Garden of Death: The First Short Story
Life no longer had any place to be in the former ‘Garden of Eden’. The two humans had left and had taken everything of value. They had taken the blessings bestowed on the wet clouds, draining them of their darkness. They had taken the blessings from the palms that caught the rain and dispelled all sickness. They had taken the edible seeds of the Korolokon tree. The palms, with a blessing, became nettles and drove brambles through the paws of animals that came into the forest to drink. The Korolokon trees crumbled and withered, exposing the nightlife of the garden to the sun, baking them.
The humans abandoned the Beach of Blue, on the Coast of Sighs. Within days, the anger of the Blue Sea eroded the coast and flooded the land, drowning the trapped woodland creatures that had been held captive by the palms.
In a garden of life, without Life, the was only one thing: death. Death came into the land and swept across it. It gave the creatures a new lease on death. The drowned ferrets and the footless hares danced, as the skeletons of the dehydrated lemurs played their ape-skin drums with their detached shins. The apes didn’t mind their skin being used for recreational purposes: when you’re dead, they said, it didn’t really matter. The more wry apes said that it was just skin off their nose.
The apes and the orangutans carried on their generations old tradition: the mating ritual. A month-long selection of potential partners, capped off with a fight to the death. After fighting for six days and twelve nights (taking breaks every 2nd day for a spot of lunch and classical music, played by Barry ‘No Hands’ Martin), they discovered the futility of their fights to the death.
Instead, they returned to their homes in the treetops and threw themselves at the ground. Thus, the new recreational sport of ‘Pick Up Bill’s Sticks’ was born in the place of their old mating ritual. The females would see if they could pick up the chief’s bones after he threw himself at the ground. It was a jubilant time, as parties erupted all throughout the Garden, throughout the jungles and the safaris. Lions roared and danced with wildebeest. The insects set aside their differences and raced. The forest creatures drank their muddied sea water and swam in their puddles. They would swim underwater freely, as if a great weight was lifted off their shoulders. The cuckoo would crow and the forest would cheer, celebrating another grand day in the forest ruled by Death.
Death, who was a kind if threatening figure, insisted that the folk of his land not make his throne. He would make it Himself. All he required was an owl and a pussycat. He knitted together their bones and set out across the once-Blue Seas on his small raft (for Death was light) and ventured into neighbouring lands, introducing himself into their economies.
He would place a skull in the highest point in their countries, and from there he ruled over the affairs of the people when they would commit crime. They would rest, safe from their mortal coil. They would arrive into his land with a hearty welcome and yet with an eye of judgement upon them.
He returned to the Garden after two long years away, and sailed in on a ship, containing the bones of two people. When he was ashore, he animated them, and they would travel across his land, touching the creatures, the insects and the animals that deserved to rest in peace. Once his land was at peace, he ordered them to knit themselves into a throne for him; on the left half of the throne would be Adam, and on his right would be Eve.
Together, they would unwind themselves and set sail again, to right their wrongs, to bring Death and peace to lands that had suffered at their hands. Death approved and he would help, this he said with a kindly, pearly-white smile. He had a special disposition towards all the little cats he met. He would return to his Bone Palace and he would set them free from his mighty cloak and they would spill out by their dozens, stretching across the furniture. They chased the bats and vultures that sought to steal the cat food from the pantry. They grew and grew, until they could leave their home and served as grateful subordinates to Death and would carry lost spirits from the physical world to where they needed to be, to haunt and to gain release so they could experience the kindness of Death who knew of their pain but treated them like friends.
There are those you would meet if you travelled his land, who would sit on the Fields of Asphodel and play golf, who would drink from the chalices that adorn the great halls of their Valhalla, who walk through the large pearly gates with a smile and they would tell you all they could remember about their short time meeting Death:
They said he was not unlike Santa, a large and cheerful being. He would smile when they needed to recount all the good, when they needed to rest, and would sympathize and talk with them when the pain poured out of their mouths, their regrets and their stupidity simply released from pent-up cages inside. They said that Death had a warm and welcoming embrace and that his cloak, the cloak they had disappeared into, was oddly warm and was like a welcoming embrace.
Never say that Death is not kind.
People experience great pain throughout their lives. The pain is negated by the happiness, by the company. Death tells those who pray for him that they are too early for their appointment. He insists he can take time out of his schedule and can show them where they need to go. To the help they desire. To the riches they crave. To the love they seek. IT, he says, pointing with his large bony fingers into a direction that is dark in the night, IS IN A PLACE THAT IS FAR, FAR FROM HERE. HERE, SADNESS AND REGRET LIVE. THEY ARE NECESSARY, THEY ARE PART AND PARCEL OF MY CONTRACT WITH MORTALITY, THAT THEY SHOULD LIVE HERE. MOST, WHO HAVE LIVED HAPPY LIVES, CAN BEAR THEM. AFTER A WHILE, AFTER A FEW YEARS, THE CITIZENS FORGET THEY ARE THERE. AND DO YOU KNOW WHY? BECAUSE THEY STOPPED. THEY HAD RUN AND RUN FROM DANGER UPON DANGER AND THEY HAD STOPPED. IF THEY HAD TRULY STOPPED RUNNING THEY WOULD NOT HAVE RESTED IN PEACE.
NO, SADNESS AND REGRET WOULD HAVE VIOLATED THEIR REST, WOULD HAVE MADE THEM SPIN AND SPIN IN THEIR GRAVE UNTIL THEY BURNT UP FROM THE FRICTION. BUT THEY WERE WHERE YOU ARE NOW. THEY STOPPED, THEY THOUGHT HARD ABOUT WHAT LIED AHEAD OF THEM. THEY LEARNT TO TAKE THE BAD WITH THE GOOD. BECAUSE THEY REALIZED THAT THERE WAS MORE OF THE GOOD THEY HADN’T YET SEEN. PART OF WHAT WOULD HAVE MADE THEM SO UNSATISFIED WOULD BE THAT STOPPING HALFWAY DOWN THE TRACK MEANT THEY HADN’T YET SEEN THE WATERFALLS THAT THEY HAD MEANT TO SEE DOWN THE WALKING TRACK IN THE FIRST PLACE.
THEY WOULD RATHER DRINK FROM A CHALICE OF BITTER-SWEET DRINK AND SWALLOW WITH A SIMPLE ‘ahh!’, AND THEN HAVE ME ARRIVE WITH THE NEXT MEAL THAN DROP IT HAVING DRUNK HALF AND HAVE TO CLEAN UP THE MESS THEY HAD MADE, THE GLASS CUTTING THEIR FINGERS AND KNEES, CAUSING PAIN NO BAND-AID CAN FIX.
I HAVE DELIVERED TWO ANALOGIES. IF I HAD SOMEONE WHO COULD WRITE BETTER SPEECHES THAN ME I WOULD GIVE YOU 20, 000. I WOULD GIVE YOU INFINITY. I WOULD GIVE YOU BEDTIME STORIES OF PEOPLE WHO SMASHED THE GLASS AND SPILLED THE DRINK AND I WOULD TELL TO YOU WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED. I COULD RECOUNT TO YOU THE LIVES OF PEOPLE WHOM I HAVE TAKEN THE CHALICE OFF OF. BUT NOW I MUST LEAVE YOU. FOR IT IS TIME YOU FIX YOUR POSTURE, THAT YOU STAND TALL AND STRAIGHT, AND SOLDIER ON FORWARDS; TO, THROUGH AND FROM THE PAIN AND DANGER. FOR THOSE I HAVE TAKEN THE CHALICE OFF REMEMBER MOST THE SWEET TASTE, NOT THE BITTERNESS. THERE ARE THOSE WHO UNTUCK THEIR BIBS AND SAY TO ME: the sweetness had sunk to the bottom. IT WAS A PLEASURE TO HAVE MET YOU DEAR FRIEND. THOUGH THE PLEASURE WILL BE GREATER IF YOU FINISH THIS RACE.
It would then smile, with its pearly-white teeth and become more and more opaque and sink more and more into the shadows.