How Does Your Garden Grow?

     The sun shone. The heads of the tall grass dozed lazily in the afternoon light, occasionally nodding as a gentle breeze crept across the high plain. The sea of gold seemed to extend in all directions towards the horizon, and Jeremy knew nothing else. For as long as he could remember, the sea of tall grass had stretched into forever, only abated by the edges of the small clearing where the scarred and weathered wood of his father’s cabin stood. Jeremy had never known his mother, though his father had talked of her often.

            “Your mama was real beautiful,” Jeremy’s father would say. “She had hair the color of the tall grass shining in the summer sun. Her eyes were bright as the bluest spring sky, and her laugh was the soft dance of autumn rain on our roof. I’ll never know why she went off into the tall grass. But I don’t want you to go looking for her. There is something about that grass Jeremy. A man can get lost real easy in there.”

            Despite his father’s warnings, one day Jeremy awoke to find his father’s hammock empty and his morning chores left undone. A quick circuit of the clearing and the house yielded no sign of his father. That had been almost a year ago. Jeremy had gone on as he always did, with the plodding determination of an unimaginative (and some would say slow witted) eight year old. He got up every morning and collected the eggs from Fiona the hen, keeping a wary eye on Brewster, the half blind old rooster. Then it was on to Hinkey, the milk cow. Jeremy spent the rest of his morning weeding the vegetable garden and cutting some grass for Hinkey.

In this way he passed from eight to nine, the days blurring into an endless routine of morning chores followed by afternoons pouring over the few dilapidated books left on the bookshelf, pushing himself to make the cryptic symbols transform themselves into words that he could read. He would stubbornly do this until his eyes hurt and his head was pounding. He had made some progress. He was a whole chapter into the book about the great whale, and the words were becoming more recognizable in the last few weeks. This gave Jeremy a strange feeling, something that if he had had the words, he may have recognized as pride. Time passed. The sun shone, the stalks of grass nodded in the light breeze. Then came the dreams.

Jeremy awoke one morning with a strange feeling. The cobwebby tendrils of dream clung to his consciousness as he opened his eyes, but were soon dissipated by the rush of thoughts concerning his morning chores and other daily necessities.  A suggestion of what he had experienced while he slept lingered on, just enough to make him feel slightly unsettled for most of the morning. But the intense mental focus Jeremy needed to summon to read soon drove all other thoughts, subconscious or otherwise from his head.

The dream did not come again for a few nights, but when it did, Jeremy awoke to find that this time, he remembered more. He knew he had dreamt of the endless sea of grass, but something was different. There was something out there that called to him, not in a way that he could hear, but in his mind. Jeremy didn’t know what it was, but it felt strange, almost alien. The feeling of unease lasted longer and was more intense this time, but reading was again the panacea for his unsettled mind. The dreams came again for the next four nights, always the same: the sea of grass, and something, or was it someone? Calling to him in his mind. Sometimes Jeremy thought he could recognize that voice, but every time his brain would begin to make the connection, he would lose hold of it, like when father first was teaching him to milk Hinkey. And then they were gone. Jeremy was nervous at first. The dreams had gone before, but they had come back. He was certain the dreams would return, and he shuddered a little at the thought of what they would bring with them this time.

Three weeks passed. Jeremy woke each morning and went about his day, retiring each night with an increasing sense of dread at the impending return of his dreams. He woke in the middle of the night standing in the doorway of the shack, staring out into the endless expanse of grass before him, transmuted from gold to silver by the light of the full moon. Disoriented, Jeremy could not immediately process what had happened, and he stood for a few minutes in the doorway, unbelieving. He recalled no dream, but somehow knew that he had dreamt. Shivering more from fear than from the cool night breeze, Jeremy slowly made his way back into his hammock, drawing the blanket up under his chin as he father used to do when he would tuck Jeremy in. He lay awake for the rest of the night, ears strained to pick out the slightest unfamiliar sound among the night noises to which he was so accustomed. He dozed off a little before sunrise and woke to the anguished bellowing of Hinkey. Jeremy tumbled from his hammock and dashed out to milk the old cow, noting that it was much later in the day than he could ever remember sleeping. He spent the rest of the day in an agitated haze, his whole schedule thrown off by the strange event of the night before.

The following night he dreamt of voices. The one voice had become two, and these two were maddeningly familiar. Jeremy awoke in the dooryard with the realization that one of the voices belonged to his father. As he hurried back inside the relative safety of the shack, he figured the other softer, more musical voice must have been that of his mother, though he did not consciously remember ever hearing her speak. Somehow this knowledge soothed his troubled mind, and he was able to drift off to sleep relatively quickly. He woke at his normal time and went about his normal day, the oddity of his second sleepwalking episode forgotten. That night he dreamt that he could understand what the voices were saying. They called to him from the depths of the tall grass, inviting him to join them, telling him that they could show him the way. Jeremy tried to ask the voice of his father why he had abandoned Jeremy and their home, but the voice just continued on, imploring Jeremy to venture out into the silvery stalks. He awoke at the edge of the clearing.

This persisted for a week or so, and then came the night of the last dream. Jeremy was used to the voices by then, but he was not ready to see his father and mother walk out of the tall grass and back into the clearing. He ran to them, and was swept up into the burly arms of his father. Tears of joy streamed unheeded down the boy’s face as he looked back and forth between his parents. Jeremy had not realized how alone he had been until he wasn’t. He resolved to never let his parents out of his sight again. His tears slowly subsiding, Jeremy clutched his father’s neck, trying to catch glimpses of his long lost mother over his father’s burly shoulder. She was even more beautiful than his father had said, and she beamed at Jeremy when she caught his eye. Relief flooded the boy’s body. It was over now. He would never be alone again.

 

The creature was a great black mass, an inky, shifting monolith protruding from the sea of tall grass. It had what appeared to be three small white eyes set into a barely perceptible and altogether unsettling visage. It could shape and extend portions of its being at will, and it was to one of these protuberances that Jeremy now clung. There were two of them close to the boy, horrible excuses for the human form that shifted and pulsed with an unearthly life. Faces seemed to emerge and recede from the forms, the misshapen mouths forming words that would never be spoken.  A strange chorus of whispers seemed to emanate from the creature, and Jeremy mumbled back sleepy replies. The repulsive human forms began to change, and they wrapped themselves around Jeremy’s unconscious form. Soon he was swallowed into the inky blackness, not a trace of him or the revenants of his parents remaining. The whispering rose a level, then ceased. A repellant shudder convulsed the creature and then it glided off through the great sea of grass, its movement oddly elegant in the moonlight, a great vessel cutting its way through a vast ocean. But there were more islands in that ocean than Jeremy had ever dared to imagine. Tiny clearings much like the one that Jeremy had tended for that long and lonely year after his father had disappeared frequently interrupted the grass. It would seem that the creature was something of a gardener as well…