The house was perfect. The stately Victorian sat on a hill, the long driveway curving up through the tree, exposing the house only after the last turn. The Virginia countryside surrounded the house, slowly giving way to the growing town only a mile or so from the ten acres where the beautiful building dwelled.
If all of that wasn’t enough, the yard in front was a lush green lawn and stands of trees, but the back of the house contained a fall of patios, bringing the path from the house down the hill and each patio contained deep thick gardens. Upon seeing the layers of bright flowers and vines, Sandy Martinez knew this was the home for her. Her green thumb twitched in anticipation as she placed her offer with the realtor, and the urge to tend the gardens and plant new ones. The urge grew more insistent when the old couple that owned the house accepted her ridiculously low first offer.
On moving day, Sandy stood in the driveway while the moving company began unloading her belongings and dropping them throughout various rooms of the house. Her twelve-year-old son Freddy and his dog Muzzy ran circles in the yard, happy to be free from the car after the long drive from Wilmington. Sandy soaked in every inch of the façade of the house. The pale peach shutters locked tight against the soft gray siding, the deep copper of the multi-tiered roof tiles, and the bright flowers planted in deep boxes along the front of the house.
The front room would be perfect to display the flower arrangements Sandy planned to sell as part of relocating her party decorating business. The tiny town was only about an hour from Richmond, and Sandy already made some good contacts with party planners to get her foot in the door. Life was good.
A year later, Sandy’s business was thriving, mostly due to the beautiful flowers grown in her gardens that adorned the arrangements she created. There was only one spot three feet wide and about five feet long in the third tier down that refused to sprout anything. The ground remained barren despite the specialized fertilizers and tender care she lavished. Among all of the bright colors and greenery, the one lone spot looked out of place and lacking.
One day, she tended the flowers in the front boxes when her neighbor, Mrs. Bixley came to visit. The old widow was a pest, constantly nagging about Muzzy barking or Freddy’s baseball landing on her lawn. Sandy saw her coming out of the corner of her eye, but she didn’t bother to stop digging with her trowel until Mrs. Bixley stalked right up to her and blocked the sun.
“Good Morning, Mrs. Bixley,” Sandy faked cheer at seeing her neighbor. “How are you today?”
“Working on your flowers again I see. That’s all the last man who lived here did. His wife sat in the house all day while he was out here digging in the dirt. I must say though, before he moved in, nothing would grow out here. At least you aren’t letting the property values decline by letting it go to seed.”
Sandy smiled as she looked up to see her neighbor. Maybe this visit would let them be friends. “Well, I’m glad you like the flowers. I will cut some and bring them over to you.”
“Hmph. Flowers are a silly waste of time. You should just put in plastic ones like I did.” The old lady eyed Sandy up and down before gesturing down the driveway with her cane. “Anyway, I didn’t come over here to socialize. That boy of yours and that hoodlum across the lane were taking apples from the tree in my yard this morning. I’m calling that school and telling them to move the bus stop from in front of my house.”
Sandy stood and stretched, using the back of her gardening glove to wipe the perspiration from her brow.
“I do apologize for the boys’ behavior, Mrs. Bixley. I will talk to Freddy and tell him not to touch the apples or come into your yard. I will talk to Jeff’s mom too.”
The old lady didn’t seem pleased by her answer. “Like that will do any good. I’ve had to come over here with my bad knee aching too many times now. If you can’t control that little terror of yours, then I will call the police and have him arrested for trespassing!”
Sandy smiled through her gritted teeth. “That really won’t be necessary Mrs. Bixley.”
“I’ll decide what’s necessary. You just keep that boy under control.”
With one last shake of her cane, Mrs. Bixley toddled back across the lawn and through the shrubs to her adjoining property.
Sandy finished in the front box, but her anger didn’t subside. She decided to work through it and returned to the empty spot in the third tier. With relish, she dug along the edge of the patch, only realizing she dug too deep when she saw the roots of the flowers.
“Damn,” she muttered. “I hope I didn’t hurt those roots.” She put her hand down to feel how deep the roots went and how damaged they might be. Her fingers brushed something hard under the tips of the roots. The confrontation with Mrs. Bixley shoved to the back of her mind, Sandy dug around a little deeper and pulled on the object. It didn’t readily come free from the hold of the earth. She used the trowel to dig around and under the rounded mass in the dirt under the flowers. Enough dirt was finally scraped away for the mystery in the ground to begin to wiggle. Sandy used her hands and moved the soft soil from under it until it came loose. With a satisfied smile, she pulled it free from the ground and looked at her discovery.
It looked back.
Eye sockets with meat still clinging to it stared at her, the teeth giving a ghoulish eternal grin. The skull slipped from her shaking hands as she shot to her feet. She scanned the tiers of gardens and her eyes came back to rest on the bare patch under her feet. She had dug deeply in this spot many times trying to get things to grow. Ignoring the skull, she took her shovel to the hole under the roots where she made her discovery and she started digging. She dug all along the edge and then around each tier. After she had carefully dug under the roots of her wonderful flowers in the backyard, she moved around to the boxes in the front.
Like every layer of the back tiers, the front flower boxes contained bodies. The ones in the front were nothing more than skeletons. They seemed to be the oldest. The first tier in the back contained the next round of bodies and the bottom tier leading into the woods held the most recent bodies. Many of those flower beds contained forms that looked remarkably like people. Exhausted, Sandy returned to the bare patch, her shovel in one hand and her sun hat in the other. She smoothed loose strands of hair back from her face and surveyed the garden. It was so beautiful, the source of her success. She needed to call the police. She cringed when she thought of all of those people trampling through her gardens.
She brought the back of her gloved hand to her mouth to stifle her sob as she realized they would have to dig all of them up. Her entire garden would be ruined along with her income. She would lose not only the gardens, but her home. She sunk to her knees, the original skull she uncovered glared at her accusingly.
She rolled it back into the hole from where it came. The thought occurred to her that the bodies acted as a natural fertilizer to get the flowers to grow. There was no body under the section where she sat. That’s why nothing would grow there. She had about three hours before Freddy came home from school. There was plenty of time.
Sandy set to work covering all of the exposed bodies, glad that Muzzy stayed clear of the garden. Within an hour, all of the bodies were safely covered, the remains continuing to feed the thriving flowers. Satisfied that her business would not be forced to close, Sandy leaned on her shovel and looked around the garden. It was beautiful again. The momentary pang of guilt passed quickly, after all, the people were already dead, and she didn’t kill them. She could pretend she never knew they were there.
Back where she started in the barren plot, she shifted the dirt with the toe of her sneaker. Nothing would grow there. The rest of the gardens fed off the natural fertilizer provided by the prior owner of the property. The old man was the murderer, not her. Nothing would grow there.
Another thought occurred to her. Maybe something would grow if it had the right nutrients.
She hefted the shovel onto her shoulder and walked around to the front of the house and across the yard between the shrubs to the neighboring property.
A year later, Sandy was still successful. Her business was booming and the demand for her flowers was at maximum capacity for what she could produce. Her gardens were lush and full with no bare spots. She planned to clear a patch at the bottom of the tiers and add more gardens. All she needed was the right fertilizer.