The Moonlit Garden, a play for five voices
Martin – a retired banker
Rebecca – dance teacher and daughter of Martin
Nicholas – dealer in rare books and Rebecca’s husband
Lucy – art student and daughter of Rebecca and Nicholas
Woman on the Beach
Scene 1 – Dining room in a seaside hotel. Sometime in the 1950s
Martin – Good morning, Becky, my dear, I trust you slept well?
Rebecca: Like the proverbial log, thank you, father.
Martin: It’s the seaside air, my dear, nothing like it for lifting the spirits in the daytime and lulling one to sleep at night!
Rebecca: Would you pour me some coffee please, father?
Martin: Yes, of course, dear. Where’s my son-in-law? Out for his morning constitutional?
Rebecca: Alas, no, he is still deep in slumber. After you’d gone to bed, he sat up drinking whiskey with a couple, Claud and Maria, till the wee hours. They’re antique dealers. No doubt swapping stories of buying rarities for a song! And Lucy, well I don’t know where the girl’s gone. She was up but said she was going for a walk to the sea.
Martin: I was early to bed. With Miriam gone, I’m not one for staying up late, as you know. By the way, I ordered poached eggs and smoked salmon, and for you too, my dear, I hope that’s OK?
Rebecca: Perfect father, you must have read my mind!
Martin: Actually, my dear, I had a rather odd dream. Would you permit me to recount it?
Rebeca: Of course. I’m intrigued!
Martin: Well, there I was in a garden. It was night and there was a gibbous moon in the sky, turning the garden to silver. There was a fountain made of brick, with a large shallow pool around it, the whole set in a large depression off from some lawns.
Rebecca: How lovely!
Martin: Well, that’s the odd thing, the brickwork was old and the fountain nozzle bent and dry. The cement pool around it was cracked, with weeds poking through in places.
Rebecca: How odd.
Martin: Yes, as I looked around, everything seemed overgrown, as if time had forgotten the garden. But then I heard singing, soft gentle voices. I walked up from the fountain to a lawn, and there were women in long dresses, and with their hair unfettered and flowing free. They were beautiful, smiling, holding out their hands; wanting me to join with them in a circle.
And as I joined hands with them, we began to dance and sing. Oh, what a wonderful song, so sweet. I wish I could remember the words. Round and round we whirled and I realised they must be fairy folk. There were some young men too, clad in tunics of the most vibrant colours!
Rebecca: Then what happened?
Martin: I don’t remember. I just remember awakening, feeling sad that my fairy friends were gone. Forgive an old man his whimsy.
Rebecca: Don’t be silly, father. Ah, here comes the waitress with our eggs.
Martin: Ah, and here comes Nicholas too, looking a bit the worse for wear, if I may say so!
Rebecca: Good morning, darling!
Nicholas (to waitress): No food for me thank you. Good morning, Martin. Good morning, Becky.
Martin: How are you feeling? Becky tells me you sat up late with a pair of antique dealers, no doubt you had many tales to swap!
Nicholas: I can’t really remember the conversation; I just remember waking up at about six with a sore head. I took a couple of aspirin and went back to bed. Then I had a strange dream.
Rebecca: Have some coffee and toast, at least, and do tell us, whilst we eat.
Nicholas: Well, I was in a garden, similar to the grounds of this hotel, but unkempt, like it’d been left for many years. Statues with moss on them and the grass long. It was night and there was a bright moon. There was a rectangular pool, I think with a fountain in the centre. But the cement around the pool was cracked and there were grass and weeds growing in it. I imagined it once held golden carp.
Martin: Did you see a large fountain, down in a depression?
Nicholas: No. But I heard singing. Tuneful voices of men and women. Then they appeared, the women in long diaphanous dresses, and the men in green and red tunics.
Martin: By Jove, Nick. That’s almost the same dream I had! Did you dance with them?
Nicholas: Yes, I did. They whirled around and around in a circle, and I joined hands with them and whirled around with them.
Martin: Do you remember what they sang?
Nicholas: No, but it was very beautiful. Wait a minute, I remember something else. There were big cats there, you know, lions, tigers, pumas, leopards, that sort of thing, but they were all friendly. You could pet them and they had these deep, rumbling purrs. I was so sad to wake up and find them all gone.
Scene 2 – Nicholas and Rebecca’s bedroom
Rebecca: Well I must say, it wasn’t helpful of you getting plastered last night and embarrassing me at breakfast just now.
Nicholas: Plastered! I had a few whiskeys, that’s all.
Rebecca: No doubt neat with very little ice, judging from the smell when you came to bed.
Nicholas: You were asleep!
Rebecca: How could I sleep with the racket you made undressing, banging into all sorts?
Nicholas: Well, why didn’t you speak to me?
Rebecca: Isn’t it obvious? I didn’t want you … pawing me in that horrid state.
Nicholas: What about you? Letting Lucy go wandering on her own. She’s a young girl, she should have someone with her at all times.
Rebecca: Don’t be so damned old-fashioned, Nick. Lucy is eighteen, she’s no longer a child, not in the eyes of the law even.
Nicholas: Maybe not, but she’s our child. You might not care if she gets assaulted but I do!
Rebecca: Don’t be vile! Of course I care about Lucy, just that she’s a young woman, and as a young woman, she can make her own decisions, well, some of them anyway. And if she wants to go for a walk on the beach to take the air of a morning, well, why shouldn’t she? If you hadn’t such a hangover, you could have gone too.
Nicholas: Anyway, what on Earth do you mean about me embarrassing you at breakfast? All I did was recount a dream, almost the same dream as your father’s as I recall!
Rebecca: Do you know, Nick, that dream’s been playing on my mind. I’m not sure that I didn’t dream of that garden myself. But I’ve never been one for indulging in dreams, as you know. One of us has to live in the real world when bringing up a child!
Nicholas: Look, arguing about Lucy isn’t going to do any good, is it? Should we go and look for her, do you think?
Rebecca: Well, they stop serving breakfast at nine. I don’t want her to go hungry. I think we should take a walk along the seafront in any case. The air will do us both good. And probably help clear your head too!
Scene 3 – The Beach
Woman on the Beach: Well, good morning to you. It’s a fine day.
Lucy: Indeed, it is ma’am.
WOTB: See all the pretty shells, my dear. If you look carefully you may find pieces of jet.
WOTB: Jet is fossilized wood, my dear, black as the ace of spades. (Laughing) Black as a witch’s eyes! Didn’t you know?
Lucy: Yes, now I recall the name.
WOTB: Don’t you just love the smell of the sea, my dear?
Lucy: Yes, a delight for the senses. I’m an art student.
WOTB: Well, my dear, you are in your element here. The waves washing on the sand, the smell of the brine, the beautiful shells in their many colours. And if you look carefully, you may see a crab scuttling across the sand.
Lucy: Do you live in this town?
WOTB: In a manner of speaking, my dear. What about you?
Lucy: Oh, I’m staying with my grandfather and my parents at Reboc Hill Hotel.
WOTB: Yes, it’s a lovely place, my dear, and the gardens!
Lucy: Yes, the gardens on the hillside are so pretty. Last night I awoke in the early hours. I couldn’t get back to sleep so took a walk out in the moonlight.
WOTB: Ah, yes, the moon is waxing and bright. The full moon’s just four days away.
Lucy: Do you know the hotel?
WOTB: Very well, my dear, I used to work in the kitchens at one time … many years ago.
Lucy: Well, I went down through the gardens and down some steps to the road.
WOTB: Ah, yes, those steps get wet at times. That’s why there’s a rope down the side. They’re steep as well.
Lucy: That’s right. They were wet and steep, so I held onto the rope you can be sure!
WOTB: And beyond the road, my dear?
Lucy: Well, beyond the road was a garden, a garden abandoned it would seem.
WOTB: But beautiful in the moonlight is it not?
Lucy: Yes, I wished I’d had my sketchpad and some charcoal.
WOTB: And what saw you there?
Lucy: Well, it’s left to ruin. A huge fountain in a special area with an earth wall around it, but no water. A long pool, empty of fish and water, the cement cracked and broken and a little curved bridge, over … nothing!
WOTB: That’s right, it was a folly constructed by his Lordship, long ago. And what did you see there, my dear, if I may be so bold as to ask?
Lucy: That’s alright. Well, I wandered amongst the moonlit grass and trees and there was a semi-circle of cream-coloured stone seats. I sat on one, it was so peaceful I wanted to stay there forever!
WOTB: (picking something up) Look at this, my dear, a lovely piece of jet. Put it in your handbag now.
Lucy: Oh, thank you!
WOTB: And what happened in the garden then?
Lucy: Well, I saw a circle of what I believe were fairy folk!
WOTB: Well, my dear, what we see with our own eyes should not be disbelieved!
Lucy: And they sang a beautiful song as they danced around in a circle, all about love and the harmony of the Earth. And there were lions and tigers and such, perfectly tame!
WOTB: And you joined in the dance?
Lucy: I did ma’am, and it was glorious, dancing and singing in the moonlight.
WOTB: And your family were with you, were they not, your grandfather and your parents?
Lucy: They were! But translucent, I could see through them! How could you know?
WOTB: That was their spiritual form; their physical bodies are long gone.
Lucy: What on earth do you mean? They are in the hotel!
WOTB: Alas, my dear, that hotel was hit by a doodlebug in 1944 and completely destroyed. The only part that survived was the garden of which you speak.
Lucy: But how can that be?
WOTB: Look, there they are! Down the beach. Do you see?
Lucy: I see a group of people waving. I cannot see who they are.
WOTB: Take these binoculars, my dear. Now, do you see?
Lucy: Yes, I see my father, Nicholas, and my mother, Rebecca, and there is my grandfather, Martin!
WOTB: And do you see any others?
Lucy: Yes, there’s Miriam, my grandmother, oh, and my other grandma and grandad too, and Auntie Jean and Uncle Bill, they’re there waving too! Oh, but they’re … dead.
WOTB: They’re no more dead than you and me, my dear. See them wave! Let us walk to join them.
Lucy: But … the hotel?
WOTB: The hotel’s long gone, my dear. You’ve all been re-living that last day, before the doodlebug hit, for so long. It’s time to move on. Come on, let’s go down the beach to meet them, then we can go on.
Lucy: Go on … to where?
WOTB: To wherever you want to go, my dear … to wherever you want to go.
Featured in the book, The Window Crack’d and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Horror and the Supranatural
- To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2021 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.
- If you are interested in joining Write Away, a fortnightly story group (giving a choice of 250, 500 or 750 word assignments) please contact me and I’ll be pleased to send details.
- Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 350!