Saturday, 11 August 2012

Short Story Challenge 5 - Garden of the Seventh Circle

      The ivy had continued to grow since I had left the village, now hiding the doorway behind it. But if you looked hard enough, and knew what you were looking for, you could just make out the faint outline of the archway – the framing of brickwork around the door, almost completely concealed behind a mask of dark green foliage.

      My fingers brushed the leaves gently as I slowly followed the wall down until I reached the door. The whole estate was so overgrown. I had lost count of the years that had come and gone since I was last here – it seemed a lifetime ago. And yet as I approached the hidden doorway, memories inched their way back in to my mind, one by one. Laughter in the sun. The smell of her chestnut hair. The twinkling of the silver bracelet in the water.

      I stopped and shut my eyes, taking a deep breath to compose myself. My hand trembled ever so slightly as I reached into the pocket of my overcoat, feeling for the cold iron of the key within. I had to do this. There was no turning back – nothing to go back to. Taking out the large ornate key with one hand, the other felt out in front of me, pushing aside the leaves and roots to gradually reveal the doorway. The keyhole was blocked with cobwebs and dirt, but nothing really to prevent me from gaining access. The lock turned with a stubborn scrape and click like it always had done – like I had never been away.
      Placing both hands against the darkened wood I pushed. Nothing. For a moment my heart leapt. Perhaps the door wouldn't open anymore. Perhaps it was meant to stay shut and I was suppose to just walk away and never come back. If I couldn’t get in then that was that, right? It was out of my hands…
      Unacceptable. This was the reason I was here – I couldn't let my cowardice get the better of me this time. With a renewed resolve I shoved the door again, hard. There was a soft earthy scraping – as if a seal was being broken, and the door started to open inwards. Once the gap was wide enough to squeeze through, I stepped into the cool shade beyond.

      The hedge corridor had become an ugly mutation of itself. Once neatly trimmed with a pleasing angular appearance, it now stretched up high above me, wild in all directions, its stiff branches clawing at me with gnarled knuckles as I slowly pushed my way through it. Most of the sunlight was blocked out and yet it felt hot and stifling. This path was once an open, bright and relaxing place but it was now only oppressive and suffocating. There was once a time when you could hear nothing but the rustling of the breeze or the chirping of small birds. Now it was all contained and muted – as if I could hear the squirming of the worms and insects crawling in the dirt and the hedges around me, having been disturbed from their deathly slumber by my intrusion.
      Pushing out of the hedge path, I had arrived at my destination. The pond in the middle of the overgrown garden lay there before me, stagnant and deceptively deep. Moss and lichen covered the surrounding rocks and the single statue that overlooked the scene. Once a serene angel – it now resembled a grotesque winged creature, looking down upon me with judgement in its eyes. It had bore witness to what I had done all those years ago and would never forget – even though I had tried to for so many years.
      The puckered white flesh of my beloved, flecked with droplets of moisture as she sobbed quietly. The arcs of thrashing water in the air, my arms straining as they held her under. The silver bracelet, still on her twisted wrist shimmering under the water as it caught the sunlight – lying so still.
      I wasn't scared. This was where my life had ended before. I mean truly ended. The rest of the time I had just been going through the motions, dead inside. Not being able to forgive, not being able to forget. Floating through this world like a ghost. The dinner parties, the cushy office, the award ceremonies – all meaningless. Empty. This was the only solace I could afford myself. The only justice I could see fit for my terrible secret.

      I had no idea how long had passed before I came to my senses again. Getting up from the stone bench I had been sitting on I slowly approached the water’s edge. It was green and fetid but I waded in knee deep, undeterred. I wanted to say something but the words to express how I felt had abandoned me.
      “I’m sorry”, was all that would come out, but this time I felt like I had truly meant it.
      As I drifted forward into murky suspension, I thought again about my beloved, back then when we had first met, when things were good. When the joy we shared was so sweet that it now seemed unreal - we didn't even know how fragile and fleeting it would be - how precious. As my lungs burned with righteous absolution I fancied I had caught a glimpse of shimmering silver, somewhere deep in the watery depths.

11th August 2012

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