Ninth Garden Brave

Check out the gorgeous piece of architecture in this week’s photo! This is a picture of the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois that was sent in to me by author Gordon DeLand. If you think it looks stunning in this pic, I highly recommend googling it to see more. Not only is the building beautiful, but there are also nine gardens surrounding it that I think I’d like to get lost in for a while 🙂 And it is in one of these gardens that this week’s story takes place.

After a few darker stories of late, I figured it was time to change things up and try for a genre I don’t feel comfortable with at all. I was really trying to go for a pre-teen audience on this one, but as I mentioned with my last children’s story attempt, I don’t have much experience with addressing a younger crowd… That being said, be gentle in your judgments as you read 🙂

Also, one of Gordon DeLand’s works, a suspenseful sounding novel called “Down Cellar”, is coming out in August, and I, for one, am looking forward to the read! Be sure to check out his site www.gordondeland.com for more information about the novel and his other works!

9thgbrave
Photo: Gordon DeLand

Here is, ‘Ninth Garden Brave’:

~~

There was no such thing as magic. Mom said so when they were reading Harry Potter. It was just a make believe thing where people could pretend for a while that they had powers that humans were never actually meant to have. If that was true,though, why did the gardener, Mr. Erics, say that his water clarifier worked by magic?

TJ ran his finger through the clear water of the fountain in the ninth garden and watched the ripples the action caused. His brow creased as he thought about that whole clarifier thing. Mr. Erics said it could turn the murkiest water clear in just a couple hours. By magic.

Standing up, he shook his head. Nah, Mom was right. Magic wasn’t real. He was eleven, which was too old to believe in that kind of stuff, anyway.

Sighing, he turned and leaned his bottom against the cement edge of the fountain and stared up at the building in front of him. He had heard enough visitors to the Baha’I House of Worship say it was great. One of the coolest things in Illinois. He didn’t buy that, though. The coolest thing in Illinois was the Cubs.

As he looked up at the building, he caught movement out of the corner of his eyes. Snapping his head to the left, he saw a boy’s head poking around the edge of the trees that separated the eighth garden from the ninth.

“Watcha doing,” the boy asked.

“Nothin’. What about you?”

“Waiting for my mom to get out,” the boy said as he stepped out from behind the trees so that his whole body was visible. After a quick look, TJ decided the kid had to be close to his own age.

“She in the sanctuary?” TJ asked.

“Yeah. She likes to listen to the readings.” The boy took a step closer. “I think I’ve seen you out here before.”

“I’m here a lot. My parents teach people how to boat. Over there.” He pointed across the street toward Wilmette Harbor, which was where Sheridan Shore Yacht Club was located.

“Then why you here? Isn’t being on the water funner?”

Eyes widening, TJ shook his head.

“Water is scary,” he said. “People die out on the water. But not me.” He gave another shake of his head. “I’m staying on land. Dad drops me off at the front steps here a few days a week. Mr. Erics lets me stay here while he works. He stops by to check on me every now and then. Not as often as my parents think, though. I don’t want them to make me go to the water, so I tell them he checks on me all the time.”

“Oh.” The boy closed the rest of the distance between them and joined TJ in leaning against the fountain. “What’s your name?”

“TJ. You?”

“Aiden. You got any games or anything? I’m bored.”

“Nope.”

“Oh.” Aiden scuffed at the dirt with the toe of his shoe. “You like the Cubs?”

“Of course I do,” TJ said, crossing his bony arms over his chest. “The Cubs are the best.”

Aiden’s face broke out in a grin and he said, “Me, too. You play baseball?”

“No.” TJ tried not to shudder at the thought.

“Why?”

“Baseballs are dangerous. I heard a story about this one guy that got hit in the head with one. He got a concussion and was in a coma for a few days.”

“Psh. That, like, never happens. Not to kids. That guy was probably a pro.”

“No, he wasn’t.”

“Well, that hardly ever happens.”

“I still don’t want to play.”

There was a moment of silence in which both boys pretended to look around the garden.

“Wanna climb one of the trees that separates the gardens? They aren’t very tall, but it’ll still be fun.”

“No.” TJ shook his head, eyeing the trees warily. “I’m scared of climbing trees. I once heard this story about a boy who climbed a tree and fell. He broke his leg. Had to go to the hospital. He had a cast on for six weeks.”

“Oh.”

A woman’s voice carried to them across the space dividing the garden from the house of worship. TJ couldn’t understand what she said, but Aiden pushed away from the fountain.

“That’s my mom,” he said with a shrug. “I gotta go.”

“I’ll be here in the ninth garden again tomorrow,” TJ said. “You know, in case you wanna hang.”

Aiden smiled and said, “See you then!”

“So why do you call it the ninth garden?” Aiden asked the next day as he plucked out another piece of grass and shredded it between his fingers. It had been almost an hour since Aiden had arrived, and all they had managed to come up with in that time frame was watching Mr. Erics weed eat and skim the scum off the top of the fountain.

“I dunno. There’s nine gardens, and this one feels like it’s most in the back. That’s just what I call it.”

“That’s cool. I’ll call it ninth garden, too.” He let the grass pieces trickle from his fingers to the ground. “Wanna race? We could start by the fountain and run to the back of the garden.”

Looking between the two points his new friend had mentioned, TJ shook his head.

“I don’t like racing,” he said, imagining everything that could go wrong. “I once heard a story about this runner who tripped. Because he was going so fast, he got hurt really bad and was in the hospital forever.”

TJ sighed and said, “Is there anything you like to do for fun?”

“Sure.” TJ plucked up his own handful of grass to destroy. “I like video games. And reading. Or going to the movie theater.”

“Those are all boring. Anything else?”

“Not really.”

Aiden pushed himself up from the ground and gave a resolute nod of his head.

“Okay,” he said. “We gotta do something about this.” His face scrunched up in thought, then he said, “I got it. From now on, the ninth garden is magical.”

“There’s no such thing as magic,” TJ replied. Or was there? Stupid water clarifier. It was messing with his head.

“Well,” Aiden placed fists on his hips, “I say there is. There is, and this garden is magical.”

“How so?” TJ’s eyes narrowed as he stuck his hands in his pockets.

“From now on, we can do whatever we want here and not worry about pain or getting hurt. We can do all the things you’re scared of, and you’ll be fine. Okay?”

“That’s stupid.” It was, right? “I can get hurt as much in here as out there.” His chin gave a jut toward the garden’s entrance.

“Nuh uh. Well, at least not enough to matter. Pain is irrelevant.”

“What does that mean? Irrelevant?”

“Something about not mattering. Mom uses it all the time when I try to argue with her. She says my points are irrelevant because she’s the adult.”

“Huh. Well, whatever it means, magic is for babies.”

“We’re not babies, and we’re doing it, so it’s not baby stuff.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“Sure it does. You wait and see. Tomorrow, you’ll be able to do stuff, and it’ll be totally fine.” Aiden looked back toward the house of worship, then back at TJ. “She’s probably done. I gotta go. I’ll see you tomorrow!”

“What’s that?” TJ asked as Aiden came strolling into the ninth garden the next day, hand clutched tightly around something.

“What does it look like?” Aiden rolled his eyes. “It’s a baseball, dummy.”

“Why’d you bring it?” The ball looked dangerous. TJ winced as Aiden threw it up in the air then caught it with a smacking sound. If it sounded like that hitting a hand, what would it be like if it hit his face? His stomach turning queasy at the thought, TJ took a step back.

“So we can play.” Aiden threw it up again.

“I told you, I’m scared of baseballs. That one guy was knocked out with one.”

“Yeah, yeah, you told me. But this is the ninth garden. The ball can’t hurt you here, remember? Or at least the pain won’t matter. It’s magical.”

“I don’t even know what that means.”

“Means the garden makes you brave because you don’t have to worry about pain.”

“Because the pain is irreverent?”

“Irrelevant. The word is irrelevant. And yeah, the pain doesn’t matter here. Now, go stand over there,” he pointed toward the trees, “and I’ll throw it to ya.” When TJ only looked at him nervously, Aiden laughed and said, “I promise I’ll throw it light until you believe in the magic of the ninth garden.”

Shoulders slouching in defeat, TJ went and took his spot by the trees.

“What do I do?” he asked.

“Just hold out your hand and watch the ball. Try to catch it.” Aiden took a couple of steps closer so that there was only six feet or so separating them. “Ready?”

“No.”

“Okay, here it comes.”

Aiden pulled the arm with the ball down toward his hip and then just behind it, then brought it forward again in a slow release. Since it was slow and not as scary as he expected, TJ managed to catch it.

“Nice,” Aiden said. “That wasn’t bad, right?”

“It kinda hurts. To catch it. You know, when it hits your hands.”

“Doesn’t matter. In the garden it doesn’t matter.”

“Yes, it does.”

“Nope. This garden is magic. Plus, I think you’re imagining it because you expect it to hurt.”

As TJ looked down at his hand, the niggling pain did start to fade. Maybe he was imagining it. Within a few more seconds, he didn’t feel anything at all. Frowning, he looked around the garden. Maybe it really was magical. Not that he’d ever admit that, though. Not when magic was for babies.

They tossed the ball back and forth until it was time for Aiden to leave. By the time his mom called him, the boys had put more distance between them, and Aiden was throwing overhand instead of under, even if it was still gently.

It was five days before both of them were in the gardens at the same time again.

“Time to climb trees,” Aiden said as he made for the objects of his declaration.

“No way. I told you that story about tree climbing,” TJ reminded him.

“Yeah, I remember. But the kid in your story wasn’t in the magical ninth garden. Nothing can happen to us here. And if it does, the pain is irrelevant.”

“I still don’t know what that means.”

“It means you can be brave here.”

“I told you,” Tj said, following after his friend, “magic isn’t real.”

“Think about yesterday. What do you remember?”

“We played ball?”

“Did you have fun?”

TJ grinned and said, “Lots of fun.”

“Even though you said the ball kind of hurt when you first started catching it?”

“Oh, I had forgotten about that.”

“Exactly, because we are in the magical ninth garden. Tree climbing will be exactly the same. Now, come on!”

Despite scrapes and bruises on each leg and his right arm, TJ couldn’t help but admit an hour later that climbing the tree was a lot more fun than he had thought it would be. He hadn’t been brave enough to climb as high as Aiden, but high enough to get a whole new view of the ninth garden.

“Ready to race?” Aiden asked the next day as he bent down to retie loose laces.

“Race?” TJ subconsciously checked to make sure his own laces were in order.

“Yeah, to the end of the garden and back. I think I’ll win.” A cocky smirk appeared on Aiden’s lips.

“Racing’s dangerous.”

“No more dangerous than playing ball or climbing a tree, but just as much fun.” Aiden stood and pretended like he knew how to stretch. “Come on, don’t look so scared. One race. If you hate it, we’ll never do it again.”

“Fine,” TJ huffed. “One race. But I’m not running as fast as I can. That’ll make it worse if I fall.”

“Okay then. Ready, set—“ Aiden took off running.

“That’s not fair!” TJ called, but only got a goading laugh as a response. With a burst of determination, TJ took off after him, pumping his legs as fast as they could go.

“Told ya… told ya I’d win,” Aiden huffed as he threw himself to the ground at the finish line.

“Only… ‘cause you had… a head start.” TJ fell next to him. He studied the clouds as he tried to get his breath back. One of them looked a lot like a dragon, he decided.

Once they could breathe again, Aiden got up and said, “Rematch?”

“No cheating this time!”

“Okay, okay. No cheating. Come on!”

By the time TJ’s dad, Mr. Banks, arrived to get his son, both boys were worn out from at least a dozen races.

“Ready to go?” Mr. Banks asked as he walked into the garden, yacht club polo damp from giving his latest sailing lessons. “Who’s this?” he asked when he saw TJ had company.

“My new friend, Aiden. His mom comes here a lot, so we hang.”

“Nice to meet you, Aiden.” Mr. Banks held out a hand with a warm smile. “I used to know another guy named Aiden. Met him skiing in the Alps.”

“You ski?” asked Aiden, looking pleased with the idea.

“Sure do. Snowboarding, too, when I get the chance. Do you like to ski?”

“I only went once. I fell down a lot.”

TJ winced at Aiden’s words. He would never go skiing. He had heard a story about a guy who had to be carried off the side of a mountain by a snowmobile because he had fallen and sprained his ankle.

“What I really want to try is surfing,” Aiden said. “Have you been surfing?”

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Banks said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Surfer’s Paradise in Queensland, Australia. I highly recommend it.”

“Wow, you do really cool stuff!” Aiden said, bouncing back and forth from foot to foot as he watched Mr. Banks eagerly.

Mr. Banks laughed and said, “You could say that.”

“He has a lot of stories,” TJ said, hating the fact. All the stories scared him.

“Just like you,” Aiden pointed out, grinning. “You’re always telling me all those stories about people getting hurt.”

“They’re all about him.” TJ pointed an accusing finger at his father and got a wink in return.

“Wait, really?” A wrinkle appeared between Aiden’s brows. “So the one about the guy that got hit with a baseball?”

“Eighth grade,” said Mr. Banks, smiling at the memory. “Peter Allan’s fast ball, right to the side of the head. That was great.”

“Great?”

“Yeah, when I woke up, I was the most popular kid in school. Everyone wanted to know what it was like, if I remembered anything about being in a coma. My parents spoiled me for a month after that, too. Ice cream whenever I wanted. Pizza for every meal.”

“Did you still play ball after that?”

“Of course! I even played some in college. I couldn’t give up one of my favorite things because of a little bump in the road.”

“What about falling out of the tree?” Aiden asked.

“Man, now that was an amazing summer. I practically lived in that tree. My sister and I were in the middle of building a fort when that fall happened. Sure, it set us back a bit, but we were still able to finish by the end of the summer.”

“And the fall during the race?”

“Senior year. Track. Hurt like the blazes, but once again, worth it.”

“I think I get it now,” Aiden said, turning thoughtful eyes at TJ.

“Get what?” asked TJ, shifting uncomfortably.

“When you hear those stories, all you focus on is the bad stuff. You see it as a horrible thing that you never want to have happen to you. But your dad sees those things as part of amazing experiences. Experiences you could have, too, if you weren’t so scared.”

“So?”

“So, I think your dad may possesses the magical bravery and protection of the ninth garden.”

“Ninth garden?” Mr. Banks asked, confusion on his face.

“Not protection,” TJ clarified. “Dad got hurt. He felt pain.”

“Yeah, but as only a small part of the experience. I guess the point is that the ninth garden doesn’t get rid of pain. It just makes it so the memories are better. Now you need to be ninth garden brave. So you’ll have your own stories to tell instead of just your dad’s.”

TJ looked back and forth between his dad and new friend, trying to think over what he had been told. Okay, so it was a little boring being afraid of everything. And there were times he wished he had stories to tell like his dad did. The good parts of the stories, not the bad parts. Was Aiden right, though? Was the chance of pain worth the memories?

“I don’t know where I would start?” TJ said nervously.

Mr. Banks laid a reassuring hand on his son’s shoulder and turned him so that he was facing the direction of Wilmette Harbor.

“How about with a short, easy sail around the harbor,” he said.

Gulping audibly, TJ asked, “Do I get to wear a lifejacket?”

“I wouldn’t let anyone on a boat unless they had one.”

“Just around the harbor?”

“Ten minutes tops.”

“What if I fall in the water?”

“I fish you out, and you have your first official story that you can tell people later on.”

“I hope we fall in!” Aiden said pumping a fist in the air.

“But is it enough of a story?” TJ asked.

“It’s a good start,” Mr. Banks replied.

“With your new ninth garden brave magic,” Aiden added, “it’ll get better and better from here.”

Sighing, TJ gave a small nod and a shrug, then said, “Guess I’m going sailing.”

One thought on “Ninth Garden Brave

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