Just above the railroad tracks that lead into the town of Mount Prefontaine is a Gardener’s Shed.
The windows are caked with dried mud and pine needles and above the door of the Gardener’s Shed, which is not locked, is a sign that reads:
“Mr. Gooseberry’s Gardening Shed.”
That’s all the warning you’ll get to stay away.
Arnella Day, Julia Barnwell and Cynthia Stevens all rode the commuter train that ran through Mount Prefontaine.
They’d sit in the passenger car and drink their flavored Lattes and “Ooh” and “Ahhh” over each other’s shoes, and laugh way too loud at each other’s jokes, and of course they’d try to comment on the passing scenery, so that it would at least appear they cared about what went on outside of their world.
Then one day Cynthia pointed out the little green and white Shed that was built on the stone outcrop above the tracks.
She pointed the shed out because it occurred to her that you could only say so much about trees, and shoes, and makeup, and tell stories about the bottomless lake that the train crossed over, before people just tuned you out altogether, just so that they didn’t have to hear another one of your dull stories.
If there was anything Cynthia really hated it was being ignored.
So instead of talking about the Devilbit Lake, she decided to say something about the little shed and when she opened her mouth and spoke, she was as surprised as anyone else at what came out.
What she said was this: “I wonder if there are any dead bodies buried in there?” Cynthia looked up and around, and then she realized those words really did come out of her mouth, and she took a long drink of coffee to keep herself from saying anything more.
“I guess,” Arnella said, “you can’t really find any live ones buried there, right?”
Julia felt like she was standing next to herself, and watching as that someone who looked like her, and sounded like her said, “I guess there’s only one way to find out – I guess we should come back and see for ourselves.”
So they did.
The three of them met at the “Prefontaine Park and Ride” early the next Saturday morning, and they were all dressed in the newest word in day hike gear from “Lady Olympus Sportswear” at the Bellmark Mall, and each one of them had little backpacks that had those special pockets for your cell phones.
Arnella brought the camera and some Granola snacks and little bottles of water, which was good, because all the other two remembered to bring was their make-up and sunscreen.
That’s how their day started – it was bright and sunny and all was right with the world. They chatted about shoes, about what shows were on TV the night before, and how ugly the new guy in the accounting department was.
So, as the three women made their way up the trail, none of them really noticed how quiet it was all around them. There wasn’t a sound, not a bug, not a bird, you couldn’t even hear the cars drive by from the road that ran right in front of the trailhead.
It only took them twenty minutes to reach the hill and when they got up there, they looked down at the tracks their train passed over every single day, and they stood there and wondered if Devilbit Lake was really bottomless, and then they turned around and read the sign above the door that said:
“Mr. Gooseberry’s Gardening Shed.”
Arnella slowed down and then she nearly stopped walking and she asked her friends, “Why do you suppose there’s a Gardener’s Shed up here? I mean, look around, there isn’t a house to have a garden for – so what’s the deal with a Gardener’s Shed?”
Julia and Cynthia stopped at the door and turned back as Arnella kicked at the ground. “See, it’s all rock. You can’t plant anything up here.”
The three of them still didn’t notice the silence, or the cold that was creeping out from under the Shed’s door, and they only paused for a moment before Julia reached out and pushed the door open.
The smell that rushed out the door wasn’t bitter and dusty and old, it didn’t smell like earth or fertilizer.
All three of the women thought they could smell wet leaves and somewhere in there they picked up the faint scent of rubbing alcohol and antiseptics.
They could have turned back and headed down the trail, and after a short drive, they could have been at “The Floral Hills Mall”, drinking iced coffees.
But they didn’t.
They went in.
The Shed was humid and cold, and everything on the shelves, and leaning against the wall, was covered with a dark mold that looked spongy and soft.
Arnella went in first, and she started looking at the little jars on the shelves that lined the east wall and at the ones that were arranged neatly on the workbench – she couldn’t tell what kinds of plants and powders were inside dusty containers, but she understood what the little symbols drawn in ink on the labels meant.
“These are all poisons…what the Hell kind of Garden Shed is this?” She thought she was saying out loud: “There’s enough poison here to kill an entire city.”
Cynthia was looking at the shovels that were leaning in the corner of the Shed and she was thinking: “I wonder how it would feel to actually dig a grave.”
And Julia, who was standing next to Cynthia, wanted more then anything to reach for the pickaxe that was leaning against the shovel. She could actually feel how right it would be if she picked that axe up and swung.
Arnella felt the Shed get smaller and the air became more acrid and her skin started to crawl all over her muscles and bones and she left her camera, her backpack and her friends in that Shed.
They found her around the back of the Shed leaning over a ruined fence, vomiting onto the hard rocky ground.
“Why did we come up here?” Arnella asked her friends, “We don’t do hikes, we don’t camp, the closest we get to nature is the flower kiosks at the Mall. So why are we here?”
“It just seemed like the right thing to do today,” Julia said.
“Whatever, I’m going back in to get my stuff and then I’m leaving.”
Arnella went back into the Shed and as she crossed the threshold, she saw, just as clearly as she could see that shelf full of poisons, Julia and Cynthia wanting and planning the trip to this Shed. She could see the way they enjoyed their little stroll up here and she thought she could hear them out there laughing, right next to the place she had just vomited.
“They really hate me,” she said into the cold acrid darkness, and the darkness seemed to agree and the air seemed to warm just a little.
She went to the workbench and picked up her camera and put it inside of her backpack and when she turned around…
The shovel and the pickaxe were gone, they weren’t there, and she was sure that when she ran out, they were right there in the corner.
Arnella could see, clear as a day, the way Julia and Cynthia were drooling over them when they let her run out of the Shed sicker than a dog, all by herself.
And then, the image of her friends laughing at her turned to another image of them digging a hole just before the trail head, and Arnella was sure one thing.
She wasn’t going to be standing there with them, she wasn’t going to be digging or snickering – in fact, she was sure she wasn’t even going to be doing any breathing.
“Damn them…” she hissed into the warming darkness, “damn them both to Hell…”
Arnella went back to the work bench, unzipped her backpack and when she was done, she opened the Shed door with a bang, and called out: “Let’s go…”
Then, as she slammed the door after herself, the moldy dust fell away from the window by the shelf full of glass jars and there in the new light, leaning against the shelf, was a shovel, and a pickaxe, and a smooth clear round spot on the workbench where a jar used to be.