“Grandma, what’s happened to all your gnomes?”
It was the first thing that I noticed when I pulled up her driveway. I didn’t remember much about my grandmother’s house—I hadn’t been here in years—but I did know that her lawn used to be absolutely covered in gnomes. They were my favorite thing about coming here when I was a kid. I used to think they came alive.
Grandma waved a dismissive hand. “They get stolen,” she said, her voice weary in a way that only happened with the elderly—frustration at being too tired to care. “I used to replace them, but they get harder and harder to find.”
“So the gnomes are disappearing,” I said, trying not to smile at the idea.
“It all started when these damned young kids started moving into the neighborhood,” she said, staring wrathfully out the window to a house down the street, where I guess the offending neighbors lived. “They ran over my Jox, then let their kids knock over Bean and Bopper. Broke Bopper’s hand right off. All my little friends… ” She shook her head, sighing.
She talked about the gnomes like she knew them. Then again, they were hers, so I guess she did. I gave her a hug from behind her chair, and she squeezed me back with a thin-skinned hand.
But it wasn’t just the neighbors—it couldn’t have been, unless one of them was a thief, too. As I came back over the next few weeks—now that I could drive it had become my responsibility to check up on Grandma after school—I was noticing it more and more. The gnomes were going missing. Disappearing one at a time. There were only about six left. Well, six, and Bopper’s hand.
One Friday my car broke down about a block and a half away from Grandma’s. It was a clunker, but could usually make the hour-long drive. It was a busy weekend—my dad was out of town on business and my mom was helping out with my little sister’s play, so nobody could come rescue me. Since I was stuck at Grandma’s for the night, I decided I’d stay up and see if I could find out who was stealing Grandma’s gnomes. It just seemed cruel to me—taking away something that gave an old woman joy. I wanted to stop it, if I could.
I curled up on the couch for the night, leaving the front window open, saying it was because it was warm out, but really because I wanted to hear if someone came around to take a gnome.
It was hours before I heard anything. Then, just as I was dropping off to sleep, there was a rustle.
I looked out the window—and pinched myself. There, out on the deck, one of Grandma’s gnomes—a tiny one, Tippy, I think it was—was wiggling his way out of a planter and onto the ground, his stony little body turned flesh.
I swung the door open and grabbed at him—he yelped, then stood stock still, as if pretending he were stone again. As if I couldn’t feel the softness of his little body, just bigger than my hand.
“You’re running away. All of you have been leaving on your own, haven’t you?”
He continued to hold still, and I sighed. “I’m not going to do anything to you, I just want to know why. My grandma really loves you guys.”
The mention of my grandmother did it. The tiny, pudgy man in my hand let his face fall. He looked ashamed. “I… I know, miss. But we’re not safe here anymore. We can’t defend ourselves in the daylight, and we’ve lost too many of our number to the heathens down the street. Our community is small as is… we have to leave.”
I set the little man down. “I’m sorry about Jox. And Bopper. Well, if those were their names. I wish there was another way. My grandma… she doesn’t have so much anymore.”
Tippy rubbed his nose. “Well… I’ll see what I can do.”
The next morning, my grandma gave a yell. I lurched out of bed, heart racing, images of her sprawled on the ground flashing through my mind. “Heather! Come back here!”
I made my way to the back of the house, onto her back porch. Her backyard was enclosed in a high wooden fence, and was full of overgrowing greenery.
“I don’t know how they all got here,” Grandma said, standing in her nightgown and gesturing vaguely around the yard.
I stepped onto the porch, and took in what had to be forty or fifty lawn gnomes scattered about the yard, their cheery, chubby faces beaming at my Grandmother in a friendly way.
I looked at her too, and tears were flowing down her face. “How did they get here?” she asked, wiping her face dry with both hands. “Some of them have been missing for years!”
I put an arm around her shoulders, feeling her bones. “Maybe they just wanted to be somewhere a little more safe than out front,” I said. Tippy stood on the porch railing, and I could have sworn that he gave me a wink.