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The Groundsman

October 7, 2017

     No one ever read the bloody signs.

     Henry Roberts loved his job, but he hated the people who came and blithely ignored his signs. They couldn’t be clearer; one simple request.

       Keep off the grass.

     Damn fools never paid attention. The neatly-manicured lawns weren’t for them to trample over with their trendy sandals and hordes of screeching, snotty little brats who ran ramshackle wherever the wind took them, searching for the ghosts of old, rumoured to roam the estate centuries after their deaths. No, the people had paths and gardens aplenty to explore in the grounds of the infamous red-bricked manor, orchards and orangeries thrown open to milk their cash, but they just couldn’t stay away from the grass.

        More fool them.

     The first faint streaks of amber spread their arching tendrils across the horizon as Roberts banged his stick on the pebbled path, swiping at a stray dandelion that escaped his attention earlier in the day. He would far rather be brandishing his stick at the last of the lingering visitors he saw in the distance, the gathered throng adorned in gaudy costumes that befitted the day. The old lord, though, made it all too clear the last time that violence towards the guests, as Lord Melbury called them, would not be tolerated.

     His thin lips curved back at that thought, exposing the pale and toothless gums beneath. What the lord didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, and it wasn’t like there were ever any traces left behind these days. Roberts didn’t have to use his stick anymore. The visitors brought their damnation on themselves.

       All they had to do to stay safe was read the sign.

     Roberts’ head turned to the left. He saw it before his conscious mind registered it; the faint prickle that chased down his spine in response announced the infinitesimal ripple across the lawn, heralding the hidden ally below. He didn’t know why he was afraid, for it always left him alone, perhaps in gratitude for leaving it to do its work unhindered. Nonetheless, he always found his blood ran cold when he knew it was near.

     It was weeks since he saw it last. It must be hungry. Maybe it wouldn’t get to feed today; there were less than half a dozen visitors left now and the sun was sinking rapidly beneath the horizon, the last October evening ebbing and fading away with barely a whimper. It seemed only right that it show itself on this day, though. The visitors flocked here in droves at Halloween to flirt with danger, seeking out a ghost story to breathlessly embellish to their friends. None of them knew that the present danger was far more tangible and near than any spirit or ghoul could ever be. Perhaps today, though, the beast would merely lurk unsated.

     Wait. One of them had broken free from the gaggle, and...yes. Swigging from a near-empty bottle, the man wandered along the rambling path for a while before his eyes alighted upon the expanse of lawn that stretched out between him and the gate to the carpark.

     Anticipation seared the elderly groundsman’s veins. In silence he watched and waited, barely even breathing until he saw the man nod his head decisively. His mind made up, he stepped onto the grass in defiance of the sign mere feet away from him.

     Roberts shrank back behind the nearest tree, his breath coming in shallow pants as his hand tightened around the stick he relied upon these days. His body tense from head to toe, he peered around the thick, gnarled shaft of the trunk to watch the man as he came closer.

    There it was again; that faintest of tremors in the ground beneath their feet.

     He clenched his fist.

     Three.

     Two.

     One.

     Then the beast struck.

     Swift as lightning, one grasping claw shot up through the earth and wrapped around the man’s ankle. In the blink of an eye, man and beast were both gone.

If Roberts hadn’t seen it before, he never would have believed it. Only the smashed bottle left behind betrayed the fact anyone had been there at all.

    “Bloody mess,” he said under his breath. “No respect these days, none at all.”

     Treading carefully on the grass, cursing with every step he took, he made his way over to the bottle and gathered up the shards, trusting to his gardening gloves to keep him safe, his heart thumping all the while. He didn’t think the beast would strike again today, but you never quite knew with these things.

    There. Glass retrieved, he tenderly rearranged the crooked blades of grass to leave no trace of what had happened.  Job done, the groundsman straightened the nearest sign and brushed a stray cobweb away from it before he stood up and turned his back.

     “I told ‘em.” Fist still tight around his stick, Roberts walked off without a backwards glance. “I always tell them to keep off the grass.”

Cara's story "Life in Sepia" is featured in Fluky Fiction's When Glints Collide: A Collection of Science Fiction, Horror, and Oddities.  The book is available at a discounted price on Amazon Kindle and in print on our Etsy store until its October 10 release date.

 

Cara Fox is an English author and editor trying to write her way out of the dark. Inspired by authors such as Mary Shelley, Daphne du Maurier, Bram Stoker and Jules Verne, and also her Eastern European heritage, she favours steampunk, horror and Gothic romance, but you can find her anywhere that the stories sink their claws into you and the wine is flowing freely. Her work has been featured in the Tales To Terrify podcast and in upcoming anthologies from Fluky Fiction and Owl Hollow Press, and she is currently working on her debut novel, The Strange Case of Doctor Magorian.

 

When not writing, Cara can be found spending time with her two daughters, studying towards her English Literature degree or getting involved with British politics. In what little free time remains, she enjoys heavy metal and rock music, watching obscure horror movies with her husband, and curating collections of antique poetry and quirky snow-globes.

 

Cara has limited mobility as the result of a highly thrilling incident involving firefighters, forgotten keys and a misplaced hero complex, which is a tale for another time. This influences her work with themes of mortality and pain often running throughout the twisted tales she writes, but she refuses to allow it to hold her back.

 

Want to learn more about Cara? Visit her on the web!

www.carajfox.com

www.twitter.com/caradabra

 

 

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