Early one morning she saw the badgers. They were near the stone circle she had discovered a few days earlier and wanted to see at dawn. She had always thought of them as peaceful, shy and somehow lumbering animals, but they were fighting and hissing. When they noticed her they ambled off into the flowering gorse. There was a smell of coconut in the air. She walked back along the path you could find only by looking into the distance, a path whose existence she had surmised from rusty kissing gates, rotten stiles and the odd post with a symbol presumably meant to represent a hiker. The grass was untrodden.
November. Windless and damp. She was happy about the badgers, satisfied to know they were at the stone circle whether she went there or not. Beside the grassy path stood ancient trees covered with coarse, light grey lichen, their branches brittle. Brittle yet tenacious, still in leaf. The trees were remarkably green for the time of year. The weather was often grey. The sea was close by; when she looked out from the upstairs windows in the daytime she occasionally spotted it. On other days it was nowhere in sight. Just trees, mainly oaks, sometimes light brown cows looking at her, inquisitive and indifferent at once.
At night she heard water; a stream ran past the house. Now and then she would wake with a start. The wind had turned or picked up and the rushing of the stream no longer carried. She had been there about three weeks. Long enough to wake up because a sound was missing.
Of the ten fat white geese in the field next to the drive, only seven were left a couple of weeks later. All she found of the other three were feathers and one orange foot. The remaining
birds stood by impassively and ate the grass. She couldn't think of any predator other than a fox, but she wouldn't have been surprised to hear that there were wolves or even bears in the area. She felt that she was to blame for the geese being eaten, that she was responsible for their survival.
'Drive' was a flattering word for the winding dirt track, about a kilometre and a half long and patched here and there with a load of crushed brick or broken roof tiles. The land along the drive — meadows, bog, woods — belonged to the house, but she still hadn't worked out just how it slotted together, mainly because it was hilly. The goose field, at least, was fenced neatly with barbed wire. It didn't save them. Once, someone had dug them three ponds, each a little lower than the last and all three fed by the same invisible spring. Once, a wooden hut had stood next to those ponds: now it was little more than a capsized roof with a sagging bench in front of it.
The house faced away from the drive towards the stone circle (out of sight) and, much farther, the sea. The countryside fell away very gradually and all of the main windows looked out over it. At the back there were just two small windows, one in the large bedroom and one in the bathroom. The stream was on the kitchen side of the house. In the living room, where she kept the light on almost all day, there was a large wood-burning stove. The stairs were an open construction against a side wall, directly opposite the front door, the top half of which was a thick pane of glass. Upstairs, two bedrooms and an enormous bathroom with an old clawfoot tub. The former pigsty — which could never have held more than three large pigs at once — was now a shed
containing a good supply of firewood and all kinds of abandoned junk. Under it, a large cellar, whose purpose she hadn't quite fathomed. It was tidy and well made, the walls finished with some kind of clay. A horizontal strip window next to the concrete stairs offered a little light. The cellar could be sealed with a trapdoor which, by the look of it, hadn't been lowered for quite some time. She was gradually expanding the area she moved in; the stone circle couldn't have been much more than two kilometres away.
Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Ten White Geese by Gerbrand Bakker translated by David Colmer. Copyright 2013 by Gerbrand Bakker.