After the initial flurry of activity meeting distant relatives and then solicitors to sort out the details of his Father’s estate, Angelo was at a loss as he waited for the probate to be sorted out. That could take six months to a year the solicitor had said, ‘will you be staying on the Island?’ After some thought, Angelo decided to stay and went about his usual process of picking up odd jobs enough to keep him fed and pay the minimal bills the house now required. There was no mortgage left to pay so technically the small terraced house belonged to him. But he felt no attachment to it. His nomadic existence after college had left him with an almost feral desire to be unconstrained by anything as restrictively mundane as a ‘home’.
His first return visit to the garden had been on a Thursday, a week after his dad’s funeral. It was a warm April morning and the cloudless blue had drawn him to the beach, the dunes and ultimately his old stamping ground behind the walls. His first peek over the wall showed there had been some attempts to return the garden to its original use as a kitchen garden. Only about a sixth of the enclosed space had so far been, to his professional eye, inexpertly cultivated. There had been attempts to grow potatoes, brassica’s and a mixed assortment of pungent herbs, but with little effective development of the ground around them to bring on a healthy crop they were struggling against choking weeds and poor fertilisation of the earth. Where his old fruit canes had been, his strawberries and raspberries had gone wild and leggy, and spreading like weeds from seasonally reseeding themselves. So despite attempts at cultivation this part of the property looked almost as neglected as it had done previously. He smiled to himself, almost relieved; though it still felt like an imposition onto his territory.
He had let himself down over the wall to inspect the place, keeping a wary eye on the buildings, though they seemed as shuttered and abandoned as before. The only difference being when he peered through the keyhole; although he could still see nothing there was a smell of burning wood, charcoal and a hint of spice or strong herbs. Having reacquainted himself with the walled space, he set about tidying and weeding as he had done fifteen years earlier. The exertion pleased him and took his mind from his current worries over his future and the house... a whole new concept for him with appendant concerns that weighed him down. To his delight he had found his cache of rudimentary tools still bundled in his favourite corner, away from the cultivated area, and whilst the wooden handles had dried out and snapped on the rake and hoe, the metal trowel and spade though rusted were still functional. He stripped to the waist and used the rake with a shortened handle to pull at the bindweed, ivy and wild strawberry vines to clear the space and set about trying to bring a semblance of order to the small plot that had been cleared. He ripped out the obvious weeds, and trimmed back the suckers and overblown stems that sucked the vitality from the plants. It would still be a poor crop, but inspired by his efforts, he dug out another bed which he chopped with the mulch and compost that had been stored in a corner, determined to bring some serious life back to the neglected plot.
Thus a plan was born, and over the following weeks as the spring air warmed, he managed, much as before, to divide his time between his paid work in the town with this, his ‘charity project’ on the estate. He would cycle out as before, and having stowed his bike, would venture into the enclosure. In the two months he worked there he never saw or heard another soul. Though there were signs the garden was visited; a tool removed, the canes he had erected, clumsily righted after a violent storm, there was never any visible sign of another human being. He’d knocked at the iron studded door but heard nothing. So he continued the work undisturbed and as he became more relaxed and as the weather warmed he wore less and less until as had been his custom before, he would strip and enjoy the sun on his naked skin as he worked the plot, then over the wall and the run to the beach for a swim.
His years of working the land under different skies had also worked its change upon his physique. The muscles of his back, shoulders and arms, were strong and lean with much use. His chest had filled out and his trim waist was fronted with an abdomen of steel as result of engaging his core and a pert firm rump and powerful legs from constant squatting and standing. His tan was golden brown and was almost perfect apart from a paler region from his hips down to his upper thighs; not everywhere he worked allowed him the freedom of nudity, but it was a sensation he revelled in and sought wherever possible.
Remembering his private ‘bath’ on the beach, he now ran the entire distance naked, enjoying the slide of the soft tall grasses in the meadow across his skin, the cool dryness of the sand in the dunes under his feet and the scrape of the hard grasses against his abdomen and flanks as he scouted for other beach users, before dashing down to the sea to battle the waves for an hour and to emerge dripping, like some nautiline-demigod from the waves, to soak in the warmth of the sun-warmed waters of the abandoned hull. At first he always carried a pair of ‘Speedos’ with him, ‘just in case’ but encounters with others were so rare this far out from the town that he had gotten into the habit of hooking them onto the old nail before he entered the sea and had on two occasions forgotten to take them with him after bathing; only to return four days later to find them still hanging in the breeze.
There had been one occasion when his idyll was disrupted. He had arrived as usual to find the garden empty, but after laying out his beach blanket and stripping down to start work, he heard a dull clunk! He spun about but there was no-one to be seen. Spooked, he slipped his torn cut-off jeans back on and did a quick reconnaissance of the garden. All was quiet. He tentatively approached the archway in the wall of the building to find the old iron bound door as securely locked as it always had been; and the bramble filled and covered archway out to the woodland was still as firmly choked as it had been when Angelo had first discovered it. He scouted around fully but saw nothing unusual until he came to the bed of herbs, potato and cabbage patch which he had managed to coax into providing some sort of crop. Tied to one of the staves supporting the plants was a scrap of paper with the words ‘Thank You’ written in pencil. He scanned the shuttered archways but the windows remained hidden and there was no evidence of life apart from the richness of nature about him, full of the buzz, hum and twitter of an early summer morning. Angelo looked back at the simple message scratching his neck, then smiled to himself and digging out the stub of a pencil from his back pocket scrawled, ‘the pleasure has been entirely mine’. Then laughing quietly, he pulled some of the early carrots and leeks he had grown, and placed them with the amended note in a tub next to the oaken door, and carried on with his mornings work. When he returned from his swim some hours later that same afternoon, the tub had disappeared but the note remained, stayed with a small rock, with the added message, ‘We’ll see!’ That had made him glance upwards uncertainly, but the silent building kept its secrets and he had left for home with an unsettled feeling.
For the next few weeks during his visits he had kept to wearing his shorts and had occasionally glanced up at the blank building wondering if he was being watched. However, there were no further messages and gradually his covert observations ceased as he never saw anything untoward and continued to work unclothed, as he preferred.
It was a searingly hot day in mid August, the unremitting sun heating the air until it almost hummed. It was too hot to do any serious work in the garden, so when Angelo arrived, after a brief inspection some minor weeding and watering from the rain-catcher he’d improvised from an old tin bath, he had slathered himself in sun block, stretched out lazily on his blanket and soaked up the rays. He split the time between reading and doing a rough circuit workout, utilising pieces of stone as weights for squats and lunges, then stretching and planking, crunches and push-ups, then laying back to rest. He wandered the wilder parts of the garden, making plans in his head to expand but with little urgency as the fierce temperature made for a lazy day. Bored, he set out for an early swim ‘Speedo’s’ in hand, but after scaling the wall and down the tree he left them hanging on a branch and enjoying the cool beneath the trees, jogged languidly toward the meadow. When he reached the open space, he galloped like a child’s imitation of a horse through the chest high grass then rolled in it relishing the feel of the cool stems against his bare skin; delighted they (whomever ‘they’ were?) had not yet clipped back the summer growth. After sliding through the bushes, he slipped through the old gap in the wire fence and after checking along the pathway, ran up the back of the dune and recklessly jumped down without checking to see if the beach was empty. It was. This far out on a weekday very few except the most ardent dog-walkers ventured, and he ran the last few metres down to the surf-line and high stepping over the initial waves, gasping in delight at the cold, he plunged his length into the next major oncoming wave and swam.
After breasting the waves with serious swimming for a good forty minutes he, played with body surfing before dragging himself dripping from the sand-gritty shoreline and sauntered to the old hull for a bathe in the warmer waters. He soaked for quarter of an hour occasionally peering over the gunwales to spy out possible intruders, but none came. He stood and climbed out onto the sand, and allowed the sun and light breeze to air dry his skin, then he jogged back up the beach and clambered, drawing his taught frame upwards on the straggling dune grasses, before slipping over and striding in a loping bounce down the nether face, back to the fence and the estate. Once again he gloried in the sheer bliss of being unencumbered by clothing. The joy of free fresh air all around him, the sensations of grass and foliage sliding across his sensitised skin as he strode through the tall grasses, and the shift from sunshine to shade as he entered the wood.
When he reached the old sycamore into the garden he had expected to pick up his swim shorts on the way back over but they were not there. He scouted around suspecting the wind (though there was almost none) had whipped them from the branch, but after a reasonable search there was still no sign of them. Mystified he scrambled up the tree and back over the wall into the garden. All was still. Angelo’s puzzlement turned to anxiety as he discovered that all his belongings; the blanket, his towel, books etc. had also been removed.
In desperation he searched around the garden but found nothing; despite the heat of the morning he found himself sweating a cold sweat as he realised that his belongings including all of his clothing had been removed and there was no sign of them. Looking toward the outbuildings he was unnerved to see that the solid oaken doorway, previously always shut and locked, was gaping open. The iron bound door itself invisible in the impenetrable darkness that contrasted sharply with the sun-bleached sandstone glowing in the sunshine.
With his heart suddenly pounding wildly in his chest, he approached the open doorway, as he drew close he could see to his surprise that beyond the door a steep stone stairway led downwards. Because of the angle of the sun, the seven steps were brightly lit before hitting a stone floor. There was a pool of light shaped by the stone archway of the door, beyond which there was nothing to be seen. He stood to one side cupping his hands around his genitals and called through the open doorway, ‘Hello? ...Is there anybody there?’ His voice boomed in the dark space and echoed back at him, “-dythere? -dythere? -dythere?” and fading into silence. ‘HelloOo? ...My clothes? ...this isn’t funny! Hello?’ “-ello? -ello? -ello?” ...silence!
Taking a deep breath Angelo stepped forward, using one hand to steady himself against the archway, he saw his shadow ripple down the stairway ahead of him and felt the sun on his back as he stepped carefully down the worn steps which got cooler underfoot as he descended. Still standing in the pool of sunlight, backlit, he peered into the gloom attempting to adjust his eyes to the darkness. Suddenly there was a creak and a whining sound behind him to his right. He whirled round in time to see and hear the huge old door slam above him. It was instantly pitch dark and before he could react further he found himself held by powerful arms, he yelled and kicked out against the rough fabric worn by his assailants, but to no avail. As he struggled he became aware of a strong herbal odour. Too late he tried to hold his breath and reared his head but a piece of cloth thick with the scent of strong herbs was plastered over his face and within seconds he felt his senses reeling and he passed out...
The Journal Part 1
I had first noticed the intruder’s presence by the evidence of his works! Upon leaving the main house and walking across to the Outer buildings where I had set up my stillroom and herb store, I had accessed the dilapidated garden, to tend upon my struggling plants, only to find the ground around them had been cleared, weeds had been pulled. The struggling plants had been watered and propped by someone who clearly knew their business. Certainly not a member of the community; I was the only one who had shown even the slightest interest in cultivating the abandoned plot. All of the other brothers had demurred when approached preferring to continue with the other tasks necessary for the survival and healthful running of the brotherhood, and none had even entered the garden since. I brought this mystery to the attention of the Seigneur of the order via a written message; he had nodded and smiled at me with pursed lips and responded in writing with, ‘Monitor the situation. Keep me informed’. So I watched and waited. A week after my discovery my patience was rewarded and my Angel was revealed to be mortal. Though in his appearance, as close to the image of an Angel as my mind could encompass.
He was tall and golden with a mane of dark blonde hair and stubble of beard that seemed almost red. To my delight as I continued to observe my Angel over several months, he continued his work upon the derelict space, content to work unhindered; to bring about a transformation that put my feeble attempts to shame. He would always arrive in the same way; early morning, his golden head and handsome face would appear from the space in the wall where the tall tree had unsettled the foundations; then once sure the garden was empty, my shy and gentle gardener would clamber down the wall, carrying what new seeds, plants or tools he had brought with him and set up camp below my window. I could see through the slats in the shutters where he laid his blanket frustratingly too close to the wall for me to observe him when he stripped, but strip he did, and like our progenitor and guiding saint in the first garden, he tended the earth dressed as nature had intended.
I would dwell on the beauty of this Angel but suffice it to say the corpus, the body, the physique connected to the face, was of a proportion that could only be described as divine. Years of honest toil had created a strong lithe body that moved with a natural grace. I must confess my thoughts and desires were powerful with regard to this secretive figure, and I sought the advice and counsel of my superior. Given permission to speak, I briefly described my bucolic visitor, and then handed my journal to my confessor so that he might read what I had noted; including my unspoken desires. After some thought, he looked up at me not unkindly and summoned two of my brothers so that I might be chastised before him. I was stripped of my robes and as was proper bore my punishment in silence, as it was meted out in silence by my superior and my fellows. Only when the hot burning induced by the prolonged slapping to my perineum produced the sought after release, was I allowed to rise from across the leader’s lap, shamed and sated in equal measure.
My senior regarded my naked form with approval as he washed his hands and brought me a cloth with which to clean myself. This done, he called for a lighter version of a novices robe, which he indicated I was to wear as penance for harbouring my thoughts and not sharing them sooner.
I slipped the hooded tabard over my head. The rough dark wool slid down my body. It was floor length but un-sleeved and the sides were left open apart from where the cord tied around my slender waist; allowing all the order to see my naked arms, flanks and the sides of my torso and legs, as indication of my penance.
It was at this time the head of the order, myself and another new initiate kept watch upon our visiting angel and I was given the task of leaving him the note. The sweetness of his response was further indication of his innocence and the Brother Superior, captivated by his beauty and devotion to nature, devised the plan for bringing him into the community.Next chapter