VIEOVITA | The Kiss of Life

It was only a window that separated illusion from reality at the Secret Garden Greenhouse.

Outside, Jack Frost reigned, covering his casualties in a thick layer of ice. But reality was rather grim, and Eden Windsong much preferred to stay inside, where hundreds of flower-heads lined the greenhouse benches like soldiers. Eden liked to imagine they were preparing for battle against the wicked winter general.

"Eden!" came a bellow from behind a cluster of ferns, snapping her out of her reverie, "Can you spare a hand?"

She stuck her head through the thicket just in time to see her father struggling beneath a pyramid of potted plants. One slipped and shattered. Eden grabbed a few of the others before they could meet the same fate, placing them clumsily on the bench to her left.

"I'll get a broom?" she proffered, surveying the damage.

His sigh turned to a half-hearted grin. "How did a schmuck like me get a daughter like you?"

"You're just lucky, I s'pose."

He ran fingers through his gnarled hair. "I imagine you get it from your mother," he said wistfully.

She bit her lip as though it would repress the emotions that bred like bacteria within her mind.

Eden's mother committed suicide the year she turned thirteen. She closed the garage door, left the family minivan running, inhaled Death and exhaled her soul in bits and pieces through the cracks in the drywall. They deemed it "postpartum depression," for it was right after the miscarriage of her little-brother-to-be, but Eden was thirteen, and didn't understand. Frankly, she didn't think she'd ever understand. Hoped she never would.

But mental instability was a vine entangling her family tree.

Most girls at thirteen were frightened by spiders or snakes or other trivialities, but Eden had been terrified of herself, of her sanity. She couldn't fathom ending her own life. For although every pastor's son and evolutionist thinks they know what's beyond death, in all reality, nobody does.

"Sorry Eddy," her dad whispered, pulling her into a tight hug. Then hesitated, "I know--I know you don't like talking about her. I just...I can't..." His voice choked.

"It's all right, Dad," she said.

"Why don't you go home? I'll clean up this mess and lock her up for the night."

She was The Secret Garden Greenhouse and Floral and she would always be her father's pride and joy. The idea struck him right out of high school, and with a little help from Eden's capitalist grandfather, she was born. After her mother's death, his hours multiplied, and it became one of those unspoken, universally-accepted truths that her father refused to be isolated with the ghost that lurked within the shadows of their garage and danced between the half-empty linen sheets of their queen-sized bed.

"Thanks, Dad," she murmured warmly.

The sun was setting as Eden drove down Main Street towards downtown Lakegrove. The sky reminded her of impressionist painting, swirls of red and orange at the base, transcending into indigo embedded with silver stars. Lakegrove, was, euphemistically, a quaint town. Main Street stretched three or four miles, The Secret Garden marked its mouth, tapering to a small selection of privately-owned businesses and emptying into her high school parking lot. Irritatingly enough, there wasn't a lake within miles; nevertheless, Eden liked to imagine that at one point there had been a small pond that had withered away under the effects of succession.

One of these privately-owned businesses held the key to Eden's soul beneath its floorboards. Between the Lines was a rustic old bookstore owned by the eccentric Ms. Torivala. She'd always adored books and their ability to weave an alternate existence within your psyche, one filled with venturous and amorous intrigue. Her mother always told her there was a warrior princess trapped within her that vied for adventure. Somehow she doubted she'd ever become a "warrior princess," in fact, she found them to be obnoxiously cliche. Nonetheless, she could never deny her desire for emprise.

The door to Between the Lines was painted in a deep scarlet that had chipped along its borders. At eye level, a stained glass window depicted rays of light emanating from a gilded book. A tiny brass bell above the door sounded as she entered, pushing through the strands of glass beads that hung from the doorway like angel's hair. Ms. Torivala gave a shrill squeal as she stepped inside.

"Eden, Daahling, it's wonderful to see you, simply wonderful" she drawled, her large olive eyes sparkling beneath thick rectangular spectacles. Brightly woven shawls with intertwined metallic thread hung from her thin shoulders, and unkempt silver hair framed her face like a lion's mane.

"Hello, Ms. Torivala," Eden laughed as she put a wizened arm across her shoulder and brought her to the nearest row of books.

"Look, my sweet, several new additions came in this past week. We've got Elmwood Travesties, that's a thriller, and The Moon Sings Alamo, oh, how heart-wrenching. Simply romantic, nearly too much for this old heart to bear," she swooned, bangles clanking on her wrist as she placed a delicate hand to her forehead as though about to collapse in a dead faint.

"Thanks, Ms. Torivala, but I think I'm just going to look around for a little bit if that's all right," she suggested, drinking in scent of the leather and parchment.

"Yes, yes, of course my deeah, anything you please."

Eden ran her fingers along the old threadbare spines and mahogany shelves. Time after time, the static seemed to jump off the pages, funneling through her flesh and sending shivers down her spinal chord. She sidled to the small fantasy selection, barely able to leash her euphoria. Pupils flew excitedly from title to title, begging for a new safehaven. She sifted through familiar novels until on caught her interest. The book was a work of art, crafted of genuine leather that had been dyed a deep ruby; intricate patterns swirled along the edges, narrowing along the title, VIEOVITA. She was implored to pick it up, tenderly stroking its brittle backbone as one might an old, beloved pet. Biting her lip anxiously, she flipped to the first page.

But Ms. Torivala, while endearing, couldn't take a hint. The old woman snatched the book out of her hands, clicking her tongue in dismay.

"My daahling, I show you such fine literary masterpieces and you pick up this old thing?"

"I found this gathering dust in the store room behind my desk. Heaven's knows how long it's been back there. Never read it myself, no, never even--," Ms. Torivala stopped, gasping for air.

Eden screamed. It was as though ink had seeped from Ms. Torivala's pupils into her irises, transforming her eyes into shards of obsidian rock. Her face sagged more than usual, looking rather sallow and jaundice.

She imagined a tiny devil on her shoulder, pointing towards the door and yelling something like 'Run while you still have the chance you dumb girl! Forget the old hag!' but when Ms. Torivala leaned back against the shelves and became laced with convulsions, she couldn't help but side with her overwhelming conscience, the devil's angelic counterpart. Placing an an arm on Ms. Torivala's shoulder, she pulled out her cellphone, dialing 9-1-1 with tremulous hands.

"9-1-1, Emergency Services, how may I help you?" a woman on the other end asked.

"I'm in a small bookstore in Lakegrove called Between the Lines," Eden gulped, trying to steady her voice as Ms. Torivala slumped to the floor, "The store owner has just collapsed, and she's convulsing. I, uh, I think we need an ambulance."

"I'm dispatching one as you speak Ma'am, please stay in the store and try to pin the victim's appendages to prevent her from harming herself. Are you certified in CPR?"

"Yes," she whispered nervously, praying she wouldn't have to use it.

"If the victim ceases breathing or loses consciousness and shows signs of cardiovascular failure, carry out CPR procedures until emergency units can safely transport them to the nearest hospital."

The woman sounded like a robot with a fine selection of pre-recorded messages. Eden hung up the phone after a quick thank-you and knelt next to Ms. Torivala as she began to murmur some indistinguishable gibberish. She pinned her arms against her body as the receptionist had directed, but her efforts were fruitless, for the convulsions had softened to mere twitching. Eden thought perhaps she had fainted when, without warning, her body tensed and she grabbed Eden's forearm tightly with pale, skeletal fingers. Ms. Torivala sobbed, obviously having trouble breathing, and Eden thought she was going to be nauseous. She closed her eyes, trying to remember the steps to CPR that she'd learned in Babysitter's Education class last year. How many times were you supposed to pump on their chest before breathing? And what if they have a pulse? What then?

Ms. Torivala was listless, jaw unhinged, eyes, under the glaze of shadows, simply stared on eerily. "Ms. Torivala!" she cried, her heart pounding like a dysfunctional metronome, "Breathe!"

She tore the shawls from old woman's frail shoulders and gently laid her on the cherry=wood flooring. Her fingers probed at her sternum, feeling for a heartbeat, but not even the slightest vibration sparked her nerves, so she began to pump. Eden puckered up, preparing to give the whimsical book keeper the kiss of life, but froze when she saw a black mist gathering her parted lips. The shadow coalesced, twisting and turning into a vaguely humanoid shape with cold, onyx flesh. Viscerally, Eden backed up, crabwalking on her hands and heels. She'd never witnessed death before and skeptically wondered if this was normal. Somehow, she doubted it. Smoke poured from Ms. Torivala's mouth and Eden made a frantic effort to escape, adrenaline coursing through her bloodstream like liquid hysteria.

As Eden staggered to her feet, the black smoke seeped into her mouth and nose. She had never felt so helpless before. Her throat burned as though coated in a corrosive acid and her torso began to shudder with violent spasms. She decided this was the end. Black patches began to float just above her vision and faintly, she wondered if she was losing consciousness or if the thing was invading her mind like parasitic ectoplasm straight from the horror films. Slipping into unconsciousness, though it was probably psychosomatic, she swore she heard a soft cackling, lost in the blaring of sirens.