Wayne is embedded in the sinister wilderness retreat where his sister disappeared. He can’t imagine what he’s about to discover.
Wayne tiptoed out of the massive cabin, careful to avoid the creaking spots on the floor that he’d memorized. Withina few steps, he left the dark, dusty cabin and entered the brilliant moonlight of the late summer midnight.
He crouched as he walked into the center of the campground of the Children of the Poor Toth.
He had been embedded here for a couple weeks. As a “sapling,” the cult’s word for bottom-rung initiates, he was required to do hard physical labor in return for a bunk and three meals a day.
They all reported to the senior members of the cult, or “Stewards.” There was a Kitchen Steward, who ran the meals; the Trunk Steward, who kept track of all the clothing collected from new saplings; and a Steward for a garden of every color. Wayne was assigned to assist the Red Steward, a large, jovial man with an enormous mustache and a concrete gut, like a powerlifter.
He passed a small copse of quivering aspen. He remembered the tree from seventh grade biology — they were actually all one tree, one massive organism underneath the soil. At the back of the copse of trees he turned left and entered a multicolored archway made of flowers that opened into a circle of archways made of ivy and branches.
He was encircled by eight archways made of twisting branches and vines and covered in flowers of a different color. There was the Yellow Garden, the Red Garden, the Blue Garden, the Violent Garden, and so on. The eighth garden was where Wayne had exited — the Garden Common, where the main campground was.
Wayne walked through an archway into the Yellow Garden. It was densely packed with aspen trees, their white skin and yellow leaves brilliant in the moonlight. He walked quickly behind a wall of sunflowers and turned to face the entranceway.
Within a few minutes, a barefoot young woman strolled in wearing a shirt and pants made from leather, cotton of all colors, and countless logos reshaped and reformed into a dishrag of a garment.