Fiction Written by: Bodhi Autumsredd

The Mustard Seed was a seedy establishment that had traded hands more times than Donnie could count in his eighteen years of living there. It wasn’t named that for its appearance— no, it could claim neither the yellow-brown of dijon mustard nor the tawny brown of an actual mustard seed. The building was a repugnant eggplant purple. The scent somewhere between eggplants and zucchini mixed with the air expelled by the AC stuck to the side of the building.  

Faith the size of a mustard seed, that’s what The Mustard Seed was named after, with the namesake Bible verse painted onto a large oval sign wrapped in wood carved vines in the front lawn. Donnie was, on a good day, a skeptic agnostic. But this should not be taken as a story of faith. At least, not of that variety. The Mustard Seed was a seedy establishment that had traded hands till it eventually landed back where it started. No matter what, The Mustard Seed always stayed in the family. 

Donnie fussed with the sunflower seed shell. Under his tongue, along the rim of his teeth speed bumping against his snake bite piercings and finally between his incisors to be broken apart and eaten. He relished the over-salted, almost pickled flavor before unceremoniously spitting the remains into the yellow grass. When he was younger he thought dandelions were baby sunflowers. Mama’s got a baby and its head popped off. Morbid chants of childhood, followed by digging his thumbnail into the stem just below the petals and flicking the flower’s head from its body. He sang under his breath as he clamped down his jaw on another sunflower seed.  

The only redeeming quality of The Mustard Seed was the ivory white wrap-around porch, and even this paint job was peeling from the heat of summer after sweltering summer. If one was careful (or a bored kid left his own devices too long) one could peel apart layer after layer of the same white sheen. Instead of redoing or renovating, Donnie’s family had always elected to just throw a new coat over old problems. Donnie skipped the two steps transitioning from concrete sidewalk to childhood home slash family business. 

The Mustard Seed was a seedy establishment, though at least it wasn’t a bar. It had always been a family restaurant. Family friendly, family owned. The pressure to stay at The Mustard Seed or “at the very least attend culinary school” might as well have been the detonation that rocketed Donnie into the first out of state university that would accept him (accept him as he was, that is). Unlike his mother. Just the thought of her being the one to answer the door was enough to make him pause. It had been enough to keep him from coming home for three winter and summer breaks. But there he was.  

Donnie sighed, ‘Might as well make the six hour drive worth it.’ 

It wasn’t his mother to greet him, but Mariah. Despite an understanding of the passage of time, it was still a shock when little cousins sprouted into their own people. She’d lost the braces, but kept the earrings that looked like wobbly smiley faces. Her own face held a wobbly smile riddled with outright confusion. 


Donnie interrupted before she could finish, “Hey Mars. Been a minute.” 

“I’ll say. Jesus, look at you. You look like a vampire.” 

“Take a look in the mirror,” he joked, “With that make-up I bet you’re blasting My Chemical Romance every chance you get. When’d you start working here?” 

“Come on. Can’t be that much of a shocker. Everyone works at The Mustard Seed at some point.” Not everyone. Just everyone in their family. The Mustard Seed always stayed in the family. 

Donnie shrugged off his blatant disregard for family tradition, “I’m just here to see dad… Considering… You know…” 

“So you heard about that, huh?” 

“Just lemme slip into the back. I’ll talk to him.” 

“I don’t know,” she drew out the words as she tapped a stack of menus against the hostess podium to straighten them into a neat pile, “They say vampires can’t enter unless explicitly invited.” 

“Screw you, Gerard Way.” 

Mariah laughed, then used the menus to point over her shoulder, “You know where he is.” 

Donnie’s father never had a penchant for cooking, so he managed the financial side of The Mustard Seed. His office was across the skinny hall from the bathroom where Donnie had hidden during overwhelming rush hours as a kid and teenager. The bottom half of the walls were lined with thin vertical planks of dark wood. Trim lined not only the bottom but the top where the planks transitioned to wallpaper too. The trim was chipped, some spots pockmarked with the crescent shape of fingernails that Donnie had dug into the wood over and over again as a teenager whenever he was scolded. The way it was angled made it look like there was something inside the walls digging its nails into the trim to try to get a foothold in the real world and pull itself out.  

Might as well make the six hour drive worth it.’ Donnie reminded himself as he ignored the memories and imagination that choked the space.  

The response was almost immediate after Donnie knocked, “This ain’t Fort Knox, just let ya-self in.” He said that every time. 

Donnie’s father ripped off his half-circle glasses as soon as Donnie timidly pushed open the door. ‘When did he start to need reading glasses?’ 


“Hey dad,” again Donnie interrupted before the old name could finish. 

“I didn’t think—” 

“I’m here,” Donnie sang weakly, opening his arm for a hug. His father stood from his desk and closed the gap. They stood there for a long minute. AXE deodorant was the first thing scent that had been able to overwhelm the bizarre, slightly-too-old-to-be-eaten vegetable smell. Donnie sighed. His father’s arms were the closest thing to home that The Mustard Seed could ever claim. “I’m sorry—” the words broke them apart. 

“Don’t you worry about that,” Donnie’s father said, though he clearly had been. 

When did he get so many wrinkles around the eyes?’ 

“Hard not to,” Donnie confessed, “We’re not on the best terms, but she’s still my mother.” 

“That’s what I was gonna lead with,” his father sighed, shutting his eyes. He walked around the desk and picked up a few loose leaf papers, “It might be good for you to talk to her. She’s been struggling.” 

“She’s been struggling like that my whole life.” 

“It’s taken a turn for the worse. And now with this…” his voice tightened like a guitar string tuned too tight, about to snap. 

“Hey, that’s not your fault.” 

He handed over the papers, an admission of guilt in spite of Donnie’s words. Each was covered in bold words. EVICTION NOTICE. 


“They found black mold in the walls. It’s not safe to run a restaurant here.” 

“So why are you still— why don’t you just close it down for a week and clean it?” 

Donnie’s father shook his head, “You don’t understand. It’s everywhere. In the walls behind the wall paper under the floorboards—” then he hissed so softly Donnie almost missed it, “Under the skin.” 


“Nothing,” his father blinked. “This has been a hard hit for the whole family. You know how much we love this place. It’s almost as old as the state. There’s never been a time when our family wasn’t intertwined with The Mustard Seed.” 

“Maybe you can move to a new location.” 

“It wouldn’t be the same. And besides, that’s the problem.” 

“How so?” 

“Your mother won’t leave.” 

“My moth— my mother won’t leave the mold infested haunted house?” 

His father frowned, “Where did you get the word haunted?” 

From his childhood. Donnie shook his head, “Why are you letting her stay here? Why is The Mustard Seed even still open?” 

“I’m gonna make the announcement soon—” 

“Soon? Dad, you’re poisoning these people.” 

“I can’t just shut down!” he snapped, then sighed, “I just need a little more time. A little more money to make sure your mother can still be comfortable. But first I have to convince her to leave at all.” 

“Does The Mustard Seed really matter that much to her?” Donnie asked. 

“More than life. I haven’t been able to talk a word of sense into her. I— I’ve been staying in the motel down the road. I told her we both should, to limit our exposure, you know? But she’s locked herself upstairs.” 

“Wait, literally?” 

He nodded. 

“God dad, and you haven’t done anything?” 

“What do you expect me to do?” 

“Break down the door!” 

“I can’t—” 

“Jesus. I’ll get her down. Then both of you have to promise to leave, shut down the restaurant and figure all this out,” Donnie let the door swing shut behind him. 

Upstairs the wallpaper was overwhelming, the pattern even seeping up onto the ceiling. The pattern was difficult to follow, overlapping yet never seeming to repeat the same way twice. Leaves swirled across the wallpaper like they’d been caught in a strong gust. Bulbs of darker toned berries clumped every so often. Every so often the pattern would almost make something similar to a face, staring out at him. Pareidolia. Donnie ran his fingers along the paper as he walked up the steps. When he was younger he would do the same thing. Until… 

The witching hour had never been a mere hour to him, but more of a period of the night, anywhere from midnight to three am, depending on how deep the darkness shrouded that night. Donnie had stayed curled up under the covers, throat so dry from thirst he’d occasionally cough. He wouldn’t move till the clock hit 3:01. That broke the spell the witching hour had cast, at least, according to childhood magic rules. 

He crawled down the steps, supporting himself with the wall instead of the railing. Soft pink fingers trailed the lines of the wallpaper pattern as they’d done a thousand times before. Only this time, he felt fingertips on the other side of the paper pushing back with equal pressure. He’d frozen on the sixth step. His eyes had barely adjusted to the dark, but it was just enough to make out the hand wrapped in wallpaper like a glove. Wrapping its fingers around his like a bosom friend or a playground buddy. Its grip tightened. Donnie’s breath quickened. Strangely he never thought to scream. The tighter the grip became the less it became like a friend and the more it shifted to be the same way his mother grabbed his hand with her eagle claws when he was ‘embarrassing her’.  

The sixth step had a creak to it. Donnie’s combat boot clad foot made the creak exaggerate even more than it had that night when he’d finally made a break for it. He closed his eyes, and pulled his fingers away from the wall. He was an adult, but the shrieks and sounds of ripping wallpaper as the pattern swirled and shifted in the moonlight were difficult to push aside as a childish nightmare. Especially when the wallpaper was peeled and hanging limp from the walls the next morning.  

Haunted. This Mustard Seed, named after something meant to be holy, was nothing but haunted.Why his parents would continue to live here was beyond him. Why his mother would refuse to leave now even more so. Maybe The Mustard Seed planted something inside them all, and the roots ran too deep to ever truly sever. 

There was a note taped to the door. “Do Not Disturb.” To be frank, Donnie couldn’t care less about the request as he knocked on the door. 

“Mom? Mom?” He drew the word out the second time, then waited. The door to the master bedroom was scarred with scratches from the middle down. They dug so deep into the wood that the pale insides were exposed. The rest of the door was dark brown, swallowing any light the flickering and whining bulb cast towards it. The floor leading up to the door was scratched and gouged too, as if someone had been dragged and fought with supernatural terror and strength to not be stolen away. 

Something was skulking behind the door.  

The victim or the one incurring the violence?’ Strange thought. Obviously it was his mother. This house was already getting to him. Donnie shook both his head and his shoulders as if to shake off the feeling of the walls closing in. He rolled his neck and took a deep breath to shake off the feeling that every breath was a particle of black mold infesting, festering in his lungs the longer he consumed the cursed air. ‘How could they do this? They should’ve shut down The Mustard Seed. They at least shouldn’t have let innocent kids like Mariah get pulled into it.’  

With this anger at the injustice balled in his fist, Donnie knocked on the door, “Mom I know you’re in there. Come on, it’s time to go.” 

The skulking stopped. This, at least, proved she could hear him. 

“It’s me, Mom. Donnie?” 

More skulking, approaching, “Donna?” 

Donnie sighed, stuffing his hands into his pockets, “No mom. Donn-ie. Donnie.” 

She sniffed, and though Donnie couldn’t see her through the door he could imagine the way her nose wrinkled with disapproval, “So you still haven’t repented yet.” 

“This isn’t about that. You need to come downstairs. Dad’s got a nice hotel room for you and him to stay at till—” 

Screeching and skulking and scratching against the door with such viciousness that the scars on the architecture that surrounded him suddenly made a lot more sense. Donnie jumped back. This wasn’t. This was wrong. He and his mother may have never truly liked each other, but she’d never behaved like this. He hesitated at the door, muttered a curse, then hurried back towards the stairs. 

Donnie and his father bumped into each other on the sixth step. Donnie swore again from the shock, “Dad, what the hell?” 

“What’s going on?” 

“Your wife is flipping out. You have to do something about this.” 

“Hold on,” he held his hands up, “Let’s just wait till things calm down then we can both try to talk to her.” 


Things did not calm down. Mariah came up around ten o’clock at the end of her shift. Her face shifted from tired to concerned the second she rounded the corner. 

“What’s going on?” 

“Go home, Mariah,” Donnie’s father sighed. They’d both sat backs pressed against the door as she scratched and pounded against the wood. Occasionally she would pause, but any time either of them spoke she started up again. 

“Do I need to call the cops?” Mariah asked. 

Donnie’s father raised both hands, elbows still resting on his knees, “No, no she’s done this before. She’ll tire herself out before long.” 

Donnie turned to his dad, “She’s done this before?” 

“You see why I haven’t been able to make her leave.” 

“Oh my god. You know what? Leave. Mariah, dad, both of you leave.” Both objected, but Donnie was done. This had gone on long enough, “Dad, you’re only enabling her. Mariah, you don’t need to be here for this. So leave otherwise I will call the cops. Then no one’s happy.” 

There was silence after they left, as if his mother was also pacified by their exits. Slowly the volume rose again till Donnie could make out the mutterings, “But in the places where it isn’t faded and where the sun is just so I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design.” 

“Wait is that… is that The Yellow Wallpaper?” 

“You’ve read it?” Her voice was hoarse from the hours of screaming. 

“For English class, yeah.” 

“How would you interpret the main character’s plight? Madness, postpartum depression?” The lock clicked.  

It took everything in Donnie not to jump to his feet. He rose slowly. He turned the door knob at a tortoise pace. She’d actually unlocked it. He pressed forward, “What other way is there? It’s all laid out pretty cleanly.” 

Mother trailed her fingers along the wall, “What if the narrator was telling the truth?”  

The room was even worse than the hall. The bedsheets were strewn about the same way an artist covers the floors before beginning to paint. The chair Donnie’s mother had read bedtime stories in was knocked to its side on the ground.  

The wallpaper was shredded, peeled from the wall wherever it could be. Parts of the walls were even broken into. Some holes were large enough to fit a person, others barely large enough to fit a hand through. The skeleton of the house. Insulation and other guts of the house were dropped to the floor near the holes. In the far back the black mold clung to the wood, rotting this haunted house from the inside out. 

“I’m sure in her mind it was.” 

His mother swayed, then stumbled over to the far side of the bed, “A non-believer to the very end.” By contrast, Mother had always been the perfect blend of hyper-religious, hyper-vigilant, and hyped up on superstitions, “There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down… Up and down and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere… The outside pattern is a florid arabesque, reminiscent of a fungus. If you can imagine a toadstool in joints, an interminable string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless convolutions…” 

“You know they filled old houses like these with asbestos.” 

“These walls aren’t filled with asbestos, yet there is a poison here nonetheless,” Donnie’s mother bent down. When she rose she held a three-cord rope of wallpaper wound together. 

“The black mold—” 

But that’s not what she’d been referring to, “I know what you are, my belladonna daughter—” she moved closer. 

“I’m not your daughter,” he stepped backwards. 

“My belladonna boy,” she spat the word so venomously, Donnie couldn’t help but flinch. “You are the nightshade in this innocent family line. No more. No more. I’ll trim the vine. Prune this family tree, just as the Good Lord commands.” 

His mother had the element of surprise, and the days of being pent up here to plan. She knocked Donnie to the ground, her emaciated frame shockingly strong as she held him down and wrapped the wallpaper around his throat. No matter how he thrashed and scratched at her arms, she persisted. 

His mother continued to quote in the same hoarse voice, “For you can only see it in certain lights, and not clearly even then. But in the places where it isn’t faded and where the sun is just so— I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design… the bloated curves and flourishes… in great slanting waves of optic horror…” 

“Mom—” he begged, barely able to squeeze the word from his larynx. Mama’s got a baby and its head popped off. Morbid chants of childhood, echoing, echoing. 

“That is why I watch it always. By moonlight… I wouldn’t know it was the same paper. At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight… all those strangled heads and bulbous eyes and waddling fungus growths just shriek with derision!” 

As his vision doubled and blackened Donnie understood. His view shifted past his attacker to the walls surrounding him, his soon to be grave. They undulated and shifted. Something pressed against the wallpaper where it was still intact. Hands and arms, wickedly skinny and all reaching inward towards mother and son. Faces peered out too, mouths agape with shrieks of derision, just as she’d said. Then an actual hand reached through the parts of the wall that were exposed like bone protruding from an open fracture. It was pale as bone, fingers twisting in strange habits and patterns till they finally curled around the edges of the wall. It pulled itself through, and in the same instant all the other faces and body parts retracted. There was an eerie silence. His mother’s grip loosened but did not relent. The sudden shock of cold and silence seeped into his limbs and mind all at once. All he could do was watch. 

“I am The Nightshade.” Its body was feminine, a paper mache girl marked from head to toe in the same pattern as the wallpaper. Her eyes were a blank white. Her hair was the same fuzzy appearance as the black mold. Its mouth was incapable of shifting, locked in the same expression and only speaking by opening and shutting like a marionette, “That which you accuse your own child of being, but denied the existence of in your own soul. My poison will choke the life out of you. Choke the soul out of you.” Without another word it lunged forward. It grabbed the ‘rope’ Donnie’s mother had fashioned. Being made of the same material it responded to its touch and slacked even as his mother’s grip grew furious. The Nightshade lifted the rope away from Donnie’s neck. Donnie collapsed to the ground, coughing and choking even more despite the fact that he could finally breathe. Donnie rolled onto his back, unable to do anything but stand witness as the wallpaper rope moved of its own violition. It slunk towards his mother, who skulked back till she was pressed against the far wall. It shot forward, wrapping around her arms. A third piece peeled off the wall, twisted itself towards her throat. Donnie closed his eyes, but could do nothing to stop the strangled coughs and pleas. The silence, however, was undoubtedly the most peace and the most fear he’d ever felt all at once. 

The Nightshade concealed within The Mustard Seed all along raised his chin, “Would you like to join me? The walls have always invited you in. You will be safe.” 

Donnie hesitated, from a lack of oxygen and a lack of belief that this was truly happening. Then he found himself weakly nodding. The Nightshade nodded with the same lulling rhythm, then guided his head back to the floor. 

It stood, and raised a finger. The viperous wallpaper strands wrapped around his limbs. A mummification. A salvation. A warm blanket and a kiss goodnight from the haunted house that had loved him more than the other inhabitants ever seemed to. This was not choking. This was becoming. The paper that wrapped his body warped and faded away, leaving behind the texture of paper and pattern of leaves and belladonna berries on his skin like a strange tattoo. 

 “Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time,” The Nightshade whispered. The closing lines of The Yellow Wallpaper, and the closing lines of Donnie’s consciousness as the wallpaper swallowed him whole.