Pure Garden

Vivi Dai October 21, 2021
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“I heard that many infants were abandoned in my country. Is that true?”
The king’s face was pale, and wrinkles were carved deep between his brows.
The Minister of Civil Affairs stepped forward and knelt, “My Lord, under your wise rule, everyone is having a happy life. There is absolutely no such horrible thing.”
“You are a liar.”
The king motioned with his hand in disgust. Two guards immediately dragged the minister out, and no one ever saw him again.
“Your wisdom is immense, my Lord. There are indeed some orphans in our country,” the Minister of Social Stability couldn’t control his trembling before adding, “but only a few, and the situation is under total control…”
“How many exactly?” the king cut him off.
“The number has yet to be verified, but I assure you that they won’t cause any trouble…”
“Shut up. You are incompetent.”
The king motioned to the guards once again. They dragged the minister out, his long wails leaving a lasting impression on his colleagues.
“I plan to build a Pure Garden next to the royal palace.” The king rested his cheek on his hand and raising his puffy eyelids whispered, “Go find those unwanted infants. I’ll let them live in the Pure Garden so they can have a happy life from now on.”
“You are so merciful, my Lord! Long live my Lord!”
The ministers cheered, tears streaming down their faces in emotion. Two of them even fainted from excitement and woke up only after being pinched hard.
The news that the king was going to build a garden for unwanted babies soon spread throughout the country. Many poor people were struggling to feed their families, so when they heard this, to show their gratitude, they bowed three times in the direction of the palace. In a short time, long lines snaked far beyond the registration offices.
However, the king did not accept all the babies, but only newborns who had not yet opened their eyes.
“The Pure Garden will be a paradise without any dark emotions,” the king said in a hoarse voice, “so those who can live there must never have seen any sorrow or pain in the world. Otherwise, a shadow of impurity will appear in their eyes, which can never be removed, thus spoiling the greatest joy of the garden.”
“My Lord, you are so wise!” the ministers exclaimed in unison.
Soon, the king’s Pure Garden was finished. It was built with gold and ivory and surrounded by high crimson walls, blocking all curious eyes. One hundred newborn babies, carefully selected from all over the country, moved in. True to his words, the king sent his most loyal guards, gentlest maids, best doctors and cooks to diligently care for the babies twenty-four hours a day.
As expected, those lucky children grew up in a life full of unimaginable joy. They wore fancy clothes made of the finest silk, collars and cuffs embroidered with silver flowers, buttons made of exquisite pearls, each as big as the eye of a chub. They ate the most expensive food from all over the world, such as white truffles that could only be found under white oak trees, tenderloin of black pigs that grew up eating only acorns, beluga sturgeon roe from the Caspian Sea, and red wine from the Mojave Desert. According to law, children were not allowed to drink alcohol, but the king had said, “How can we fully taste the deliciousness of life without wine?” So wine became the essential drink on the dining table of the Pure Garden.
Not only did the king provide material luxury for the children, but he also didn’t forget to meet their spiritual needs. The whole garden was covered with soft grass, and colorful wildflowers bloomed all year round. Sweet fruits hung from branches for the children to pick and bite. Exotic birds cheerfully danced near a heart-shaped pond containing a musical fountain.
The king also prepared exciting entertainment. From a corn maze to a theme park, from an aquarium to a zoo, the children were free to play anytime they wanted and often fell asleep in exhaustion wherever they happened to be.
However, there was one thing that the king never allowed in the Pure Garden, and that was a book. The king also forbade teachers to enter the garden because he thought there was no reason for the children to become literate.
“Learning is hard work and puts a lot of pressure on the children. Also, once they learn to read, they will get thirsty for knowledge, and begin to think independently. Thinking is a painful thing. It will make people lose their appetite or sleep badly, which is incompatible with the happy atmosphere in the Pure Garden.”
Some people shared and applauded the king’s vision, but many others had a vague feeling that something was wrong. However, no one dared to question the king because he spoke with such a majestic demeanor as if everything he said was self-evident. So once again, the whole country erupted in cheers, supporting the king’s profound decision.
As days went by, the children grew up quickly in the Pure Garden. They had never experienced any sorrow or pain, so there was not even the slightest hint of a shadow in their eyes. Their eyes were as pure as crystal, and anyone who looked at them would immediately be enchanted.
One morning, a five-year-old boy raised his eyes and looked up at the vast blue sky. A completely new feeling arose in his heart, and that was the curiosity about the unknown world.
“What is on the outside?” he asked, holding up his hand and pointing to the crimson wall.
“Do you want to go and see? Let me take you.” The guard who was standing nearby seemed to be prepared for this question and bent down to carry the boy away.
That boy never returned to the Pure Garden. He disappeared quietly, just like a drop disappearing in water. When other children asked about him, the maids smiled and simply replied, “He went to live with the king.”
After that, the children disappeared one after another. As the Pure Garden became a little empty, the king began to look for new babies. This time, not only the poor families, but even the middle-class families raced to get their children selected because they had heard that the children who grew up in the Pure Garden would become the king’s guards in the future, receiving generous salaries, and even their parents could get life-long pensions.
Fifty years passed in a flash. Most of the parents who had sent their children to the Pure Garden grew old, and some of them had passed away, but they never saw their children again, let alone shared the glory and exclusive benefits they had dreamed of.
Meanwhile, the king had not aged at all. In fact, he was even younger than before as if a magical hand had smoothed his wrinkles and eased his puffy eyelids.
Finally, someone noticed something. It was a hunter who lived in the forest outside the capital and enjoyed a simple life of self-sufficiency. In the spring of that year, while tracking a wild fox, he suddenly saw two men in black entering the deep forest. They threw a linen sack into a black swamp. They waited until the sack had completely sunk under the sticky foam, then quickly left.
Their odd behavior caught the hunter’s attention, and later he discovered that every week or two, two men would come into the forest and throw a sack into the swamp. The hunter was not sure if it was the same men every time, because they always wore thick masks.
Soon, winter came. One day, it was extremely cold after a blizzard. The blinding sun shone on the glittering blanket of ice and snow. A small bird was frozen in flight and fell lifelessly to the ground.
In the early afternoon that day, two men appeared in the forest. One was leading the way, and the other was carrying a sack on his shoulders. They struggled to walk on the thick snow, staggering like drunks.
“What bad luck that it’s our turn today!” The one carrying the sack uttered, gasping for breath.
“Are you complaining?” His partner answered coldly without turning his head.
“No, I’m not! It’s just… too cold.”
“Do you think I like this? But we have to obey orders.”
“Yes, you are right.”
As they spoke, the two reached the edge of the swamp slipping and sliding. The one in front tapped the ground with his left foot and frowned, “Sure enough, the swamp has frozen up.”
“Damn, do we need to carry this back?”
“No, that will be too much trouble. Let’s bury it under the snow. It will disappear once the swamp thaws.”
“Will someone find this?”
“You idiot, who would come to this deserted place except us?”
“Yes, you are right.”
After burying the sack deep in the snow, the two left with their arms wrapped tightly around their bodies in an effort to keep warm.
Once the sound of their footsteps could no longer be heard, leaving the forest in a profound silence, the hunter then crawled out from an abandoned den under a tree where he had been hiding. He quickly dug the sack out of the snow with a shovel and carried it back home.
The sun sank over the far mountain. After lighting a fire in the hearth, the hunter nervously untied the sack as if he were opening a treasure box. The first thing he saw was two small greenish-white feet, which were as clean as untouched snow.
“Is it a doll?”
The hunter grabbed the sack and shook it hard. The thing inside slipped out. By the light of the fire, the hunter’s mouth opened in a frozen scream, all the hair on the back of his neck standing up.
It was a boy no more than five years old. He was wearing an expensive suit embroidered with delicate silver flowers, but all the buttons had been removed, revealing a small body as cold and hard as jade. However, the most horrifying thing was that the boy’s face had no eyes, only two black holes.
Soon after, rumors began to spread. Some people said that the Pure Garden was hell on earth and the children who lived there were all eaten by the king. Others said that the king did not eat the children, but the eyes of the children. The king learned from a dark wizard that the only elixir of immortality in the world was pure eyes that had never seen a trace of unhappiness. When a child became curious about the unknown world, it was the time when the eyes became ripe and ready to eat. After their eyes had been plucked out, the cold bodies of the children were thrown into a black swamp deep in the forest. Some people even revealed that they had bought many pearls as big as chub eyes at a low price on the black market, and some of the pearls had dark red spots on them which looked like blood.
The king was furious when he learned of the rumors. He denounced the sinister intentions behind them and arrested the rumor-mongers. Many died in prison, and those who finally returned home were never the same again. They were numb most of the time and were easily frightened by strangers.
Soon, the rumors died down. People seemed to have completely forgotten the Pure Garden as if it had never existed. Once a year, a notice would appear in the national newspaper that the Pure Garden was accepting new babies. At that point, someone would whisper and sigh like the wind through a broken window, “That thing is still around,” and then hastily shut his mouth.
Meanwhile, the lines outside the registration offices were getting even longer. After years of publicity, the Pure Garden had earned its fame, and many people continued to come from distant places, hoping their babies could grow up in perfect happiness.

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