She was a dutiful Chinese daughter, obeying her father’s wishes, putting his needs before her own. She wanted him to be proud of her, of her accomplishments. She wanted him to smile and praise her.
He was a busy man, always engrossed in his work at the university greenhouse. He was a famous botanist who loved new plant species and taxonomies. She often saw him working tirelessly, his head buried amongst the orchids and the heliconias, sorting out and categorizing various plant genomes.
How she wanted him to look at her. She excelled at ballet, was an accomplished artist at the age of seven, and she played excellent piano, wowing audiences all over the world. By the age of twelve, she was admitted into a prestigious university to read microbiology. She was immensely gifted and young—and still her father was always too busy to sit down beside her.
When she turned twenty, she decided to do something to amaze him. Armed with given knowledge and a gifted mind, she knew that her plan would be foolhardy. Yet, her father was the only person in her life, her mother long since deceased. She had no close friends; many found themselves threatened by her intelligence. She had neither boyfriends nor lovers; she was plain and nondescript at best. Her father was her only solace.
The plan took years to come into fruition and was done in total secrecy. She worked diligently in her lab, making changes to her life. She too began to change, slowly at first—subtle transformations, not yet noticeable to the naked eye. When she met her father during the weekends, when he was having his rare moments of rest, she made sure he did not notice. She wanted it to be a surprise.
The real physical changes came when she was twenty-eight. She found herself home on several occasions, wracked by vicious cramps and bouts of severe vomiting. She was truly changing and for once, she was afraid for her sanity and transforming body. She told herself that she was doing this for her father. She locked herself in her room, riding out the waves of pain and nausea stoically. Her home gave her privacy; she was a single woman, living on her own. On better days, she ate voraciously, mostly vegetables and edible seeds. She drank rainwater straight when it fell from the sky. Unfortunately, her neighbors saw the changes in her and became shocked, alarmed. One by one, they began to move out, leaving her house well alone.
She sent her father an invitation card for her thirtieth birthday celebrations. It would be a milestone for herself. And him.
He received a simple invitation card with gold filigree embossing. The handwriting was his daughter’s: elegant, though with odd spikes, as if she could not control her pen. He frowned. He had not seen her for months; the only reason provided by her was that she was busy with work.
He turned up at her house sharply at three in the afternoon. The sun shone brightly. It was a beautiful summer day. He stepped out from his car, noticing how eerily quiet the street was. His shoes sounded disturbingly loud to his ears. She lived in a ghost town.
He knocked on the door impatiently. He had to go back to his greenhouse for an important project meeting.
There was no answer. He knocked again, feeling a knot of anxiety settle tightly in his stomach. His daughter had indeed been behaving oddly. He decided to go to the garden enjoined to the house. She might be there, watering her plants. Indeed, he could smell flowers and plants, familiar scents and fragrances.
What greeted him took his breath away... and sent shivers of shock and fright down his back.
His daughter was there, all right. Standing in the middle of the garden, bathed in golden sunlight. He realized—very belatedly—that she was beautiful, in her own way.
But what had she done to herself?
She swayed serenely, her smile a gentle curve of green leaves. She was naked, having long discarded the notion of clothing. She was clothed though, in green. Green leaves, creepers, curled down and around her body, while lianas hung from her limbs. Her skin was now totally bark-brown. Her hair—oh god—had turned into braids of roots, thick and brownish-green, draped on her shoulders. There were red flowers—orchids—growing on these root braids and there were honey bees buzzing around, collecting nectar. Her eyes were the color of amber, with no sign of irises and whites. Her face was a mask of leaves with no discernible features, only a horizontal slit for a mouth.
Her hands—branches—were stretched out as if she was dancing. Ballet, a thought came unbidden in his mind. From her fingertips hung delicate-looking pinkish bowls attached to succulent green stalks. On closer look, the bowls were actually flower petals of some sort. They resembled lotuses. She grew flowers from her fingertips, he gaped, unable to tear his gaze away from the dryadic being, something of which his daughter had become.
Hummingbirds flew around these flowers, sipping at the sweet nectar, glittering like tiny mobile jewels. And yes, he noticed the fragrance radiating from her body: woody, sweet, forest.
My god, what had she done?
She turned, shifting ever so slightly, seeing him standing in front of her, his eyes opened wide in shock. She smiled again. He saw it as a leafy leer. She stepped forward, her feet making sucking sounds. He backed away reflexively. She cocked her head curiously.
“Surprise!” She said or tried to say. All he heard was the rustle of leaves and a hissing, like gentle wind, from her lips.
“Why, Alanna, why?” He found his voice at last, half-sobbing, half-moaning. “Why?” Silly questions, the rational part of his mind said sternly. She is no longer human.
Oh, that was a simple question! She laughed happily and the hummingbirds scattered frantically as the flower bowls swung with her laughter, spilling viscous golden nectar. The laughter sounded like leaf rustles, soft, a movement of twig against twig.
“I wanted you to see this,” she said or thought she said. “This is your present!”
He could only hear the creaking of her wooden limbs and the hiss from her sap-rich throat.