bedtime story, castle, cat, corpse, danger, fairy tales, Felix, forest, Freddie, Garden, graves, Janine, Jay BR Wokky, Mary Mary quite contrary, moonlight, Once upon a Time, Princess Janine, Saltonia, Secret Garden, silver bells, The True Adventures of Jay BR Wokky, Zelda
Unfortunately, Janine did not have a good sense of direction. She tried to keep up with the cat, but he had an annoying habit of disappearing for stretches of time. All she could do was hope they were headed out of Saltonia.
All that day and far into the evening, she crept through the trees. Freddie followed at her heels. His tail drooped, and he kept sniffing the air and looking around them. “I don’t like this place.”
“I don’t either, Freddie dear. Stay close.”
Darkness descended upon the forest, and she took out the ball. “Light,” she told it. The ball began to glow softly.
“Keep up,” said the cat.
Even with the ball, the way was hard. After several more hours of tripping on vines and struggling through thick branches, Janine came out of the trees and saw a tall stone wall.
Freddie growled. The hair on his back stood up. “Bad. Very bad.”
The cat sat down and began to wash himself.
The moonlight illuminated the white walls with an eerie glow. Along the top of the wall hung a gleaming string of silver bells. A faint scent of lilies drifted to her.
At that moment Janine realized that somehow she’d traveled almost in a circle and ended up behind Zelda’s private garden.
Janine glared at the cat. “You were supposed to get me out of Saltonia.”
“The poet Daballi once said, ‘Learning something today may keep you alive tomorrow.’”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Freddie growled low. “Shh. Listen.”
From inside the garden came the sound of some kind of animal crunching on bones. All the hair on her arms stood up. As Janine tiptoed along beside the stone wall, the bells began to ring. The crunching stopped. Janine shivered and held still. The bells stopped ringing, and the crunching resumed.
What was it about this garden? Janine had peeked in through the front gate once. The garden was a place of beauty, but something about it was very disturbing. Zelda never let any of the servants inside to tend her strange plants and flowers. She spent long hours working in there, and she lined the beds and walkways with round stones and sea shells from the beach. Animals wouldn’t go inside — not a mouse, not even a beetle. Janine had never seen even a bird fly over the garden.
The cat said, “Zelda Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells and sea shells, and pretty maids all in a row.”
“What does that mean?” Janine whispered.
Felix faded out. A few seconds later, he reappeared. “There are ten graves in a row. The farthest one is ten years old, the next nine years old, the next eight, and so on. Beside the grave from last year is a freshly dug hole. I won’t describe the corpse except to say it’s human.”
Janine was filled with horror. She turned and fled back into the forest, with Freddie beside her and the cat bounding ahead. The chiming of the silver bells seemed to follow behind. It wasn’t until she came out onto the main road that she realized that there had been no wind that night.