Jack was snuffling along the garden wall again. Right along the back, where he always spent the longest time. I’d decided very quickly after he’d finally gotten out of quarantine and used to the limited confines of our home away from home: this was where the squirrels came from.
Today, I didn’t mind strolling down the long, narrow garden to retrieve my errant dog. It was a rare sunny day, warm enough, but nothing like home. I indulged in a brief moment of homesickness, my eyes closed and head tipped back to feel the sun on my face. Coming here had been my choice – Jack certainly hadn’t had a say. Not that he cared. Where I went, so did he, and that was his only desire in life. Well. That and squirrels, or ducks, or sticks…
I opened my eyes to look at what he was doing, and the appearance of a wizened old man over the garden wall made me yelp. He seemed to be floating in midair – that wall was eight feet tall if it was an inch, and he was holding a pair of hedge shears at the ready. He was also staring down at me.
“Um. Hello?” I ventured after a moment, having recovered my senses and logically concluding he was a neighbor, on a ladder, for purposes of pruning.
“‘Ullo.” He cocked his head like a robin, eyes bright. “You’re the renter, then.”
“I am.” I was fairly sure I was, given I had rented the attached house behind me from a gent who looked rather dissipated and had mumbled something about Monte Carlo. I hadn’t cared. The garden meant I could bring Jack over to stay with me.
I didn’t want the conversation to be over just yet. I had questions.
“I say,” my colleagues were already rubbing off on me, and I winced a little at the thought of what my American accent must sound like with that quintessential British phrase. “Do you know how to get into the wood behind the garden?”
“The wood?” He turned his head and squinted in the direction of the garden’s ends. The wood lay behind the end walls. The wood where the squirrels lived. Jack would adore walks there.
“Yes.” Surely he wasn’t that deaf? I didn’t want to be shouting at him.
“Canna get there.” He shook his head, a regretful look on his face. “Houses all about it, it’s walled in.”
I blinked in surprise. “But why?”
It seemed a shocking waste of precious space in this crowded neighborhood. I’d already learned that over here, they did things differently. This seemed odd, even by those standards.
“Legend has.” He stopped, but it was to put the massive shears down atop the garden wall, and to pull out a pouch from somewhere I couldn’t see on the other side. From this, he produced a short curly pipe and packed it with tobacco shreds, contemplatively. “Legend has it, Galahad’s grave lies yonder.”
He sucked wetly at the pipe while he struck a match against the stone wall. Puffing on this kept him busy for a moment. I had time to think about what he’d just said.
“I’d think there would be a monument, and paths.” I prompted him when the silence stretched on. King Arthur’s legend was everywhere, and usually it was commercialized or at least made part of the local lore. This was the first I’d heard of the wood, or this story.
“Mm.” He pressed his lips around the pipestem, then took the pipe from his mouth. “Happen it’s cursed. ‘S why the gardens fence it all about. Keeps…” He crammed the pipe back in his mouth. “Safer.”
That last word came out clearly, and then he descended from sight rapidly.
“You forgot your trimmers!” I shouted after him, but he didn’t return.
Jack, having tired of the scents, or more likely looking for a post-relief treat, nudged my leg, reminding me why I’d come out in the first place. I ruffled his ears, and after one last look at the abandoned hedge shears, returned inside. He’d be back when the nosy neighbor was gone, I sensed.
My prompt this week came from AC Young, with “The small wood was surrounded on all sides by houses. The fence surrounding it had no gate. Legend (now widely disbelieved) said that it was the burial place of Sir Galahad, and that the grave was protected by a curse.”
I prompted Becky Jones with “When the scientists decided they had to discover just why ___________ did _____________ they never expected to find…”
You can read the prompt responses, and find out how to play along and join our merry band, over at More Odds Than Ends!