Living in this wonderful house has been such a treat; the first year has been hard work, fixing up everything, and trying to get control of the garden. The views across the fields make working in the garden a pleasure, and frequent breaks, spent leaning on my shovel have let my muscles rest between bouts of digging.

The flowers have come and gone, and the veggies I planted have been eaten, some by us, and some by the wildlife who wander through. The time has come to dig over the patch, and I will need to dig deeper this time to move some large bushes from other places around the garden and then dig again in the new veggie patch which I have picked out and fenced in the vain hope that we might keep a little more of the crop for ourselves.

The sun was shining and it was still warm, although it was the end of October, and I was looking forward to a morning spent digging and taking tea breaks.

The plants were dried up and shrivelled—they put up no objection to being pulled out—and loaded into my wheelbarrow. Then the digging began, as deep as two shovel lengths, lifting and turning, then moving forward to the next line. My back ached and my boots sunk in the wet soil, but it was the perfect place for me to be, and I knew that my handiwork would be rewarded in the spring, when the bushes I would plant would burst into leaf, and then flowers, and I would know that I had made the right decision about this part of the garden.

After two hours of alternating between digging and taking a break, I stopped for a cup of tea, sipping the hot liquid and sitting on the wooden edging. I was nearly halfway along the border and I had set myself the goal of reaching the halfway mark before I took another break, so it was back into the mud, which caked around my boots and stuck to my shovel, continuing in the same way as before. Except that when I pushed my shovel into the ground, it jarred my shoulder, hitting something hard. I presumed that I would find another lump of rock to join the growing pile, but instead, I found the corner of a red brick.

Shrugging my sore shoulder and wondering why someone would leave a brick buried in the garden, I heard a noise on the lane, above the bank, about level with my shoulder.

“Hello. You look busy.” I had spoken to the man before and had always called him the Colonel in my head; he had a military way of holding himself, despite his age, and a cut-glass accent which I found endearing.

“I’m digging up the veggie patch. I was going to put it over the other side and have flowers and bushes here. What do you think?” I rested my sore shoulder, by leaning against the shovel.

“Sounds a good idea. I shall look forward to seeing it grow on my walk each morning. Don’t overdo the digging.” He waved and marched off down the lane.

Living in a small village is lovely, but you really cannot sneeze without people knowing and wanting to know why. I had nicknames in my head for most of the neighbours. Mrs. Vague, the Colonel, Mrs. Very Cross, and Mr. On the Run. They were lovely people, except for Mrs. Very Cross. I was convinced that Mr. On the Run had embezzled some money or something and was hiding out. They probably had a funny name for me, too.

I shovelled again and found the rest of the brick, then again and again. I moved further across the border and dug down again and again. Perhaps there was a path under the soil. It was about six inches down, but it might be pretty. I changed my plans and started excavating the path. An hour later and I had three rows of bricks laid across the border; another hour gave me three more. It was a path. It ran across the border to the bank. Perhaps there had been steps and a gate there once, I wondered. Why would the previous owners have moved the entrance; looking at it now, it made more sense to have the gate there. It was in line with the house.

“Hello. My goodness, you’ve been digging a lot.” Mrs Vague was standing on the lane above me.

“Hello. Yes, I have found a path, I think. I wonder if there used to be a gate onto the lane here?” I looked up and she looked away, distracted.

“Not that I remember, dear.” She waved and wandered on, further up the lane, leaving me to my digging.

Clearing the mud left me a path and five steps, almost to the level of the lane, where the hedge now blocked what had been an entrance. Deciding that I had earned my lunch, I put the tools away and took myself back to the house. I was curious, though, about the steps and the pathway, and went in search of the deeds. Finding the old plans, I traced my finger along the boundary line and found a break in the line, almost where I had been digging. That had to be what it was; an old pathway and gate. Perhaps it was left over from before everyone had a car and needed to park on a driveway.

I swept away the rest of the mud on the bricks and wondered about the possibility of opening up the gateway again. It would be easier to get to the house from there. I was tired, though, and in any case, the first fat cold drops of rain that had been threatening for the last half-hour had fallen. I pushed the tools back into the shed and went inside for a hot bath.

It rained overnight, and in the morning, I found that the mud around the pathway had washed away and the bricks were wobbling. I was a little worried; they seemed quite unstable. It seemed sensible to take the bricks out; it was unlikely that I would use the path and it might collapse. Better to take it out.

I lifted the first row of bricks easily enough and began to work my way further back, towards the steps. The mud was thick and wet from the rain, and it lay heavy on my shovel. Lifting the bricks was hard work, and I was glad for each visit from each of my neighbours and the chance they gave me to stop for a break. After the first three rows, I found the going was getting harder, lifting each one with a squelch noise, pulling against the suction of the wet mud. It was difficult, but I was making progress. The dark clouds overhead, however, had different plans, and I was forced back inside while the sky threw wind and rain at the garden and the house.

The next day, I pulled my boots on and zipped up my coat. The pathway was waiting for me; the rain had washed away the mud, and there were thick roots running out under the path. I pulled at one, sighing; this was turning into a bigger job than I had thought.

The root came free with a little wiggling, and I pulled. It was caught; I pulled a little harder, and it came loose. There was a whole web of them. I smiled; they looked like a hand, bones. I took a breath; they were hard, cold in my hand. I felt the weight. These were not roots.

I felt the sting of the slap on the side of my head, but not the next time the shovel hit me. I was unconscious, and soon I was further, deeper, colder. My neighbours had been hiding something. Now they had more hiding to do.