This is the second in a two-part story. The first part appeared July 29th. You can find it here.
“Here it is.” John slips out of the chair and motions for me to sit.
Items stolen from warehouse, I read. Last night, four intriguing artifacts from the recently-discovered Artemis boat disappeared. Dr. Herbert Milikian, the lead archeologist on the project, says he locked the warehouse securely when he left for the night. No sign of a forced-entry has been found. Police—
John leans over me and scrolls to the bottom of the screen, where grainy photos of three artifacts are shown. There’s a wooden box, a stone carving of a female sphinx, and an amulet.
He points at them. “Maybe the thief buried those artifacts in our garden. We have to find and destroy them.”
I slump. “That’s crazy, John. Those are just things. People used to believe objects actually held the essence of their Gods. We know better now.”
“But you saw her.”
“Maybe Mrs. Strong was right. I was hallucinating. Anyway, Father’ll kill us if we go out there and dig up his veggies.”
“He’s going to kill us anyway. Have you seen the size of those weeds?”
Father and Mrs. Strong arrive an hour later. He’s weak and has to rest, so she sets up a machine to give him extra oxygen, then she spends the night on the couch to ensure he’s okay. Before she leaves the next morning, she explains his medications to me, then assures John and me that we’ll be fine, so long as we leave the garden alone in the early morning and the dusk. She won’t quite admit that the spirit in the garden is real, but her words tell me everything I need to know.
After lunch, she returns and takes us to the hospital to visit Carl. I drive our car home. When I look out the kitchen window, the garden is a mess of contorted plants. Clearly, Ravenia rules it; nothing else can explain the rapid growth. I begin to think John’s theory might have some merit. If Mrs. Strong hadn’t assured us of daylight’s safety, I’d never go out there again, but for some reason I trust her.
For the next week, Father stays in bed. Every night, the weeds take over the garden, and every morning John and I do our best to clear it. Mostly I work, but John does what he can with his good arm. As we pull the plants which spring up magically every night, we search under their roots for the ancient artifacts. In the afternoons, we visit Carl. By the week’s end he’s well enough to move into a regular hospital room.
Then comes the day Father gets out of bed and sees the garden. We’d known he’d be mad, but are still not prepared for the depth of his anger. I explain about the way the weeds grow every night. He doesn’t believe me. To make him happy, John and I go out a second time after our visit with Carl. We don’t notice the sun dropping lower in the sky until I feel the chill of the evening on my skin.
“Grab your tools and head inside,” I say. But it’s too late. A vine coils around my throat. John screams. I look over and see his entire body wrapped tightly in plant matter, with the so-called-goddess hovering over him.
“I told you to move out. Now I will kill both of you.”
The plants squeeze my baby brother harder. I pull my cell phone out of my pocket and call Mrs. Strong’s number. The entity doesn’t notice me do this until I say, “It’s me. Melanie. It’s an emergency.”
“What’s going on?” Mrs. Strong’s voice is clear and, well, strong.
“You stay out of this, Ivory,” the creature says.
Ivory? That’s Mrs. Strong’s first name?
Mrs. Strong says something in a language that I don’t understand, a stream of words which start with ‘Ravenia.’
The vine around my neck relaxes. I rush over to John, who has also become untangled from the plants, and help him to his feet.
“Get to the house,” Mrs. Strong says in my ear. “Now.”
“She can’t protect you for long,” Ravenia shouts, but we are already at the back door of the house.
“Whew,” I say as soon as the door closes behind us.
“That was her?” John asks. He’s shivering.
“Want a hug?” I ask and he nods. I reach for him and we hold each other for at least five minutes, until we hear a knock on the front door.
John lets go of me and looks towards the living room. “Should we answer? What if it’s her?”
“You mean Ravenia?” I hesitate. No way do I want to let that demon inside our home. I hear my father’s voice. “Hello, Ivory. This is a surprise. Come in.”
Relieved, John and I slump against the wall.
“Maybe,” John says, “she can cast another spell and get rid of that monster.”
“She certainly got here fast. Do you suppose she can transport, like the guys on Star Trek?
The voices move towards the kitchen. I find them putting on the tea kettle and chatting like old friends. Perhaps they are. What do I know about the lives of adults?
“Oh, Melanie,” she says, as if we haven’t just spoken on the phone. “I came to tell you that Carl is being released tomorrow. And to bring you an artichoke plant for your garden. You should put it in that southwest corner by the fence.”
I stare at her. Is she telling me something? Is this code? Who brings an artichoke plant as a present? Why not a rose-bush or a mum?
But she and Father chatter on about his health and her job as a home health nurse, so I give up on trying to decipher her code. “Would you like to stay for dinner?” I ask. “We have hot dogs, fresh peas and salad greens from the garden, and strawberries for desert.” Maybe I can learn more about her connection to Ravenia.
She looks at my father. He nods.
Her smile is conspiratorial, and I grin, certain she will answer my questions once Father, who hates anything to do with housework, leaves. “Give me a hand. I always over-cook the peas.”
As I knew he would, Father goes upstairs to his study. Once we hear him walk into that room, which sits over the kitchen, Mrs. Strong speaks. “Yes, she’s an ancient Goddess, and yes, her spirit inhabits those artifacts from the boat.”
“So once they pulled the boat out of the water, she escaped?”
“No. She was trapped in the box by a spell, which keeps her so long as the figurine and the stones are inside the box and a gold ring holds it closed.”
“What ring? The article didn’t mention a gold ring.”
“The spell only works for five thousand years at a time.” Mrs. Strong reaches into her pocket and hands me a metal circle. It grows warm in my palm.
I stare at her. Who or what is she?
She sighs. “You ask too many questions. Let’s just say that I’m here to help you, but you have to find the artifacts yourself. Only a mortal can place them in the box and bind it closed. In fact, only you, Melanie.”
Oh, no. I’m not going near those objects. That beast killed my mother and sent my brother and father to the hospital. She’ll shred me.
But Mrs. Strong must have read my mind, for she reiterates that I am the only one.
“Why?” My voice squeaks, shrill with fear. I want to dump the ring into the trash.
“Because she revealed herself to you first. I’m sure she picked you because you looked too weak to accomplish the task. However, I watched you with your mother, and I saw that you have great power. Waste no time. Imprison her soon, for she grows stronger every day. Soon, she will go after more than your family and your vegetable garden.”
I gulp. I will have to face that demon, or more people will die.
I have a ton more questions, like how did Mrs. Strong end up with the ring, and why did Ravenia pick our yard, but Mrs. Strong asks, “Now where are those peas? Let me teach you how to fix them.” I finger the gold circle, and slip it into my pocket. Apparently, the conversation is finished. For now.
I hardly sleep. I re-live my mother’s painful, horrible dying process, which twisted my beautiful mother’s face into a hollow skull, and my anger builds. I think about how this awful Goddess made me miss half a year of school, with one illness after another, and resolve to do what it takes. She must be conquered. If Mrs. Strong says I can do it, I can.
In the morning, I read about artichokes in our planting guide, then take Mrs. Strong’s gift outside.
Broken tree limbs litter our yard. Next door, our neighbor’s place is undisturbed. For a few seconds, I forget last night’s resolution and stand still like a rabbit who knows a wolf is near. Then I start to shake. What am I doing out here? This Goddess could rip me to pieces. But then my anger surfaces. I remind myself that Mrs. Strong has magic, too, and if she said to plant, then I should plant.
I dig where she suggested. Four inches into the ground, the shovel strikes something hard, probably a rock. I dig around it and lift it to the surface. It’s translucent, green, about four inches tall: much more lovely than the online photo. When I touch it, my fingers tingle. Next, I find an empty box just big enough to hold this figurine, a round flat piece of green stone, etched on one side like a rose, and a small blue sapphire. A glow forms around the objects and the Goddess appears, her hands snatching at the rose and the gemstone. She wears a blue sheath, her dark hair piled high on her head, her dark eyes again spitting flames.
I grab all of the artifacts and hold them away from her.
“Give them to me. They are mine,” she says.
“No.” I set the figurine and the stones inside the box.
She flinches. “Don’t close that box.”
Before I can disobey, and pull the ring out of my pocket, the objects dissolve. No. I cannot let her harm another family like she has harmed ours.
I reach for her, but she is gone. I turn and gasp. No branches litter our yard; no weeds choke our garden. It looks as if John and I have worked for hours every day to cultivate it.
That night, I dream that I find the figurine buried under a tree. As soon as it’s fully light out, I drive around with my shovel, looking for a garden choked full of weeds. It’s a fool’s errand, I suppose, as I cover mile after mile of country roads, then head to town, but then I see it. Ravenia’s handiwork is unmistakable, a wild mess of vines on the top of a hill. I know these people; their daughter goes to school with me.
Afraid they’ll chase me and report me to the police, afraid Ravenia will attack me, I park and walk towards the weeds. It’s already eight. No one shouts at me as I climb the hill. With any luck, these people have gone on vacation.
Somehow, I know exactly where to stick the blade of the spade. I set the ring on the earth and dig. Six inches down, I hit the statue, along with her companion stones and the box, now cracked along its center. Quickly, I shove the artifacts into the broken box. The monster rises above me. “Don’t you dare. I will strike you dead.”
“I don’t think so.” I close the lid and slide the ring towards the box. It expands to the box’s width, then changes to coat the entire object in moss, until looks like rock that’s lain in the ground for a century.
Then I cover up the hole, pack everything into my car and drive to the lake, where I heave the box as far away from shore as I can and say a prayer. May Ravenia stay down there another five thousand years.
“Well done,” Mrs. Strong says. She walks towards me on the path which circles the lake. “I knew you could do it, though you managed faster than I expected.”
Perhaps I should be surprised to see her, but it feels right. “I hate her.”
“Ah, hate is a strong word to apply to a being who knows no other way. For her, the plants and animals matter more than anything. Humans have made a mess of it all.”
“Let’s just say I like things to play out without interference from immature Goddesses and Gods.”
“Who are you?”
“Ivory Strong, widowed mother of two, home health nurse, out for her daily constitutional. Nice running into you, Melanie.” And with that, she heads off along the path at a fast clip, her tennis shoes beating time to her own rhythm.
Not very likely that’s who you are. But I suppose I’ll never find out the truth.