A bright, midsummer moon lit the clearing. Shadowed fir arms, saggy with cones, swayed over dewy grass. Soft, twisted mushrooms poked above the blades. A lone weed with heavy, chard-like stems grew, alone, in the clearing's center.
A rustling sounded. Beneath the low firs, two heads poked into the clearing, dragged by dirty, flannel elbows. One head, possessed of a grizzled beard, turned to the other: The round face of a young boy.
"There, Tim" whispered the beard, pointing with a dirty, calloused finger.
The boy's brown eyes went wide. "That's it, Pa?"
"Aye. See the dirt piled 'round the stem? That's how ye can tell" said Pa.
"How long's it been growin' here?"
"Didn't grow here, son. Buggers move. Plant 'emselves anew every night. This'n's been roaming the hollow for a month. It's a luck I found it" said Pa.
"Ol' nan says they're terrible dangerous."
"Aye, they are." He looked to his lad. "Got nary a choice, though, son. Need that root to help yer mum, for her pain."
He grimaced, watched the weed closely, eyes asquint. "Just keep a sharp eye on and hold quiet."
For a long while, they lay in the silence and the damp. Dew gathered on their backs. The smell of mushrooms stuck in their throats. A nightjar called, broke the silence just once.
A moth circled the clearing, bobbed drunkenly in the air. It dipped, alit on the weed's waxy stem. A leaf twitched. The moth darted away.
Pa shifted. His eyes grew wild. "Gimme the axe, Tim. S'about to move."
Tim jerked awake from a half doze. He stared, frozen. "Does it know we're here?" he said, panicked.
"Shh, lad. Put yer wax in yer ears and gimme the axe!" whispered pa, hoarse.
Tim shifted on the wet grass, put the handle of a splitting axe to his father's rough palm. "I'm scared, Pa."
"Aye, so am I" said Pa, rising to stand at the clearing's edge.
The weed twitched, began to rise atop a dome of shifting soil. Dirt dribbled to the grass, revealing first a skew-jawed skull, vertebrae, clavicles.
A skeletal thing straightened in the moonlight. Soil sloughed from its frame, equal parts twined root and ragged flesh. The weed wobbled atop its cracked skull. Spongy, reddish root-flesh filled the cranium, bulged from empty, broken eye sockets.
Pa hoisted his axe, set a quick pace towards the thing. Boots thumped into soft earth. Teeth gritted under grizzled mustache. Moonlight flashed in the sharpened splitting blade's edge.
The thing jerked, turned to face the charging man. Its jaw dropped, jutted as if to roar.
A click broke the night air, sharp and painful as an icepick to the back of the skull. Pa tumbled, dropped the axe. He clutched his head, bellowed. Runny blood trickled from his eyes and nose.
The skeletal thing stepped over Pa, stooped. It moved in a stilted, contracted manor. It knelt over the man, head-weed drooping. Feelers, like the pale outgrowths of an over-ripe potato, snaked from the slack-slung jaw. Twitching, they felt for his eyes and mouth. Pa moaned, dully, face screwed up, bloody.
There was a sharp crunch. The thing jerked up, whipped its head about. Feelers writhed, furious. A second swing sent the skull rolling to the grass.
Pa peered up, saw his son, axe in hand, silhouetted against the moon.
In the light, they are innocuous weeds; no more interesting than a sprout of burdock. In dark, they are hideous nightwalkers; dangerous as any grue.
To kill, mandrakes utilize an ability unique to their species. The root, when conjoined with a human body, possesses the ability to project a powerful infrasonic attack, so powerful as to incapacitate any human. This attack, colloquially known as the mandrake's "scream," is nothing like an actual scream. It is perceived only as a single, terrible piercing of the skull. A single painful note, describable as a "click."
If a target is not totally incapacitated by the mandrake's scream, it may be easily dispatched by the creature in melee, given it's weakened state.
Some individuals, out of concern for tradition, refuse to hunt mandrakes. It is believed ælves keep mandrakes as garden pets. to kill one would be to incite the wrath of an ælf (an idea many Northerners dread.)
Though few know it, ælves are attracted to the scent of Mandragora serum. Throughout history, many a patient, an addict, or a lover has complained of visions of ælves. To ease their suffering, they consume more. Unbeknownst to them, the mandrake's milk only worsens their plight.