A Short Story
The five garden gnomes had cheery faces and rosy cheeks. Painted-on happiness. But it was a thin veneer. Their little group was arranged in a semi-circle under the bird bath in the corner of the garden beside the apple tree. Autumn was developing her favourite colours and splashing reds and oranges on bushes and trees. The blackberries were ripe on the brambles growing over the garden wall and the apple tree was laden with fruit – which the blackbirds kept knocking off.
‘Damn!’ cursed Harry, who was on the end of the semicircle, as an over-ripe apple hit the ground with a thud and tore towards him like a missile. It missed him by inches. His eyes fixed themselves on the blackbird that had flown down to check out his prize. ‘Feck off!!’ he shouted. But the bird couldn’t hear him and busied itself pecking at the apple.
‘It’s just a bird Harry,’ mumbled Bill who was two gnomes to his right, ‘There’s no need to get so angry.’
‘He’s not angry at the bird,’ said Snowy who was to the right of Bill, ‘He’s angry because he can’t accept his new incarnation.’
Mutters of agreement went along the line.
‘Well it’s not fair!’ said Harry, ‘I didn’t ask to be a stupid gnome – one that can’t move anything but its eyes!’
‘You probably wanted to be a famous footballer or a film star, that was the trouble,’ said Bill, ‘You were too fixed in your choice and there were obviously no vacancies for the rich and famous when you snuffed it, so that’s why you came back as a gnome. What did you want to be?’
‘None of your business!’ muttered Harry angrily.
‘No good sulking,’ said Tubby, the portly one, who stood next to Harry, ‘You need to accept it because you could be here for years.’
Much mumbling of agreement along the line.
‘Years!’ Harry’s voice had risen a few octaves in abject horror. ‘How long do you gnomes live then?’
‘We, you being one of us,’ said Tubby pointedly, ‘are not exactly sure. Long enough that we’ve forgotten when we were born.’
Harry started to cry softly. Tears dribbled down his cheeks and found little pathways through his beard. They dripped onto a dandelion that had started to grow between his boots.
Little coughs of embarrassment came from the others as they listened to him wailing.
‘So where did they buy you from?’ asked Snowy, hoping a change of subject might help.
Harry stopped wailing and lapsed into silence.
Stavros, from the other end of the line chipped in: ‘We all came from different places. Henry, the kid who lives here has started to collect gnomes. I came from the Fork-in-Hell Garden Centre.
‘I was in the Call a Spade a Spade, there were lots of us there,’ said Bill.
‘I came from Tesco,’ said Tubby.
‘Tesco!‘ Harry seemed so appalled by the idea that he shrugged off his misery. ‘At least I came from John Lewis!’
‘Well, maybe your up-market attitude is what got you here in the first place,’ chuckled Snowy, ‘Henry rescued me from a skip in the village.’
‘Well all you lot must have wanted to be famous, like footballers or movie stars, or prime minister, or you wouldn’t be here either,’ retorted Harry.
Silence. Small coughs and the clearing of throats.
‘So,’ began Harry, pleased that he’d caught them out, ‘How long do gnomes really live? You must have some idea?’
‘No one knows how long gnomes live, or even what causes them to die,’ said Bill as he watched the blackbird attacking the apple with gusto, ‘I ended up next to an old second-hand chap made of stone in Call a Spade a Spade and he reckoned he’d been about in all sorts of different gardens over his years. He had a date stamp on the bottom of one of his feet, I saw it when he got knocked over one day, and it said 1929. He was nearly ninety. Of course stone lasts for years, there was none of your old plastic rubbish back then.’
‘Nearly ninety!’ Harry’s eyes started rolling around and around and around in his head.
‘What are doing?’ asked Tubby, he could just make out Harry’s right eye doing circles as he peered sideways at him.
‘I’m trying to see what I’m made of! Why can’t we move anything but our eyes!’ yelled Harry in frustration.
‘You’re made of resin,’ said Stavros.
‘Resin? How do you know?’
‘You have a chip on your shoulder, I noticed it when the boy brought you home and got you out of the shopping bag.’
‘How long does resin last?’
‘Certainly does, probably as long as stone.’
If Harry’s face could have gone white with shock it would have, but being resinous he stood straight with his never-ending grin plastered across his face.
Halloween October 31st 11pm
The teenage trick-or-treaters, slightly worse the wear for a half a bottle of vodka liberated from a parent’s kitchen cupboard, and a quantity of cider purchased by an older brother, were on the rampage. They preferred tricks to treats and spotted the little group of gnomes in the corner of the garden.
‘Less kidnap the gnomes!’ slurred a lad wearing a Frankenstein mask.
‘Yeah! Gnome-napping! Less-do-it!’ cackled his mate in a werewolf costume.
‘D’you think you should?’ giggled their girlfriends in matching witch outfits.
But the boys were already over the wall and stumbling drunkenly across the garden, laughing helplessly, minutes later scrambling back with four of the gnomes, one in each hand.
‘What you going to do with them?’ asked one of the witches.
‘Throttle them Precious!’ growled Frankenstein, trying to sound like Gollum, and he took off up the street and stopped by some bins. Holding Harry by the neck he made strangling motions, then he opened the bin and chucked him inside. Next was Snowy, by which time the werewolf had caught up and was waving Tubby about.
‘The fat bastard just had a heart attack!’ he yelled, dumping Tubby over the edge. Last to go in was Stavros after the werewolf had murdered him with a viscous bite to the neck. The bin lid was slapped shut. And Halloween continued.
November 1st, Early Morning
The bin men reversed their truck up to the bins. With a clang and a bang the machine picked up each bin and dumped the contents into the stinking cavity, then the hydraulic press came down and crushed it. No mercy was shown.
In the garden Bill stood alone, wondering where the others were. No doubt they’d be found and brought back and the thieves would be punished. But no gnomes were returned. Henry came over to Bill with tears rolling down his cheeks.
‘I’m sorry Bill, but your friends have been stolen. I’ll get you some new friends, Mum says we can go to the garden centre at the weekend.’
On Sunday afternoon Henry came tearing across the lawn with a shopping bag. He carefully extracted a fat female gnome with a big nose and a red apron.
‘Here’s a new friend for you Bill!’ he said, delighted, ‘I hope you like her, I’ve named her Sharon.’ Then he dropped his voice to a whisper, ‘She looks like a girl in my class at school!’ He stood Sharon so the two gnomes could look at one-another, then he heard his mother calling him in for tea.
‘Hello Sharon,’ said Bill.
‘Feck off! And DON’T call me Sharon!’
Bill knew that voice. It just didn’t fit the face. ‘Harry?’ he said in astonishment, ‘Is that you Harry?’
‘Of course it’s me!’
Bill couldn’t believe it. ‘What happened? Where are the others? Why are you … different?’
‘I’m different because there were no male gnome positions left!’ cried Harry in a disgusted voice. ‘And what happened was we all got dumped in a bin the other night and crushed to death the next morning when the bin lorry came round. Then Stavros and Tubby and Snowy got the reincarnations they wanted, but I didn’t. It’s SO unfair.’
‘What on earth did you want to be?’
‘The same thing as last time, and all the other times. I wanted to be a dinosaur,’ cried Harry.
Bill thought for a minute, ‘May I ask how old you were when you died, all those times ago?’
‘I was six, I was in a car accident.’
‘And how many times have you requested to be a dinosaur?’
‘Every time! But next time I’m definitely going to choose something else.’
‘Yes,’ said Bill carefully, ‘And I’d also try and avoid sabre-toothed tigers, woolly mammoths, dodos, and great auks. You can’t come back as something that no longer exists!’