How did they descend, those explorers?
Charlie was looking down into the depths of the impenetrable blackness yawning before them. The borehole into the underworld.
I guess they had ropes. I don’t know. I cant see them anymore.
She approached the edge and peered down inside. The echo of Bethy’s laughter still floated around them. It wafted over their spirit selves and it felt dirty. An abomination. Charlie shuddered beside her.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter.
Chantelle smiled at Charlie.
We can just fly down. We wont get hurt.
But it wasn’t the fall that Chantelle feared, she realized. It was not a fear of the height, it was a fear of what awaited them at the bottom. There was something that she could feel. The ghost of immense power, and it lingered. The wavelengths of all that the world had experienced seemed to bend around it. It was not of this world. Chantelle asked Charlie:
Do you feel it?
He nodded grimly beside her.
It feels awful.
It was true. It felt terrible. Awful did not begin to describe the sick, putrid feeling which rose from the well and touched their not-bodies. It was a needy, grasping touch and it was cold and dead. It left slow fading stains on them.
Chantelle nodded to herself resolutely. They could linger no longer.
It was time.
She glanced back to Charlie taking in his terrified face, the aura of terror radiating from him. She tried to smile but could not. Chantelle nodded.
She could not be sure if Charlie had followed her. She was falling through darkness. She could not feel the rush of the wind – the knowledge that her physical body was not experiencing this fall confused her mind, for she could feel her stomach rise. The jolt of the falling-dream, only she did not wake up. She continued to fall – faster and faster.
And then there was light streaming past her. A dull, green glow. Phosphorous moss – or something like it – scattered along the walls of the well. It streaked by her as she fell into the darkness and when she looked below, she could see a dim pinpoint of light. Light at the end. And she tried to distinguish Charlie falling above her, but she could see nothing. A starless midnight loomed above her, as if her eyes were closed. As if they had been plucked out.
Below her, Chantelle tried to focus on the light drawing ever closer, growing brighter and brighter. A star. A sun. It grew and grew until it was all around her. Surrounding her. Enveloping her. Chantelle, falling through white light.
Grass. Though dull in color. As if it were covered in a layer of frost, and the light was all wrong. It seemed to touch everything, but have no direct source. A smoky light.
Chantelle was lying in grass. In what appeared to be a field of grass and it was dim and washed out – like very early morning.
“Hey!” Bethy was running across the field to her. She wore a thin white dress and was barefoot, her hair undone and flying free about her shoulders. As she approached, the light seemed to expand. It became more real, though it was still wrong. Still off.
Chantelle pushed herself to her knees and felt her head.
Felt her head.
She could feel her body. She could touch her arms and her legs. She ran her hands over her arms. Her real arms. Chantelle was physically there.
But how can this be happening?
“No, silly. Don’t think-talk here. I brought you here, kinda.” Bethy smiled, falling to the grass beside Chantelle and rolling onto her back, looking up into her eyes – her real eyes – with her large child-eyes and she smiled.
Chantelle scooped Bethy into her arms and kissed her forehead. Kissed her cheek and took her hands, clasped together, and kissed each of them too.
“I’m so glad you’re okay!” Chantelle whispered into Bethy’s ear, rocking her, holding her tighter.
Bethy smiled back and nuzzled her head into the crook of Chantelle’s arm and she was warm and real and Chantelle closed her eyes.
At length Bethy squirmed out of Chantelle’s arms and stood up, pulling Chantelle’s hands up towards her – urging her to stand.
“Come on!” Bethy beamed, “I want to show you something.”
And Chantelle stood and was walking with Bethy, naked, through the field which should not have been there – underground, in the frozen North.
“Honey, where are we?” Chantelle asked, as she followed Bethy through the field. Bethy turned her head back to face Chantelle, still walking forward and laughed. She said:
“We’re going to my garden.”
Her garden. Of course.
Chantelle closed her eyes and allowed herself to be guided by the child. The little girl who was not her little girl. The little girl who loved her as if she were.
The grass beneath her feet felt good. It felt warm and alive and soft. She had no concern for rocks or sticks or anything painful. She let herself be led.
“But where’s Charlie? He was with me, right?” Chantelle wondered, dully. She was not sure if Charlie had been there. She was not entirely certain that there were any other people in existence.
But there are. You know there are. There’s Eddie and Adam and
“Don’t worry about it. Just come on!” Bethy laughed and of course that was right. Chantelle felt foolish for even thinking about it all. For even considering anything else. They were going to see Bethy’s garden.
“Through here.” Bethy giggled. They had stopped. Chantelle opened her eyes. Before them was a portion of a fence – just a portion constructed of unpainted wood – and an arch of dull roses, almost white in color with the softest of pink glowing within them. So delicate and translucent that veins were visible, darker fractures within the giant petals. They were full and huge, the open roses. The size of grapefruits. So vibrant with life that they seemed to drip with moisture. Their life blood.
Bethy broke her grasp on Chantelle’s hands and hurried through the arch. Despite the fact that the fence was incomplete and the arch of roses was large, she could not be sure what lay on the other side. The land beyond the arch was dim to her eyes – as if shrouded in a fog.
“Bethy?” She called, but was met only with the echoed, childlike giggles of the girl somewhere beyond the gate, in the fog. Something felt wrong, suddenly, to Chantelle. She realized that she was apprehensive about continuing on through the arch. There was an air of the sacred here. She was about to embark upon sacred ground.
“Bethy?” She called again, but now the giggles sounded further off. More distant.
A sense of loneliness began to seep and spread around her. Chantelle swallowed and shivered. She realized, then, that the world was growing very cold. An arctic air was infiltrating the false summer. Truly, the grass beneath her feet began to whither. It blanched and wilted and grew rough and dry. With a slight breeze of arctic wind, the grass scattered, disintegrating into dust.
The world had become a desert.
The giggles were fading.
Chantelle took a tentative step forward. There was a feeling like a piece of ice lodged in her stomach. Like being stabbed with an icicle. The cold feeling of dread.
But this was Bethy’s garden.
Swallowing, Chantelle regarded the arch of roses. They had begun to droop. The petals were open far too wide, having lost the will to live. To close. They began to fall like a dull pink rain.
Chantelle entered the rain.
“This is sacred ground.” Chantelle breathed, looking around.
Bethy stood in the center of the small space with her hands folded behind her back, standing on her tip toes and grinning like a child who has unexpectedly cleaned their bedroom and has been awaiting the surprised approval of a parent.
It was a patch of earth no more than ten feet square. Darkness enclosed it and Chantelle was certain that it was not a darkness which concealed – rather, it was darkness which signified an ending.
Scattered throughout the space were human and animal figures suspended in the air by what appeared to be roots.
As her vision grew accustom to this place, Chantelle realized that she recognized several of the figures. They were lying in the air, held up by their roots, naked. Eddie was there, and Adam. Charlie hovered, suspended on a stalk of roots which seemed to sprout from his skin – or rather, his skin seemed to reach out from his body – amoebic fingers – and shoot down and into the rich, moist soil on which she stood.
She saw herself there too, suspended in midair, her roots full of life and thrust into the soil so firmly.
There were roots, too, which appeared to have once held figures but these were withered and lay in dead piles on the soil. Over these dead piles a fungus had begun to sprout. It was like coral, white and delicate, bristling like crystal and it held within it an inner light.
A golden retriever suddenly wandered slowly into the garden and came to rest at Bethy’s feet, circling three times – as dogs do – before curling beside her, facing Chantelle.
“Chantelle, this is my garden!” Bethy whispered. “You have one too. That’s what she says anyway.” Bethy shrugged.
“Who told you that?” Chantelle asked, beginning to wander the garden, touching Eddie’s shoulder and smiling. He seemed so at peace.
Bethy looked slightly confused, as if she knew the name being asked of her but could not recall it.
“I was somewhere else. Somewhere scary.” Bethy began, uncertainly. “I did something wrong. That’s what they said.”
“Who?” Chantelle asked, turning to Bethy. “Who told you that you did something wrong, honey?”
Bethy stooped and began to pet the dog. The animal’s tail began thumping against the soil, happily, and soon the dog was licking her face contentedly. Chantelle smiled.
“They were weird.” Bethy shrugged. “I was scared of them. They were one person, I think. There were a bunch of them, though.”
Chantelle watched the child, warily. Glancing around, however, she realized that they were safe here. This was a safe place.
“I mean, kind of like how you’re here – and your also back there – only, they were all in one place at the same time.” Bethy said. She laughed suddenly. “I don’t know.”
Bi-location, I think they called it. Chantelle thought, remembering – lamely – some tv show on occult something or other that she had watched once, with Terrel. A person being in two places at the same time.
“Baby, was it the thing in the ice? The thing that keeps calling us?” Chantelle asked slowly. Bethy looked up at her, her lower lip quivering. Terror in her eyes.
“But then this little guy came,” Bethy smiled down to the dog, “and I followed him into the tunnel and then to the door and then…” Bethy shrugged, “Then here. To my garden.”
Chantelle stooped and began to run her fingers through the warm, smooth fur of the dogs neck. The dog began to pant happily, his tongue lolling out of his mouth, his large brown eyes regarding Chantelle with startling wisdom.
“Have you ever seen this dog before?” Chantelle asked Bethy, continuing to scratch beneath the dog’s chin.
Bethy smiled down at them.
“Sure! I dream about him all the time.” Bethy laughed. “They said we all have an animal. I guess you’ve got one too.”
Chantelle stood and began to wander the garden once again. She paused beside one of the piles of withered roots cautiously touching the strange fungus with her fingers. As she expected, it was rough but delicate, just like coral.
“Honey, what are these?” Chantelle called back.
“Those are ones I lost.” Bethy answered, sadly. Her sorrow resonated, dimly in the garden. This was not a place for sorrow, but rather, a place of healing.
The golden retriever approached Chantelle slowly and nuzzled her hand away from the coral-fungus with his wet nose. He looked up at her, and to her shock she could hear him in her mind. He said:
In this place she plants the ones she loves. She nurtures them with her thoughts and can give them power and protection. From this place of safety and healing, she can think on the ones she loves, and help them. You all can.
The retriever glanced down at the coral-fungus and then back up at Chantelle, still panting and wise eyed. He continued, in her mind:
Sometimes you lose the ones you planted, despite your nurturing. In this place, you can either allow the broken roots left behind to fester and rot, or you can continue to nurture the place in your garden that they once held and heal it. Bethy is healing these places – as you can see.
Chantelle stood. She wondered, suddenly, what her own garden would look like. All the festering piles of withered roots that she had only just allowed to begin to heal. How much damage had been done already to the soil of her garden?
But even as she thought this she saw a figure begin to droop and sag. Several roots broke off from the figure and crumpled to the soil. Chantelle recognized the figure only a heartbeat before realizing what this sudden decay must mean.
Carl’s figure fell to the soil of Bethy’s garden in a pile of roots and Bethy began to sob.
“I did it wrong. This is my fault.” Bethy sobbed. The retriever whimpered and ran off into the darkness and as Bethy ran off, rubbing the tears from her eyes, and followed after him – or tried to – deeper and deeper into the darkness, Chantelle closed her eyes and allowed herself to dissolve.