Horla Fiction (July 2021)

THE SOD

by

MICHAEL PRENDERGAST

TUESDAY

Mr James Perkins, a retired teacher who lived at number 55 King Avenue, alone. A dedicated bachelor. His favourite hobby was his garden which was envied by all in his neighbourhood and beyond. His lawns were the most emerald green surrounded on three sides by ruby red roses. His borders were straight and not a blade of grass was out of shape. He was a fastidious man who believed that everything in life had its place and anything that disturbed that status quo should be eradicated as quickly as possible, like a blight on his roses or weeds in his borders.  Every weekend, rain or shine, he could be found within his garden – tending it, trimming it, watering it and even, some said, whispering to it.

*

Perkins popped the two pieces of toast upon his plate, careful not to scatter crumbs across the marble-topped surface, before picking up the toaster and turning it upside down to, gently, shook the crumbs into the bin. Placing the toaster back and making sure it was straight and flush against the wall, he shook a disinfected wipe out of its packet and cleaned the lid of the bin.

Nodding with satisfaction, he buttered his now cooling toast, making sure the butter covered the entire slice including the edges and corners. He took the knife to the sink and running the hot tap, not so fast it would splatter, he wiped the knife clean and drying it returned it to the drawer. He sat and ate his now cold toast, holding the plate beneath his mouth and dapping his chin clean after every bite.

After cleaning away the plate and giving the surfaces and floor a wipe he walked into his front room and stood, as he did every morning, before the large bay window and looked upon his lawn. His eyes followed the borders and then swept across his verdure, but instead of a well-ordered pasture, he noticed something dark protruding from the ground near the front gate.

He stared, squinted, and tried to make out what the imperfection was, but could only see a small shadow that stuck out like a sore thumb on his perfect lawn. Turning away from the window he hurriedly made his way towards the front door to investigate.

Perkins discovered the dark shape to be a dog turd; cold, solid and a deep brown. It squatted upon his lawn like a malignant tumour. He knelt next to the turd, but not before putting down a mat that would spread his weight evenly across the ground and not crush any of the grass. Leaning down, he peered intently at the offending blight upon his lawn. A moan, like a wounded animal, escaped from his lips as he saw that seepage of brown effluence had stained the grass and ground. Perkins lowered his face flush against the lawn, his nose mere inches away from the turd and he inhaled deeply – fresh. It still had its unpleasant stench.

Jumping up, he walked over towards the front gate. Perkins scrutinised the avenue in the hopes of finding the offending animal. Looking down at his fence, he saw a smudged handprint upon the gate. Grinding his teeth he reached into his pocket and pulled out a neatly pressed, crisp white handkerchief and wiped at the mark which just smeared across the paintwork. Pressing harder, and wiping quicker, he tried but failed to remove the spot.

James Perkins had become something of a sideshow attraction for his neighbours, who would watch him as he fussed, preened and pampered his garden. The local kids would dare each other to go past his fence and throw litter on the garden or wipe their muddy hands on the gate and fence. It was considered harmless fun until the day he caught one of the kids throwing an empty crisp packet onto his lawn.  

Perkins had spent the morning combing  his lawn and he had begun to clip stray blades of grass on the edgings near the fence when he spied the child tiptoeing up to his gate. The boy peered over the fence but couldn’t see Perkins who was hidden by the hedge. Glancing around, the kid balled up the packet and he drew back his arm and, just as he was going to throw it, a hand had reached out from behind the privets and gave the child a quick, hard clip around the ear. The kid howled in fright rather than pain,

‘Gotcha!’ shouted Perkins stepping from behind the privets, brandishing the secateurs at the boy who ran screaming into his house. Within minutes the boy’s mother came hurling out of the house and ran at Perkins, screaming and yelling abuse at him. The avenue quickly filled with people who stood in clumps and watched as Perkins and the mother traded threats. Perkins had just taken a step through his gate wielding the scissors and making stabbing motions towards the woman when he noticed the police car turning into the avenue. He quickly stepped back into the garden and stuffed the scissors into his back pocket. As the police officer stepped out of the patrol car, Perkins changed his demeanour from anger to supplication.  

Holding out his hands in a gesture of surrender towards the woman, adding a pleading tone to his voice as the officer stepped to the side of the screaming lady. After about half an hour of slander and counter slander, the officer, finally, quietened down the offended parent. As things quickly returned to normality, the neighbours began to wander back inside. The police officer had walked the mother back to her home, disappearing inside for a few moments, before returning to where Perkins waited. While the police were in the house he had quickly returned the secateurs to the shed.

The officer quietly asked him not to take the law into his own hands before spending a few minutes chatting to Perkins about his garden. The officer was having a few issues with greenfly and Perkins, happily, gave him some advice on the best insecticides to use. The police officer thanked him and, returning to his car, he drove away, waving as he went past Perkins. After that day, the local kids were threatened by their parents to stay away from his house.

Making his way to the kitchen, he grabbed a bucket from under the sink and filled it with hot water, adding a large amount of bleach, and sliding a scrubbing brush into the bucket, being careful not to splash.  He stomped his way back to the offending gate.

Perkins stopped to glare at the drying dog turd.

He spent an hour cleaning, scrubbing and wiping down the fence. Once he was happy with the result he emptied the bucket of water and bleach into the street, grabbing a brush he swept the area outside his house. Returning to the spot with the dog muck and crouching down he peered intently at it, judging size and shape he concluded it came from a small dog. 

Perkins stood up and stretched, glancing around the avenue on the lookout for any dog walkers but apart from mothers taking their brood to school, day-care, or the park; there was nothing. Giving the turd a final, baleful, stare he took a deep breath and blew it out of his nose before marching back into the kitchen to collect more cleaning equipment.

For six straight hours, Perkins worked upon the fragment of lawn that held the offending object. First he, carefully, removed the poo and placed it in a clear plastic bag before sealing it. He gently set it on the path. He then sprayed the stained grass with perfumed water before applying a toothbrush to each blade of grass, those parts that remained stained, however slight, he clipped with a pair of nail scissors. Taking out a magnifying glass he peered deep into the soil and anything shit-related he removed before spraying and scrubbing the affected area

After tidying away all the cleaning equipment and taking a last look at the sterilised area, finally satisfied, he turned his attention to the excrement within the plastic bag. Plucking it up from the ground, he peered through the transparent plastic and with his finger and thumb he mashed it up, smearing it on the plastic and flattening it. He held it between finger and thumb, glancing at the other six houses that made up King Avenue.

  ‘So, who is to blame for this abomination?’ Muttering to himself. Looking at the other houses he knew of only two that had pets. Perkins looked towards number’s 52 and 56, moving his eyes back and forth between them. The Kent family lived at 52 and owned a large Alsatian called Penny and a Siamese cat called Princess. Holding up the bag he looked at the contents and consider the Kent’s animals to be not guilty of the offending article as Mr Kent always walked their dog on a lead.

Pulling out a small notebook from his jacket pocket, Perkins turned to the page headlined: KENT and cast an eye over the information written in it he knew that every evening between the hours of 7 and 8 pm, Mr Kent would walk Penny from the avenue towards the patch of waste ground next to the nursery on Winder Street before nipping into the local and returning home around eleven-ish.  Perkins’ gaze moved over to number 56, narrowing his eyes. That left Mrs Banks, a fifty-ish widow who had moved into King Avenue a month ago. Mutton dressed as lamb, as Perkins’ mother would have describe her. Skimming over several pages he came to the heading: BANKS, she owned a small Jack Russell Terrier, a yappy little bastard called Maximus.

Mrs Banks allowed the dog to wander around the avenue off its lead in the evening, between the hours of nine and ten, while she watched from the doorway. Perkins had been observing the avenue from his darkened, bedroom window when he saw the dog urinating on everyone’s fence, his included. He rushed out of the house and tried to inform her, politely, that all dogs must be kept on leads. When she told him to mind his own business, he had lost his temper and lunged towards the dog, Mrs Banks quickly snatching up the dog in her ample arms and hurrying back indoors, slamming her front door shut.

Two days passed before he saw the dog out on the streets again.  He watched from his bedroom window as Mrs Banks let her dog loose. It immediately came over to his fence, cocked its leg and let loose a stream of yellow piss that slid down the fence post and gathered in a pool by his gate. He saw, through his binoculars, the look of satisfaction on her face as she leaned over her gate and whispered encouraging words to the dog.

He looked towards Mrs Banks’ house once more before withdrawing inside, throwing the bag of poo into the black bin. He slipped off his shoes and after wiping them down he placed them at a 90-degree angle at the foot of the stairs. He removed his socks and threw them into the waste bin. Unwrapping a fresh pair – he kept several pairs in a plastic container by the front door – he put them on before putting his feet into his slippers. He walked into the front room, standing before the bay window he observed Mrs Banks’s house. He began to develop a plan and started to smile, unfortunately, it didn’t reach his eyes.

WEDNESDAY

Casting a critical eye over the bedspread Perkins walked from side to side to make sure that the blanket was hanging equally over the mattress and, once he was reasonably happy with the result, turned his attention to the pillow eyeing it while he crouched down at the end of the bed. Everything was okay. He turned around and drew back the curtains, allowing sunlight to spill into his bedroom. He had just begun to turn away from the window when his gaze fell upon his lawn. He grabbed at his chest as his breath exploded from his lungs, his legs became jelly as his eyes fell upon another dark blob on his garden in almost the identical spot.

He stormed out of the room and dashed down the stairs, almost ripping the front door off its hinges, he hurled himself outside and loomed over the offending deposit. It was still early in the morning and apart from the electric milk float making its way out of the avenue, not a soul stirred. Most of the houses remained in darkness with only the odd light shining through the closed curtains. He flung open the garden gate and stepped out on to the street. His chest heaved and he shook with suppressed anger, Perkins balled his hands into a fists and scowled at number 56. He knew, without any doubt, she was, responsible for the dog messing on his lawn.

She was the only one who let her dog run free on the avenue. She was the one who made sure the dog shat on his lawn and his lawn only. She probably woke up in the early hours, while everyone was still asleep, and let her dog out to foul his grass. She had it in for him ever since he made a complaint to the local authorities about her dog roaming free, bitch. Perkins decided that he would take steps to make sure that fucking dog didn’t shit on his lawn anymore. He had a plan that was going to be a perfect solution to this doggy mess issue. Giving Mrs Banks’ house a final, dark look he turned around and made his way back indoors, gently closing the front door behind him.

He spent the rest of the morning removing the offending piece of crap from the grass and repairing the damage to his lawn. Towards dinner time, as Perkins was clearing away his cleaning equipment, Mrs Banks walked by and shouted ‘coo-ee’ towards him as she waddled past… off to the afternoon bingo session, thought Perkins, from one until three at the local civic hall.

He could hear her dog barking in the house, annoyed as always at being left alone. He didn’t reply to her greeting and just watched as she walked towards the end of the avenue before turning right and vanishing from sight. Throwing the second bag of faeces into the bin, he listened to Maximus bark and howl for a moment, before stepping back into his house

*

Mrs Banks stood at her front door looking stressed, now and again she would call out,

‘Maximus, here sweetie. Maximus, Maximus,’ her voice cracking on the second Maximus. Peering around the avenue she began to cry. Where had he gone, she was just a minute inside the house answering the phone, which turned out to be another silent phone call, and when she came back outside Maximus was gone. Mrs Banks waddled to her gate and leaning on it shouted her dog’s name. She noticed Mr Perkins walking up his garden path, struggling with a large shopping bag, and had asked if he had seen her dog? He had shaken his head without stopping and carried on up the path and into his house. Mrs Banks went inside to grab her coat and torch.

THURSDAY

Perkins had awoken to find a £500 reward leaflet with a picture of Maximus upon it thrust through his letterbox. He had watched from his front room window as a distraught looking Mrs Banks taped reward posters to the lamp posts. Chuckling, he wandered into the kitchen and continued grinding up his new bone meal. Mrs Banks began to receive a steady stream of neighbours who, upon seeing the posters, had come to her house to offer help, support and a shoulder to cry on. Around dinner-time, she answered a knock on the door to find Perkins with a covered plate in his hands.

He expressed his sympathy concerning the missing dog and explained that he had made her a meat and vegetable pie. She invited him in and he had popped the pie into the fridge. He stood, nervously, in her kitchen mumbled again about how sorry he was for her, before making his way out of her house.

MONDAY

Mr Perkins opened the front door and peered out upon his clean, tidy, dog muck-free sward. Not a single blemish marked the surface and he noted with pride his flourishing rose bushes, the new bone meal feed that he had recently concocted was doing an impressive job. All was well within his world. He stepped out of his home and ambled down the path checking on his roses and lawn.

He had just begun to verify the PH levels of the soil when he noticed Mrs Banks making her way over to his house. He stood and waited, his hands in his trouser pockets. Mrs Bank stopped by his gate and he could see she had been crying, again. He glanced at the reward posters that were looking a little ragged before returning to stare at Mrs Banks who had taken a tissue out of her sleeve and was wiping her nose.

‘Any news about your dear dog?’ he asked gesturing towards the lamp posts. He had taken a step closer to his fence and Mrs Banks, making sure she wasn’t touching or leaning upon the gate.

‘No, nothing. e’s just gone. It’s been five days now,’ she began to whimper. She sniffed and jammed the tissue back into her sleeve, ‘I just came to thank you for the pie, I ate it over the weekend. It was lovely and the meat was so tender. Was it rabbit? I couldn’t quite get the taste of the meat. Mrs Bradbury, you know, from 55, came over on Sunday and had a piece and she couldn’t quite guess what meat it was. She asked me to get the recipe from you.’ She smiled.

Mr Perkins jiggled a coin in his pocket and returned her smile,

‘It wasn’t rabbit’, he replied.

It had probably chased one or two, he thought to himself

‘I can’t share the recipe as it’s a secret and I would have to kill you if I told you’, he smirked

Mrs Banks nodded, laughing nervously, and turned away, ‘Anyway, I must get back just in case someone calls,’ she waved and turned back towards her house. Mr Perkins returned the wave and watched her retreating back. He pulled his hand out of his pockets, opened his hand and glanced down at what lay in it. A silver disc, that was no bigger than a ten-pence coin, with the name MAXIMUS written in capital letters upon it. He flicked it into the air, caught it, before walking back up the path, whistling and looking at his immaculate lawn.

 

 

***

Michael Prendergast is in his second year of studying Philosophy and Creative Writing. He is full-time carer to his wife Susan. They live near Preston, Lancashire, England. Mike is an avid book reader and movie watcher. He enjoys reading all genres. He watches films that are mostly from Korea, Japan and China.

 

Title photo credit – Chuttersnap on Unsplash

Horla standard disclaimer – image has no direct connection with the fiction