IN MY SHATTERED GARDEN
by NiteLite

Lex dreams about his mother. For the Elizabeth Smart Fanfic Challenge. Title taken from her poem of the same name.

*~*~*~*~

Sometimes, when he dreams, he hears his mother's voice in the distance.

Lex smiles. He would know her laughter anywhere.

In his dream, it's late afternoon when he opens the French doors to his balcony to peer out over the castle grounds. Overhead, it looks as though someone has taken a large sheet of white felt and stretched it wispy thin against the sky so only faint patches of blue show through.

It matches the way he's been feeling lately, his skin stretched taut between his father's expectations and some invisible force that seems to be pulling him toward an unknown destination. It's unsettling, and the constant tension leaves him restless and edgy.

Right now almost any action seems preferable to brooding so he heads for the stairs that lead to his office. Pausing at the entrance, he looks at his desk and frowns. He's sure he cleared it off earlier, but an oversized courier's envelope sits on his chair, the LuthorCorp logo plainly visible on the label. More paperwork from Lionel. Suddenly the room seems gray, cold and uninviting.

Lex leans against the doorsill. The way to his father's heart has never been a straightforward one. It's filled with hairpin turns, blind curves, detours and dead ends. He has no road map he can rely on, only his instinct and bitter experience. And that's not always enough to keep him out of harm's way.

The package can go to the shredder for all he cares. He turns abruptly and leaves.

Outside, it's still and quiet as he sets off down the gravel pathway, bordered by spikes of foxgloves on one side and purple irises on the other. Small pebbles scrape against his boots as he walks. There's no sign of anyone else; the grounds are deserted.

Following the curved path, he eventually reaches a large greenhouse behind the castle. The structure is framed in white metal, with graceful, rounded eaves and covered with shiny, glass panes. A wrought iron bench sits by the entrance. Tiny white blooms of baby's breath spill out from terra-cotta planters flanking the double doors while a neatly trimmed patch of ivy runs along the side. Backlit by the sun, the glass shimmers like gilt.

A surge of happiness runs through him. He opens the doors, steps inside and feels the humidity settle around him. Moist air touches his head, hands and clothes as he pauses to listen. All he can hear is the quiet hum of the fans. Above him hang baskets of Spanish moss. The long worktables are all covered with pots of orchids.

He walks down an aisle and is immediately surrounded by a sea of color: pink Dendrobiums, yellow Cattleyas and white Phalaenopsis. These are only a few of the names he learned at his mother's knee. Names like Aerides, Miltonia, Lepanopsis, Paphiopedilum and Sobralia.

As a child he loved to trail after her and watch as she tended the orchids.

"This comes from Venezuela," she once said, pointing to the a stem trailing down from a basket.

He remembers stopping and pointing to the white, star-shaped blooms with long, dangling spurs. "What about that one?"

"Angraecum sesquipedale," she answered and waited as he repeated the name. "It was originally discovered in Madagascar. Do you know where that is?"

"Yes. It's off the coast of Africa, in the Indian Ocean."

She nodded and touched one of the thin spurs. "Charles Darwin theorized that this orchid could only be pollinated by a night-flying moth with an unusually long proboscis. No one believed him, but forty-one years later, they discovered Xanthopan morgani praedicta. A Hawk Moth."

Lex smiles and shakes his head. He misses her impromptu science and geography lessons.

His hand brushes against a pink Miltassia. The slender petals are covered with dark purple spots, some rimmed in bright yellow.

As fragile as they look, orchids are much tougher and resilient than people realize he thinks. His mother, with her pale, clear skin and heart-shaped face seemed delicate at first glance, but she was more than a match for her husband. When faced by her will and blunt honesty, Lionel, more often than not, gave in to her wishes. Many had underestimated the steely resolve that lurked underneath her gracious exterior.

Reassured by the familiar sweet scents, Lex pivots slowly and savors his surroundings. She told stories to him here, laughed, sang and shared secrets. This is where he feels safe and loved.

Out of the corner of his eye, he notices that one of the Cymbidiums is drooping, its leaves yellowish. That will never do. He leans forward so he can examine it more closely.

As he closes his hand around the base, a sharp thorn pierces his finger and he hisses.

Who would dare leave a cactus in here, he wonders, his eyes narrowing in suspicion. Holding his hand up, he watches the blood well up into a bright drop of red. He sticks his finger in his mouth and stills. What is that noise? Something is scraping against the side of one of the walls.

Looking around he gasps.

Through the glass he sees dark, serpentine lines creeping up the sides of the greenhouse. Something snaps, and he whips around to see cracks forming in one of the panes.

"Jesus," he breathes as he runs to the doors. They're stuck; he pushes on one hard, with his shoulder, finally gaining just enough space to squeeze through. Stepping outside, he sees the dark, tangled mass seething along the side of the greenhouse. It's the ivy. Long vines have already overrun the walkway and the bench, crushing the baby's breath.

As he stares, more tendrils are stretching upward along the glass panes, trying to smother the greenhouse itself.

"No!" he screams and runs recklessly into the middle of it. The tendrils circle around his ankles. He kicks at them, stomps on them, trying to break the vines but they stubbornly refuse to stop. Finally, he plunges his hands into the mass pressed against the glass wall and tears at them. In his fists they look like a mass of wriggling eels. He shudders, throws them aside and grabs more.

He squeezes so hard, he sees blood ooze from his hand and drip onto one of the leaves. The droplet sits on the tip before it runs down the slick surface of the leaf, leaving a bright thin trail of red behind.

When he looks at the tangle in his hands, he realizes the reddish-orange color has spread throughout the ivy.

A rhyme from childhood suddenly runs through his head, "Leaflets three..."

He drops the vines but it's too late. He cries out as the poison blisters his hands. Large welts rise as a red rash begins to spread up his wrists and arms.

Grimacing, he watches as the vines rise to the top of the greenhouse and spill over the other side. More and more glass is being covered under the seething tangle.

He yells and yanks at the ivy again, but his blisters break open and ooze, making it harder for him to grasp the vines. For each one he breaks off, a half dozen more take its place.

His eyes are tearing, but he can't tell if it's from frustration or the pain in his hands and arms. The rash is spreading to his shoulders and it feels as though a thousand hot needles are pricking him.

He hears metal groaning under the weight of the ivy. More panes crack. At this rate, it won't be long until the entire greenhouse collapses.

If only his hands didn't feel like they were on fire.

Wait. He pats the pockets of his jacket, disregarding the bloody handprints he's leaving on the material.

There. He found it. A cigarette lighter.

He flips the lid open and clicks it. Nothing. He clicks it again. Nothing. He swears loudly and clicks it once more.

Yes. A flame.

Kneeling down, he holds the lighter against the ivy. One of the vines catches, and small flames begins to rise. He watches with satisfaction as the fire grows larger and spreads. Soon, the entire patch is burning and gray smoke rises into the air.

One of the burning vines peels away from the eave above and drops. He tries to twist his body away, but it hits his shoulder and he flinches.

God, no. His jacket's on fire. He struggles to unbutton it and push it off his body, but his swollen fingers and hands won't cooperate. He staggers, cursing. Something curls tight around his ankle and he loses his balance, falling backward...

...right over a railing and into cold water.

Is it the swimming pool or the ornamental pond? Maybe it's a river. He can't tell.

Instead of kicking and flailing, he sinks. Further and further down he goes, wondering when he'll hit bottom.

Looking up he sees only dark, murky water as the coldness seeps inside him. It would be so easy to close his eyes and let go of everything.

It's quiet down here--no motion, sound or feeling--the way a tomb should feel.

Perhaps he is dead already and his body is crossing into Cocytus where the unburied walk the riverbanks for a hundred years.

But no. He feels pressure against his chest, sharp and rhythmic while someone, with a young-sounding voice is muttering, "Come on! Don't die on me."

The next thing he knows something warm is pressing against his mouth.

He takes a shaky breath and slowly rises to the surface.

When he opens his eyes, he finds himself lying on his back in the middle of a cornfield. Overhead, he sees nothing but blue sky. Only a few gray clouds still linger in the distance, yet he could've sworn he'd just seen a pair of large, hazel green eyes gazing into his own.

Around him the cornstalks sway gently in the wind, as he struggles to push himself up on his elbows. He's alone.

When he looks down, he sees that his hands are normal again. The blisters and welts have disappeared. Amazed, he lifts them palm side up; even his wrists are clear of rash. He pushes one sleeve up and examines his left arm, then his right. Even the pain is gone.

But so is the greenhouse. All that's left is a mound of broken metal and glass. Everything he cherished is lying in sharp, jagged pieces on the ground. He lowers his head, gathers his knees to his chest and lets out a choked sob.

"You're weak, son." He hears his father sneering at him. "I thought I taught you better than that."

Lex turns his face away. "No."

"Such a disappointment. Such a waste." Lionel's voice fades away.

It would've been better if I'd died, he thinks. The emptiness he feels is almost unbearable.

When he shifts, he hears a clink in his jacket pocket. Burrowing his hand inside, he lifts it out and opens his fist. A few pieces of broken glass sit in his palm. He immediately closes his fingers tight over the sharp edges and waits for glass to slice his skin and the blood to run. But there's no pain.

Puzzled, he uncurls his fingers slowly, only to find white petals covering his palm.

Around him the cornstalks continue to sway, the leaves rustling loudly in the breeze.

A brownish moth flits by. He turns his head and watches it disappear between the stalks. A few seconds later it reappears, fluttering off toward the end of the row where a flash of yellow in the distance catches his eye. He squints a little but can't quite tell what it is.

What does it matter? He turns his hand over and lets the petals drop.

The leaves rustle again. Something light brushes against his neck and the side of his face. A sweet, familiar scent wafts by.

"Mother?" he whispers and as he lifts his head again, he sees a gravel pathway this time, just beyond the row of corn.

For several long moments he sits, alternately staring and thinking. Rubbing his face, he finally stands up, brushes past the corn and makes his way to the path that runs parallel to the field. Spikes of foxglove border one side while sunflowers tower over the other.

He takes a step and hesitates. Which way now? Forward or back?

Closing his eyes, he hears the answer.

Lex smiles. He would know her laughter anywhere.

In the light breeze, white petals swirl past him as he follows the gravel path toward a yellow farmhouse in the distance.

~The End~

Note: In Greek mythology, Cocytus is one of the five rivers that separate Hades from the world of the living.

Comments very welcomed.

In My Shattered Garden

In my shattered garden
I lie and cry.
Why?
I could scrub floors
And get a sense
Of something done
A neat
Achievement
But
I get up
And stumble on
And get slapped back.
I count my blessings
Many, many.
It is no use.
Back and forth
I pace
Carrying a deep despair
Like a fretful child.
There there, despair,
There there.

--Elizabeth Smart