No Regrets by Elaine Leet

Submitted into Contest #48 in response to: Write the 'origin story' of a person who goes on to achieve great things.... view prompt



“Start a garden,” they said.

“It’ll cheer you up,” they said. 

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,” they quoted Audrey Hepburn.

I was carrying some weighty regrets from the past. They smiled, a lot. I would like to smile more.  

“A nice little plot in the community garden. You don’t have to dig up your lawn, and it’s already fenced to keep rabbits and deer out,” they said. 

“That rich soil the Davis Brothers brought in from the river bed grows great stuff,” they said. 

I gave in and planted four clumps of leafy green stuff. The garden center associate swore they were tomatoes. It looked like Weed, capital W, to me. I gave her a wink and told her I was glad she understood my needs.

“You can stretch and grow vegetables at the same time,” they said.

The next afternoon I knelt next to the raised bed and scratched away at the soil with the metal fingers of a garden tool.  Outside the fence, my Husky drowsed in the shade of a maple tree. I sat up and massaged my lower back. 

I scattered tiny little seeds, maybe lettuce, maybe carrots, over the loosened soil. A weed, lower case w, had sprouted, at least I thought it was probably a weed, lowercase w, next to one of the “tomato” plants. I murdered it and yanked it out of the ground. This might have some value as therapy. 

“You’ll get your vitamin D and a tan,” they said.

I mopped sweat from my forehead and groaned.

“Commune with Nature. Dirt therapy is a real thing. It’s even good for impotence,” they said.

I shoved the spade deep into the plot to bury, I mean plant, potatoes. 

They never said there would be screaming, sirens, flashing lights, and lots and lots of questions. 

Yep, it was all tolerable. Right up to the moment I dug up a human skull. 


I had just shoveled the second scoop out of the potato hole when Muriel Skinner opened the gate and rattled off her advice for the day. “You should have planted those potatoes two weeks ago. They need--” She stopped mid-sentence to stare. “What’s that?” Muriel asked pointing to the soil I had just turned over. 

I bent down for a closer look. A white curved object was partially covered with dirt. I nudged it with my foot. The soil dribbled away from the white shape and two dark holes stared back at me. 

“It’s just a Halloween toy that somebody pitched in here last fall,” I responded.  

I picked up the skull. I brushed away tiny clumps of soil clinging to the white surface. I felt my hands tingle. Nope, this thing was not plastic. Too heavy. It took both hands to hold the skull even though it could easily fit in one. 

Muriel came around for a closer look. Her mouth hung open. My eyes were drawn to the beaver size buck teeth she tried to keep hidden. She could be a lumberjack’s best friend with those things. Her jaw dropped and I could see clear back to her uvula. Then she screamed and took a step back. She fell over my shovel, did a fast crab walk backward, rolled over, and scrambled on all fours toward the gate.

I looked back at the skull in my hands. I blinked. The eyes glowed red and they looked straight at me. My hands trembled. I felt crawly bugs on my arms. I screamed. Muriel was still screaming when she took off toward the parking lot. The skull flew from my hands and over the fence.

My dog had gotten on her feet when the screaming started, but she didn’t see any need to get involved until the chunk of bone landed next to her. She gave it a sniff, then laid down to gnaw on it. 

My horrified voice commanded, “Cleo, drop it!”

For once she did as she was told. The skull rolled down the bank toward the river.

Screw gardening.

I tromped right across my garden plot, untangled Cleo from around the tree, and loaded her into my car. Gardening did not hold a lot of promise, so I was content to leave the garden tools where they were. It took maybe twenty minutes for the first policeman to arrive. He listened to Muriel’s hysterical rendition of what had happened and stretched yellow tape from the parking lot to the river bank and around the garden fence. I stood next to my Subaru waiting for my turn to answer questions. 

My hands had stopped shaking, but the crawly bug feeling was still on my arms. I got a moist wipe and tried to scrub it away. No luck. I wiped some more.

The policeman got around to asking for my ID. As he returned my driver’s license a jolting electrical shock passed between us. He jerked his hand back and shook his arm out. “That was a surprise.” His face turned serious again. “You say you found the skull in the garden?”


“Then how did it get over the six-foot fence and halfway down the bank to the river?”

“I didn’t think it was real. At first, I thought it was a plastic Halloween thing.” I continued to wipe my arms. “I figured it got chucked over the fence last fall and it got covered with a load of soil they brought in just before the first snow. Then I picked it up and it wasn’t plastic, and the eyes...and I panicked and I thought… I didn’t think. I went flying over the fence.

“And then it rolled down the bank?”

I got a rag from the trunk of my car, doused it in the liquid from the wipes container and my drinking water, and continued to wipe my arms, more vigorously now. 

“Um, not exactly. dog was tied to that tree just outside the fence. She started chewing on it, and I told her to drop it, and then the skull, it kind of bounced down the bank.” Wipe, rub, wipe.

“What’s wrong with your arms?”

“They kind of tingle, like bugs are crawling on my skin. Maybe poison ivy. You never can tell what will get planted in a community garden.”

“You mentioned the eyes…”

“I, uh, I could swear the eyes glowed red, but that must be a,” I paused, shrugging, “just my imagination, right? It couldn’t really glow. Sorry, I freaked. There is just no other word for it. Oh, and by the way, the garden centered assured me those plants were tomatoes.” I leaned against the car still wiping my arms. I looked to the cop, hoping he would confirm my theory about the eyes.

“Miss, are you on any medication? Do you use recreational drugs? Something to help you lose weight?”

“You think I need to lose more? I just dropped nearly twenty pounds. I thought I was doing pretty good.” My hands were shaking again. I rubbed my arms with increasing vigor. 

“Maybe a little street Adderall to work off the last couple of pounds?”

My arms were red from the rubbing. “No. No drugs.”

He gave me an “I’ll give you one more chance…” look.

“No.” I began to use my nails on the creepy crawlies.

He made some notes and told me to stick around.

At last my crawlies went away. Either that or I had scraped the nerves into shock.

I kept my eyes on the cop as he collected the skull. No red eyes when he held it in his gloved hand. He conferred with the state policeman newly arrived on the scene. I wondered if they were any better at the Telephone Game than my classmates had been in third grade. 

More police with shovels appeared and began systematically digging up each of the garden plots.

From outside the yellow tape, Muriel yelled, her teeth flashing in the rays of the sun. “Hey, there’s nothing in my plot. Get out of there. The peas are almost ripe. The leaf lettuce just got big enough. No, don’t…” 

A cop went after her plot with a vengeance. She glared at me. I shrugged.

The Statie told me I could go, but to stay available by phone.

My hands had stopped shaking, again. At the Stop’n’Go I got a bottle of water and a pack of crackers for the drive home. I decided to take the interstate to cut off a few miles that country roads would add to the trip.

Cleo grabbed a couple of my crackers and stuck her head out the window to catch the breeze.

My mind wandered to the dark shadows that had been descending on me for months. For the zillionth time, I played back the situations that still haunted me.  The drama that paralyzed me with shocked. All of the stuff that came out of a clear blue sky to smack me right between the eyes. If only…I could have saved myself from rejection, better still I could have maybe caught that girl before she ran across the median into traffic to escape the man pursuing her with a gun. I could still see her bouncing off the fender of the SUV. From years of reviewing that scene, I knew exactly what I would do, every step, even if I was wrong about what I was seeing, I would do something. 

That’s when things got weird. 

Dusk was falling and fog was rolling in from the mountains. A few cars traveling the interstate had turned their lights on adding red to the stream of white in the oncoming lane. A half mile ahead a car was parked on the right shoulder with a man vomiting from the passengers’ side. 

This was right out of the dark shadow I’d been thinking about. The crawlies were swarming my arms again, but now they seemed to be going the opposite direction.

Ahead, the driver’s door opened and a teenage girl jumped out. She tore across the lane and dashed into the median. The man jumped from the car and pursued her. 

“Hell, no! Not again!” I screamed. Cleo cowered in the back seat.

I would not fail this girl again. This time I knew what to do.

I punched the 4-way flashers, floored the gas pedal, and swerved into the passing lane. I drove my Outback onto the median chasing the pair.

Within seconds I had passed the man and fishtailed to a stop in front of the girl. I leaned over and swung the passenger’s door open. “Get in! Get in!”

The girl fell into the seat slamming the door. I engaged the lock from my control panel and put the car in first gear at the same time. 

The man caught up, yanked on the door, and pounded on the roof. “Get back here, you little cunt!” he yelled as I pressed the accelerator. 

I commanded, “Cleo, down!” as I shifted into second, and she flattened into the seat. He pulled a gun. A bullet zinged across the backseat and through the opposite window. I prayed the undercarriage wouldn’t get torn out, and we careened through a deep patch of mud.

“It’s okay,” I told her. “I’ve got you.”

“He said he was taking me to see Times Square, but I heard him on his phone. He was gonna sell me!” the girl told me between tearful gulps.

After two hours of waiting with the girl, Victoria her name was, at the police station, and several retellings of the events on the highway, the parents arrived. I secured Cleo to the seatbelt in the front passengers seat and we headed home feeling pretty good about ourselves. 

No one had asked how I knew what to do. I remembered the sensation in my arms as I recognized the situation on the highway. The same sensation I had first gotten when I picked up that old skull. 

After Cleo was fed I settled down to Google some suspicions that were developing in my head. I checked out the Davis Brothers who had brought in the garden soil and located the area the riverbed the soil had come from. Newspaper records from 1829 described a flood that cut out the riverbank below the Allen family cemetery. The headstones and remains were washed into the river and downstream. I checked the family tree site and found photos of old-timers. The family tree sported the family motto and lots of photos dating way back. Unlike the photos of most people of the time, these people wore smiles back to Anna Allen.  

Late in the night, I found one of Anna’s journals at the local historical society site. The diary had been digitized as part of a high school history project. In the early pages, Anna recorded her deepest regrets and her heartfelt prayers to avoid calamities in the future. Without explanation, her tone changed drastically half-way through the diary. She began to relate dramatic stories of drowning children rescued, fires squelched by a handy bucket of water, and contaminated drinking water avoided. She expressed the fervent hope that her descendants would be able to avoid the heavy weight of  remorse. 

Could it be that I picked up the skull of a member of the Allen family? Could my overriding regret have keyed into the ability of the Allens to somehow correct the opportunities I screwed up in the past? Not exactly a super power, I guess, but I can’t wait to try this out tomorrow.

Each of the remaining pages were headed with what became the family motto, “No Regrets.”

July 04, 2020 02:53

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