The Gardener, page 1
MichelleDePaepe on Amazon
Copyright © 2010 by MichelleDePaepe
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Opal Peabody stood on the porch of the old Blake house, a Victorian castle complete with a round Queen Anne turret and gingerbread trim. Her stomach felt queasy, and she wondered why in the world she had stage fright after thirty years of doing séances for folks in the small town of Calathia, Kansas.
She clutched her leather bag embroidered with velvet stars with sweaty hands and rocked on the heels of her granny boots as she rang the doorbell a second time and waited for VirginiaBlake to answer.
Then, she brushed damp salt and pepper hair away from the rims of her thick glasses, rolled up her sleeves, and cursed her choice of the long-sleeved purple tunic over her plump body on this miserably hot evening.
A few seconds later, Virginia opened the door.
Opal laughed as she saw wide-eyed fear on the old woman’s face. “You look as if Satan himself were standing on your porch.”
“I’m sorry,” Virginia said as she glanced out towards the street. “Thank you for coming, Madame.”
“My pleasure, dear,” she said as she walked into the parlor.
Virginia fingered the white hairs trickling out of her bun. Then, she squeezed her hands together and kneaded her arthritic knuckles back and forth like dough. “You haven’t told anyone have you?”
“Never. Anything we do here is between you and me. Now...where shall I set up?”
Virginia ignored the question as the swelling inside of her burst loose. “Henry’s been gone for so long now. You’d think it would get better. But everyday, it just seems to get worse. I’m out in the garden pulling weeds or cuttin’ roses, and I think I hear his old tractor pulling up to the barn. That barn burnt down five years ago, and he’s been gone longer than that. Sometimes, I hear him calling my name, whistling on the wind with that shrill blow he used to call me to the house when the water was boiling, and he was ready for me to run in with the fresh-picked sweet corn.”
Opal nodded and placed a comforting hand on Virginia’s shoulder. She was used to hearing the deepest secrets and longings from her clients. They often trusted her with things that they’d never told another living soul.
“I still dance with him, you know. Sometimes I take his clothes out from the basement and put on some waltz music, and we just twirl and twirl like we used to when we were dating...before we got married and our daughter was born.” Virginia looked down as if the admission was shameful.
“That’s quite alright, dear. Why...just last week, I was talking to—” Opal stopped herself, realizing that she was about to break her client confidentiality. She wandered in to the dining room. “How about here?” she asked as she set her bag down on the cherry wood table.
“That’s fine. Wherever you like.”
She opened her bag, then met Virginia’s spellbound stare. She could see that the woman was overwrought with emotion and needed to be calmed before they started. “That’s a lovely apron.”
Virginia’s cheeks flushed as pink as the embroidered roses on the lace curtains covering the window beside them. She looked down and smoothed her hands over the quilted cotton, a patchwork of paisley, gingham, and various remnants of former dresses. “Thank you. I do a little sewing in the winter when I can’t work out in the gardens.” She began to twist the hem of her apron, wrenching it hard enough to strain the seams. Then, she pressed her fingers up to her lips. “You don’t think I’m crazy, do you?”
"Of course not.” Opal reached out and squeezed her hand. “I’ve done this for many folks in town. You’d be surprised how many of them you might even know.”
“Well, let’s get on with it then. I suppose...I really don’t know how any of this goes.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll walk you through it.” She reached into the bag and took out her tools—a large midnight blue silk scarf, a white tapered candle, a silver-plated lighter, and a bell. “I’ll need a piece of clothing...anything that reminds you of him.”
Opal quickly began to set the table with her spiritual picnic. Her red fingernails flew about like busy ladybugs, and the charms on her silver rings tinkled like tiny wind chimes. Motionless, Virginia seemed mesmerized.
“The sun’s almost set. It’s time.”
“I’ll be right back,” Virginia mumbled as she turned to go upstairs.
A moment later, she returned with a black and white photograph and an old mahogany pipe still sweetly scented with charred tobacco from her dead husband’s last smoke.
“Ahhh...these should work just fine.” Opal picked the photo up and studied the couple sitting on the porch steps. “He was a handsome devil, wasn’t he?”
Virginia smiled as she looked at the photo. “My goodness, yes! That photo was taken shortly after we were married.”
“It looks like the same house behind you.”
“It is. I was born in this house. It’s been in my family for generations.”
Opal looked up at the wood beams in the parlor and the tin ceiling in the kitchen, noticing the antiquity of the home. She coughed and glanced around the room again. “How long did you say it was since Henry passed away?”
“It’s been twenty years this month. I guess the Lord needed him more than me. But, some days that’s just hard to believe. No woman should have to be a widow for such a—”
“Hmmm...I didn’t realize it was that long.” Opal paused. Most of her clients wanted to contact the recently deceased, and she’d had limited success with that. It looked like she was going to have to roll up her sleeves and put on a good show tonight.
Deep crevices appeared on Virginia’s forehead. “Is there something wrong?”
“No. Not at all. Don’t you worry, dear,” she said as she gave Virginia’s hand a quick squeeze from across the table. “I’ve got a good feeling that Henry’s never too far from here...no matter how long its been since he passed.”
She lit the candle with the lighter then rose to switch off a lamp in the living room. As she made her way back to the kitchen table, she glanced at the bay window next to them. There was still a faint sliver of light from the bruised purple and orange sky peeking through the curtains. But, most of the illumination came from the moon, an eerie round reddish eye that seemed to peer in at them with an inquisitive stare. “It should be dark enough now. We can begin.”
Virginia nodded as she sat across from Opal. Her trembling hands gripped the edges of the table, turning her knuckles white.
“Try to calm down, dear. I need you to clear your mind of all negative thoughts.”
“I’ll try,” she said. “But, I’m so nervous. What should I do?”
“Just close your eyes and try to think of your beloved Henry standing right by your side again.”
A girlish giggle escaped from her lips as she squeezed her eyes closed. “Alright...I’ll try.”
From her smile, Opal guessed that she had locked onto a cherished memory. “Shall we begin?”
Opal shook the bell. Then, she took Virginia’s hands and tried t
Sweat oozed between their hands, a product of the warm house and Virginia’s anxiety. Opal began to rock back and forth, her wood chair creaking and groaning with each sway.
She continued chanting as Virginia’s knees began to shake underneath the table. Poor woman. I hope I can give her some peace tonight.
She cracked an eyelid open and saw that Virginia eyes were still squeezed shut. Nevertheless, she continued her routine, fluttering her eyelashes as if she was viewing something far away in a dream. “Henry...” she whispered. “HenryBenjaminBlake.”
“Henry...are you there?” At this point, she normally would have paused for effect, allowing the silence to heighten the thrill of the performance. This was also the time where she had to be the most vigilant. One time, she had almost fallen asleep in the middle of a séance.
But, now she focused her attention on really making something happen as she tried to concentrate on tuning in to the other world, so she could search for Virginia’s husband.
“Do you see him?”
“Not yet.” If there was any chance of actually making contact with this sweet lady’s dead husband...she wanted it to happen. True connections were so terribly rare, but sometimes it worked. She delved deeper into her subconscious to search for some link with the legions of the dead. “Henry...can you hear me?”
Then, something strange occurred.
A shadow passed across her closed eyes as if something had just blocked the light from the candle. She knew it must have come from her dreamlike thoughts and wondered if she was beginning to doze off. She wiggled her toes in her shoes to keep herself alert.
Deep in the recesses of her mind, she saw the dark other world plane. It was a black void, filled with swirls of mist and faceless spirits. She heard moans and disembodied voices, but this was the furthest point that she usually got in the process before the connection drifted away like a leaf floating downstream far out of her reach.
But, there it was again—the shadow. Was it trying to make contact with her?
“Henry...“ she whispered. “Is that you?”
“Can you see him?” Virginia’s voice squeaked like a child.
Opal peeked through her eyelashes and saw a tear dripping down Virginia’s cheek. Her heart bled. “I can see him. He’s in a field of wheat...wearing blue jean overalls. He’s standing next to a tractor with the wind blowing through his hair.”
Virginia was silent for a moment. “But, Henry was bald when he died.”
Opal took a deep breath and continued with her lie. “He’s younger than he was then. I’m seeing an image from earlier in his life.”
“Ohhh,” Virginia gasped. “Can you bring him back? Can I talk to him?”
How could she let this dear woman down? The truth was that she couldn’t see anything. There was a cacophony of voices, but no faces in her vision. She decided to try an ancient magical chant that she had recently found in an old spell book. “Emtahd netseef tabbe! Emtahd netseef tabbe!” She repeated it thirteen times, growing louder with each rendition.
Then, something happened.
The veil of fog lifted from the scene as the blur of faces in the darkness sharpened. She caught glimpses of individual spirits—a young girl with the hacking cough of tuberculosis, a thin woman in a prim dress with a face as pale as winter snow, and a man with a shiny head in a flannel shirt and overalls. Was it Henry? Had she found him? Her heart raced with excitement.
“HenryBlake...come to us. Let us see you and speak with you again.”
But, Opal clenched her teeth as the shadow loomed larger than before. It kept coming closer, blocking her view of the other souls. With all her will, she tried to push it back. It worked for a moment, but then the shadow returned. It seemed to push against her, suffocating her with its determination to get to the forefront of all the other souls. Unlike the others, it had no face. It was a black void—a pit of desperation and anger.
Why hadn’t she done a formal circle of protection to prevent a negative spirit from causing interference? She reminded herself that she had never had need before. In the past, her brief successes with contacting those who had passed on had been limited to a quick positive communication with a loved one—a bark from a dog or a whisper of loving sentiments from a recently deceased spouse.
Her body tensed as the candle sputtered out and left the two of them in complete darkness.
Virginia wailed as her fingernails dug deeper into Opal’s palms. “Peabody?”
Opal cried out again. “Henry...speak to me. Let me know that you can hear me.”
Something changed in the air around them. Gooseflesh raised the silvery hair on her forearms and the back of her neck. A tingling sensation started at the top of her head and tickled down to her toes. It reminded her of the time that lightning had struck one of the trees near her house.
She ignored the strange sensations as she continued to call Henry’s name. She implored him sweetly and firmly, trying to coax him to pay attention to her summons. She repeated the ancient chant again.
But, she paused when the shadow returned, and she felt it punching and ripping, trying to tear through the cloth that separated this world from the other. Though, she couldn’t see who or what it was, it radiated a dark aura of greed and violence as it kept up its offensive push.
Terror altered the timber of her voice as she decided to abort the communication. “I end this…“
She opened her eyes, but saw nothing. It was as if the shadow had covered them with dark fingers, preventing her from seeing anything more in this life or the other.
“Virginia,” she whispered, hoping the dear lady was all right.
Their hands slipped apart for a second. Opal grabbed them back, holding her fingers tightly as she heard a whimper. There was an uncomfortable silence. She could only hear the hum of the refrigerator, Virginia’s labored breaths, and her own pounding heart.
As the seconds passed, her eyes began to adjust to the dim light from the kitchen window. Enough sanguine moonlight leaked through the patterned holes in the curtains to allow her to see Virginia’s motionless form. The electrified air in the room was now bitterly cold, making her shiver.
“Madame…” Virginia whispered.
“Shhh!” Opal said, as she flicked her lighter again and again, trying to spark some life into it.
“Opal...please. What’s happened?” Virginia asked, her voice as thin and tight as a piano string.
Suddenly, the lighter’s blue and orange flame sprang to life. With her rings clattering, she re-lit the candle. Then, she glanced across the table and saw Virginia’s mouth gaping open in a perfect circle. She followed her gaze into the parlor behind them. No...no...it’s not possible.
She stared at the outline of a tall figure, barely discernable in the darkness. She could make out the form of a man wearing strange clothing and a lofty hat. Then, a cloud moved across the sky allowing a moonbeam to splay across his face. He had a chocolate brown goatee gracing the chiseled features of his pale olive skin, and there was a wide smile across his face as he looked back at them.
“Henry?” Virginia whispered as if she hoped that somehow he had come back to her in the guise of this handsome young man with radiant green eyes.
“No...” Opal said as she put a finger to her lips. “That’s not your Henry.”
The Spirit did not know at first what had happened...or where he was, but he knew that something amazing had just occurred.
Over the vast span of time since his death, there had been no pain and no joy...no existence except endless nothingness. His only companionship had been the wails of other faceless wandering souls, unseen and moaning around him.
Now, after over a hundred years of this complete darkness, he shielded his eyes f
“Who are you?” the younger, larger woman with spectacles whispered.
He stared at her. It was so odd to hear a human voice again. The last time that he had heard one, it had been his own.
He remembered his last moment on earth, gasping out God’s name just before the last drop of blood oozed out of his body and sapped the strength from his heart. Then, the darkness came, and he felt himself falling, spiraling down towards what seemed like a bottomless fiery inferno below. Before he felt the heat of the flames, a sudden rush of air swirled around him and spiraled him upwards.
But, his charred soul had not been destined for any sort of blissful reward in the afterlife. For an eternity, he drifted in an inky sea, darker than the blackest night without so much as a star to light his way. It seemed that neither God nor the Devil wanted anything to do with him.
The woman’s voice he heard now was the same one that had been calling out in the darkness. The sound of her voice, the sound of any voice, had been so sweet to his ears that he hadn’t been able to resist the temptation to go towards it.
He remembered her tone becoming frantic at his approach. She had chanted strange words then a wall rippled through the black universe knocking him backwards. He regained himself and plowed towards her again, thinking that nothing would prevent him from this chance to escape his prison.
Now, as his eyes warmed to the candle and the moonlight from the window, he realized that he had made it. He had freed himself from wherever he had been for so miserably long.
But, why were these women looking at him so strangely?
He looked down at his hands and was shocked to see that they were transparent, an opaque protoplasm with the mere outline of fingers. He could see through them down to the hazy shape of his boots.