In Their Garden
The garden was nourished by moldering bodies. Phillip grew weed on the eight graves, nutrients from decaying tissue propelling plants skyward. They were leafy, flowers heavy and slick with resin. He killed male plants to ensure cross pollination wouldn’t ruin his harvest. Profits were important. He hated the thought of wasting such good fertilizer and all that effort.
Philip sold the weed at bars, the same bars where he picked up the women who were now buried beneath his crop. They were loners and drifters and summer washashores as the papers called them in vague write-ups and black-and-white headlines. The disappearances crept sporadically across two years, investigations always dead ending.
People who smoked the weed heard voices, a far-off murmuration of crypts and corpses and layers of sand and moss and humus, worms and beetles filling spaces between skin and bone, drugs, hallucinogens and roofies leading to belief in false death and numbness, a burial only a burial in dreams, morphing to burial in real life. There was always a pleaded question, desire suffocated by a mouthful of dirt. Each smoker tried to listen, but they could never make out the women’s last wishes.
Voices and visions, the two went hand in hand.
Half passed out on couches, Philip’s clientele witnessed dark alleys, a man dragging women with names like Joleen and Bette and Claudia to his truck, streetlights dim, the moon a sliver. He pulled them through rain gutters, stirring the muck and detritus of another Cape Cod summer: cigarette butts and fishing line, endless collections of empty vodka nips, tattered clothing and sandals. He was unceremonious and quick, sloppy, but his face never came clear, dark hair, glasses, nothing more definite, no scars or tattoos to set him apart. Just the bodies, the truck, the shovel, the grave, and the blue house in the distance through the trees.
Lea’s brother was a cop who wasn’t averse to the occasional toke. Lea bought her weed from a woman by the docks, who bought it from a neighbor who bought it from Philip. The line of faces never came into focus for her, but the plot of land between the scrub pines did, undergrowth sheared low, the humped mounds, the tilled soil, the numerous plants pushing upwards.
“That’s a lot of weed,” Lea said, eyes on the ceiling of her brother’s apartment, visions playing over the popcorn texture.
“That’s a lot of bodies,” her brother replied, eyes wide, newspaper headlines scrawling through his thoughts.
They heard the voices, listened closely, picked out landmarks, charted mental maps. Truro was a small town, mostly sand and coastline. There were only so many roads.
They drove out at night, headlights flickering over cabin fronts, picket fences marking one lot from the next. They found the blue house, could see lights through the woods, bobbing between trees, hovering like scalding eyes in the darkness.
Listening, they searched for shovels falling into soil, the low moan of the injured, the dead and dying.
There was nothing to hear over the wind in the trees.
They left the truck on the soft shoulder and blundered through the forest, skin scraped by holly and wild roses. As they neared, the light faded, drifting back into the scrub, feet accustomed to deer paths quick in retreat.
They never caught up, losing sight of the lantern in the undergrowth.
Lea’s brother called in the address when they got back to the apartment, the landline crackling with static.
“Eight. I’m sure there will be eight,” he said into the receiver, murmuring voices promising him of what lay beneath the mounds, how many hands they’d find reaching towards the surface, clawing for open air.
Their hearts had been removed, the lead detective said. They never found where they were buried. Not in Philip’s freezer, or beneath floorboards, no attic strewn with human taxidermy. Officers had taken dogs through the woods and dunes, had recovered all other body parts.
Only the hearts were missing.
When they asked Philip, once he’d been cuffed and guided to a room for questioning, where he’d put them, he shook his head and said that wasn’t his doing, that it was someone else, his other self, his friend, a neighbor, someone with a taste for ventricles and aorta and tougher tissue.
The detective also noted bites had been taken from the uncovered bodies.
Philip blamed coyotes.
The last of the crop was burned early one Friday morning, a thick fog of marijuana smoke settling over the neighborhood, breathing through the trees. It rose in plumes towards a low gray sky. No voices cut through the smoke; no specters pushed aside the heavy slate curtains to peer at the man below.
The chorus of eight had fallen silent for the moment, ashy tongues wilted in the dirt.
Lea’s brother ignored orders. He didn’t want to bring the weed back to the station to be disposed of another way. He’d seen each of the women’s faces, knew they had places to go, hearts to find. A quick controlled burn was all it took to cleanse the garden.
He did his best not to breathe, shirt over his nose.
A person can only hold their breath so long.
He didn’t want to take them with him, to impede their journey, but that was no longer his choice to make.
The eight were untethered.
They’d go where they pleased.