Cold, wet drops smacked me on top of my head, dampening my hair, and a flash of lightning tore across the sky, followed several seconds later by the rumbling of thunder. The rain was only coming down half-heartedly, in a thin drizzle, but soon enough the ground was slick, and my shoes slid as I held onto my uncle’s feet, wrapping one arm around each ankle, and walking between them, as Ms. Cleary dragged him along by the shoulders. His butt sagged to the ground and dragged along it, making one long track, that I stepped on either side of as I walked.
We set him down in the middle of the garden, on the damp grass. His white shirt was wet and stained with blood, that ran together to make the white bits pink. Ms. Cleary lowered his head , and stepped back.
I stood there and looked down at him, and I was sure that he was dead. With the boggart gone, his face seemed more like I remembered it, and, while I was never the best of friends with my uncle, we had just been getting to know one another better, and I had thought things could be okay between us. Now, there wasn’t any way that that could happen. I’d lost another member of my family.
Ms. Cleary closed her eyes and bowed her head, and started humming in a soft, low tone. She hummed a wandering tune, with no real melody or theme to it, and it varied in both pitch and rhythm, and seemed to hit every possible note and tempo. She sped up and slowed down whimsically, and the tune bounced between minor and major, not lingering long enough in either to be characterized as mostly happy or sad in quality.
The pitter-patter of raindrops on leaves matched Ms. Cleary’s rhythm, and the branches and flowers swayed in the wind, each bobbing along in their own way.
As I watched all of this, the colors of the garden all began to fade. At first I just thought that it was getting darker, and that the sun was going down, but then I noticed that neither Ms. Cleary or my uncle had been changed, and when I looked down at myself, saw that I looked no darker than I had a moment before. But the vibrant purple of the lavender buds, and the bright yellow of the daffodils were being drained away, as if someone had a vacuum that sucked away color, and was aiming it at each and every plant in Ms. Cleary’s garden. And all the while, Ms. Cleary continued to hum away.
Then my uncle’s foot twitched. It was the smallest of movements, just the involuntary tensing up of the leg that caused it, but it was a movement nonetheless. I stared in wonder, as tiny streams of yellow light curled out from beneath the ground, and flickered and twined up and down my uncle’s body. They were each like miniscule sparks of electricity, that sizzled and traced lines up my uncle’s chest, and through the hole in his abdomen.
More and more of the plants in the garden were withering, and growing dry, and the more they did so, the more sparks flew out from the dirt and onto my uncle. Remembering the incident with the snail, the tiny flicker of hope in my chest blossomed into a roaring bonfire, and I knew my uncle was saved. The garden had healed the snail, at the cost of a few dandelions, and I realized then, with a pang of guilt, that Ms. Cleary knew exactly what was happening, and was fully willing to sacrifice every living thing in her precious garden for my uncle to come back to life.
Everything around me was shriveling and shrinking, and crunching itself down into dust. Soon, I could see clearly the boundaries of the yard, the fence, the sliding glass door to the kitchen, everything. The jungle of leaves was melting away before my very eyes.
When I looked back down at my Uncle Martin, his eyes were open, and he was breathing long, deep breaths. He looked at me, and his eyes were full of questions.
“Wha–” he began, but Ms. Cleary cut him off, kneeling down low beside him, and placing a finger on his mouth.
“Shhh,” she said. “Just lay back, and close your eyes. Everything is going to be all right.”
And he did, almost immediately, as if he had no choice in the matter. A glazed-over look came onto him, and he yawned, and smacked his lips, and fell into a deep sleep. He looked content and at ease, with not a care in the world. Every so often, a snore escaped.
By now there were no more plants in the garden. Everything had collapsed, and all that remained were dried up twigs and grass, brown and dead, and already decaying into the earth.
“Thank you,” I said, and hugged Ms. Cleary as hard as I could, burying my head in her dress, and blinking back tears. “I’m sorry about all of your plants.”
She patted my head, and said nothing for a short while. The rain had stopped, and the storm was passing. I could still hear the rumbling of distant thunder, but it was further away now, and moving on.
Then, “Don’t worry your little head about the garden, child. These things happen.” She said it like it was a simple truth, like stating that the sky is blue. “When he wakes up, he won’t remember any of this, as he shouldn’t. Your mother will forget as well, and in time, you will too.”
I stopped hugging her, stepped back and looked her in the eye, and shook my head. “No I won’t,” I said. “I’ll never forget any of this. How could I?”
Ms. Cleary shrugged. “Time happens. It stretches and warps things, and most of what you do will get swept under the rug, and you won’t even think to think of them again. They’ll just be there, inside, and if you remember them at all, you’ll remember them as foggy dreams, or things you’d only just imagined.”
She then started walking back to the glass door, as if that was all that had to be said.
“Wait,” I said. “What happened to Owd Hob? Is he gone forever? What did you do to him?”
She stopped, and turned to look at me, sized me up, as if trying to decide whether or not she was going to tell me the truth. “He’s not gone, no,” she said at last. “But so long as you never come back to this house, he’ll never be able to bother you again.”
I paused. “But,” I said. “but what about you?”
Ms. Cleary smiled, and wrinkles swallowed up her eyes. “Oh, don’t you worry for a second about me. I’ve never been better. And there are far worse things that have happened in my lifetime. This one will not be a smidgen of trouble.”
And then Ms. Cleary turned her back on me. I watched her hobble her way to the door, slide it open, and disappear inside.
As soon as the door had closed, my uncle’s eyes popped open again, and he sat up, and looked around, confused and disoriented.
“Wha happened?” he asked, to no one in particular. Then he saw me, and his eyes lit up with recognition, and he smiled. “Hey buddy. Did I fall asleep, or what?”
I smiled. “Yeah, just for a little while.”
He stood up. “Well,” he said. “We should probably get going, get you back to your mom. It’s almost dinner time, I think.”
We walked out of the yard together, and back to my house. He did not remark on the strangeness of taking a nap in the neighbor’s yard, and neither did I.
My mother was no longer lying passed out on the porch, but was inside, and putting the finishing touches on a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, with garlic bread. No one mentioned anything odd about the day, and when my mother and uncle talked to one another, it was more polite, and guarded, and she didn’t touch him on the arm, and paid far more attention to me at the table, than to him.
After dinner my uncle stood up and stretched. He thanked my mother for the meal, but stated that he should really be getting back home, and get some rest before work in the morning. They did not hug, or kiss, and before he left he ruffled my hair, like he used to, and said he’d be by the next weekend to help me get that treehouse started. Then he walked out the door, and backed the green truck out of the driveway, and took it off down the lane.
The rest of the night seemed so normal that it was almost surreal. I helped my mother wash the dishes and pack away the leftovers from dinner, and then we both sat in front of the television, and watched several game shows together, before she told me that it was time to brush my teeth, and get ready for bed.
Already the events of the day were fading away. I tried my best to hold onto them, but it was like they were tied to a string, and every time I reached out to touch one it was plucked away, by some invisible hand on the other end. Eventually I only found it tiring to try, and stopped trying to remember all together. Things were good now. That seemed to be all that really mattered, when I thought about it.
When I tucked myself into bed that night, and turned out the light, there was little on my mind. I thought that tomorrow I’d ask my mother to take me to the library, after she got off from work, and pick up a new book. Maybe a ghost story, or another fantasy adventure one. I pulled up the covers, and snuggled my head against my pillow.
And later this week, my uncle would come over, and together we’d work on that treehouse he had promised me.