Home > Girl of the Night Garden

Girl of the Night Garden
Author: Lili Valente

 

Prologue

 

 

Foxglove

 

 

The night she cut me away from my sisters, the stars wept.

For sixteen years I’d grown side by side with the other girls with the belladonna hair, our cool limbs entwined, our lidless eyes always open, fixed on the aching infinite. In the night garden, far from the realms of man, the lamps are never lit.

But who needs lamps when there are stars?

Stars like diamonds shattered by an angry god’s hammer. Like wet teeth glistening on a bed of velvet.

There is no end to them. They reach back to the beginning and past the beginning to the end, until they reach around the idea of forever and brush fingers with All That Ever Will Be.

I know it. I’ve seen it. I was dreamt in the dark, birthed in shadow, grown with magic and midnight kisses, and watered with witch’s spit.

Back then, my eyes had yet to be ruined by the giddy creep of a glorious sunrise, the scarlet tragedy of a sunset slipping behind sleepy blue hills. I was pure and cool and open, the secrets of the universe burning themselves onto the backs of my always-open eyes.

When I close them now, I see the patterns, the way those perfect points of light bled and swam the night I learned to cry.

“My girls, my sweet beauties. How I’ve missed you.” The words were the same, but Mother’s voice was different. It dipped and fell when it should have swooped and swung, clutched when it should have caressed.

Mother was always happy in the garden. She’d take off her shoes and dance with her toes flicking dirt into the air, tickle the plantings awake with her song and fill her daughters with wonder until it flowed down our throats, fizzing our skin from the inside out.

All of us—we Sisters in our bed, the rows of Earworms curled up like cabbages, the Skritches with their restless twig legs, even the faceless Thieving Trees with their black, sanity-stealing fruit—all of us lived a little harder when Mother came to care for her children. And she’d been gone for so long, leaving buckets of food and water by our bed to ration out for weeks at a time instead of coming to break bread with her girls and tell us stories of the world below.

The Skritches whispered that she had a “lover” on earth, one she sometimes brought to the garden late in the evening, but I had never seen this creature. Once, I thought I caught a glimpse of a figure taller and broader than Mother peeking out from the Thieving Trees’ grove, but it disappeared before my sisters could see it too.

And if they hadn’t seen it, I hadn’t, either.

We were we, after all.

And we all adored Mother. Worshipped her. Ached for her voice and thrilled to see her slipping through the gate after too long away.

That night, our sleepy arms reached for the sky, filled with electricity. Our fingers waved at the stars and rubbed the planets under their hairy chins. Our hips swayed, bumping against the hips of our sisters, all of us giggling, the tangle of our toe roots burrowed deep in the soil assuring us we would never be alone.

We were we for always, each sister as much a part of the others as drops of water in a jar.

“Come little glove, my kind, clever girl,” Mother said, drawing me against her, the fabric of her cloak soft against my skin. “You will be the one to do it best.”

Her cheek was wet when it pressed to mine—hot, shuddery, and soft, the opposite of the steel that kissed my thigh so cold and sharp.

Terrifying, I would have thought, if I’d known the word.

I didn’t. All I knew was that my blood rushed and my skin burned. My mouth opened, and language tried to rise inside of me for the first time.

I’d never needed language before, but now I needed words and will and voice.

Now I needed “Stop!”

And “Please!”

And “Mother, no!”

I came into my I-ness bleeding and crying and reaching pale arms back to my sisters, with red and black rushing from stumps where I had once been melded to other slim thighs and soft calves. I came screaming against the flicker of unfamiliar eyelids, and the jerk-thump-jerk of my new heartbeat.

I hated that lonely lurching rhythm, as painful as the wounds retching my blood onto the soil.

My new limbs, feet, and toes grew in almost immediately—coaxed along by Mother’s whispers and tears—but now that I’d found my voice, I couldn’t silence it.

I screamed without ceasing.

The physical pain was gone, but I was too new to understand the difference between dying and feeling like I was going to die. Between a killing wound and the more brutal, but survivable, rip of a soul being torn apart.

Grief so profound I still lack the words to express it eclipsed thought and feeling. I didn’t know much, but I knew the severing was forever, that I could never reclaim the Everything that I had lost.

“My poor girl. But don’t despair.” Mother’s lips whispered against my forehead. Tears dripped from her chin to join mine on cool cheeks.

But already my skin was warming, flushing hotter than anything I’d felt before.

“I know, my darling. I know it hurts, but it will be worth it. I promise.” She stroked my hair and wrapped me in her cloak to cover what I now understood was my nakedness. “You’ll save them. Every gentle soul, every woman and girl suffering on that cold, wretched rock. Thanks to you, no heart will break like this again.”

No heart…

What care had I for hearts? I had never strayed an inch from where I’d been planted. I was not human. I wasn’t even animal. I was night and hush, a vessel full of the universe. I was peace and presence and the reflection of the natural order in all its perfect mathematical cleverness, without understanding of right or wrong, good or bad, grace or wickedness so foul it can take any shape formed from the darkness.

I didn’t know what I was being bound to that night. Or how terribly it could all go wrong.

Please…if you believe nothing else, believe that.

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

Foxglove

 

 

I am a cat made of midnight, invisible in the darkness.

I am the cat’s shadow. I am the curled tail of the rat that flees into the sewer to escape claws and teeth. I am the rush of murky water along bricks, slimy with human waste. I am beetle eyes and black mold on damp walls. I am the gloom of the underground puddled against a sleeping boy’s belly. I am the smoke that rises from his father’s cook fire, oily and smelling of sausage.

I am every twilight-flavored thought that ever waltzed through a weary human mind and as inescapable as the coming of the night.

Inescapable.

That, most of all.

There are those who believe living below ground offers protection. Others assume the bulk of their mansions, or the lead in their walls, or their distance from the cities, or their gods or monsters or armed men or sacred symbols etched in blood will keep my curse away.

They’re wrong, of course.

But not even a nightmare can be everywhere at once.

My smoke-self rises through a rusted sewer grate and up, up into the air above this frozen northern city. Higher and higher, until I can see all the cobblestone streets of Old Town, where the ancient lanes form the spokes of a wheel as they stretch away from the city center.

Empty spokes.

There are no humans out tonight. The only things scurrying are the nocturnal creatures and the trash tumbled about by the winter wind. A soggy newspaper flaps hello from the gutter; a tin cup rolls over and over with a clink-clank that echoes like a dare through the alleyway. Even the chimney tops are quiet, holding their smoky breath.

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