Beneath the Garden | A Short Horror Story by Michael Whitehouse

Frederick loved his garden, almost as much as he loved killing. He would spend hours each week feeding, cutting, maintaining and nurturing the lawn and the flowerbeds, taking great pride in having what was widely regarded as the most impressive garden in the entire town. 

It was May, and it was Frederick’s hope that in the coming weeks he would be judged by the local Garden Enthusiast’s Association as the best amateur gardener in the area for an unprecedented 6th year in a row. It was true that the judging committee could arrive on any day with absolutely no advance warning – surprise visits were their speciality - but he was confident that his floral displays and pristine lawn would once again rule supreme. All he had to do was sabotage his nearest rivals with a little weed killer at night. Of course Frederick expected to win regardless, but he never liked leaving anything to chance; just as long as things did not get out of hand as they had done two years before. 

Lucy Rindridge had cared for and produced a wonderful floral garden display that year. Even Frederick admitted that she had done herself proud, as he cast his eye over her luscious tulips, roses, and carnations, smiling kindly, of course, while talking to her, but in reality thinking that he ‘could not allow a nigger to best him’.

A week before the judging window opened, he did what he had to do. It was difficult not to arouse suspicion, Frederick’s victims were normally those he thought no one would miss; the homeless, drifters, illegal immigrants, but of course runaways were his speciality – children could be so easily manipulated. 

Lucy Rindridge was different. 

She was known, she had friends nearby and a daughter who lived out of town. He had not initially thought of making a kill, he just wanted to poison her garden, to teach her a lesson not to get her hopes up or meddle in his territory, but when she returned home earlier than expected that night - just as Frederick was taking a piss on her back lawn after pouring the last of the weed killer into her rose bushes - those feelings of compulsion, which he revelled in so much, suddenly stirred deep within.
He had first felt the strange arousal when he was eleven years old. A neighbour’s dog had found its way into his family garden and was digging up one of Frederick’s mother’s prize Iris Siberica. Of course he could not allow such a filthy creature to defile his mother’s beautiful work. Without thinking, he crushed its skull with a garden rock. Immediately he became intoxicated by a lustful yearning which could only be satiated by killing. While he was relatively prolific, he quickly developed a skill for remaining undetected, a talent which he prided himself on almost as much - but not quite - as his garden.

Once those same feelings of desire built up inside, Frederick could not resist the opportunity to dispose of poor old Lucy Rindridge. ‘One less black in the neighbourhood’ he thought to himself as he lay in wait outside, covered by the night. It was so very easy; the old lady had left her back door unlocked; trustworthiness and forgetfulness were a terrible combination. Sneaking inside, he found his prey sitting in the living room. The house consisted of the usual amassed collection of a long lived life - pieces of pottery, the odd figurine, an antique clock, pictures of family and friends long since passed. The entire place reminded Frederick of his Grandmother: another useless bitch.

He crept towards Lucy Rindridge’s armchair slowly, methodically, each step accompanied by a growing feeling of excitement stirring below. The old hag had no idea what was coming, and Frederick could not wait to see that flicker of fear and pain oozing out of her eyes as his hands strangled the life out of her.  

Circling her chair, he moved swiftly, but what he was presented with almost disappointed him - the old lady was ill. She must have come home early from her usual bingo night because she was sick and it was clear that even without Frederick’s handy work, Lucy Rindridge was not long for this world. She stared up at him, her slow laboured breathing the only sound in the building as she pointed towards her house phone on a table nearby; pleading for compassion silently with her eyes. 
Frederick began laughing uncontrollably. 

‘Oh, you want me to phone an ambulance?’ he scoffed, gleefully skipping over to the phone. Raising the receiver, he continued: ‘h-hello, is that the hospital? I was wondering if you could come over to 68’, he turned to the helpless woman, ‘it is 68, isn’t it dear?’, before entering back into his fictitious conversation with the emergency services. ‘Yes, 68 Dupin Avenue, please do hurry, or I think this poor old helpless nigger might not make it.’ 

Slamming the phone back into place, he continued laughing in fits and starts as he staggered in jovial fashion towards her chair. Glaring down at the old lady, whose eyes were now filled with tears, he leaned over, whispering softly into her right ear. ‘I really am sorry dear, but your type don’t belong around here, if I had my way I’d burn you all, like the old days. But, as my mother always said “you just have to make do with what God gives you”, and in my case, God gave me these.’ Frederick eyed his leather clad hands momentarily, with an exuberant smile stretching from ear to ear.

Encircling the helpless woman’s throat with his ever faithful fingers squeezing tighter and tighter, immense satisfaction coursed through his body. As the tears rolled down Lucy’s face, and the last light diminished from her eyes, he chuckled to himself whispering: ‘by the way, I poisoned your garden too. Looks like I’ll be winning again this year.’ He gritted his teeth together, for a moment losing his composure shaking the old lady’s body by the throat violently. 

‘As it should be.’

She was dead, and Frederick was delighted.

Shock and condemnation throughout the town was followed quickly by a much publicised police investigation, but Frederick was not a suspect, nor was he even questioned. Of course he gave a lovely heartfelt speech about Lucy Rindridge at the next meeting of the local Garden Association; there wasn’t a dry eye in the church hall that night. Even the normally stoic Mr Holt, chairman of the association, complimented him on his thoughtful and kind words. 

Frederick was very pleased.

The only issue which worried him was that he had broken a golden rule: never kill anyone you know. It was not that there weren’t people he knew that he would love to kill, but rather that he was smarter than the rest. Smarter than the Ted Bundy’s and John Wayne Gacy’s of the world. Smart enough to never get caught. There was a variety of ways to ensure that he would never be suspected of a murder. For starters, he would kill miles from home, out of town. Furthermore, he was a dab hand with make-up and latex solution, making sure that he had a quite convincing disguise when he was ‘on the prowl’, protecting him from identification. He would wear a realistic wig over an air tight bald cap as well as a crime scene suit used by forensic experts under his newly bought clothes, skin greased in Vaseline beneath. This limited the risk of dropping a hair fibre or scrap of skin which could be used to identify his DNA.

Yes, he was extremely careful, but killing someone he knew who lived just a few streets away without the usual precautions was an amateur mistake, and he would be damned before committing it again.

The Lucy Rindridge incident had only happened two years previous, along with the poisoning of the bluebell display of another competitor three years before that. He knew that people would become suspicious if it happened every year to the other entrants, but this year he had to get rid of two great entries. While he still believed that his garden was the finest in town, he did not trust the judges to always make the correct decision. He had to poison Tom Hartley’s centrepiece lawn and Patti Rossier’s annoyingly original apple orchard display at the back of her farm. Not enough to rouse suspicion, just enough to discolour and wilt. 

Sixteen days before the judging window, he decided to make his move. He would take care of Patti’s apple orchard first, as the poison would take longer to affect the trees than Hartley’s lawn, although his back-up plan of a little fire could always come into play should the chemicals not have the desired effect in time.

Just as Frederick was preparing to leave his house to sabotage the orchard, the doorbell rang. He was not expecting any guests, and the occasional unscheduled visitor always irked him, especially when it could hinder his plans. In a foul mood he opened the door, and there she stood. Such a vision, full of life, vibrant and glowing. The girl must have been no older than 19 and while Frederick loathed anyone outside of his own social standing – both higher and lower - there was something intoxicating, charming even about her dark green jacket frayed and worn, her blue denim jeans ripped at the knees, and her blond unkempt hair caressing her face, resting on supple shoulders.
‘Can I help you young lady?’ Frederick asked with a wry smile on his face.

‘Hello, sir. I am collecting for the charity trust RSF and was wondering if you would have a few minutes to chat about the great work we do’. She smiled sweetly, and Frederick suddenly became aware of how striking her blue eyes really were.

For a moment he paused, considering an appropriate course of action before saying: ‘of course, come in, come in.’ He opened the door fully, bathing the young woman in the warm glow of his hall lights.
She hesitated. ‘Actually sir, we aren’t supposed to enter people’s houses when on our own.’ 

‘Nonsense, nonsense. Come in, I’m not going to bite.’

She hesitated still.

Frederick now changed tactic, aware that she was not as impressionable as he had hoped. ‘And I am busy at the moment, in fact I was just going out, so I would rather talk to you inside while I get my things ready. Please don’t worry, it’s not like I’m a serial killer or anything.’ He grinned and, to the girl, his eyes exuded nothing but kindness. The truth is that even approaching the age of 50, Frederick was still able to charm and manipulate others with his sympathetic demeanour and naturally handsome features.

‘OK, it won’t take a minute,’ she responded, entering cautiously.

As he closed the front door and ushered his beautiful guest into the lounge, he felt that familiar and welcome arousal begin to build from deep down within. But he was wary of it in his own home and knew he could not act on it. Sitting on a brown leather arm chair next to a pristine open fireplace, the girl entered into her charity pitch. She smiled and kept eye contact at all times seeming friendly, familiar, yet not intrusively so. 

After a few minutes, it suddenly occurred to Frederick that he hadn’t listened to a word she had said. He smiled at her, nodding in agreement as she expertly ran through her well practised routine, but he did not know what the charity was; nor did he care. His attention had been caught by a ring she was wearing on her right hand. It wasn’t a wedding or engagement ring, but the way she touched it with her other hand, the way she caressed it without realising, betrayed a deep-seated affection for it. Seeing someone so attached to an object made Frederick fantasise about the pain he could cause by taking it. The old urges increased once more. 

The ring itself did not seem particularly striking - a golden piece of jewellery which did not look valuable in the slightest, although it had an unusual lattice on it - but it was the affection which she seemed to subconsciously place upon it that stuck in Frederick’s mind the most. As he watched the girl run her hand and fingers over it, that sense of desire, arousal, that excitement, came to the fore once again. With each touch, the need to wrap his hands around her throat and crush the life out of her increased; his heart pumping furiously with teeth gritted together. 

Suddenly she broke off from her monologue noticing Frederick’s preoccupation with the ring, obviously disturbed by it. 

‘Sorry, am I distracting you?’ she asked, ceasing to play with it.

‘No, not at all’, Frederick replied, taking a deep breath, relaxing back into his chair. 

Her sense of apprehension only fuelled his sordid desire, but no matter how much he longed to crush that silky white throat, no matter how much he yearned to see that look of horror in her beautiful face as he throttled the life from her, he knew that he could never murder in his own house. That would be amateur. The fear of getting caught was exhilarating, but the reality of it was a terrifying prospect. He knew what happened to people like him in prison, especially when on a few occasions he had done more than just murder his victims – man, woman, and child.

Leaning forward he enquired: ‘so, what is this RSF exactly?’

‘The Romani Support Fund’ she answered, obviously puzzled that he had not been listening.

‘Romani, as in Gypsy?’ he asked sternly.

‘Yes, exactly. You know, a great many gypsy travellers are persecuted simply for their beliefs, and we do all we can to combat this by raising awareness about Romani culture and traditions. We try to help society at large understand that travellers shouldn’t be feared.’ 

The girl smiled, but she could not hide her obvious discomfort, or her worry. It was clear that she sensed something unusual about her host. That flicker of fear excited Frederick deeply. But it mixed with a growing anger; a potent combination in any scenario.

‘You want me to give money to that dirty scum?’ he asked angrily.

‘We’re just trying to break down prejudice,’ she answered, her voice shaking. Then, a fatal mistake followed. In a brief moment of bravery the girl stood up, looking him squarely in the eyes: ‘Our people deserve to be treated with more...’

Frederick flew off his chair in a rage, surrendering to his urges. 

‘Gypsy scum in my house’ he yelled.

One hand wrapped around her throat while the other came crunching down repeatedly onto her face. The sound of cartilage snapping under the force of his blows, as her nose broke in several places, drowned out the garbled noises that the girl produced as she tried to scream, but Frederick’s grip did not provide her with that luxury.

He did not stop. Finally, after several minutes of beating the poor girl, his rage began to lift. She was dead, and unrecognisable. Of course he felt no remorse, in fact he was smiling to himself, exhilarated and filled with pleasure. But then the reality sank in; he had just murdered someone in his own house. Another rule broken!

Panic took over. The floor was covered in blood, as was the chair she had sat on. Her DNA would be everywhere. He had to slow down, think clearly. He was smarter than this, smarter! Everything would have to go, the carpet, the chair - even the wallpaper - and that would go for the hallway too. Everything she touched or might have touched had to be replaced. 

But what of the body? That was not so simple. He would have to dispose of it somehow.

After calming his nerves, he dragged the girl’s corpse through the hallway, her once beautiful blond hair now soaked in blood, her features a pulped mess. He possessed no regret, no sense of pity or guilt as he dragged her by the feet, occasionally feeling the snap or stretch of a ligament as he pulled her into the bathroom. With a concerted effort he threw her lifeless cadaver into the white porcelain bath, panting heavily: now the bathroom would need to go as well.

In order to avert suspicion, he would have to take the body out in pieces and bury it somewhere. In the garden shed there was an axe and a hacksaw which he knew would get the job done. Covered in blood, Frederick had to take a quick shower in order to step outside and get the tools he needed, just in case he was seen. He had to be expertly careful from now on if he wanted to get out of this mess.
It was easy enough to remove the blood, at least superficially, from his skin. Although standing on the girl’s corpse while showering was a little awkward, Frederick took great pleasure in it, digging his heels into her body with delight, laughing to himself as the water washed the blood from his hands and face.

It took an hour to cut the body up into manageable pieces, but he had dismembered bodies many times before, and after a great amount of effort the job was done. Placing the head and arms in a thick black bin bag with the torso in a large plastic storage box, and the legs in another bag, Frederick showered once more and then nonchalantly placed the bags and box into the boot of his car, which sat eagerly in the driveway. He was always doing gardening work at strange hours, and the moving of a box and a few bags that late in the evening would not look out of the ordinary.

By now it was well into the night and after driving for 15 minutes he reached the edge of town, bemoaning his luck as he passed the Rossier farm with that beautiful orchard in the back. He would take care of that later. There was no way he was going to let anyone stop him from winning his 6th annual gardening award.

The town was surrounded by lush countryside, but at night it took on a more menacing form. Not to Frederick of course, he laughed to himself knowing that it was he that people should be frightened of, but nonetheless driving through lonely country roads with the dismembered body of a gypsy girl in his car for company, gave even him occasional pause.   

He drove carefully, and while the roads were deserted at that time of night, he did not wish to draw unneeded attention to himself or his recently deceased passenger. Knowing the area well, he immediately headed for the old quarry which sat off of an abandoned road. It would be a little difficult to get to as nature had claimed it through years of neglect, but no one ever went there and the water which now filled it was a perfect place to discard a body. 

Bad luck and frustration again. As he approached the quarry, he noticed a car driving off of the road ahead, towards his desired destination. He could not believe his luck, what could someone possibly be doing there at that time of night? Something unwholesome in any case, it looked like the driver had a scrawny old man for company in the back seat.

‘Fags’, Frederick thought angrily to himself. He would not have minded dealing with both of them, but his current situation was his priority. He had to dispose of the body and get back to the house to begin the clean-up as quickly as possible. There existed in his mind no doubt that the police would begin investigating the girl’s disappearance within a day or so. It could take him a week to replace and clean the blood soaked carpets, wallpaper, and bathroom and it had to be done without arousing suspicion.  This meant finding similar old wallpaper and used carpets so that if the police did enter his house, it would not appear as if he had suspiciously replaced anything.

But he had to focus, the body was the priority!

There was nothing else for it, he was going to have to bury the pieces of the girl somewhere else and hope for the best. Perhaps he could return when the missing person’s case grew cold, then he could figure out a more efficient way of dealing with the remains. 

After taking a number of short-cuts away from the quarry, navigating several woodland areas and fields, he finally found a suitable location. The car climbed up a single-track dirt-road as the suspension struggled against the uneven surface beneath. For a moment he thought he heard something move in the box behind him, but it was obvious that the contents were just being thrown around a little by the drive. 

Frederick was not a superstitious man, but he remembered a story his mother had told him as a child, about it being bad luck to turn a gypsy away from your door - he had done a little more than turn her away.

Frederick was amused by this. 

Pulling into the side of the road under an old sycamore tree, he stared up at the night sky through his sun roof, observing its claw-like branches which stretched out overhead across the entire track. It was pitch black, with no street lamps to illuminate the way, but he had come prepared bringing both a shovel and a torch with him. 

Nervousness began to creep into his thinking. What if someone was out there too? What if someone had seen the girl at his door? God, how could he have been so amateur? Pulling the box containing the girl’s torso out of the car, he smiled to himself once more. Perhaps it was worth it, he had not enjoyed killing someone so much since that little boy under the Henderson bridge three years earlier.
Disappearing into the woods carrying the large box was difficult. In the end he had to drag it behind with one hand, so that he could use the other to light the way with the torch. There was something bothering him though, something which he had forgotten. It was just on the verge of his awareness; he was sure it would come back to him eventually, but it remained there, sticking into his mind like a thorn.

Three trips later, through the undergrowth between countless close-knit trees, over a couple of streams, and stumbling generally about in the dark, he had managed to move all of the body parts from the car, placing them under a tree about 20 minutes into the woods. The place was substantially overgrown and it was clear that no one visited there regularly. Surely the corpse would not be discovered there? A confidence began to build inside him, the feeling that, at the very least, no one should find her body for years to come, and by then it would be rotten. 

Frederick considered this a suitable ending for a gypsy girl.

The ground was difficult to dig, held together as it was with roots and wild grass, but with each shovelful of earth and fallen leaves, difficulty was not his main concern; the niggling thought of having forgotten something important kept racing through the back of his mind.

After an hour or so the hole was deep enough, and he emptied the torso from the box into it, followed quickly by the legs, head, and arms. Staring down at his handy work, Frederick was most satisfied, and while grinning from ear-to-ear reliving the ecstasy in his mind of killing and cutting the girl up into pieces, he suddenly realised what he had forgotten. Sticking out amongst the bags of severed body parts was a hand, and on that hand was the girl’s ring.

He was relieved. It had been worrying him that he had forgotten something important, but it was just the desire for the ring. The desire to have something which that beautiful girl had been so affectionate about. Somehow that turned him on. The desecration of whatever memories or sentiment the ring held for her; now kept by her killer as a trophy.

But it was risky, he had never done that before. Taking mementos was a mistake, he knew that. He knew that numerous killers had been caught for that very reason, but sitting there in a muddy hole, as if beckoning him towards it, was a trinket he could simply not resist. In fact the urge to posses it was almost as great as the urge he had felt to kill her; this was unusual, but Frederick uncharacteristically dismissed those worries.  

It shimmered under the light of the torch, and he thought to himself for a moment that it appeared as if new, far removed from its worn and worthless initial impression back at the house.

He had to have it.

Jumping into the hole, he grabbed the finger and tugged greedily at it. Again and again he twisted and pulled, but the ring would not come off. As he pushed and squeezed and contorted and forced with all his strength attempting to remove it, something shook him. It was the fear of being caught and it had been produced by a familiar sound: a car was driving somewhere nearby. 

What sounded like the continual grunt of a powerful engine accompanied by the noise of wheels on ground, spurred Frederick into action. Grabbing the shovel he placed his foot on the silky white hand and severed the finger from it. Pocketing the finger with the ring still attached, he clambered out of the hole and began to fill it in, burying the girl’s remains as quickly as possible. The engine noise grew louder as it seemed to be nearing from an indecipherable direction; he simply could not figure out where it was coming from, perhaps there was another road nearby of which he was unaware. 
As what increasingly sounded like a ferociously powerful truck drew closer and closer, and Frederick began to question whether he was imagining its presence, finally light split the trees, illuminating his hideous accomplishments. 


Closer and closer still.

The woods were now bright with a luminous white light which temporarily left Frederick feeling blinded, but despite its obvious proximity he still could not understand where it was coming from. It was as if the light was darting through the densely populated trees, with the sound of roots, bushes, and branches heaving and cracking as they gave way to the vehicle’s unrelenting brute force. 
Now he found himself running, but not before grabbing the bags, throwing them and the shovel into the box and making for his car. The monstrous roar of the engine was now upon him and the blinding light surely came from only metres behind. 

This was it, he was caught.

Frederick was terrified.

Then, as if a beacon of hope, his car came into view sitting as it was at the edge of the woods. Making his way towards it, the noise and light behind seemed to follow immediately, but his slight change in direction had managed to buy him some time. 

Breaking through the tree-line, finally he was at the car. As he unlocked the door he fumbled for his keys, falling into the drivers seat. The light was now on the road and as he frantically pulled himself out of the car to pick up the box he had left outside, he caught a glimpse of what lay ahead. It appeared like the points of light one would expect to see at the front of a large truck, but a shape from behind the light contorted and moved unnaturally within. Something with purpose, something with form, but it was most certainly not man-made. 

Insatiable groans echoed out through the trees, and somehow Frederick knew: it wanted him. 
Throwing the box into the back seat, he plunged the key with force into the ignition, starting the engine, and then reversing as quickly as possible down the inclined road. The car swerved and slid on the mud as it rushed down the hill, several times threatening to careen straight off the road into one of several ditches - if that happened, whatever was in that light would be upon him. 

Now only a few metres away, the light approached and as it did so, an intense heat could be felt from it. The noise, surely no car engine, was a deafening crescendo of anger and hate, of metal upon metal, nails upon slate. As its furore increased and the light intensified to a blinding haze, Frederick began to weep, crying like a small child.

But now he was out! 

The car spun around as it reached the crossroad. Throwing the gear-stick into first he hit the accelerator, speeding off in the direction of town as fast as he could. Almost delirious with fear, he raced home, not caring if he drew attention to himself; just wanting the safety of his own property, his own little bubble. And soon enough he was there.

Once home, Frederick fixed himself a stiff drink and, after the self-persuasion of denying the existence of the unnatural light in the woods, the reality of the bloodstained lounge, hallway, and bathroom brought a level of sobriety to his mind. Over the next three hours as he bleached the bathroom and tore up the carpets in the offending rooms, he convinced himself that the strange encounter had been entirely due to the stress of the situation. 

That was it; stress, pure and simple. He cursed that he had ever laid eyes on the girl, but as he damned her very existence under his breath, he took comfort knowing that he at least had her ring. That thing which she loved, taken by force. Cherished by her killer. For some reason the ring drew him to it. He derived great pleasure knowing that he had not only brutally murdered a gypsy girl (a group of people he had utter disdain for), but that he possessed something which meant a great deal to her and possibly even her family - this made him very happy. He just wished he could have been there when her parents were told she was dead. To see their faces; to Frederick that would be bliss.
With that thought in his mind, he slept well that night.

The following day, however, his greatest fears were realised. In the afternoon another unwelcome and unscheduled knock came at his door. It was the police. They were making routine enquiries, asking if anyone had encountered the girl, as she had last been seen fund-raising on the street by one of Frederick’s neighbours.

Playing it as cool and collected as possible, he showed great concern for ‘the poor girl’ and  even asked if he could have a photo of her so that he could organise the local neighbourhood watch and make copies, posting them around the area. The police bought it.

Frederick was delighted.

But that delight diminished quickly. Two days later the police came calling again. Luckily Frederick had expedited his plans and had replaced the carpets and bleached the bathroom by this time, so it appeared as if nothing were amiss, but he could tell that the police were curious. They asked to come in, of which Frederick obliged, and after a few questions they politely left. Perhaps they wanted to see inside everyone’s house in the street as that was the last place she was supposed to be, but it would have been foolish to take any chances, especially with one of the police officers who seemed to be a little too interested in the house - if only he could murder that bitch too.

He had no choice but to bring forward his plans and replace the bathroom suite and all other items the girl may have come into contact with. If the police ended up running a forensic investigation of the house, he had to remove the possibility of them finding anything. Much to Frederick’s chagrin, this certainly had to include the finger, but the more he considered it, no matter how illogical it seemed, he wanted to keep the ring. It was a dangerous course of action, but there was something deep within which compelled him to retain it. Unfortunately he had been so far unable to remove it from the girl’s finger, and had been in any case preoccupied with the disposal of the old carpets and armchair, while covering everything else in bleach. 

Any trace of the girl had to go.

To make matters worse, it was only a couple of days before the two week judging window opened, when the Garden Association’s panel could appear at any time to appraise his display. Covering his tracks during the competition was exactly what Frederick did not need. He had to win that prize!
The finger was in a locked drawer in the cellar. As soon as the police were gone, he rushed down the stairs, opened the drawer and gazed at the now pallid finger wrapped in that sliver of gold. Holding the finger in his hand Frederick was surprised by the change in its appearance. He knew that the human body goes through a series of changes as it rots, but it was uncanny; the finger now resembled that of an old woman’s. Furthermore, the ring which had stubbornly clung to its former owner now simply slipped off with ease. 

Holding it in his hands, aroused by the thought of its emotional value to the girl, Frederick knew beyond all doubt that he must keep it. The house was too dangerous a place to hide the ring, but perhaps, just perhaps, burying it in the garden would provide sufficient obscurity for now. 
Yes! That would be perfect!

How pleasing it was to think of his beautiful garden, the roses, the carnations, the vibrant green lawn, being once again voted as the best in the entire town by the association, all the while housing that relic of Frederick’s most recent conquest.

Strolling down the garden path, trowel in hand, he breathed in the aromas and pleasant surroundings of his making, and decided upon reflection to bury the ring between his roses. Lush and red, it seemed the perfect place for it. Digging a small hole between two long stems, he committed the ring to the ground before returning to the house.

He had intended to dispose of the girl’s finger immediately, but upon crossing the threshold into his house, Frederick was overcome with an entirely unpleasant sensation. As he walked along his hallway, a distinct feeling of nausea began to pervade his senses. With each step further into his home the discomfort increased in intensity, and before knowing what was going on, he had passed out on his bed, floored by sickness and an accompanying seething pain in his left eye. 

Darkness fell, and Frederick’s sickness was now overtaken by an all encompassing feeling of weakness. The night grew heavy and although he woke several times throughout, he was unable to leave his bed. He lay there in the pitch black night, paralysed by illness. It was as if his limbs were made of lead sucking him down into the mattress.

Fading in and out of consciousness, he began to dwell on the terrifying thought that he might be dying. As he lay there contemplating this unwelcome idea, a sound somewhere in the house caught his attention. A creak - the most certain creak of a floorboard. Frederick quickly concluded that he was delirious and that the creaking sound, finding its way to him in the darkness, was in fact an hallucination of sorts.

That was it surely. Perhaps it was food poisoning, or perhaps it was a spontaneous migraine. Yes, he had heard of a boy in his school year who the doctors believed was dying, only for him to recover in a matter of days. They were convinced that it had been an acute spontaneous migraine, and that his body had went into shock due to the pain, partially shutting down - Frederick had laughed about that.
Yes, that was it. This was a migraine. As painful and sickening as it was, he knew he just had to wait it out. Perhaps he would recover enough to call a doctor in the morning, but then he loathed the idea of having anyone in the house while evidence of his deeds still remained. It was just too much of a risk.

Another creak, but this time accompanied by a subsequent noise; something familiar, a noise which Frederick had heard on numerous occasions, but not in this context. It was rhythmic, yet subtle and occasionally followed by another creak of the floorboards - two sounds which seemed to fill the darkness.

Then it the chill of realisation took him. The creak was the shifting of weight, the accompanying noise was the slow scuffing of bare feet on carpet and hard floor. Cumbersome, sluggish footsteps as though the actions of a drunk or sleepwalker.

Frederick lay there helpless. If there were indeed an intruder in his house there was little he could do about it, he just hoped that it was all in his mind. The most he could do was lift his head slightly and peer towards the open doorway in his room which led to the hallway. 

The shuffling noise continued slowly, it certainly sounded real enough, but thankfully in the darkness he could not see anything. Of course! There wasn’t one single light on in the house. There was no way that an intruder could see without a torch and if they had one he would have seen the light himself in the hallway.

Frederick let out a sigh of relief. 

He had long held the fear that someone connected to one of his victims might come calling one day, looking for revenge. On several occasions he had even been moved to investigate a knock or creak in the house only to realise that each noise was merely the sound of a normal, empty home at night. He was sure now that his illness was merely exacerbating this insecurity. 

While contemplating this, he became aware that the shuffling footsteps had ceased. Perhaps he was getting better. Yes, he was sure he wasn’t feeling quite as nauseous as he had done before, but he still felt too drained to move. 

A good night’s sleep was in order.

Lying there, Frederick’s mind slowly began to piece together the horror of his situation. What little light which slipped through the blinds from the street lights outside, slowly allowed his twisted brain to make sense of the shadows and darkness which lay ahead. There was a reason the footsteps had stopped. There in the hallway, in that void of night, someone stood, motionless, staring at Frederick lying helpless on his bed. He tried to gasp in horror, but his voice had left him, his mouth dry and heart beat palpable.

He could not quite decipher the figure’s features, nor could he tell whether it was a man or a woman. One thing he knew beyond all certainty was that it was watching him. Its eyes were almost visible, faint but frighteningly present; a cold, watery, continuous stare. He assumed that the intruder would attack at some point, lunging towards him, but as the minutes passed it simply remained still, standing there in the darkness. Suddenly it let out a subtle yet audible groan. Not quite a word but as if it were trying to say something. Then, slowly, it turned to its right and shambled down the stairs into the cellar.

Frederick lay for at least an hour staring into the hall, waiting for the intruder to make its way back up the stairs to finish him off; but nothing was heard, no sound produced or sight given. It was as if the figure had made its home in the dank coldness of the cellar, waiting there.

The agonising pain returned in Frederick’s left eye. So overwhelming was it that despite his attempts to remain awake and regain his strength, to await that hobbling, shuffling visitor’s return from the bowels of the house, he could not resist his body’s weakness - he passed out.

The next day he awoke. The sickening nausea in his stomach and the pain in his eye had disappeared, and it seemed as though he had regained most of his strength – although a distant drained feeling remained within. A fogginess clouded his memory of the previous night and, while the pain had diminished, the repercussions of his sudden illness had not: he was blind in his left eye. Gazing into a bathroom mirror Frederick was presented with an horrific sight. The eye was clouded white, as if the pigment had been completely removed, and his face had a strikingly haggard look to it, as if he had aged ten or fifteen years over night.

Panic set in, he needed to see a doctor as soon as possible, however, he would use the trip to dispose of the girl’s finger which was still locked in the drawer down in the cellar. 

Of course, the cellar. 

The memory of that shuffling figure in the hallway returned, and Frederick found himself reluctant to venture down below. What if it was still there? Waiting. Waiting for him?

After showering and getting dressed (not without the difficulty of adjusting to the loss of one eye) he became aware of strange marks on the floor. The unmistakable sight of soil dragged across the carpet and hardwood. Now he knew, the previous night was no hallucination, someone had broken into his house. Someone had watched him lying ill for God knows what reason, and then hid in the cellar. 
Perhaps he had been poisoned? That would account for the sickness. He would show whoever was down there that he was not a man to be trifled with; even with one eye he was twice as dangerous as any individual.

Standing at the top of the stairs to the cellar, he held a large butcher’s knife in one hand, a metallic silver torch in the other. He was not used to the experience of fear – other than the fear of being caught – but Frederick was filled with apprehension. Not just for what lurked below, but also for what lurked within. What kind of illness or poison was this?

Taking a deep breath, he slowly descended the stairs, his torch light illuminating the stone floors and grey bricked walls as he moved. The cellar was the only place in the house that could have been considered cluttered, with unused pieces of furniture strewn around the large floor space. This, combined with columns of other junk and papers, provided the perfect place for a rather macabre game of hide and seek.

Frederick was not pleased.

After 15 minutes of uneasy exploration, he was finally satisfied that the intruder had left while he was passed out during the night. Skimming the contents of the cellar one last time with the yellow circular light emanating from his torch, two marks on the floor stood out from their darkened surroundings. Approaching them quickly it became clear what they were, two muddied footprints standing in front of an old worn desk; the same desk which contained the gypsy girl’s severed finger. 

Frederick rushed towards it, opening the drawer, discovering that it had been forced open. Taking another deep breath he looked inside and realised immediately that the finger was gone. A million thoughts rushed through his perverted mind; why had they taken the finger? Was he going to be blackmailed? Was someone going to toy with him before setting the families of his victims loose? Should he expect a knock at the door at any moment? A knife in the back, or worse?

Coincidences can be shockingly unnerving. Just as the thought filtered through his mind, the front door was indeed knocked several times by yet another unscheduled visitor. Frederick ascended the stairs like a madman, clutching the butchers’ knife ready to claim another victim in his rage. 

Rushing to the door, he grasped the knife for dear life behind his back, and opened it. Standing there were three familiar faces. The faces of the local Garden Association’s judging committee. They were there to look at the garden, that which Frederick had worked on all year round to produce, in his opinion, his finest display yet.

The judges were obviously shocked by his appearance (specifically the white clouded eye) and just as he began his usual attempts of manipulation and charm to persuade them that all was well, the pangs of nausea returned, along with a searing pain now in his right eye.

He had to return to bed immediately. 

The judges were of course more than willing to appraise Frederick’s garden without his presence and completely understood that he required rest, especially given his terrible appearance. He mustered a pathetic smile and on closing the door staggered to his bedroom, not before opening his window to allow him to hear the judges’s remarks.

The thought of calling a doctor entered his mind once more, but he would only do that once his beautiful garden had been judged. Nothing could ruin that. Nothing would get in the way of that triumphant moment.

His limbs began to feel heavy once more and the pain in his right eye was almost unbearable. Lying on his bed, again helpless, he listened intently to what the judging committee had to say, expecting a glowing and spectacular appraisal. 

But Something was wrong. 

As soon as the judges entered the front garden, Frederick recoiled in horror as it became increasingly apparent that they were not impressed by that year’s efforts. One judge exclaimed ‘quite awful’ while another described it as ‘a total mess’. 

Frederick was not having this. How dare they question his display!

With all of his will, he pulled himself back out of bed, staggering in agony down the hall towards, and then out of the door. The daylight stung his eye, and the pain seemed to grow with intensity as he circled the side of the house into the front garden. What he saw sickened him. It was a mess. The lawn was dying, covered in patches of brown dried grass; the roses were wilted, their petals rotten around the edges, and Frederick’s prized flowerbeds were covered in black spots as if a terrible fungal disease had attacked each plant over night.

‘This is not possible!’ he screamed, staggering like a drunk towards the judges, grabbing one of them by the shirt collar, dribbling a rancid liquid from his eye onto their shoulder. 

‘Who did this! I’ll kill them! I’ll kill them! Dirty gypsy bastards!’ Frederick foamed at the mouth, wheezing while the three judges’s faces turned to fear and aversion, disgusted at the sight of such a man clearly deranged by illness.

Turning his anger towards them, Frederick chased all three of the panel from his now withered and spoilt garden. If he had had the strength he would have happily gutted each of them, but the sickness and pain within forced him to seek out his bed once more, finally relenting and phoning for help.

The local town doctor, a man by the name of Miller, visited Frederick that day, but even he could not fathom the nature or cause of the illness. The condition seemed to be completely erratic. One day his eyesight would return and he would appear as youthful as he always had, the next his eye would cloud over again and he would be bed-ridden, reduced to having the physical strength of a sick old man ravaged with age. Yet he refused to be admitted to hospital, terrified by the possibility of the police finding evidence that he had killed the girl. On the days when he was well he slowly replaced the wallpaper and bathroom, removing as best he could any trace of his most recent victim.

One of the neighbours, Miss O’Malley, observed to Dr Miller that Frederick’s health seemed to correspond with a bizarre phenomenon taking place in his garden. On the days he was well, the garden would be returned to its former glory with a luscious green lawn and wonderful floral display. Yet on the days he was ill, the garden would rot. It was as if the two were connected by an invisible bond.

While the doctor could not account for the bizarre nightly changes in Frederick’s garden, he of course dismissed this observation as idle town chat; superstition at its worst.

On the last few days of the Garden Association’s judging window, Frederick grew increasingly ill. The garden wilted as did his health. As pockets of dying grass became a permanent fixture on the lawn, painful gangrenous sores appeared in number over his face and body. As the flowers died, Frederick’s hair slowly thinned and his teeth began to fall out. And as the black spots claimed every plant in the garden, Frederick’s strength left him.

On the day that Patti Rossier’s orchard won the town’s garden of the year award, Frederick lay helpless, unable to move from his bed; frail and bereft of the strength which had allowed him to kill so many innocent victims - blinded, his eyes clouded and useless.

As the night drew in, something stirred in the cellar. At first it was faint, uncertain, but after a time Frederick knew the truth: someone was down there. With each shuffling footstep, he lay paralysed by pain as something slowly climbed the cellar stairs. This time, he had no hope of seeing the intruder. It did not matter that the house was in darkness, his entire world was now of a permanent night. As the shambling feet made their way with unsure footing from the cellar door to the edge of his bed, he tried to scream, but no sound was produced, nor any mercy given.

It was the town doctor who found Frederick, and what he discovered remains to this day a medical mystery. The garden which he had taken such careful pride in had been overrun by a rare black fungus, which had systematically killed every blade of grass, every flower, every sign of life. The autopsy showed that the same fungus had somehow contaminated Frederick’s body. It was assumed that he had been exposed to it while tending to his garden. It had rotted him from the inside out,causing massive amounts of damage to his nervous system. A terrible, slow, and painful death.

However, it was not the presence of this mould in his brain and body which puzzled doctors and forensic examiners alike. It was the contents of his insides which provoked such shock and outrage from the townspeople. For inside Frederick’s stomach there was found a solitary finger, that of a young girl who had recently disappeared, unremarkable in appearance, save for an unusual golden ring, which it wore in death, as it had done in life.



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Michael Whitehouse: Beneath the Garden | A Short Horror Story by Michael Whitehouse
Beneath the Garden | A Short Horror Story by Michael Whitehouse
Michael Whitehouse
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