Gardens are generally understood to be neutral ground. For all. Mortals. Immortals. Mankind and Monsters. Why else would so many myths feature them? Cannot get any more neutral than Nature. But what makes one a monster or a man? Why is mortality a thing at all? Why aren’t we all immortal? It seems unfair, doesn’t it? Well, it's designed to. And before you judge the poor mortal woman of Abrahamic legend. It wasn’t her fault. Wasn’t even the serpent’s fault. Nope.
Death, Monsters, and all manner of Despair and Suffering are all because of a lost bet. This isn’t a very common legend. It’s been lost to time - today, the only person who came close to understanding or re-discovering this mythic tale … or truth if you so believe - was a philosopher named Pascal. That is until two bored teenagers stumbled upon an enchanted relic in a great-grandmother’s attic.
Biqa laughed as he ran up the stairs, nearly out of breath. Toorgood was wheezing after him. “N-not fair. I can’t breathe, that doesn’t mean you win!” he panted before taking an inhaler out of his hoodie pocket and pumping the medicine into his mouth. Biqa turned to face his friend, swishing his veil over his shoulder. “You should have done that before we started running. It would have been like a jet pack fuel start, and you might have beat me,” he said arrogantly.
Toorgood narrowed his eyes and nudged his glasses up on his face, slowly removing the inhaler from his mouth once he was done counting, so he was sure the medicine had taken effect. “That is a very ignorant thing to say, Biqa.”
“Admit it, that asthma thing would be better if the inhaler worked like a jet pack.”
Shaking his head, Toorgood smirked. “I don’t want to blow my head off,” he said rationally.
Biqa rolled his eyes. “Where is your sense of magic and make-believe, you’re soo logical all the time. You need to loosen up and have a little fun.'' Then the veiled boy wandered over to look around the attic. “There must be something that even you can find fun in all this junk.”
“We’re supposed to clean the attic, Biqa, not play games.”
“Why can’t we do both?”
Knowing there was nothing he could do to change his friend’s mind, Toorgood went to the other side of the attic and started going through the boxes and looking around for himself.
“She sure has a lot of books.”
“Novelists are supposed to read in order to write well,” Toorgood replied in a matter-of-fact tone.
“These aren’t even in English.”
“Well she immigrated here when she was a kid, I think”
“I don’t know, somewhere in Europe, I forget.”
“Come here and look at this… I think this is a diary.”
“If it's a diary, then you should leave it alone. And don’t read it. Diaries are private.”
“I couldn’t read it if I wanted to. And if she didn’t want us to look at all the things, she should have done this herself. Come here and look at this, Toor, it's got pictures.”
Toorgood sighed as he put down the item he was looking at and went over to stand next to his friend. “She’s like a million years old, if I got wheezy coming up here, she definitely would and probably die.”
“Don’t be so dramatic. If she made it to a million years old she is not gonna die from some old attic dust.” Biqa chided. Then showed his friend the diary he was looking at.
It was a drawing of a garden. With a giant apple tree in the center.
“What is this? The Garden of Eden?”
“Or Idun’s Garden in Asgard.” Toorgood turned the page. There was a drawing of a woman with inviting eyes.
“This is … making me feel strange”
“Oh sure, now that you bring me over here and got me interested, you grow a conscience?”
“No, I mean…my head … I feel like ….something ….magical is happening.”
Toorgood rolled his eyes. “Oh, I’m not gonna get sucked into one of your pretend games, Biqa, put the diary away, and let’s go back to cleaning.” And right as Toorgood turned away to go back to the box he was at before, he saw that the attic had … disappeared? Transformed? It was just no longer there. Instead. There was a gate. And a soldier standing in front of it with a giant sword.
Toorgood turned around, only to find his friend was no longer next to him.
“Biqa! This isn’t funny!”
The panic was starting to set in and Toorgood reached for his inhaler, the feel of it being in his pocket calmed his anxiety. It was a kind of token that reminded him of the real world. The soldier did not move, yet he looked at Toorgood, in his gray fleece hoody and dark denim jeans that were tattered around his medically approved orthopedic shoes. He turned to see that the attic was indeed gone. Maybe he should have listened to Biqa’s intuition after all. Maybe he died. That dust could have been some sort of hallucinogen that was eating his brain. This was why he didn’t indulge his imagination. It was irrational and a cohort to his anxiety, it never took him anywhere fun, like Biqa’s did, with castles and dragons and adventure. He envied that his best friend had that luxury and didn’t seem to understand that it was different for Toorgood.
But right now he’d give anything to see Biqa’s arrogant smirk and the judgment and chastisement in the dismissive roll of his eyes. There was no one around but the soldier.
“Uhm, Excuse me, do you know what this place is? Have you seen another boy arrive here, he’s about the same height as me, with a veil scarf on his head and a flowy shirt and pants?”
The soldier’s gaze glanced down at the boy. Toorgood thought the guard looked like a cross between Anubis and Heimdall, only dressed in the garb of a Roman Centurian. Holding his shield and sword in front of him in a kind of relaxed guard pose. The pointed doberman-type ears didn’t move, the eyes were glowing, watching Toorgood. Not speaking or answering his question. And Toorgood wondered if the guard even spoke English. That diary that Biqa had found wasn’t in English. He didn’t get a chance to see what language it was in before all the magic happened.
There was only the long hedge with the gate, the guard, and an open field as far as Toorgood’s eyes could see. He sighed. “Can you at least tell me where I am?”
“The Garden.” the soldier replied in a terse, deep voice.
“There is only one, despite having many names by those who visit it.”
Toorgood frowned not sure what to do next. “Where is my friend?!” he demanded, his emotion getting the better of him. How can he remain rational when everything was so irrational in front of him? He had no idea what was going on and Biqa was with him one minute then gone the next. The Soldier’s eyes stayed steady on him.
“Accessing the Garden requires a test of honor. The Seeker must answer three questions and the answers will grand one or banish one from the Garden.”
“Did Biqa get granted access or banished?”
“The answer to that I cannot give you. Any who come here must answer the questions to move from this Liminal Space. So the only choice you have, Toorgood Arturo Fuentes, is to answer the questions set before you.”
“Question One. What brought you to this Garden?”
“We were in my great-grandmother’s attic, trying to clean, and we found an old diary, I told Biqa to leave it alone, but he told me to come look at it. And then he felt some magical something and then I turn around and I am here. I don’t believe in magic, he does though, and he said he felt weird in his head and that it was magic.”
There was the sound of a click. Like something unlocking.
“Question Two. If not magic, what do you believe in?”
Toorgood blinked. “Logic. Science. I believe in Evidence.”
The Soldier narrowed his eyes at Toorgood. “No, you don’t. Magic brought you here, that much is evident, and yet you disbelieve. Logically, it would track that you believe in your disbelief. Not science, not logic, not magic.”
Frowning, Toorgood, felt confused. And a little angry hearing that.
“Final Question. Are you open to changing what you think you believe after this moment?”
“I don’t like that question.”
“I did not ask whether or not you liked anything, Toorgood Arturo Fuentes.”
“I want to find my friend, so whatever answer gets me to him, is the answer I give.” he thought about how Biqa would answer. And paused a moment. “Yes. I’m open,” he said. And his tone was annoyed.
There was a second click sound of an unlocking mechanism.
“Then you may pass, Toorgood. Welcome to the Garden.”
Stepping aside, the clicking sounds were the gate unlocking. Toorgood walked past the soldier a little warily and into the fog-filled garden. Expecting to see lots of green and foliage, Toorgood walked along the gravel path but there was only endless fog.
“Biqa?!” he called out.
“Ow stop yelling, I’m right here,” replied Biqa’s voice.
Toorgood spun around. “Where? I don’t see you.”
“Right in front of you, silly!” That arrogant smile was in his voice. It was definitely Biqa’s voice. Still, Toorgood saw nothing.
Nothing but fog. And the gravel road.
“There is so much fog, Biqa!!!”
Toorgood started to run.
“What fog? Hey, don’t run I’m right here. Besides, we have no idea if your jet pack will work here. Wherever here is.”
Toorgood stopped and looked around. A thread of panic as he reached for his inhaler in his pocket to make sure it was there. The security of it always being on his person was kind of a compulsive thing in his mind. He had to always have his inhaler. Just in case he needed it.
“I don’t see you.” Toorgood’s voice broke, the emotional upheave of all the new and random and weird was starting to agitate him to tears now.
“Open your eyes silly. I’m right in front of you. Why are you crying?”
“Stop it! Stop playing games, Biqa, I’m tired of this! There is no such thing as magic or fantasy. It's not real!!”
“Everything that is now regarded as Science was believed to be magic first. Like Alchemy and Chemistry.” Biqa said in a quiet tense voice.
Toorgood wailed and beat his fists into the gravel ground.
“If you don’t want to believe in magic, that’s fine. That doesn’t mean it's not real, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Same with everything else. Belief does nothing but help the believer. It doesn’t change the state or validity of the existence of what the thing is. Magic is magic. Regardless of if there are people that believe in it. It doesn’t just disappear cos people wish it wasn’t around. That isn’t how the world works.”
Biqa sounded defiant then. The fog got thicker. And Toorgood felt so blind. He thought back to that soldier. Turning back to see if the door was still there. He only saw fog, and the trail behind him. He could only see but a few steps ahead of him. Everything else was fog. Everything else was uncertain.
“Biqa are you still here?”
There was an annoyed sigh. “Never left.”
“Why can’t I see you?”
“I don’t know. Keep walking. I saw some apple trees ahead earlier. Maybe some food will help.”
“Apples do sound good”
The walk was long and silent and the fog did not lift. But Toorgood did become more surefooted. He trusted that he’d always be able to see enough road to make his next step and that he wouldn’t accidentally fall into a hole in the ground and be lost forever.
Steps by steps - like walking a labyrinth in a city in fog. Descended, fallen clouds - air trying to become earth. It was meditative in a way. And after a while, Toorgood started to forget he ever had a life beyond walking this path in the fog. The serenity and peace it gave him were unrivaled. There was no stress of his great-grandmother possibly dying soon, there was no attic to clean. There was no arrogant best friend nagging him to do something dangerous. There was just the path and the next step.
So lost in the meditative haze - for what felt like hours, Toorgood didn’t notice the grove of trees til he was in it.
“We’re here! We made it! Look at the trees, so many different kinds of apples. I wonder which one we should try first.” Biqa beamed.
Toorgood looked up. He still didn’t see Biqa. But he did see the trees. He was right. So many apple trees. He felt his belly grumble loudly. And right as he was going to pluck a shiny apple from the tree, there was the sound of someone’s voice. Not Biqa’s. A woman’s. And then a set of green and golden-slitted eyes stared at him from the tree’s dark nest of branches.
Maybe a different tree. Toorgood thought to himself, rescinding his hand and turning to look at the other trees, the entire orchard, now suddenly had ominous eyes staring from each of the trees and their dark nest of branches. He felt a thread of fear. “Or I can … just wait til I get back home.”
Toorgood looked at every tree, and as soon as he looked at them, it was like it flicked a switch, it got dark and then those golden-green, slitted eyes stared at him. And the more he looked, the more he was watched. The more they stared, the more he felt this sense of rattling, like a rattlesnake remixed with the constant thrum of crickets all playing one sustained chord. It grew, crescendoing til it was everywhere, and Toorgood clapped his hands over his ears, and dropped to his knees, trying to hide in a fetal ball on the grass.
The humming continued til it transmuted to applause - like in a colosseum. And Toorgood was prodded awake with something sharp. “Wake, Gladiator, the Beast must be fought! Wake! Wake now~” it was a woman’s voice, with a kind of regal, archaic inflection to her tone. She was wearing chainmail and a helmet. Toorgood got to his feet. “Where is the Garden?”
“Speak you of false tales? This is the Arena. We must to battle. Come quickly for the Glory of the Gods. We must fight the beast and defend the People!”
Toorgood took the spear she threw at him, barely catching it before it clattered to the ground. Hard ground, Not gravel or grass. This had to be some sort of dream. His body was still in the attic with Biqa. And Maybe if he played along, he would be able to wake up. And the world would make sense again.
The spear was heavy, still, he carried it out into the open arena. All around were people cheering and screaming and clapping and it was like he walked back in time. The stone circle of the amphitheater had the shape of an apple peel cut in a curl and left on the ground. The ceiling was the night sky, with stars so clear and twinkling. Everyone in the stands was wearing green, and gold and their faces were a gradient of ruddy and brown. The woman was about ten feet away from him, taking an attack stance. - there was suddenly chanting. As the gate on the other side of the arena opened and the sound of growling started to approach with thunderous footsteps.
Gulping down his fear, Toorgood took an echoed attack stance like the woman as best he could, being much shorter and not as strong. As the growling got closer, the image of the being became clear and open to the eye. The crowd saw it and was hushed to a kind of silence.
The figure, the beast meant to be fought was deformed, - so much so that it was offensive to the eye. It was drooling, growling, hungry and sort of shambling toward the two fighters in the arena. It had limbs in odd places, fur in blotches over skin that looked like it was peeling away, and exposing spikes of bone-like horns or a kind of partially growing exo skeleton. It had one eye bigger than the others, making it seem like it was a cyclops, but there were other smaller eyes on its ‘face’ - that looked like winking moles. It was so disturbing that any who looked upon it, only one word was evoked forward to call it. Monster.
Toorgood gripped his spear, looking at the female warrior, wondering why she wasn’t advancing. She was staring at it disgusted, like she was going to be sick. The monster inched toward them more. Growling, his eyes were googly and wild, like they were animated by delirium or madness. The crowd was expecting them to kill this thing, right? Toorgood wondered if once he killed the monster, then he’d be able to go home. So he hefted his spear and yelled as he ran to go stab the monster. And right as he got close, the monster reared up on hind limbs and there was a great mouth - opening like a void, drooling and foul smelling like rotted earth - it chomped down on him. As it did, he heard the woman and the crowd’s screaming get farther and farther away. The smell was everywhere, cloying in the back of his throat and getting inside his pores.
He fought, in the sticky dark, fought for a way out, he saw nothing. He wondered if he’d let himself die if it meant he would wake up. So he sort of surrendered. And nothing happened. But he felt the stickiness drip and get all over his body, his hair, like wet fingers groping and crawling around him everywhere. He felt his fear and anger clash like forces of polarity, thunder storming tears down his cheeks. “Biqa!!!!” he wailed pathetically. “Where are you?”
The darkness started to stretch with the sticky innards of the monster, before the bottom - the tongue? Started to warp and there was suddenly light everywhere. The monster spit him back out - the spear was still inside the monster, it was jabbing him from the inside. As Toorgood sat on the Arena floor, covered in the yuck - the woman was jabbing the monster on the outside - right into a weak point as the beast kind of belched Toorgood out in its dying breath - then the crowd went wild as the monster croaked over dead. Its one big eye, flickering a mute light of sadness, stared at Toorgood, and he looked back. He felt some sort of sympathy watching the light slowly go out until the eye was vacant. The crowd started cheering.
The Monster was Slain.
The Cheering got louder and louder til it sounded like that thrum of crickets again. Crickets and buzzing. Clapping his hands over his ears again. And closing his eyes. Toorgood felt his anxiety increase with a kind of hope that when he opened his eyes again, he’d wake up in the attic and this horrible dream would be over.
The strum of the buzzing melted into a kind of ka-ching of game noises. And music and bells. Toorgood opened his eyes. He was in a kind of casino.
“What the hell?” he asked aloud and looked around. It was the garden remixed with Vegas. Each slot machine was attached to a tree - people were slipping apple seeds into the machine, and then when someone won, they were showered with apples like they were coins or currency.
Toorgood wasn’t sure how he felt about this. On a nearby wall, there was the picture of an apple seed, under it the word ‘Life’. The next panel photo was the picture of an apple with a bite taken out of it, the word under it ‘Time’, and the third and final panel was an apple core full of seeds and starting to turn brown, the words under it ‘Would You Like To Play Again?’
A man in a security uniform approached him.
“There you are! Come quickly, the table is waiting,” he said, motioning with an open palm to hurry Toorgood along. Deciding to go with it, again. Hoping this time he’d be able to go home after this, he was guided to a secret grove. There were two women sitting at the table. And two other women standing behind them, one had her eyes downcast, and the other had her eyes defiantly looking around. Toorgood frowned. “What is this?”
“The High Stakes Lounge. Sit down, you’re late.”
And once again. He didn’t see Biqa. Anywhere. He frowned. “I don’t have any money.”
“This is the High Stakes Table. Money isn’t High Stakes. Money is for those sheep out there. In here we bet for real.”
“What do you bet?”
Toorgood did not like the sound of this.
“Where is Biqa? And who are all of you?”
“Don’t recognize that name. But I’m Eris. And this is Idun.”
“Idun? Of course, the apple goddess. That makes sense.”
That earned him a smile.
“Oh so you heard of her, but not me?”
“Sorry? Are you an apple goddess too? What is this all about apples anyway? And who are the women standing behind you?”
Eris rolled her eyes. “Enough questions. Sit down so we can deal you in.”
“I don’t want to bet my soul.”
“I thought you said you were open. That is what you told the gate guardian upon entering.”
“I said that because I thought it was how Biqa would reply. And I have yet to see him since I’ve been here. Where is he?”
The goddesses looked at Toorgood.
“Play a hand and I may tell you,” Eris said.
With a tired sigh, Toorgood walked closer and vines grew up from the ground, winding themselves into a chair for him. And he tentatively sat down in the chair opposite them. “What are we playing?”
“First bets. Then rules of the game. If not your soul, what of worth will you bet?”
“Where is my friend?”
Eris tilted her head. “Do you want to bet that? Your …friend - Biqa, you said his name was, right??”
“What? No! I want to go home. I don’t want to play this stupid game. This is a delusion or a dream. I want to wake up. Now! I am sick of all this. I want to go home!”
Toorgood started panicking and then reached for his inhaler - it was gone. He kept moving his hand around in the kangaroo pocket. As if it would suddenly re-appear. Was it in the monster’s belly from the arena!? The panic was rising and the goddesses kept staring at him. Eris was smiling and Idun’s expression was blank as Toorgood started to hyperventilate in a psychosomatic asthma attack from the anxiety of not having his inhaler.
“Place a bet,” Eris demanded, she held his inhaler out teasingly. And Toorgood frowned.
“Place a soul in limbo, that is the way the game works. You have your own, or you have your friend’s. Biqa’s. Whose will it be? Or you’ll just continue to struggle to breathe.”
The pain of not having his inhaler was too much. And before he realized what he’d done, he wheezed his friend’s name out - and Eris smiled before she handed him his chemical, man-made medicine and he felt the panic subside with the concrete relief of feeling his medicine in his hands. He pressed a kiss to it and placed it in his pocket, where it was safe.
“So the bets are in.”
Ahead on the table. There were two golden apples and a golden veil - Biqa’s veil. Toorgood felt his blood go cold with regret. No turning back now.
“How do we play ?” he asked in a flat tone.
“First we draw a card to see who is the dealer.”
There was a stack of cards in the center of the table. Like an altar of chance in the middle of their offerings of apples and the veil.
Eris drew the card first. Then Idun. Then Toorgood drew his card.
“Highest Card is the dealer. Idun, you reveal your card first.”
“Age before beauty.” she quipped with a kind of smirk.
Eris frowned. “Don’t start that again. Now is not the time, just show the damn card.”
Slowly Idun revealed her card. Six of Clubs.
Eris nodded to Toorgood. He revealed his card next. Ace of Diamonds.
“Are aces high in this game?”
“Wild,” Idun replied in a clipped tone. She met Toorgood’s eyes and he exhaled slowly. It may be him that deals the cards then.
He looked to Eris.
“Reveal what the Ace is. Before I reveal my card.”
“Rules, kid. Declare the wild once the wild is shown. I can’t change what my card is, neither can Idun. Declare a value for your card.”
“Nine,” he said without thinking.
Eris smiled that sly smile of hers again, and revealed her card - it was a ten of spades.
“Discord is the Dealer. It’s about to get fun. Return the cards then..”
The others returned their cards. And then Eris gathered them in a stack and handed them back to the woman who stood behind her. “Lilith will shuffle first, then Eve. Then I will deal a hand to each of us.”
So that’s who they were.
“What game is this, anyway? You never said.” Toorgood asked.
The sound of shuffling filled the silence for a moment.
“Anaconda. Wouldn’t be much of a garden without a serpent, now would it?”
“Gardens are neutral, Eris.”
“So are serpents, Eve. Contrary to what you may believe. Serpents were here first.”
Eve handed the cards to Idun, who handed the deck to Eris. “It’s a poker variant. I deal seven cards to each of the players. And then. In the first round, we pass three cards to the player to our left. In the second round, we pass two cards. The last round is only one. No one can look at the passed cards til they are all set down. Then after that. We make our best five-card spread - winner take all. Both apples. The apple of discord, the apple of immortality, and …” She looked at the veil.
“The Lost Soul.” she completed.
Toorgood felt the sharp pangs of guilt. It should have been him, why did he say his friend’s name so easily? Why did he betray him like that? It had spilled from his lips so easily. He felt… like a monster. Worse than that offensive beast in the arena.
“What happens to the losers?”
Eris looked at him and blinked simply. “They lose. No rematches will be granted.”
Then she began to deal the cards to each person. Toorgood watched as her hand passed and placed a card to each of them til all seven cards were dealt to each person. He looked at his hand once they looked at theirs. He never played poker before, He had no idea how to build a winning hand. Sequential was probably a good idea maybe? Or pairs?
He had a Jack of Clubs, Jack of Diamonds, Three of Clubs, Three of Hearts, Eight of Diamonds, Nine of Diamonds, and the King of Diamonds. He stared at his cards frowning. Before he remembered that keeping the face blank was what he needed to do. The concept of a poker face was to not let on what one’s hand was, he tried to remember the sparse details he’d seen of poker on television and books and miscellaneous references from random people.
Eris placed her three cards to her left, which was Toorgood. Idun placed hers down as well, which was to Eris. They were waiting on him. He sighed. Wondering if he should keep the face cards or the number cards. The question is, did he want to win or did he want to lose? Maybe Biqa was better off in the hands of one of the goddesses, even a mischievous one like Eris. Biqa would never want to be his friend anymore after this - after such a betrayal as Toorgood had done.
“Come on, kid - don’t overthink it.”
Placing the face cards down to Idun would help possibly ensure her to win. Immortality to win. But! She could pass the cards to Discord to win. There was no way to know. He had to play for himself, right? If he won, maybe Biqa would return with no memory of this. And it would be Toorgood’s secret to take to his grave.
But … if he lost. He’d lose Biqa forever. And Biqa would never know why. He’d hate Toorgood forever if Idun won. And it suddenly felt like no matter what happened. Discord would come out on top. This wasn’t fair. She’d dealt the cards too. What if she used magic and goddess powers to rig the game? To cheat so she’d win!
“Toorgood. I can taste your conflict. I’m a goddess of discord. Stop overthinking And place down three cards.”
“You can read my mind?”
“I don’t need to, it's all over your squishy face. That apple is the source of my power. It is as close to a soul as a goddess has. And til the game is won and lost, I still have my power. I can feel discord and conflict like a second skin. Pick three cards and pass them. No matter how much you think about it… it will only get more and more … tangled. And the only one enjoying themselves while you wrestle with yourself will be me. You’ll age and age, Idun will live forever in silence watching you wither away in mental anguish, and I’ll just enjoy watching you squirm. Is that what you want? Because there are other ways to please me that have nothing to do with cards.”
Toogood blushed. He quickly placed the cards down on the table and slid them to Idun.
“There’s a good boy. Now we can look at our presents,” she said and bounced her eyebrows at him before she picked up the cards from Idun, and Idun picked up the cards from him. She made no expression on her face of the pleasure or displeasure of the cards he’d selected to give her. He picked up his cards. Two of Clubs. an Ace of Diamonds. Four of Clubs. That damn wild card. It made him anxious. He was gonna keep it though, it would come in handy. Somehow, possibly.
His current Hand was Two of Clubs, Ace of Diamonds, Four of Clubs, Jack of Diamonds, King of Diamonds, Nine of Diamonds, and Eight of Diamonds. He had to give two to Idun now. Keeping in mind that he’d given her his Jack of Clubs and a pair of threes. One of them was a club, if he tried to remember. If he gave her the two of clubs and the four of Clubs. he could make his Ace of Diamonds a Queen to have that sequential hand … what was it called? A Flush? A Straight? He couldn’t remember. Either way, he passed the Two and Four to Idun. The game was tense and quiet now. The next round was only one card. Eris wasn’t even making any comments. She placed her card down first. Then started arranging her cards in a type of order.
Sacrificing his King of Diamonds, deciding the Ace would be a Ten of Diamonds, he passed the King to Idun. Then when it was time to pick up the card from Eris, he bit his tongue to keep from making a sound, as he looked at the actual ten of diamonds, so he had his sequential hand more so now.
“The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax and whether pigs have wings..” Eris quoted, “Show your wares if you dare..” she lay her cards down.
“Behold the House of Corpses.” she chortled at her full house of eights over aces. “I’ll declare the wilds to be deuces. Still, any of you beat a full house?’
Eris glanced at Idun and then Toorgood. Idun looked up at the others. “I fold.” She said simply. She then looked at Toorgood. The weight of her gaze made him feel like he was a target caught in the crosshairs. He looked down at his hand. Eris tilted her head at him. “Well, the future of everything hangs in the balance, kid. Immortality. Discord, a Lost Soul. Will it go to me? Or you?”
“How can you fold like that? Are you really going to give up your power that easily? The power of Eternal Youth and Immortality!” Toorgood asked, panic in his voice as he gave Idun a worried look.
The goddess sighed a heavy sigh. “I’m tired,” she said. “Show your cards, Toorgood, let’s end this.”
Eris was smirking again. “Well?”
Toorgood slowly lay down his cards, and Eris stared at the glory of his straight flush in diamonds. Then she looked at him, her eyes narrowed to a glare, a green-gold slit-eyed glare.
“Well played….” she nearly hissed.
The thrumming rattle sound started to crescendo in like someone raising the volume to the room, and fog started to crowd into the grove, swallowing everything away. Toorgood started coughing again. The vine chair he was in rescinded into the ground so he was suddenly falling, falling in the fog. He closed his eyes on reflex. By the time his bottom hit a hard surface, he opened his eyes.
He was in the attic. There was the sound of footsteps. He stood up looking around. The door opened and it was his great-grandmother holding a plate of snacks. Apple slices and celery sticks with peanut butter. “Well you haven’t got much left to go, you’ve kept busy. I thought I’d bring you a snack.”
“Thanks, Gran,” Toorgood said and he accepted the plate. He looked at the apple slices. And decided against eating one. He went for the celery stick. He didn’t think he’d ever be able to eat or look at apples the same way again. He looked around at the nearly clean attic. It was nearly spotless, swept and all the boxes gone, things put on shelves and it smelled like citrus cleaning solution.
“I’m impressed at your good work. Oh, look at that. My old diaries from when I was a girl.” she said in a nostalgic note. She picked up the journal with the garden drawing.
“Biqa probably did most of it,” Toorgood said.
“Biqa? Oh right. He must have gone home when I was still napping before I got up to make the snack.” she said, she turned and showed Toorgood the garden drawing. “I drew this from a vision I had as a girl. Did I ever tell you that story?”
“No. But I’m open to hearing it now if you want to share.” Toorgood said. And the smile his great-grandmother smiled, was full of a kind of tired playfulness, like a glimpse of youth peeking through the stargate portal of her dark earth-brown eyes. The stroke she’d had several years before made it seem almost like one eye was bigger than the other.
“It has been a long time since I told you a story hasn’t it?” She said. Then went over to sit in a wooden chair. “I’m a little rusty, but yes, I do believe I can remember enough to share this particular story with my great-grandson.” she motioned for him to come closer.
Toorgood went over and sat on the floor at her feet, on top of a golden threadbare rug, almost like the veil that Biqa wore, and the veil that was on that betting table only moments ago. He was already starting to forget about all that happened in that garden. The memory of it having been offered up to the Liminal Space of the fog that carried him home, He sat there crossed-legged, looking up at his great-grandmother, giving her his complete, undivided attention.
“Gardens are generally understood to be neutral ground. For all. Mortals. Immortals. Mankind and Monsters. Why else would so many myths feature them? Cannot get any more neutral than Nature. But what makes one a monster or a man? Why is mortality a thing at all? Why aren’t we all immortal? It seems unfair doesn’t it?...” the great-grandmother began.
Outside the attic window, there was the crooning thrumming, serenade of crickets.