A Single Leaf - Hell's Blue Orchard
Hell’s Blue Orchard
I first spotted the orchard through my bedroom mirror two months ago. It was a blue orchard, full of violets, forget-me-nots, delphiniums, and bluebells. Even the vines on the well and the leaves on the trees had a blue tint to them, the light shining down seeming to be filtered through the ocean. It was empty, that first time. Just an old stone well, the trees, and the gentle light. I spoke of it to no one, but it haunted not only my dreams, but my waking hours. I rushed through my days only to flee to my room, hoping for a chance to see it again. John noticed my distracted state and questioned me. At first I brushed it off, laughing. But eventually he followed me.
I had been staring at the orchard through my mirror for several moments before he revealed himself by bursting in the room.
“Eliza. What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” I lied.
He glanced at the mirror, but I suppose to him it looked ordinary, for he turned back to me with a frown. “You shouldn’t spend so much time alone. It isn’t good for you.” With that he took hold of my arm and began to lead me away.
“Yes brother,” I said.
Later that night I was more careful. I waited until everyone had gone to sleep, then rose from my bed and tiptoed to the mirror. Immediately the orchard appeared, only this time it wasn’t empty. A woman stood near the well, naked, her skin a grayish-blue. Her hair and eyes were solid black, and she stared at me as if she could see me as easily as I could her. Then she lifted one hand to me, beckoning.
My heart rose to my throat, my pulse loud in my ears. Just as I lifted my hand to touch the glass my bedroom door opened and John entered. I leapt away from the mirror but he’d already seen I wasn’t in my bed.
“Eliza!” he said when he spotted me. “Why aren’t you asleep?” He grabbed my arm and led me to my bed, making me climb in and then tucking the covers around me. Then he pulled up a chair and sat. “I won’t leave till you’re asleep,” he said.
I knew he meant it, too, so I obliged. The next morning the mirror was gone. So were all the mirrors in the hallways, and the washroom.
John sighed when I asked about them. “You were doing so well,” he said. “I had thought things would go back to normal soon. I’m sorry, Eliza, but I’ll have to call Dr. Lichfield back.”
“No, please!” I begged. “John, you mustn’t!”
“You leave me no choice.”
He confined me to my room, with only an etiquette book for company. All my other books had been confiscated long ago. I still remembered them, though, and recited the stories to myself. The Sleeping Princess. The Night Bird. The Giant in the Clouds. Such lovely stories. But John thought they contributed to my illness. I still didn’t know if he’d hidden them or destroyed them. And now the mirror was gone too, and the orchard.
In a fit of despair I ripped out several pages of my etiquette book and flung them around the room. I tore my covers from my bed, pulled my dresses from my closet and tossed them on the floor. I pulled the curtains down, too, and swept all the jewelry and knickknacks from off the top of my dresser.
I had just started on emptying the drawers when John came in. He looked around in dismay. I stood and smoothed my hair and skirt into place.
“Eliza,” he said, using his most serious voice, “what are you doing?”
“Redecorating,” I answered, my defiance filling me with fierce pride. “I grew tired of the way it looked before.”
In three steps he crossed the room and grabbed my arm, pulling me through the door. “You’re worse than I thought,” he said, nearly dragging me down the stairs.
“John, please, let me go.”
“I only want you to get better, you know.”
I realized then where he was taking me and collapsed to the floor. “No, I won’t go!”
“It’s for your own good!” he yelled, struggling to make me stand. Finally he picked me up and carried me to the small door below the stairs. This led to the basement, which was dark and cold. He knew I hated it, so he used it to make me “behave.”
Once inside he laid me on the ground and retreated up the stairs before I could follow. When the door closed all the light disappeared. I screamed. This went on for a short while until my fear got the better of me and I curled into a ball and wept.
How long I stayed that way I don’t know, but eventually I became aware of a soft blue light. I lifted my head and glanced around. The glow came from an oblong shape beneath a white blanket. I carefully lifted myself from the floor and approached it, whisking the sheet off.
Already the orchard was appearing before me, the well and flowers just as before. The woman was there, too, but she wasn’t alone. Several women and men stood around her, all naked and blue like she was. They all grinned at me, their black eyes seeming to shine. As one they lifted their hands, beckoning to me.
I looked back at the stairs, where John would soon return with Dr. Lichfield. I wouldn’t endure that again.
Looking back at the mirror I saw the woman was smiling and moving closer. I could almost smell the flowers, and I imagined the sweet music that must no doubt play in such a garden. A desire to see it for myself, stronger than any I had yet experienced, propelled me forward.
I removed my dress as I went, and loosed my hair so it fell down my back. When I pressed my hand to the glass I met no resistance; it rippled like water. Without another thought I stepped through the mirror and into the woman’s arms.