The Garden and the Cemetery

by Allison C. Meier

Runner-up

Lovecraft Idea #107
Wall paper cracks off in sinister shape—man dies of fright


There are more than graves over the cemetery fence. As the shadows pull out while the sun sets somewhere behind me, I see the darkness caress the rolling hills and take the tombs into its slumber. But there still flickers some light. I see it through the slits in the blinds.

I walk the perimeter sometimes when I can’t sleep, which is more and more often these days. I hear ghosts of this city cemetery in the sharp clatter of horse hooves or the crisp laughter of picnics that quickly disappear into the rumbling of a passing truck. The wind blows in cold from the harbor. I lower my head while walking down the steep slope into it, hands thrust in pockets, the Statue of Liberty lit up like a beacon on the water. The most beautiful lighthouse on these shores, surely. The only one to look you in the eyes.

If I make enough circles around the cemetery’s extensive fence I sometimes see the sunrise and hear the cackles of the parrots that nest in the Green-Wood Cemetery gate. Escaped green monk parrots destined for pet stores, they claimed the crevices of the Gothic arch as their home. A regal substitute for an exotic tree. I’ve never seen one outside the gate, as if they know it is a barrier between this expanse of the dead and the claustrophobic world of the living. They are right not to leave, to stay instead between the two. I rarely dare to cross under their gate.

I lose track of time between subway rides, blinking screens, and more darkness. I never see full daylight until just before it vanishes into night. By the time I return to Brooklyn in the evening, the sun is already hidden and slowly falling behind the walls and buildings. At home in my apartment, I forget to turn on the lights and then realize I am washing knives in the dark, handles suddenly switched with blades, warm blood in the hot water.

Water leaks have made the tiles in the bathroom ripple up like there was an earthquake and left the wallpaper to crack off in the living room. I pick at it with my fingernails, a scab that needs opening, searching for some life beyond the peeling green and pink foliage that’s turned sepia from the years of neglect. I add the wallpaper to my list of requested repairs to include with my rent check for the landlord who never comes.

It is the beginning of November and my eyes are dry from the air and the computer I fix my vision to for 40 hours a week. A Wednesday night, I peel off my contacts and before I can put on my glasses I feel something cold drag over my arm. Hard and carved with cascading curves, it disappears into the blurry darkness before I can return my sight. It takes all the warmth out of my body and I shiver and run to hide under the sheets of my bed.

That night with the blankets pulled over my head, I keep imagining the brush of stone against my arm. I eventually bury the memory beneath enough conjured up fantasies that I’m able to disappear into my head and sleep.

I dream of a garden completely lit by summer sun. Green vines with pink flowers curve around everything. In the center is a statue wrapped in the plants. There are arms reaching up, lost under the green tendrils that seem to be keeping the statue from taking flight. I walk toward the figure and am inches from touching the vines before my alarm clock shrieks into my head.

I lose myself in the same commuting route: the walk to the subway, the ride, the lost time in between, and then I am back on my street, walking up to my apartment. A dog watches me from a stoop with yellow eyes and I wait for him to bark, uneasy when he just keeps watching, eyes following.

The cemetery is closed for the day and I decide to walk along its fence before the sun goes down completely. The weather is mild and only a breeze moves fallen leaves around the tombstones. I look at the engravings and epitaphs from the safe distance of the city sidewalk. Some are worn and ancient, some are recent and clear. A few tip precariously on hills, waiting for the next hard rain to erode the soil enough to slide down to freedom from being eternal sentinels to the dead. I dread ever having my name dragged like a declaration of desperate immortality on some slab of tilted grey stone.

Lost in reading names, I suddenly trip on a loose piece of the sidewalk and catch myself on the metal fence. While pulling my mind back to reality, I feel the gaze of someone and look around. The sidewalk is empty; the street is quiet. Cars are parked; blinds are closed on dark windows in the buildings opposite. I pull my arms around myself. The night is coming and the air is growing colder.

Then I look up, and there out beyond the slanted headstones and miniature obelisks is a face fixed on mine. Her head is thrown back, one leg lunging forward, and hair wildly following. Her arms are raised with frozen violence and from her back two huge wings angle up. I feel dizzy and realize I am not breathing, as if I had turned to stone myself. I force myself to take in the wintry air and breathe out and turn away back down the hill to my apartment. Although she cannot turn her head, I sense her fiery eyes watching me go.

That night I sleep even less, afraid to go to the green garden with its pink blossoms and menacing angel statue. What if I were to pull off the vines? Would she lunge up into the heavens or fall heavily onto me in a deadly embrace? I imagine suffocating beneath her stone torso while that horribly wild face stares unblinking into mine.

When I let myself tentatively drift into my exhaustion, I am awakened by a thud in the living room. A heavy, hard, step on the wood floor. Then there is another. The floorboards creak as if under a huge weight. There is a sound of the air being moved with steady swishes, pressed up and down, surely by the enormous wings. I remembered the feeling on my arm from the ghost of carved stone and my heart beats faster. I press my body into the mattress and beg for the dream garden instead of this waking nightmare.

And it comes, surging over me and leaving the awful stalking angel behind. I am there again in the bright garden, the angel safely secured beneath the vines. The pink flowers are fully blooming. I let myself smell one. Delicate and powdery, like the perfume my mother wore.

I take a few steps toward the statue, noticing this time that the vines are straining in the back where they are coiled over the wings. Many have snapped and others are barely holding on with broken stems, stripped of leaves. There are no flowers here.

I feel the ground tremble and I stumble backward, into the grasp of the vines. At first they cradle me from falling to the ground, then start to wind over my limbs until I’m completely encased. The smell from the pink flowers is suffocating, sickly sweet now, and leaves me lightheaded. Beyond I see that the angel is struggling as well, breaking free. She waves her arms and thrashes her wings. The vines are ripped and shredded and fall in a green storm to the ground.

As the angel steps off her pedestal, liberated from the plants, the garden starts to fade. The sun goes down and the green and pink of the vines are sucked away to pale browns. The grass dries up and shrivels down to a wood floor.

The vines on my arms and legs have vanished, but I do not move. I am in my living room, standing before the peeling wallpaper, where the pale green and pink foliage has cracked off into a slashed silhouette. Wings are spread wide and arms reach out for me in the void. Terror makes my heart stop and I feel an invisible weight knock me down and press over my body. In the final darkness a stone cheek brushes against mine and I feel the edges of icy lips.



Allison C. Meier is a writer and editor from Oklahoma based in Brooklyn. She works in arts and travel journalism, and on fictional stories often involving giant squids and catacombs. Check out her website at allisoncmeier.com

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