The Poison Garden

In the dead of night a girl flees all she's ever known, fearing for her life and seeking to save that of her brother.
Far into the forest, beyond yew trees grown on human flesh, she seeks the Serpent, a small community of individuals secretly thriving away from the pious eyes of the Garden.
If she's lucky, their interests might just align.

Follow Henbane, Bluebottle, Mistletoe and others as they seek to tear down their old lives in order to build them anew.

(Cover by WinterSoldier)

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3. Chapter 2 - Bluebottle

The day had been long but Bluebottle felt revitalised as soon as Sheep’s tongue slurped across her face.

White and black and full of nought but love – in his eyes Bluebottle saw her every reason to love another being.

“Come here, then!” She cooed, pushing the door to her room shut behind her and crouching slightly, arms out-stretched so the border collie could leap into them. “What a good boy! Have you missed me?”

Bluebottle knew it was perhaps cruel to keep a dog in a bunker whilst she worked all day, but ever since she’d left her parents’ dog kennels, her days had been missing something, and Sheep was it.

He had been wandering the streets, limping and fearful, and Bluebottle hadn’t had the strength to deny his pleas, even more so as he was most likely a descendent of the border collies she had bred with her dad and pa for farm work.

Every time she recalled her parents, she squeezed the dog a little tighter, cooed a little more determinedly.

With every waking hour, even two decades later, she missed them, their songs, even their scoldings.

Reluctantly, she put the dog down, spreading her fingers briefly through the soft white fur of his head.

“Stay.” She told him.

He spun by the door, yapping demandingly.

“I’m just getting changed. Didn’t Henbane take you out?”

In reply, Sheep continued his dance, tail thumping on the door with each spin.

By her wardrobe, still beaming from the slobbery embrace, Bluebottle removed her sleek black hair from it’s professional bun, letting it fall down her back. In place of her long dark skirt she pulled on loose brown trousers. After hanging up her white blouse, she slid into a more comfortable white vest, and a sheep’s wool jumper Hellebore had made her for the autumn chill that was creeping in. She fished her blue-lensed glasses from her carry-case and within minutes Sheep was released into the corridor.

Bluebottle followed at her own pace, making sure the door to her room was properly closed and her glasses secured on the collar of her top, when a yelp came from further down the corridor.

“Sheep, no!” The startled voice blustered, “Down! Sheep! Down!”

Sheep stood back on his hind legs, paws batting insistently at his victim, who was now close to being curled on the floor, giggling under the tickle of the dog’s tongue.

“Sheep.” Bluebottle called, and in bounds and wiggles the dog returned to her side and hooked his front paws over her right arm.

Bluebottle peered at the figure on the floor.

“Henbane.” She sighed, “You have to be firmer with him.”

Henbane was bedraggled, and looked weary, much of which Bluebottle assumed could be credited to Sheep.

“And is there a reason why it should not be you’re responsibility to secure him on a rope, Blue?” Henbane huffed, rising to her feet and pressing down her hair where it had been gelled vertical by dog licks.

“Dogs shouldn’t be on leads, they have to be free to run around.” Bluebottle protested, as Henbane fell into step beside her.

“Then why do you contain him in your room all day?”

Someone is supposed to walk him.”

Henbane stopped, then hurried to catch up.

“I’m sorry!” She cried, “I have so much time to fill, I simply forgot to track it! I was translating-”

“Translating your leaflet.” Bluebottle finished, “Any luck?”

Henbane perked up.

“Yes, actually!” She beamed, “It is complete.”
“And?” Bluebottle asked, as they began to climb to the fourth floor.

“Useless.”

“Naturally.”
“But no librarian of the Chapel of Knowledge would have dared misplace such a document!” Henbane insisted, stressing her words with her hands, “There must be some cause to it having been forbidden!”

“Perhaps it wasn’t forbidden, perhaps it fell from the normal shelves and under the forbidden door.”

Henbane pursed her lips at this, clearly upset by the suggestion.

Bluebottle let her be upset – she’d forgotten to walk her dog.

The Chapel of Knowledge had been both a dream and a nightmare of Bluebottle’s in her life time. She’d never entered it herself, but Hellebore had described it too her a long time ago, all wonderment and joy, in precise detail.

When Bluebottle was friends with Hellebore, she had been envious of the other girl’s ability to read, and now that she could read, she was envious of the other woman’s previous access to the library.

The arrival of her new neighbour, another worshipper of the library, was like a nail in the coffin.

This girl had had access to the library, to it’s words, for the majority of her seventeen years of life. For most of Bluebottle’s twenty-eight years, she had been unable to even understand the beauty of the written word.

She had read her first full book – the Holy Book – at the age of 18, when, after discovering that a blue light helped the words on the pages stay still, Poppy had constructed her a pair of blue-lensed glasses from wire and re-shaped plastic salvaged from near the buildings of the Old Civilisation.

Part of the reason Bluebottle had started work as a nanny for Rose children was to gain access to library books – relishing the snippets she got in the educational books that her charges brought home.

There were other reasons, but the books were one.

Another was money.

The final reason she had chosen the job had long since ceased to be an issue, replaced by something far more wonderful.

 

~

The cool air was sweet after the warm tightness of the bunker.  It rolled through the surrounding forest like a tidal wave, dwindling to a light breeze by the patio of the Reaper’s hut that marked the exit from the bunker furthest from the Garden.

“Have you ever met the thing?”

“I’m looking at a ‘thing’ right now.” Bluebottle’s lip crooked teasingly, “Be more specific.”

Henbane huffed her offense, but clarified,

“The Reaper.”

“Yew?”

“I’m not-” Henbane began, face scrunched in confusion, unsure whether this was another insult.

“The Reaper is called Yew. Y-E-W.”

“It has a name?”

“Yes. They have a name.”

Bluebottle could see Henbane considering that on her lips, sounding the pronoun and name, and she smirked. She knew full well the beatings the girl had suffered – she had come to them with so much pomp and ignorance, and was unafraid to approach her closest neighbour to ask for help.

For Bluebottle, the past was painful, but she’d been at the mercy of a friend’s knuckles, and was loathe to put anyone else there.

Luckily, she had learnt how to evade the truth.

“Have you seen them, then?”

“You still ask many questions.”

“Harmless ones.”

“You never know.”

“But have you seen them?” Henbane pressed, confident in her fresh harmlessness.

“Of course.”

Henbane’s eyes glittered with the wild kind of excitement only fear can create. Again, Bluebottle remembered that this girl was more than a decade younger than her – 17 years old and just off the cart into the dirt of the rejected.

“I met them when I was younger.” Bluebottle felt almost proud of herself for it under the admiring gaze of her more youthful neighbour, “My friend and I were almost knocked out twice by Death’s Weight.”

Henbane drew back.

“Knocked out? The Reaper can cause you to lose consciousness?” Her eyes were wide in alarm.

“I think they can do anything, honestly.” Bluebottle felt a chill in her spine.

“Anything…” Henbane breathed, then scrunched her face questioningly again, “But, wait, ‘Death’s Weight’?”

“The heaviness you said you followed.”

“That comes from the Reaper?”

Bluebottle nodded, glancing from Henbane to Sheep to ensure he was still where she could keep an eye on him, and hadn’t strode directly into a rogue patrol or something.

“I don’t feel it now, and I haven’t seen them even a single time since arriving. Aren’t they present at the hut?” Henbane wondered aloud.

“Frequently. I don’t talk to them often. They creep me out.” Bluebottle glanced back the way they had walked through the trees from the hut, rubbing the goose bumps from her skin. “You’d be better asking Wormwood about Yew. When the Reaper comes, to Wormwood is most often where they go.”

Sheep trotted back towards them, mouth agape with lolling tongue, and barked at Bluebottle’s feet before beginning his spinning dance again.

“I see.” Henbane mumbled, eyes drifting off to the blue of the sky. It was an entirely different blue, easier on the eyes, than the blue-green of the enormous glits which gave the bunker an under-water-like glow.

Bluebottle gave Sheep a passing scratch on the bum, then threw a stick into the trees. He followed in a flurry of furry white legs.

For a while, Bluebottle walked in silence, throwing new sticks for Sheep when he refused to bring them back and half-listening as Henbane continued to talk about every unimportant thing she could.

Instead of focusing entirely on Henbane, Bluebottle thought of Wormwood being so close to Death.

As a young girl, she had been determined and loud, like any child, but where most children showed naïve rashness, Wormwood seemed to seek risk knowingly.

Bluebottle remembered when she’d first come close enough to Yew to feel that presence. It was the night her parents were taken. ‘Treason against the Lord’ was what the Gardeners told her and their neighbours, but there had never been a trial, and no one who knew them had believed the verdict. Dad and pa were pious. She attended every Sunday school at their encouragement, followed them to church when they would attend. They hung sunflowers, fresh, over every door in the summer to request the protection of the Nameless God – the sun being the closest thing to Him.

That night they had been dragged from the house like murderers, kicking and yelling, beaten, eventually, to pulpy silence on the cobblestones.

As their broken bodies disappeared up the street, Bluebottle had stared in horror from her window.

She remembered the eeriness of the street once it was over, the curtains being drawn in every house, the dogs howling into the clouded night, and the Weight. The heaviness that seemed to turn everything black and white. It was that which eventually forced her back to sleep.

When next she felt it, she had been chasing Wormwood into the forest. The Weight had stopped her in her tracks. She fled, and left Wormwood to the fate of that Weight.

But Death had never come for her the way it had for Bluebottle’s parents. It was as though Death had approached her, and her first instinct had been to befriend it.

Bluebottle nearly envied her for that – just the sight of Yew entering and exiting the bunker caused her blood to freeze.

“Blue?” Henbane was peering at her curiously.

“Let’s go back.” Bluebottle breathed out slowly, watching her breath steam in the cooling air.

 

_____________________________________________________________________________________

AN: So, I've been really excited for this! For one, it's Bluebottle! If you've read 'Tea' (though 'Tea' needs rewriting, Bluebottle's position in it isn't going to change) you'll already know who Bluebottle is and a bit about her past, and I, personally, always get excited when I know about a character from a different book and get to see them again! (Like Percy is every book that isn't the actual Percy Jackson series!) So let me know if you like that. Obviously, it's been a very long time from when we last saw Bluebottle (Like, 10 years?) until now, and she's done a lot of growing. (If you'll note, Tea isn't present... Which does require an explanation, but one you're just going to have to wait for.)
BUT EQUALLY IMPORTANTLY, I have a very important pupper to introduce to you all:

This is Daisy, the youngest of my two lovely puppers, and my inspiration for Sheep! She's a white and black collie, and (we suspect) partially deaf. She's not very good with instructions or fetch, and her favourite foods are her own poop and guinea pig food, whilst her favourite person is her big brother Zac (my other doggo) who isn't very keen on overactive dogs (like Daisy.)

But I love her very, very dearly. She's the happiest, most active little soul I've ever known. She's got a penchant for trouble, but you can never doubt she's trying her hardest to be a good girl.

I hope you all love her, and Sheep by default, too!

 

-Alviss
 

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