The Elusive Sundial

The Elusive Sundial

A Story by JBZ

I was told if I wrote one of the parody Philip Pullman titles in a Tom Gauld cartoon, it would probably be this one. This has nothing to do with Pullman at all, though.


Late summer. Imagine a large, once beautifully-appointed but now overgrown garden. Wooded hills around, dark moors in the distance. Greenhouses with green-stained, cracked glass. Red brick walls, slowly crumbling to dust in the golden evening.

A figure. Old and grey. Not just grey. Faded. “In my time there was one.” 

A second, lighter and taller, is nodding. “It was listed in the estate catalogue, so it should still be here. Somewhere.” As the gloaming rises, the gardens seem to crowd in. Grass, almost shoulder-high, has long overwhelmed the flower beds, where wildflowers mingle with the bowed heads of buddleia. “But this place has been deserted a decade, now. Since the auction. Doesn’t make it easier to find anything.” Tall chimneys of a once-distinguished house are already silhouetted behind distant copper beeches. “You can’t just tell me where it should be?”

“That is not possible. You have explored, I assume?”

“I’d like to say I’ve left no stone unturned.”

“The old yew alley?”

“Nothing. Not that you’d want to go there again, surely?”

“Indeed, no. And the terrace?”

“No go. Oriented west, not south. Not right for the pointer.”

“Ah yes, I remember now. That always amused me. A gnomon’s no man’s land, some might venture.”

“They probably wouldn’t.”

“Perhaps not. May I suggest visiting the grand folly?”

“Some might call that a big mistake.”

“Touché.” Shadows are lengthening, but the swifts still scream as they race each other across the deepening blue. “You have then, I assume, investigated the secret garden?”

“No one knows where it is.”

“Is that so?”

“And you won’t point me in the right direction.”

“Appositely put, considering your goal. But do not forget the limits I must work to.”

“Oh. Yes. Of course. But I want to find it. Great-grandfather saw it when he came here. Told my father how beautiful the gold and copperwork looked. Dad was very young at the time, of course.”

“As, I imagine, your ancestor was when I had it installed.” Venus, the brightest point of light in the summer evening, is gleaming like a lantern in the western sky. “I believe he would have observed that finding the secret garden would make locating something within it…straightforward.”

“He might have.”

 “I understood he favoured eliminating the impossible and pursuing whatever remained.”

“He did.” Looking west, the lantern above the horizon almost seems to brighten. Light dawns as dusk falls. “Which, in this case, could be a wandering star!”

In the evening calm, a distant dog’s bark breaks the stillness. The other voice is almost a whisper now. “Perhaps.”

Two feet crunch westwards along the weed-strewn gravel path, as something seems to gleam among the trees.

© 2019 JBZ

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Added on November 10, 2019
Last Updated on November 12, 2019
Tags: #mystery #shortstory