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Photos of Eternity by Dennis Stein

Alex Martel had been a reporter and gardening enthusiast for years and was excited to be heading to a very special place. He was driving to a small city in the east of the township, a place where history met gardening beauty. He would surely get a feature article out of it and could barely wait to feast his eyes on the exotic species which were rumoured to reside in the gardens of an old estate located there.

  He parked along the main street, after driving about a kilometer from the city’s downtown center. Tall stone walls surrounded Fullard Place and its mansion, and Alex could see the wrought iron gates ahead as he stepped out of the car. He grabbed his bag, which held a spiral notebook, multiple pens, and of course, his Canon camera.

  The research he had done told him that Fullard Place was free to visit, except for the tours offered of the mansion itself. He wasn’t particularly interested in the mansion’s interior anyway and neither were his readers. It was a gorgeous place, yes. Sweeping terraces, stone columns, yawning huge windows. But it was the gardens that he had come to photograph. Rare and expensive plants supposedly inhabited the green spaces of the mansion’s grounds, and Alex wanted photos of all of them this fine morning. It was the perfect time of day, when the light would hit the gardens at an angle, making them seem more alive than a flat noon hour portrait.

  The young reporter had done his homework on the property as well, noting that the wealthy original owner of the place, George T. Fullard, and his wife Elizabeth, had commissioned the building of the mansion and its beautiful grounds during the turn of the century. They were newly rich at the time and sought to leave their mark on the small town.

  The expansive gardens had been Elizabeth’s pride, created by the Olmsted Landscaping Firm, Frederick Olmsted being the very man who had designed New York’s famed Central Park gardens. They were her all-consuming obsession.

  Alex stepped through the paved entry to the grounds, glancing around. To his left was the Mansion, partially surrounded by scaffolding where workers were restoring some of the stonework. To his right, shaded by massive old-growth Oak and Pine trees, were what he had come all this way to see – the gardens. As he made his way closer, he could see the fading stone fountain, hosting several statues. The statues were gargoyles, perched here and there, their empty stone eye sockets staring out protectively over the flora and fauna. The sight of them reminded Alex of another known fact about the heiress of the mansion. She had also been very much enthralled with the occult.

  Arming himself with the Canon, he began to shoot, taking care to get the details of some of the well-kept bunches of rare blooms. For now, at this fairly early hour, he had it all to himself. It was simply amazing to behold the tidiness and perfection of the flowerbeds. He marvelled at the complex arrangements, the exotics, the carefully placed accents from sitting benches to wooden carvings that made up the intricacies of each space. The shaded areas were cool and inviting oases, while the sunny spots were warm, bright, and filled with fragrant blooms. Birds of all kinds flitted amongst the tree branches, seemingly unafraid of him. Alex had never seen anything quite like it.

  He turned, and was startled to see a woman standing nearby, a pair of ancient-looking garden shears in one gloved hand, and a bunch of deadheaded flowers in the other. The first thing that Alex noted was her eyes. They were large, grey and doe-like, regarding him coolly from under the brim of a large straw gardening hat. Her long hair hung freely down over her shoulders, and the drab button-up shirt and clamdigger pants that she wore looked as though they were from another age and were flecked here and there with fresh earth.

  Alex was unable to speak for a moment, caught in the depths of those luminous eyes. It sent a sudden chill through him, despite the warmth of the morning.

  “Do you like the gardens?” the woman asked simply, her voice low and soft as dark velvet.

  “Y-yes.” Alex stammered. “They are beautiful. Do you work here?”

   The woman continued to watch him for another moment, as though the young man’s voice was travelling to her over a distance.

  “Yes, I work here for many hours every day. Weeds are pesky things and intrude if you give them the chance," she stated, her eyes not leaving him.

  “I am a reporter for Blooms Magazine. May I take your picture here in the gardens, Miss?” he asked coolly, raising the camera.

  “Beth,… Beth is my name. Yes, you may do whatever you wish," she replied.

  Alex lined up a portrait of the woman standing amongst the flowers, bringing the image into focus, and snapped the shutter button on the Canon.

  “Have you worked here long?” he asked, pulling out his notebook to jot a few notes.

  He knew that she could probably fill in the bulk of anything he wanted to write for the article, including, he hoped, where some of the exotics amongst the fauna had been procured from.

  “It seems like eternity some days,” she said simply.

  Alex continued with his questions, hoping that he wasn’t overdoing it. She was a very beautiful woman, and he didn’t want her to think he was some kind of overbearing nitwit.

  She answered everything for him however, her gaze rarely leaving his. She told him about the fountain, where it had been constructed, along with its host of stone guardians, the gargoyles, how they were ever watchful for evil spirits. Alex listened, mesmerized by her smooth, round-edged voice, a voice that was like some singer out of a movie from the twenties. He continued to take pictures, and Beth told him about where some of the groups of flowers had originated, some from far away places across the ocean.

  As they walked, the heavy scents of the blooms saturated Alex’s senses. It was as if he were walking in a dream, and it seemed like every step he took was light and took little effort. He did not hear the birds any longer, as though the scene had become frozen in silence.

  Finally, the woman stopped walking, and turned to face him, her grey eyes large and penetrating beneath the straw hat.

  “I must go. I hope you enjoy the gardens,” she stated politely.

  Alex almost felt as though he should bow. It was just a gut reaction, but somehow it seemed like it might be the proper thing to do. But he didn’t. Instead, he simply smiled and nodded.

  “Perhaps I will see you again,” he replied.

  Her eyes seemed to gaze right into him, and he felt suddenly aware that he was blushing slightly, the heat of blood rushing to his cheeks.

  “Perhaps,” she said.

  Without another word, she turned away, walking slowly along the grassy paths through the foliage before passing out of sight.

  Alex exhaled, and shook himself slightly, as if waking from slumber. He brought out his notebook again, jotting some observations down, and decided that he could begin writing the article once he returned to the office later that day.

  He stepped out of the shade of several ancient oaks, and into the sunshine, thankful for the heat and brilliant light, and noticed that the sound of the birds seemed to have returned suddenly, the air filled with the notes of their choruses. He had enough pictures. It was time to go.


  That night, he sat at his simple desk, under the light of a single lamp, its glow cast on the wooden surface, reading another article which centered on the mansion and of the family itself. Alex wanted to ensure that he had not left anything out of his own writing about the gardens, hoping to glean additional facts about the property in general.

  As he read, he felt his pulse quickening slightly, as he looked at several grainy black and white photos that accompanied the article. There were pictures of the rooms inside the mansion, decorated with rich-looking furniture. There were also photos of the famed couple. Photos of George and Elizabeth Fullard.

  Alex’s breath caught, frozen in his throat as his eyes moved frantically over the image. The man was portly, with sweeping moustaches; his stoic look was the very kind you always saw in vintage photographs from that time. The woman was slender, her hair loose and draping over her shoulders. Her face was like that of her husband, an emotionless façade. It was her eyes that reached out and grabbed Alex’s, refusing to let go. Large eyes, devoid of colour. They bored into him, looking from the page directly into his soul. It was her. It was Beth. Elizabeth. Blood pounded in his ears.

  Alex yanked his face suddenly to his laptop screen on the desk beside him and began to click through the photos he had taken that day. There were a great many. He searched for the one he had taken of the gardener, the woman. He knew it was one of the first couple of images he had captured. The image appeared, and Alex hitched in his breath, trying not to cry out. The gardens were there, resplendent in their colours. Alex felt icy fingers wrap around his lungs, strangling the breath from him, and his heart thumped hard against his ribcage. The woman was not there. There was nothing but a shadow amongst the green leaves and the blooms of flowers. He clicked furiously through the images, searching. But there was nothing, no woman, not in any of the pictures. Had he imagined her? No, that was not possible. He wrestled with the thoughts swirling in his mind. Fighting the fog of memory away, he remembered: she had spoken to him, and he to her.

  Alex finally remembered to breath, sucking in oxygen as he stared back at the black and white image on the page in front of him. The colourless eyes looked, unjudging, dead. Cold sweat broke out on his forehead and he shuddered violently as he recalled the words that the woman in the gardens had said to him:

Beth,… Beth is my name.’    

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