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Authors: Sandra Knauf

Zera and the Green Man

BOOK: Zera and the Green Man
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Zera and the Green Man




Sandra Knauf






Zera and the Green Man


Sandra Knauf





Published by Greenwoman Publishing, LLC

P. O. Box 6587, Colorado Springs, Colorado,

80934-6587, U.S.A.


First published in the United States of America

Copyright © Sandra Knauf, 2013

All rights reserved


ISBN: 978-0-9897056-0-8 (paperback)

ISBN: 978-0-9897056-1-5 (ebook)


Cover drawing by Paul Spielman



This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or living-dead, is entirely coincidental.





For my parents,

William Richard Cato


Darline Love Price




I have jokingly said, “It takes a village to get me published” and that is not far from the truth. To those who have
suffered over
read this manuscript through the years and offered support, great or small, I thank you. A special thanks to the following: D’Arcy Fallon, who fanned those first sparks and patiently mentored me for many years; Diane Hoover, Andy Nelson, and Charles (“Cuttlefish”) Bowles, who put me through a real writers boot camp (also known as our critique group); Donald Maass, for his invaluable instruction; Andrew Knauf, best friend, sexy husband, and truest patron of the arts (one who pays the bills); my younger daughter Lily, who offered great editing advice and warmed my heart with the comment “I was surprised — it was good!”; Cheri Colburn, beautiful friend and brilliant editor; artist and so-helpful friend Paul Spielman; and, mostly, to my older daughter Zora, who saved this manuscript from limbo.




ra and the Green Man


There should be no monotony

In studying your botany;

It helps to train

And spur the brain

Unless you haven’t gotany.


from “Botany” by Berton Braley


Chapter One

Friday, March 21




Squeezing through a thicket of ninth graders outside of Ms. Casey’s classroom, all Zera could hear was complaining about the
biology test. Mike “Biggie” Lane, at his locker, was blocking the door, and as Zera drew closer she got a whiff of his cologne.
Musk . . . and sweet jasmine. Not bad, but too strong — as usual!
“Nice cologne, Biggie.”

Biggie looked pleased. He moved to let Zera into the classroom as girls behind her chattered.

“Did you study?” a girl named Melody asked her friend.

“Not enough.”

“That sucks. I can’t believe this. Right before break.”

If they knew I wasn’t nervous about this test, they’d think I was nuts
. No one spoke to her in Biology, no one except Abby, her only friend at Manning High School.

The first one in the room, Zera sat down and flipped
open her notepad. She touched the leaf-shaped BIO icon on the screen and her thoughts turned to something that should be happy, but wasn’t, her fifteenth birthday the next day. Musk and jasmine still clung to her nostrils.
I wish I had a boyfriend. Not like Biggie, but someone . . . someone who’d give me flowers for my birthday.

Wrapped in her thoughts, she didn’t notice the movement on the window sill.
Some kids have parties, I can’t even hang out with Abby. All because of a freaking fast-food franchise opening.
Zera frowned, thinking about how her uncle’s work, and his control-freak girlfriend, always came first.

The one-minute bell rang and a few seconds later Biggie’s voice boomed, “Holy crap! You didn’t see that when you came in?”

He’s talking to me?
Zera looked up to see Biggie thundering across the room. 

Zera unconsciously ran her fingers through her bangs. She started to say something but was stopped by the sight of Biggie at the windows, a smile plastered on his face. He was staring up, bug-eyed at . . .
giant, six-foot-tall flowers

“Look at them! Just look at them!”

Students coming in, making their way to their seats, froze.

A clamor erupted. “Hey!” “Are those for real?”
“No way. Gotta be a joke.” “I’ve never seen flowers that big.” “What the h . . . ?”

Her classmates’ attention focused on one big plastic pot, at the end of a row of nineteen others on the sill. From it sprang
a half-dozen zinnias that touched the classroom ceiling. The round, multi-petaled blooms, wider than basketballs, were in electric shades of hot pink, red, yellow, orange, purple, and a blue brighter than the Colorado sky. Green leaves spread out like umbrellas from stems three inches thick.

Zera stood up. The flowers’ beauty pulled her toward them like a magnet. They were so big that their white roots had burst the container, and in a dozen places they spilled out like spaghetti. The label that marked the pot with the student’s name who planted it clung to a plastic shred, printed with black marker in capital letters: ZERA GREEN.

The room got quiet.

Zera shifted, folded her arms. Her mind groped for an explanation. Abby was now standing beside her. Abby’s large brown eyes, accented with way too much black eyeliner, stared transfixed at the blooms. “So pretty,” she whispered.

Someone said what everyone had noticed, “It’s
.” All eyes went to her. Abby looked at her questioningly.

It can’t be
, Zera thought.
It’s impossible. Our class planted those seeds yesterday. And we planted spinach . . . and lettuce.
A sense of disconnect came over her, like a thick wall of glass separating her from the others. She moved closer, slowly, to the pot with her name on it. She touched a leaf, but knew without touching.
They’re real
. Everything in the room suddenly seemed brighter, more in focus. A chill rippled down her spine.

Behind her, Becky McGowan said, “Wow. Oh, wow!” Chatter and giggles followed.

“I don’t get it,” Zera said aloud, and a few muffled laughs responded.
I planted spinach.
These flowers are full grown, and most seeds don’t even sprout this soon. Not for days. How could they sprout, grow, bud and blossom, two or three months’ growth, in one night?
The row of pots held the other kids’ seeds for their plant projects, watering tubes running to each pot for automatic watering during spring break. Grow-lights hung suspended from the ceiling. Ms. Casey had told them yesterday, “When you get back from break, we should see some seedlings to put in the greenhouse.”
Seedlings. Nothing in the other pots but brown soil. That’s what should be in my pot. Is this some kind of a joke? Who’d do that? And HOW?
Zinnias, Zera knew, even the big ones, didn’t get that big, ever.

The flowers were emitting delicious odors of raspberries, vanilla, something bright and citrus-y, mingled with a note of green, a scent like a summer meadow. But there was something else too

something masculine, and something floral.
A hint of musk — and jasmine?
Zera, despite her anxiety, found her eyes closing.
Wonderful . . . but, wait. Mom and Nonny grew zinnias. They didn’t smell like this. They didn’t have much of a smell at all.

“Mmmm, smells pretty in here,” Biggie said in a girlie voice. He snorted a laugh.

Zera gave him a look and thought,
It must be strong if he can smell it over his cologne.

Abby moved closer. “What’s going on?”

Before she could answer, a familiar high-pitched voice came from behind them. “Oh my!” The class turned to see Ms. Casey. Their teacher’s hands had flown up to her mouth, her eyes were wide.

The second bell rang. No one budged.

Ms. Casey walked over to the sill. A slim finger touched Zera’s label. “They’re gorgeous. A blue one? I didn’t know zinnias came in blue. In fact, I’m certain they do not. Blue flowers are quite rare.” She emphasized
quite rare
as her half-smile turned into a smirk. “Zera, what do you know about this?”

Zera swallowed, and as she spoke the words caught in her throat, “I don’t . . . know anything.”

“Your uncle, he’s a biotech scientist, isn’t he?”


Ms. Casey narrowed her eyes. She breathed in deeply and the half-smile reappeared. Zera noticed that the blue color of the zinnia matched Ms. Casey’s blazer. It occurred to her
, she’s smiling because of the perfume

The smile disapp
eared abruptly. “Students,” she ordered, “take your seats. When I return, we’ll start the test. Zera, come with me.”


* * *


After Ms. Casey explained the situation to Mrs. Tinsel, the high school’s pretty-yet-tough-as-nails principal, Mrs. Tinsel summoned Security on the wall-sized media and communications monitor. “Richard, I need you to review the surveillance video for last night and this morning before school,” she said to a nearly life-sized, mustachioed Mr. Brockheimer. “Mr. B,” as the kids called him, was the head of Security, and he stared, dead serious, as Mrs. Tinsel continued. “Check the camera that shows the entrance to Ms. Casey’s classroom. See if anyone entered the room with a . . . an enormous pot of flowers.”

Confusion clouded Mr. B’s expression, but he nodded obediently. “Sure. I’ll get right back with you.” The screen went blank.

Zera, in the chair across from the principal’s desk, squirmed while they waited.
Why my planter?
she wondered.
And why would anyone do something this weird anyway?
She recalled how, the day before, when she’d planted the seeds, she’d been thinking about Nonny’s garden. She’d been thinking about
. Nonny always joked how zinnias should be Zera’s favorite flower. After all, Nonny said, they shared the letter “Z.” When Zera planted those seeds she was thinking about her fifteenth birthday, about how she missed her parents, about how she wished she could live with Nonny. She was also thinking about the event of two days ago and her horrible embarrassment about that. Her hands moved from the chair arms to clasp tightly in her lap.
Those were spinach seeds. I know what zinnia seeds look like. They’re thinner, longer, flatter . . . spinach seeds are round and lumpy.

Mr. B appeared on the wall to report he’d found nothing upon reviewing the tape.

“Thank you.” Mrs. Tinsel pressed the screen for her secretary and asked her to get Zera’s uncle, Theodore Green, on the video-phone.

Zera shifted her position on the chair, unclasped her hands and clutched the chair’s arms again.
Great, they’re bringing him into this.
She avoided the adults’ gazes. The Toad was her pudgy, thick-lipped, glasses-wearing, warty-handed uncle, whom she’d been living with since her parents’ deaths. He was all that was left of her family, besides herself and Nonny. He worked as a scientist at Biotech Multinational. While they waited, the air in the room seemed to be getting stuffier by the second.

She caught her breath when her uncle appeared on the video screen. The Toad looked even more awkward than usual, sitting at his desk in his cubicle, one hand fidgeting with his black-rimmed glasses. Zera could make out the warts on his hands (although Ms. Casey and Mrs. Tinsel probably wouldn’t notice). Seeing him uncomfortable brought a different disquiet.
It’s the first time he’s ever had a call about me from school.

Apologizing for the interruption, Mrs. Tinsel explained the situation and began quizzing The Toad about his biotechnology work — had he given his niece some “strange seeds”
? Was it possible that she had brought something to school yesterday that she shouldn’t have?

As Zera watched her uncle squirm, she thought about how in the city of Piker, Colorado, anything weird or different (meaning her and her family) was unacceptable.
How can he stand it here, growing up where he did?
Again she longed for Ute Springs, where she had the freedom to be herself.

The Toad straightened in his chair. Peering up into his much smaller work monitor, his squinted eyes darted at the images of Zera, Mrs. Tinsel, and Ms. Casey. “Strange seeds?” he said.
“Certainly not. And removing anything from the corporation’s premises would be a serious violation of policy.” He cleared his throat. “Mrs. Tinsel . . .” He fidgeted with his glasses again. “I seriously doubt Zera would ever do such a thing, even if she had the opportunity. Do I need to come down to your office and help clear this up?”

“Thank you, Mr. Green, but no. We just wanted to talk to you. This is a mystery, but we’ll get to the bottom of it.”

They ended the call, and Zera, pleased that her uncle had stuck up for her, was also a little surprised. The Toad rarely showed such firmness around authority figures.

Ms. Casey shook her head. “I can’t figure it out,” she said. “Not only the flowers, but a zinnia in
. They don’t exist. I know my floriculture.”

Mrs. Tinsel smiled at Zera from behind her desk. “It was your plastic pot, Zera. No one else had these giant flowers. You can tell us, let us in on the joke.” The principal sighed, as if it were suddenly no big deal. “I can understand students wanting to do something entertaining, a little prank before break to have a little fun.” She leaned forward, her voice lowering to almost a whisper, “How did you pull it off?”

Zera leaned back in her chair. “I don’t know how it happened,” she said for the second time. For a moment she thought of playing Tinsel’s game, saying she did it. She would have loved to tell them something, to be done with this, the misery of sitting there with them, the wall-sized monitor, and the closed room that felt like a prison. Anger overtook that emotion.
To heck with them.
She leaned forward, smiled defiantly at Mrs. Tinsel.

The adults exchanged looks. Ms. Casey excused herself to go back to her classroom, asking Mrs. Tinsel’s permission to leave Zera in the administration office for the rest of the hour, so as to “not cause any further disruption.”

Guilty before proven innocent. Nice.
“What about the test?” she asked Ms. Casey.

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to take it after school.”

She left and Mrs. Tinsel locked eyes with Zera. “There’s no proof you did anything, but I
find out what happened. Giant flowers do not just grow overnight. Not in my school.”


* * *


“Hey, Plant Chick!”

Zera, in line in the cafeteria, looked around and couldn’t tell where the female voice came from, but she saw two girls from Biology ahead of her — giggling.

“Zera Green’s got a green thumb all right,” a boy said behind her. She ignored the comment. A few kids from Biology giving her a hard time was to be expected; six-foot-tall zinnias were growing in a pot labeled with her name.

She turned around to see it was a junior named Jake, rumored to have been expelled from another school for marijuana use. He slid closer to her and asked, “Ever grow any weed?”

BOOK: Zera and the Green Man
11.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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