At the Edge of the Garden

When I was ten years old, all my friends had trampolines. I wanted a trampoline too, but my mother was opposed to the idea. One of my cousins decided to jump onto a trampoline from the roof of his house, breaking his arm and becoming a neighborhood hero in the process. My mother used my cousin’s behavior as a justification for keeping our yard trampoline-free, but I understood that she didn’t want her garden to be invaded.

My family lived on the outskirts of a pine forest bordering a small town. The property would later be sold, cleared, and incorporated into a subdivision, but our house was fairly isolated when we lived there. Since I had no one to play with and nothing better to do, I spent the summer roaming the forest with my dog while pretending to be a dinosaur. After a boy was shot in a hunting accident only a mile away from our house, my mother came to the reluctant conclusion that keeping me and the dog in the yard on a trampoline would probably be safer than letting us run wild in the woods.

The trampoline dominated my mother’s garden, as she had known it would, but this was more than likely a relief for her. She had neglected to do any weeding that summer, and the plants had gone feral. The trampoline blocked the view of the overgrown tangle of the rose bushes and ornamental shrubs that she used to keep meticulously maintained. My dog would sometimes disappear into the thistles and milkweed that grew as tall as my waist at the edge of the yard and emerge with his coat covered in burs, and my mother would pretend not to notice.

My parents’ marriage had turned sour. They fought after dinner, so I tried to be in the house as little as possible. I would go outside to jump on the trampoline every evening. It was soothing, almost hypnotic. I would position myself in the middle of the black canvas tarp and bounce in place as I watched the sun set over the pine trees standing just beyond the garden. I would hop off the trampoline and head back inside once the sky had gone completely dark, but twilight tends to linger in that part of the world, especially during summer. Sometimes I would be on the trampoline for more than an hour, letting my mind draft into various fantasies of prehistoric life while my dog barked at the rabbits that sniffed around the patch of soil where my mother used to grow carrots.

One evening, just as the sun had begun to sink below the tops of the pines, I saw a figure slink out of the dim forest underbrush. There wasn’t enough light to see clearly, but I was convinced it was a person. My dog was somewhere else, so I was alone with the shadow.

I was struck by a sense of terror, but I couldn’t stop jumping on the trampoline. My body moved mechanically as the blob of darkness made its way across the yard. Eventually it halted, raised the stalks of its arms, and slowly waved at me. I kept jumping, and it kept waving. It seemed as though it were trying to get my attention, but I refused to acknowledge its presence. If I looked at it directly, the stalemate would be broken, and I would be eaten. I was only a dinosaur in my mind, after all, and I knew that I was no match for whatever had come out of the trees.

As the sun disappeared, the shadow sank back into the forest. I hopped off the trampoline and ran inside as quickly as my shaking legs could carry me. 

The next day, when the sun was fully back in the sky, I ventured out to the line of trees beyond the garden, but I didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. The thick mat of pine needles covering the ground lay undisturbed.

Later that afternoon, my dog got hit by a speeding truck on the state highway that ran past the end of our driveway, but I don’t think there was any connection to what I’d seen the previous evening. How could there have been? Nothing made sense to me at the time – not the death of my dog, not the end of my parents’ marriage, and not the creeping realization that my mother and I would have to leave our home at the end of the summer. All things considered, a strange shadow lurking in the woods at the edge of the garden was the least of what was wrong with that house.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This story was originally published in Issue 7 of 3 Moon Magazine in April 2021. The issue’s theme was “Growing Malcontent,” and this story was my first foray into botanical horror. 3 Moon Magazine ceased publication and closed its website at the end of 2022, and I am reproducing this story with the kind permission of the editors.

Apartment Hunting

I moved to Philadelphia earlier this year. The circumstances weren’t ideal, and I only had a few days to find an apartment. I went on a few tours of large buildings and fancy condos, all of which were way out of my budget. Besides, I wouldn’t want to live in a place like that anyway.

I decided to pursue a different strategy. Instead of looking for listings online, I drove through several neighborhoods and took photos of places with For Rent signs outside. I sat in my car, made a list of phone numbers, and agreed to meet with anyone who picked up when I called.

This was how I found myself standing on the sagging porch of an old townhouse in West Philly with ornamental spires above the windows and a historic registry plaque beside the front entryway. A woman with a colorless suit and a severe haircut met me at the door and handed me a blank application form. Just in case, she said.

The interior was much larger than I expected. I’d never been inside a townhouse before, and I wasn’t prepared for how far back the hallway would stretch. The doors were strangely small, and the ceiling seemed far too high. This must be the building’s historic character, I told myself. Local color. The realtor wasn’t interested in conversation, so I stopped to take a picture of the crown molding, which was ornamented with carvings of infinitely spiraling vines.

When I looked up from my phone, I realized that I was alone. The hallway in front of me was dark, so I turned around and began walking back the way I came.

There were more turns and staircases than I remembered. As I walked, the floor grew spongy underneath my feet. My shoes made unpleasant squelching noises with every step. I started to notice that there were small mushrooms crouching in the corners of the walls and creeping up the support beams between doors.

I swallowed my embarrassment and called out to the realtor, but no one answered. I tried dialing the number printed on the For Rent sign, but no one picked up. I was lost, I realized. I’d somehow lost my way outside. At least I still had the application form.

It’s not so bad, all things considered. I was alarmed at first, but I’ve gotten used to it, and it’s not as if there’s anything I can do. I guess I live here now.

.

This was my submission to the 2020 Philly Zine Fest Anthology. You can download a free PDF copy of the anthology (here). The Philly Zine Fest is held in West Philadelphia every November, and you can stay updated on Twitter (here).

It Never Happened

It Never Happened is my second zine of horror-themed flash fiction. It collects fifteen very short stories, as well as a spooky comic (that you can find here) by the artist Frankiesbugs.

This is the zine description:

This zine collects fifteen short stories about finding oneself in strange circumstances and adjusting to a new normal. Nothing that takes place in these stories actually happened, of course. Most of what transpires is a little creepy, but it’s important to remember that none of this is real. If you read these stories, you might not be real either, but don’t let that stop you.

I love autobio comics, and a lot of these stories came from my failed attempts to write comic scripts. What I realized during this process is that it’s very difficult for me to talk about myself. Although I obviously have no trouble sharing my opinions, I never know what to say when I try to describe my own life. All of the stories in this zine are based on real experiences; but, as the title suggests, none of this ever actually happened.

Or rather, that’s not entirely true. One of these stories is 100% factually accurate, but I’m not going to say which one.

If you’re interested, there are still a few copies of this zine (on Etsy).