Dragon’s Food

I grabbed several Un-OLWG prompts and started to write. The full list is 18 prompts, plus one from one of tnkerr’s prompt preambles. The challenge I gave myself is to weave in all 19…eventually. The ones I used below are bolded.

Alana drove slowly up the broad gravel drive, stopping at a pair of ancient, 2-story high wrought-iron gates. Mrs. Blakeson did not mention a gated entrance, though Alana thought it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the entrance to a place like this would be gated. She got out and tried the gates but they were latched. She looked for a call box but saw none. She pulled out her cell from her pants pocket and dialed the number Mrs. Blakeson gave but only got voicemail.

She decided to drive around to the other side of the estate. Perhaps she was supposed to come to the back? The thought made her laugh. Why would anyone in this day and age expect someone of meaner circumstances to use the back entrance?

As she drove along the stone wall, Alana wondered how Eleanor Blakeson, the fifth great grandniece of Ezra Williams Chesham—the estate and family business founder—was able to not only maintain the sprawling nineteenth century Roswell Heights Estate within the city limits (though many century-plus-old mansions and manor homes still stood, the advent of the income tax forced almost all with large parcels to sell off their properties generations ago) but also maintain the company in private, family holdings. And, profitably, at that.

Ezra Chesham named his business Roswell Trading to honor his maternal grandmother who raised him. He dominated the import/export industry practically from the day he started. He began with the import of tea and export of cotton, which the company still trades in to this day, but every generation after Ezra expanded the company’s reach and prestige, making the Roswell name synonymous with all manner of international commerce, both legitimate and otherwise.

It was the reputed shady side of the company that had Alana concerned, and why she agreed to meet Mrs. Blakeson. Over the decades, other than the occasional intrepid journalist looking for a way in with a national publication, or an aspiring legal eagle vying for a job with US Attorney’s office, and Jack, of course; Amanda’s husband and one of Roswell’s top attorneys, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to acknowledge the company’s questionable dealings. Too many generations of families throughout the state depend on Roswell for their livelihood.

“Hon, honestly, don’t worry about it,” Jack assured Alana whenever she brought the subject up. “The bad old days are long gone, thanks to Blakesons. She and old man Blakeson really turned things around. They honestly wanted nothing to do with how things use to be. And Eleanor’s done a great job carrying on since Dean’s death. You’ll love meeting her.”

Still, the rumors persisted, so Alana worried. She trusted Jack, and certainly hoped he was right, but she had to see for herself what sort of person he worked for.

Alana drove past another narrow dirt drive, this one almost completely shrouded by two massive rhododendrons. She stopped, backed up and turned into it. The drive lead a short distance through an overgrown field to a brick wall surrounding the entire property. Between the exterior stone wall and the interior brick wall, the field seemed like some sort of moat.

She stopped when she reached an archway with a single wooden gate too small to drive through. Alana got out of her car and tried the gate. The gate gave way with the loud, groaning creak of long undisturbed wood, then suddenly lurched forward. Its rusted metal hinges screeched to a halt, forcing the gate to forcibly reverse backward, trapping Alana against the brick wall. She gave the gate a gentle push, but only the very top corner above her head yielded against the pressure.

“Hello?” Alana called out. “Hello? Mrs. Blakeson?”

Alana waited for a reply, regardless knowing none would come. She decided to risk squeezing through. Fortunately, the gate did not further collapse. Damaging property was not the first impression she wanted to make.

Needing a moment to get her bearings, Alana took a look around. The grounds were as heavily overgrown as the field between the street-side stone wall and interior brick wall. Ivy climbed high into the branches of enormous trees. Neglected fruit trees bent completely over to the ground with the weight of pathetically small and rotting apples, peaches and plums. Blackberry vines with morning glory snaking through covered every square inch of the interior brick wall. Grass, long since gone to seed and nearly as tall as Alana, swayed in the breeze. In various discernable places Alana glimpsed giant decorative shrubs, as well as lanky and twisted rose branches with a few small blooms, patches of ancient footpaths and the roof of a dilapidated gazebo barely visible above it all. At the head of it all stood the estate house, four stories tall, proud and oblivious of the sprawling unkempt grounds behind it, like a drum major leading a large out-of-tune and out-of-step marching band.

“Hello?” Alana called out again, as she began to pick her way through the overgrowth to what looked like the back entrance to the estate house. “Mrs. Blakeson? Hello? It’s Alana Borkowski! Hello?”

Alana came upon a small, manicured clearing. The sight of it caught her by surprise; it’s obvious careful attention a stark contrast to nature’s repossession behind her. Scattered around in various places were carefully tended plant pots of all sizes. As she looked around at the wide variety, each more exotic and unfamiliar as the next, she saw a solarium in the far reach of the garden, the sun cheerfully luminous against its clean glass panes and gleaming metal frame. Inside was someone walking back and forth. Alana walked across the clearing and opened the door.

“Mrs. Blakeson?” Alana called out.

The woman inside looked up from her work, surprised. “Oh! Hello! Goodness. How did you find your way back here? How can I help, dear?”

“I’m Alana Borkowski. Jack’s wife?” The two women shook hands. “It’s such a tremendous thing to finally meet you!” Alana said to the older woman.

“Alana? Oh, I’m afraid you’re a bit early, my dear,” Mrs. Blakeson replied.

“Early? Am I? I’m so sorry Mrs. Blakeson, I…”

“Call me Ellie, dear, please.”

“Ellie, uh… I’m so sorry! I thought we said eleven.”

“Yes. On Tuesday.”

“It is Tuesday. Uh, today is Tuesday. The 22nd, yes?”

“It is? Oh dear.” Mrs. Blakeson looked obviously confused.

“I can come back next Tuesday, if you rather,” Alana quickly offered.

“No, no, of course. It’s Tuesday, already? Goodness. No, no. Now you are here, lets dive in! Now, tell me, how’d you find me back here?”

“Well, the gate was locked, so I drove around, looking for a…”

“Oh, dear. I’m so sorry. I lost track of the days, or I would have unlocked the gate, of course. And been at home!”

“At home?”

“Not back here, I mean.”

“Of course. I’m so sorry for the confusion. Can I say, though, this is amazing,” Alana said, looking around the solarium. “I’ve never seen so many different sorts of plants in all my life.”

“Grew all from seed. Well, not every plant, of course, but most. Some came to me as seedlings. A few as young plants, but all grown by me.” Mrs. Blakeson turned to her guest. “Jack says you like to garden.”

Alana let out a scoff. “Yeah, but, not like this. I’m always too much on the run with kids and well, life, to have time for more than a couple of rose bushes and a couple of beds for annuals.”

“Well, we’ll fix that, won’t we? Come. Let me show you the tea plants. Direct descendants from the first Rosewell plantation!”

As they walked to the back of the solarium, Alana confessed to damaging the wood gate. “I will pay to have it fixed, of course.”

“So that’s how you got in, eh? That was the house staff entrance, back when rich people had things like full-time house and grounds keepers. I’m not surprised the gate is in a such a horrible state. Oh, I do apologize, dear. Don’t concern yourself. Do you know, I don’t think I’ve been out to that part of the property in years. I imagine it is horribly overgrown!”

“May I ask, why are there two exterior walls?”

“Hm? Oh, you mean the stone wall and the brick wall? Yes, well, Ezra Chesham’s grandson built the outer stone wall. The nefarious one, he was. The reason for most of Roswell’s troubles, I’m afraid, but it was the depression, I suppose. And then the war. Everyone was a bit scared of one thing or the other in those days. So much uncertainty. But we prevailed!”

Just as Alana started to ask another question, Mrs. Blakeson continued, “There! You see? That’s the Camellia sinensis, from which a vast majority of tea we buy in the store comes from. A cousin of the ornamental Camellia, but you wouldn’t want to drink from its leaves, no, no. Now, the one next to it I call Dragon’s Food. If you look closely and squint a bit, you can see a serpentine pattern on the leaf with what looks like a couple of wings. Always thought that looked like a dragon.”

Alana did as instructed. A clear dark mark wound its way from the tip of the leaf along the spine with a another perpendicular splotch near the base of the leaf that looked very much like a set of wings.

“Is this also native of Asia?” Alana asked.

“No, my dear. It only grows only here,” Mrs. Blakeson cast a long, smiling glance over the expanse of the solarium. Turning her attention back to the plant, she continued, “It’s mine. I made it. That is, I grafted a hybrid, of sorts. It’s great for pain, like my arthritis. I’m developing it for market. So far, it’s not viable, but we’ll get there. None of this is viable yet,” she continued with a sweep of her arm, “but, I tell you, this whole place is a natural pharmacy.”

(Where is their story heading, you ask? Good question.)


2 thoughts on “Dragon’s Food


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