 寒知了

Having published three well-received novels—A Fraud (《骗局》, 2008), Lost in the Tunnel (《迷失地下铁》, 2013), An Evil Sign (《凶符》, 2013)—suspense/thriller writer Han Zhiliao describes himself as a “heavy addict” when it comes to stories. One of the most notable young writers in the genre of supernatural fantasy and detective mysteries, he has garnered fans with his elegant ideas and tasteful style, rather than graphic depictions of violence and supernatural events that sometimes seem to dominate the genre.


Francis telephoned right when I was in the greenhouse studying a rare species of Amazonian passion hemp. I had discovered this plant in the north of the rainforest a month earlier. It was an extraordinary species that secretes a neurotoxin capable of inducing paralysis and hallucinations.

“What do you want Francis? I’m busy,” I took the call through bluetooth headphones and continued jotting my observations on a pad of paper while we spoke.

“Garry, what’s your schedule like? I need you to come over.” He sounded nervous.

“What time? Not now. I’m on a date with my latest discovery—Amazonian passion hemp,” I chuckled.

“Forget your passion hemp! I’ve got something that’ll stop you dead in your tracks,” Francis raised his voice.

I paused for a second. He rarely took that tone, “Alright, alright, but I’m warning you, if I don’t stop dead, tonight’s round is on you.”

“Deal,” Francis replied with relief in his voice.

His strange call had distracted me from my work. I turned on the greenhouse’s autonomous control system, picked up my car keys and left.

I wasn’t bothered by the interruption. In fact, I was growing curious about this thing that would “stop me dead in my tracks”.

Francis was an archeologist and taught with Professor Nash at Columbia University. We had been good friends since high school and went to college together. He had studied archeology and I botany.

His work with Nash took him to far off places around the globe. We usually spoke via video calls online or by phone. There were rarely opportunities like this to meet in person, especially the last few years.

I followed the highway to Francis’s for an hour before arriving in the small town.

He must have heard the sound of my car. Opening the car door I saw him standing on the porch waiting. I walked up the steps and gave him a brusque hug.

“Don’t forget our deal!” I threatened, as we walked into the house.

I stepped into the living room and froze.

“What do you think? I told you this would stop you dead in your tracks! Haha, Gary, your eyes! And your mouth, it’s so open I could shove a potato in there,” Francis teased me, slapping me on the shoulders. But I was in no mind to respond. I stared blankly into the center of the living room, my mind spinning with excitement.

There was a purple plant growing straight out of the floor. It was roughly 1.7 meters tall. The stem was as thick as an arm. The leaves were purple and in the shape of pentacles. There was one big, white flower that had four purple-red stamens and four pristine, white petals that overlapped. Even though it was blooming magnificently, it was not emitting a scent.

“Is this real?” holding back an urge to shout in amazement, I walked towards the plant. It was certainly genuine and definitely mysterious.

“Of course it is. You’re the botanist, that’s why we asked you to come see it,” Francis’ wife, Alina smiled and offered me a cup of coffee.

I accepted the coffee with my eyes glued to the plant and sat down in a nearby armchair.

“To tell you the truth, I’ve never seen a species like this. Can you tell me Francis, how did it grow out of your 1,000 dollar floor?” I finally gained control over my excitement and turned to the couple.

“Oh, over ten days ago, wouldn’t you say Alina?” Francis furrowed his brow and turned to his wife.

“It’s been a month. We were just coming home,” Alina corrected her husband.

“Oh, right. It was a month ago. We had justreturned from a holiday. I think I mentioned it to you. We went to Switzerland. When we got back Alina noticed a light green stem growing out of the floorboards.

“Yes, and Francis wanted to pull it out. But I thought there was something rather magical about it, so I left it, waiting to see what it would grow into,” Alina said with a laugh.

“Yes, maybe it’s a beanstalk that’ll shoot right up into the clouds——haha,” Francis joked.

“You really don’t know what this is?”Alina asked, turning to me.

I laughed awkwardly. I was a well-known botanist, and it wasn’t often that I was stumped.

“I could find its species category, but I would have difficulty determining its name. This is certainly a rare breed. Hey Francis, did you think to ask the floor company what type of wood your floorboards are made from?” I knew most plants would die in those conditions, but in special circumstances it was possible for some to come back to life.

“I asked them, but they didn’t believe me and insisted on coming to inspect the floor themselves. Of course they had no clue what it was. At least they agreed to give us a new floor free of charge,” Francis said and lowered his head to take a sip of coffee.

“Alright, I’ll take some photos back and tell you what I find,” I started taking photos with my pocket camera.“What are you going to do with it? Allow it to continue growing?”

“Alina likes it and it isn’t getting in the way. It is also a rare occurrence worth appreciating. We’ll wait for it to wilt before getting rid of it. It’s already stopped growing,” Francis answered.

“That’s fine. But I’d prefer it if the two of you didn’t spend too much time in its proximity. We still don’t know if it’s poisonous.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that. It’s been blooming for over a day now without any side effects,” Alina said, looking at the flower adoringly.

I snapped more photos, making sure I captured every aspect of the plant and then we chatted for a while longer. It was dark by the time I was on the highway again.

The whole drive back I couldn’t stop thinking about that strange plant. It was making me nervous.


“Return of the Corphid” is a story from our newest issue, “Family”, coming soon. To read the whole piece, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part 2.

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