On a nature walk, we ran across a memorial garden buried in the woods. What a perfect gift for a crime writer! This novella was first published in 13 O’clock, Anthology by the Mesdames of Mayhem, D. Carrick ed., Carrick Publishing, 2015. It became a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novella, 2016.
In the story, the hero, Paula, is in the throes of a nasty divorce. To escape she returns to her family cottage where her father died, but bizarre events leave her increasingly trapped.
In this excerpt, Paula ducks into the woods to get away from the strange old farmer, Sark, who lives on the neighboring farm.
Sark will realize I’m here alone…
She ran down the eastern side of the cottage away from the drive, her mind working. I’ll head up to the beaver pond while it’s still light, she thought. Wait him out.
The trail to the beaver pond started behind Dad’s shed. She had no choice now, she had to cross over the horrible spot. A shimmering tongue of glow grass leaked out into the trail as though pointing the way to the pond.
Fire shovel in hand, she dashed over the sinister spot and plunged down the narrow track into the safety of the trees. The path snaked deeper into the forest, the glow grass dwindling out behind her.
The beaver pond lay buried in the woods half a kilometer north of the cottage. At one time, homesteaders owned a farm there with an apple orchard – or so Sark had told Dad. But the settlers had departed long ago and over time their log house had crumbled into the forest soil. The orchard had grown wild until beavers dammed the creek that cut through the forest, drowning the apple trees, turning their dead trunks silver.
The lost farm made Dad melancholy. It reminded him of time’s passing, he said. But in the beaver pond all she saw was life: frogs, dragon flies, turtles, snails and minnows. Once a pair of Canada geese nested there. Another time she even caught a perch, which Dad cooked for dinner. She’d always meant to find out who owned the land around the beaver pond. All Dad could tell her was that it lay well beyond their property line.
The trail suddenly veered right not left. She stopped, bewildered, faced with a tangle of brambles and reeds
The path turns left here, she thought. Dad cut the trail along the left side of the pond so we could walk along its edge to the far end. Too many cedar trees on the right side: Dad never owned the heavy tools he needed to cut through them. I’ve used this trail since I was a kid. It turns left here, not right
She clutched the fire shovel as though she could beat her memory into submission.
Oh, God, this divorce is driving me crazy.
Crazier, wouldn’t you say?
Go away, Brian.
She took the path to the right.
It led into the shadows of the now-towering cedar trees. A short distance along, she spotted a soft green light: glow grass growing into the trail.
It spilled out from a tiny track that branched away through a clump of alders. Dodging the leafless bushes, she followed it into a small clearing.
There a stone garden bench rested in a soft carpet of glow grass. Several small stones bordered its circular edge. On closer inspection, the stones proved to be store-bought garden ornaments, inscribed with a single word like “Forever” or “Remember”. Between the stones stood small plaster statues of angels holding soiled plastic flowers or soggy, bedraggled ribbons. One angel held a glass engraving of the poem, Desiderata, the relic cracked and damaged by the weather. Votive candles in red glass holders lay scattered among the stones, most burned down to the end.
This was a memorial garden. But for whom?
She sank down on the bench. The tiny monuments were cheap: she’d seen them for sale in dollar stores. None bore a date or name. Perhaps the strange garden was an amateurish, heartfelt tribute to a family pet.
But what if it wasn’t?
She shivered. Who built the garden? Why hide it in the woods away from prying eyes? Was it the unknown owner of the beaver pond?
Over the years, she and Dad had found evidence of strangers round the pond: cigarette butts, fish line and hooks, empty beer cans… Anyone could pass through their cottage property when she and Dad weren’t there.
The mysterious gardener had taken glow grass from the cottage and replanted it here. That felt like a warning, a challenge even. As if the unknown gardener was telling her: You abandoned the cottage. Now it’s mine to do with as I like.
The woods were deathly silent. Yet she had an uneasy sense that someone lurked in the shadows. Watching, waiting, matching her breath for breath. She felt in her jacket for her phone and remembered she’d left it in the car.
She stood up slowly, wielding the puny fire shovel. Saw nothing but lifeless bushes and dark cedar trees.
Heart pounding, she stumbled back to the main trail. She walked briskly, faster and faster through the waning light until she was running flat out. She didn’t stop until she burst clear of the trees.
The porch light was on. Under its harsh light, the glow grass had turned a chalky, sepulchral white.
Sark stood on the front porch, his bulky form blending into the dusk.