We're delighted to present an extract from The Garden, the new novel from award-winning poet and novelist Paul Perry, published by New Island.

On a devastated orchid farm in Southern Florida, Swallow, an Irish migrant worker and ex-marine, faces a reckoning in the illegal hunt for an endangered ghost orchid...


Blanchard pulled the truck over and onto the side of a dirt road. There were grasses, pines and palms as far as the eye could see. Tree cover meant we were out of sight, in case the Beast came by. And there were sprigs, and dashes of colour, reds and whites, throughout the scene which was dense with vegetation and thick with the sound of animal life, carrying on about its business, oblivious for now to our human intrusion.

Romeo and I untied the canoe and threw our supplies into it. We drank a beer and started to make our from the side of the road into the swamp. Harper first, followed by Blanchard, Romeo and I to the rear carrying the canoe.

And just like that we left one world and entered another, and as quickly a strange shiver went through me, as if something within my physical being knew this was a trespass of sorts. I'm sure we made a strange sight – a ragtag band of mercenaries, thrown together by the misaligned stars of fate. Pretty quickly I was out of breath; the air was thick with moisture. Sweat slid down my back and forehead, stung my eyes. We hiked through and over the mangrove. Romeo used a machete to cut his way through while Harper moved nimbly, seeming to know intuitively where and when to step.

'There.’ Harper pointed in the direction we were to go, but to be honest, all I saw were more trees, more water, more danger. Through the canopy, wispy white clouds were reflected in the water. There was something tranquil about them, but the image was not to be trusted. All I could think was that clouds conceal danger. Harper waded farther and deeper, the sunlight glinting off the water’s surface, shimmering, but beneath the surface of the water was darkness, and the rising smell was rank. Harper used his stick to lean on and push himself forward. With the dense foliage – palm, cypress and hardwood – the murk around us deepened.

I knew this place had been a dumping ground over the years. I knew we were walking on the watery graves of hundreds, if not thousands, of missing persons: men, women, slaves and convicts. The water was made of sunlight and blood. It entered my boots and rose up my leg – warm and wet and deadening.

‘I don’t know if I’m more afraid of snakes or gators,’ Romeo said, helping me navigate the canoe through the water.

Blanchard laughed out loud.

‘What’s so funny?’ Romeo wanted to know.

‘One will bite,’ Blanchard said, ‘the other will drown you, tear you to pieces, and eat you.’

He laughed some more.

‘Okay, I get it,’ Romeo said. Then he looked at me, all bug-eyed, and said ‘asshole’ under his breath. ‘When do we get in this thing?’ he said, pushing the canoe. I told him a little further on, once the water got deeper.

‘Which way now, Harper?’ Blanchard said.

Harper pointed to a roseate spoonbill feeding, and we stopped to watch it briefly. Its white neck was like a bar of light, and there was a streak of red across its plumage that looked like dripping blood.

We pushed on. Underfoot was quicksand. With each step it was like the ground was about to give way. It made us hurry, even though I knew we needed to take our time and be careful. Pretty soon, the water was up to our chests. I can’t say I felt any better than Romeo. He hung back. The mosquitos were everywhere, small dark clouds of them, buzzing and biting.

‘Come on,’ I called out to Romeo. ‘We need you too.

Don’t want to lose out on the glory, do you?’

He grunted. ‘What’s the expression you have in English,’ he said, pointing to Harper, ‘the blind leading the blind.’

‘I believe that’s the one you’re looking for,’ I said. He laughed a frantic laugh, a yelp more like it, and heaved himself through the water. I thought of his near-drowning experience on the beach, and imagined how much more afraid he must have been than me. I stepped nervously, my footing unsure, sinking and wary of each and every next step. And though it held obvious dangers, it felt good. I was happy for some stupid reason I couldn’t name. Maybe it was as simple as being out of the Garden.

The Garden by Paul Perry (published by New Island) is out now.