Wednesday, October 14, 2009
(Here's today's Halloween-inspired short written by me. Expect one every day until the Big Day!)
Patty studied the rock-strewn garden of her newly bought home on a quiet oak-lined drive. The house was everything she imagined her own home to be. No more settling for where the military sent her. This place would be her home for a long long time. What did a retired captain do in small artist town? She kicked a rock near her sneaker and leaned over, picking it up and studying the pretty striations.
Liking challenges, she not only retired, became a homeowner, moved to the granite state, but knew nothing at all of tilling the land and native plants. Her last 10 years she’d spent in the desert southwest. In fact, the chilly autumn air had her wearing a coat when locals were donned in sweaters.
The box on the makeshift patio table mocked her. Patty reached inside and pulled out one of the objects, her fingers curving around a small spade. She lifted the garden gnome out just as the sunlight broke through the clouds and shone on its brightly lacquered surface. It was garish and obnoxious and exactly like several dozen more that were inside the box. Her unit had given her the box of garden gnomes as a joke when they celebrated her retirement from the Army. She laughed at the time. The irony was great. Not only was she not the gaudy lawn gnome type, but she certainly had never gardened in her life.
Not used to being bad at something, Patty walked around the garden and set out the gnomes with their wheelbarrels and shovels and picks around the garden, such as it was. Precariously tucked between hunks of granite, they at least cast color on the boring landscape. One maple tree in the corner of the yard was blood red, dropping fiery leaves onto the ground around it. Another oak nearby shimmered its yellow leaves.
Two trees. It’s a start.
At least there was something to work with. She’d never keep the ugly statues but for now she named them after her old subordinates. Mack was the one with the shovel, Abby was the one with the pick, and Jerome was the one with the wheel barrel. With them mocking her, she’d master this task and set an example for her little “regiment” of faux workers. Feeling a giddy bit of pleasure, she saluted the little boogers. “Attention!” She pivoted on her toe and retreated into the house to find her car keys. It was time to go to a nursery and begin her education on this nurturing concept.
The first night after she’d planted the raspberry canes and the apple trees, Patty congratulated her self for striking the hard ground, pushing aside the rocky remnants and finding nooks and crannies to plant things. Pleased by her efforts and a bit sore from the shoveling, she sat back in her kitchen to make her nightly call to her partner, Marion, hoping that she’d sold her condo and was ready to join her in Illinois. With no answer on the other end, Patty realized the time difference made it earlier there. Obviously, Marion was still at the office. She sighed and strolled across the kitchen to pour another glass of wine when she heard something bump up against the side of the house.
Startled, Patty yanked open the sliding door, expecting to catch a stray cat that had been digging in her pathetic moonscape. Every morning she found new clusters of dirt piles and holes in the ground. The cat hadn’t left a steaming pile of shit in them yet, but she suspected that was next.
The moonlit garden glowed a strange shade of blue. Patty stepped out into the icy air and looked around, waiting for a movement or a sound. Something shuffled to the left and she leapt from the small porch down to the rocky pathway, chasing after it.
“Go shit somewhere else!” She snapped. She was not only allergic to cats but hated the way they made everything their territory. “It’d serve your owners right if you didn’t find your way back home.” She growled, cursing at the people who let their cats prowl the neighborhood.
Beside her, a deep hole caught her interest. This was definitely deeper than the other little holes. It had a pile of dirt beside it a good foot and a half high. She reached her hand into it and felt the depth of the crevice. It was a foot deep! The moonlight cast enough detail on it to realize that not only was the hole perfectly round, but the pile of dirt beside it wasn’t kicked up in stray piles, it was in one neatly scooped pile like a person with a shovel would do.
Feeling a cold wet wind arriving, Patty got up and raced back to the house, hopping on her socked feet. She slid the door closed, turned the thermostat to 80 and raced to the bathroom to run a hot bath. She went back and got her wine glass and peered out into the glowing garden, trees swaying, bright leaves falling and floating around.
She frowned as she considered the mystery of the strange hole. It wasn’t the time of the temperature to investigate. Still, she sighed, it couldn’t be a neighbor’s kid. The walls in the back garden were high and block construction. She shook her head in wonder and turned to go back to her running bath when she caught a movement in the middle of the garden, something rushing from the right to the left and low to the ground.
Angrily, Patty went and turned off the tub’s knobs and slipped her feet into her sneakers, rushing outside with a flashlight from her kitchen drawer, she aimed it at the area where the cat had crossed by. She knew it was the cat. It was small and scampering. She swung to the right and left, casting light on the rocky surface and patches of dying grass.
She picked up a rock and threw it. “Go home you dumb cat!” She snapped and turned back to the house, determined not to let the stray ruin her evening.
It was a moist and frosty morning when Patty got dressed in three whole layers of clothing to brave the outdoors. She knew she’d never survive a real winter.
Determined to find out how the cat was getting into the yard, she wandered the wall. Stopping at the far end of the garden, she looked up and across the rocky landscape. Strangely the plants within the rocky surface were healthy and vibrant. Mums she had planted two days ago were easily twice their size. The raspberry vines had woven their way in and out of the wooden lattices, and the apple trees were taller than the wall.
“How’d that happen?” She puzzled. Standing next to the trees to test their height to the height she’d planted them at, Patty was confused. How could they grow two feet in a week’s time?
Looking around the ground at tiny little holes, she recalled the big one. Going back to find it, Patty stopped short. A big robust hydrangea bush, just like the one she had enviously eyed in the neighbor’s front yard sat in the spot, ground around it tamped down neatly, and a little thin line of dirt squiggling across the rock outcropping. She followed the strange line of dirt and stopped short near the lawn gnome with the wheel barrel.
Patty trembled as she stooped down to inspect the statue. She felt like an idiot to even consider it, but dammit! The wheel lined up with the dirt trail. She lifted the statue and examined the dirty feet and the dirty wheel and the dirt-lined barrel. She set it down cautiously and stepped back.
Recalling the statue with the shovel, she wandered towards the fake wishing well where she’d placed “Mack.” He wasn’t there. Patty pivoted. She was absentminded in her lone living arrangements admittedly and visiting her feeble-minded parents in the retirement home didn’t help the matter, but surely her isolation hadn’t made her go mad. She said “hi” to Mack each day when she walked through the garden, secretly mocking her old co-worker. Squinting across the garden, her eyes focused on the statue. His pug face was frowning as usual, his bright yellow shirt like a beacon. She wandered over to where he stood near a small hole by a wood stand with a birdhouse upon it. She leaned down and poked at the ground. Afraid but fascinated, she picked up the brightly colored statue and studied Mack’s messy feet and his dirt filled shovel.
Carefully she took him back to his usual spot near the well and backed up. The other gnomes stared at her from their rocky perches as if a line of soldiers awaiting orders. Subconsciously she had set them up so that they faced her when she came out each morning. Perhaps this retirement thing wasn’t as easy as she’d thought. Patty backed up a step at the doorway and saluted them.
“At ease, soldiers.”
She pivoted and eagerly went inside, drawing the shades on the back of the house to let her nighttime workers do their job without intrusion. She picked up her car keys and purse and rushed out the front door, actually glad to go visit her parents this time and get away from her home.
As she backed out of the driveway, Patty looked to the left to see the neighbor’s yard and the giant void where the hydrangea bush had once sat. With a hysterical chuckle, she raced away.
at 10:19 PM