The Garden (a story puzzle)
Who am I in “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch?
Nine…eight…seven…six ringing in the darkness. I have to get away, there’s danger back there, they’re going to cut my heart out. I flap my wings smoothly, silently in the night sky, turn, then glide as if gravity didn’t exist and hope they can’t follow me. I coast over a burning city, buildings silhouetted by flames. I bank and dive, see a red sail on a lake and a multitude of humanity, like lice, swarming out of it. Farther away I see ghostly figures lining up at a glowing gate as if there’s some escape, and that’s just the beginning—a tiny part of this vast senseless landscape—so beautiful it must be hell.
As I fly lower, soot starts to burn my nostrils and a cacophony of horns, crackling fire, and cries of agony fill my head.
I fly over a razor-sharp knife slicing apart two monumental ears, which almost stops my heart. I can almost feel it, that knife cutting me—a long slice under my breast feathers—sudden pain, a feeling of life hanging in the balance, of illusion upon illusion, of moments frozen in oil and pigment.
I fly as fast as I can, past a house made of bone held up by bone tree-trunks, a platypus monk, until I reach The-Land-of-Tortured-Musicians. There’s a guy strung up on a harp, one tied to a lute, and one squashed under it with a musical score painted on his bare ass. Some guy’s pointing at it, seems to think it’s hilarious. What did they do to deserve this? Off-key recitals? Derivative compositions?
Nearby I see a lizard wielding a sword which has a heart impaled on it and there’s a man with a hypodermic needle stabbed right through his hand.
Out of nowhere comes the drone of a buzz-saw getting louder and louder. I have to get out of here before it cuts me open. This place is boxed in by wooden columns which, for some reason, I can’t see around. I fly at a column, sink my talons in, flap my wings to get balanced, work my way around and look over it. What I see is an abyss, a plane of non-existence. But I know there are other worlds. I’m the symbol of divine wisdom after all.
The buzz saw’s closing in. I leap, find myself where nothing exists, not even me, then bam, a wooden column comes flying at me. I sink my talons in and swing around it into The-Land-of-Naked-People. They’re all dancing, swimming, sticking flowers up each other’s asses, and making out in glass globes and giant muscle shells. I alight on the first perch I see, which is atop of a pink scalloped stand with human arms and legs frozen in dance. This place is filled with birdsongs, laughter, and the perfume of flowers and fruit, all the sensual delights. I fluff up my down and settle in.
Then I realize I’m a bit peckish. I swivel my head 180° to the right and see a number of giant berries here and there. The trouble is I’m a carnivore, a predator of the night, and the only small prey I spot is a rat in a glass tube. Then I swivel my head 180° to the left. There I see six naked people picking apples from a tree. One of them is carrying giant strawberry.
“I’m starving!” the strawberry man cries.
“Let’s have a banquet,” one of the women says.
I call out “hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo-hoo,” hoping they’ll invite me. But just then a faint voice starts echoing in my head saying, “scissors, clamp.”
“Let’s have roast fowl!” one of the men shouts, then “scalpel!”
Someone hands him a huge knife and he comes running at me.
I take off just as he lops off a few of my wing feathers and fly across this land of many creatures, two lakes, a pond, and constructions made of rose quartz and blue marble. People here seem to do whatever amuses them no matter how senseless, like crowding into a red teepee-tree and doing weird things with giant berries.
Soon I reach another wooden column, sink my talons in and shoot across the plane of non-existence, then grab onto a new column and swing into a much calmer place where there’s hardly a sound.
At the centre of this land God is introducing Eve to Adam, which would explain why there are no other people here.
This place has blue and pink constructions too, as well as a pond and a lake. I alight on the edge of a round hole in the rose quartz central fountain. It seems to be made just for me, so I fluff up my down and get cozy.
The place is conspicuously lacking oversized berries, but it does have a lot of small prey—bunnies, lizards, and a bunch of little buggers I can’t identify. I’d go out and kill something but I’ve totally lost my appetite.
This has to be the dullest land in the world’s I’ve visited. There’s nothing to do but stare at a ocelot tormenting a newt. It’s unbearably quiet too, just the sound of the water trickling from the fountain. I can hear my heart pounding in my ears getting louder and louder. It seems important to listen to it. Suddenly—I suck in a breath—it just stops! All that’s left is a dull ache under my breast feathers.
I don’t know what to do so I just nest here and wait for something to happen. It seems like an eternity. God keeps introducing Eve to Adam. The ocelot continues to torment the newt. It never gets dark.
Finally, I can’t take it anymore. I fly out of my hole and back to the wooden column I crossed over before. I dig my talons in, traverse the plane of non-existence, then I’m back in The-Land-of-Naked-People with all its laughter, chatter, and birdsong and realize this is the only place anyone can possibly exist. It’s so crowded it’s hard to find a bare spot so I alight in a shallow pond and sink into its warm water next to a familiar looking boy.
He’s frowning at me with worry, so I say, “hoo, hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo,” and give him a gentle peck on the cheek.
He lights up with joy and puts his arms around me which feels so good my heart starts beating again, then--
My eyes open in a glaring white place full of beeps and drones. Things are foggy. I have a strong urge to pull out a tube that’s lodged down my throat. I try, but my hands are tied down. Then… Oh! Everything comes into focus—the recovery room. I’m a forty-eight-year-old medieval-art-historian heart-transplant-recipient. I notice my wife and son standing there. He has his hand over his mouth and she’s crying, but she’s crying for joy.
Sheila Martin: "My first novel, The Coney Island Book of the Dead, An Illustrated Novel, recently won the 2017 McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns First Novel Prize. In addition I have pieces in the current issues of four literary journals: Ginosko (#19), Earthen Lamp Journal (Volume II, issue 1), The Legendary (#69) and Volume 1, Brooklyn. I also have an unpublished novel that takes place in an art school for which I am seeking a literary agent."
The Ekphrastic Review
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