The Garden – S K Balstrup

In the sway of the valley was a paradise, a garden of pleasure not unlike the Garden of Earthly Delights. People lazed on the grass, and in coloured bathers dove into a gleaming pool. There was a thick feeling among us. The dull ache of the sublime. And we never did mind the guards who patrolled, because the grass was very green and the textures so divine.

I felt resistance sliding across the edge of my mind like a third eyelid. Secretly cleaning it of the drugs they gave, and when it was washed I would see, momentarily. I followed the cattle-line of comely, dew-skinned specimens as they trotted along in their patent shoes. By twos we approached the platform to feed. Lab-coated women watched us from all sides, peering over glasses as the queue of glazed eyed wanderers drew infinite patience from their complete lack of appetite.

For the first time I was aware of myself. I was conscious as I approached the platform and sat down to my meal. The drugs were conspicuous, and difficult to avoid. I ferreted copious amounts of powder into my pocket during the flicker of their blinks.

Dinner finishers completed their course in the brothel’s maze, and were encouraged to drink excessively so that the drugs could bloom all the wilder. I found a blonde girl in the corner in a patent leather mini, and seduced her into the back room in order to hide. Almost immediately after shutting ourselves in, a young man burst through the door to join us. It was then that I realised that he too was resisting. I showed him the drugs I had concealed and he nodded to the girl, who had started salivating at the sight of them. I hardly had a moment to think before she buried her face in my hands, consuming such a quantity of powder that her eyes turned ice blue, and she slumped down in the corner.

Occasionally, the guards came in, and the young guy and I had to pretend as if we were having a right old time with the girl on the floor. Somehow, he jimmied a panel out of the wall, and we were able to access the front corridor of the main compound. We remembered this later when we awoke on the grass, sleepy, and touching each other’s hair.

* * *

Again I found myself in the valley. It was a cornucopia of enjoyment–colourful bodies, blissful textures, and breezes honeyed by the blooming. I had never looked to the edge of the valley before, but now I could see a path. It was dirty, indistinct and had bristly shrubs along the way. No wonder our eyes had been repelled from such an unattractive section of the visual field. I crawled and shifted with great stealth! Without anyone noticing, I mounted the winding path, up and up, as it curled around.

A rattle-hiss startled me there, and under the shrubbery a strange spider was poised. Half my size he was–pink and red and yellow and black. His voice was green, and his venom was white. He told me in clicks and crackles (and psychic speech), that Mistress had founded the community below after she had forged a bargain with the Arachanarchons. They hunted once a year, injecting anaesthetising venom into their prey, so that the flesh was made softer and sweeter by the bliss they felt at death. Mistress allowed them to live in freedom in the dense bushland surrounding the valley, upon the condition that they surrender a quantity of their venom on a weekly basis, as a sort of tax.

My mind was so wide at this point, and the spider’s voice so verdant that I scarcely noticed the glint that swished past my ear. I turned, like an animal, my bloodshot eyes burning into the distance where my attackers hid. I couldn’t tell if I was visible or not, but I saw beside me what had darted close. Little tinks and thuds sounded as syringes clattered around me, shot from the guns of the guards. The great spider closed his lazy eyes, and curled into himself like a crab.

I grabbed a handful of syringes, for protection, and darted off into the scrub. It seemed that the guards were not inclined to follow, yet soon I found myself on the other extreme of the ridge, and had to climb down the rock-face in full view of two guards having a cigarette break. I acted as intoxicated as possible, telling them a wild tale about how I had chased a butterfly to the top of the mountain, only to chase it back down again!

They regarded at me strangely but then resumed their conversation, commenting that it was a fantastic day for a picnic. There was an expanse of long grass between the pool dwellers and me. I acted like something they might see–a downy rabbit perhaps. I tickled my whiskers on a dandelion and frolicked back into the flock.

In the water I was safe again, and in a dreamy state of mind I dove, gliding along the length of the pool like a smiling seal. It was under there in moments that were thick with time that I saw him again, and our eyes communicated our resistance.

* * *

I found myself next to him in the corridor with my heart beating fast. Infiltrators had entered the compound. They wore strange white helmets with ink tubes connecting their thoughts with their spine. The ingenious apparatus protected them from the dust that puffed like white flour into the darling sky. My mind kept folding itself like a gigantic map; fold and double and fold. With each crease my mind would skip, and with each spread of map, I would be aware of where I was. Their excited eyes implored us to follow, their weapons cocked in urgency. Mistress had scuttled to the rafters and they had her surrounded. Booms and squeals, clatters and tinks sounded in the distance.

We exited through a series of white tunnels, virgin to my eyes. A train carriage set on a near vertical railway awaited us, hoisting its limp and bedazzled cargo up and out of the valley. Kaleidoscopic spiders as large as unicycles fled in all directions, over hill and over dale. One came right for us! I grabbed a newspaper from an old man who had been reading it, rolled it up into a mean whacking stick, and pelted the arachnid with all my might. Down he fell like a squalling orchid, and I stumbled backward into my silent co-conspirator. Magenta fluid dripped from the paper as the headline caught my eye. “Spider Venom: the Secret Ingredient in Life Saving Vaccine.” We looked at each other and read on.

Although the words jumped backward and forward in the lines, flickering and inverting by turn, an impression of the article’s meaning reached our liquid consciousness. The world was a wasteland, and people’s souls were sinking to their ankles; their sagging life force easily discarded by a careless movement of the foot. They believed the Arachanarchons would bring about heaven on earth! Or at least a semblance of it.

I turned to the old man, who sat listlessly, staring at his empty hands. We could not really communicate. I grasped his face and held it up to my own attempting to make the shape of the spine helmets with my hands. His stare penetrated deep into my eyes, paying no heed to time. Then, he made a gruff face, formed fists and held his wrists together. I looked around me at the long legged beauties with sheening hair as they began to slump. It was an uncharacteristic posture. In horror I felt an intangible sweetness slip from my body as the grey metallic tang of the train carriage became apparent to my nostrils.

It was a coup–an eviction from paradise–to make room for others more powerful than us. To the one who had shared my desire for escape, I turned. “At least now I know my name. What is yours?”

S. K. Balstrup is the author of Spiritual Sensations: Cinematic Religious Experience and Evolving Conceptions of the Sacred (Bloomsbury: 2020) and holds a PhD in Religious Studies from The University of Sydney. After years of academic writing, creative works are slowly emerging from old boxes and drawers, the first of which have been published by The University of Sydney Press and Lunate.

Image via Pixabay

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