Annie plants a seed. She stoops over the wooden planter and tenderly places the promise of a carrot into the crumbling black earth.
She’s been out in the yard since dawn, turning the soil and tying up bean poles. The small, stone-flagged rectangle is shared by all the families in the narrow cottages on either side, as is the lean-to shed housing their privy in the corner.
While she tends to her tiny Eden, Annie can taste the salt in the air and hear the distant rumble and slap of the waves jostling the boats in the harbour below. Her husband Donald is a fisherman like her father, and she’s lived in these slanting cliff terraces all her life. She never had a garden, though she always wanted one.
That’s why her grandson Stan thought of her when the slack-sailed ship listed silently into the harbour. Nothing in the hold but crates of dirt, and no one aboard except a skinny black dog which took off at the first opportunity. Amid all the chatter and fuss Stan figured one box of earth wouldn’t be missed – likely just ballast anyway – so he carried it all the way up to his Nanna’s yard in the stormy August heat.
Donald broke up the crate to make the planter and they filled it with the soil from the mysterious ship. She presses her fingertips into the cool, dark earth and wonders what distant lands it has travelled from, only to wind up in Whitby to nourish her vegetables. Will she be able to taste the places it knows?
Her thoughts are interrupted by their neighbour Mrs Wilson’s elderly terrier Buster, who trots over to inspect the new garden. She scratches him behind the ears for a while, but then her back starts complaining. Straightening slowly, she sees Donald stooping through their low doorway, carrying a cup of strong tea in each of his rough brown hands.
Later that night Annie wakes from a dream of runner beans. Her head is too full to get back to sleep, thinking of all the food she will grow and the jars of pickles she will give. Donald is snoring softly next to her, and the air is heavy and still. Then she hears something. A sort of unsteady clicking and scratching. It’s with them in the room, but it’s not the scuffling mice that she’s used to. A rat?
She sits up, and at the foot of the bed sees a huge black dog, yellow eyes blazing like embers. She tries to call out, to reach for her husband, but she can’t move. Annie watches in silent horror as the hound convulses, its broad back rippling. Slowly, it transforms into a man. Dressed all in black, he is deathly pale with the same flaming eyes and lurid red lips. He opens his mouth, keeps opening it, until his jaws unhinge like a snake and she sees long, glistening fangs slide from his raw scarlet gums.
She wakes from the nightmare with a start. Donald is sitting up in bed beside her. “Do you hear that?” he whispers. She listens, while her heart pounds.
It’s the same uneven scrabbling sound, but now it’s coming from the yard. Sliding out of bed, Donald tiptoes to the window, gently pulls back a corner of the curtain and looks out. After a moment he says “Wait here.” He pulls on his boots and slips out of the door.
Annie waits. Dread rests on her throat like a hand. She gets out of bed, creeping to the window as quietly as her trembling legs will allow, and peers outside. In the summer moonlight the yard is a deep blue. And it’s empty; Donald is gone. Fear clutches her. She runs to the door and flings it open, stepping on to the cool stone flags in her bare feet. “Donald!” she cries, her voice cracking.
Donald emerges hastily from the privy, and she gasps with relief. He throws his arms around her and she presses her face into his warm nightshirt.
“Sorry lass, I didn’t mean to scare you! Did you think Buster had got me?”
“He’s been at your vegetables I’m afraid, and made a right mess. It’s all right, we’ll sort it all out in the morning.”
Her husband drops off to sleep again quickly but Annie really can’t rest now. As soon as the sun rises she slips out to survey the damage. The soil has been churned up and thrown all around the planter, and her carefully tied bean poles have been toppled. With a sigh, she picks up the shovel and starts scooping the disturbed soil back into the planter.
That’s when she spots something round and pale emerging from the black earth like a mushroom. Leaning down for a closer look she brushes away some of the dirt, revealing the face of the pale man from her nightmare, buried in her vegetable patch.
His yellow eyes snap open, and his face splits into a hideous blood red grin. Without thinking Annie cries “Oooh no thank you!” and brings the shovel down hard, slicing his head clean off.
For a moment a look of surprise replaces the leering grin on the vampire’s newly detached head, before it crumbles into dust along with his body. Annie stands there, still holding the shovel.
“Did he do much damage?” Donald says suddenly from the doorway, making her jump.
She opens her mouth, but no words come out.
“I can have a word with Mrs Wilson if you like. He ought to be kept inside at night.”
Annie smiles. “Ta love. No harm done. I don’t think he’ll be back.”
Sarah Jackson writes gently unsettling stories. Her flash fiction has previously been published by Ghost Orchid Press. Her non-fiction writing has been published by the History Press, the British Library, and the Guardian. She lives in east London UK and has a green tricycle called Ivy. Her website is sarahijackson.com/writing