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Don’t buy garden gnomes from a witch

by Alyissa Austin 6 months ago in Horror · updated 4 months ago
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“Fertilizer. They are only fertilizer now.”

Don’t buy garden gnomes from a witch
Photo by Sarah Mae on Unsplash

Squish! My eyes watered as the rancid smell hit my nose and made me gag. Dog shit…and I knew exactly whose dog it was too. I could feel the anger and frustration building inside me. Without bothering to wipe the nasty evidence off my foot I marched through my dusty, barren yard to my neighbor’s house next door. Standing at the edge of her gate I looked into the lush wonderland of her garden with begrudge admiration. There were two patches of sunflowers grown tall and proud standing sentry at garden gate. My neighbor’s lawn glowed green with life, and she sat at a dainty table on her porch serving lemonade and entertaining a few ladies from the neighborhood. The sun shone like a halo in my neighbor’s curly golden blond hair, the picture of purity.

Meanwhile, the vile culprit, her scottish terrier, was up on its hind legs twirling in a circle, while the women cooed and clapped delightedly, praising MaryAnn for her dogs tricks. Everyone loved her, and I could feel my nerve beginning to shrink. If not for the smell of the dog shit on my shoe wafting to my nostrils, I might have turned around and gone home. Clenching my fists at my sides I yelled angrily across the greenery of her yard, “MaryAnn! I need to talk to you!”

MaryAnn just smiled at me gracefully and waved, “I’ll be right there, darling, just one moment!” She turned apologetically to her guests and they snickered, shooting pointed looks in my direction. Under their stares I felt less like a justifiably angry woman, and more like a petulant child.

MaryAnn descended down her porch steps with the radiance of a queen, the dog following at her heels. Her dress swished sophisticatedly at her slender calves and her garden made her a perfect picturesque background. In contrast, I had sweat through my shapeless t-shirt and fidgeted with keys. MaryAnn’s emerald green eyes looked me up and down, her cute dainty nose wrinkled, just slightly, at the shit on my shoe. That only sparked my rage more.

“What can I help you with today, my dear?” She asked, her voice rang like church bells.

My voice screeched and cracked, graceless in my fury, “You let your dog shit in my yard again!”

Her plump peach lips formed a perfect little ‘o’ of surprise, “Oh, Princess? No, Princess is a good dog...Even if she did relieve herself in your yard, I’m sure she was just trying to help, hmm?” She paused to look pointedly over my shoulder at my bleak, lifeless yard, “Maybe she thought you needed a little fertilizer to help your yard grow? It’s not like she was really hurting anything, right? You can’t be that mad, I mean just look at her adorable face.” As we both looked at the dog it cocked its head and wagged its tail, tongue lulling out of its mouth. MaryAnn laughed cheerfully telling the dog how cute it was.

“Just keep Princess out of my yard!” I snapped at her, flustered and impatient, before turning abruptly to storm back to my house.

She called after me, “I hope your day gets better, love!”

The truth was, I did want a garden. Something alive and vibrant to give my life beauty and purpose. Yet no matter how hard I tried, nothing would take, and the neighbors watched smugly as I bloodied my arms with pre grown rose bushes that wilted within the week. I hated MaryAnn, but where exactly that hatred originated I wasn’t sure. Was it her fake nice personality that sent me reeling in anger? Or did I gnash my teeth out of envy, out of desperate want for everything she had? Even now I can’t see my feelings for her clearly.

After changing my shoes I set back out to the traveling market that had advertised a one-hundred percent success rate in helping fellow growers and gardeners resolve their earthly issues. They called themselves the Caravan and the trending comment seemed to be, “My garden grew overnight!” In my crushing desperation I sought anything that offered me oasis from failure.

Despite MaryAnn’s wish that my day would get better, my mood did not improve much after reaching the Caravan. The ad had shown a bustling market, but it really only consisted of a pickup truck with two men selling rusty tools and 3 tents. The largest tent had an orange curtain that seemed to rattle like old change and as I approached it I saw that it was made of old pennies strung together. An old woman dressed in a long patchwork skirt was sitting outside it, her face creased with age, worry lines etched like canyons into her tan skin.

“Excuse me?” I approached her, “I was wondering if you had anything that could help me grow roses?” She stared at me blankly for a moment with dark glossy eyes before responding in broken english and a heavy unfamiliar accent, rolling her r’s and sharpening her s’s, “Eh? Rozez? Yez. Come. Zis vay.” She stood slowly, supporting most of her weight with a cane, and disappeared into the tent. I hesitated, looking after her into the dark, a sudden desire to run away rearing up inside me, feral, animal, and afraid. I shook it off, agitated with myself, and went through the curtain of coins.

Inside, the tent seemed a lot larger, crowded with shelves and the shadows that slithered on the walls. It was dark, the only light in the tent seemed to emanate luminously off the old woman. She dug around inside a big chest for a moment before coming away with a large pink box which she held up with pride, “You vant flowers to grow? Zis will grow you flowers.” She held the box out to me, grinning with what looked like hundreds of teeth. For all my discomfort I felt a strange certainty that she was right and as the shadows swirled around the room in odd patterns, I knew this had to be the answer. Whatever was in that box would bring my garden to life. When my hand touched the lid the shadows went wild wiggling and rattling on the walls, the whisper of a hiss echoing around me.

I barely noticed the whirling chaos around me, entranced by the box, by the temptation of my final solution...As I lifted the lid it felt like all the oxygen had been sucked out of the tent and I stood at its center, holding my breath. I peeked inside and it... it was…

“Lawn gnomes?” I asked, disappointed. There were eight, clay, lawn gnomes, each one with a pointed red hat. The lady looked at me grinning expectantly, waiting for me to say something.

“They are...cute?”

They were not cute. They all had sagging squished faces, each one wrinkled in a different way. One had deep grooves in his forehead between his brows to show years of scowling, he looked angry and tired, pushing a wheelbarrow along. Another had crows feet and was carved with lines to make him look like he had been smiling recklessly his whole life as he carried a water pail. They were all distinct and unusual, nevermind them being ugly.

“Alive!” The woman spoke in a hushed excited tone, “It vill come alive. Alive. Alive! Alive!” She grabbed onto my arm a little too tight with a wild, fevered look in her eyes. She didn’t let go of me until I nodded to show I understood. My garden will come alive and this old woman is crazy, I thought to myself. Got it.

My shoulders sagged heavily at the let down, but the gnomes were an interesting novelty, so I bought them anyway and hurried out of the tent. The men selling tools in their pickup trucks stared at me unblinkingly, their eyes wide and black as I walked to my car. The whole place made me so nervous that I broke into a jog, claws of fear clenching my stomach. I started my car with urgency, stepping heavy on the gas as I drove away. The more distance came between the Caravan and I, the easier it was to relax, and I laughed at myself for being so wound up over nothing.

When I got home I took the gnomes out of their box, one by one, placing them in a congregation next to my porch steps. Studying my new prizes I tried to shake off the weirdness of the day. The craftsmanship of these decorations truly was amazing. I couldn’t imagine the amount of time it must have taken to carve each of their wizened little faces. Sagging eyes peering out from under tall pointed gnome hats, each face contorted into their own personality. One of them wielded long garden shears, wearing a scowl and baring his teeth in menace. Another sprinkled seeds from a pouch with miles of bags under his eyes and a blissful dreamy grin. I imagined hiding them among my roses one day when I finally had a garden, tucked into herbs and peering from bushes for only the observant to find. They would be like mystical little creatures that lived in my yard.

That night I fell asleep with that magical image in my mind…and that’s when things really started to get weird. I woke up to the sound of footsteps puttering through my yard. At first I figured it was just the neighborhood kids, sneaking out on the summer nights, maybe even playing hide and seek in the dark. I watched shadows flickering through my blinds, and an ominous singing began. They must be playing one of those singing games like back in grade school, I told myself. After some time it stopped sounding like innocent singing and twisted into a low sinister chant. I pulled my blanket over my head, wishing that their unsettling game would hurry up and end. I would let them play their strange games tonight, I thought wearily, but tomorrow if they came back, I would tell them to go somewhere else. The chanting seemed to go on endlessly through the night and I don’t remember when I fell asleep, but all too soon my alarm was going off.

Due to my night disturbances, I did not wake up on the right side of the bed that morning. Honestly, I was hardly awake at all and my eyes itched from sleeplessness. When I had finally gotten myself together for work, I opened my front door, and blinked rapidly from the pain of my pupils dilating against the day light. As my yard came into focus, I froze, trying to understand what I was looking at. You’re seeing things, I told myself, and stepped back into my house, closing the door behind me and counting to ten. Let’s try this again. I stepped back out of the house.

My jaw popped open and I stared in wonder.

My yard...my yard was green. I rubbed my eyes, but the image didn’t go away. My yard was blooming and alive. Pink and red roses grew along my fence leading up to my gate. Blue daisy lined my walkway, with fat happy bumblebees dancing between flowers. Joy bubbled up inside me, bursting from my lips as gleeful laughter. This was everything I had wanted, everything I had worked for. To my left, a strawberry patch grew fat ripe red strawberries hanging off the vines and ready to taste. My garden had grown. But how? I took my shoes off stepping into the soft green grass and wiggling my toes. It felt real. It was all so perfect. All the time spent studying soil types, all the calluses on my hands, I had finally grown life. This was it. This was my dream.

A dream, I thought smiling as a hummingbird darted past my face. Yes, I was dreaming. That was exactly it. What a beautiful dream. I had never lucid dreamed before, so I decided to bask in its glory while it lasted. I knelt down delicately cupping the blue lilies to get a closer look at them when MaryAnn appeared at the edge of my yard, her face blotchy and red with anger, in a way I had never seen her before. How unpleasant, I thought and closed my eyes trying to banish her from my slumbering mind. This is my dream. You don’t belong here. Go away. Except…

She didn’t go away. Even with my eyes closed I could hear her yelling at me from my gate, “Are you an idiot or are you high?! I see you standing right in front of me and I know you hear me!” The realization slowly crept in that it wasn’t a dream. I opened my eyes. The roses swayed in a breeze...if this wasn’t a dream...what…was this?

MaryAnn was crying now, “What did you do to her?! What did you do to my Princess!?” I felt so confused. So disoriented.

I couldn’t understand what was happening, “Hang on a second…your dog? I didn’t do anything to Princess! What are you talking about right now MaryAnn?!” I didn’t mean to yell, but the hysteria was catching and my breath was coming in short insufficient gasps.

She started yelling again, but I couldn’t focus. I looked at the roses that had popped up overnight. Could she see them? My heart thumped erratically. Maybe I was crazy. Maybe I was sitting in a yard of dirt hallucinating. Maybe I was actually really crazy. MaryAnn yelled on and on, a few people gathering on the street to see what was happening. I tried to focus on her words, right now she was saying, “I know it was you! You complained about her yesterday and now she’s missing! I know you took Princess! You always were so terrible! So jealous of me! That's not Princesses fault! You better not have hurt her!”

Irritation flared inside me. I wasn’t the bad person here, she was! How dare she accuse me of hurting an animal?

“MaryAnn, I don’t have your stupid dog and I don’t have time for this! She’s probably just taking a shit in someone else's yard for a change! I don’t have her!”

MaryAnn’s mouth popped open in a show of dramatic offense, “I’m warning you, Diane! If you did anything to my dog you are going to pay for it!”

“Whatever MaryAnn,” and on second thought I added, “Hey...what do you think of my garden?”

I held my breath silently praying. Please don’t let me be crazy…

MaryAnn’s face contorted with violent rage as she looked at my roses then back to me, “I can’t believe you have the audacity...I’ll show you what I think of your garden!” And she stormed away.

Triumphantly, I bent down and picked a strawberry, smelling and touching it. So the garden is real. The sweet ripe fruit burst juicy on my tongue.

MaryAnn marched back around the corner carrying hedge clippers, “This is what I think of your garden, you heartless,” with a swift snip she chopped a rose in half, “dog hating,” she chopped another rose, “BITCH!” She began chopping haphazardly into the bush ruining my flowers. I screamed for her to stop. I didn’t even understand how my garden had grown so lushly and she was already destroying it!

She shook the blades at me, “You better give me back Princess and you better not have hurt a hair on her!” She let out a horrible shrill shriek before stomping away and slamming her front door so hard I could hear the windows rattle from my house…

…and that was the last time I would see MaryAnn alive.

I tried to clean up my harmed rose bushes, throwing the severed limbs into a plastic bag, when I noticed a lawn gnome sitting under the bush. It was the angry one holding the shears, it’s sinister little face startling me as I bent down to pick up an amputated rose. I had almost forgotten about them and after a little more looking I found that the rest of them were also placed through the yard in similar and obscure positions. Just like I had imagined. I didn’t know what to make of this all but it seemed like whatever god had been laughing at my life finally decided to be kind and reward me for my patience.

How naive I had been.

I took the day off work and spent the afternoon studying my garden doing research typing phrases like, ‘spontaneous garden growth,’ and ‘how did my garden grow overnight?’ into the search bar. Most of the websites that came up were tips on how to make your plants grow faster, or how sometimes seeds blow in the wind and take root in unexpected areas. Nothing scientific to explain what happened in my yard.

When night came I began hearing the same footsteps I had previously. Channeling my inner warrior, I looked out the window, but I didn’t see any of the neighbor kids. My hair stood up, my senses electrified with the instinctual feeling that something was wrong. I closed my blinds tight. The footsteps stopped. Everything was quiet for almost an hour and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Tap, tap, tap, the noises started up again with a vengeance, shadows moving in my window, and the sound of a low ominous chant that sent shivers down my spine.

I looked through my home for a weapon talking to myself, “It’s the kids, or MaryAnn playing a prank. Just go out there and tell them to leave.” The only thing I could find to defend myself was a gnarled wizard staff from my Halloween costume last year. I held it like a baseball bat and opened my front door. Standing in my doorway I could see movement in the yard, but it was too dark to make anything out.

“Who's there?!” I called into the night. No response, just the same eerie chanting as the shadows continued to move in my yard. I stepped off the porch moving closer to the shadowy figures. The streetlight cast a fluorescent light and I was finally able to make out what was happening. The lawn gnomes stood in a circle around a hole in the center of my yard. Their aged sagging faces fleshy and moving, with pink eyes glowing out from under their pointy gnome hats. I stepped closer holding my breath as I remembered the gypsy lady’s words as she had presented me with the gnomes, “It will come alive.”

Yes. Alive. My fingers were cold and my mind was emptied out, as I stood there numb from shock. It’s magic. I started to smile as I watched them work. After a few moments I noticed the thick smell of decay coming from the hole they stood around. Curiosity inched me closer watching the magic gnomes and they seemed undisturbed by my presence.

When the contents of the hole came into light, I felt the blood rush from my face, my body going cold. The remains of MaryAnn lay disfigured and decaying. Maggots crawled from her eyes. Her beautiful skin was grey and shrunken to her skull. Only her golden curls remained recognizable. She had been so beautiful, so vibrant, but when I closed my eyes all I could see was the rot that ate her away.

My knees buckled and when I collapsed into the grass tears ran down my face, unable to breathe. My body heaved and when my dinner spewed onto the grass all the gnomes turned their heads in my direction, hissing, snapping razor sharp teeth. They crawling towards me at an unbelievable speed, their eyes glowing in fury. I crawled backwards to the sidewalk, my chest hurt and fought back more nausea. I’m going to die, I thought in horror, They will kill me just like MaryAnn.

But as soon as I was off the grass they relaxed their wrinkled faces and turned back to their assignment. A sad looking gnome with a shovel and the gnome with the wheelbarrow began to clean my sick off the grass. I held my breath trying to be silent as my body shook with sobs.

The smiling gnome stepped toward me, his sagging grin showing his long fang like teeth, “We are the guardians placed to protect this sacred land.” He said it proudly, his voice gravelly like shifting boulders, deep and rumbling. It seemed strange coming from such a small creature.

I tried to speak, but all I could say in my disabled state of fear was a stuttered name, “M-MaryAnn…” The rest of the gnomes had resumed their ritual chanting around my neighbors decaying body, while this one stayed to chat.

The smiling gnome nodded, “Fertilizer,” he said, saliva dripping from his fangs, “The enemy that attacked us was given back to the sacred land. It is fertilizer now.” He motioned to my lifeless neighbor, and to punctuate his point, her ribs cracked open and a sprouting green sapling broke through her chest. Overwhelming nausea took me over again and I began heaving onto the pavement.

What have I done?

The gnome did not say anything, it just stood there, it’s wrinkled sagging face staring at me, pink eyes unblinking. When I finished being sick, he merely stated, “I shall return to the ceremony now.”

“Wait!” The word broke free, strangled from my throat, “Princess…” The image of the shaggy floppy eared dog flashed in my mind.

The gnome nodded, “Fertilizer. They are only fertilizer now.”

Horror

About the author

Alyissa Austin

When I’m not writing I can be found making wine, gardening, or performing a full moon ritual. Storytelling might be my platform, but my passion is psychology; diving into the shadowy subconscious of the mind and exposing the truths.

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