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The 31 Days of Hallowe'en - At the Bottom of the Garden

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  • brent wodehouse
    A t t h e B o t t o m o f t h e G a r d e n by David Campton MUMMY, why has Ineed got furry teeth? Mrs. Williams ignored the question and tried to
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 20, 2011
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      A t t h e B o t t o m o f t h e G a r d e n

      by David Campton


      "MUMMY, why has Ineed got furry teeth?"
      Mrs. Williams ignored the question and
      tried to concentrate on the recipe in front of her.
      The breeze through the open kitchen door fluttered
      the page of the magazine propped up against the
      saucepan in which last night's milk had been boiled.
      Mrs. Williams had the uncomfortable feeling that the
      saucepan was going to be needed in a hurry. She ought
      to have more saucepans, but where could she put
      them? That was the trouble with this kitchen: there
      was not enough shelf space, and the equipment was
      always in the wrong place. She was not such a bad
      cook, or even as accident-prone as her husband
      suggested. The kitchen was just badly planned. The
      fish-slice over a refrigerator: luckily it would not
      be needed until Friday.
      "Please shut the door," she pleaded as a draft
      flicked the page over. She dabbed at the magazine
      with the wooden spoon, leaving a blob of something
      white and sticky in the middle of the recipe. She sighed,
      and fumbled in the sink for the dishcloth. Conviction was
      growing that this experiment was developing into a disaster.
      These days she was finding the disposal of
      remains more difficult. When she was lucky some
      results could be garnished and served up as something else:
      certain sauces could be sliced, and occasional molds might
      be poured. At worst, though, as when soap had unaccountably
      insinuated itself into a mixture and even the birds had
      refused the offering, it could lie for days on the lawn,
      advertising her incompetence; and after the occasion when a
      failure with rice had blocked the lavatory she had never
      dared to flush away a mistake. These days an inedible mess
      was destined for the trash can, and she had to endure her
      husband's raised eyebrows if he caught a glimpse or whiff of
      it. After nine years Mr. Williams no longer complained about
      the cooking, but it seemed that he could not control his
      eyebrows.
      Mrs. Williams wiped dough from the page and
      peered at the small print through flour-fogged spectacles.
      It seemed to her that there was always something missing
      in the instructions.
      The kitchen door banged.
      "'Add the dry ingredients.'"
      "Mummy!"
      Where was the ginger? She was sure she had taken
      the packet from the cupboard with the other things. Ah! No,
      that was dried sage. Why couldn't manufacturers label packets
      more clearly? Mrs. Williams jerked the cupboard open. A small
      jar fell out and smashed; well, it could be cleared up later.
      She grabbed at a cylindrical box, flipped the lid onto the floor,
      and shook a teaspoonful of curry powder among the other dry
      cake ingredients.
      "Mummy, why has Ineed . . . ?"
      On the stove something boiled over.
      Mrs. Williams sank into the kitchen chair and ran
      a hand over her head. Bits of cake mix were left sticking in
      her hair. "Why don't you listen to me, Mummy?"
      Dimly, through a haze of conflicting thoughts, Mrs.
      Williams became aware of her daughter. She caught the tone
      of complaint in the child's voice.
      "What were you saying, dear?"
      "I knew you weren't listening to me."
      "Mummy was listening, darling. Mummy can listen and
      get dinner ready at the same time." Now what could they
      have for dinner?
      "I was telling you about Ineed."
      "That is up to her. But the name is pronounced Enid."
      And they could have rice pudding afterward. There was no
      shortage of rice pudding.
      "But why has she?"
      "Why has she what?" Or semolina, or tapioca, or sage.
      Nothing drastic could go wrong with a tinned milk pudding
      - apart from burning the saucepan.
      "I told you, Mummy. Furry teeth. Why has Ineed got furry
      teeth?"
      Why was it so difficult to concentrate? Why did
      recipes never turn out like their pictures? Why couldn't she
      talk to a child on a child's level?
      "I'm sure Enid hasn't got furry teeth, darling," said
      Mrs. Williams. "She was just saying that."
      "But she has, Mummy. She showed them to me."
      "Did she, darling?" Or would a tin of fruit be better?
      Plums, perhaps. Was there enough milk left to make a custard?
      "Yes. She took them out and showed them to me.
      They were furry all over."
      "Then she ought to see a dentist."
      "You don't understand, Mummy. That's the way her
      teeth are. Fur all over them. She let me feel it before she put
      them back. It was quite soft - like a kitten's back."
      Mrs. Williams felt a sudden ache at the back of her
      eyes. She could no longer ignore the brown mess sticking to
      the top of the stove. With a bit of luck she might get most of
      the chaos cleaned up before Eric came home and raised his
      eyebrows.
      "That's very interesting, dear," she said. "Now run out
      and play again. If you're a good girl, we'll have plums and
      custard for dinner."
      The child turned toward the kitchen door.
      "You weren't listening," she accused her mother. "You
      never listen. You don't care about Ineed. You don't care about
      anything."
      Then she was gone.
      Mrs. Williams took off her glasses and rubbed her
      eyes, smudging flour on her eyelashes. She tried. Honestly
      she tried. If she didn't try, there would be fewer failures to
      throw away. If she didn't try, they could live on corned beef
      and crisps and baked beans. If she didn't try so hard, there
      would be more time to spare for Geraldine. As events were
      turning out, was Geraldine doomed to being another of her
      mother's failures?
      Geraldine wore thick-lensed spectacles, like her
      mother. Geraldine had her mother's flat features, unhealthy
      complexion, and dust-colored hair. Geraldine was prone to
      sickly headaches. Geraldine had uneven teeth. Like her
      mother, Geraldine was not very bright.
      What had the girl been talking about? Another
      child with peculiar teeth? Fur? Imagination. Geraldine had
      shown so few signs of having any imagination that it was
      a pity not to have encouraged her now. But the stove had to
      be cleaned.
      Once, during the cleaning, Mrs. Williams paused.
      Who was Enid anyway? Then she kicked over a bucket of
      dirty water, and the thought was washed away.


      Geraldine did not mention Ineed again for several
      weeks. Mrs. Williams was dimly aware that her daughter
      had a little friend. Once she saw them playing together by
      the hedge at the bottom of the garden. It was a thick hedge
      and had originally formed the boundary to the field on which
      this part of the housing estate had been built. With rare
      sensitivity, the builders had left it undisturbed. The two
      children were sitting together in the shadow of the hedge.
      The other child seemed smaller than Geraldine, dark-haired,
      and very thin. At that distance Mrs. Williams could not quite
      make out what the children were doing. It seemed almost as
      though the dark one had unscrewed one of her hands and
      passed it to Geraldine for inspection. Although Mrs. Williams
      knew that her eyesight was at fault - she must have her eyes
      tested again when she could find the time - she felt vaguely
      uneasy and rapped on the window. The children scurried out
      of sight, making Mrs. Williams feel guilty. She had blundered
      again. Geraldine did not make friends - she reflected her
      mother's insecurity when dealing with other people - but at
      least her own mother need not frighten away the few friends
      she had. Mrs. Williams made a mental note to encourage
      Geraldine's new playmate. Perhaps the little girl could be
      invited to tea? Well, perhaps not to a meal; but invited to -
      something. However, as the good intention grew vaguer, so
      did the impetus, and finally Mrs. Williams did nothing. As
      Geraldine did not mention her new friend, Ineed became a
      cloudy figure in the background of Mrs. Williams's
      ever-cluttered mind.
      It was Mr. Williams who was responsible for
      bringing the matter up again while they were having dinner.
      It had been a successful meal: roast chicken (which Mrs.
      Williams had bought from the delicatessen) and salad. Mr.
      Williams had found only one caterpillar on his lettuce and
      had quietly pushed it to the side of his plate. They were all
      finishing their ice cream when her father noticed that
      Geraldine was no longer wearing the braces on her teeth.
      He was not angry, because he was never angry;
      however, he pointed out that Geraldine had made a promise
      to take care of the braces until her teeth had been
      straightened. Geraldine smiled at him, showing all her teeth.
      It was a delightful smile that almost made one forget the
      thick spectacles, the lank hair, and the pasty complexion.
      Moreover, her teeth were perfect.
      Mr. Williams put down his spoon and stared across
      the table.
      "May I see them again?" he asked.
      Geraldine grinned. Her teeth were even, white, and
      sparkling. They even seemed to have lost their yellow tinge.
      "Remarkable," said Mr. Williams. "Had you noticed, mother?"
      Mrs. Williams hadn't noticed. She did, however,
      notice the implied rebuke in the question: he expected her
      not to have noticed the child's teeth.
      "I'm sure I should have done so sooner or later,"
      she murmured.
      "Mummy wouldn't notice if I lost my head,"
      muttered Geraldine.
      "Now, now," rebuked her father; but he was too
      pleased to sound really severe. "I must say that dentist did
      a good job. He warned us that it might take over twelve
      months, but this has taken less than six weeks."
      "Ineed did it," said Geraldine.
      "I really ought to congratulate him," went on Mr. Williams.
      "Ineed did it," repeated Geraldine.
      "Ineed?"
      "Geraldine has a little friend called Enid," explained
      Mrs. Williams. "Enid, dear. Do try to remember that. It's Enid.
      You must ask her round for tea or a glass of lemonade or
      something."
      "She's shy," said Geraldine. "She isn't ordinary. Like
      me and Barry Mapel. Barry can't walk properly because he
      has twisted legs. Ineed has got holes where her ears should
      be, and her teeth are covered with fur."
      "Really?" said Mr. Williams. "Of course, one doesn't
      usually write to one's dentist, but I expect he'd like to
      know that we appreciate what he's done."
      "Ineed took all my teeth out," said Geraldine.
      "It didn't hurt at all."
      "I'm so glad," said Mrs. Williams, sniffing. Had she
      remembered to turn the gas out under the milk for the coffee?
      "Ineed said that she'd never seen teeth like mine
      before. They were so twisted. So she straightened them
      before she put them back. She rubbed them white, too."
      "After all," said Mr. Williams, "a professional
      man must take a pride in his profession."
      "I asked her if there was anything she could do
      about my headaches, but she said that she'd have to think
      about it."
      "The laborer is worthy of his hire," quoted Mr.
      Williams with some satisfaction.
      A hissing and spluttering came from the kitchen.
      With the speed and precision that long practice had tempered
      into second nature, Mr. Williams strode into the kitchen,
      turning out the gas under the milk with one hand and reaching
      for a dishcloth with the other.
      Mrs. Williams sat back with a sigh and tried to
      pick up the threads of half-heard and dimly remembered
      conversation.
      "This Enid. Doesn't she live near here?"
      "Hereabouts."
      "I suppose her family has just moved into the district."
      "Oh no. They've lived here a long time. As long as
      anyone can remember, Ineed says. Years and years."
      "Longbarrow hasn't been built all that long, dear,"
      mused Mrs. Williams. "The estate was quite new when your
      father and I bought this house. I remember having to wade
      through mud to inspect it. What is Enid's other name?"
      "She hasn't got another name."
      Mrs. Williams, listening to the sounds of the mopping-up
      operation in the kitchen, did not want to become involved in
      a childish argument and did not press the question.
      "You must ask her round someday. You know I like
      to see your friends." She thought she heard the rattle of
      coffee cups. "Play on the lawn or something."
      "Ineed doesn't like people to look at her," mumbled
      Geraldine. "She thinks they laugh at her nose."
      "I'm sure we're much too polite. I wonder if Daddy
      wants a hand with the coffee."
      "I'm going to make her do something about my
      headaches," said Geraldine. "I'm going to make her promise."
      "I expect you have some jolly games together."
      "She says that the headaches happen right inside
      my head, but she doesn't know yet how to get inside. She's
      not sure how I'm put together. So I'm going to get the book.
      With pictures. Then she'll have to promise. She mended my
      teeth when they were twisted, didn't she?"
      "I always liked that dentist," said Mrs. Williams.
      "So young and so enthusiastic."
      "She says my eyes ought to get better at the
      same time. Then I shan't have to wear these glasses." She
      snatched them off and squinted nearsightedly at her mother.
      "Ah, coffee!" crowed Mrs. Williams.
      With a sigh, Geraldine replaced her glasses. Ineed
      was right. They didn't understand. They would never
      understand. No wonder Ineed wanted to avoid them. She and
      Ineed understood each other. Ineed was going to find a way
      to get inside her head. Geraldine knew where the book was
      kept - in the low bookcase that was never dusted. The book
      had pictures of people without clothes, without skin, and
      without flesh. *That* should show Ineed how people were
      put together. It even had a picture of the gray sponge called
      a brain. When Ineed saw that, she would be able to stop the
      headaches and to make her see as well as anyone else. She
      only needed the book.


      Mrs. Williams eventually found volume two of the
      encyclopedia open on the lawn. The pages were stained with
      grass cuttings, and the covers curled in the afternoon sun.
      Mrs. Williams had no idea how the volume came to be out
      there, but she was used to finding things where they ought
      not to be. So she returned to the house with the book. She
      did not associate Geraldine with its removal until she later
      found the child in a state of near-hysteria.
      Mrs. Williams heard the sound coming from her
      daughter's bedroom - half-screaming, half-sobbing. She
      found Geraldine lying face downward on the bed. For a while
      the child would not answer, no matter how gently questions
      were put; instead she drummed her feet, beat the pillow,
      and screamed.
      Eventually Mrs. Williams was able to make out
      words. "She promised. She promised I should be next." The
      trouble with Geraldine was then correctly diagnosed as an
      attack of temper.
      Mrs. Williams sat on the bed and waited for the
      storm to subside, having learned from experience that this
      treatment was the most effective. At last the sobs died
      away, and the little girl looked up. She had hurled her
      spectacles into the corner of the room, and her eyes were
      inflamed, rubbed raw around the lids.
      "Feeling better now, dear?" asked Mrs. Williams mildly.
      "I hate her," said Geraldine.
      "Tell Mummy all about it." She tried to put an arm
      around the child, but found the position too awkward to keep
      up. "Who did it, and what did they do?"
      "She mended Barry's legs," sniffed Geraldine.
      Mrs. Williams hunted for a handkerchief. "Go on,
      dear. Mummy's listening," she said, wondering where she
      could have tucked the spare one that she always kept handy
      for when she lost the first.
      "She took them off and straightened them and then
      put them back again. Now he can walk as well as anyone."
      "That's nice," murmured Mrs. Williams. "Just a minute,
      dear, while I fetch a piece of toilet paper. Then you can blow
      your nose."
      "But I was supposed to be next," bellowed Geraldine
      as her mother pattered toward the bathroom. "She was going
      to look inside my head. That's why I took the book to her.
      Instead she used it to mend Barry's legs and didn't do anything
      for me at all. She said she still wasn't sure because the inside
      of my head wasn't like the inside of her head, and my eyes
      weren't like her eyes. I know her eyes are different, but that
      doesn't mean she can't do anything about mine. Does it?"
      "Of course not, dear," agreed Mrs. Williams absently,
      returning with a great loop of paper and making a mental note
      to renew the toilet roll, knowing already that she would be the
      one to be caught. "Here you are. Wipe your eyes. And your nose.
      "How can I make her do it?" whined Geraldine. "What can I
      do?"
      "Let's put on our thinking caps, shall we?" said Mrs.
      Williams, trying to sound bright. "Now where did you throw
      your spectacles?"
      Geraldine vaguely indicated the wall at which the
      glasses had been thrown in the first onslaught of her rage.
      "She can do it. I know she can. I've seen her do things.
      She has very long fingers, and she can ..."
      "Oh dear," murmured Mrs. Williams as she picked up
      the pieces. "Now I've trodden on them."
      The spectacles had snapped in half. One lens was
      cracked, and Mrs. Williams's heel had pressed on the other,
      shattering it.
      "You'll need a completely new pair," she went on.
      "And I really don't know what you'll do without them. You
      won't be able to watch TV or to read or anything. Right in
      the middle of the summer holidays, too. I don't know what
      you'll do with yourself."
      To her irritation she realized that Geraldine was
      smiling.
      "You're a very naughty girl, dropping your glasses
      where I - where anyone could step on them," she cried.
      "I ought to ..." Her imagination gave out, and her voice with
      it: partly because she had no idea what she ought to do,
      and partly because the child's smile worried her. "I'll tell
      your father," she added weakly.
      "Now Ineed will have to do something," said
      Geraldine calmly.
      "Oh, damn Enid," snapped Mrs. Williams. "And as
      you're in your bedroom, you can stay here till teatime.
      Yes, you can stay here until your father comes home. Then
      we'll hear what he has to say about buying new glasses."
      She left the bedroom and slammed the door behind
      her. On the landing she paused, wondering whether she
      ought to have locked the door, or whether she ought to go
      back and apologize; then at last deciding to leave
      everything to Eric. Her husband might have irritating
      eyebrows, but he always knew what to do in an emergency.


      Mr. Williams decided that there had been faults
      on both sides. He thought that Mrs. Williams ought to make
      more of an effort to understand the child and to enter into
      the spirit of her fantasies. If Geraldine had an imaginary
      friend called Enid who took off people's legs and
      straightened them, then Mrs. Williams ought to enter into
      the game. No wonder the child flew into a tantrum. On the
      other hand, Geraldine must learn to control her feelings,
      especially when they resulted in expensive breakages;
      however, the child had been sufficiently punished and
      could now be allowed downstairs.
      As Mrs. Williams retired to the kitchen feeling
      vaguely hurt - but fortunately just in time to catch the
      steak before it was irrevocably burned - Mr. Williams
      called upstairs.
      "It's all right, Geraldine. You can come down now."
      There was no reply.
      "Geraldine, this is Daddy. I want to talk to you
      about, er, about Enid."
      There was still no reply. Either the child was
      asleep or she was being obstinate. Mr. Williams went
      upstairs and found the bedroom empty. Of course, that
      was typical: to send Geraldine to her room, and then not
      to be sure that she stayed there. Mr. Williams quickly
      smothered the spark of rising indignation because he
      prided himself upon being a reasonable man. Anyway, the
      girl couldn't be far away. He looked out of the bedroom
      window.
      There were two tiny figures by the hedge at the
      bottom of the garden. The height and distance made
      them look almost like dolls. One figure was bent over
      the other. By her dress she must have been a little girl,
      though she was incredibly thin, and her hair seemed to
      shine dark green in the late afternoon sun. Then she
      straightened up, and Mr. Williams could see the other
      figure more clearly.
      "My God!" he shouted.
      He charged from the bedroom and almost
      tumbled headlong in his rush down the stairs. He
      crashed through the kitchen and into the garden,
      screaming as he ran. "My God! My God! My God! My God!"
      Mrs. Williams dropped a bowl of mashed potatoes
      and hurried after him.
      The little girl with the leaf-colored hair,
      intent on the task before her, did not turn as Geraldine's
      father and mother raced the length of the lawn. The
      frantic parents were spurred by the sight of what lay on
      the grass under the hedge. Geraldine's headless body was
      spread-eagled on the grass. Her head lay some distance
      away, face upward. There was a hole where one eye
      should have been, and even as they ran toward the
      children, they saw the dark-haired girl pluck out the
      other eye.
      Mr. Williams seized the child's shoulder, and at
      last she looked around. He glimpsed something deformed
      that the mind at once rejected and would later refuse to
      recall except in nightmares: pale, phosphorescent,
      wrinkled skin of something that had lived for many, many
      years in the dark; bulging eyes giving a sickening hint
      that they might be extendable; gill-like slits for ears;
      and a drooping snout of a nose.
      Mr. Williams swore, tightened his grip, but the
      creature twisted in his grasp. It reached up, its fingerlike
      tentacles curling around under his arm. Immediately a
      pain tore through his muscles as though they were being
      removed with a white-hot scalpel. His arm flopped useless
      to his side.
      There was a rustle in the hedge, and the thing
      was gone. Mrs. Williams was on her hands and knees by
      the remains of the child. She made vague fluttering motions
      with her hands. It was the same gesture that her husband
      had seen her make many times before, kneeling by a piece
      of broken china, and waiting for someone to fetch a dustpan.
      Except that this time she was giving voice to little
      high-pitched moans.
      With his good arm, Mr. Williams patted her shoulder.
      He told her to stay there and touch nothing until the police
      arrived. Then he went to the telephone. He knew the correct
      procedure for occasions such as this.
      The eyes lay staring where the creature had
      dropped them. Mrs. Williams vaguely hoped that someone
      would be able to put them back. She noticed that
      Geraldine's mouth was moving, but guessed that this was
      only a muscular spasm, just as a chicken is reputed to run
      around after its head has been cut off. She did not recognize
      that the lips were forming words.
      "Ineed!" the head wanted to cry out. "Let Ineed put
      me together again. Didn't you ever listen to what I told you
      about Ineed? I shall be better after she has put me together
      again. Where is Ineed? Ineed! Ineed!"
      But no sound came from the mouth, divorced from
      lungs and larynx, and Ineed would take care never to be
      seen in Longbarrow again. Without Ineed, the head and body
      had to remain apart.
      They were buried like that.



      "At the Bottom of the Garden": copyright © 1976 by Stuart David Schiff



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