Read The Forgotten Eden Online

Authors: Aiden James

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Horror, #Dark Fantasy, #Fantasy

The Forgotten Eden (6 page)

BOOK: The Forgotten Eden

I intended to stay outside for just a little while; it just depended on where the lizard ran off to. I waited until Grandpa’s footfalls and the switching on of another floor fan confirmed he’d turned his attention to other tasks inside our old farmhouse. Really, it would’ve been nice if he’d just use the air conditioner more often. Aside from the house staying cooler, the kitchen storm door would’ve been closed and he wouldn’t have known about the recent commotion on the porch. I now had to be very discreet in my pursuit of the lizard, since he’d likely keep an eye on me.

I stood up and quietly rummaged around the porch searching for something suitable to apprehend the critter. I found a large steel bait bucket with a retractable lid and carried it over to the porch steps ….

Too much detail for you so far, Agent McNamee?”

No,” Peter replied, and gave an approving nod. “It’s working fine like this.”

He motioned for Jack to continue.

Well, okay, then,” said Jack, smiling wanly. “Grandpa let the backyard deteriorate over the years. Stuff like worn-out appliances and the rusted-out remains of an old pickup truck cluttered it up. It all really seemed out of place if you considered the full mimosa trees dotting the yard and the majestic oak that sat in the middle of everything. Then again, maybe it wasn’t quite so out of place compared to an enormous stone sphere resting near the back wall of the property.”

I’ve got a bunch of pictures of that thing, Jack,” said Peter. “They’re also in my attaché case, along with a report detailing the sphere’s composition.”

Can I see that too?”

Just as soon as you’re done with your story, Jack. Again, I appreciate the descriptive element so far.”

I’ll try to continue that way,” said Jack, finding it difficult to stay focused in light of the latest tidbit. “It’s all so strange, man. Even though it happened years ago, as I’m telling it to you it’s as if it all took place just yesterday.

When I was younger, I imagined the entire backyard as some bizarre work of art. It embarrassed me when I got older, especially since Grandpa wouldn’t let us clean it up for him. But it sure as hell made a great hiding place if you were a three-foot long lizard wishing to be left alone. It could be anywhere with so many nooks and crannies. With that in mind, I braced myself for the oppressive afternoon heat and stepped out into the yard.

I scanned the walls, roofs, and gables of our farmhouse, shielding my eyes from the sun’s brightness. I couldn’t detect the lizard’s presence anywhere. No small footprints or claw marks on the light-blue painted walls and gables, and nothing on the freshly painted chalices either.

While looking up at the roof, I thought about how the lizard behaved on the porch when I first saw it. It seemed to enjoy being out of the burning sun. So, I figured it might prefer some place cool, like under the porch. I walked over to the wooden lattice beneath it and peered through the holes. A great place to hide from the sun and an abundance of spiders and insects to feed on, but the lattice was still intact, without any sign it’d been disturbed.

By then my shorts and T-shirt were pretty damp from sweat. Shielding my eyes, I moved over to the pickup’s sun-baked remains, knowing I didn’t have long before I became totally drenched. The grass and weeds grew tall around the faded red truck body, which sat on the very same cinder blocks it was condemned to many years before. All four tires had long since been removed and most of the frame devoured by rust. The windshield had been broken by an errant fly ball off my brother’s bat during a neighborhood baseball game two summers earlier, and most of the glass still lay in shards on the torn vinyl seat.

I got down on my knees to get a good view of the pickup’s undercarriage. The overgrown weeds and grass that engulfed the bottom of the truck were almost impossible to see through. I considered sticking my hands underneath, but then remembered the lizard’s mouth, full of sharp teeth.

I decided to eliminate other possible hiding places first, so peered through the driver-side window. No lizard there—just undisturbed dirt and cobwebs inside the cab. And the critter definitely wasn’t hiding up in the nearby mimosa trees either. Just a handful of swallowtail butterflies coupling near bloom clusters on the tree’s upper branches.

With sweat pouring down my face, I gave up looking for it. I started walking over to the tire-swing that hung from our giant oak. That’s when a noticeable ‘clank’ and rustling sound come from the pile of broken appliances sitting nearby. My heart began to race. I suddenly felt chilled and a little bit clammy, listening to whatever it was rummaging ferociously inside an old washer.

I cautiously moved up to it, worried the bait container wouldn’t be enough to protect me. I noticed a deflated soccer ball a short distance to my left, and quietly hurried over to it. Armed with two laughable weapons, I moved up to the old machine.

The disturbance grew even more violent. Expecting to see the lizard in a highly agitated rage, I prepared myself for the worst. When I reached the washer, its weathered door sat slightly ajar. I leaned over to throw the door open…the startled animal barreled out, revealing dark frightened eyes as it headed straight for me.

For the second time that afternoon I fell hard on my ass. Luckily, it was just Banjo.”

I’ll bet that came as a relief!” said Peter, chuckling as he relaxed in his chair. He had just picked up his coffee cup to take another sip.

Yeah it did,” Jack agreed, smiling wanly as he reminisced. “Honestly, I thought he’d bite me, his teeth bared as meanly as any farm critter could, I suppose. As soon as Banjo recognized me, he tentatively approached and started licking me on my arms and legs.

I remember asking him if he’d seen any three-foot lizards lately, though I’m sure he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. Knowing Banjo’s tendency toward skittishness, he’d have been more than content to remain inside the washer if he had.

Maybe you already know this, but Banjo’s fur was black with brown splotches on his back and sides. At that moment all of it glistened from the heat. He whimpered again and looked up into my face, as if pleading for me to lead us both out of the sweltering sauna we presently stood in. So I led him over to the oak’s shade, giving up on my search for that goddamned lizard.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any pictures of it, Agent McNamee, but our oak tree was truly something. Grandpa once told me it’d been there long before the farmhouse was built, and that’d been roughly a hundred and seventy years before, as I’m sure you already know. The tree’s long branches rose to dizzying heights, and if anyone stood directly below while leaning their head back as far as they could without falling over, the upward view would momentarily take their breath away.”

I’ve seen photographs of the oak, too, and a few of those were taken when it wasn’t much more than a sapling long ago,” said Peter. “I never saw a picture of Banjo…just some notes and a brief description from Sherriff McCracken.”

I don’t suppose you brought the oak pictures with you?”

Actually, I did bring a couple with me this evening, along with some other pictures you should find interesting. They’ll be waiting for you when we’re done.”

I’ll look forward to that,” said Jack, pausing a moment before continuing his story. “As I mentioned, Banjo and I walked together into the cool shade provided by the oak’s thick foliage. He trotted over to a half-empty water bowl near the oak’s trunk, where a thirty-foot ladder nailed to the trunk led to a wooden tree house nestled within a large cluster of branches. A tire swing hung from a really thick branch beneath the tree house. I climbed onto the swing after setting the deflated soccer ball and bait container nearby.

After a brief glance over my shoulder toward the house, I soon flew through the air. My damp clothes pressed against my skin and my hair blew back away from my forehead. Finding some real relief from the heat, I figured I could stay outside a bit longer than originally planned.

The swing provided an excellent view of the Palmer’s place off to the right and a pretty good view of the Johnson’s farm over to the left of our yard. A six-foot stone wall enclosed the backyard, and the back side of all three properties was only accessible by a seldom used dirt frontage road. That’s why very few folks ever saw the sphere back there.

The sphere is such a bizarre oddity…you know? I mean, surely you’d agree on that. Roughly fifteen feet in diameter, it dwarfed the wall and old wrought-iron gate in front of it. I can only venture a guess where it came from. Maybe the report you’ve got can answer that question too. The sphere’s texture was very smooth, much like finely sanded marble or limestone, and its off-white color was similar to a fresh chicken egg.

Rumor has it that the sphere drew some serious media attention when I was just a toddler. Even up until the time we moved away, the local folks in Carlsdale sometimes talked about the scientists who made routine visits to our home to study the damned thing. I imagine you’re fully aware of that too.

Eventually, Grandpa grew tired of all the attention and lack of privacy. Somehow, he managed to get NASA to agree to take the sphere away from us. Since tight-lipped about this for years, I had to rely on the local rumor mill in Carlsdale to first learn what happened, and why the sphere was still there many years later.

Apparently, he arranged for some folks from NASA to come and carry the sphere back with them to Houston. They even brought a specially designed semi-truck to transport it. But at the last minute those plans got changed, after a mysterious dark limousine raced up the frontage road behind our property. The removal operation got called off and we’ve never heard back from the good folks at NASA.”

I’ve brought along yet another report that talks about that—from NASA’s ‘unofficial’ point of view,” Peter told him, pausing to get up from the table to pour himself a second cup of coffee. “Not meaning to distract you from your train of thought, but there’s a lot more that went on behind the scenes with that fiasco than you can even imagine, Jack. And despite my awareness of your family’s history, it’s good to hear your take on things. So, continue like you are, man. This is great.”

All right,” said Jack, feeling more and more comfortable. “I remember looking at the sphere while I thought about the NASA stuff. The upper portion bathed in the sun’s light, its lower half was covered in shadow. Nothing but bare earth surrounded the sphere. Even the hardiest and most stubborn weeds refused to grow anywhere near it.

I flew even higher on the swing, and could clearly see the frontage road beyond the back wall. Overrun with tall grass and weeds, a large field lay on the other side of the road. From there, the terrain sloped steadily upward to a thick wooded hillside. Back then it was filled with towering pines, elms, and oaks. Man, it was like looking at your very own private forest. Since these trees hadn’t been raped by the lumber industry, many were almost as tall as the oak I swung from.

I remember feeling strangely at peace. By then my damp clothes had dried some, and I became aware of a fairly large object bulging from my shorts’ pocket. It startled me, and I reached down into my pocket, being careful to maintain a secure grip on the swing while I pulled out a ring sucker. I bought it that morning while at the local barbershop with Grandpa. Still in its wrapper, the sucker originally resembled a giant ruby ring, though now misshapen.

Even in the shade, the prism-like candy glistened within its plastic wrapper. Being thirteen and all, I imagined the sucker taunting me to open the wrapper and pull it out—like a challenge to see if I could do that without it slipping out of my grasp. For some reason it made me think of the lizard. I glanced back toward our house again and where I’d searched earlier, but still no sign of it. A bit depressed, I figured it must’ve left our yard.

Ready to go back inside the house, I slowed the swing. I would’ve really liked to capture the elusive critter—at least long enough to impress Jeremy. Instead, I’d have to settle for a mere description, which would be greeted with either cold skepticism or ridicule, depending on my brother’s mood.

The swing stopped moving, with me staring absently into the prism of the wrapped, melted sucker held tightly in my hand. I have no idea why, but the next thing I thought about was my parents. They mysteriously vanished without a trace one summer afternoon just before my first birthday. Jeremy recalled them a little, but his memories were more like faded snapshots. As for me, I didn’t remember them at all. Much of what either of us had to go by came from some photographs and letters to our grandparents. The rest came from the stories Grandpa told us concerning our folks—that, and Carlsdale’s rumor mill.

Much of the information we heard about our mom and dad, Frank and Julie Kenney—in case you didn’t know their first names, Agent McNamee—was positive in nature. Mostly, these stories involved only our mom. Other stories concerning our folks weren’t so good. Hurtful gossip we’d only catch bits and pieces of now and then. Especially true whenever we accompanied my grandfather downtown—which at the time consisted of a grocery store, post office, barber shop, two gas stations, and a local branch of Alabama’s First National Bank. Morose in nature, the gossip dealt with our family’s history, made even worse by the sphere’s presence in our backyard. Apparently, Dad and Mom’s vanishing act and the sudden appearance of the sphere happened at roughly the same time.

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