This story is by Samantha Weldon and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
No one realized James McIntyre was dead until he was found in his garden. The image of James laying in the soil was not an uncommon one. When he wasn’t busy planting pumpkins or cucumbers, he would drink himself to sleep, sure to wake up in his favorite place.
Despite his drinking and his temper, James was employed by a high class family to man the estate’s garden. The morning after his liver failed, James was found between the zucchinis and the squash, an empty bottle not far away. He was buried in a hole in the ground in the back of the property. James C. McIntyre, War Veteran, read his headstone.
Despite death, James remained conscious. Surrounded by darkness and dirt, he heard a voice.
“James…” a soft whisper.
“Who is it? What’s going on?” he called out with his mind.
“James… Surely you must be able to feel who I am?” the voice was slow and steady. James did feel a calmness descend on him, similar to how he felt when his hands dug through the earth. “Many people have tried to put this feeling into a name: Mother Nature, Gaia, Geb. That is what they call me and more.”
“Can you tell me what happens now that I’m dead?” James asked.
“For you, James, this is a special case. As long as you have been walking the earth, I have watched you. It is rare that I find someone like you. For you, I am offering to bring your body back to life.”
“You know how many times I’ve wished to die at the bottom of a bottle? What happens if I say no?” he asked.
“If you say no your soul will move on but I can’t give you any details, James,” Gaia responded.
“I’m tired of having nightmares and panic attacks. I’m tired of being drunk. I’m tired of being alone. I don’t want to go back.”
“The path you’ve walked has not been an easy one. I have seen you suffer and I have seen you care for others.”
“Those times are behind me, I haven’t been able to care about anything for a while,” James countered.
“What about when you fought for your country? Do you not know how you helped your people? Did you forget about the people in your company that you saved?” Gaia asked.
“I remember I couldn’t save my best friend, the one that mattered the most.”
“What if I told you that the men you saved are doing great things with their lives? One is researching cures to diseases, one is building houses for the homeless, and all of them are loving and being loved thanks to you,” Gaia said.
“That’s great for them,” James didn’t sound bitter, just drained, “But I am ready to rest.”
“You could do so much more if you went back,” Gaia said.
“I’m a depressed drunk now, not a war hero!” James was getting frustrated, “Just leave me alone!”
“It was only last year that you fed your town’s hungry children with your garden,” Gaia continued, “I can tell you that if you hadn’t opened up your gate, some of those children would not have made it.”
James processed this information. “Well, I wasn’t going to eat everything. I always plant more than I need because I like watching things grow out of the ground.”
“Filling stomachs is not the only thing you and your garden are good for, Mr. McIntyre. Do you not realize your tulips bring a smile to everyone who passes by? Or that the bees are grateful for your sunflowers?” Gaia insisted, “You do not realize the good you do. You do not realize the good you can still do.”
“I appreciate the compliments,” James chose his words carefully, “But my answer is no. I know you want me to help more people but I can’t live in this human body anymore.”
Gaia was silent and James prepared himself for wherever his soul would go next. He hoped it was more of a heaven and less of a hell.
“There is one more thing I could offer you.”
“I didn’t realize death gave so many options.” James said curtly.
“Become a garden spirit. I just want to give you what you want, James; an eternity of making things grow from the earth. As a spirit, you will not feel depressed. You can continue to help others while living in tranquility.”
“Why wasn’t that the first option?” James replied, not hiding the fact that he was into the idea. James thought that growing plants and helping people wouldn’t be such a bad way to spend eternity.
And so the earth mother turned James McIntyre’s soul into a spirit and sent him off into the world. Mr. McIntyre’s spirit caused food and flowers to grow wherever he wandered.
Whenever someone needed a smile, they would pass by a seemingly misplaced flower sprouting through the cement. Whenever someone needed to fill their stomach, they would find a patch of vegetables, ready to eat, even under a mound of snow. When soldiers would return home, they would tell stories of how their lives were saved when they were starving and would suddenly stumble across berries and apple trees and pumpkins. Even in the most barren of places, James could help people.
His own garden was in a state of constant bloom. No one in the town would go hungry. It was unlike anything else in nature and yet Gaia allowed it. People would trek miles just to see the snapdragons in the snow or to grab an orange off a leafless tree in the fall. The story goes that there once was a war veteran who put his life into his garden to make it grow year round. The public would pay their respects to the body under the headstone but what no one saw, unless you looked hard enough, was that the spirt of James C. McIntyre was laying in the soil of his garden, snoozing soundly.