I’m getting behind with my short story prompt posts, aren’t I? I’ve had a dodgy few days but, hopefully, I’m back on an even keel now.
The ball flew over the wall into a garden that backed on to the road. The boys, playing in the street, looked at each other. Oliver started to cross the road to the back gate.
“You can’t go in there.” James grabbed his friend’s arm.
“Why not?” Oliver scratched his nose. He was new to the street but the house didn’t look any different from all the others. On his side of the street the front doors faced the road, on the other side the back gardens ended at the road and the front gardens looked out on to the green in front of the whole estate. The boys were all in the same class at school.
“Everyone say’s the woman who lives there’s a witch.”
“She shouted at us last holidays for playing on the path in front of her house.” Robby, who wasn’t really one of the gang because he went to a different school but they let him play with them anyway, added indignant.
“Well, I want my ball back.” Oliver jutted his chin out, determined to get the ball, even if his friends were too scared to go with him.
“But you can’t go in there. She’ll magic you. Let’s go and get another one.”
“No. I want my ball back.” Oliver snapped at his friends. He pushed past them and finished his walk across the road.
Oliver stood at the gate. The driveway was like all the others on that side of the street; long, paved in grey, concrete slabs with gravel down the middle. No car sat on the drive.
Oliver turned to look back at his friends, “There’s no one in.”
The other boys crossed the road to stand on the path, watching. It was true, their wasn’t a car, but there never was. The gate opened easily. It wasn’t even locked, there was an unpadlocked, rusting, chain hung around the metal linking the two gates together above the latch. Oliver unwrapped it, dropping the chain on the ground with a clink. He pushed open the gate.
Somewhere a dog started to bark.
Oliver pushed the gate shut behind him, leaving the gate unlatched, for a quick get-away. The drive ran between a high fence on one side and a brick wall like the one at the end of the garden, separating the house from it’s neighbour, on the right. Over the top pf the fence trees were visible.
Oliver couldn’t see his ball on the drive. He walked down the drive a little until he came to a gate in the fence. It was as high as the fence, with a rounded top and a dragon cut-out, at adult eye level. Standing on his toes, Oliver tried, and failed to look through. He pushed on the gate, reaching up for the latch, but the gate was locked. He could see a keyhole in the black plate beneath the latch handle.
Steeling himself, Oliver turned to walked the rest of the way to the house. It felt like miles as he walked between the canyon of brick and wood, wind ruffling the tree branches that draped over the fence and gravel crunching under his feet. He looked back. His friends leaned against the fence, watching him. Turning back to his objective, Oliver made for the door.
The drive opened out on his left, a square of concrete with a rotary washing line full of clothes in the centre, wheely bins and recycling boxes neatly lined up beneath the back window greeted him. It looked so ordinary. His mum and dad had the same washing line. Oliver shook his head, the boys were being silly. A witch couldn’t live here. Witches wore black dresses; there were pink t-shirts and green jeans on the line.
The dog barked again. A voice told it to shut up.
Oliver looked back at his friends, his heart blocking his throat as he tried to breathe.
“Come back.” Robby shouted. The other boys nodded. Oliver ignored them.
The dog in the house started bouncing at the kitchen door. A voice shouted for it to shut up as Oliver raised his fist to knock. A shadow crossed the window.
Oliver looked back at his friends for support, but they had hidden behind the back wall. He could see James’ yellow trainers sticking out. They shuffled backwards as the door opened.
Oliver turned round and looked up.
“Yes?” A soft voice spoke, and a pair of grey eyes blinked at him through a narrow gap between the door and the frame.
“Sorry. My ball.”
“It’s in the garden?”
Oliver nodded. The person sighed.
“Give me a minute. The back gate better be closed.”
Oliver nodded mutely, hoping the others hadn’t pushed it open when they’d watched him venture down the drive.
The door shut in his face.
A minute later the door opened again. The dog bounced out, followed by the woman in a faded blue dressing gown pulled tightly around her, and a pair of green wellies. He hair was wrapped in a towel, a wet strand dangling across her forehead.
“Come on them.”
The woman lead the way up the drive, carrying a key in her right hand. The dog had gone to the gate and was nosing at it.
“Budgie, come here.”
The dog looked back at his human, disappointed. There were people out there, and the gate was almost open. He huffed, but trotted back to the humans. Budgie sat down in front of Oliver, shoving his snout into the boy’s hand.
“He wants to know if you have any sweets. If you have, don’t let him have any. Budgie’s on a diet.”
The dog whined and turned away from them, staring at the wall.
“Grumpy hound. Ignore him, he’s sulking.”
The gate to the secret garden opened easily, the key turning smoothly in the lock. The gate opened inward under it’s own weight.
“Go on then.” The woman pointed into the garden.
Oliver walked past, hesitating on threshold to look around. The garden was surrounded by trees covered in pale blossom. In the centre was a small pool with a fountain. At the back, near the wall, was a table and two chairs. On the table a ceramic dragon looked imperially over the vegetation. Around the fountain were empty raised beds. Under the trees fruit bushed were putting on leaves.
The ball floated in the pool.
Oliver ran across the garden, around the beds, to snatch the ball from the pool. He held it, dripping, away from his jumper. It wasn’t damaged. He breathed a sigh of relief. His mum would be so mad if he’d burst it. He walked back out of the garden, smiling.
The woman locked the gate behind him and escorted him to the gate, retrieving the chain. The gang waited on the street, wide-eyed as Oliver let himself out. Budgie pushed out behind him, but the woman grabbed his collar and pulled the dog back into the garden. She shut the gate, wrapping the chain around it and adding a padlock.
“Next time, knock on the front door. Or play elsewhere. There’s a field over there.” She pointed in the direction of a park a few streets away. They weren’t allowed to play there without an adult with them, but the boys nodded anyway and moved away from her gate.
Safely hidden in James’ front garden down the street the boys gathered ’round Oliver.
“Did anything happen?”
“Did she magic you?”
Oliver shook his head; they were so silly. “It’s only a garden, with trees and things. There’s a pond.”
Disappointed that the witch’s garden was so ordinary the boys kicked at the grass.
“Let’s play.” Oliver dropped the ball, “New teams. Game was interrupted.”
“That’s not fair, we were winning.” James whined.
As they argued about the game, Oliver looked over his shoulder. A dragon flapped lazily on the top of the wall.