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Rabbits in the garden, p.1

Rabbits in the Garden, page 1


Rabbits in the Garden

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Rabbits in the Garden


  by Jessica McHugh

  Post Mortem Press

  Cincinnati, OH USA

  Other Titles from Jessica McHugh

  Camelot Lost (as Jessica Bonito)

  Song of Eidolons

  From the Herald's Wearied Eye

  The Sky: The World

  The Tales of Dominhydor

  Danny Marble & the Application for Non-Scary Things

  Available at

  Other Titles from Post Mortem Press

  Uncanny Allegories Horror Anthology

  Isolation Horror Anthology

  A Means to an End Horror Anthology

  Shadowplay Horror Anthology

  Perpetual Night by Georgina Morales

  These Trespasses by Kenneth W. Cain

  The Beer Chronicles by Scott Lange

  Available at

  Copyright © 2011 by Jessica McHugh

  Cover Image copyright © 2011 by Dan Ionut Popescu |

  All rights reserved.

  Post Mortem Press is a subsidiary of

  Bee Squared Publishing - Cincinnati, OH

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.

  For Mom, Dad, and the Vineyarders:

  thanks for the memories.


  Not much had changed since the fire. Long before she set foot inside, she could smell the residual stench of those who hadn’t made it out in time. The hospital had always been a grim place, even to those who hadn’t been confined there, but since being gutted by the fire, Taunton Lunatic Asylum seemed grimmer still. Sun poured in through the gaping holes in the structure and illuminated the corridors she’d always found so dark and suffocating. For the first time, she walked the halls as a free woman, but her mind still managed to feel trapped by the place. It had a lingering hold on her, and she assumed it always would. After spending nearly six years at Taunton, it had become the only place Avery Norton truly felt at home, despite the fact that it had been no less than a prison to her. She knew each tile and brick and barred window, and they knew her just as intimately.

  “Welcome to Taunton, Avery,” they whispered. “We knew you’d be back.”

  Her footsteps resounded as she ambled through the sun bridge that connected the wings, and as she progressed, her mind repaired the peeling paint and the holes created by the fire. It swept away the leaves and yanked up the weeds that had crawled in through the fissures, and it filled the silent void with voices and frenetic footsteps. She looked down to see her shoes had become slippers and her dress, a nightgown. Others joined her in the hall, patients and nurses alike, but they were too lost in their own manic business to notice her. Only one person was able to see past the others in the cluttered corridor. She stood at the end of the hallway waiting for Avery with a smile that dripped with insincerity. When she opened her arms, Avery walked into them, but she didn’t reciprocate the embrace.

  “Hello, Mom,” she said robotically. “What lies do you have for me today?”

  The shrill whistle of wind through the cracked baseboard broke her reverie and washed away the restoration in her mind. Alone again in the faded, broken world, Avery clenched her jaw as tightly as she clenched her fists and resumed the rigid march she had made so many times down the hall to her ward.

  The doors were no longer numbered, but Avery knew which one was hers without a second thought. It was the only one that was open, welcoming her home with the same creak that had been there since her first day in the hospital. The sea green paint only remained in patches across the room, and the rest was blackened by smoke damage, but Avery only saw the millions of memories conjured by staring up at those turquoise walls. Her bed was where she’d left it, sheets and all; although it had been significantly burned and collected flakes of paint and rust. The bedside table was on its side with the top drawer open and it invited her in when the sun flashed against something metallic within: a silver handheld mirror with smashed glass that gave her a broken reflection and made her straight hair kinky. It hadn’t been her mirror, but it didn’t matter. There was something in that room that was hers, and it was sitting patiently beneath the third tile from the back wall. She wedged her nail between the tiles and traced it until the grime had been cleared and she could dig her nail under the linoleum. It took more effort than before, but she was able to pry it free. The brown leather diary was coated in a thick layer of dust and when she blew it away, it billowed into her face and incited a sneezing fit. She turned the latch and unbelted it, but before she opened the diary, she felt it necessary to take a steadying breath. She’d had it since she was twelve years old, and she’d only written in it once, but that one entry was enough to spoil it forever. Besides, what was interesting enough about the everyday life in Taunton to warrant recording? What about that place would she actually want to remember? When she opened it, a picture slipped out from between the pages, and when it landed on her lap, the innocent eyes looked up at Avery as if begging for an explanation that she couldn’t give. The boy and girl standing hand in hand had their whole lives ahead of them; how could they have known then what they were to become. As she ran her fingers over the photograph, she couldn’t believe how much her appearance had changed. Her hair was still cropped at her shoulders and her bangs were still too long and nearly covered her eyes, but the ebony color she had adored so was gone. She was still thin as a rail and trimmed with muscle, but she looked a lot weaker than she used to. It would’ve been a great mistake to assume her strength by her appearance though; she was still stronger than anyone she knew. Paul Dillon included. Most likely, it was his influence that had made her that way. All those rounds of tag and kick the can had made her slender and speedy while the hours spent fishing off the Martha’s Vineyard Steamship Pier had taught her patience and stillness. Scaling the abandoned summer houses during the winter made her agile, and walking the roofs without thought of falling gave her balance and confidence. But she knew she wouldn’t have done any of those things if not for Paul. He was brave enough to be the one who brought the girl to join the games, and as it turned out, they were the only ones who lasted through the long haul of childhood capriciousness. Contrarily, Paul hadn’t changed much in appearance. He was still tall and lean with dark brown hair and ice blue eyes that broke through his guarded aura. No matter what, he was always able to draw her in. Even after everything that had happened, that little boy, that man, could still enrapture her. It was the only instance in which she would gladly admit that Paul overpowered her.

  They first met when Avery was nine. They first played when she was ten. They first kissed when she was twelve. But before Avery could reach her thirteenth birthday, it was all over.

  It wasn’t supposed to happen that way; none of it. She should’ve been able to live as free as anyone else. She should’ve been able to trust her own thoughts and truly believe her own convictions. She should’ve been able to play and laugh and cry tears of joy as she and her beloved grew together in life and love. But as much as Avery wished for all of those things, and as many times as she believed they’d finally come true, it was nothing but false hope. On the other hand, acknowledging that truth didn’t make her sad. Each time she had believed her dreams would come true, she felt happy, and she couldn’t deny any moments of happiness in her life. After all, there had been so few.

  She placed the picture back into the pages of her diary and smiled. That
s where she would keep him. Right there, forever. She turned to the first page, dated July 2nd, 1953, and the words scrawled across the first line jumped from the page to her lips, rolling through her mind and off her tongue.

  “Today, Mom gave me a garden.”


  It couldn’t have been a more perfect birthday. Avery spent the day running wherever her feet could carry her. At the Flying Horses, she worked her way up to catching four rings at a time, but as usual, she never caught the brass ring. She’d thought that since it was her birthday, the fates might be working in her favor, but alas, every ring she fervently snatched from the dispenser was steel, steel, and more steel. When her arm got tired of stretching to nab ring after ring, she turned to Tivoli’s penny arcade for a raucous round of pinball, and once that became too tiresome, she relaxed and replenished her energy by picking the dandelions that grew along the edge of the Tabernacle. Before she could gather them into any semblance of bouquet, however, she spotted Paul Dillon peeking around the side of the building.

  “Stop trying to convince people that you’re a girl,” he joked as he plucked a flower out of her hand.

  “You’re right. They suit you much better,” she replied as she tossed the rest of the dandelions at him and dashed away.

  He chased her around the Tabernacle until she purposefully slowed and he slammed into her, knocking them both to the ground in a fit of laughter.

  “I knew you’d never catch me, and I didn’t want to make you feel bad,” she said with a smile.

  “I’ll catch you someday, Avery, but since it’s your birthday, I’ll let it slide. Come on; I’ll buy you a basket of fried clams.”

  “Alright, but I have to meet Natalie at the boat in an hour.”

  “In an hour, I could eat three baskets at least!” he said, patting his stomach jovially.

  Avery’s sister Natalie attended boarding school at Dana Hall in Wellesley and arrived on the Island Queen that afternoon. At fourteen, she looked older than her years which she blamed on an exhausting all-girl environment, but she had to confess through her scowl that coming home to the island, even for a weekend, even at the height of tourist season, loosened the noose that was her structured life at Dana Hall. Avery conversely felt her sprightly age in spades. Not even having to tow her sister from place to place after meeting her at the boat could slow her down or lessen her verve. The sweet but salty summer air fueled her and pulled her from one side of the town to the other, to the beaches and jetties, to the ponds and parking lots and every undiscovered space between. And all the while, Paul stayed beside her, bouncing from foot to foot and singing the music Avery’s mother had forbidden. Her mother didn’t let her listen to the radio very often, but Paul always taught her the latest Perry Como or Eddie Fisher so she'd be in the loop at school or social outings. He’d sing songs and do dances and open her mind up to a whole world she wasn’t permitted to know. She even got to watch his family’s television set on a few occasions; without her mother’s knowledge, of course. He'd told her it was color. He bragged about it for weeks, but when she came over, she discovered that it was just a black and white set with colored saran wrap stretched over the screen.

  In July, the island was teeming with summer blood. Kids ran wild through the streets of Oak Bluffs with their parents trailing lazily behind, more fixated on the architecture of the Gingerbread Houses than the fresh trays of fudge just set out in the front window of Hillard’s. Even though a lot of the Vineyarders rolled their eyes when the ferries pulled in and a slew of eager tourists poured out, Avery couldn’t help but latch onto the tourists’ excitement. So many of the island kids worked non-stop during the summer, and of the ones who didn’t, there were few that her mother approved of. Each boat brought a new group of kids and potential friends, and because they were only around for a brief time, they usually appeared and disappeared before her mother could know they even existed. When it came to Paul, however, she would never deny their friendship to her mother.

  “You like him, don't you?” Natalie whispered when noticed her sister staring at Paul.

  “I don't know what you're talking about.”

  “Don't lie. I can tell you like him. Does he like you?”

  “Ssh,” Avery replied forcefully and waited for Paul to speed ahead. “I think so. The last time we went camping, well, it was weird...weird and good.”

  “Have you kissed him?”

  “No. We came close though.”

  “Maybe you'll come close again. Maybe tonight. It is your birthday, after all,” Natalie whispered with a chuckle. “We should be getting home, but you should say goodnight to him alone. When we get there, go around to the garden. I’ll wait out front.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “If you don't go, I will,” she joked and pushed Avery toward him.

  She tripped over her feet and lurched into him, and although he laughed after he caught her, it wasn't the least bit derisive.

  “I knew you were falling for me, Avery Norton,” he chuckled and she swatted his arm playfully. “So…goodnight… I guess. Happy Birthday.”

  “Do you want to go to the garden?” she asked when he started to head home, and he smiled warmly and nodded.

  Avery intended on casually bring up their last camping trip and the obvious feelings that had developed between them, but she didn't have to. Before she could think of a logical segue, his lips were pressing against hers. One soft touch, a bit of pressure, slight wetness: it was all so strange - -and wonderful. It made her feel lit up like a Christmas tree and somehow invincible.

  Avery wasn’t exactly familiar with the notion of love and relationships; she had so few memories of her father and mother together and those memories had been forged when she was four. Whatever there had been of love between her parents before her father left had made no impact upon her, but she did know affection, and she knew what she felt for Paul was real. They didn’t need anyone to teach them the how or why. Avery and Paul were best friends, and it just felt natural.

  “Happy Birthday, Avery.”

  “Happy Birthday, Paul,” she said, deliciously dazed by the kiss. “I mean, um, thanks. I don't think I could ask for a better birthday present.”

  “Well I might not being able to top it, but I do have another present for you. Can I bring it by tomorrow?” he asked hopefully.

  “I don't know. You know my mom is strange about that stuff,” she replied, and she chuckled when Paul pouted his lip. “Alright, alright. I'll try.”

  “That's long enough, Avery,” Natalie said as she peeked around the corner. “We have to get inside.”

  “Goodnight, Paul,” she purred, and he kissed her on the cheek before bounding joyfully away.

  When Natalie and Avery walked through the front door, they saw the dining room table covered with presents and smelled their mother’s “not-so-famous but nothing to be sneezed at” stew. The aroma called the girls forward and into their chairs with their mouths watering madly.

  “Done in a minute,” Faye Norton said to her daughters in a characteristic singsong.

  Her voice always made her sound more imposing than she appeared. While it rang out loud and clear and often booming even in whisper, Faye Norton was actually a thin, delicate woman who looked like a stiff breeze might shatter her before it could even knock her over. However, she was much like Avery. There was strength hidden beneath her frail veneer. One might’ve thought that such a feminine-looking woman might not have been able to handle the physical demands of maintaining house and family after her husband left, but then she’d be spotted on her roof, re-shingling and cleaning the gutters and all the while singing softly to herself. She wasn’t the most easygoing of people, but even when her face knotted up into a cold sneer and she spoke harshly, the soft timbre of her voice seemed to incite sympathy. Her mahogany hair was usually tied back into a bun that commanded the nape of her neck, and though her widow’s peak was just starting to gray, she had a few striking gray streaks pain
ted through the rest of her coif. She was nothing if not a loving mother, albeit a tad overbearing, but she was willing to give her daughters their space. Sometimes, she’d go out on weekend nights to play bridge or bingo. Avery once asked Paul’s mother if she ever played bridge with Faye, but Mrs. Dillon admitted that she hadn't. In fact, Faye had never responded to any of her invitations to join their bridge game. It was strange, to be sure, but Avery never gave it more than a minute’s thought. It seemed sensible enough that her mother would need some time for herself once in a while too. Even if she wasn’t playing bridge, she surely deserved a break from child rearing, cooking, and gardening. But although she would never admit it, Avery wished her mother didn’t need the break. Ever since Natalie was shipped off to Dana Hall, she despised those nights alone with a sitter who never stayed awake long enough to even mildly entertain her.

  To call Faye Norton a devout Catholic would be a grave understatement. She was in the minority as a great deal of the island was Protestant, but she believed it only made her faith burn brighter. She took advantage of any opportunity she could to instill the love and word of God in her daughter's hearts. However, when boredom in religion reared its ugly head, as it often does with children, she knew when to put down her Bible and try different, more tangible lessons. Since their father was gone, the task of spiritual education was all left in Faye's hands, much to her daughter’s frequent chagrin.

  “Which one do you want to open first?” Natalie asked when Avery had finished her last bite of stew.

  “I wish there was a way to open them all at once. Boom! An explosion of paper and presents all over the place!” Avery exclaimed.

  “I hope you don’t think I’d be the one cleaning up that mess,” their mother commented from the kitchen. “But it doesn’t really matter which one you open first. They’ll all get opened eventually, and they’ll all pale in comparison to my gift.”

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