In the Garden

by Brian Biswas

It was exactly one year to the day after I had completed my novel. It had been accepted for publication by the well-known publishing house J.J. and Sons and I was busy making the final editorial corrections. I had written a romantic novel in the style of the masters of the nineteenth century, a novel full of passion and intrigue, sex and scandal, thunder and blood, and yet unlike that century's sometimes ponderous works, my novel was happily devoid of any greater meaning. My publishers assured me it was certain to be a runaway bestseller. I do not know why, but I was suddenly overcome by a desire to return to the willow grove where I had written the manuscript. (Perhaps it was because I wished to be alone, in what had proved to be the garden of my creativity, to gather my thoughts before embarking on this new—and undoubtedly hectic—phase of my life.) The willow grove was a serene and beautiful place, located on a hill overlooking a valley that was home to several family farms. I had spent my life on one of those farms, but had relocated recently to the city of Essex to be closer to J.J. and Sons and to prepare for several book signings and a publicity tour which were planned.

I took a bus to the east side of Essex where the offices of the Central Railway line were located. There I purchased a ticket to the nearby town of Trinity. The willow grove was located a mile from Trinity on the outskirts of the town of Gallup Mills; it would be a pleasant twenty minute walk.

Upon boarding the train I went from coach to coach looking for a place to sit. The train was crowded and I didn't find a seat until I reached the last coach. The passengers were a sorry lot, the very dregs of society. In the first coach, I saw several men who were drunk and two others who had passed out in the aisle, bottles of booze in their hands. In the second coach, I came upon a woman with blond hair and blue eyes who was openly flirting with two young men. She was wearing a yellow blouse with puffed sleeves and a red skirt that fell to her ankles. She was babbling like a little brook, but I couldn't understand a word she was saying. The air in a third coach was thick with cigarette smoke, so thick, in fact, that I could barely see the hand I held before me. Upon entering the fourth coach, I saw a middle-aged man with a rufous beard, his eyes blazing like red coals. A young girl was hovering over him. His shirt was unbuttoned and she was running her long, thin fingers across his chest. I sighed in disgust. I found my own coach to be dirty and cold; rays of early morning sunlight streamed through the windows, illuminating seats that were littered with debris. When I sat down in my seat I nearly fell to the floor: the rickety wooden slats had rotted away. I rose, dusted myself off, and sat down in a second seat across the aisle. I found myself next to an elderly man with a thin, sallow face and small, myopic eyes. He was wearing a black suit, a newspaper folded neatly across his lap. I tried to strike up a conversation, but he scowled and looked away. What's fine with you is fine with me, I thought as I looked back out the window at the pretty countryside that was rolling by. I was upset and with good reason. The sooner I got out of here the better. I glanced at my watch. It was half-past eight. I would be at the willow grove by ten.

Every few miles the train stopped and half a dozen passengers got off. I never saw anyone board the train. My late night editing sessions must have finally caught up with me for soon I was fast asleep. The next thing I knew my eyes were fluttering open; I yawned and sat up. The coach was empty, a dappled sunlight fell upon the red carpet. I looked at my watch and was startled to see that it was five minutes past five in the afternoon! I hurried through each coach, looking for a steward to question, but I appeared to be the only person left aboard.

"When did we pass Trinity?" I asked the engineer when I reached the locomotive. I feared we'd traveled halfway across the province by now.

He looked at me, puzzled. "Trinity?" he replied, scratching his head. "There is no stop on this line for Trinity. In fact, I've never heard of the place."

I looked at him incredulously. "I was born near Trinity," I said. "A town called Gallup Mills. I know it's on this line. I've made the trip many times before. It's a pleasant forty-five minute run. And besides, only this morning I purchased a ticket to Trinity—aboard this train." I held out my ticket for him to see.

He looked at it and laughed. "This ticket is for the town of Tyron. The ticket taker misunderstood. But it doesn't matter: we stopped at Tyron several hours ago."

I didn't know whether to believe the engineer or not. I knew Trinity existed; I had spent my entire life nearby! But on the other hand he was correct: we should have reached it a long time ago.

My strange day was only to grow stranger. I looked out the window and saw that we were approaching another town. I saw cars and a bus. Pedestrians. A girl on a bicycle. The train whistle blew and we pulled slowly into the station. The engineer spoke:

"Sir, this is the town of Bynum; it is the end of the line. Regardless of what you think your ticket says, you must get off now."

I returned to my seat—giving the engineer a look of annoyance as I did so—picked up my carry-on bag and got off the train, emerging onto a vacant platform. It was half past five. The station had closed for the day. I glanced up at a sky that was gray and sad.

When I looked down, I saw a most unusual scene. There was a man in a horse-drawn carriage adjacent to the platform. He was an elderly man, with dark-brown hair, rheumy eyes, an ugly scar across his neck. He was wearing a dark jacket with brass buttons and a white necktie. Black leather boots. He must have seen me looking in his direction for he said: "Where are you headed?"

"Gallup Mills," I said, fully expecting him to burst out laughing, but he replied simply:

"Get in."

He snapped a whip and his steed roared off. We traveled with lightning speed, the coach sashaying from side to side. I had to hold onto the sides to keep myself in. I expected us to backtrack, for the train had overshot my destination by many miles, but we headed further into the hinterland. I called out to the driver in dismay. He turned in my direction, his left hand cupped to his ear. "What was that?" he cried. "What did you say?" He was grinning fiercely and his eyes darted like lightning. I slumped back into my seat.

I was amazed then, when, perhaps fifteen minutes later, the sign to Gallup Mills came into view. Small single-family houses on the outskirts of town. An old farmhouse. A wheat field. My heart was filled with joy. Moments later we were entering the downtown area; the driver pulled up to the red bricks of Central Square. I exited the coach and brushed myself off, checking myself over as I did so. I was none the worse for wear.

"How much?" I asked, pulling out my wallet. But when I looked back up he was nowhere to be seen. No—there he was, off in the distance. I watched the coach as it lurched away down the dusty road, shuddered at the sight of the coachmen's ghoulish form in the tenebrous light.

I left the square and turned onto the town's main street. Ten minutes later I was on the outskirts of town, looking out over a valley. I saw pretty white houses that dotted the landscape, an enormous grove of orange trees, a pasture in which cows and horses grazed. I looked to my left and saw that I was at the base of a hill. It was at that moment that my (first) revelation of the day occurred. The day's events had left me disoriented. Only now did I realize that this was the valley I had been seeking, this was the valley I knew so well. I was filled with a sense of peace and of calm.

Breathless with excitement, my heart thumping like a piston, I ran up the hill. I was returning to a place of discovery, a place that had altered the course of my life and was about to alter it once more, and overcome by a sense of wonder and of awe, I reached the top of the hill, crossed the edge of the willow grove, and there in the center of the grove I came upon a magnificent garden. I saw flora that I knew so well: chrysanthemum, honeysuckle, periwinkles, poppies, and daffodils. But also flowers and vegetation I had never seen before: purple roses and phosphorescent orange moss, blue daisies and lime-green ferns.

This was not as I had remembered it. The willow trees that bordered the garden were the same—there was the tree under which I had composed my masterpiece—but the garden itself had been transformed from a simple place to one of fiery beauty. I walked through the garden—the grass beneath my feet lush and inviting—gazing in wonder at the scene around me, drowning myself in the intoxicating aromas of a thousand roses, of orange azaleas, flowering peppermint trees, pink mimosas. And it was then that I felt myself losing consciousness. I tried to hang onto this strange reality in which I found myself, but I was unsuccessful and moments later I was overcome with a deep sleep. I had a dream: I was floating in space, looking out over the heavens. I watched as a comet moved slowly by. Unexpectedly, it turned and started towards me. I was swept up in the tail of the comet; I dodged particles of dirt and ice, felt gravity's gentle pull. I traveled slowly through the universe. I was not afraid. I saw other worlds go past: galaxies, nebulae, and enormous clouds of floating dust. Suddenly all of it vanished and I was alone in a black void. Feelings of loneliness and despair swept over me, like waves over a drowning man. I was lost in a vacuum, there was nothing to steer by, and I had no place to come to rest. I looked out over the void and I saw that it was turning blood-red. And then I realized it was not the universe but the edge of creation I was seeing and that I was hurtling through space and time, like an arrow towards its fiery destination. When I passed through that end of time (which was also a beginning) I found myself in a whirlpool of color and light and from the depths of that whirlpool rose a vision and in that vision a series of words appeared before me (written in blood in that kaleidoscope which was my dream), words which by themselves were meaningless but when read together tantalized me with a significance I struggled to grasp.

The next thing I knew I was wakening to a new day; the sun was coming up over the valley. I yawned and sat up. The garden was quiet and peaceful, the air pure and still. I realized, then, that I would never return to Essex; I wished to spend the rest of my life here, amongst the people and places that I loved. J.J. and Sons would have to promote my book without me. And that was fine. I did not care about it anymore.

I looked out over the valley of my youth and sighed realizing I had reached the end of my journey.

There is nothing more to tell.

The world is wonderful and full of magic. He who does not believe it so is dead.

 


Brian Biswas lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with his wife and two children. His work has recently appeared in Iconoclast and Skive. His short story, "A Betrayal," was published in Issue #11 of The Cafe Irreal, "The Room at the End of the World" appeared in Issue #14 and "The Bridge" appeared in Issue #18.