Chris had been fascinated with the Garden of Arms since they were a small child.
Their mother took them to a park close by as a small child, and they were always drawn to the hands just sprouting up out of the soil. All kinds of hands, young, old, short, long, and any skin color you could possibly think of.
Anytime Chris’s mother caught them staring at it, she scolded them and told them to mind their own business and not to look at strange things for too long.
“Come along now, Chris,” she would say, and tug them along the path. She would try to scare Chris away from it with tales that the owner of the Garden of Arms took people’s arms as punishments for being naughty, and that all those children’s hands were from nosy little ankle-biters like Chris.
Needless to say, this didn’t deter Chris by much.
They couldn’t seem to stay away from the arms, and as they grew up, they would sneak out at night and go to the garden, looking at all the hands. It was even better in the dark, as some fingernails lit up as though painted with glow-in-the-dark polish.
One night, Chris decided they would try to sneak into the garden. They searched the chain-link fence that guarded it for a weak point. They found one in the bottom of the fence, and began lifting it up and pushing under it. When they lifted their head, however, they saw that one hand facing them seemed to display a sort of “stop” motion. They were almost positive it hadn’t been facing them before.
Chris wasn’t much one for superstition, but in that moment they certainly believed that the garden had a sort of power that wasn’t to be trifled with.
That was the last time they had tried to sneak in.
Halfway through high school, Chris was still as taken with the Garden of Arms as they always had been. They still visited the park and sat on a nearby bench that had a view of the garden.
One day, they sat in their usual spot and pondered the nature of it. How had it started growing? Did anyone maintain it? Why did all the arms look the same as they had the first day Chris had seen it?
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” A low voice said behind Chris.
They turned, startled, to see a tall, beautiful woman with one arm.
“It is,” they agreed. They moved over to allow the woman space to sit down on the bench. “Do you come to look at it often?”
The woman laughed. “My dear, I own the garden. I’ve been tending to it for twelve years now. I’ve seen you so many times, but I never quite had the courage to come out and talk to you until now. Have you ever seen me?”
Chris gave a small smile, chagrined. “I’m afraid I haven’t,” they admitted. They glanced back at the Garden of Arms. For some reason, it seemed they were more…alert than they had been before.
“I don’t blame you one bit,” the woman said with a chuckle. “They’re truly captivating. If it weren’t for their alluring nature, I never would have allowed them to grow.”
“Are they plants?”
“Oh, heavens, no. If I saw a plant look like that, I’d faint on the spot. No, they’re all human. Do you know how mushrooms grow?”
Chris stared at the woman, a little thrown off by the sudden change in topic. “I…yes? They have interconnected roots, the mycelium.”
“That’s a little like how these arms are. The strangest part, though, is how they started growing. You see, I’m not some crazy murderer who steals arms or anything else like those nasty rumors I’ve heard around. These arms all came from my arm. Twelve years ago I had a gruesome accident with my lawnmower, and ashamed that I had been so foolish, as well as confused and disoriented from the blood loss, I buried my severed arm in my tomato garden. About a year later, I was almost fully healed, and I came out to my garden one day to see hundreds of little fingers sticking up through the soil of my garden. I started to dig them up, horrified, but I stopped when I saw my own arm at the center of their roots, giving life to all these other strange hands. I just let them grow, and they’ve become what you see today.”
Chris stared at the woman. “That’s…amazing.” They’d never heard of such a thing before.
The woman smiled at them. “Would you care to look after the Garden of Arms for me?”
“I’m well aware of how fascinated you’ve been with my garden since your childhood. The truth is, I’m getting on in years and it’s a little hard to maintain it all on my own. What do you say?”
Chris’s eyes widened. They couldn’t believe their ears. They’d finally get to see the garden up close? “Of course,” they said automatically. They’d wanted this their whole life!
The woman smiled and held out her hand. “Thank you so much, Chris. And my name is Amina, by the way.”
“Thank you, Amina. I’m honored,” Chris said.
Amina smiled and fished a small key out of her pocket. She pressed it into Chris’s palm. “This opens the backyard gate. If you just walk up the street, you can come up the left side of the house and get into the yard that way. I’ll be happy to see you tomorrow. Just a word of warning before you start, though – don’t get close to the garden at night.”
Chris was about to ask Amina what she had meant by that ominous warning, but before they had a chance to open their mouth, Amina stood up and walked away. After a moment, they shrugged, filing away the warning in their mind for another day.
The next day, Chris was so eager to visit Amina and the Garden of Arms that they woke up early to stop by on their way to school.
The early morning dew was still on the grass by the time Chris pressed the small key into the padlock on the gate. It clicked and popped open as they turned the key, allowing Chris access into the yard.
There Amina sat, shaded by one of the large trees, watching her garden. She turned as she heard the gate open and smiled at Chris.
“My, it’s refreshing to see such an eager spirit,” she laughed.
Chris smiled. “Thanks, ma’am. I can’t stay for long; I still need to get to school. But I just wanted to come over and ask about my responsibilities, and such. How do I care for it?”
“They need watering at least once a day,” Amina said. “Not necessarily heavy waterings, though if the soil feels dry and crumbly to the touch, an extra helping certainly can’t hurt. I do add worms to the soil every once in a while, as well. The arms do love that.”
“Got it,” Chris said. “Anything else I should know?”
Amina looked to the garden and hummed. “No, I don’t think so. Can I expect you here later today to water them?”
Chris grinned. “Of course, ma’am. 4 o’clock sharp, I’ll be here.”
Amina smiled. “Thank you again, Chris. It truly means a lot.”
A few months later, Chris was still happy as ever caring for the Garden of Arms. Amina invited them in for tea occasionally, and Chris gladly accepted. They learned a lot about Amina through the talks they’d have. She and her husband had both fought in the war, and she’d been widowed during the course of it. She turned to gardening afterwards to cope, soon after which the Garden of Arms came into existence. Her stories never failed to be intriguing, and Chris never missed a chance to listen to them.
On some occasions, Chris would be busy during the day and have to miss the regular watering times. On those occasions, they would quietly slip into Amina’s yard and use the hose to water the garden at a distance. They didn’t understand why the distance was necessary, but it was Amina’s rule and they weren’t about to break it.
It was one such night that Chris slipped into Amina’s yard at around eleven o’clock at night, having been busy the whole day. They smiled as they saw the arms, some of them glowing under the moonlight. They went to the opposite corner of the house to fetch the hose.
It wasn’t there.
Chris’s brow furrowed. Hadn’t they left it there the day before? They had used it to water the Garden of Arms around noon, and then…
Oh, no. Chris looked toward the garden. There, sitting coiled beside the garden box sides, was the hose. They had left it there, having noticed that there were claw marks near the faucet and not wanting to leave it to be punctured by stray cats sharpening their claws. Having no shed, Amina told Chris that the safest place to leave it would be beside the Garden of Arms. No creature would approach it.
Cursing themselves, Chris went to fetch the large watering can from beneath Amina’s back porch. They filled it under the faucet and walked slowly closer to the garden.
Just a word of warning, though – don’t get close to the garden at night. The warning resonated ominously in Chris’s mind. They inched closer – eight feet, seven feet, six, five. Five feet was far enough, right? They didn’t want to risk Amina getting angry at them. If they held the can high, the arc of the water could splash far enough to wet the soil on at least one side. They lifted the can and started to pour.
As they watched the water flow, they frowned. Why were they so uneasy? Amina wasn’t awake at this time, and it’s not like the garden was alive. They’d never asked why Amina had instituted that rule, but they assumed that it was because it was hard to see in the dark, and they didn’t want Chris to trip and fall onto the arms and crush them. But…as they looked at the arms, they realized that couldn’t be right. Plenty of hands had illuminated nails, making it hard to misjudge the distance to the edge of the box.
Chris glanced between the garden and themselves. The distance…it couldn’t have been more than four feet at this point. They hadn’t moved. They hadn’t even lifted their feet once. But now…they were closer. What had happened?
They lifted their foot to step back. Maybe they had inched closer without realizing it? As they lifted their foot, however, it almost felt as though something grabbed onto it. Chris faltered, lowering the watering can as they looked down. They could see, very clearly, that there were dozens of small, glow-nailed fingers grabbing their boot – and they were slowly pulling them closer.
Chris pulled harder, but the motion just threw them off balance. They fell, bringing them closer to the garden than they wanted to be. They dropped the can as they lost their balance and the remaining water spilled everywhere, turning the soil to mud. It was thin and slippery and hard to get a grip on. They scrambled, trying to get back on their feet, but they felt small, cold hands gripping their back and sides. They tried to shout out, to alert Amina, but a hand reached over and covered their mouth. They kicked and shouted, but the hands were strong, stronger than Chris would have ever thought possible. The hands dragged them over the wooden wall of the garden and now Chris was lying on their back, looking up through the sea of hands.
As Chris watched, unable to move, the hands seemed to grow slightly taller. No, wait – Chris was getting lower. They were being buried within the Garden of Arms. They continued to struggle, futile though it was, and they writhed as they felt hands pulling them lower and felt fistfuls of dirt being piled on top of them. They managed at least to break one arm free and tried to grab onto something, anything, but all they could feel around them were the cold, clammy hands of the garden.
The next morning, Amina would come out to the garden to find the soil disrupted, the watering can cast aside, and a new hand among her garden. And she’d sigh, and say a small prayer, and go on to find someone new to help her take care of her beloved garden. After all, she was getting on in years, and it was hard for her to take care of it all by herself.
Min is an aspiring author based in Maine. Their area of focus tends to be fantasy, both medieval and modern. They are currently working towards an English degree. You can find more by them on their Instagram and TikTok at crepuscularbean.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed this first guest post. I plan on integrating more of these into the blog. If you have a work you’d like to share with the world, please refer to the submission page. That’s all for today.
Until next time,