The Garden

Drawing: a path between a yellow flowers and trees. Caption reads: “A path separated the garden from the forest.”

The Garden short story by Iris Carden

Carla woke up. 

Where was she? The walls were white.  The sheets on the bed were white. She was in a white nightdress. The person leaning over her was dressed in white.

“Oh good. You’re awake,” the woman said.

“Where am I?” Carla asked.

“What do you remember?”

Carla suddenly realised she couldn’t remember anything.  She knew her name.  She knew the colour of everything in the room was white.  She knew what things like “bed” and “table” and “woman” were. She knew the language.  She didn’t remember anything else.

“I don’t remember anything.  Where am I? What’s happening to me?”

“Stay calm.  You’ll be fine.” The woman gave her a needle, and the world faded out.

Carla woke up again. She was alone in the room.  

The door opened, and a different woman entered, carrying a tray.

“Do you think you can try some food?” She asked, pulling a rolling table over to the bed and placing the tray on it.  She raised the head of the bed. “It’s just clear fluids for now, but it’s better than nothing.” She lifted the cover from the tray, then left the room.

The smell of chicken soup made Carla realise she was hungry.  She ate the soup, and the red jelly that followed it. She drank the weak black tea. 

When the woman came back to collect the tray, Carla asked, “Where am I? What happened to me?”

The woman answered, “Doctor says you can sit out in the garden for a while this afternoon. Won’t that be nice?”

Shortly after that, the first woman was back, with a man in a white uniform. “We’re taking you out to the garden for a while.  Sunlight and vitamin D will be good for you.”

The man pulled up a wheelchair, and lifted Carla from the bed into it.

Carla was wheeled outside the building, to a pretty garden, and was left there.

Not only was the building white inside, it was white outside, too.  There were seats, tables and even statues around the garden, and all were white.  

The garden, however, was full of vibrant green plants and colourful flowers.  Carla couldn’t identify any of them.  Had she ever been able to? She didn’t know. She couldn’t remember.  What could have happened to her that she couldn’t remember anything? Where did she live? Did anyone care about her?

Beyond the beautiful flower garden, she could see a dense forest.

Another woman in a white nightdress sat on the garden seat beside her wheelchair. 

“Hi,” she said. “I’m Amanda.  Do you know how you got here? I can’t remember anything.”

Carla shook her head. “I don’t know anything. What is this place?”

“My best guess is it’s some kind of hospital.  The only other patients I’ve seen are young women who don’t remember anything. No one seems to visit anyone.  We’re not allowed to leave.  See that path between the last of the flowers and the forest, we’re not allowed past there. I saw someone walk off into the forest one day, and they hunted her down, drugged her and dragged her back.  I haven’t seen her out in the garden since.”

Carla absorbed this information. She said, “I keep asking the staff what happened and why I’m here, they just ignore the question.”

“You won’t get an answer from any of them,” Amanda said.  “They won’t tell me anything.”

The woman came back, and told Carla, “That’s enough sunlight for today.  Tomorrow you can come out after physiotherapy.”

So began a routine of Carla doing exercises with a physiotherapist in the morning and sitting in the garden in the afternoon.  Over time, she was able to eat more solid food, and was learning to walk.  Eventually she could take herself out to the garden. How had her muscles become so weak that walking was so hard?

There was little else to do, so she walked the various paths around the garden, looking at the plants. Whenever she walked around the outside of the garden, on the path bordering the forest, she wondered what was out there, in the forest, and beyond. Would there be someone who could tell her who she was, what her story was, who her people were? Many times Amanda would join her on her walk. Carla hadn’t yet met any other patients.

Tired of asking who she was and why she was there, she began to ask other questions.  Was it possible for her to have some books or puzzles or anything to break the boredom? Could she have a book that would tell her what the plants in the garden were? She got no direct answer to those questions either, but one day, a book of word search puzzles was on her breakfast tray.

She asked: “May I please have a pen or pencil as well?” 

The woman who delivered her tray shook her head.

In the garden, Carla asked Amanda about it.

Amanda responded: “I don’t know. Weapons, maybe? They might think you’re going to stab someone with a pen.”

Carla realised nothing like pens or pencils, or scissors were ever left near her.  Even her food came  with plastic cutlery that would break if used as a weapon. Why did they think she might try to attack them? Was that related to the reason why they wouldn’t answer her questions about where she was or why she was there?

Eventually, she decided she was going to find answers for herself. She was going to escape. Her walks around the garden became reconnaissance sessions, trying to find a way out. There was no obvious road in.  There was just the garden around the building, and the forest around the garden.  She could not find out how the staff came and went. 

“How many people have you seen try to leave?” Carla asked Amanda one day.

“Just one.  They were savage in hunting her.  Don’t try it. Just don’t.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t.” Carla said, “I just wondered if someone had successfully left.”

“Not while I’ve been here. Some patients must have.  I just stopped seeing them in the garden,” Amanda answered.

“I haven’t seen any patients other than the two of us,” Carla said. “Is that unusual?”

“I’ve seen a few, who have been here and then are not here any more.  The staff never say where they went or how, or even acknowledge they existed.  I never saw that woman again after they dragged her out of the forest.”

The next day, Carla was alone in the garden.  Amanda hadn’t come out yet.  Could they have been separated? Had Amanda told her something she shouldn’t have? Could she have left, gone somewhere else? Amanda had said other patients must have gone because they stopped coming out to the garden.

The day after that Carla was alone again. There was no-one to raise any alarm. She didn’t see any sign of people looking out the building windows.  In all her wandering around the garden, she hadn’t seen any sign of cameras. 

Trying to look casual, she wandered around the garden paths, until she found herself on the outer path, walking alongside the closest trees of the forest. This path circled the building, and Carla walked until she was at the side with the least windows.  Then she walked directly into the forest.  

She walked between the trees, watching where she put her slippered feet, so as not to trip on anything.  

As the forest closed around her, she heard animal calls she hadn’t heard from the garden or inside the building.  The calls were were loud howls and grunts, they sounded like animals in pain.  

She was frightened of whatever was making the horrible noise, but she was equally afraid of turning back and never finding out the truth of where she was.

Hearing the sound of running water, she decided following a watercourse would mean she was going somewhere, and not simply around in circles.

She found a small creek, flowing rapidly, and began to walk alongside it.  Suddenly there was a frantic rustling of the underbrush, and a strangely-shaped animal with human eyes jumped out, looked at her, shrieked, and ran off.

Carla was unnerved, but determined that she wouldn’t turn back.

Further sounds from the direction the creature had come alerted her to the fact that it hadn’t been her who had disturbed it.

She tried to run, but felt the sharp stab of the tranquilliser dart in her back. 

The world around her went fuzzy.

Carla woke, to find herself strapped to a bed.

Amanda was there, wearing a white dress and a lab coat.

“You didn’t listen,” Amanda said.  “I told you not to go into the forest, and I told you what would happen if you did, and you did it anyway!  I have to start all over again. Now what do I do with you? No-one wants a synthetic slave who doesn’t listen? You’re too intelligent to be released into the forest with my early experiments. I can’t trust you enough to have you work here. I’m going to have to disassemble you.”

“Wait!” Carla yelled, “You can trust me.  I ran because I didn’t know who or what I was.  If you’d just answered my questions, I wouldn’t have run away. I was looking for the life and the family I thought I had.  You say you made me to be some sort of slave, well then put me to work. Watch me. You’ll see you can trust me if I know what’s going on.”

Amanda seemed to consider this for a moment.  Then she shook her head and said, “No.  You don’t get a chance to fool me twice.”

Carla felt the needle, and drifted off to sleep for the last time. 

While you’re here…

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


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