Seeds of Wither (Rose short story)

“The Seeds of Wither” is yet another 1.5 moneygrab of an ebook, and it’s perhaps the most shameless one yet. It makes up for it by being more horrible than Wither itself.

It advertises itself as containing a brand new story featuring Rose, the first wife of Linden who encouraged him to remarry and then coolly told Rhine that oh, she’d get used to being a kidnapped prisoner and come to love him. It actually contains the first six chapters of Wither, then, in the pdf form I converted the ebook too because I hate all other formats, three pages worth of Rose, followed by three pages of Fever. It was sold for two dollars, so that’s $.66 per page of unique content. It does have a slightly different cover, so maybe four pages of new content at a mere fifty cents a page. There’s also a floorplan of the wive’s floor…you know, the one and only part of the book that gets anything resembling a description of its layout in the first place. Still don’t know how many floors the place had total, what was on the second floor at all, if the kitchens made up the whole first floor, if the basement was actually a bizarre twisty concrete maze the way Rhine made it sound…

It’s hard to comment properly on the story because, like so much of Wither, the biggest part of it is what it’s not saying. It’s just quietly horrifying and if it was intended to be, it’d be a haunting tale.

At age eleven I found myself in the strange predicament of marriage.

This is our opening, and I do applaud that the author has found a way to make this even more horrifying than I remembered. This really puts marrying thirteen year old Cecily in perspective, doesn’t it? When we learned that Rose was attempting to escape at a young age, I didn’t realize she was already married by then. I thought that came much later, that it was just a matter of her adoptive father thinking she was better off stuck on the estate.

Linden, my husband, was barely twelve, and while I had made up my mind that we would be enemies, it was hard to be hateful once I first saw him. Wiry and round-eyed, he was as frightened of me as I had prepared to be of him. His hands shook as he placed the ring on my finger.

And here we go with the Linden-chan apologism. This is the distilled essence of Wither – Linden-chan is hapless and innocent, so he isn’t to blame for any of it.

Did he ask his father why she was there, or why he was marrying her, or why she didn’t like him? Did that even matter to him?

So she stays in her room with the door shut and he’s so magnanimous he doesn’t come in, even though she can’t lock the door so he could if he wanted to. It’s important the door doesn’t lock, because if he doesn’t have power over her, how can we be impressed he doesn’t use it?

The book goes on to say that he paces outside, unable to work up the courage to knock so it isn’t even that he’s trying to respect her space. He’s just intimidated by her. But this is supposed to prove he’s nice, because niceness is about being harmless due to weakness, not actually due to niceness. It’s like how Linden sleeps in Rhine’s bed without fucking her – it’s not because he doesn’t want to push her, it’s because he’d rather sleep next to her her and imagine she’s Rose, and it’s his misery that marks him as supposedly worthy of sympathy. This is the only kind of safeness the author can imagine – not a guy who won’t, but a guy who has no interest.

Of course she doesn’t stay inside forever. She’s eleven, her parents are dead, and there’s no one else. She goes out and the book tells us they become friends and goes on and on about how pretty things are. It doesn’t mention her parents are dead, or her crushing isolation. It doesn’t mention that she’s never allowed to leave. It doesn’t mention her escape attempts, because even the soft-focus misery of the first book is too much and the author is quietly retconning even that away.

A year later, which is to say when she’s twelve, she kisses him and says she finally knows she loves him, and undoubtedly it’s intended to show they’re something like equals, as opposed to Stockholm. syndrome.

He was smaller than I was, and he was timid; I wanted to be his protector.

Textbook Stockholm, even.

It glosses over the rest of the relationship – when did they move beyond kissing, did she take the initiative there as well or did she just go along with whatever delicate Linden-chan wanted? There’s no mention of her desperation not to have a child, of her vicious fights with Linden’s father, only how beautiful things were the day of the birth. In fact, there’s no mention of his father at all until later.

We never saw our daughter take so much as a breath.

Rose swore she’d heard her daughter cry. But we can’t possibly mention the terrible parts when it’s a viewpoint character and not background. That’s too close to focusing on it for real. There’s similarly no mention of Linden’s father taunting her by saying that isn’t this what she wanted.

“I won’t let you die.”
I worried for him.

But of course, it was herself she should have worried about. She’s the one who’ll die, and she’s also the one who suffers because Linden won’t let her go.

She mentions the shortened lifespan and society crumbling.

sometimes I’m grateful to be locked up in his mansion, where it’s just Linden and me

This is the only admission she’s locked up at all.

A little later, she at last mentions her father-in-law. For most of the story, even the line above, the man didn’t even exist. She complains briefly that he’s terrible, and evil, and regularly draws blood to study. Unlike Linden-chan, who loves her so much and spends all his time with her, Linden’s father easily notices that she’s declining.

Soon he’ll want to put me on some sort of torturous regiment of pills and IVs. He’ll want to plug a monitor into my skin, force me to breathe when my body decides it’s over.

Oh, it’s Linden that wants that.

We can tell, you see: if he merely wanted to try to practice keeping someone alive, he has plenty of other subjects, like all the servants. And we know that in fact, he’s quite happy to kill off another of Linden’s wives because he isn’t too attached.

At last, Rose realizes it’s the end. She leaves for the orange grove, planning to die there.

The saddest part is she’s not doing this for herself.

It will be done by the time Linden finds me here. He won’t have seen the grotesqueness of it. He won’t spend weeks panicking at my bedside while his father prolongs the inevitable.

She was trying to kill herself and he stops her. That’s why she suffers. Because he won’t let her go. He doesn’t care if she’s happy, he doesn’t care how much pain she’s in, only that she’s there with him.

I hate seeing Linden like this, so serious and sad. He’s not brave enough to be angry with me. I’ve broken our promise to never keep secrets from each other. It’s been weeks of torturous medications and IVs and steam baths, when I can barely draw a breath.

And she blames herself. She thinks he has the right to be angry. She’s in agony and all she can think is how she’s hurting him.

It can still get worse from here, because this series can always, always get worse.

I want to have this conversation on the verandah while the sun is still shining in the winter sky, or at the very least over dinner. But I’ve been too dizzy to get out of bed, and that only reinforces what I need to say.
“Linden? I think it’s time to consider the other bedrooms.”
He’s lying beside me, staring at the ceiling. He stops breathing.
“Linden.”
“No,” he says.
“You have to remarry, love,” I say.

Not that she wants to die. Not that she’s suffering, and that the medication is prolonging that while hurting her further. Not to ask for it to stop. Even her tiny request to be alone has nothing to do with her own desires at all.

He’ll be happier if he has new toys, and that’s all that matters to her.

There’s no way to tell here if she understands what remarrying means any more than Linden – if she understands that she’s asking him to order a dozen or two girls kidnapped, to pick three and have the rest shot. But even if she doesn’t know the details, she understands there’s no consent from the women (or children) he’ll have for wives, because she’ll understand Rhine hates Linden and is forced to be there. She must think it’s normal – it’s what she experienced herself – but we know she hated it when it was done to her, and yet she’s willing to do it to more people if it’ll make Linden happy.

(And if any of the girls he gets are older than sixteen, they’ll reach their cutoff date before he will, and his father will do to them what he’s doing to her now. And then he’ll destroy yet more lives ordering another one.)

But it doesn’t matter how much they’ll suffer, because it’ll make Linden-chan a little happier. If that means girls being shot and left to die, if that means other kids being made orphans like she was, if that means a thirteen year old being raped…

Even her own suffering doesn’t matter before his, so why would she care about how much anyone else suffers?

She tells him she doesn’t want him to be alone. They start to argue, and then she’s sick and throws up.

It’s all so pathetic and frustrating, how powerless we both are.

Again and again, the book comes back to this idea that there’s some equality here. They both can’t make her healthy, so what does it matter than he has the power to let her die and she doesn’t? The power to leave the house, the power to order more wives, the power to do anything he wants?

If Linden hadn’t found me in that orange grove, if he’d let me go, he wouldn’t have wasted the past several weeks keeping bedside vigil.

It is, always, all about him, even in a story about her.

“You need a muse,” I say.
He kisses the top of my head. “Oh, yeah?”
“To get you drawing again. You’ll need a pretty one. Blond. Lots and lots of blond hair.”
“What shall I do with this blond muse, then?” he asks.
“If you get a real one, you won’t have to do anything. The magic will just happen on its own.”

And that is literally what he does. He gets one.

And Rose knows that’s what it’ll be. It isn’t clear if she knows about the fallout, about the fact most of the girls will be killed or, at best, sold to be raped in brothels. But she knows it will be about “getting” one, against her will, and locking her up for the rest of her life, because she’ll be nothing more than Linden’s property. And knowing this, she wants him to get three.

It’ll take more work to convince him to fill the three empty bedrooms that are reserved for more brides. And even more time for him to adjust. He might never adjust. But girls have a way of filling up a space, making it bright, full of chatter and perfumes and life. And surely that’s better than silence.

And because of this, they dump the bodies of Jenna’s sisters and all the other girls by the side of the road. The survivors, except for Rhine, are raped by Linden. Because it’s better than the rooms in Linden’s house being silent.

The story concludes with her dreaming of falling into his eyes and being dead and wishing she could explain that’s what she wants. She doesn’t even try, though, knowing it’s impossible to convince him. And of course, he’s the one who gets to decide what happens to her.

The real story here is told in all the things that can’t be said – aside from one paragraph, the entire story takes place in a world that’s only her and Linden, and yet at the same time she never acknowledges he has any agency. She is married at eleven, but she doesn’t say how she’s forced into it, that she doesn’t even speak at her wedding because there are no vows to exchange, only that she’s angry and realizes shortly after that she was wrong to be because she has to think about his feelings instead. She then spends the rest of her life locked up in his mansion, but she only references it in passing. She’s dying and he’s hurting her and she never, ever thinks that she should be allowed to make her own choice. She never hates him for everything he’s put her through.

I kept the door to my bedroom closed, and though it didn’t lock, my husband never entered.

She never admits the reason there’s no lock is because she’s her husband’s property. The doors do lock, remember.

But only from the outside.

17 Comments

  1. Rufus says:
    welp, that will teach me to wake up with faith in humanity on a Saturday.
  2. 13thlemur says:
    Man, I really wonder about Fever. Everything about Wither is so terrible, you can’t help but think how on earth it could get worse. But you just know it’ll find a way. And there’s still a third book still on the way.
    1. Farla says:
      All I know about Fever is that I got people coming in from google off the search of “Was Rhine raped in Fever?

      So I’m going to guess yes, it got worse.

      1. 13thlemur says:
        …so you sure you want to keep Fever (and XVI for that matter) on your poll? I don’t think either one would be good for your sanity.
        1. Farla says:
          That’s what makes them so deserving of me hating them. I just want a break from it being everywhere. Also, I really, really wasn’t expecting it to pop up in Unwind, because you’d think something ignoring abortion would know to avoid one of the big arguments for abortion, so I’m pretty annoyed at that.
      2. actonthat says:
        Good God what is wrong with the woman writing those books.
  3. 7th Y says:
    So, I read this one post. Since on Unwind you said Wither was somewhat less worse, I thought “Hey, lets have a try at it! It just a few clicks away and then I will have read more than just hunger games and unwind. There is no way that could ever go wrong.”

    Now I am pretty sure that after my brain surgery I actually was trapped in a coma and this is all the way my mind found to express my hate to society. Because admiting that someone think that bull is maybe something other than bull would mean I have to burn down the whole world, and I don’t knwif there is enough oil for that.

    1. Farla says:
      You have to understand that when I say something is somewhat less worse, I mean I hate both of them a great deal.

      The good points about Wither are that the characters actually seem like (terrible) people while they makes excuses for abuse and that no one actually says people deserve to be raped, let alone deserve it because the other person said they should be raped as part of a plan and how dare anyone be upset by all that. It is a low, low bar.

      1. 7th Y says:
        I should have know better, but I didn’t. Now I do, but I figured I can’t stop reading because somehow every chapter is much, much, worse than the last one, and I need to see if it gets worse everytimes so I can try to think the author is actually doing her very best to write worse everytime.

        And I just noticed what I just typed made not much sense, but after reading so much about Wither I think it is reasonable I am unable to express myself properly. How did you read the whole thing without dying?

        1. Farla says:
          I found it fascinatingly terrible. It’s basically a bodice-ripper without the sex scenes. The author has set up this horrible situation and how she writes everyone’s reactions shows she knows it’s horrible, but at the same time she won’t let anyone admit it outright. It’s this weird gothic romance thing where sex and danger and confinement are all tangled up in a ball together, but at the same time it won’t admit anyone in particular is actually to blame – the screwed up way things are portrayed is just how sexuality works for the author.

          Plus the characters really do feel a lot realer than some other stuff, like Unwind. Not good people, but people.

  4. Zolnier says:
    This is why Zod hates us. Also something I’ve been wondering, does the book ever give as any evidence the super babies are any better than regular babies? Like I was assuming the first gen were functionally immortal than I noticed them being described as looking aged, but Rhine and her brother apparently were born when their parents were in their fifties.
    1. Farla says:
      The super babies are basically just really healthy. We don’t see any seventy year old unhealthy first gens – they’re all apparently fit and expect to live decades more. They don’t seem to actually be any better than people currently can be, though – it’s more like they just had the DNA checked to make sure there was no defects. Doesn’t seem like they’ll be living to two hundred or anything.

      Fifty is about the limit of when normal people can have a kid, so there’s nothing there to tell us if superbaby women keep their fertility longer. Unfortunately, the first generation women are largely missing from the story otherwise.

  5. Zolnier says:
    I could almost buy twelve year old Linden not really responsible for his “wives” predicament because really what agency does a twelve year old boy have. Not that makes him the victim in this, and any way the author bungles that up. And twenty one year old Linden is of course a monster, and a delusional one at that.

    Oddly enough this society does not seem to have changed it’s definition of child and adult. Pre-teens and young teenagers are still expected to be dependants of their parents despite most of those parents not being physically capable of living that long. Unless they’re raped and get pregnant in which case they’re clearly women who need to step up to their motherly responsibilities. These books’ premises seem to have been whispered to the author by a serial killer under a out house.

    1. Farla says:
      It’s really his failure to care that gets me. Even at twelve, you should be able to notice your playmate is upset, or that she keeps trying to run away. You should ask questions about why she does this. He likely had no power to actually change things, but he doesn’t seem like he’d even have wanted to. The fact he seems to view people as toys is more forgivable at twelve than twenty, but it’s pretty bad even at twelve.

      I think the author just doesn’t know what “child” means. She has a box in her head for “child” that says you’re not supposed to do bad things to them, but in practice she doesn’t really think of the children around as being the same thing. It’s not just Cecily, even the little kids used as servants don’t seem like the author thinks of them as children.

      1
      1. Zolnier says:
        That’s the thing, twelve year old Linden could have been a very sympathetic character. Hell the idea of pressuring a twelve year old boy to rape someone is immensely creepy. But the kid just doesn’t seem to give a shit about someone who’s supposed to be both his only real friend and the “love of his life”. You know what could have been a creepy way of showing he cared more for her than his own happiness. If instead of letting her last months be painfully dragged out against her will, he sabotages the medicine, killing her.

        And I think I got this author’s theory of child development down. Children are children and should be allowed to be so unless the destruction of their childhood in some way conveniences or even slightly amuses Rhine.

        Also last book, the thing about Cicely implying that nobody knows if third generation kids have goldfish like lifespans. Has no desperate “we’re going to die virgins if we wait” teenage orgies resulted in offspring these seventy years? Have the First Generation been doing all the reproducing?

        Also forgot to mention, nice last line.

        1
        1. Farla says:
          Or just smothering her with a pillow. That would’ve been creepy, and there’d be tension in if he did it out of selfless love for her sake or selfishly because her suffering was hurting him.

          Maybe even echo it with Rose being implicated in her kid’s death.

          1. Zolnier says:
            Your idea is better. Also hasn’t this civilization heard of turkey basters? It would be slightly safer. Also brain uploading, probably would have been looked into.

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