The garden was as big as her father had said - bigger.
Amelia wandered aimlessly around the side of the house, one arm outstretched, fingers grazing the unruly tentacles of stray privet that separated the property from that next to it. Her arm fell, forgotten, to her side however, as she rounded the corner and gazed in surprised wonderment at the landscape before her.
An unexplored wonderland of lush vegetation lay before her; a rich wilderness of uncut grass and untended borders. To her left, the house lay forgotten in the revelation of her new world.
Amelia moved forwards slowly, sneakers crunching over the graveled border that separated house and garden. She stopped at the perimeter of the wilderness, gazing over the long grass towards the far end; invisible through the encroaching undergrowth.
She saw immediately, the tree her father had mentioned. It grew out of the tumble of overgrown grass and brambles, erupting from the sea of vegetation like a woody island, solid and permanent, and very old. It was a massive thing; Amelia had no idea of what kind of tree it was but it had obviously been there a very long time. It towered above her, a good forty meters away, surrounded by what looked like an impenetrable forest of grass and bramble. Branches forked away from the immense girth of its trunk, thicker than her body as they twisted upwards, disappearing into the congested mass of its leaves.
Amelia, being the city girl she was, had never seen its like. Of course, she had seen trees before - but the specimens that grew in the neighborhood of her tenement had been pale cousins to this monster. Gazing at the tree, Amelia experienced a sudden urge to go to it and touch it; to introduce herself to the Goliath.
Cautiously, glad that she had decided to wear jeans today, instead of her normal skirt or shorts, Amelia began to forge a path through the grass. Some of the fronds were almost to her chest, and clustered thickly around her knees and lower legs. As she moved, raising her knees high to take each slow step, the rich, cloying aroma of damp earth and rotting vegetation assailed her nose; tickling the sensitive membranes and making her cough and tempting her to sneeze. She brushed at her nose and tried to ignore the sensations.
It took Amelia a good ten minutes to reach the tree. Twice, she almost turned back, the clinging grass and brambles, together with the increasingly musty aroma of old soil and damp vegetation almost more than she could stand. Only a sense of fierce determination, that her father said she had inherited from her mother, to accomplish her chosen task forced her on, deeper into the garden.
Finally, the tips of her outstretched fingers brushed across the time-roughened surface of the tree. With an small whoop of triumph, Amelia moved into the small area of clearance provided by the trees massive roots. Her feet moved easily over the smooth incline of the root system as Amelia achieved her goal. She stopped and turned, placing her back against the protective shelter of the trunk, and looked up.
Seen from this angle, the tree was even more impressive than it had been when she'd first seen it. Above her head, just beyond the reach of her fingers, the moss covered trunk split into branches only slightly less thicker that subdivided in turn as they climbed into the canopy overhead. Amelia had no idea how her father intended to build a tree house, in amongst all those branches but, if he said it could be done, then she believed him. With a last, wondering, examination of the view above her, Amelia returned her attention to the house.
From the rear, their new home was, if possible, even more imposing than it had appeared from the front. The house was wide, and consisted of three stories. Taller than the buildings to either side of it, it dominated the sky before her, taller even, than the tree. Dirty windows, encrusted with the grime of ages, gazed opaquely out across the garden, giving no more than shadowy hints at what lay behind them. The rear wall had been rendered, at some point in its past, with a pebble-dashed plaster, that had then been painted white. Patches of the stuff had fallen away in places, revealing the stained brickwork beneath. The once white paint was similarly stained, almost to black in places and, to Amelia, the effect was one of a blotchy, unhealthy pallor; as if the skin of the house was suffering some disease.
At the ground level, a door sat, slightly left of center, a large dirt-streaked picture window taking up a good portion of the remaining space. A large crack ran in a jagged line from the lower right corner, dividing several times before terminating at various points at the top. What paint still remained on the door and frames was dark; once possibly a deep green - and flaking.
Amelia studied the house with a critical eye. Her father was as good at building and repairing things, but even so, she thought this place might be more than even he could handle. This house was going to him ages to get right, if the inside was in the same state as the bits she could see. And, of course, he could only work on the house when he wasn't at his job. Amelia and her mum would help; of course they would. But, even then, it was going to be a long time before this place would be a proper home.
She sighed softly, as a small pang of regret drifted through her. She was going to miss her old home, small as it was. The flat might have been cramped; her bedroom barely large enough to hold her bed; but it had been her place. Hers. Amelia thought of the good times she had spent there, with Ami and Jo, giggling together over the silliest things.
And this town; everything seemed so open here. After the confines of Manchester, growing up among the confines of the city blocks and the hustle of city life, Blackpool just felt.., Amelia thought for a moment, searching for the right word.
Empty. She decided at last. That was it. Blackpool had way too much sky; far more than seemed right for such a small place. Apart from those few tower blocks her mother had showed her, and the tower itself, there was nothing she had seen that was more than a couple of stories tall. Even the people she had seen had been fewer in number to those she was used to. Admittedly, they seemed a lot friendlier, more inclined to smile at people they didn't know - that was quite unsettling for a city girl, more used to people rushing past, intent upon their own business.
Maybe, it might not be so bad here, after all, Amelia told herself, after further consideration. She brightened further; her mother had promised to take her to see the beach, and the sea. She had never seen the sea, except in pictures, and weren't there donkeys to ride, on the beach? What would Ami and Jo say, when they heard that she'd ridden a donkey? They would be sooo jealous; Amelia tried not to smile. Her mother had said that she could invite both Jo and Ami over to stay; once they had settled in a little. Then they could all go to the beach, and ride on the donkeys. It was going to be so cool.
Suddenly, Amelia wanted to see her new bedroom. She looked across the expanse of the garden. The path she had forged through the grass was clearly defined, and looked easy enough to follow back. She might even be able to run a little. Amelia loved to run.
With a silent promise to return when she could, Amelia leapt away from the tree. Her sneakers left the roots they had been perched upon, buoyed up by the young girl's sudden burst of exuberance. Landing nimbly amongst the outer fringe of grass, she leapt again, her spirits lifting her and helping her to almost fly over the grass.
Amelia was almost halfway to the house, when a sudden sense of being watched stopped her dead in her tracks. A chill prickling of flesh, and the icy tickle of rising hairs on the nape of her neck popped her bubble of euphoria - collapsing it in upon itself. Her feet and legs regained the weight they had lost, and added extra for good measure. Amelia stumbled; almost fell forwards into the grass. She recovered herself, barely, and spun, her eyes searching the garden, frantically searching for the source of the sensation.
She was alone. The garden around her was silent, devoid of movement and life, apart from herself. Still the sensation persisted; Amelia raised her gaze, her eyes raking across the next door house, the one closest to them. Blank, empty windows gazed sightlessly back. Amelia turned awkwardly, her gaze flying towards the other house, the one on the left. A sudden shift of shadow caught her attention and she froze, her eyes locked upon the highest window of her own house.