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Ms. Rouge’s Secret
I’ve grown up in Barnett, Rhode Island my entire life. The town rarely changes, other than the changes of seasons. Fall was here and I could look out my window and see the world transformed into a beautiful mural full of warm reds, sunny oranges, and exploding yellows. The leaves fall down from the trees in curtains of magnificent color, covering the ground in a carpet of warm pastels. Between the trees I can see down to my neighbor’s house. Her name is Ms. Rouge; she has been a widow as long as I can remember. Her house is a small red brick colonial with white shudders and always has an American flag, blowing in the wind, on the front porch. I love my neighbor’s house; it looks so wise and beautiful next to my family’s modern style home. But my favorite part of Ms. Rouge’s home is the walled in part towards the back of the house. Everyone in town says it’s just garden that she is very protective over, but I think differently. I think Ms. Rouge has a secret she is trying to hide, and she has done great job of keeping it my entire 17 years of life.
As the seasons change from fall to winter, every morning I look out my window to see my neighbor disappear through the large oak door that opens into the walled in secret. I usually wait to see when she will come out, curious, hoping to catch a peek inside as she closes the door. But every day is the same, she quickly scurries out, empty handed, slamming the door in a hurry behind her. Most people would have lost interest by now, but my curiosity wouldn’t let me forget.
The snow begins to melt, and the world comes alive again as spring arrives. Ms. Rouge’s routine to and from her garden never changes. She enters the garden at noon and leaves the garden at four, everyday. I was beginning to get bored, thinking everyone else was right, there was no mystery to her garden after all. Until one day I notice her step out of the garden, slam the door, and stroll away, but today the door didn’t stay shut, it bounced back open, leaving the door ajar. I stayed very still, moving my eyes between the door and Ms. Rouge, strolling away. I held my breath waiting for her to turn around and notice the door open, but she never did. I bolt up from my seat at my window and sprint down the stairs past my parents in the kitchen. My dad steps in front of my path, and I stutter step in order not to run into him.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?” he inquired.
I quickly even out my breathing and smoothly reply, “I’m going to go to the park, spring has sprung and I want to see the trees in bloom.” My parents just look at each other, shrug, and my father moves out of my path. It was the perfect lie to tell my parents. They knew the park was my favorite place to go in the spring. Little did they know I hadn’t visited the park in months.
I creep around to the side of the house, and look towards the walled in structure standing before me. The door still stood ajar, just as I had seen it from my bedroom window. I carefully walked over to the door and with one hand pushed the door open. Behind the door, a magnificent sight was revealed. The sun hit the garden in a way that made everything shine bright and colorful. As a stepped further in a heard a clank noise from beneath my feet. I looked down to see an old rusty key sitting in the grass just outside the door. It was the key that I had seen Ms. Rouge use to lock the door with everyday. I smile at my own fortune and slip the key into my pocket. “She wouldn’t mind if I held onto it for her, just until I saw her next of course,” I thought to myself.
I walk further in, examining and looking at every piece and plant within her garden. I walked the whole perimeter and found nothing of interest. I quickly become frustrated, and I turn to leave. “Everyone in the town was right, there is nothing special about this garden,” I say out loud.
“Things aren’t always as they appear my dear,” says a small voice coming from up in the trees.
I quickly spin around, wide eyed in amazement. Standing in front of me is a small dwarf like figure, no more than one foot tall. His complexion is rough and dark and his deep chestnut eyes were full of wonder.
“What…Who…What,” I stammer, unable to form the words I intend to say. Finally composing myself I ask, “What and who are you?”
“My name is Mr. Rinkleman, and I’m a creature you probably have never heard of or seen before. I’m an Oneonta. I am the only one of my kind still remaining.”
“Are there more of you here? More creatures I mean?”
“We aren’t creatures; we are people too, just not humans.”
Just as he says this I see a rustling of all the plants around me and many different people emerge. Some are as round as a tomato; others are almost as thin as a twig, but all are about the same height, no more than one foot tall. I stare, dumbfounded that I did not see any of them hiding when I first walked about the garden. Apparently I had been looking, instead of seeing.
“Do you all live here all the time?” I ask, unsure of what to say next.
“Yes, Ms. Rouge is very nice and takes care of us here, but she has never let anyone else come visit us before.”
Many cheeks quickly burned bright red. I quickly turn bright red in embarrassment. “Ms. Rouge doesn’t know I’m here, she left the door open, and I came in because I was curious.”
“Oh,” he replies with a slight frown, “oh well,” he quickly perks up. “We don’t have to tell her, and we love company, right guys?” All of them nod in agreement, and I feel a grin move across my face.
I look up to the sky to see dust quickly approaching. I realized my parents must be wondering why I have been out for so long.
“It’s getting late, but I’ll come back tomorrow.”
“Ok, but are you sure you can’t spend the night?”
“Maybe tomorrow, but I have to get home tonight,” I reply. “Here is Ms. Rouge’s key, I found it lying outside, be sure to give it back to her. When I return tomorrow, I’ll knock three times, and that way you’ll know it’s me to be able to open the door. Wait…can you open the door?” I ask.
“Yes, we are able to. We never leave, but we are able to open the door.”
“Good, well then, I’ll see you tomorrow!”
I turn and leave, firmly shutting the door behind me. Skipping home, I know tonight will be a restless one, and I won’t be able to sleep because I’m full of excitement to return to the garden tomorrow.
I move through my day like it’s almost a dream, never really sure if I’m actually walking along the ground or floating. Finally the time comes, I see Ms. Rouge, leave her garden like she always had before, firmly shutting the door behind her, but this time she checked that it was really shut. I grab my sleeping bag and pillow and run down the stairs.
“Mom! Dad!” I call. They quickly enter the kitchen. Without waiting for a response I say, “I’m going to sleep over at Ashley’s tonight, ok?”
“Ok, that’s fine, be home by ten tomorrow morning,” my mother replied. “Do you want a ride over to her house?”
“No thank you, I’ll walk. See you tomorrow!” I almost sing as a march out the door. I quickly walked out the front door, not waiting for any further questions from my parents.
I walk up to the door leading into the garden and knock three times. I hear a rustle from behind the door, a few clicks, and then finally the door swings open.
“Welcome Back!” Mr. Rinkleman chants.
I walk in and the door shuts behind me. “So, what are we going to do tonight?” I ask with curiosity.
“Well, we all go to bed now because there is nothing left to do,” he replied.
I frowned with disappointment. “Well maybe I’ll just go then and come back and visit another day.”
Obviously disappoint Mr. Rinkleman agrees and goes to open the door, but for some reason it won’t open. I walk up to the door as well and give it a good tug, but it won’t budge!
“Oh no!” I say out loud
“It’s ok, you can just stay here tonight and Ms. Rouge will let you out in the morning, that door always gets stuck.”
“Ok, I guess that would be fine, but won’t Ms. Rouge be mad I snuck in here?”
“Well, do you really have another choice?”
“I guess you are right.” I looked for a spot and laid out my sleeping bag and put down my pillow. The night was a bit cold for late spring. I snuggle up inside my bag and close my eyes, waiting for sleep to finally reach me. The dark grows more intense and I begin to hear more rustling.
“Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” I whisper, “Keep it down!”
“Who are you?” says a low deep voice. This is a voice I don’t recognize, one that gives me chills of fear. Out of the darkness emerges and large black creature.
“Hi,” I manage to croak out in a weak small voice.
“Who are you?” repeated the voice.
“I’m Renee, Ms. Rouge’s neighbor.”
“So, you are a human?”
“Yes,” I reply hesitantly.
“I don’t like humans! Get out now!”
“Sorry about that uhh…uhh… I’ll leave now.” In a rush I grab my sleeping bag and pillow from the ground and run to the door. I pull and pull, but the door won’t budge.
“Why haven’t you left? If you are not gone, you will be sorry.”
I begin to panic, sweat dripping down my face. I bang on the door.
“Help! Help!” I call out, but I know it’s in vain and no one can hear me. All of a sudden I feel a large hand grab hold of me and pull me up into the air.
I hear the voice say, “I said you would be sorry.”
I feel myself being whirled through the air in a circular motion as if I’m going to be thrown over the 10 foot high walls that surround the garden. Out of nowhere I hear a voice that I have never heard before.
“Put her down Edgar!”
I feel myself being plopped on the ground. At this point I’m so dizzy, I don’t know which way is up or down. Finally, my vision comes into focus and I see Ms. Rouge standing in front of me. My ears are still filled with my heartbeat, but I can see she is yelling at the creature who tried to throw me. The creature which she called Edgar retreats into the trees. Ms. Rouge turns and walks over to me.
“Are you ok Renee?”
“I am so sorry Ms. Rouge. I should not have entered the garden without your permission!”
“It’s ok, I understand your curiosity. My curiosity and love for these people is what made me buy this house.” She waves her hand up and around her, pointing to our surroundings.
“You are not mad?” I ask in astonishment. “You saved my life.”
“No, I’m not mad, but just promise me you will never enter without me again.”
“I can promise you that!”
“Let’s get you inside; you can stay with me for tonight.”
“Thank you,” I say as a stand up. I carefully test my legs to see if they can hold my weight. I walk with Ms. Rouge towards the door to the garden only pausing to take one look back at the deep darkness that once was the beautiful colorful environment that had first drawn me in.