Love in the Garden of Pearls and Jewels
Two friends risk their lives to attend a lavish party only to realize it’s not the party they were after.
The Garden of Pearls and Jewels wasn’t really made of pearls and jewels, Mika and Chaz knew that much, but all other comings and goings in the private garden of the Empress were mum’s dirty secret-strictly forbidden information to anyone who has not been. If the garden had rules, one, maybe the first, would be to not talk to anyone about the Garden of Pearls and Jewels.
“That’s why we need to do what we got to,” Chaz said, slapping Mika on the back as they exited the alley.
Behind them a young woman whimpered, badly beaten and reaching for some sort of help. The two teens rounded the corner of the alley and left her where she lay, disheveled and broken.
“No way. No way am I risking my life for some shit I don’t know,” Mika said.
“You gotta know it’s good if an ass whoppin’ like that don’t get a bitch to spill.” Chad pointed to a wing stand under a neon umbrella in front of an auto dealer.
The two took seats at the counter and ignored the cackling of the salespeople behind them and the acidic smell that accompanied the air downtown.
“Let’s just do it. Break in and see what we can see,” Mika said, pointing to a picture on the menu. “Two,” they said, smiling at the server behind the bar.
“I want to do it proper,” Chaz offered, eyeing Mika out of the corner of their eye. “It’ll be better that way.”
“It’ll be our funeral, I guess.” But Mika smiled to know that they were going to embark on this adventure like all others, together.
After downing all they could eat at the noodle bar, they headed toward the White Tipped Forest on the edge of the city where their urban paradise met the grounds of the royal family. The only part of those grounds that was off limits was the palace and the Garden of Pearls and Jewels that surrounded it. Even though the forest was open and free to any citizen of Barth, armed guards patrolled the fern plagued border.
“Better keep everything under your hats tonight, young ladies,” one of the mustached guards said to Chaz and Mika who both flipped them off.
“I’ll show you young lady,” Chaz mumbled under their breath, winking at Mika.
They thought back to the pleading girl in the alley who kept begging for her dad to come and save her.
She should have done what Chaz and Mika did. Swear off anyone else, come to terms with that fact that no one is going to save your ass except for yourself-and like one really cool friend.
Fuck waiting for anyone to save you. It’ll only leave you alone in an alley.
The paths that led into the forest were near empty and well-lit by the trail lights along the edges of the sand leading deep into the trees. Well enough inside the forest where the sound of honking mobiles and haulers was killed by the rushing sound of waterfalls and mating birds, Chaz and Mika stepped off the lit path and made their way toward the less cultivated areas of the forest where the real beasts roamed. There under the shadow of the Crown Palace that circled the large hill in the forest there lived several species of imported and created species.
If someone wanted to get entry into the Garden of Pearls and Jewels, they didn’t have to be cut from golden cloth or have pockets weighed down with coin. No. All they needed to do was bag one of the rarities in the forest, cook it up, and bring enough to share.
“Should’a picked up weapons or something,” Chaz said. “Feel naked out here.”
“How bad can these things be, honestly?”
“Bad enough that it gets you a ticket into the Garden free of charge.”
“Nothing is free,” Mika said.
Chaz agreed. They tossed their arm over Mika’s bare Black shoulders. The other teen wrapped their arm around Chaz’s hips, pulling them in while they tricked through the green overgrowth.
The tips of the trees were covered in a white type of moss that made them appear ripe with snow.
Mike broke off a branch from a nearby tree and practiced swinging it. “Seems solid.”
“Once one of these things decides to show itself, we can test out that basher of yours,” Chaz said, winking.
Vining flowers caused their walk to be treacherous, but soon the trees and growth thinned enough for them to spread out. The birds singing above their heads were all natural, normal in wingspan, and call.
“Here, monsters!” Chaz called into the forest.
Mika spun the staff they held, twirling it on either side of their body. Until it writhed in their hands.
“Holy monkey shit!” Mika yelled, tossing the stick away from themselves.
“What the fucks up with you?”
“That shit’s alive, fam.”
Chaz tip toed up to where it lay tangled in the bushes. They kicked it free with their foot. “Seems like a stick to me,” they said, but bent down slow to touch it with their hand.
Before they seized it, it whipped around and sprung at them. Mika hardly thought about it, but dove forward, knocking Chaz out of the way and taking the blow in their ribs.
Whatever it was. It didn’t have a mouth, but a blunt front and backside that it used to beat against Mika’s body like a baton.
“Get it off of me,” they said, trying to grab it.
Despite how wooden and rigid it appeared, the creature bent and whipped like an electrical wire free of its attachments. Chaz pulled off the jean button up they were wearing and used it to pounce on the creature, trapping it beneath the tight material.
“Step one,” they grunted, fighting the creature. “Wasn’t so hard.”
Chaz smiled up at the beaten Mika who despite the bleeding and bruising smiled back at them.
After stomping the creature either dead or unconscious, the two friends lugged it back to where they were squatting. It was an old office building with the cubicles still set up. They had draped sheets and items from the lost and found along the sections, creating a jungle of their own.
In the middle of their juggle, was their home, their palace. The place where they slept closer than sin.
A fortress of sleeping bags and blankets built up to make a nest surrounded by all the small trinkets they had ever found, stolen, or plundered.
“Dump it in the corner. I’ll kick the fire up,” Chaz said, going to the center of their clearing in the cubicles and sparking the gas cooker.
Mika held the motionless creature in their arms and stared down at it. “Do you think there’s much meat on this?”
Chaz shrugged at the flames jostling to life. “How are we even supposed to cook it?” they asked, going to stand beside them.
Chaz peered over Mika’s shoulder at the creature in their arms. It still lay dead or unconscious wrapped in Chaz’s shirt. Mika had them lay it on the ground and took the knife to it with hard, heavy whacks.
It didn’t even crack the wood-like exterior.
They tried setting it on fire, boiling it in water, shredding it, but it wasn’t until Chaz threw it in frustration at the cubicle walls and the two flung themselves onto the makeshift bed, crushing the creature that it revealed what lay hidden beneath its hard exterior.
“Is that blood?” Mika asked, pulling their hand out of the bright red liquid that dripped from the creature.
Chaz dipped a finger into it and brough it up to their nose. Their face lit up before they plunged their finger into their mouth.
Mika followed Chaz’s lead and tasted the liquid that the creature produced. It tasted of berries and lemons, sweet and tangy with a hint of sour bloom.
The two licked up the liquid from their sheets and drained the remainder into a container beside their bed.
“It’d make a great glaze,” Chaz said, reclining onto the cushions of the bed.
“Or a smoothy,” Mika added.
Their sticky arms and hands rested intertwined together.
“It’d go great in anything,” Chaz said, placing their head against Mika’s shoulder. “The question is what the fuck should we do with it for the party?”
Their home smelled sweet and was sticky against their bare legs and arms.
“All this trouble for some party seems stupid now that we got it. We could do our own thing here, you know, just the two of us,” Mika said.
The container beside the bed was near full and the creature lay empty beside the bed. But the possibilities of a dead thing are endless in the minds of teens.
“Let’s say we hold off for the time being?” Chaz said. “Stick to our own for a little while longer before crashing into the high life?”
Mika glanced at Chaz. They smiled, shrugging. “Works for me.”
They’d leave the skinning of the creature till later. Figure out what to do for the party when theirs finally ended, but Mika hopped it never would.
Aigner Loren Wilson is a queer Black SFWA, HWA, and Codex writer. She was listed on the honors list for the Otherwise Fellowship award for 2019. Her work has appeared in Tor Nightfire, Rue Morgue, Arsenika, and more. She offers a writing craft newsletter to people who want to become better writers and publish quality pieces.