Random Topics for a Morning's Coffee

Garden of a Scented Moon

short-story science fiction

Paul's garden was his hobby. Being in the desert, making a garden look green instead of brown year-round was a challenge. Little rainfall and high prices for piped-in water meant plants had to be chosen carefully. Low-water evergreen plants were best as far as he was concerned. The desert tended to go brown and drab with a vengeance in the winter.

On a spring weekend, Paul attended a swap meet in the city. It was a typical big-city event, large and colorful, with items ordinary and one-of-a-kind. He passed near a booth selling wind chimes. Most of the items were those you find in department and discount stores, but one caught his attention. It looked hand-made by a skilled craftsman. Its many vertical chimes were poised to strike at several small gongs, and each piece had an unusual, semi-iridescent glow. It hung from an odd hook shaped like a curved, three-clawed hand.

He saw the words "Garden Protector" embossed on a center chime. The price was reasonable. Paul went over to the woman behind the table, placed the wind-chime before her, and pulled out some money. "That's a special one," she said. "It's the last of them we have. Do you want a receipt?" He shook his head no, took the bag she slipped around the chimes, and left.

Not every plant in his garden was evergreen, of course. Vegetables and herbs are mostly annuals. Some of the herbs were there just to keep bugs away. All plants, evergreen or not, are secret chemical factories. Not being able to run away or swat insects, they evolved the ability to produce a range of scents and sap ingredients that kill or disgust bacteria, bugs and many animals. Humans also react to these chemicals, sometimes using them as flavorings in cooking, sometimes to perfume the air, and sometimes as psychedelics.

Paul didn't pay attention to the unapproved uses of his more exotic plants, as long as they were legal and fit into the garden. He had them growing as companion plants, like guard dogs for sheep. The garden had a problem with things chewing on it: insects, rabbits, desert wood rats and pocket gophers.

He found a handy tree limb to hang the wind chime from, and didn't worry about what was growing nearby. There were other things to attend to, and a wind chime would catch the wind outside no matter where it was.

Days later, Paul found himself outside in the evening. The night was cooler than usual and the wind made the chime sound in occasional fits. The sky held a full moon. So that's why he was out, he thought. Full moons seemed to draw him into the night, although he could not say why. He moved to the arbor bench in the center of the garden. The birdbath was mirror-still, a reflection of a moon-lit sky. Fragrance filled the air, provided by flowers seeking the attention of moths and leaves warning unwanted visitors.

Gusts of wind arrived, catching bushes, trees, leaves and flowers. They were beckoned to move and sway, first to the left, then straight up, then back again and the motion repeated. It caught the chime and a melody played, not some random jangle, but a purposeful pattern of notes. Sounding off-worldly, the tune repeated, then changed, but stayed as a progression of the first.

A droning noise arose, as if a group of bees had come to take advantage of nighttime nectar and pollen. Shrubbery began to take on an eerie glow. Water in the birdbath started a quiet ripple. The fragrance in the air became overwhelming.

People abruptly materialized opposite the birdbath, as though a party were in progress. Only these weren't people, quite. They wore odd tunics and carried unfamiliar bows and arrows. Paul felt as if he had been transported to another place. Although appearing to speak, they made no sound. Only the wind-chime and droning broke the silence.

The people, if that's what they were, began to move in some familiar ritual. Dancing to and fro, spinning and whirling. Paul sat transfixed, mute, watching this drama that seemed to be orchestrated by chimes and swaying plants. Bows were raised in unison. Where had he seen those strange hands? Arrows leapt high in the air, meeting in a bright intense blaze which hovered, then slowly fell, picked up speed and came to earth in a crimson splash.

The wind stopped unexpectedly and the chiming subsided. The people faded and disappeared as though ripples of a mirage. No shrubbery moved. He was alone in his garden once more. A short while later, Paul walked back to the house and went to bed. He dreamt fitfully through the rest of the night of hunting in deep, mysterious jungles with luminous eyes and strong tropical smells.

Early next morning Paul went to the garden. Morning sun revealed a shrub with bright red flowers now growing where the ritual had taken place. It was not there before. He didn't dare get close. Thousands of insects and caterpillars, dozens of rabbits, rats and gophers lay dead on the ground around it, as though placed by a hunter returned from the hunt.

Further on, the chime, entangled by a flowering vine, was pulled off-center. How could it have played? Or was this the reason it played the way they did? The Sacred Datura vine was poisonous and he had never seen it climb a tree before.

Paul looked over at the pile of dead bodies and pondered. Did he want a repeat of last night, even once a month? It would be good to have less nibbling at his garden, though. He decided to separate the chime from its friend and move it to another tree. The mammals and insects could be disposed of in a plastic trash bag. He would decide after next full moon if the chime should stay.

© 2017 by Dennis Evans