The Haunted Garden

 

Joy Smith

 

"The garden is haunted," she said, choking on a whimper.

White Bear nodded gravely, judiciously, so that his black hair hanging in a tight braid half-way down his back barely moved. "When did you first notice this, Mrs. Chalmers?"

"We closed on the house last week, but we only moved in yesterday--then last night..." She choked on a sob this time.

"In that case you should be able to get the realtor for failure of disclosure and be able to get out--maybe even get damages," he said thoughtfully.

She shook her head dismally. "Oh, I knew it was haunted, but I thought it would be a lady in flowing white robes--you know--sort of romantic and sweetly sorrowful."

White Bear blinked and nodded again.

"Can you help me?" she pleaded, a little sweetly sorrowful herself. "I'll pay you well to do an exorcism, Mr. uh..." She stumbled and looked for help at her lawyer, James Woodcock, who had arranged the meeting.

"Mr. Holy Spirit of the White Bear," Woodcock repeated smoothly. "As I told you, he's the foremost ethnic expert on the paranormal, but I'm sure he won't mind if you call him White Bear."

White Bear shot him a cautious glance. Woodcock looked like a mild-mannered, run-of-the-courtroom lawyer, but White Bear knew better. In his sense of humor as well as his trial--side manner, he often went for the jugular. White Bear remembered their first meeting.

"People think a lawyer can stomach anything," he'd told White Bear, "but these revisionists (they'd recently rented an office in Woodcock's building and made the mistake of giving him their smug, hate-filled flyers) make me sick. My grandfather survived Buchenwald. I'd like to see you do something interesting--something historical say--to them."

White Bear did in-depth research, which included viewing German footage of the concentration camps, and prepared an intensive and realistic haunting agenda. The group disbanded half-way through their next meeting, except for two men, but they couldn't stop scratching the tatooed numbers on their arms and sniffing the air uneasily.

Now, in Woodcock's office, White Bear said bluntly, "My father was a fundamentalist preacher and Mother was a traditionalist, and it was supposed to be Black Bear, but Dad filled out the birth certificate." He'd always wondered if his father actually had a twisted sense of humor or really did see things only in black and white.

Woodcock stood up and moved around to the front of his desk. "I'm sure White Bear will be able to help you, Mrs. Chalmers. He's really very good at this sort of thing." He glanced at his watch. "I do have another appointment soon; why not go look at the garden."

White Bear rose and motioned to the dark skinned young man who had been sitting quietly intent in a chair intended for minor characters in the legal dramas enacted in the lawyer's office. "This is my apprentice, Jason Brown."

"I thought he was your secretary or something," Mrs. Chalmers said in confusion, looking at Woodcock. White Bear braced himself and waited. But Woodcock had apparently gotten over his tendency to call Jason, Brown Bear.

"I take on talented apprentices for five years." After that he had to pay them minimum wage. On the other hand, after five years of White Bear's training they were well-prepared to go into business for themselves.

"Talented apprentices," Mrs. Chalmers echoed, looking at Jason with respect. Exotic images vaguely connected with voodoo doubtless danced in her head, White Bear surmised.

"We'll come to your house just before sunset," he told her with assurance.

"You've probably noticed the manifestations are stronger after dark." Mrs. Chalmers shuddered and seemed about to speak, but merely nodded as she handed him her personal card. Directions were neatly printed on the back; the pink ink was almost an exact match to the silk suit she was wearing.

The sun was already touching the horizon when they arrived at the Chalmers estate. Enormous wrought iron gates, each side of which contained a large, ornate frog sitting on a lily pad, swung slowly open after the gateman eyed them and hit the switch.

Jason contemplated the gates and grounds in silence a few moments before turning to business. "You didn't ask her about the garden."

"She's the kind who expects you to know it all," White Bear said, shrugging. "Besides, you need the practice. I'll let you study this one and tell me what you think about it."

Jason swallowed. He'd met White Bear three years ago when the Navajo was investigating the haunted geyser in Yellowstone. His family was on vacation; they'd won the lottery that decided who got to go into the park that week. Seventeen-year-old Jason was the only person who'd stayed around and understood what was happening when White Bear did battle with a geyser intent on attacking everyone who invaded its territory which was marked not only with the yellow of sulphur and the assorted colors of the algae in the water, but boulders and bones of animals. (The dinosaur skull that conked the Secretary of the Interior on the head had been the last straw.) The press had had a field day with the haunted geyser in the Dragon's Mouth.

Now Jason remembered the invitation he'd received the day he graduated and swallowed again. Then he concentrated. "All I'm getting," he said at last as they continued up the at-least--a-mile-long drive, "is ordinary garden stuff--frogs and butterflies and flowers."

White Bear considered. "Flowers," he mused. He said nothing else until he pulled up at the house. "Heap big mansion," he muttered, gazing at the white house that towered over them--pillars rising a full three stories before deigning to stop.

"We could fit a few million of our apartments in there," Jason added, resolving not to be intimidated, although he was beginning to look forward to the garden.

Mrs. Chalmers met them at the door, waving away the butler. She looked even paler at home, though not so white as the flowing ankle length gown she was wearing. Her loose, platinum blond hair cascaded around her shoulders. It seemed likely that she had harbored a desire to be taken for the ghost in the garden.

"I'll show you the garden. You'll see that you don't have to wait till dark for it to manifest itself." Her tone was a trifle cool. The house itself was much colder; as usual the air conditioning was set too high. White Bear wondered again at people who only felt comfortable in an artificial environment. He'd heard people were even installing air conditioning in Wisconsin, a state famous for its nine months of winter and three months of bad sledding.

The garden was a pleasant contrast. Jason stared puzzledly, however, at the concrete rubble pushed up against the side of the house. Mrs. Chalmers noticed. "We put in a patio, but the garden didn't like it," she said curtly. She stayed near the door and eyed the garden with distaste while the two men stood quietly on the old, original brick patio and looked around.

The trees, flowers, butterflies, dragonflies, frogs and toads were not the usual ghostly white, but pale pastels. A slug moved slowly across a corner of the patio, leaving an iridescent slime trail. Jason, originally from Plant City, Florida, recognized the aroma of magnolia, orange blossoms, tea olive, eleagnus, and banana shrubs, overlaid with the strong scent of rosemary and the delightful tang of dill with a side order of lemon geranium leaves.

Curious, he bent over and ran a finger through the slime trail. "Yuck," he said, rubbing his finger against his slacks. "It won't come off," he said, turning to his mentor after a minute of futile rubbing. White Bear knelt on the patio, carefully avoiding the slime trail and the slug, opened his shoulder bag and produced a small bottle of amber liquid.

"Holy water?" asked Mrs. Chalmers in a hushed voice.

"Nail polish remover," replied White Bear, cleansing the finger before wandering off into the haunted garden.

"It's beautiful," Jason said when they met a half-hour later at the pool whose faint tinkling could be heard throughout the garden. Fish, in various combinations of silver and pale gold, drifted through opalescent water reminiscent of the hot springs at Yellowstone.

"Yes." White Bear stared around abstractedly. "It's a work of art. I'm afraid we'll have to leave it. Pity; it would have been a good fee." He turned reluctantly toward the house, then changed his mind and took another leisurely stroll through the garden.

"I would have thought you could do it," said Jason. He had arrived at the empty brick patio just before White Bear. He wasn't sorry, but he was puzzled.

"Maybe." White Bear's tone was noncommittal. "But it's a great piece of work, and I don't think he'd like it." He headed for the back door as Jason stared after him.

Mrs. Chalmers had locked the back door behind her. White Bear knocked, and as they waited, Jason eyed his teacher curiously. He was dressed in his working clothes of blue flannel shirt and tailored blue denim slacks. His only accessories were a turquoise studded belt (family heirloom, White Bear had said with a grin), blue leather boots, and the bright blue, with gold star sequins, head band (gift from my mother, he'd said, not grinning). His shoulder bag was blue too.

Jason glanced down at his own light blue suit; he hadn't decided on a style yet. At first he'd been tempted to imitate White Bear, but was afraid of looking foolish. He didn't like the picture of a tall and slender black man looking like a caricature of the slightly shorter but heavier Indian.

"It still looks the same," Mrs. Chalmers said petulantly into his ear, but Jason managed not to leap away. He looked at the garden, stepped back, and waited for White Bear to take over.

White Bear shook his head and looked rueful. "That garden's there for eternity," he said. "It was quite a struggle getting out of it when it realized what I was up to. Don't ever threaten it." He looked warningly at the woman. "If you don't like it, block up the back door or sell the house."

As they went out the front door, White Bear spoke to a quietly annoyed Mrs. Chalmers, who had accompanied them to the door. "I'm sorry we couldn't help you." He didn't look too depressed about it.

White Bear swung easily up into the seat of the steel blue van and sat there a moment before starting the vehicle. "I want you to meet him," he told Jason.

It was a three hour drive on the freeway before White Bear pulled into a motel next to the Tank & Tummy Truck Stop. The next day it took them two hours on dirt roads twisting like tangled snakes before they reached the mouth slit of a canyon as narrow as it was deep. "It's dark in here during most of the day," White Bear said. "You see why I wouldn't come here at night." Then he parked the van.

Jason soon found they hadn't yet arrived at their destination. Sweaty and grimy after a stiff climb almost straight up a canyon wall, he paused on a narrow ledge to catch his breath and heard the tantalizing sound of running water. He quickly resumed his scrambling ascent.

When he finally arrived, he discovered that the canyon rim was actually a small plateau, though not completely level. Rock outcroppings, ranging in size from a few feet to a monolith-like slab, dotted the area. Gnarled trees, shrubs, and plants ran rampant except for a large bare area near the center of the plateau.

White Bear stood talking, and breathing easily, with another man in a garden full of herbs, flowers, and wonderful tangy scents in front of an old cabin built against the side of the huge rock slab. A gurgling stream bubbled out of the rock face, wandered through the garden, and threw itself over the side of the cliff.

Thirsty as he was, it was the other man who captured Jason's attention. He looked to be as solid as the rocks around him and as straight as the few trees reaching for the sunlight in the bottom of the canyon, and his tanned, rugged face reminded Jason of the roads and canyon he'd recently traversed.

"My teacher, Nightwind," White Bear said with respect.

"Come, warm yourselves at my fire," the old man said. It was obviously a ritual greeting because after leading the way into the cabin, he offered them lemonade when they'd seated themselves at the wooden kitchen table in the front room. There was no fire. Jason was intrigued by a door set into the rock that formed the rear wall of the cabin, but he was more interested in the lemonade. Nightwind thoughtfully set the lemonade pitcher in front of him.

"It is good to see you enjoy my humble hospitality and the scents of my garden," Nightwind said approvingly.

"We enjoyed also your garden at the Chalmers estate," White Bear told him.

Nightwind smiled. "Ah yes, Mrs. Wrightworth's garden. Her children installed her in a nursing home and sold the estate. She got word to me through the gardener and asked me to ensure that her beloved garden would never be destroyed. They were leveling it for tennis courts when I arrived."

Jason forgot he was still thirsty; he gazed at the old man in fascination. "What did you do?"

"I had them remove everything they'd brought; fortunately they hadn't started pouring the concrete yet. That would have made it more difficult for them. After they left, with Carlos' help--he described the garden as it had been--I restored it with a few enhancements of my own. I think it will last long after I am gone."

Jason was lost in admiration. "I'd like to do something like that," he said. Then he flushed and looked guiltily at White Bear.

He, however, nodded understandingly. "It's been a long time since I've done anything like that. I've been mostly untangling other people's messes." He looked hopefully at Nightwind. "Are you working on any projects now?"

Nightwind smiled--a slow, gleeful smile. "I've begun a project up in the northwest. I thought I was finished, but they're persistent. However, I recently came up with some new ideas. I could use a drummer." He looked at White Bear. "You showed a remarkable aptitude on the drums." "What can I do?" Jason broke in eagerly.

"How are you with rattles?"

Jason flushed. "I always felt sort of silly, but I'd like to try again."

"You'll learn," Nightwind promised. "I usually just use a whistle flute, but backup on this project will be helpful."

They spent the night sleeping outside in bedrolls--to soak up atmosphere, Nightwind said. Jason and White Bear lay quietly and listened to the sound of Nightwind's singing. It was eerily soothing; the wind picked up, the scents strengthened, and Jason was asleep and dreaming; his fingers flexed frequently around the rattles Nightwind had given him.

They woke up the next morning to heavy drumming. A helicopter sat in the large bare area. "I have equipment," Nightwind said in response to the other two men's questioning looks, "and a telephone." He continued on to the gradually quieting copter.

The copter dropped them off near the van with their equipment and supplies.

"Thanks, Nightwind," Jason yelled with heartfelt gratitude over the noise of the departing machine.

"I used to think the climb was fun and an excellent way to ensure my privacy," Nightwind said quietly. He glanced at White Bear, busy loading supplies into the back of the van. "He still enjoys it."

Once on the road, he told them about his project. "A group asked for my help. There's no need for you to know their name, but the helicopter pilot is a member. They're trying to protect what remains of the old growth forest in the northwest. I started with spotted feathers drifting down blizzard thick, accompanied by mournful calls and howls. I brought in fogs--dripping, drizzling wet fogs, and worrisome crashings and crunchings in the underbrush."

"Wow," said Jason. "Did it work?"

"At first." said Nightwind. "But money is a powerful incentive. Men who don't care about the future can be persuaded to overlook the inconveniences and fears of the present."

"So," said White Bear, "what are you going to try now?"

Nightwind smiled and shifted slightly in his seat. "The feathers will now be spotted with blood; there will be blood on the saws and their equipment along with a noisome stench. "It's a concoction I've come up with that combines the smells of skunk, male cat spew, and sewage. I captured the aromas from poorly-maintained pig pens, chicken coops, and mausoleums. I stopped combining odors when I started throwing up."

Jason swallowed convulsively. He was glad one of his first lessons had been about standing upwind.

Two days later they met the first truck loaded with logs. Three men stiffened as one. "I don't bother the men who aren't actually in the forest," Nightwind told them hastily. "We're not out to hurt anyone, just to make them think twice about the present if they can't see the future."

"If we can't stop them right now," mused Jason, "with your plan, I mean, how about if we make them see the future." "What kind of future?" White Bear asked.

"I've seen science fiction movies," Jason told them, "with fantastically horrible visions of the future." They picked up the tapes at Video-Rent-A-Flic in Pocatello.

 

 

The End

 

 

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Author Bio

Joy V. Smith writes fiction and non-fiction. Upcoming stories include "Triumph," a short short, in Raven Electrick (scheduled for November); a short story, "Flashback," part of her time travel series (related to her audiobook, Sugar Time) in Hadrosaur Tales (scheduled for April 2003); and Old Rex in The Ghost in the Gazebo: An Anthology of New England Ghost Stories (scheduled for early 2003). An interview with horror writer, Owl Goingback, is scheduled for Inscriptions (any time now).

Visit Joy's website:
Sugar Time

Read another story by Joy
Moovin' Up

 


 

 

"The Haunted Garden" Copyright © 2002 Joy Smith. All rights reserved.
Published by permission of the author.

 

This page last updated 10-25-02.

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