The latest challenge from Flash Fiction Friday was to write about gardening.
You bought a new house, over the winter. It was a great deal. heavily discounted after months, maybe years on the market. It's an older place, a 'fixer-upper', but has great potential. Supposedly there had been a garden in back, too, buried under all that snow. It's spring now, most of the snow has gone, and you've scraped off most of the old leaves. What will start pushing its way through the warm dirt first?
My story took a bit of a twist, of course. I'm visiting my girlfriend, with wonky wi-fi, but finally managed. It's about 990 words long.
Photo by Louise Vaine
A New Friend
I was fed up. I was tired of work, of my demanding clients, overpriced tiny condos, complaining employees, fellow commuters, hords in the malls – tired of people. So I sold my business, and left the city, right into a huge old house, down a small country road. I found a nice place that had been on the market quite a while. The agent was vague as to why, but did point out that while it was a bit of a fixer upper, it did have some potential.
It was early spring when I moved in. It was a beautiful, huge rambling three story house, with a wide front porch, high windows, and hardwood floors throughout. There was even an elevator inside, running from the basement right up to the third floor. Not working, though. I’d bought tools and supplies, but after a few weeks of puttering around I was already wondering if I’d made the right decision. The weather turned to rain, and more rain, the house was drafty, and leaked, and there were all sorts of mysterious creaks and squeaks in the night. The days were quiet but sometimes too much so. I was wondering if I’d be better to tidy it up and dump it.
But, the rain got rid of all the snow out back though, so I could at least see there had been a garden. The first sunny day I found an old rake and cleared away some of the leaves over the garden beds – a series of six foot long mounds really. By day three I could see things poking through the soil, like little fingers reaching for the sun.
I must admit the old house had me a bit spooked, so in a way I was relieved to see these things were the first shoots of plants. There were a few stunted trees in the yard, a broken rose trellis in the middle, and an overgrown hedge around all three sides. It had likely been nice at some time, but I didn’t see myself as a garden person. Beyond some tidying up, I wasn’t going to waste any time on it. I found it relaxing just to sit out there with a book after my renovation work inside, listening to the quiet. The only downside was that I sometimes felt like I was being watched, but when I’d turn around, of course nobody was there.
Then I saw the face.
I was sitting in the sun one day, picking at a few weeds by the bench, when I happened to glance back up at the house. There, sitting in a third floor window, a woman was watching me, her white face glowing in the afternoon sun. As I stared in disbelief, she disappeared, so I assumed it was just a quirk of the light.
The next day, out relaxing with a coffee, I glanced up casually and there she was again. Then gone. Had someone broken in? I grabbed a spade for protection and headed inside and up the stairs.
"Hello? Is anybody there? Come out, I’m armed."
No reply. I crept into the room, spade ready, but there was no one there. I could see marks in the dusty floor though, like from wheels.
That night, as I lay in bed, I could hear noises upstairs, like something rolling around. And of course the same bumps and squeaks an old place can make.
When I got up the next day, the noises had stopped. For the next few days I stayed inside, working on the house, and avoided the back yard, as well as the upstairs room. But the night noises continued.
One night I crashed early, after a hard day’s work, but woke up after midnight. The old house was quiet for a change. Then I heard what sounded like the elevator. The broken elevator. It creaked and groaned, then stopped at my floor. The gate squeaked open, then I heard the same rolling noise. Like a wheelchair I realized. Down the hall, toward my room. I chickened out and pulled the blankets over my head. As the chair came closer, the air got colder. Great, my new house was also haunted. The noise stopped, then there was a voice. Not a spooky one like in the movies, just an older woman.
"More flowers," she said. "You have to look after my garden."
Then she rolled away, down the hall, leaving a warmer room and a very frightened homeowner. I waited until the elevator made it back upstairs before leaping from bed and locking my door.
The next morning, in the light of day, I checked the room upstairs again. Still nobody there. Did I imagine it all? I pushed the elevator button, and heard the whir of the rooftop motor and the creak of the cage.
I had been given a choice, to sell or become a gardener. I considered the idea of moving back to the crowded city, into a cold condo somewhere. I poked around the yard again, wondering what a real gardener would do. The trellis looked fixable, the trees were budding, the hedge was tangled but thick, and there was always helpful YouTube. I drove into town and bought some gardening tools, as well as trays of annuals and perennials.
As I dropped them by the raised beds I felt those eyes again. There she was, at the window. I nodded, and got back a tentative wave in return. Hopefully we had a deal.
That night, all was quiet.
I’ve been doing some gardening almost every day now, and I like it. I’ve asked my brother out to see it, but I won’t mention my watcher. The next challenge will be to keep her happy over winter. Bright Christmas lights, I suppose. Maybe some shrubs that attract birds.
I’m sure if she’s not pleased, she won’t hesitate to visit my bedside to tell me what she wants.