The Walled Garden


Bernice led the children up the ladder to the small stone room which provided access to the garden.
Bernice loved visiting the garden; it was the favorite part of her day. The home she shared with her five siblings was stark and utilitarian. It possessed no color except steel and stone. It had no windows and the lighting was raw and empty unlike the warm light of the sun which bathed the garden.
They had all grown up in the house beneath the garden and it had not been a horrible existence. Mother and Father showered the children with love. They had toys and games in abundance to entertain them. Bernice was the eldest and as she grew assisted Mother in the care of the home and raising of her siblings. She had watched each of her brothers and sisters come into the world and had shared the joy as Mother introduced the newest child to the garden once they were old enough to climb the ladder and walk the paths within the walls.
Father had become ill two years ago just before William, the youngest, had taken his first steps in the garden. When he died, Bernice had assisted Mother in taking the body to the garden and burying him beneath the begonias which Father had planted many years before. It was a sad time when Father died but the children had Mother and the garden to bring them joy.
When Bernice turned 15 she questioned Mother for the first time about the high wall. Why could they never see what was on the other side? Why was there no gate or portal through the wall? Mother had simply stated that such things were not spoken of. The wall was for the safety of the family and none of them could travel beyond it. This was simply the way of the world. This explanation vexed Bernice but she accepted it as Mother’s will.
Mother fell ill two weeks ago and Bernice feared for her life. Much like Father, she was wracked by coughing fits and her beautiful black hair began to fall out. Bernice pleaded with Mother; perhaps she could travel beyond the wall and find help but Mother forbid it. Bernice dutifully obeyed. She cared for her younger siblings and took them on their daily walks through the garden while Mother became weaker.
Bernice awoke to find Mother still and cold. She could not move the body to the garden alone and enlisted Rolf and Amanda, the next eldest children, to help her haul the body up the tall ladder and bury Mother next to Father in the garden.
The other children joined her in the garden to stand over the mound of dirt and quietly mourn their parents. It was Fiona who finally asked the obvious question: now that Mother was gone what was to stop them from seeing beyond the wall.
Bernice could find no reason. Mother and Father had declared the law but they were now dead. As the eldest it would seem that she was now in charge.
She directed the children to gather several trellises and together the children built a ladder which reached to the top of the wall. Bernice cautioned her siblings to wait below and steady their improvised ladder while she climbed to look beyond the garden wall. She moved upward with deliberation testing each slat before entrusting it with her weight. The trellises groaned and creaked as she climbed but the sun dried wood held and soon she reached the top of the gray stone wall. Anticipation made Bernice’s heart race. What would the world beyond the garden be like? She imagined fields of flowers and babbling brooks. The landscape would be dotted with other walled gardens with children like themselves who would soon become their friends.
Smiling with anticipation Bernice grabbed the top of the wall and pulled herself up. The grass, what little there was, was brown and desiccated. The ground was not like the dark soil of the garden, it was cracked and gray and small whirlwinds of dust chased each other across the landscape. There were people but they were not the friendly happy children of which she had dreamed. Hundreds, possibly thousands of forms shambled across the blasted land. They were as gray as the soil with missing limbs, torn flesh and bloody clothing. The only sound was the shuffling of their feet as they moved aimlessly. There were other walled gardens visible in the distance but their walls had crumbled and the monstrous people shuffled back and forth through the openings in the walls.
Bernice’s stomach clenched and she felt the rush of vomit up her throat, like when she had eaten too much candy on her fifth birthday. She vomited over the wall, splashing one of the shambling people who paused for a moment and then continued in his shuffling gait around the wall of their garden.
Bernice climbed down the trellis and was surrounded by her siblings. They all wanted to know how wonderful the world was beyond the wall. Were there other gardens? Were there children? When could they climb the ladder?
Bernice ignored their questions and began to dismantle the trellis ladder. Their questions and cries were rebuffed. None would climb the wall; the home beneath the ground and the garden would be sufficient for their needs. The wall would keep them safe.
When they asked why, Bernice responded that she was the eldest and her word was law and that was all they need know.


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