In the small village of Creak death was not always the end, it was an end, but not the end. Tradition demanded that any who died within Creak had to be planted. It was quite poetic in a way, that death would bring new life, though it wasn’t always the case.
To plant the dead they first had to be drained of all fluid, then their organs were removed and preserved within jars, and finally their bones would be harvested (a feast for the Hounds of the Valley). All expect the skull which was to remain exactly as it was at the head of the seed.
Once the body had been fully prepared it was wrapped in cloth, shaped into a cocoon with the skull for a face, and all bound together by a lacquer of honey and wax. Then at last the body was buried, only now it was thought of not as a body, but as a seed to bare life. New from old, or so tradition claimed.
The seed was buried no deeper that four foot underground (to allow the water to take to the roots… should there be any). But buried where? That part was quite specific.
The village of Creak had once been a vast empire the ruled from the mountain tops, its city walls overhanging the edge of the mountainous cliffs, its building rooted deep in the Valley of the Gods. For years without end the Great City of Creak stood firm, until at last the Gods saw fit to strike it down. In a thunderous avalanche of gargantuan feet and raging mare Creak fell, crumbling piece by piece, an entire civilisation lost in one foul sweeping of the divine.
Creak, as it is now, was born from the ruins of that once great city. A small village residing around what had been the cities Opera House (it was here that greatest bards and tale spinners would gather to enlighten the World of man as to its history and heart). Now the Opera House was barely a shell of cracked marble with the remnants of statues enormous flitted about the snow-laden grounds.
But one relic had survived, a garden, a place where no snow fell, where the sun shone eternal and the face of Fertility watched over her children. Here, in this very garden, the seeds would be planted, all without exception.
The planting of seeds was a task undertaken by Grimm, before him it had been his father, and before him his father, and before him… the list went on. Grimm’s linage had cared for the gardens and the dead alike ever since the fall of the city. They were mountain climbers, heroes of their time, in days long past they’d have been sent into foul storms and far over-edge to save those that had lost their way in the mountains. It was a linage that held proud to this day. And with the garden placed precariously over the lip of the mountain’s grandest of waterfalls – jutting out over the ledge, and island with its edges well hidden by thick clouds – it was a linage that had served Grimm well. Never once had he lost his footing on the island of a garden, never once had he misjudged where the gardens met their end at the edge. Had he, then he might have found himself tumbling through clouds down into oblivion…
They said that plants only grew from the seeds of the most notable deaths. They said that the plants that did grow were a reincarnation of that persons spirit, of their true self. They said that when the plant finally withered you had been all but lost to memory, and only then would the spirit be offered a gift, the gift of re-birth.
All superstitious nonsense. Grimm mused. Ain’t once that I’ve seen a man or woman rise from the ashes of a plant. Ain’t a person living that claims they’ve lived before… except mad old Freiga, reckons she was a horse in one life, galloping through the ruins of Creak!
Now don’t get me wrong, I do what I love and I love what I do, but I don’t believe in tales from an age older than my grandfather’s father. Ain’t no way of proving them right! In his time Grimm had seen no less than four dozen plants bred from these seeds – and I’ve seen a great deal more dead than just a meagre four dozen. The mountains were far from an easy home, many died at childbirth, mother and babe. Perhaps it’s better that way. Grimm shook his head, silver spilling from his scalp and down into his eyes. He picked at a scab that hung from his nose. Winter’s coming. He snorted. Winter never left us.
He had with him a shovel swung over one shoulder, and a seed lain on the other. This particular seed was tiresomely small.
“That flower there was for Dante.” he explained to the seed, nodding at a Rose (five times the size of any normal rose) with bright red petals dipped in a crisp yellow. Two stark black dots gave eyes to the flower, and its thorns gave teeth to a gruesome snarl. “Brave as a lion, was he.”
“And that one’s for Gretta.” he gestured at a Snow White stem the held alone the heavy heads of seven, sea blue bells, “Gentle, was Gretta. Voice of an angel.”
Grimm pointed here and there;
A Sunflower nine foot tall was the product of a young girl who had never ceased to be smiling, radiating a warmth to all those that had surrounded her.
A cluster of Cardinal Reds with pointed heads, that were almost the colour of blood, had sprouted from a huntsman famed for the way his arrows always found the heart of the beast he pursued.
A Jack-in-the-Pulpit had bloomed from the seed of a trickster. Yellow Archangel’s towered atop the seed of a priest. A heap of Goatsbeard hung low over the seed of the Creak’s longest living farmer (Gods rest his soul. Gods rest them all.).
In all the Garden was a beautiful place, when you forgave its true meaning. Death. It’s all that’s here, no matter how pretty it look it’s death. And ain’t one ever coming back.
“Here we are, friend.” Grimm sighed, tossing the seed gently to the ground. He’d chosen a spot he was used to avoiding, but with the bodies piling up from the recent plague he couldn’t afford to be choosy. Every inch of garden would soon be covered. “You’re a lucky one, you’ll have Mother Fertility to watch on over you.”
Grimm began to dig, no more than four foot deep, just inches from the base of Fertility’s shrine (which was a statue that depicted a cow with two heads and a belly-full of udders, being milked by a maiden with hands enough to grasp each and every teat).
The sun was settling on the far horizon by the time Grimm was done. The snow kept to the clouds giving the sky a false appearance of calm, and the waters rushed ever over the headed edge of their fall.
“What a view.” Grimm smiled, wiping clean the salt of sweat from his brow. If he had been a betting man he’d have put a fine penny on this particular seed baring a mighty fine bloom. Well, with Fertility close at hand, and a view to die for (or worth coming back for)… it’s all nonsense though. Flowers grow as they wish, ain’t a soul in the ground that’s got anything to do with it! Packing up his gear Grimm set off for home.
Every day for the next half-year Grimm visited the grave at the foot of Fertility. And with good reason, too. Something spectacular had happened just the very day after he’d buried that particular seed. The plague had all but vanished. There were symptoms, still, in some of the sufferers, but of victims there had been no more. It was this seed that was the last to be taken. But this was the lesser spectacular of the two miracles that occurred.
On the anniversary eve of the seeds burial, exactly half a year later, Grimm was watering the anointed dead – Creak’s resident priest had taken to blessing the seed for its gift to their village – when it began to bloom.
Out from the ground rose tiny vines like fingers, tied to a trunk that looked more like an arm. When what could have been called an elbow reared its head the bloom stopped, and opened. Grimm looked now upon an open hand of gnarled and knotted roots, at the very centre of which the seeds own skull was held. Those dark sockets peered out over the garden and into Grimm.
“By all the Gods, never had I ever…” Grimm reached out to touch the bloom, but it veered back away from his grip, “And it moves!” he smiled, “Does it speak?” he eyed the bloom with thoughtful care, gazing wonderingly into those lifeless sockets of abyss. “Rumour has it you get a choice.” he said, crouching down beside the bloom as it stretched back away from him, “You get to carry on, to cross over into the next World, wherever that might be. Or, you get to come back. Just like that.” Grimm opened his arms in offering to the bloom, “So friend, what will it be?”
The bloom tilted its arm and with it the skull dipped, painting a picture of deep consideration.
Grimm laughed, “Talking to a plant, my old man would run me ragged!” he dusted himself off and turned to leave, “Don’t worry friend, I’ll be back tomorrow.” but the sound of breaking dirt saw him freeze in his walking to leave.
Behind him the wooden hand receded into the earth, a chasm of dirt forming around where the hand had once been. Cracks lurched out from the grave and snapped at Fertility’s feet. Grimm could feel the grounds unsettling beneath him, the garden groaning and shivering from deep down below. When he turned around he faced neither a skull nor a bloom nor a seed.
He faced a young girl, her skin burnt, her eyes blackened. She was crying tears of rosewater red. And she was naked, naked as a babe save for the petals that adorned her charring body.
Grimm stood there in stunned silence.
The girl first looked around the garden, her face paled in an expression of agonising pain. Then she looked up at Grimm, and through cracked lips she whispered, “It was you. You did this to me… you did this to us.“
Copyright © K R Perry 2019