Snapping his eyes open at the thunderous knocking at his front door, Steven rolled out of bed, put on his robe and slippers and walked out of the bedroom. The morning air was chilly inside the small, four-room house. Shivers went down his arms and legs. He pulled the robe tighter around his body. The fluffy cotton fabric felt warm and inviting on his cold skin. Walking through the house, he began to think how most weekend mornings he would have been pissed about someone waking him up before noon. But in some ways he was glad it happened today, a lot of work needed done outside in the yard and garden before Deborah returned from her business trip.
Coming up to the front door, Steven put his eye against the peephole and looked out just in time to see a brown delivery truck pulling away from the curb. He then flicked back the deadbolt, grasped the knob and pulled the door open.
A small wooden crate was sitting on the front porch.
Bending down, Steven ripped off the shipping log that was stapled to the rectangular box. Unfolding the piece of paper, he saw his name, address and the origin of the shipment, Salta, Argentina. He didn’t remember ordering anything in a catalog that would come from another country, but thought maybe his wife did, though he was confused why his name rather than hers was on the paper.
She did say that she may have to travel to South America; maybe she found something I would like down there and decided to send me a gift, Steven said to himself, picking up the crate and carrying it into the house. He took the present into the kitchen and set it on the table. He then made himself two eggs over-easy, toast and a pot of coffee.
Before carrying the items over to the table, he grabbed a screwdriver and hammer from underneath the kitchen sink.
After finishing one egg and piece of crusty toast, he wiped his hands on a napkin, picked up the screwdriver and hammer and stood up. He began to work on wedging the flat end of the screwdriver under the crate’s lid and hit it the rest of the way in with the hammer. A few minutes later all the nails were loose and he was able to lift the top off the box. Setting the lid on the floor, he reached into the crate with excitement and began to pull out handfuls of shredded paper.
There must be something really nice in here for Deborah to pack it with such care.
At the bottom of the crate was something about a foot long. It was wrapped in burlap.
He carefully lifted the object out of the box, set it on the table and started to unwrap it.
Lifting the object up to get a better view, it looked to be made out of a colorful resin or terracotta clay and seemed to be smiling back at him.
He took the object outside, put it in its place and then returned to the house.
Even though Deborah had asked him to get the yard and garden work done before she returned home, he didn’t much feel like it anymore and figured she wouldn’t be too upset if it waited just one more day.
Hell, he was retired for a year now and still never took any time to do the things he always enjoyed.
After a long day of napping, watching some movies, taking an extra long shower, reading the rest of a novel, Steven made some burritos in the microwave and returned to his television program in the living room. He couldn’t believe it was already dinner time. In some ways he felt bad about wasting the day doing meaningless things. But he had had a good time doing them so he wasn’t worried too much about what Deborah might say about the untended yard work that she had been on him for weeks to get done. Steven shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “ol’ well” and bit into one of the burritos. An explosion of refried beans and beef swirled inside his mouth.
It tasted great, just like the rest of his day had been.
The smell of smoke awoke Steven from a wonderfully erotic dream he had been having about Deborah. They had been lying in bed together, her in a new red lingerie outfit, him on top of her, kissing, becoming more aroused with each passing touch.
Figuring the house was on fire, he ran from the bedroom wearing only his boxers and came out into the living room. The room wasn’t filled with flames as he thought it would be, only a plume of smoke rising out from behind the same recliner where he had eaten dinner and watched TV late into the night.
Before Steven could even comprehend the situation there was movement, quick, sideways movement, something scraping against the wood floor. The plume of purple smoke followed it. It was too dark in the room to make out any real details, but he did notice something pointy on top of the object scurrying from the living room, into the kitchen and out the back door.
Steven followed, grabbing a large knife out of the butcher rack and watched the object shuffle through the backyard and into Deborah’s garden.
Their house was rather small, but they had a lot of land behind it. Both Steven and Deborah had always dreamed of adding onto the house or just completely knocking it down and building a new one. This was something that would take some time to save for. On the other hand, yard work could be done for free. Steven wished he had done the yard work now, as he walked through the tall grass towards the garden. The blades of dewy grass slid against his legs like slugs, it made him want to turn around and go back inside the house and lock the door. He figured whatever was in Deborah’s garden right now wouldn’t be able to get back in the house if he locked the doors, though some part of him doubted it would do any good since he remembered locking the doors before heading off to bed.
The one thing Steven was thankful for was that he could see better outside than in the house. He had drawn the blinds in the house before heading off to bed, so it was pitch black inside. Outside on the other hand the moon was full and cast a white glow over the land. The moon also was making the smoke coming from the object he was following easier to see, the light was almost radiating off the smoke. He continued towards the moving object and soon came to the opening where the garden began. There were plants in the ground; tomatoes, onions, green beans, turnips and a few other assorted vegetables, but there were plenty of weeds as well. The weeds were one of the many reasons Deborah had wanted the yard work done for so long.
She told Steven, “I’d just do it myself, but someone has to put food on the table.”
Steven had replied with a mumble of words about being retired, pension, etc, but instead of taking his suggestion to hire someone to do the work, she told him he had to do it and that it would save them money for building their dream home.
Steven shook the memory from his mind and turned his attention back to the purple smoke that seemed to be encircling him as he stepped with his bare feet onto the warm, moist dirt.
The smoke seemed to draw him towards the middle of the garden. His muscles didn’t seem under his control any longer nor did his mind. Something was inside him, making him walk further into the garden, listening to his thoughts. He was scared, dead scared and the thing inside his head knew it.
Finally the walking stopped. His muscles felt like his again, no one controlling them. He wanted to turn and run away but he couldn’t. He was frozen in fear. His mind on the other hand felt like someone was gripping it, squeezing it, still inside him.
Nervous and shaking he looked around him. He saw no one.
Puzzled he looked down at his feet. They were covered with dirt and weeds seemed like they were wrapping themselves around his ankles and trying to pull him down to their clutches. But they weren’t, it was just his imagination.
Wanting to chalk the whole experience up to a bad dream, he turned around to head back to the house.
He stopped dead in his tracks.
The knife he had been holding slipped out of his hand and hit the ground.
His mouth fell open.
In front of him was something that looked like a human but not quite. It was about a foot and a half tall, with long white hair and a beard that almost reached its feet. It was wearing blue pants, an orange shirt and a red conical hat. A small brown pipe hung out one corner of its mouth. Purple smoke was drifting out of it.
The object looked a lot like what he had unpacked from the crate that Deborah had sent him.
When he first saw the object jut across the living room floor and out the back door of the house he didn’t even think of the possibility that it might be a living version of the gift that his wife had sent him. But there it was, standing right in front of him, alive, smiling and smoking a pipe.
It was the object his wife had sent him to put in her garden. He remembered a fable he had once heard that they come alive at night to look over and care plants and wildlife. Only they were not suppose to reveal themselves to people that didn’t believe in them or want to hurt them. Steven didn’t believe or necessarily want to hurt anything, he was more scared shitless than anything else.
Of the living, breathing, garden gnome that was standing in front of him.
“Hola, Senor Riggins,” spoke the gnome.
“Don’t be scared…I am here to help you.”
“Ahhh…help me with what, exactly.”
“To care for your jardin…garden…of course.”
“I don’t need any help, but thank you,” muttered Steven.
“Oh, I think you do…at least that is what your wife told me.”
“How…how, do you know my wife,” asked Steven.
“She sent me of course,” replied the gnome, blowing a puff of purple smoke out of his mouth and up into Steven’s face.
Steven coughed a few times. His eyes glazed over. The numbness in his muscles returned like they were being controlled, again.
“Now, you must go into the shed and fetch a shovel and hoe and get to work…”
“Si, senor,” Steven replied, turning around and starting off towards the shed to retrieve the items.
As it turned out, he would get the work done before Deborah returned home, after all.
Steven woke up the next morning to another sound at the front door. Hoping it wasn’t another package from his traveling wife; he sat up from bed, put on his slippers and robe and walked out of the bedroom and into the living room.
He was still covered from head to toe with dirt from working outside till the wee hours but didn’t seem to notice or care.
There was no one in the living room but he could smell the beginnings of coffee brewing in the kitchen. He hoped the garden gnome wasn’t making breakfast for himself.
He walked into the kitchen.
His wife, Deborah, was standing with her back towards him and looking out the back window.
“Ah, good morning, dear…how was your trip.”
“Fabulous, thank you for asking…I see you got the hard work done…thank you.”
“It was no problem, really,” replied Steven giving a wearily smile.
After making a full course breakfast for Deborah, including freshly squeezed orange juice; Steven retired to the living room and started watching a program on the History Channel about dragons and warlocks. He was glad the work was done, so he could relax.
Deborah had thanked him again for getting the hard work done and was now washing dishes at the kitchen sink and looking out onto her beautifully landscaped backyard and manicured garden.
At one corner of the rectangular plot sat her garden gnome.
A small line of purple smoke rose from its pipe.
Deborah smiled and continued with the dishes.
Copyright © 2014, Ty Schwamberger