Forgotten Garden

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It’s the height of summer.  Clouds blanket the sky and thunder rumbles on the horizon.  Bees are hurrying, working hard, preparing for the coming rain.  The air is warm and still, smelling like grass and dirt and clouds about to burst.

The day is speaking, gentle and firm, in a language that gardens love.

I live here in the forgotten garden, surrounded by tall stone walls and an iron gate, covered over time in clinging vines and moss.  The people who made this place loved it, that much I know, but what happened to them is left to speculation.  People haven’t seen this place for a long time since.

Green leaves turn up to the sky, some folding in on themselves in anticipation of rain, as they continue producing oxygen and releasing it to the air.  Such a normal behavior, and yet, different than the leaves outside these walls.  Different, in that here is the only place I can breathe.

This garden does more than grow.  It reaches out with thin stems and trembling leaves.  Its roots pull in what it needs and then a little extra to pass along.  It makes the kind of air that has been lost to the world, and gives it to any creature that happens by, such as myself.

A dying nymph, lost without her forest.

I cannot leave this garden without losing the air that keeps me alive.  These walls hold me in as much as keep others out.  I find it to be a rather pleasant fate; if I cannot have my forest, then give me a garden such as this and I will be happy.

It is beautiful here, and I work hard to keep it that way.

Rows of lavender crowd the winding paths on either side, clusters of tiny purple flowers hugging their pin-straight stems, smelling like lazy evenings and soft smiles.  I like to weave them into my hair.

There is an arbor tunnel made of something lasting, but what exactly I cannot tell, as it is completely covered in dripping vines of honeysuckle.  The entangled honeysuckle shades the path beneath it while smelling like sugar and mischief.  Its vines like to play a game with me, where they wander off and try to take over the rest of the garden, and I stop them from growing anywhere that isn’t their arbor.  There is no winner to the game, for they were made to grow and I was made to tend and neither of us wish to deny our nature.

Near the center of the garden is a small fish pond with a cascading fountain, the stones surrounding it concealed by a deep, soft carpet of moss.  The fish swim in flashes of bright reds and yellows and blues.  I’ve given each one a name in the language of the forest, and I think they’ve named me in the language of the river.  If I ever see a river nymph again, I will ask to know what they have named me.

Trees are scattered throughout the garden, and I love each one as dearly as if they had grown in my own forest.  There’s a weeping willow near the fish pond, large and old and gentle, with swaying branches that brush the ground.

There are several dogwoods that stopped growing when they were not much taller than me, their slender branches stretching out like the arms of a ballerina, and they burst with creamy four-petaled flowers every spring.

The crabapple is a gnarly old tree nearest to the iron gate, and its deeply pink blossoms fill each crook and knot of its branches, giving it a strange, wild sort of beauty.  It told me its name once, a name too difficult to pronounce even in the language of the forest, and I think if it had a human form it would be smirking at me.

Two snowbell trees stand together by an old stone bench, their branches spread wide and tangling with each other, their white clusters of flowers looking wintery and calm.  I like to sit on that bench when they are in full bloom, letting the white petals fall onto my hair and shoulders.

Thunder rolls quietly through the air, closer than ever, the clouds overhead heavy with anticipation.  I am waiting to see a lightning flash, because that is what nymphs wish upon, and I have a wish for the stormy sky today.

I wish for a gentle, curious soul to wander across the iron gate and climb it.  I wish for them to fall in love with this garden as I have.  I wish for their company, for their wonder, for their hand in mine as I show them around.

Electricity pricks at my skin, and a raindrop hits my cheek.  A lost forest nymph, rescued by a forgotten garden, wishing on the first lightning flash of a midsummer storm.

It is beautiful here.

I wish with all my might that I could share it.

Crayons and Walls

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I’d finally gotten it, my own small house with simple white walls and soft carpet.  I had organized bookshelves and color-coded food containers and silverware that isn’t missing spoons.  I had clean windows and a shiny kitchen and a place for everything I had.

I also got something else, something unexpected that came with the house.

I got a ghost.

He messes up my food containers.  He puts my potato masher in different drawers and gets it stuck there.  Once, he threw flour all over the bedroom.  I’ll still find it in cracks and corners.  He’ll pull books off their shelves and leave them on the floor, on the couch, on the counter, on the bathroom sink.  I have to sort through my mail quickly or else it gets strewn under my dining table.

One day, he started drawing on my white couches.

I had tried nearly everything to get him to stop, but nothing worked.  The couches, though, my beautiful couches, pulled me to my last resort.  I desperately hoped that it would work.

That next evening, I came home with three 64-count packs of crayons and a bucket.  I could already see that my kitchen was a wreck again, but I would deal with that later.

My ghost usually avoids me, because I yell at him about the messes he makes, but as I started dumping crayons into the bucket, I could feel his curiosity pulling closer.  It was as if he were trying to peer over my shoulder.

I dumped all of them into the bucket.  All 192 of them.  He was definitely close then, and I started speaking calmly and clearly while I had his attention. “These are your crayons.  You can have the walls and color on them all you want, but if you touch anything else, I’m taking away the crayons.” My beautifully clean white walls.  This is the price I would pay for my sanity. “Please, just let me have some peace, I’m willing to trade.”

With that, I sat down at my dining table to sort through bills.  I heard rummaging in the crayon bucket, and when I looked up, my ghost was drawing.  The rubbing sound of crayon against the wall was enough to make me cringe.  Taking a deep breath, I focused on the bills and told myself it was only a wall, and my kitchen and bedroom and books were safe.

We spent the evening like that, and when I was finished with my work I braced myself to look at the wall.

He’d drawn balloons and golden sunflowers near the floor, bright and messy but in a way that someone might want to have it as wallpaper, if it weren’t done in crayon.  Higher up, he’d drawn books.  Stacked and scattered, some open and some closed, colored in solid blacks and browns and blues.  I walked over to look at them, and after a quiet moment, my ghost picked up a red crayon and drew a question mark over an open brown page.

“You probably wouldn’t find most of my books interesting.” I told him.

The crayon dropped back into the bucket.

When I came home the next day, I set down my bags and went straight to the wall he’d been coloring.  He’d drawn boxes of different colors, all stacked on top of each other to make a precarious looking tower.  It took me a while of staring before I realized they were my food containers he liked to take out.  Blue and orange stars spread across most of the wall, almost managing to tie the different drawings into one sort-of integrated piece.

I went back to the bags I’d brought home and pulled out a couple story books. “I got these, you might like them.” I set them on the table. “I can read one to you tonight.”

There was a phantom breeze that wafted past, and then my ghost pulled out a red crayon and drew a heart next to his drawing of a stack of books.  A strangely nervous smile pulled the corners of my mouth. “Okay then.” I said.

That night, I read one of the books to a mostly empty room.  I wasn’t quite sure if he was actually there until the end.  As I rose to put away the book, he drew another red heart on the wall.

Next, he drew my potato masher, and I realized it had been forever since I’d made mashed potatoes.  I told him I would show him how I used it, and another red heart appeared on the wall.

He drew stacks of papers and a couple envelopes, and I told him most of them were bills and ads.  Still, when I opened the mail, I started explaining what each envelope held and why I was throwing them away.  Another red heart appeared on the wall.

He drew music notes, and I started to wonder what kind of music he liked.  I branched out and started playing all sorts of music, watching for the little red hearts.  Searching through music I didn’t normally listen to, I found I liked a lot more than I thought.

It had been a long time since I just danced for the fun of it.

I started narrating most of my day out loud, and my walls became more and more covered in waxy colors.  I’ve found I don’t mind them that way, not when they tell me a story.  Not when the story is speckled in red hearts.

One evening, I found my ghost coloring on the hallway walls, and I thought about how it would feel to run the crayons across the walls.  It was a sort of forbidden thing, but they were my walls, and they were being colored anyway, and maybe it would be fun.

I sat down next to the bucket, and my ghost paused his drawing.  Before I could ask if I could join, he’d pulled out a purple crayon and dropped it in my lap.

The hallway has one of my favorite walls now.

I sometimes wonder how I’d lived before, without this color in my life.  Comfortably, sure, with a routine and calm days and white walls.  I still have some of that, but with little nudges to try something else or to rethink why, keeping everything from becoming dull.

And I think, now, I’m a little less lonely.  There’s always a bit of curiosity somewhere near my elbow or scribbling on my wall.

Sometimes, that’s exactly what I need.

Cave Echoes

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Kenny’s got my hand and he’s holding it tight.  I have a hard time keeping up with his long strides, but I know he won’t leave me behind.  I’m lost already, but Kenny isn’t, he says we’re going to the river.  He didn’t say where we’ll go when we get there.  I hope he isn’t thinking of trying to swim.

There’s always something on the ground to trip me up, so I don’t look up as we run, but I can hear the rushing of water.  We’re close.

It’s louder that I thought it would be.

The ground is getting rocky, and tree roots arch out like they didn’t expect the dirt to end.  My ears are filled with a terrible roaring sound, and there is mist in the air.  I look up for just a moment, my breath catching at the sight of rocky cliffs and the waterfall pouring over them.

“Careful Meg,” Kenny tells me, “rocks are slippery.  We can’t rush.”

My legs feel like jelly.  We’ve been rushing the whole way here, but I don’t want to slip on the rocks.  I hold tight to Kenny’s hand and follow him as we get closer to the rushing, pounding, roaring waterfall.

The spray of mist is all around me, soaking my hair and clothes as Kenny pulls me right behind the curtain of water.  I can’t hear what he’s saying to me, but I can see now that the rock cliff has a cave behind the waterfall, and it’s the best hiding spot for us.  As we go deeper, the crashing of water dims to a small, constant noise and I can once again hear other things.

The cave ends in a rounded out room that is lit up by the faint glow of some sort of lacy moss hanging from the ceiling.  The room is not as cold as I expected it to be, as if the rock around us has soaked in the sunlight and had nowhere else to put its warmth.  I finally let my hand slip out of Kenny’s grip while we look around.

Lining most of the wall are yellow flowers that look like roses, except they couldn’t be.  They are growing straight out of rock and away from the sun, but they don’t look any different and smell exactly like roses.  The floor is yellow from their petals falling and resting on the damp stone year after year.

There’s an old bookshelf leaning slightly to the left, and it holds a collection of rocks and unused candlesticks and keys of all shapes and sizes.  A pleasant steady beat of a ticking clock echoes around us, punctuated by the occasional drip of water from the cave ceiling.

I start exploring the rose bushes, brushing my fingers over their soft yellow petals, my heart slowing to a normal beat.  Kenny is looking at the shelves, rummaging through the collectibles and then at the case itself, reaching his hand to feel the top and twisting around to peer behind it.

I want to have these flowers in my hair.  They smell like sugar and springtime and laughter, and I so want those things to stay with me always.  I check the stems for thorns, but there doesn’t seem to be any.

Kenny moves on to looking through the bushes, but he doesn’t seem to be looking at the flowers.  I sit cross-legged on the cave floor and start picking roses.  Their stems are too thick to weave into my hair, but maybe I can keep a bouquet with me when it’s safe to leave.

“We shouldn’t stay here.”

I look up and Kenny is standing next to me, looking worried.  I hold the flowers I’ve picked in one hand while I use the other to stand up too. “We can’t go, they’re still looking for us.”

“I don’t like it here, we need to go.” his eyes are darting around, as if he can hear our pursuers in the echoes of our voices.

“We can’t go yet.” I say, “They’ll catch us for sure.”

“Meg!  Look around, what do you see?”

Frowning, I look around.  Kenny didn’t get scared.  The closest he got to scared was when we had to run.  This is a good hiding spot, why would he want to go back out while they are looking for us? “I see smooth cave walls, dangling moss, yellow roses, and a bookshelf.”

“What do you hear?” Kenny is watching me now, and I can see that he’s properly scared.  It’s making me uneasy.

I sigh and close my eyes, trying to shake the feeling and listen for whatever has Kenny spooked. “I hear the waterfall, my voice,” I tilt my head, listening hard. “A clock ticking, and your feet shuffling on the ground.”

“Where’s the clock, Meg?”

I turned towards the bookcase and open my eyes, frowning at the shelves.  That’s where I’d put a clock, if I had one.  There isn’t anywhere else to put one but the cave floor.

“It’s so loud, it has to be right next to us.  But there isn’t one.”

I turn back to Kenny. “Well maybe it’s–”

He isn’t there.  My heart stops dead as I spin in a circle. “Kenny?”

“Where’s the clock, Meg?”

I turn again, his voice an echo bouncing from every wall.  I hadn’t heard his feet move.  He had been right next to me, and even now his voice is right by my ear.

I reach out my hand, but he isn’t where he’s supposed to be.  All I see are yellow roses and lacey moss.  All I feel is rock beneath my feet and flower stems pressing my skin as I squeeze them tightly. “Kenny?”

His voice is still here. “Where’s the clock?”

The clock is gone.

I need to leave, but I don’t.  I’m not sure I can.

Kenny is gone.

Day and Night

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Our city is one of two in the same space.

Let me explain.

There are the day dwellers, and there are the night dwellers.  We do not cross paths, we are strangers to the other.  I do not know why.  Our laws were made long before I was born, and their reasoning was lost even longer ago.

I am of the people of the night, in the city called Kef.  Our life is lanterns and music, venders and firepits, dancing and whispers.  We work and play and sometimes we blur the lines between the two because they look so similar in the flickering light.

The grey hours before dawn is when we scramble into the shadows before the sun can burn us. 

They say that’s what happens. I don’t know how the day dwellers survive it. I imagine their skin is red and scarred.

I imagine their eyes are blinded.

I’m told the sun sets in a flaming sky, and the haze of dusk is the smoke left behind.  At day we draw our curtains and close our eyes to the light that pierces through the cracks.  At dusk we wake, and we don’t dare open the curtains until the darkness truly settles.  We do not venture into the dawn.  We do not set foot in the day.

I am breaking that rule today.

 

* * *

 

There is a city within my city that I have never known.

Let me explain.

There are those who live in the day, and those who live in the night.  Neither knows the other.  They cannot.  It is law.

I’ve always wondered why.

I am of the people of the day, and ours is the city of Heliol.  When I look down from my apartment I see flowers and hats and carts milling in a kaleidoscopic mass.  We trade goods and whistle on our way to work and call out to each other from across the block, because why wait to start a conversation when you can already see each other?

When the sunset spreads over the sky before dusk, we hurry home before the darkness can pull us in.

They say darkness is cold, and it never lets go.  They say the shadows hide monsters of claws and teeth.  I want to know what kind of people would live in it.  I imagine their skin to be blue from the cold.

I imagine their hands have sharp claws.

I’m told the night sky holds thousands of flames, but that not one of them warms the earth.  At night we close our blinds and hope that sleep comes before the darkness sets in.  We wake at dawn, but we wait until the first rays of light peek between the blinds before opening them.  Since I was old enough to be sung lullabies, I knew not to step into the faded world of dusk.  We do not wander into the night.

I am breaking that rule tonight.

 

* * *

 

My heart is pounding, each beat asking me why I didn’t listen to it sooner.  Dawn is lighting up the sky, and I’m the last one left scrambling down the street for the safety of home.  I was out far too late.  Home is still blocks away, and the sunrise has already begun, lighting the once-dark and comforting sky with flames of color.

I’m out of breath, and I know I won’t make it.  The first rays of light will come down any minute and burn me.  I duck off the street and head into the still-darkened end of an alley.  Perhaps the light won’t reach me here.  

Perhaps I can sleep somewhere and wake again in the comfort of night.

 

* * *

 

My blinds are still open.  I’m waiting in my room for the city to go to sleep, and I can’t stop watching as the last of us scramble to get home.  The sun is setting, turning clouds pink and orange against a fading blue sky, and I can’t tear my eyes away.  My breathing is fast and nervous.  We do not step foot into the night.

Not until me.

The sky fades into dusk and into a world I’ve only ever shut my eyes to.  I wonder how much of it is something I will be able to see, even with my eyes wide open.  The streets are still, and darkness falls upon them like a featherlight blanket.  Maybe I’m scared.  I would know if I were paying attention.  I grab a jacket and slip out of my room.

Maybe the night has always called out to me, and I am finally answering.

 

* * *

 

Everything is so bright.  I’m still hidden in shadow, but it is only a faint echo of what shadows should be.  Noises are rising from the street, the sounds of voices and cart wheels and bells.  I haven’t dared to look towards the commotion.  Doing so would mean poking my head out of this fragile remnant of a shadow and exposing it to the light that burns.

I am wide awake.

I am shaking.

I cannot stay like this, waiting forever for the day to be over.

There is nothing for it.  Not in my mind.  I lift a hand out into the light, wincing in anticipation.  Waiting for the heat and pain and regret.

Instead, nothing happens.  I stare at my hand, then cautiously peek out from my hiding place, letting the light hit my face for the first time.  It is warm, but only barely.  Lighter than the warmth of a hearth fire.

And beyond the alley . . .

Their skin is not red and scarred.  Their skin is not pale like mine, either.  They are . . . they are . . .

They are colors and detail and contrast.

I step out a bit further.

 

* * *

 

The city is washed in a shade of deepest blue.  Edges and corners blur into their surroundings.  People are once again filling the street; their skin is pale, but I do not see claws or fangs.  They carry lanterns, big and small, warm flickering light amongst the blues and purples of night.  I am afraid that if I move I will break this moment.

I am dreaming.

I am breathless.

I need to join them before they fade away.

It is not as cold as I thought it would be.  The night is still, and the warmth of the day seems to linger in the ground and buildings around us.  I take a few steps to the edge of the street before stopping in wonder.

The sky holds thousands of lights.

I’m not sure if the sky has ever felt so vast before now.  The lights twinkle and shine, clusters of them filling every space that isn’t blocked by a cloud.  I swear I saw one move, flashing in a streak of light and then disappearing so fast that I couldn’t be sure I hadn’t imagined it.

Slowly, I lower my eyes, and before me . . .

Flickering light beckons to me.  Soft music streams by my ears.

This is . . . this is . . .

This is soft and vast and hidden.

I slip into the street.

 

* * *

There are so many blooming plants, their petals open and exposed to the gentle breeze.  I hear people calling out to each other from across the street, some only making a passing remark before carrying on, leaving their friend to laugh as they part.  Everyone is known here.  Everyone is seen.

*

The music is coming from an open fire, and no one notices as I watch, swaying to the medley.  I hear whispers all around me, but it’s as if they are coming from the wind itself, disembodied and entrancing.  A few others are dancing, and I realize I can join them.  They don’t care who I am.  I’m just me.

*

An elderly woman nods to me with a warm smile, and a gentleman says ‘good morning’ as I pass by.  It is as if I could stop and have a chat with anyone I come by.  I want to try it.  I want to talk in more than whispers.

*

I am floating, I am flying, there is music and laughter and dancing and nothing else.  I reach out, and someone takes my hand.  We dance together, not a word spoken, but I feel in my heart that we could be friends.  I don’t want to stop.

*

I call out a greeting to a vendor as I approach, and he leans on his cart to ask me about my day.  Just like that, I’m having a chat, and it is open and joking and warm.

*

The music ends and begins again and again, pushing and pulling at us to dance and watch the flames and dance again.  Someone whispers hello and I whisper back, and we say nothing else.  There’s no need to.

*

The day is not nearly as long as I thought it was.

*

I look up, and realize the lights in the sky are fading.

*

I don’t know,

I’m not sure,

I think I might,

But could I,

Want to–

Just for a while–

Stay.