If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write - Stephen King, On Writing, p. 147
Gladys dragged the shopping trolley behind her. The street had a slight incline and she felt it deep in her hips. Passing Ethel’s front garden a flash of vibrant red caught her eye. She paused, looked over the low hedge and grimaced. A cheery gnome was fishing happily in Ethel’s wishing well.
“Plastic monstrosity” Gladys muttered, shook her head and crossed the road to her house.
Weeks passed and with each came a new horror. Gnomes sprouted faster than the weeds Gladys ruthlessly pulled from her pristine driveway. Gnomes pushing barrows, waving butterfly nets, smoking briar pipes, all of them with broad, smug smiles. There was barely an inch of lawn visible for red hats, green trousers and gnome paraphernalia.
Gladys looked up from her spot in the bedding plants. Two months had passed with no sign of new gnomes but the sound of Ethel’s front door closing had drawn Gladys’ attention. A sign now hung on Ethel’s front gate. Even with her glasses Gladys couldn’t read it. She creaked to her feet, aware of the throb in her knees and the crick in her back. The sign was white and appeared to have writing on it but that was all Gladys could tell.
She tucked her gloves into her trug and trotted into the house. A tray of freshly baked cookies sat on the side, cooling. Gladys scooped a few into a plastic box and headed across the road. She paused at the gate and read the cryptic little sign.
‘Gnomes are your friends… or not’
“Stupidity” Gladys muttered, plastering a smile onto her face as Ethel appeared at the door, “Thought you might fancy something fresh dear.”
She made to open the gate but Ethel hurried down the path and held it closed.
“I wouldn’t dear. I’ve just laid weedkiller. Don’t want you tracking it back to your place. Pretty sure Cleopatra wouldn’t take well to a mouthful of it.”
Cleopatra, otherwise known as Snookie Wookie, was Gladys’ pure bred Siamese cat and possibly the most sadistic killer in the world. Gladys thought she was sweet and gentle and spoiled her atrociously. She backed away and nodded.
“Enjoy the cookies” she half turned and then looked back. The closest gnome, who happened to be riding a stone tortoise, gave her a decidedly malign wink. It took her a moment to realize that it was cast like that, convinced it had really moved, “The gnomes..?”
Ethel smiled and shrugged, absently patting a mooning gnome on its hat.
“They took my fancy. Once you have one, it’s like an addiction. They make me happy.”
There really wasn’t any reply. Gladys nodded, forced a smile and retreated.
A month later, as she struggled up the street with a new cat house for Snookie Wookie, she spotted the cat streak across the road. It was clearly heading home having visited Ethel’s garden. The thought of the cat piddling on the gnomes gave Gladys her first smile of the day.
Closing the gate behind her and heading for her door, she noticed Snookie munching on something. She bent and lifted the cat into her arms, shrieking when Cleopatra looked at her with the tail of a fish flapping frantically at the corner of her mouth. Gladys shot a guilty glance at Ethel’s garden, shuddered as a hundred gnomes stared back and hurried inside.
A few weeks later Gladys noticed a reader’s letter in the local paper commenting on the sudden spate of fish-napping that was plaguing the neighbourhood. Cleopatra chose that moment to stroll through the catflap, drop a beautiful, albeit dead, koi on the kitchen tiles and settle down to eat it. Well, it was a cat’s instinct, nothing Gladys could do about it. Her sweet little Cleo couldn’t possibly be responsible for the amount of missing fish being reported. She pushed that unhappy thought from her mind, petted the cat and set off for the shops.
Later that evening Gladys stood on the front step calling for Cleo and rattling a tin of food with a fork. It wasn’t like the cat to miss her evening meal. By midnight there was still no sign of the wandering feline and Gladys reluctantly locked up, put out the lights and spent a restless night with little sleep.
A week passed. Despite ‘Lost’ posters, an advert in the local paper and street after street searched, Cleopatra had vanished. Gladys knew that Ethel worked in a local thrift store and decided to take a poster over to her, ask her to put it in the window. Walking up the front path she noticed that the original fishing gnome had been joined at the well by a friend. A fat little gnome with his sleeves rolled up in a workman-like manner and a coil of rope slung over his shoulder.
Gladys had almost stepped onto the doormat, printed with a smiling gnome and the legend ‘There’s no place like gnome’ when she spotted Cleopatra’s collar. It lay in the grass at the feet of the workman gnome. The sun glinted off of the diamantes set in the plush black velvet. Gladys scooped it up, eyed the gnomes, the well and finally the fishing rod held by the original gnome.
Creamy brown fur fluttered on the end of the hook. Gladys blinked, stared and then howled at the gnome.
“My beautiful baby! My snookie wookie! You drowned her! You little bastard!”
She spun in a circle, grabbed up a spade leaning against the porch and swung…
A couple of hours later Ethel watched the ambulance roll away. The young policeman watched it with her and frowned, flicking his notebook closed.
“Funny how she kept screaming that the gnomes did it” he mused and Ethel shrugged.
“She never liked them. My silly addiction didn’t sit well with her idea of how front gardens should look.”
“Wonder what pushed her over the edge?” he pondered as they surveyed the gnome holocaust sprayed across the lawn.
“Her cat’s been missing for a week. She kept saying that the gnomes had drowned it in the wishing well. She’s not been the same since her husband died last year. Stressed and lonely I think.”
“Ah well, they’ll sort her out up on the pysch ward. Section her and all that” he tailed off, smiled and headed for his car, “Shame about your gnomes.”
Ethel waved him off and headed for her shed. She cracked the door just enough to grab the broom, forcing it shut quickly, hissing “Wait”. She swept the debris from the lawn, only satisfied when the last trace of the carnage had been dumped into the rubbish sack. She returned the broom to the shed, glanced around quickly to ensure she was alone and threw the door wide.
Gnomes streamed out, rapidly taking up the places recently inhabited by their plastic doubles. Cleo shot past them and streaked into Ethel’s kitchen, intent on sampling more of the wonderful fishes the human had been feeding her for a few weeks.
Ethel knelt beside the fishing gnome and whispered in his ear.
“Thank you. You’ll always have a home here.”
The gnome winked and then stilled. Ethel stared across the road at the house where Gladys had lived with Ken. Ken had been Ethel’s husband for thirty years before he’d taken up with that floozy, Gladys. Sometimes you had to bide your time. Revenge was a dish best served cold, perhaps with fish.