The rake snagged on a clump of grass and Geordie had to pull hard to free it. When it did release, he almost fell backwards onto the muddy ground. The rake head had separated from the long, wooden handle and he smiled to himself.
“This is going to take a lot longer than I thought’ he said aloud to nobody but the surrounding trees then walked over and picked up the broken tool. His smile continued as he looked around the forsaken piece of land that he had recently inherited. The house also needed some TLC but the garden, in his mind, needed a complete makeover. He was the one to do it too.
He’d inherited the house from a great aunt; his mother’s reclusive relative. She’d married young and after her husband of ten years upped and left, she led a hermit’s existence. Then, one day, she just disappeared and to this day her body has never been found. As she was in her nineties it was assumed that she’d just wandered off in the night and perhaps fallen in the river or the dense woodland. The authorities searched for her, but no trace was ever found. They also tried to locate the estranged husband without success.
His mother applied to have her aunt declared dead after seven years missing, and then died herself shortly after that was granted. Geordie, it seemed, was her only living relative and in the absence of any form of will, was granted ownership of the estate.
He’d visited her, a few times, when he was a young boy, with his mother, and had always hated those visits but loved the garden. His great aunt was always difficult to converse with, even for her niece. As the years went by, the visits became less frequent until they stopped when Geordie became a teenager. There were far more interesting things to devote his time to than visit a senile old woman who had little time for him anyway.
He did think about her garden though and he even considered visiting her just to see if he could help the old lady with its upkeep. He never did though; he never got around to it. He lovingly recalled the garden was large, open and backed onto ancient woodland. With huge old trees; oaks, elm and silver birches filling it. An untamed forest which grew on, what was now, his land. During his early childhood visits, the garden was well tended and laid to neatly clipped lawns and flower beds. There was a large circular rose garden in the middle, surrounded by smaller plots of seasonal flowers bringing colour throughout the growing season. As he surveyed it now, he could remember what had been beneath the weeds and debris that now littered everywhere. It seemed that the old lady, in her later years, had treated the garden as a place to dump her rubbish but he knew he could restore it to its former glory, given time.
The house, he could leave to his wife to deal with, but the garden was his. The old aunt had also had substantial savings and so there was no shortage of funds to finance both projects. His wife, Julia, had already drawn up plans for re-wiring, plumbing. A new kitchen, bathroom, carpets and decorations. Some of their furniture would fit nicely but there would also be the inevitable splash of new things.
Once cleared, he felt, there was plenty of space on the plot for a sturdy workshop and a large shed to house all the tools he was contemplating buying with his new-found wealth. He would site the buildings down at the bottom, beneath the trees, next to the track which led into the woods. According to the property deeds he had inherited over four acres of land, including where the house stood. He was particularly excited when Julia had expressed an interest in keeping chickens for their eggs. They were determined to turn it into a smallholding with chickens and a large vegetable plot. This was the next area that Geordie planned to clear. Progress was slow and the work was hard, but he was determined to succeed in his task.
He refitted the rake head to the handle and taking out a notebook from his back pocket, added a new rake to the growing list of tools required. His friend Jake had offered to bring a small digging machine around to help him clear the land, but Geordie was determined that he wanted to do the work himself.
Returning to the centre of the garden, he stood where the round rose garden used to be and he remembered the different colours, types and scents of rose which grew there once. It had been such a focal point to the garden that he vowed to return the rose garden to its former glory. Another item to add to his ever-growing list. He put the rake down and walked, with difficulty to where his car was parked on the dilapidated driveway. The remains of an old garage littered this area and was yet another place which needed his attention. He stepped over the broken asbestos sheets and opened his car boot. He picked out his pickaxe, spade and heavy-duty gloves and carried them back to the centre of the overgrown lawn. As he did so Julia came out of the rear door carrying a cold drink of lemonade. She smiled and handed him the drink.
‘How’s it going love?’ She asked.
‘Lots of hard work to do but I’m determined to get it done. Have you found anything else to do in the house?’
‘Loads and loads. I’ve got some tradesmen coming to have look and price the work. We should know by next weekend what it will all cost, hopefully.’
‘Okay honey, I leave it to you, but I need to get on.’ With that, he drank the cool liquid and handed the empty glass back and she turned and headed back, picking her way through the debris that he’d cleared so he could work on the soil. He slipped on the gloves and dug the spade into the hard earth and began to turn it over. It was back-breaking work and by now the sun was high in the sky, beating down on him. He mopped his brow with his T-shirt and carried on. After an hour he stopped and looked back at what he had done so far. He’d managed to dig over about a third of the central bed, removing weeds and old rose-tree roots so he was pleased with his efforts. His back was aching, however, so he decided to sit down on an old bucket to give it some rest before carrying on.
As the sun moved higher in the sky and above the trees it shone onto the area Geordie was about to dig and as he sat there his eye was drawn to something white reflecting back. It looked like porcelain or pot; he thought it may be something broken like a mug. He couldn’t quite make out what it was, so he stood up and went across to the spot and knelt down on the earth. He pulled it up and couldn’t believe what he held in his hand. It was a human jawbone, bleached white by the weather. He dropped it and ran across the garden to the house and burst inside. His wife looked up from cleaning the floor.
‘What on earth is the matter?’ She said, ‘you look like you’ve seen a ghost.’ He was trembling and it took a couple of minutes to gather himself. Julia stood up and walked over to him, he took her hand.
‘I found part of a skull in the rose garden, there may be more. I didn’t wait to find out.’ His wife turned pale.
‘We have to ring the police,’ she said and picked up her mobile.
The police came and their investigations later discovered three decomposed bodies in the rose bed. An adult male identified as her husband and two neighbourhood children abducted thirty years before. An officer remarked to Geordie.
‘That’s why the roses were so good. Human fertiliser.
Geordie shivered at the thought of his childhood games in this garden.