From nearby Chatsford Airfield she heard jets take off. She looked up and saw them, flying free. The Founder's Day Air Show had begun. Gloria closed the folder and grasped her pruning shears, deciding to tackle the rock garden first. Her low heath trees had lost their rose-pink blossoms and were looking leggy. She had to trim the feathery blue-green dwarf conifers. Jim had found a year-old pyramid tree when they arrived and it was time to prune its summer growth. She stopped in the midst of the large garden she had grown and inhaled its smells -- the musk of fertilized soil, the perfume from the lavender's gray-blue blossoms -- her back to the house as she listened to the jets rise and plummet, come and go; felt the hot, late-June American sun, and tried not to think of her Surrey cottage.
She stood like this a while and lost track of time. It wasn't a sound as much as a sense that made her turn. To her surprise, the boy from the street stood at the edge of her patio, must have stolen up the drive and through the gate, his appearance so unexpected she felt disoriented. Had Jim sent him to her for some reason?
She spoke, said something polite like, "Pardon, may I help you?" unable to fathom the reason he was there. He didn't answer. Gloria wondered if he might be shy or awkward, and only trying to scare up the odd job or two.
Unafraid, she walked toward him and got close enough to see he wasn't a boy at all, more likely in his mid-to-late twenties with a permanently young appearance. In contrast with his outfit, he looked pale and cloistered, like a choir boy. His hair was wispy and cut straight at the level of his chin as in paintings of the angels. He was of average height and wiry, though more muscular in his shoulders and forearms. She vaguely wondered if she hadn't seen him on their street before.
"Is your husband here?" he asked in a voice too deep for his young face.
Something told Gloria not to answer no, though she was still unsure of what she ought to say. He moved toward the table all the while as she walked toward him. Somehow, she must ask who he was, what he wanted, tell him he ought not to enter private gardens unannounced -- though part of her wondered if it mattered who he was, only his sudden intrusion upon their lives.
When he reached for the tools leaning against the house, she felt relieved. Her instinct had been right. He was looking for a day's work and wanted to demonstrate what he could do. He took the pitchfork. He raised it in his hands and came slowly forward.
Gloria stood still. What was he doing? He left her gravelled path and stepped directly onto a bed of sprouting herbs, trampling them underfoot.
This was no gardener.
"Who are you?" she whispered, her voice barely emerging from the shadows beneath her hat.
He didn't answer and she asked louder, suddenly trembling, taking a step backward into her garden which had no other exit, only high fences all around. He didn't rush, but came steadily toward her, his light eyes now in view and strangely gleaming. Who was he?
"Stop!" Gloria cried, but only the sound of soaring jets filled the sky.
Still he came.
She stumbled backward to the fence, faster, faster, growing angry at her panic but moving back two steps for his one, her heel catching on a newly-laid rock -- why had she put it there? -- and fell hard, her arms flying, her hat somersaulting the dwarf pines, the rough scrape of gravel on her elbow, arms and hands.
She looked up.
Still he came . . . like in a dream, in a nightmare, in a horror show on the telly late at night after the news. All Gloria's forebodings advanced in a stranger's stride.
It had to be a dream. She rubbed her eyes.
He was there.
Gloria screamed. It was futile against the roaring planes.
Copyright © J. R. Lankford February 2, 2001, Xlibris Corporation used by permission. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce this excerpt, please visit www.NovelDoc.com/Lankford.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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