How does your garden grow?
Above the roar of the tiller, he mopped the sweat from his eyes. He glanced at the nearby houses, sure that eyes were staring back. The neighbors were always watching, always concerned with whatever business wasn’t their own. Still, if he waited for privacy, he’d never get anything done. There were eyes always watching, even the pebbles beneath his feet were looking up, staring expectantly. Grind them back down, he thought, eyes always watching, even when there were no eyes… grind them back down…
The new guy seemed alright. He kept himself to himself, just looking for a place to retire, to be left alone. It took weeks for him to catch on to the grapevine, where he had already been a popular subject. In gossip from the neighbors, something was revealed that the real estate agent had failed to disclose, that the former owner had killed himself in the residence.
But there was no time for such tragedy and drama, there was something else, something real, going on. Strange noises suggested someone was prowling around the yard in the dark. Yanking back the curtain one night, he saw nothing but heard the sound of heavy steps running away.
The garden had been going well, so well, in fact, he couldn’t give all the vegetables away. Just the same, they wouldn’t want them if they knew… But maybe things were going too well. The grass grew faster, the weeds cropped up taller, and even the flowers, the enormous blossoms that made him proud and his neighbors jealous, now nauseated him with their sickly-sweet scent. The neighbors got a show when he went screeching across the yard after battering one of the gigantic things down with a rake. No one knew what it was all about, it made no sense… He was screaming about its face, about its staring eyes.
The heat grew and grew. The endless rain fed the sprawling green around him. The two in conspiracy turned the air into a stifling, suffocating mugginess that left him weaker by the day. Caring for the yard pushed him to his limits, the jokes he made about a heart attack or heat stroke were indeed only half jokes.
It was almost like the place was stealing his life away as the weeds grew greener and taller. The rain was not enough, they were thirsty for sweat… and even blood. He watched from the windows at all hours, convinced someone was there, but to his horror they no longer ran away. He longed to confront these invaders, but to his shame he was too frightened to go outside after dark.
They say, towards the end, that he disappeared into the house. He was never a friendly person, so no one missed him for a long time. All they knew, or cared about, was that he let the yard go to hell.
It became a twisted tangle of weeds, vines, and saplings with the hideously large and grotesque flowers peeking up and out of the mess. Once the growth slacked off in fall, a particularly determined (and nosey) evangelical made the discovery. After pushing aside a blue monstrosity and peeping through a gap in the blinds, he saw a sight that even his savior could never erase from his mind.
He saw the moldy splatter blown up the wall and the leathery corpse less those parts of the head lost to the shotgun blast. The withered hands still clutched it, as though still hoping that it could grant mercy and peace.
They say the new guy didn’t last too long, either. He had taken to patrolling the property at night. They did not know or care that his fear had grown so great that any price to know the truth was better than to tremble in the dark. There was someone there, he knew there was, but he had long since abandoned the belief that they were living. Before his eyes, ghostly forms had taken shape, stepping from the leaves to stare, then stepping back again. But the night would keep its secrets cold and quiet. The truth was only found in a daylight stroll when he stepped off the path his steps had worn along the garden. His eyes had turned from a giant blue flower, a loathsome thing he wished to avoid, drawn down to a snapping noise beneath his foot. Staring up from the soil, one of but many that would be found, was a fragment of a human skull. It was staring up, even without its eyes…
story by Joe Stanley
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