1. Drug Lab

        “Help, someone help me,” Orel said. A barrel chested pastor in a zoot suit twisted into the vines of a peculiar garden in midday. Large white blossoms popped along his face as large snared limbs drug his flailing body along the ground toward a familiar cottage. “Please, knock it off. Oh, just stop it now,” he said as batted away the grappling plants on his legs.

     “I’m sorry, please let me help you.” A muscular hermit evolved from the crooked cottage door and knelt near Orel. “Back. Back now,” Joe said. The flowers withdrew into pods and the flora’s tentacles regressed into garden sculptures.

     “I guess I tripped back there,” Orel said. He gaped at the ground and winced. A breeze tussled the plants and Orel’s thoughts shifted. “We got rain the other night, maybe the breeze knocked down a limb.”

     “Pastor Orel, please let me help you up. For being so manicured, the garden still gets away from me every now and then.” Orel brushed the dirt from his suit and smashed his pork-pie hat onto his head. Joe led Orel into his cottage for the pastor’s monthly house call.

    “Such a man cave. Ah, I love coming to see you. It’s the only place in this town I can relax,” Orel said as he sunk into a club chair next to the fireplace. The walls were covered in antique kitchen utensils and burnt beakers lined the counter tops. “If I didn’t know you better Joe, I would think you have an illegal drug lab here,” he said.

    “The only thing I have is contempt for a man that forces his view of God on a non-believer, but, I am glad you came to visit,” he said. Joe handed the pastor a hot mug of coffee.

     “I just like to check on you, Joe. The whole town, really. We’re a small community and the only church in town has all the burden of care taking. People are afraid of things they don’t understand and you are quite the recluse, my friend. The town is concerned about you. Nothing bad, friend, they just want to know that you’re a normal, kind man,” Orel said.


     “What?” Orel asked.

      “If you are to call me ‘friend’ for the first time in your ten years of visiting, then you should at least know that my name is Jovian,” he said. “I am named after the old. I was born before the new. I was born before you, pastor,” Joe said.

      “Get out of here. You’ve got to be in your mid-thirties. Where are you from anyway?” Orel asked.

      “Tres Tabernae, Italy,” Joe said.

      “Never heard of it,” said Orel. Joe removed a tin cup from the wall and drew a dark brew from an old cask. The dark foam trickled into the base, swirling a luminescent dust that settled to the bottom.

      “Never heard of it because you do not know Italy, or, because you do not know of anything outside America?” he asked. Joe forced the cup into the pastor’s hands. “Try this. Our city was called ‘Three Taverns’. We made the best ale for sure,” he said. Orel sipped, and confusion softened his face.

     “What do you mean the city was called--”

     “Best be going now, pastor,” Joe said as he pulled Orel from the chair.

     “I have been here too long, haven’t I? Well, exactly how long has it been?” he said.

     “Not too long,” Joe said.

     “Yes, I think you’re right. Funny, I had a whole sermon planned to share with you today, and it seems I must be going. I must have forgotten something very important on my agenda. I am so sorry, Joe. Another time? Maybe next time you’ll tell me where you’re from. We’re going to be friends eventually, Joe.” Orel said as he stumbled through the entry.

     “Maybe I’ll tell you my real name sometime,” Joe said as he waved.

     “I’d love that, Joe. Maybe we can chat about your hometown? Your favorite team? Who doesn’t love football?”

      “Goodbye, Orel.” The garden swayed violently from a light breeze, gently tethering the pastor to the entrance.


      “I was talking to my mom on the phone, Ethan. You’re insane. Insane and jealous,” Rayen said to her boyfriend. Ethan snatched the phone from Rayen and threw it against the wall, breaking the glass frame it hit. “What are you doing?” she asked. Rayen sighed and picked up her phone and the picture frame. Ethan slammed the front door, and left their small cabin a few acres from Joe’s garden. Rayen sobbed into a dish towel, rinsed her face, and looked out the kitchen window for Ethan’s car. She noticed her refection of the windowpane and smoothed the displaced hair on her face. The moonlight highlighted the circles under her eyes as she stared blankly into the darkness. Her phone vibrated.

     I’m coming back over. You better tell me who it was. Rayen responded slowly.

      I’m going to my mom’s. Stay at your place tonight. She knew that her classic excuse worked every time, and that her mother would cover for her.

     Told Ethan I’m with you. We’re fighting. Call you later. Luvs

     Rayen’s cabin, perched from hilly terrain, oversaw the town’s valley. Moonlight highlighted the quaint city structures, and the sound of a crowd echoed from the dance hall. Small smoke stacks wafted against the granite hillside. Candlelight flickered from the recluse’s cottage windows, and Rayen saw an image of something moving across the top of the roof; her curiosity was peaked. She walked along the forest to the edge the gardens to get a closer look. Gnarled vine walls framed a man’s image on the roof, frantically surveying obtuse items did not understand. Her body shuddered from a passing chill as she gawked at the mechanisms moving on, and around, the cottage.

     Oversized telescopic lenses swung from metal prongs down the roof’s bevel, catching the moon’s light and focused it into beams on the ground. A small creek turned an undershot water wheel, which fed an intricate irrigation system. The water scooped into several wooden catches that poured into large luminescent pools around the property. Moonflowers and orchids, turned up to the moon in full bloom, covered the garden floors and sculptures. Bleating hawk moths swooped past Rayen’s face into the garden’s ebbing, snowy ocean of flower trumpets.