13DWF Day Five: "A Garden of Grief" by Simon Bleaken

Our fifth story of The 13 Days of Weird Flash is Simon Bleaken's "A Garden of Grief" from our "Fall & Halloween '23" release.

13DWF Day Five: "A Garden of Grief" by Simon Bleaken
Simon Bleaken, author of "A Garden of Grief".

Congratulations on making it through yesterday’s Monday. Getting back up to speed after a holiday weekend is never easy, so score the fact that you made it to Tuesday as a Win. You’re only one more day away from Wednesday’s Hump Day, and it’s all downhill from there.

To help you pass your Tuesday a bit quicker, we’re sharing this tale from Simon Bleaken, a British author living in Wiltshire, England with his partner and two cats. By day, he works for the National Health Service, and by night he writes stories. We’re pleased to share “A Garden of Grief”, one of Simon’s two latest contributions to WFQ’s Fall & Halloween ’23 issue.

A Garden of Grief

By Simon Bleaken

I have a garden of bones, and I water it with grief.

They stretch, stark and lean, from the lifeless soil. Here, where the light of the sun shines oddly, muted, tall, slender shrubs of tibiae rise grotesquely next to new crops of phalanges that poke from the black soil. Long flowerbeds hold rows of clavicles, ribs and ulnae, bushes of mandibles and tall shoots of spinal columns. Teeth speckle the ground like tiny white weeds, and the trees bordering my garden are towering conglomerations of yellowed femurs.

Through it all, a small stream runs silently, as deep and dark as the waters of Lethe; though it offers no promise of respite.

Each evening, I crouch or lie beside them and pour out my anguish, all the pent-up pain and sorrow haunting the dark corners of my hollow soul.

They like my tears best of all.

They grow slowly, those old bones; and only ever by night. They creak softly while they stretch gently skyward, as if reaching for the moon that etches them in silver.

During the lush vernal months, when the rest of the world explodes in a profusion of green life, my bone garden sits barren and desolate, shrouded in funereal gloom. It does not flourish under the heat of the sun, nor during the warm, long days of summer. Only now, when the pulse of the world slows down, during the golden red of autumn’s embrace (around the special, haunted time that witches call Samhain), does it thrive, with delicate florets of tiny skulls, tarsals and metatarsals adorning the ends of each skeletal branch.

Those clusters of skulls are my personal favourites, for when they blossom, like scentless roses, the mournful wails of lamentation can be heard for miles.

No birds ever visit my garden, and no snails or slugs threaten its progress. Instead, only shadows move and flit among those yellow-white trunks, like echoes of forgotten lives. And, in place of the rustle of leaves, I have only the whisper of dead souls, faint on the breeze.

The corpse-kissed atmosphere of the place rarely draws any human visitors either, but it is rightly a place for solitude and introspection. It is a location only a few can fully appreciate; those lonely souls who know the sting of death, who have witnessed its cold hand, or who know the transformation of loss and yearning for one now gone.

Here the truth of the hollow promise of eternity is laid bare.

Tonight is Samhain, and the garden is decked in streamers of purple and scarlet. They flow and dance elegantly above those sorrow-fed remains, and soon the shadows will give way to the spirits that return with the thinning veil, old friends long lost, to stroll beside me once more for one night.

I have a garden of bones, and I water it with grief.

And, one day, when all my remaining days have run their course, I know that my own bones will lie among them.

Q&A with Simon Bleaken

WFQ: Why do you write weird fiction and when did you start?

SB: I grew up loving ghost and horror stories, especially Poe, Lovecraft, Blackwood, Machen and M.R. James, and later the amazing weird fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith. This instilled in me a love of reading stories, and that naturally developed into wanting to tell my own and follow in the footsteps of the (many) classic and modern authors whose work I love. I started writing when I was about fifteen, off and on and around studies and other projects, but in the last six or seven years I’ve really returned with a renewed focus to work on my writing and push things forward.

WFQ: Who are the literary inspirations for your contributions?

SB: The contribution I have picked I would say owes its inspiration to especially Poe and Lovecraft, but the great weird authors of old all have a place in my heart (as do many modern ones) and have all helped shape and inspire the work I do. I love stories, and you can never read too many.

WFQ: What do you like most about the 500-word format we use? What do you find most challenging with it?

SB:  I love that it gives you a short tale that you can easily fit in during a lunch break, or before bed, and that they are weird and strange and you never quite know what’s going to happen. The challenge is how quickly the word count evaporates when you are writing. I naturally keep wanting to expand the story, to grow the scene and add in more description... but there just isn’t the space for that, so you have to keep it lean and focused while still keeping the essence of the idea intact, and that is trickier than it might seem.

WFQ:  If you were made editor for an issue, which theme would you choose to guide a whole WFQ installment?

SB: I love ghost stories, so I’d probably push for an entire issue of haunted tales and spooky spectres, eerie graveyards and sinister homes with restless souls and violent poltergeists stalking the hallways.

WFQ: Where else can we read more of your work? Where can we find out more about you?

SB: You can find my work in the following anthologies: Eldritch Horrors: Dark Tales (2008); Eldritch Embraces: Putting the Love Back in Lovecraft (2016); Kepler’s Cowboys (2017); The Shadow Over Doggerland (2022); HellBound Books’ Anthology of Science Fiction Vol.1 (2023); From Beyond The Threshold (2023) Eldritch Investigations (2023) House of Haunts (2023) and in the forthcoming Horror Zine’s Book of Monster Stories (2024). I also have three collections of stories out: A Touch of Silence & Other Tales (2017), The Basement of Dreams & Other Tales (2019) and Within the Flames & Other Stories (2021).

My work has also appeared in magazines, ezines and podcasts including Lovecraft’s DisciplesTales of the TalismanDark DossierStrange SorceryLovecraftianaThe Horror ZineSchlock WebzineNight LandWeird Fiction Quarterly and on The NoSleep Podcast and HorrorBabble Originals.

I’m still getting around to getting a website up and running, but people are welcome to join my Facebook group – it’s set to private to keep out trolls, but anyone who is genuinely interested is always welcome:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/5574955151/

Thanks again for Simon for sharing his tale with us.

As for the rest of you, don’t forget to try and eat healthier as you emerge from your turkey coma, and try to resume functioning as a normal human being, such as eating a salad for lunch. And should you bite down on something a bit harder than a crouton, thank your local gardener for seeing to it that you’re getting your recommended daily allowance of calcium.

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