Home > Girl of the Night Garden(3)

Girl of the Night Garden(3)
Author: Lili Valente

If they dared, it’s likely Mother would kill them, just for spite.

I didn’t know when I took them that they would be outcasts, too.

I’ve told them I’m sorry a hundred times. Wig says, “not a worry, not a worry,” and seems content with our wandering life. Poke swears he “doesn’t care for dirt in his cracks,” but I can feel the melancholy that rises in him from time to time. I know he secretly longs for the discomforting company of other Skritches. The prickles in the night, and the stabs in the eye come morning.

So, when he says, “I’d like to see if it’s true. See if Glove and her two aren’t tougher than the rest of them,” I take his musing for what it is—a request.

“Do you know the way?” I ask, my feathers ruffling and my clawed feet beginning to itch. The call of the sleeping will soon be a summons I can’t deny.

“South by southeast and on until morning, south by southeast and—”

“On until morning,” Poke caws, drowning out Wig’s lighter song, stealing the end of his earworm simply to irritate the poor thing.

I sigh. They could use a distraction from the business of tormenting each other, and I could use a break from the winter chill.

This island could be just the thing.

“Four- or five-days’ flight,” Poke continues. “We could reach the island’s shore by the dark moon. It would give us three days… To see…”

While the moon is shuttered, all garden creatures cease our work. During the dark moon, the shadow side of the human mind rises, and their personal demons take hold, leaving no room for nightmares or sweet dreams.

Wig, Poke, and I spend those three days lying about, sleeping at odd hours, playing cards, sneaking into theaters to watch the humans sing and dance, gorging on treats that Poke steals from street vendors, and recovering from the other twenty-six days of the lunar cycle.

Nightmaring isn’t easy work.

Especially a deep, transformational haunt like mine.

There are nights when I can barely make it back to our camp, when Wig and Poke must carry me between their wings and tuck me into my blanket roll unconscious. I’ll sleep all day after such a night and awake at sunset still feeling hollow. Our three days of rest are vital. Without it, I might fade into the shadows and never find solid form again.

But rest—no matter how healing—isn’t always the best thing for a weary soul.

Sometimes even a planting needs an escape, an adventure…

“All right, then.” I stretch my wings out, out, until my feathers smudge to smoke at the tips. “We’ll go. See this island for ourselves.”

“Excellent! We can do it. I know we can. We’ll break those enchantments like china cups! Show the others how real night creatures rule the darkness!” Poke hops up and down a few times before leaping into the air to fly in a giddy circle.

I haven’t seen him this excited since the day he tricked Wig into flying into a closed window a few months ago. Even though I know he’ll be disappointed—the island’s enchantments will prove as powerless as the sigils and salt rubbed into the doors of the city below—I’m glad we’re going.

Anticipation is an enjoyable thing, even when the anticipated fails to materialize.

“We’ll leave tomorrow night.” I lift my beak to scent the air and find it muzzy with snores and snuffs. “We’ll go quickly and get as far as we can before.”

We all know before what. Before the need is too strong, before we’re pulled back to earth, to the shadows where nightmares gather before we unleash our power on the weary. I realize we plantings are a blessing to mortals—before the horticultural witches and their night gardens, humanity was wild and feral, lacking the fear necessary to evolve and keep their fragile bodies safe from harm—but still, I feel for them. Humans allegedly have sweet dreams, too, but I would not be a human for anything in the world.

Waking life is sufficiently disturbing. I’m grateful for the forgetfulness of a planting’s sleep, for those moments when I am simply a being at rest without a notion of who I am, where I’ve been, or what I’ve become.

For me, no dream could be sweeter than oblivion. To forget.

But I will not be forgotten. The world will remember my reign when men are fairytales told round the fires of whatever new monsters crawl from the fertile depths of the sea.

The sea… I’m suddenly eager to see it. If there is anything more nightmarish than a nightmare, the sea, with its fathomless depths and midnight mysteries, is it.

There’s something…interesting about that. Something dangerous, but exciting, too.

My smoky wings stretch wider. My black breast lifts and my lungs swell with cold air. The call has become a cry that ignites every cell.

It’s time.

Closing my eyes, I invite Mother’s magic in. It barely waits to be asked. It bursts through the barrier of my skin, rushing at me like a hurricane, and suddenly I’m full of holes.

“By the bell tower, by the bell tower,” Wig chirps as he flits away. “Meet you there, meet you…”

Before he can finish his round, I lose the ability to hear. I am a creature no longer. I am a net unfurled above the frozen city, stretching until every sleeping man and beast lies under my spell.

But it’s not the beasts I’ve come for…

The silk of my web vibrates with power, and the magic of the night garden falls from me like rain. It slides off the women and girls, the little boys and babies, but the grown men and young bucks with their softly whiskered chins are mine. The essence of Foxglove, the most lovely and terrible, dances across bearded cheeks, slips into sticky ears, burrows through the soft meat on the other side to plant the seeds that are mine alone to sow.

I dig deep. I cover the kernels with blood, water them with pain, wait until I feel them spark and germ before moving on to the next man and the next and the next.

I don’t know what they dream after I’ve touched them. I don’t know if they see my true face—the one Mother assured me was the loveliest any mortal would ever behold—or one of my other forms.

And I don’t care.

It doesn’t matter what they take from our meeting, only what I leave behind. After this, the men here will be gentled for life. No more violence, no more rage, no more taking their frustrations out on the women and children in their homes. From this day until their last day, no man in this city will be capable of breaking a woman’s heart or her bones.

It is my gift, and Mother’s revenge.

Sometimes I wonder about the man—the lover the Skritches whispered about long ago—who wounded Mother so deeply she felt compelled to bring her knife to my bed. Sometimes I think I would like to find him, to spread my web above him while he sleeps and unwind his mind until he can’t dream without weeping with remorse. Sometimes I imagine that, if I gave her true vengeance, Mother might let me return to the garden.

Most of the time, I know better.

Mother has a soft spot for mortal women. A number of them worship witches. Some have even been burned at the stake or drowned or worse for daring to practice the magical and healing arts. And in most human societies, they’re so pathetically powerless you can’t help but pity them.

Yet another reason I’m grateful not to be mortal.

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