Letting Life Lead
I lost my heart. Not figuratively — literally.
It’s such an odd thing to lose.
I cannot tell how much time passed since the last I felt it thump in my chest, quicken at the thought of tender kisses, or race with fright. Before I died, I never gave it a thought and after I could think of little else. My mind still feels love, anger, fear, happiness, and despair. Pale and thin, but there. I remember joy, but I haven’t the heart to speak of it.
Long ago, wry jokes amused me.
Despair is my companion now that Alvin, my dog, lies dead in my lap. My fault; my punishment. I befriended the young man, a squatter in the great wood, at the south gate beyond the two gardens. The gates’ twelve foot, arm-thick black bars — a mere hand width apart — forbade passage. He’d pay me with stories from the world outside and I brought food and comforts.
My parents caught me. I was too free and forgotten all they’d sacrificed, they said. We scuffled. I ripped the key from my father’s neck and ran to the front gates determined to find my way alone. I turned the lock — the metal grated. My dog’s frantic yelps cut me. My hands turned white.
They took Alvin. I hadn’t meant to summon the beast.
I have no more tears for the blood-soaked, black fur. I found all of him. I brought every piece to the Sleeping Garden, a fitting place to die and be buried. Alvin liked to roll in the mud under the wrought iron arbor where dozens of sleeping clematis vines wove in and out of themselves. Birds nested in the dry bramble and vermin dug deep dens. Naked stems bled green when cut, the dark humus teemed with worms, beetles, and larvae. I dug a hole, laid his flesh, and curled myself upon the mound.
Alvin and I never walked in the Rose Garden — where ever-green stems birthed perfect blossoms and unchanging grass carpeted the ground. No flying, crawling or walking creatures lived there. Weeds never passed the borders and no ivy touched the white rose arbor.
My hands were still white and my parents had gone. They could not stop me now. I put the blade of a sharpened piece of rusted metal to my throat and stabbed. I expected to suffer as my best friend suffered. Though parted from his limbs, he drew his last breaths over his undug grave.
I feared nothing.
“The corpse flower blooms,” a gravelly voice said.
The stench of sweat socks, Limburger cheese, rotten fish, feces, and the underlying scent of sweet flowers wafted from the center of the garden. The ministrations of thousands of carrion beetles, flesh flies, and creatures attracted to decomposition chorused like summer cicadas. I ignored them; I only wanted death.
“Your life is not yours to give.”
The shiv fell from the wound that never was. I shrieked curses.
The creature hunkered a breath away in a black cloak. Its great muzzle, full of dagger-sharp teeth that shone like crystal, twitched. A thick, purple tongue licked away sticky drool.
“A life bled here. A sacrifice made. Choose a garden as your parents did or fate will choose for you.”
My parents often walked among the scentless roses — all dead like pretty printed paper.
The creature reeled back, removed its cloak, and revealed a changed face. Ashen with protruding bones and framed by knotted, tar-colored hair. The snout shrunk into a feminine chin, coal teeth, and straight nose. Her dark pupil-less eyes stared and her brows lifted. “Why did you not choose my sister’s garden?”
I didn’t know I had until the she-beast spoke it. “This garden lives,” I said. The rotten decayed until the stench became the clean scent of rich soil. Owls found the feasting tempting though the dry brush gave their prey a fighting chance.
“Your friend will die. They have brought him. I cannot alter their bargain.”
I lay upon the ground and begged it to take me. The color returned to my murderous hands.
“If he gives himself to death in my garden, your heart will be restored. A new bargain may then be struck.”
“I want them both to be free from this place.”
“Then haggle wisely.”
She told me the truth of The Bargain and beast. My parents controlled it. A fury bloomed.
They will pay for the lives they made me destroy.
playing by my own rules
We take the heat 'cause we gotta eat.
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