Dark Pages preview #3

In the ongoing series of previews from the Dark Pages anthology from Blade Red Press, here’s an excerpt from the third story in the collection:

Neptune’s Garden
by Lisa A. Koosis

Jacob opened his eyes to find moonlight had silvered a wedge of the bedroom wall, and her moon-shadow hovered within it. Her voice drifted in through the open French doors. “I’m planting. Go back to sleep.”

“Planting?” Propping himself up onto his elbows, Jacob squinted at the bedside clock.

She didn’t answer. Jacob kicked away the sheets, and the skin on his arms prickled as the sea breeze dried his sweat. He swung his feet onto the floor and padded toward the doors.

She was leaning over the deck railing, her hair curled in loose ringlets as it did after a shower. Her nightgown clung to her shoulders and thighs as if wet.

The breeze hinted of rain. Jacob thought of the little garden out back, its salt-coated stumps of failed azaleas and the bare, clawing arms of rose bushes. Rain wouldn’t help.

“Planting? Libby?”

“My new garden.” She turned to face him. Her nightgown, indeed wet, clung to her breasts. Her eyes glistened, trance-like.

Fragments of images fell across his memory. The night sky. Flames.

He reached for her, but she yelped when his hands touched hers.

“Lib?”

The glitter in her eyes dimmed, the trance broken. Her eyelids fluttered. Jacob caught her before she hit the deck.

*

Sitting on the closed toilet lid, Libby held out her hands. Though trails of tears lined her cheeks, she stayed silent.

Jacob wet the washcloth and dabbed her reddened hands, trying to clean the sores without tearing open the newly forming blisters. His hands shook. He rinsed the washcloth, and the reddened water swirled down the drain.

Picking fragments of shells from beneath her torn fingernails, he asked, “What were you planting?”

“I just wanted to plant something, Jacob.” One hand curled over her belly. “Something that would grow.”

He nodded. “What did you plant, honey?”

Her eyes met his, her wounded hands clutching him.

“The moonseeds,” she said, and then he held her while she sobbed.

*

After she fell asleep, he slipped outside, descended the deck’s stairs, past his surfboard, and onto the night-cooled beach. Sand rimmed the hem of his pajama bottoms like salt on a margarita glass. The moon loomed large in the night sky like a Sword of Damocles hanging above the Earth, a frozen giant meteor of pending doom.

Meteor. His breath lodged in his throat. Like a half-remembered dream he saw them, ghosts that burned his retinas, leaving an after-image all these hours later.

To the right, tendrils of pale green light rose from the sand. He started toward it.

Standing by the window, pushing aside the filmy curtains. “Lib, you have to see this.”

“What are they?” she’d asked.

“Meteors, I think.”

Moonseeds, the memory of Libby’s voice whispered.

His foot slid from beneath him, and Jacob jerked back, sitting down hard on the sand. Maneuvering to his knees, he peered into a swimming-pool-sized hole. Wisps of green steamed up from it.

Jacob stared at the hole. His heart chugged. If he blinked, maybe it would vanish, would, in fact, never have been there at all. Around the edges, displaced sand formed a rooster-tail pattern, and pressed lightly into the sand were petite, deliberate footprints. Toes spread out, they headed right for the hole.

Where the footprints ended, the sand looked smooth, as if someone had slid down. He peered over. Green steam still rose from a bottom that looked like smooth, black glass. Seawater rippled across it.

On the far side, the sand was disturbed as well. Jacob envisioned Libby, hair wild, cooling the smoldering meteorite with cold seawater before clutching it to her chest like a baby and carting it up the side of the embankment.

That’s not right. It would be heavy. Cumbersome. Impossible.

More footsteps led away. Jacob followed them until they disappeared into the ocean. He stood, letting the surf nibble his toes.

Then he followed another set of footprints home, where Libby still slept, bandaged hands folded gingerly across her abdomen.

*

He watched her over breakfast, an island of unstirred cream atop his coffee. Milk slopped onto the table as Libby tried to spoon corn flakes into her mouth using her bandaged hands. On the wall, the seashell-shaped clock ticked away minutes.

She dropped her spoon and shoved the bowl towards him. A tsunami of milk and flakes cascaded out and onto his lap. “You can’t take this away from me, too.”

“Take this away? Libby? Take away what?”

Without responding, she rose from the table and started to walk away.

”Libby!”

Turning to look at him, she crossed her arms over her chest, an organic X, a barrier between them.

His shoulders tightened. “What have I ever taken away from you?”

Libby’s arms fell back to her side, the white of the bandages contrasting with her black shorts. “I don’t know. Nothing. I’m…”

He wiped up the spilled milk and soggy cornflakes, aware that she was watching.

“I’m just not hungry this morning,” she finished.

*

After he’d showered, shaved, and booted up the computer in preparation for the day’s work, he ventured outside. He found Libby kneeling in the sand-strewn grass by her dying garden. Her shoulders shook as she pruned dead branches from the rosebush, her bandaged fingers fumbling with the spring on the shears.

“I thought we were over this.” He wanted to be over this. He ached to be over it.

Rocking back on her ankles, she wiped her eyes with the backs of her wrists. “Well, maybe we’re not.”

“Libby…”

“Maybe I’m not,” she amended. “Maybe I’ll never be over it.”

He knelt behind her, putting his hands on her arms and pulling her back toward him. She sagged back, letting him hold her for a minute before she shook him off, and retrieved the fallen shears.

“I wished on those shooting stars last night.” She tried again to cut toward the plant’s surviving heart. “And my wish was answered. That’s why you can’t take this away from me, Jacob.”

He wanted to carry her inside and lock all the doors, to lock the world out. Instead, he retrieved a shovel from the garage and headed to the beach to fill in the crater.

*

Want to read more? Get the Dark Pages anthology today!

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