Sunday, 4 December 2011

Hedera Helix - a story

It was a beautiful garden. 

The deep borders were filled with scented bushes and tall arching roses, each carefully placed by the old couple who’d lived there before; people who knew about soil types and seasonal planting. 

When Jack and Pamela had first moved in, they’d been happy to leave the garden alone, waiting to see the succession of flowers bringing new shades and shapes to the borders as the seasons passed. They’d welcomed the dark green foliage of the ivy snaking its way up the fence panels, pleased that it softened the long straight lines, noting how its dark leaves made a fine contrast to the emerald-green brightness of the curving lawn.

But it had grown so quickly. And now it covered the fences, its pointed leaves intermingling to block out any colour, any sign of what was beneath; the stems stretching and snaking up the wood, with their tiny, hairy shoots clinging and grasping onto anything and everything.

Last night Pam had dreamt of it, pictured the ivy spreading and creeping towards the house, reaching out for the kitchen wall. She’d seen herself standing at the kitchen sink, watching the tendrils snake in under the window sill, pulling the window open, crawling towards her. The images had frightened her and disturbed her sleep, perhaps that’s why Jack had left her dozing in bed this morning, why he’d gone off to visit his brother without saying goodbye.

And now she stood on the back door step, wishing there was a little more warmth in the wintery sun. As her fingers curled tightly round a mug of tea, she shuddered at the memory of her dream, the thought of those dark green leaves sliding over the bright red and orange tiles that gave such brightness to the kitchen.

Jack had promised to make a start on trimming the ivy before he went out, but she could see no sign of his efforts. True, the wheelbarrow was parked halfway up the garden, where the ivy grew thickest, but the fence post was still leaning precariously, covered by leaves. She wasn’t sure whether the ivy’s tendrils were pulling it down, or holding it back from falling; she’d warned Jack to be careful when he cleared it, sure that the wood underneath would be splintered and cracked.

Pam looked up at the tall elm trees. At this time of year they should be bare skeletal structures, clear against the pale grey sky. But the ivy had taken them over too, so their trunks were now a dark bushy mass. Their branches had been wrapped round and round, until only a few twigs remained uncovered at the ends, reaching out like beseeching fingers from a swamp, begging to be freed from the enveloping greenness.

She knew Jack wouldn’t be back for hours, perhaps she could surprise him; let him see how much she could get done without him. He’d been moaning about the ivy for weeks now, railing against its gradual encroachment. He’d seemed almost threatened by it, offended by this greenery that had arrived unwelcome and uninvited into the garden, his garden.

Decision made, Pam started to look for the garden tools. She found the thick gloves quickly, knew she’d be glad of their protection from the damp glossiness of the leaves. Then she searched for the shears and secateurs, but there was no sign of them anywhere. She couldn’t find them in the garden shed, they weren’t in the cupboard under the stairs either, nor hastily thrown in with all the bags and rubbish under the kitchen sink.

She’d really need something sharp to cut through the snaking tendrils, to ease them away from their anchor points, but perhaps she could just begin by clearing a way through the outermost leaves, pulling away the looser sections of growth. She wasn’t sure how hard to tug, worried that the fence would sway and topple, but gradually she made progress. She tried to ignore the rustling and creaking sounds that seemed to increase as she worked, focusing on the other sounds of the garden, the hum of motorway traffic a couple of miles away, the cawing of a crow from the top of the elms.

She could hear none of the usual Sunday garden sounds, no shrieking children, no droning lawnmowers, but it was late in the year; perhaps her neighbours were all inside their warm houses, preparing a weekly roast lunch while she worked out here alone.

Pam wished she’d found the shears; their long sharp blades would have given her a much longer reach through the tangled growth. The secateurs would have been great for those thick trunk-like stems at the bottom; cutting through them would ensure the ivy didn’t grow back. Instead, she pulled and pulled, grabbing at handfuls of leaves, throwing them over her shoulder towards the wheelbarrow. As the light slowly began to penetrate through the green gloom, she saw something glinting on the ground just ahead, something long and metallic.

“Oh for goodness sake Jack” she muttered “you always make such a fuss when I leave the tools outside. All that moaning about bluntness and rust, and you go and leave our new shears here in the bushes; just wait ‘til you get home, I’m gonna love teasing you about this one.”

She reached forward for the shears. At first she thought they’d just fallen into the ivy, but then she saw how the leaves seemed to have twisted and entwined round the handles, just like the tree branches, curling and wrapping. She moved closer, treading carelessly on the ivy tendrils that reached out towards the lawn, brushing away the pointed leaves that grazed her face.

As she tugged at the shears they seemed to move slightly, but when she pulled again, she realised there was something else holding them back. It was funny how it almost looked like an ivy-covered hand, with an ivy-covered, arm-shaped branch behind it. It was strange how, in the gloomy depths of the bushes, the ivy-arm looked like it was wearing a checked shirt, one of those brushed-cotton ones Jack was so fond of. Just like the one she’d washed and dried yesterday for him to wear to his brother’s today.

As she crept closer, Pam realised that the shears were indeed being held by an ivy-covered hand, on the end of a checked-shirted, ivy-twisted arm. As she turned to run, the tendrils from the grass crept over her shoes and curled around her ankles. Slowly, slowly, as she tried to scream, the leaves that had brushed her face and hair slithered into her mouth and silenced her.

It was a beautiful garden.


Anonymous said...

Wow..that was a good one. I had a chilling premonition when the tools were missing....

Baglady said...

Love this. I love the sense of creeping (tee hee) dread and the way the post is neatly letterbox between that "beautiful garden" sentence.

Robbie Grey said...

Nice. A delightful bit of macabre.

Cindy Chance said...

Great story. Love that you ended with the same sentence you began with. Is that what happened to the prior owners?
Cindy at and

Bill Dameron said...


I have been there. We had Ivy that I just could not keep under control and once you turn your back on it, it is up the trees and all over the hill. I think I'm going to have dreams like poor Pam tonight.

The Elephant's Child said...

Gardens are like that. Here the only thing they take over is my wallet though. Thank you.

Zainab Ummer Farook said...

Creepily captivating! :)

Shopgirl said...

Ah, great story. I think as a fellow gardener, I've also felt that way about our creeping plants.

Cool setup and well written as always.

The Idiot Gardener said...

Brilliant delivery, well crafted, and I will admit I did laugh when the ivy silenced her.

Arwa said...

Whew! i sat at the edge of the seat through it all, wondering What Next? WHAT NEXT??

Susan Cooper said...

WOW, I love the story. It ended as it started with much drama in-between. Thank you for sharing your gift of writing. :-), Susan Cooper

Deep$ said...

Wow...Really nice....You have a nice way of putting it down

Suman said...

An absolutely brilliant piece of writing! I waited on tenterhooks since Pam enters the garden and just love the way you have built up the 'creepiness' and the tension throughout the narrative.
"A terrible beauty" it is.

Nicole said...

I'm so regretting reading this right before bed! I want to say well done, but I'm too chilled to really mean it. So, frighteningly done! (Very fun, very dark.)

anne said...

this was real creepy! your vivid description made hair on my head stand up! brilliant writing!

Pat said...

The triffid lives on!

"The triffid is a tall, mobile, carnivorous, prolific and highly venomous fictional plant species—the titular antagonist in John Wyndham's 1951 novel The Day of the Triffid."

Yours is even scarier because ivy exists:)

Cle Reveries said...

Very very nice!
I like the macabre and your story has fascinated me with all its accurate descriptions and sequences.

Daanish said...

reading delight with all elements.

Elliot MacLeod-Michael said...

I enjoyed this. Your description flows so effortlessly. I hate description. For me it is usually excruciating torture.