The Stranger in the Garden

ian mcmahon




Lorin usually stayed out of the mansion as much as possible. He’d much rather devote his time solely to the upkeep of the garden. “Who could this be?” he thought to himself as he watched the unfamiliar car drive onto the property, standing in the doorway of his work shed. “There shouldn’t be any guests. Can they not leave me alone?” Lorin was sure, whoever this visitor was, they were there to see the garden, to fawn over his masterpiece, his tower of roses.


The unwelcomed arrival came as Lorin was preparing for a quiet day around his cottage. For nearly two weeks, he’d been looking forward to pleasant enough weather to work, uninterrupted, in the garden all day, preparing the apple trees for fall. He was loading up his utility cart with supplies when he heard the gate to the property creak open. His employer and owner of the house, Dr. K—, was the president of a prestigious university and rarely had any time to come up from the city and stay at the house. In her absence, she would often invite guests to her Hudson Valley estate, but Lorin always had appropriate warning. In fact, they mostly just came to see the garden and would leave without saying a word. Lorin had grown quite fond of the isolation on the property. But, as the groundskeeper and only person there, Lorin was responsible for attending to the sudden, unknown arrival. 


Fall was indeed settling in. A chilled breeze circled through the air, snagging unsuspecting leaves and thrusting them off the trees they’d long been resting on. The foliage had already begun to change colors. The crisp sunlight saturated the spectrum of red and yellow leaves as if a sunset were being imposed on the landscape in the middle of the day. Lorin sluggishly approached the old house, a Tudor style mansion of white and moss colored stone, capped by a sage and purple stripped shingle roof. A younger, sharply dressed man stepped out of the mysterious black car.


                “My boss didn’t tell me that I should be expecting a visitor,” Lorin shouted ahead, his eyes fixed on the car as if his insistent gaze could force the visitor back in it. 


                “No, likely not. You’re Lorin, correct? You’re the one I’m looking for, anyway,” the man said with an overdone cordiality. “I’ll be staying in the house. I suppose this should clear things up. I’m a professor at—”, he produced a folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket that clearly bore the logo of his employer’s university, but before he could hand it off to Lorin, he erupted into a violent cough that completely seized his self-control. As the spell drew on, however, Lorin surrendered his patience and began collecting the professor’s bags, having accepted that the situation was not likely to resolve itself any favorable way. He led him through the main entrance, chose a guest room at random, and placed the bags on the floor without saying anything.


                “Actually,” the professor broke in, “Would you mind placing me in the room at the end of the hallway. The view onto the garden is likely best there. I determined it before you came.”


The professor didn’t wait for Lorin’s answer. He left the room before Lorin could object. It was the master bedroom he wanted, but Lorin lacked the will to deny him.


 “I was right,” the professor said as he glanced out the elongated window. “It’s just breathtaking! See there? We’re directly above the rose tower. I suppose you’re familiar with it, but one can’t really appreciate it unless you’re up here. It’s inspiring.”


Lorin looked out the window but frowned as he noted darker clouds approaching on the horizon. As the professor gazed out the window, Lorin took note of his appearance. It was clear he was sophisticated. His clothes were all excessively neat, as if a tailor sewed them together directly onto his body. All dark colors, save for these bright blue flecks of wool that shimmered on his tweed jacket, a shade of blue that perfectly matched the wisteria flowers growing on the vines outside the window. But just as he was turning away, Lorin caught sight of something odd. He noticed on the professor’s hand, peering through the sleeves of his jacket, were knotted and curled in an oppressive formation. In fact, he then realized that the entire body that lie cloaked underneath the tailored clothes was merely a grotesquely thin husk that expelled an irregular, tattered breath. 


“I came here because I study gardens. I write about them. I’m something of an expert,” the professor said, breaking the spell of Lorin’s observation.


                “You’re a gardener too then?” he responded, flustered by the fear that the professor could sense his disapproving gaze.


                “Not at all actually. Everything I attempt to grow dies in a matter of minutes, really.” He paused to suppress another outburst from his lungs. “I preserve them. I give the gardens a life of their own, a life that’ll outlive any vine, root, or stem that’s down there now.” 


Lorin met his answer with a frown. He didn’t understand but said nothing.


“Think of it this way,” the professor continued, fighting back the urge to scratch at his hands, “you create marvels like these, and I bring them out to the world, I give them meaning you could say.” 


Lorin nodded and gazed around the room. If there was an official opinion to be had regarding the formations of his ranunculus it should certainly come from himself. He couldn’t say he’d been in the master room before. It was small but had a heavy air to it. He pretended to busy himself by inspecting the tall Victorian mirror that stood in the corner. As he looked in the mirror he smiled. The sight of him in his dirtied overalls always pleased him—his uniform, glorified by such a grandiloquent frame. Being in his fifties, Lorin was in remarkable health—granted to him most likely by his not-overly-strenuous life outdoors. The professor, at least fifteen years younger in reality, looked to be his equal.


“I’m writing a book, actually. I’ve done all this historic research on the property,” the professor continued, motioning to a notebook that had been laying on the desk next to him. “I have all these notes from past gardeners of this estate—many just like you.”


Lorin instinctively reached his hand out for it. The covers flayed open and lured his gaze. 


“I wanted to ask you,” seeing Lorin engrossed, the professor closed in, “since Dr. K— couldn’t be here herself, perhaps you’d show me around the garden, tell me about the rose tower most of all. I’m sure you have lots to say, lots you’d want people to know. If only the world could see it and understand.”


Lorin was too enchanted by the notebook to process what the professor was asking but felt a sense of unease from his change in tone. It became much warmer and empathetic. This caught him off guard. Deciding what to say, he couldn’t help but be aware of the professor’s growing sense of unease in his hands. They looked as if was trying desperately to force them into a more natural shape. A growing urge to leave took hold of Lorin, an urge that he had something to protect from the professor and his wheezing illness. 


                “I don’t think I can help you. I was preparing to do some work actually.”


The professor grew irritated, with Lorin’s stubbornness and his own inability to bend the natural shape of his hands. His tone hardened as he spoke, “I would have thought you’d do anything you could. I just… I doubt many have had the opportunity to properly understand the efforts you take.”




Lorin wished he hadn’t paused. He needed to be free of this room that seemed to grow smaller and smaller, and the only thing that seemed to be anchoring him in place was the notebook he still clutched in his hands. But before anything could be said, the silence was broken by the professor entering into the most violent coughing attack yet. Lorin took advantage of this opportunity to slip away, leaving the notebook on the professor’s desk. The professor thrusted out a shaking arm as if to catch Lorin and hold him in place. But he was gone. Running quickly down the hallway, leaving behind the breathless rasps of the professor. 


The oncoming clouds were slowly burying the mid-afternoon sun, casting a cool and somber shade over the landscape. Lorin heaved a large bag of gravel from off his shoulder and onto the ground. He looked up from the road toward the house. The professor was aimlessly wandering around the garden, thrusting his nose into flower bushes, and jotting down notes on a notebook. Lorin, unwilling to work in the garden with the professor there, decided he’d fix a pothole instead that had formed in the driveway. But he couldn’t focus. Was this stranger in the garden being delicate enough around the last of the Windflower blossoms? Was he overhandling the roses, intruding upon their intricately woven stems?


The rose tower itself truly was a marvel. No one seemed to comprehend how Lorin had achieved it. He conjoined twenty or thirty so rose bushes and formed them into a reaching tower that flowed upwards and upwards to the second story, master bedroom. Tea roses, Damask roses, Cabbage roses, English roses, all climbing atop one another, their stems intertwined in a beautiful lattice web, each breed blossoming in intervals so that the tower remained in perpetual bloom—an everchanging tapestry of arresting splendor. The current petals possessed a deep plum color, meant to mimic the dark fruit bearing trees on the other side of the garden nearing ready for harvest. Should the professor pick even a petal, Lorin swore he would drive him out. The feeling was like that of a mother relinquishing her newborn child against her will, all the while exiled to a distance. Yet, despite his worries, his thoughts resolved on the professor’s book. He dropped to his knees, sliced open the sack of gravel and let all of the small rocks gush out recklessly from the slowly deflating bag.


Within seconds of the hole being filled, Lorin was guided back toward the house by an infectious curiosity. Staying out of the professor’s sight, he climbed up the dark and narrow service stairway tucked away in the basement of the mansion. The sounds of the professor’s violent hacking in the garden grimly echoed through the house. Fainter now and distant, the eruptions sounded as if they were billowing up from the bowels of the house’s foundation, long imprisoned within the old walls.


Entering the room, he felt a sense of guilt prying through the professor’s things. At first, he simply wanted to look through the book a little more, but once he held it in his hands, he knew that he must take it. Its absence was guaranteed to be noted, he thought, but it had to be done. He securely nuzzled the book into his work jacket. Readying to leave, he took extra precaution and looked out the window to confirm the professor’s whereabouts. But before he could spot him, Lorin’s eyes landed on a large crack that had formed near the window. The wooden frame was darkened and discolored. It was deteriorating and had begun the first stages of separating itself from the wall. Lorin leaned over to look closer, but his heart dropped when he suddenly heard the sickly convulsions ascending the staircase. He stumbled and staggered out of the room in a panic. In the hallway, it seemed as if the cough ascended from the service staircase. Confused, he turned back and retreated down toward the main entrance to get away.


                As he made his way out and past the garden, he slowed to catch his breath. He turned back and spotted the professor fixedly hunched over a small shrub, one hand pressed into the soil so hard that it left a deep indentation when we pulled it back, knotted and deformed.



A colder wind began rising and darker clouds were looming overhead. On his way back to his cottage, Lorin remembered he had left his cart and equipment in the middle of the road where he worked. His thoughts were a whirlwind as he walked back. Nervous energy continued pulsed through him, churning an unsteady breath. He must have mistaken what he heard, he thought. Whatever the sound was that sent him running, he never laid eyes on anything. Everything about today was all so unusual to Lorin. He was desperate to be at peace again.  


He was loading up the last tools when he heard faint shuffle behind him, which he first mistook for the rusty tools settling in the cart. Then the professor’s unmistakable mangled breath followed, his footsteps having been lost in the rustling wind. Lorin’s heart pounded as he bolted around.


            “Here he is, hard at work! I was in the garden and I saw you walking by. I see you’re wrapping up here. Didn’t mean to startle you!”


Lorin was somewhat relieved to find the professor actually there. But he looked down and realized that the notebook was sitting openly in the cart for the professor to see. Luckily, the professor was rigorously engaged in catching his breath. Lorin scurried to the cart and slid the book underneath the supplies.


            “Please,” the professor continued, “allow me to help you. What great timing I had in catching you just now.”


In order to raise the least amount of suspicion, Lorin felt it necessary to oblige the professor but insisted that he should keep hold of the cart housing the stolen property. They began walking up the hill to the cottage together. Lorin was too consumed in an unshakeable feeling of unease to focus on whatever the professor was saying. On top of that, Lorin was having considerable trouble pulling the hefty four-wheeled cart up the hill. His arms and legs were shaky and weak. He assumed it was the nerves.


They only had a short way to go, but Lorin was becoming increasingly concerned in his ability to control the cart, fearing most that it should roll out from his grip and spill its contents on the road. He conceded it was best to hand the cart over to the professor after all. To Lorin’s relief, he instantly felt some respite. The professor too even appeared to handle the heavy cart with expert grace despite his more outwardly grave health condition. 


Lorin expected another unsettling plea from the professor, but none came—not even an indication of discomfort. The two parted ways once they reached the cottage. Lorin watched each step of the professor’s slow walk back to the house until he had descended back beneath the horizon. The professor did not return, and Lorin did not see him again during his time at the house. 



For weeks onward, the notebook hardly left Lorin’s sight. He would spend hours reading it, rereading it, gleefully consuming the most trivial details. Mornings of reading would flow into afternoons of reading. Tasks to be completed around the property would be pushed back one more page, one more entry about China Tea Rose scents or what the original groundskeepers intended for the garden several decades ago. When he would finally step away from the book and set off on some chore, he grew anxious by the minute. In most cases, he would depart his work before it was complete just so he could return to his reading.


It had become an unforeseen blessing in Lorin’s life. He never quite seemed to recover from his episode of sudden fatigue. Terrible pains in his knees kept him up late into the night, a perpetual need to catch his breath plagued him at all times of day, and a general heaviness clung to him like a soaking wet wool coat. The neglect of his duties was becoming severe. Tending to the rose tower was the only chore he remained capable of doing in his state. The rest of the garden was becoming too much to keep up. Repairs were certainly not being made either, and an unseasonably rainy autumn was taking its toll on the old house. With the weather so harsh and his sickness holding him captive, he rarely ever left the cottage. 


He lost sleep worrying about the garden, fearing the neglect would soon mount too high. This led him to think more about the professor and his project. Could the garden indeed be preserved in writing, he wondered, before it faded away into an unrecognizable heap? Admittedly, he was also becoming increasingly charmed by the idea of seeing his own work recorded. Thus, he decided to begin writing, having hardly written anything before. All of this to prolong the life of his lifelong efforts.


For many weeks he’d been hard at work. One night, Lorin was propped up in his bed, deep into a long writing session and feeling the effects of neglected sleep. Plates of half-eaten meals were scattered across his bed. The day’s transition into evening escaped his notice. The first doubts began to emerge as to whether he had the ability to complete the project or whether it was truly worthwhile. He paused from his work to reach for his forgotten coffee cup when his eyes caught sight of a shadowed face pressed against his window. His body froze in terror; his heart thrashed in panic. Slowly, the face stepped away and faded back into the darkness. 


As Lorin collected himself, he had to wonder if the face was real at all. His vision was becoming less trustworthy by the day—finding the world outside his window to be slowly erasing itself further into a soft blur each morning. But that’s when he next heard the sounds come from the impenetrable darkness outside his walls. The sickly, noxious, unmistakable convulsions of the professor. He didn’t know what to do. Thrashing sounds emanated from the shed outside. Lorin felt a hardening in the pit of his stomach that made him feel anchored to the floor. He cautiously hid his work, stuffing the stolen notebook under his mattress. Only then did he decide to venture outside. 


At first, there was nothing but bleak night. Light from his cottage seeped out onto the road, pushing back the darkness into a denser curtain that enveloped the spot where he stood. Then a shadowy figure emerged, creeping along the road toward the garden. It carried what appeared to be Lorin’s gardening shears. “He’s after the rose tower,” Lorin thought. He began trailing after him into the dark wearing only his pajamas, calling after him, “Please stop! It’s mine!” But the figure was too far ahead. That’s when Lorin suddenly felt his foot twist into a painful crack, lodging itself into the reformed pothole in the road. His already weak frame crashed into the ground.


Lorin felt a boiling mixture of pain and terror as he lay on the ground sightless and still. He called out to the professor in desperation. “Please!” he’d repeat over and over, “Please leave us alone!” But the night yielded no response. It took nearly two hours of lying in darkness before he regained the strength to stand again. He hobbled his way over to the garden and found the rose tower to be entirely untouched—no one insight. There he passed out once again, having decided to crawl inside the narrow entrance of the tower, curled up and nestled against its stems. He had to guard it through the night, he thought. Though in reality, it was the only place Lorin felt safe. He awakened and left just before dawn.


After this ominous episode, Lorin vowed to double his efforts to complete his project. Since Dr. K— was to be gone for such an unknowable amount of time, he decided to take up the professor’s room in the mansion for a change of scenery. It was the natural choice, having the best view of the garden for his studies. And being directly above the rose tower meant he could keep a close eye on it should the professor decide to return unexpectedly. 

A disturbing smell overwhelmed Lorin as he opened the master bedroom door. It simply wasn’t possible for Lorin to air out the mansion’s rooms as much as he should in his current condition, but it was clear that this stench was something more. He searched desperately to find the source, but in doing so, he paused, once again, in front of the tall Victorian mirror. The very first thing he noticed was that his overalls seemed to fit comically too large suddenly. His small frame was swimming in the soft blue fabric; dark circles had etched themselves underneath his eyes, forming deep caverns in his skull where his eyes only seemed to peer out from, lost in the depths. He stood in disbelief of the figure in the mirror, afraid to step closer where his eyes could see better. Surely, he thought, his body could not have transformed so gravely in such a short period of time. Eventually disappointment forced him to look away, but more pressingly, the mysterious smell was becoming unbearable. 


He opened the window to air out the room. A cold breeze engulfed him and with it poured in the infested odor. The rotting smell was crawling up from the garden. Why he hadn’t noticed it the night before, he didn’t understand, but he was then overwhelmed by a graver, sharper pain that penetrated his heart. Despite his occasional trips to tend to the rose tower—which even that had become less frequent— this was his first time seeing the whole garden so comprehensively since he could no longer care for it. Once beautifully elaborate rows of rose bushes had gone unpruned and abandoned all their intricate formations. Smaller shrubs were mostly drowned in the excessive rain waters. Rotten apples in the produce garden had overloaded the tree, piling on the ground in heaps of tumorous brown lumps. Pumpkins, which he first planted with such excitement many weeks before, slumped like deflated basketballs, overtaken by green, purple, and blue mold. For once, he was thankful for the mercy of his blurring vision, but even then, what he could see was simply too crushing for him. He closed the shutters to hide the decay below.  


It was then that he once again laid eyes on the accumulating damage around the window. The entire wall was now soft to the touch. What were at first a few cracks had turned into much more serious lacerations. The incessant rains were rotting away at the inner wooden frame that now lay exposed. For the time being, there was nothing Lorin could do. He didn’t have the strength to fix it himself but refused to call anyone about it either, for fear that word of the house’s disrepair might reach Dr. K—. He decided he would have to leave it for now. With the colder weather settling in, signaling Winter’s imminent arrival, the rains should soon cease and allow everything to hold until Spring.



Every minute spent awake was now devoted to the sole task of writing. To detailing all various flora, devoting special attention to his rose tower. He did his best to put into words it’s vibrant spectrum of red and violets, its lattice like web of thorns and stems. Lorin was beginning to find his writerly voice, and he even began to relish the thought that soon everyone could be inspired by his garden, that its beauty would no longer be bound by its earthly roots. The change of scenery, too, was lifting his spirits. Being in a house of such a sophisticated tradition, armed with a beautifully ornate writing desk, cheered on by bookshelves full books that seemed to live forever all enflamed his writerly resolve. He would often sit and stare for long periods of time at those books wondering about their authors, what their lives were like, all of them likely dead now. Yet here they were, occupying his bedroom, encouraging him to finish his own project and then take his place next to them.  He’d even developed a rather unbecoming and superstitious habit. Not once since moving into the room had he deigned to open the window and look at the garden, as he feared that should the image of the garden’s decayed state reach his eyes, he would no longer be able to write about its beauty. The smell, however, which initially repulsed him so violently, was no longer noticed at all.


Contrary to his intellectual flourishing, Lorin’s health inched away by the day. He spent little time out of bed and virtually none outside of the mansion. When the writing was finished, he knew he’d have to visit the doctor and fix this mysterious illness. But as days passed with a worsening condition, he naturally feared that whatever was happening to him was becoming permanent.


In bed one afternoon, Lorin eyed the tall mirror in the corner once again. He gathered his strength to go stand in front of it and the courage to look into it. But this time he couldn’t see himself in the mirror at all—no matter how close he brought himself to it. Whether it was his declined vision or some hallucination brought on by exhaustion, he did not know. He put it out of his mind. But as he continued his work, confusion turned to frustration. He tried to drag the mirror out of the room entirely but found he didn’t have the strength to move it. With his nose pressed to the mirror’s glass, he could make out the outline of his face, but that’s all it was. An indeterminable face. As soon as he took a step back, he disappeared again into a blur. All he could do was take a blanket from his bed and drape it over the mirror. Then he returned to work.


Many long and sleepless nights finally yielded to the completion of Lorin’s writing. The last sentence came onto the page, and with it came a tremendous sense of relief. Released from his labor, his duty fulfilled, he felt aware of his physical body for the first time in a very long time. How it hurt to simply breathe air in when he no longer had the outpouring of words to distract him. He didn’t even have the energy to tidy up his work or his hideously unkept room. The urge to sleep overcame him instantaneously. Dusk settled over the house, and now he could rest. He only woke intermittently over the course of several days, just long enough to check that his writing was still next to him. Then he would immediately return to a dreamless sleep.


He awoke at one point in the night—no way of telling if it had been hours or days later—to a tapping on the window. Once the haze of sleep had lifted enough for him to process the sound, he bolted up in a freight. “He’s here!” he shouted aloud. In a frenzy, he began collecting the papers that were still spread all over the bed, clutching them to his chest. He listened more closely and began to make out the sound of heavy rain pelting the side of the house and a low howling wind rushing through the valley outside. It was dark and impossible to see. The confusion of sleep was still heavily upon him, but once a mild flash of lightning filled the room, he realized that one of the shutters was open, rocking in the wind and occasionally tapping against the window. He didn’t have the energy to tend to it. “It’s merely a storm,” he thought. Relieved, he drifted off once more.


The intensity of the banging shutter grew as the storm swelled. He was awakened for good when suddenly he heard the startling sound of a large crash that rattled the entire house. A cold wind filled the room, carrying with it rains from the storm that pelted him in his bed. He reached for the lamp on his bedside table, but it wouldn’t turn on. He couldn’t make anything out in the darkness. As a precaution, he quickly shoved his many papers underneath the covers for protection against the rain. He rose from bed and blindly made his way to the window. A sharp pain penetrated the bottoms of his feet. It was glass. Since the shutter had stopped banging it was clear that it had slammed so hard into the window that it broke it. Lorin moved slowly with his arms outstretched, working his way toward the high-pitched shriek of wind forcing itself through the small window opening. As his hands made contact with the frame of the window, he felt his fingers make small impressions in the soft wood as if they were pushing into a dampened sponge. He opened the window and carefully reached for the shutter to secure it. Pieces of glass shards scratched his arms and hands as he grabbed hold of it. But suddenly, a stronger gust of wind surged through and offset his footing on the slippery floor. He lost his balance. His full body weight thrusted against the soft, deteriorated window frame, but it couldn’t support him. He felt himself sliding away, falling into the downpour of rain, deep into the immeasurable darkness. Before he could make any sense of what was happening, before terror could even find him, he felt the impact of the ground below. 


Talk of such an unseasonably strong storm invaded the news. Dr. K— grew worried when her repeated attempts to check-in with Lorin had gone unanswered. She called and asked a neighbor who lived close by to go check on the house.


Following the storm, the air turned bitterly cold as if the strong winds from the night before had cleared the path for winter’s permanent arrival. The sky was a dreary grey, hungover from the grimness of the night. The obliging neighbor walked up to the open gate of the property and paused, hoping to catch the reassuring sight of Lorin working and thus guaranteeing a simple resolution. But she didn’t and so proceeded through.


Leading up to the house, the roads were entirely covered in a thick blanket of leaves that hid the surfaced below. Broken branches that had yet to detach themselves dangled from the trees that lined the driveway, swaying in cold morning wind. Everything was unusually overgrown. The surrounding nature simply looked like it had begun reclaimed the land. She could sense very early that something was wrong. She fastened her coat up as if to form a barrier and cautiously made her way deeper into the property, toward the back of the house. That’s where she saw the dark gaping hole that formed in the center of the house. A large portion of the master bedroom wall had completely collapsed into the garden. She couldn’t believe her eyes. The scene in the garden, however, was even more grave. The falling wall had brought with it the highest reaches of the rose tower. The intertwined bushes lay flattened and crushed in the dirt. The last of the rose petals were scattered throughout the garden, creating small archipelagos of color against an otherwise bleak landscape. Tangled among stone and stems was Lorin’s body.


While she waited for the authorities to arrive, she made her way upstairs to assess the damage in the room. She was alarmed to find the bed slept in, the entire room so recently and carelessly lived in. But who were they? And where have they gone? Peeking out from underneath the bed covers was the hidden stack of papers. They too were wet when she picked them up, discolored in a reddish hue from the blanket fibers that bled onto them. She didn’t know what to make of it, who it belonged to. This mysterious visitor, perhaps. She placed the pile on the bookshelf for safe keeping. 


When the authorities arrived, she struggled to put her explanations in concrete words.


“Can you identify the man in the garden?” the police officer asked.


“Well, I think it’s the groundskeeper, Lorin. I couldn’t get a very good look. Sadly, his characteristics are hard to recognize from the fall. It’s most likely him, but I can’t truly say for certain,” the neighbor responded.


 “So he took care of the garden then?”


“That was his job.”


“Any reason why he’d have been out here in the storm?”


“I haven’t the slightest idea. There were these roses he took special care of. Perhaps he was worried about it and came to check on it during the storm. Then whatever happened, happened.”


“And you said there was someone staying in the house?”


“It looked like someone was staying there. You’ll see it’s clearly lived in. But the owner didn’t mention anything about a guest. I suppose there could have been someone who wasn’t meant to be there?”


“Perhaps. We’ll just have to see,” the police officer said, looking up at the black and mystifying shadow in the house’s façade. Every few seconds, a gust of wind would send the loose rose petals on the ground into a swirling flutter as if trying in vain to reanimate them once more.


The morning air was icy and a thin fog emanated from the soaked earth. The neighbor was eager to leave this somber place and return home. As she reached the outer gate, she looked back to the house once more. She’d realized that, although nature seemed to be overflowing onto all parts of the grounds, the atmosphere that pervaded was not a natural one at all. It had to it the air of mournful neglect and ill-fated ambition, of something, or someone, that never should have been. Curiosity pulsed inside her. A piercing chill jolted her out of contemplation. She quickly turned and departed without looking back, for fear that the sluggish gloom of the air would keep her there forever.




Ian McMahon is an unpublished writer living in Brooklyn, NY. He holds a bachelor’s degree in written arts from Bard College, and he currently works as an editorial assistant at a boutique literary agency in Manhattan.