Dead leaves, all a mix of deep browns and glowing oranges, covered half the garden even though George Fleetwood had been out here not four days previously, raking through the leaves, pulling them into piles and chucking the mounds into the bin. Not that he minded too much. It wasn’t a bad price to pay for the two large oaks at the end of the garden standing on either side of his shed. When they bloomed around March, he always welcomed the sight although later in the year, he’d curse the mess of rotting foliage. Nine months into his early retirement, he finally had the time to take care of things like this, to paint fences and keep their wide garden tidy.
He paused, wiped sweat from his forehead and took a few breaths. George was in good shape, but he couldn’t pretend to be a young man. His forties and much of his fifties were behind now. Fifty-nine last birthday and the only thing about him that looked younger was his hair. He ran fingers through the brown flecked with grey, then loosened the top of his jacket a little. The air, chilly but oddly pleasant and welcome in the way only late October could manage, slipped inside. He checked his watch. Just coming up for half past twelve. Amanda would be back in an hour. They’d have lunch and he’d spend a bit more of the afternoon out here. While he moaned about gardening to his wife, he knew she didn’t believe him for a second. He liked his time now. No more long shifts on the trains, no more journeys to the back end of beyond to work on the tracks, and no more standing outside in the strange, ugly pre-dawn light, watching the last of the night bleed out of the sky and fields and woods. None of that, thank you very—
His rake caught on something hard and slipped from his hands. Fumbling, he caught the handle by luck and pulled it up. Leaves rained from the other end, whispering as they fell back to the damp grass. And to the thing buried under the bramble hedge bordering their garden from the field on the other side.
George poked the object with the rake and the slight springiness made his mouth curl at the edges—only after a few moments did he realise he was baring his teeth.
Sliding the rake gently, he pushed loose leaves from the spot, revealing its colours of white and red, the red discolouring the white in many places.
He grew still. More leaves, disturbed by his movements and by the steady breeze, fell to the side. None of them made a sound as they landed on the other fading browns.
With no idea he was going to move, George shoved the rake to the side of the object and pulled hard. It rolled over, spilling the last of the leaves.