Jack stared at the thing at the bottom of the garden, and the thing at the bottom of the garden stared back. For ten nights in a row it had crouched low and motionless, the pale yellow light from the kitchen reflecting off its large eyes. The amorphous shape, never moving, always watching, night after night.
Jack tried to suppress the shudder. The first night he had screamed and ran from the house, unable to return until the morning. In the clear light of day he felt foolish. A black plastic sack full of dead leaves for mulching lay on the lawn, in direct sight of the kitchen window. Jack heaved the bag over his shoulder and carried it round to the bins. Next time he attempted the gardening he would just buy some compost he thought, rather than scare himself silly.
That night the thing at the bottom of the garden was there again. Jack had been about to make himself a cup of tea when he saw it. The pint of milk slipped from his fingers and smashed on the tiled floor. He kept staring at the thing, and the thing kept staring back. The milk began to slowly soak into his socks. Slowly, Jack backed away from the window. He didn’t even wince as he stepped on one of the shards of glass. His hand fumbled for the light switch, reaching it on the third attempt, plunging the kitchen into darkness. The thing vanished with the light.
On the third night, Jack didn’t see the thing at the bottom of the garden by mistake. He was waiting for it. He sat on a chair in the kitchen and stared out of the window as the sun slowly dipped below the horizon. He sat, and stared, and waited. An hour of darkness, followed by a second and a third. Still Jack waited, unable to tear his eyes away from the garden. The formless shadows at the bottom of the garden did not return his gaze. Jack blinked, his eyelids closing for only the briefest sliver of time. The thing at the bottom of the garden met his gaze as his eyes reopened.
He stood, knocking the chair over. It didn’t come over the wall. It didn’t climb out of a hole. One moment it was absent, the next it was there, hunched over, staring into the kitchen from the foot of the garden. Jack held his breath, trying to suppress the urge to scream, to yell at the thing. His ears filled with the whooshing roar of blood as his heart pulsed frenetically. He exhaled in stops and starts. “Go away” he whispered. He blinked once, twice, then the thing was gone. Jack had hoped that when the thing left he would feel relieved. But when the thing melted away into the darkness he could only feel worse.
The fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh nights followed the same pattern. Jack would find an excuse to go to the kitchen and stare out of the window. A glass of water, a cup of tea, a spoon that needed washing up. He would slowly enter the kitchen, peer out of the window, and stare. Sometimes the thing at the bottom of the garden was waiting for him. Other times it was absent, and Jack would leave, inventing an excuse to return later. When he did, the thing would be waiting. Never moving. Just staring.
On the eighth night Jack got drunk. He wanted to confront the thing. He wanted to know what it wanted. But he knew he would never be able to do it without help. He couldn’t tell anybody about the thing. What could he tell them? So he got the only help he could. A quarter bottle of vodka later Jack glared out of the window, daring the thing to be there.
Just before midnight as his eyes began to droop the thing was at the bottom of the garden. Jack drained the last of the vodka, taking comfort in the burning sensation in his throat. He unlocked the back door and stepped out into the darkness. The light from the kitchen cast a golden rectangle on the lawn, an inverse shadow in gloom of night. The thing at the bottom of the garden stayed just beyond the penumbra of light. Emboldened by the vodka, Jack staggered towards the thing.
He came within touching distance of the thing, sure that he could feel its breath on his face. He could see himself reflected in the slick black eyes that had been watching him night after night. “I’m not afraid of you” he whispered into the night. “I’m not.” The thing exhaled sharply, repeatedly. It was laughing. Jack balled his fists in rage. It was laughing. He swung at one of the dark eyes, and stumbled forward as his fist sailed through empty air. There was no thing.
On the ninth night Jack tried hard not to look into the garden. He had felt awful all day, his head pounding and his stomach clenching in knots as he tried not to vomit. He stayed in bed, under the covers, willing the world to stop spinning and trying to keep the night at bay. Unable to stop the encroaching gloom, Jack crawled out of bed and began closing the curtains and blinds in every room to avoid seeing the outside world. To avoid seeing the thing.
Jack left the kitchen window to last; he couldn’t understand why. When he got to it he shut his eyes and tried to pull the blinds down without looking. As he pulled on the cord his hand knocked over a glass that he had left on the dishrack to dry. The noise caused him to open his eyes, and as the blind fell he caught a glimpse of the thing at the bottom of the garden.
The following evening Jack stared at the thing at the bottom of the garden, and the thing at the bottom of the garden stared back. For ten nights in a row it had crouched low and motionless, the pale yellow light from the kitchen reflecting off its large eyes.
“Please” he murmured to the empty darkness. “Please go away. I don’t want to see you in my garden again. Please.” He shut his eyes tightly, each “please” a fervent wish. He dared himself to open them again, slowly opening the right eye, then the left. The thing at the bottom of the garden had vanished once more.
Jack had no desire to be home for the eleventh night. He made plans. He booked tickets to the cinema. He called up friends and arranged to meet them for drinks. He volunteered for overtime at work. And still, when the twilight ebbed away, he was sitting in the kitchen, staring into the garden. Staring and waiting for the thing at the bottom of the garden to return. Waiting for it to mock him.
He waited. Each tick from the clock on the kitchen wall echoed in his mind, ticking down to the moment when he would once again stare into the glassy eyes of the thing. He waited for the moment with dread, alert to the tiniest motions in the garden, to the faintest noises in the night. He saw an urban fox slip under the fence, prowl around the garden then leave. A cat padded along the top of the fence posts, traversing the network of gardens in its territory. But that was all.
He had barely noticed that the velvet darkness of the night sky was beginning to pale, through shades of blue then a delicate red just at the horizon. The sun would rise soon, and the thing at the bottom of the garden had not appeared. A surge of elation swept through Jack. Joy and profound relief. The torment was over. Whatever the thing at the bottom of the garden was, it had not returned.
Laughing, he walked out of the kitchen, and headed to bed for what would be his first restful sleep in ten nights. At the foot of the stairs he paused, staring up into the still dark hallway upstairs. He stopped laughing, turned round, and returned to the kitchen to sit down in the chair he had left only moments before.
The thing at the bottom of the garden was now the thing at the top of the stairs.