The Garden of Death

The Garden of Death (1896) by Finnish artist Hugo Simberg (1873 – 1917)

We skeletal attendants, shorn of flesh and worldly concerns, and clad only in our rough black robes, tend the Garden of Death with infinite care. Here, time is permitted to pass so seedlings can push through the rich soil — we are never short of compost — and uncurl to their fullest beauty.

Our bony fingers cannot feel the pulse of sap, and we no longer inhale the ripe fragrance of their blooms, but whenever we cradle a flower to our chests we recall incarnate joy.

Our mistress visits daily, to oversee our efforts, and to suggest what stem to prune and what vine to favour — she always knows what will prosper and what will fail. She reaps the flowers at their best and gathers them in splendid bouquets for her home. Those among us who labour with the most diligence, and nourish the lushest plants, are chosen by her to depart, and assume a mightier task.

Yet, there is peace here, and the contentment of simple work; some of us never leave.

We cultivate life, but without suffering its sudden ravages or its slow, lingering waste. A few of us cannot endure that cycle again.

If ever we yearn for more we press a fresh bloom to our ancient ribs.

Maura McHugh

Written for the Fantasy Magazine Micro-Fiction contest, and shortlisted to the top ten, the story had to be inspired by an existing work of art – in this case ‘The Garden of Death’ (1896) by Finnish artist Hugo Simberg (1873 – 1917).