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Allison Chapter One
The air smelt of lavender and vanilla.
It was a smell I was well accustomed to, one that had saturated my memory many years ago and had refused to be forgotten. And now it surrounded me, overpowering my senses and seeming to fill every available pore of my body. My round eyes watered, the smile pasted upon my lips wavering only for a moment before returning to its previous luminous state. As overbearing as it may be, this smell told me I was home.
My footsteps echoed in the still summer air as I passed under an awning. Here, the smell lessened slightly, unable to penetrate completely into the cool shade under the awnings roof. It was as if I were entering an entirely different world. The air was quiet and serene, entirely enveloped in an inky darkness. It was a rather large square, with two walls of lattice entwined with a colorful assortment of Carnations that rose to meet a ceiling of tin. The other two walls were nonexistent, filtering light into the awning and allowing entrance into the garden that lay beyond.
And it was one of these exits that I took, stepping once again into the bright sunlight.
My grandmother had kept a beautiful garden, something that I was proud to be associated with. She had spent many hard years of her life here building the utopia that lay before me, toiling away under the California sun to accomplish a dream that her family had believed to be impossible. But her stubborn personality had won over our reason and this was the result.
It was a wonderful spectacle, with feisty trees and brilliant flowers situated between ribbons of golden walkways that stretched on for as far as the eye could see. Hedges rose up far in the distance, giants guarding over my grandmother’s masterpiece and I knew that beyond that lay the house with a thatched roof and burgundy shutters.
This place was the closest thing to perfection that I had ever found and because of this, I stumbled forward in a dreamlike state, seeming to fall into a world that belonged nowhere but a storybook. There was too much to observe at once, too many smell sand sounds and trees and plants. It almost resembled a forest, as it teemed with the vibration of life, but it was much tamer, the trees trimmed and the flowers encaged in fancy pots. Even the golden stone below my feet was polished and clean, recently washed to preserve its synthetic beauty. It was this stone that led me deeper into the garden, inviting me, as it had many times before, to awe over the glorious wonder of my grandmother’s garden.
I have visited this place on several occasions during my youth. I have explored every available corner of this garden, and I know every nook and every cranny of my grandmother’s creation. Many long days have been spent here, playing games amongst the trees with my twin brothers, each of us clutching a map as to not get lost among the numerous paths that forked across the garden. But as I rounded the next bend, I noticed something that I had never seen before.
It appeared to be a dirt path that branched away from the gold stone on which I stood. The shrubbery surrounding it was disturbed, flattened around the entrance of the path, a route that was definitely not on my childhood map.
If my grandmother was still alive, she would have been angry, and I felt my own flare of anger as my mind ran through the possible scenarios of why this path suddenly existed. Most likely, one of my brothers had recently visited and had grown bored with the usual route. They were both nearly four years older than me, approaching the age of twenty-three and they were known for what all young men are: short attention spans.
But this theory ceased to matter as my anger vanished and an intense feeling of curiosity took control.
Cautiously, I stepped onto the dirt path, quickly ducking my head to avoid the tree branches above. The path was clear to see, free from flowers and other vegetation. My eyes, season by years of reading detective novels, automatically searched the ground for suspicious footprints, but there were none to be seen and I breathed a short laugh at my irrational actions. If there had been any footprints at all, they would have belonged to my brothers. After all, this garden was private. Only members of the family could access these paths.
I continued on, keeping my head low and my eyes ahead. But as the minutes began to lengthen, my certainty began to slip and I became restless. How far could this path possible go? I knew that I was spiraling away from the garden’s entrance and that did nothing to soothe my uneasiness. But I trudged on, slowly becoming aware of the silence pressing on my eardrums and the quickened beating of my own heart. And as my breathing became heavier, I realized that I could no longer smell lavender and vanilla and that thought frightened me more than anything.
My mind reeled as I considered turning back, of ignoring my curiosity and heading towards the golden path. But the shrubbery was thinning on either side of me, the spaces between the trees becoming wider until it became too late to change my mind, as the garden ended and I entered a field.
I stood completely still for a moment, attempting to comprehend what I was seeing.
A low iron fence ran before me, creating a square in the middle of the field. But it was the objects situated inside the fence that caught my attention. They were tombstones, four rows of four headstones that ended at a larger tomb, a house like structure that was the farthest from where I stood.
I let out a deep breath, shaking my head to dispel the baffled thoughts floating within. My confusion was overtaken by fear, however, when I opened the small gate before me and it croaked ominously. For a moment, I froze, trying to regain control of my heart before continuing on into this strange new finding.
I stopped at the first headstone and crouched down to read the name. It was one that had no familiar ring for me, so I moved on to the second to have the same results. So I moved on down the rows, none of the names catching my attention until I reached the fifteenth headstone.
My grandmother’s name was inscribed on the stone, an engraving that sent a wave of surprise through my bones.
She was buried in the family cemetery, a good half-hour drive from the gardens in which I had previously stood. It was impossible for her to be buried here as well. And the dates were wrong. My grandmother had died nearly six years ago, yet the stone claimed she had survived another four years, something that wasn’t possible. I swallowed, sickened by the crude stone before me, unable to comprehend why my brothers would create something this distasteful. It was shameful, an embarrassment to my family.
Almost unwillingly, I moved on to the sixteenth headstone. But the stone was blank, just a cool slab of concrete baking in the summer sun. There was no name, no dates. This stone had no occupant. I was thankful. My furious heart couldn’t handle many more surprises.
But as I turned towards the last tomb, my eyes raking over the ornament trim and the seemingly metal door, I heard a sound that caused me to wheel around, nearly causing me to lose my footing. It was the creaking of the iron gate.