A Pile Of Dust
by K. Kylyra Ameringer
Collin pulled up outside Number 4 Hawthorne Drive and began unloading his equipment. It was early evening, verging on the moment of twilight when the purple Caha Mountains melted into the hazy blue of the valley and all of West Cork became a shadowed realm capable of hiding anything or anyone. He wrestled with the lawnmower in the back of his truck, his shoulders already aching from a full day's work at the factory. He didn't like doing the garden at Number 4 Hawthorne Drive; it was a creepy place, and the present tenants did nothing to diminish the house's creep factor. The property was owned by his mother's aunt twice removed, however, and family ties had to be honored; his mother's aunt was in no shape to do the garden herself and it was only right someone from the family take care of it. Besides, she paid well.
The roar of the mower filled the air, turning the quiet solitude that held court so often in the small residential development into raucous life. He had to start in the back, a well sized plot of land to be sure but one that remained murky and dim from a wealth of overgrown hedges and scrub trees. The putt-putt-putt of the push mower's engine echoed loudly as Collin walked down the path leading to the back garden. Pushing the rusting iron gate open, he saw the back was in worse shape than he'd thought; it had been five months since he'd paid the place a visit and in that time an entire forest of suckers from the ancient winter cherry tree in the middle of the yard had sprung to life. He cut the motor, cursing, and headed back to his truck to retrieve his trimmer.
The grass in the back was almost up to his knees. He stood in the centre of the yard, sweeping the trimmer back and forth like a scythe, hacking and grabbing at every piece of greenery that dared to climb higher than an inch from the ground. He moved around the yard haphazardly, not caring what the job looked like when he was done.
Twilight stole over the garden with suddenness and Collin paused for a moment to let his eyes adjust. A large mound with branches piled on it sat in the corner of the yard. Puzzled, Collin moved forward to investigate. He hadn't done that; perhaps it had been the tenants. As he drew closer Collin realized the mound was really a rotting pile of refuse; he recognized coffee grounds and egg shells thrown on the heap. If this was an attempt at composting it was a poor one at best.
Movement from inside the mound caught his eye. He turned off the trimmer and leaned in for a better look. The inside of the mound seemed to be hollow, a small den or hidden lair for something. Now that the petrol smell of the trimmer was gone it was easy to detect the putrid odour leaching from the mound. Collin bent down towards a small opening in the branches. If a fox or other animal had taken up residence in the pile he'd need to get it out.
Another movement, deep in the mound. Cocking his ear towards the opening Collin heard a ragged panting, too human sounding to be an animal, too raspy and grating to be human.
Something grabbed at the edge of the opening and Collin jumped back. In the dim garden he saw a pale shape creep and ooze its way out of the opening. He wanted to move, wanted to run, but the chill of the night had crept into his bones, turning them to stone.
Then the eyes had him. Piercing pink eyes with red pupils. They seemed to give off their own luminescence, and Collin had a fleeting impression of the thing that emerged from the mound before the eyes were on him, carrying the smell of rotting breath, pain, and death with them.
"Them," Margaret O'Shea hissed. The sound melded with the hiss of the cafe's espresso machine. Margaret turned her creaking neck towards the wretched machine and the group of young people gathered around the counter, all jostling for their favourite flavored coffee drinks. None of that foreign Italian nonsense for her, thank you; she'd spent all her 68 years in her native Ireland barring an occasional visit to her sister's in Boston and she'd be damned if she ever drank anything other than her traditional cup of tea or, when the situation warranted it, a hot toddy.
"Ah, right so, I see them." Aoife Lucey leaned her small frame over the tiny table to peer out the cafe window into the failing evening light. Doing so brought her closer to Margaret and the ever present waft of stale perfume Margaret doused herself with. Aoife and Margaret weren't friends in the true sense of the word; other than their work for the church and their love of gossip they had nothing in common. The two were as physically different as their lives had been; Aoife's tiny frame sat straight in her chair while Margaret hunched over like life had given her a good beating. Aoife's hair had gone grey years ago but was still thick and luxurious. She kept it styled in a short bob, while Margaret insisted on keeping what hair she was still capable of growing long, tied back in a knot, and dyed a garish red. And while Aoife had married and now boasted a family that included twenty grandchildren, Margaret had remained a childless spinster. But these differences were superficial and minor compared to the two old women's need for constant scuttlebutt on their sleepy Irish seaside town's residents. "They're new, aren't they?" Aoife asked in reference to the two figures outside.
"Oh, no," Margaret replied, shaking her head. "They've rented that house I've got outside of town for five years now."
Aoife regarded the two figures outside the cafe window. As the evening grew darker the street lights switched on, giving her a good view of the pair. She was sure she hadn't seen them before; the woman was slim and athletic with a startling hair colour combination that made Aoife think of a skunk, and the man stood a good head taller than his companion, his wide shoulders swept by his equally startling blue dyed hair. She shook her head. "I've never seen them before."
"They didn't always look like that," Margaret responded darkly. Aoife's eyebrows arched; she sensed a juicy tidbit coming up.
"Well," Margaret began, taking a sip of her tea, "you know I'd never spread any stories or gossip, it's not a Christian thing to do ..."
A Pile Of Dust by K. Kylyra Ameringer