Last December I began a story which may have been a longish short story, or may have developed into a shortish novel. I had an idea but wasn’t at all sure where it was going. I wrote four parts of it, and I’ve just caught up with I and written the next bit. I think it will end up a longish short story. An unnamed narrator (think ‘Rebecca’ with the nameless heroine) and her partner, Lol; she inherits some money and they decide to buy an old property and renovate it. They’ve been happily together for a long time, and she puts up with his occasional obsessions – fly fishing, needlework, astronomy for example, because they’re harmless and he enjoys them. They move into a remote old house, parts of it dating back to the 1500’s, they take time off work to make a start on it over the summer, doing what they can before bringing in professional builders to do the rest. It has large grounds with copses and a stream and they find in a remote and overgrown part an old summer house or folly almost totally concealed by ivy and other foliage. Lol decides to tidy it all up, imaging a nice retreat where they can write or paint, or have drinks in the evening and sets to with shears and secateurs. However, this soon becomes his latest obsession and he spends all his time attacking the ivy and brambles and not in the house stripping walls or cleaning floors.
So what if we had to camp in the house and abandon our time-scale; we could live in it, it was warm enough, maybe we should get some of the central heating some to get through the winter. Maybe Lol was also bored, maybe our dream had lost its sparkle and working on the folly was his way of recharging his batteries. He would get fed up with that too and come back and we would potter on. Maybe he would take up a new hobby, nature studies for example… I made myself smile a little.
I would make a picnic and take it down to the folly and I’d pick up the secateurs if he was lopping and would join him. Yes, that is what I would do.
We were so used to the sounds of our new very isolated place, the different birds which we couldn’t identify although familiar with their song, the occasional sound of traffic or tractors, the occasional plane overhead, that anything different caught the attention straight away.
I laughed at myself for taking a moment to identify what was actually a conversation! We’d not had any visitors or ramblers wandering through our place but we’d agreed that we wouldn’t mind as long as they didn’t leave litter or other mess. But no-one had ever come, apart from people we saw when we went to get supplies, we only saw each other, only spoke to one another. Now there were voices, I could hear Lol, I could have identified him among a thousand other chatterboxes, but he was talking to someone or some ones, I couldn’t make it out properly.
I felt a great surge of excitement, and something like relief. Other people! Someone else to talk to even if it was only a trivial conversation and passing the time of day! We’d had some lovely weather which meant we could keep the windows of our house open, blowing out the dust and drying the scrubbed floorboards, but this sunshine had made everything in the garden rampage and I was wading through long grass, trying to avoid brambles and nettles, the little thicket had become a mass of almost impenetrable growth.
I called out to Lol that I was on my way with a picnic but I was struggling through the undergrown overgrowth. He didn’t reply and I shouted out again in between swearing at the brambles which were catching at my clothes.
I manged to get through onto a track among the trees with lush ferns and cuckoo pint everywhere. I thought I knew where I was now, but was amazed at how overgrown it all was. We would have to get someone in to do this. No way could we renovate the house and sort out our grounds, and for the first time I felt overwhelmed, we were mad to have done this, I’d allowed myself to get caught up in one of Lol’s obsessions.
I put the picnic down. Stop. Don’t panic. You love the house, you can get a loan you can make part of it liveable and live there and then bit by bit, however long it takes, make our lovely home. Chin up, go and chat with real people.
There was the folly but where was Lol? No sign of him or anyone else.
“Yoo-hoo, Lol! It’s me, I’ve brought a picnic!”
It seemed that everything went silent, no birds, no rustling leaves, nothing. Slightly spooked I called out again, dumped the picnic and headed towards the folly, and then Lol appeared from round the back. He was flushed and sweaty and looking surprised to see me.
“I’ve brought a picnic!” I tried to sound normal and not creeped out.
“Marvellous! Great, I could eat a horse, you haven’t got a horse, have you, or maybe a donkey sandwich, or a pony wrap?” he was hearty and cheery, and to my sensitive ears a little too hearty and cheery.
I was spooking myself. I found some grass which didn’t have piles of branches and boughs, and spread the picnic rug and we sat and I poured tea from the thermos, and milk from a screw top bottle, and unwrapped ham and cheese sandwiches and found bags of crisps.
I handed him a cup. “So who were you talking to? Some lost walkers, intrepid explorers…” I broke off as he somehow missed taking the cup and tea splashed over us.
“What do you mean?”
“I heard you talking to people, I just wondered who they were?”
“No-one, I don’t know what you mean, I’ve been on my own all morning!” he spoke so sharply I was quite shocked, and was about to say something more when he burst out, rather loudly “Thanks for this picnic, really kind of you, I know I’ve been a bit off recently, silly old me, as usual I can only focus on one thing at once, and I know I’ve been spending all my time down here, but got to take advantage of this lovely weather, I’ll pull my weight in the house when I’ve finished clearing this…” he went on at some length, barely taking a breath.
I was concerned… this was a bit more than what he’d been like with his fly fishing or his embroidery. I let him rabbit on and ate few crisps.
I mentioned the voices I’d heard and this time he didn’t even answer but jumped up and held out his hand to me and said he’d show me what he’d been doing.
I had a strange dragging sensation inside, and a growing realisation that something was wrong, very wrong.