I saw a post today from Sarah Vernon, on First Night Design. It was a compelling artistic treatment of an old photo of a garden shed. GP Cox commented that it made a great writing prompt, and I agreed. Sarah asked me to take up the prompt, and this is the result. It has a disturbing theme, so be warned. Here is a link to Sarah’s original post.
This is a work of fiction, a short story of less than 1900 words.
Sandra walked past the ‘SOLD’ sign and opened the gate to the path leading to her old family home. It was just a small 1930s detached house, nothing special. Bay windows, a u-shaped driveway, the separate garage hardly big enough for a modern car. It had been her parents’ pride and joy. They had struggled to buy it; forgetting about holidays, eschewing luxuries, Dad working all the overtime he could get. It was where she had been born. Mum sent home from the hospital, only to give birth to her on the kitchen floor, her back against the old gas cooker.
As she entered the familiar hallway, she stooped to pick up the junk mail that the opening door had swept into a pile. Dad was long gone, and she could no longer cope with Mum. With the house sold, they could fund some years in the care home, make her comfortable at least. One good thing about the property price increase in the south-east, it had fetched a small fortune. Sandra just had to collect a few personal items, and it would be her last look at the old place before the transfer was completed. The empty rooms seemed much bigger than she remembered them. With most of the furniture dumped in skips, an old suitcase containing photos and cheap jewellery was all that was left of the decades. She would get that from Mum’s room upstairs, then hand the keys to the agent in town, on her way home. He would deal with the rest, to save her another long journey.
In the dining room at the back, she looked through the French windows at the garden. There had once been a vegetable patch at the back, and a neatly-trimmed lawn, where she had done handstands as a child. By the small fishpond, the old tree had once been home to a swing, and she had spent many happy hours watching the back of the house loom towards her, then recede. She puffed her cheeks. Dad would turn in his grave to see it now. The pond was muddy and green, and the grass at least a foot high. The only crop in his vegetable patch was nettles, standing as tall as her shoulder. They had paid a man to keep it tidy for a while, but once Mum had moved out, there didn’t seem to be any point. Let the new owners change it, they probably would anyway.
At the far end, on the right, she saw the shed. It hardly seemed possible that it was still standing, such was its state of disrepair. There were gaps in the wood, and creepers encroaching on the roof. The door was hanging off, and the hinges nothing but rust. She shuddered. It had been a long time since she had allowed herself to think about that shed.
Sandra was seven years old. Dad didn’t mind his adored daughter playing in the shed, as long as she didn’t touch his tools. He had even taken the large petrol-driven lawn mower out, to give her more space. That now lived under a heavy tarpaulin behind the shed instead. She could smell the sharp odour of the creosote inside, and avoided looking up at the corners, in case she noticed any of the fat spiders. Today, her dolls were hiding in the shed, afraid of being captured by the Black Witch. The dolls tottered around, guided by her small hands. Their squeaky voices of alarm each rendered by Sandra’s talents at mimicry. “Don’t worry.” She told them. “We will be safe here, in Dad’s shed. She won’t find us in here.”
Sandra was nine years old. She sat on an old piece of carpet on the shed floor. She didn’t want to get her new white tights dirty, as she read her magazines. Pop stars, irresistibly good-looking young men in groups, or solo singers, and tips on fashion and make-up. Mum told her she was too young. “Soon enough.” She would reassure her. “Don’t try to grow up too fast.” She tried on the free headband. She couldn’t see it was just cheap plastic rubbish. To her, it made her look beautiful.
Sandra was almost eleven years old. Next year, she would be going to the big school, and her life would change beyond recognition. Poppy, her best friend in the world was sitting next to her in the shed. Dad had cleaned up two old folding deck chairs, and they just managed to squeeze them in together. She liked to sit in the shed with Poppy, on these hot afternoons in the school holidays. They talked about girls that they didn’t like, and boys that they did like. Which film star they would prefer to marry, and which female pop star they would decide to be, given the choice. They even practiced kissing. After all, they would have to know how to kiss before they got married, and who better to tell you if you got it right, than your best friend?
Sandra was eleven and a half. She sat in the shed, the dusty floor dirtying her school uniform, and the rough wood catching her thick black tights. She didn’t care. She was crying behind the closed door. She hated the new school. Poppy didn’t talk to her anymore, and she was hanging around with a group of horrible girls. Sandra had no friends, and the others made fun of her glasses, and said that she had fat legs. Poppy laughed with them. She hated Poppy.
Sandra was not quite twelve. Her cousin Darren was coming to stay, and would have the spare room. She couldn’t remember him at all, but Mum and Dad said she had met him, and didn’t understand why she didn’t know who he was. He was her oldest cousin, on her Dad’s side, and had the chance of a job nearby. Dad had offered to put him up, as his family home was too far away for him to travel to the job. She sat in the shed and thought about it, wondering what music he liked to listen to, and if he would watch the same television programmes as her.
Sandra was still not quite twelve. Her and Darren sat giggling in the shed. He was funny, and she liked him being here. Although he was eighteen, he liked the same things as her, and made lots of jokes about Mum and Dad, things she would have been too scared to say. He liked to hear her mimic her Mum, and told her that she would be good as an impressionist, probably get her own TV show. Darren had changed her life. She didn’t care about the nasty girls at school anymore. She would wait for him to get home from work, and they would go to the shed before dinner. He would tell her about the others where he worked, and also tell her about how special she was, and what a great friend she was. And he was nice to her too. He said that her glasses suited her, and that her legs were definitely not too fat. “In fact” He said one night, just before they went in. ” I would say that your legs are shapely, even curvy. But of course, I haven’t seen all of them.”
Sandra was twelve years and two months old. Darren sat on the shed floor, perched on some old newspapers so as not to get his suit trousers dusty. She held her skirt up so that he could see the rest of her legs. She blushed a little, as she realised that he could see her bum. But she didn’t mind at all really, in fact she was quite flattered. “Just as I thought. Not fat at all.” His tone was complimentary. She smiled to herself. If Darren didn’t think her legs were fat, that was good enough for her. “Of course, it’s hard to tell for sure, with those thick black tights on. I will have to have a proper look, another time.” He added.
Sandra was twelve years and four months old. She loved the shed, and loved the time spent in there with Darren. Mum and Dad seemed happy that they got on, and they liked the change in the girl. Happy was better than sulky, and having Darren there seemed to be working out well. Sandra had put an old bedspread in there to sit on now, and Mum’s unwanted bedside lamp gave the inside a cosy feeling. They listened to music on the portable record player, and both looked at her magazines, drinking Coca-Cola, and occasionally lapsing into fits of giggling. She hadn’t minded taking her tights off, so that he could confirm that her legs were indeed not fat at all. And when he asked to touch them, just to make sure, that had seemed perfectly reasonable. And it had felt nice too.
Sandra was three months away from her thirteenth birthday. The shed floor felt rough on her elbows, and looking up, she could see a spider in the corner by the window. Darren was too heavy, but he wouldn’t get off. At first she had thought it was a game. They had been trying out kissing, and it had been nice. But then Darren had seemed to get hot, his face went red, and he looked different. He was pulling at her clothes, telling her not to worry, telling her it would all be alright. She didn’t like it though. She could feel his hands in places where they shouldn’t be, and his hot breath on her face. She wriggled around, hoping to push him off, thinking it was all getting very silly. But he didn’t stop. He did things. Things she hadn’t imagined. Painful things. She shouted, but he still wouldn’t stop. The smell of the creosote seemed overwhelming, and she though that she might be sick. So she screamed.
The rest was a blur. Dad shouting, pulling Darren away from her, slapping and kicking. Mum took her into the house, and up to her room. Later, uncle Brian came in his car, and took Darren away. Sandra never saw either of them again, and that evening in the shed was never mentioned. Dad didn’t use the shed anymore. He put his tools in the garage, and just left it. Door open, the inside at the mercy of the elements. Sandra never set foot in it again after that.
Sandra was fifty-one years old. She picked up the suitcase, and threw the unwanted junk mail back onto the carpet. As she left the house for the last time, she didn’t look back at the shed. The new people would no doubt tear it down, and replace it with something new.