Jeff Strand

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Jeff Strand

Apocalypse of the Yard Gnome
by Jeff Strand

"It's just you and me," said Sammy. "You and me against the world. We'll show them. We'll show them all."

Milton, who was a yard gnome, did not answer. He was not a magical talking yard gnome, or a magical moving yard gnome, or even a cursed yard gnome whose active mind was trapped in an immobile stone body. He was just a standard-issue yard gnome, purchased from a department store, with nothing to contribute to the conversation.

"Soon it'll be the apocalypse," said Sammy, with a crooked-toothed grin that Milton's painted-on eyes could not see. "Soon they'll all be dead, and oh, how you and I will laugh! They'll all suffer for the way they've treated me!"

The truth of the matter is that Sammy was not treated with any notable amount of cruelty. His number of friends was well above the national average. He'd never spent his birthday or a major holiday alone. His parents lived next door, but they didn't meddle in his business; they merely invited him over every Sunday for a delicious brunch. His co-workers were all friendly and generally upbeat, and though Sammy wouldn't stock grocery shelves as a hobby, as a day job it really wasn't so bad. He was actually treated remarkably well, especially for a guy who talked to a yard gnome.

At twenty-nine, he didn't have a girlfriend, but it wasn't as if he'd never had a girlfriend. He'd had six of them, and four of them had indeed engaged in sexual intercourse with him. He and his last girlfriend, Chloe, had broken up several months ago, but it wasn't a particularly hostile breakup, and they'd even gotten together for a bonus tryst one night when Chloe was drunk, lonely, and suffering from temporary self-esteem issues.
So, really, his constant talk of laughing during the apocalypse was unwarranted. Many of the people who might be swept away in the river of lava were decent human beings, and to be honest, if people had treated him poorly, he would have been deserving of their scorn.

"Yes, Milton, the apocalypse will be here any day now, and I cannot wait!"

Milton was too un-alive to even think, "Why do you keep talking to an inanimate object?" There literally was nothing going on inside that gnome.

Ironically, Sammy had a perfectly good dog, a Yorkshire terrier, in which he could have confided. No, the dog did not understand the English language beyond its name (Waggy) and a few simple commands (sit, stay, fetch) but at least the dog was a living creature. It would have occasionally looked at Sammy while he spoke, and perhaps licked his hand when he was done sharing his venomous thoughts about the tragic fate of the human race. Waggy was a nice little dog with a sweet and feisty personality; a far better conversation partner than Milton. Yet Waggy sat inside, gnawing on a squeaky chew toy, while Sammy sat on the back porch, confiding in a yard gnome.

"Any day now," said Sammy. "Any day."

It's actually fortunate that Milton was such a complete non-participant in the dialogue that was currently occurring, considering the repetitious nature of what Sammy was saying. A cognizant being would have eventually said, "You've made your point about the apocalypse happening any day now; could we please move on to something else?" But Milton's demeanor did not change, no matter how tiresome Sammy's words became.

Milton wasn't even a very good gnome. He'd been on sale for half-price in the clearance aisle because he was kind of scraped up. There'd been a few others in the same condition, so presumably that shipment had been insufficiently packaged. There was nothing remarkable about Milton in terms of design, coloring, or anything, really, and Sammy's decision to purchase that particular yard gnome hadn't been based on any criteria beyond a cursory glance to see which one was the least scratched up. (And his choice had been incorrect; there were two others with less surface damage.)

So it cannot be overemphasized just how pointless it was for Sammy to be sitting there sharing his apocalyptic desires to this gnome. "Get a life, you ridiculous loser!" is a rude thing to say in most social situations, but here it would have been completely appropriate.

"Yeah, when the--" Sammy said. His sentence was not cut off. It was, in fact, a rather lengthy sentence, but do you really need to hear it? It's just more of the same. Jesus H. Christ. If I could bash him over the head with a shovel to shut him up, I'd do it in a...


I am, as you've probably noticed, an omniscient narrator. I know Sammy's thoughts, and I know that Milton isn't alive. The part about Milton not being alive is common sense, of course, but to truly know that, you'd have to be an omniscient narrator like me.

However, omniscience isn't the same as omnipotence. If I were an all-powerful being, believe me, Sammy would be doing a hell of a lot more than sitting around talking to a yard gnome. There would be explosions. Unfortunately, my job is to observe and report, not to actually impact the things that are happening (or not happening, as with this pathetic little twerp).

Technically, I'm not supposed to be editorializing or using words like "twerp," but that's excusable in extreme cases. Believe me, I'm also tempted to use vulgar language, though hopefully it won't come to that.

I apologize for intruding upon the narrative. That was unprofessional. I return you to your story.

"Everybody dead," said Sammy. "Wouldn't that be fantastic, Milton? Wouldn't it be great? I'd write a song about it. Maybe I should write the song now, so I can have it ready to sing when the apocalypse happens." Sammy thought about that for a moment. "Nah, I'll write it later."

Oh, for God's sake. It would be different if he were actually taking steps to make the apocalypse happen. I'm not sure how one would go about such a task, but even if he had some laughable, inept, poorly conceived plan that was never going to work, I could respect that. But he's just being totally passive about it.

And here's something else: he doesn't even have a survival plan in place. That's right, he just assumes that when the apocalypse happens, he and his stupid little yard gnome are going to be just fine. Where did he get that idea? Hey, here's an idea: how about you at least keep a few extra cans of food around the house? If all of these people who have been oh-so-very mean to you are going to die horrible deaths, doesn't it make sense that you might also be in a smidgen of physical danger?

Am I right? It's not just me, is it?

This is such a crap assignment. Other omniscient narrators get to write about awesome people doing awesome things, or at least interesting people doing horrible things. I swear, if this jerk says one more thing to his clearance aisle yard gnome, I'm going to totally lose it.

And he just did. I won't transcribe it. You get the gist.

I wonder if I could kill him?

I'm not supposed to interfere. This could get me in a lot of trouble. I don't think it's even possible. Yet I also have to focus on the reader, right? You'd much rather read about the death of Sammy than the babbling of Sammy. I'm going to do it. I'm going to kill him.

No, I really shouldn't.

I can't believe I was seriously considering murdering a human being simply for the crime of being dull. That's not cool at all. What kind of monster have I become? You can't go around slaughtering people who aren't fascinating. If I killed every person who was less than interesting, Sammy would get the apocalypse he so dearly craved. It just wouldn't be right.

Okay, that was my effort to talk myself out of it, but it didn't work. That little creep is history.

The ground began to rumble. Sammy looked up, which wasn't very intelligent considering that it was the ground rumbling and not the sky. "Wha-what's going on?" he asked.

The ground split open, and Sammy had to jump to one side to avoid falling into the chasm.

"No!" Sammy screamed, upon realizing that Milton was on the other side. The chasm continued to widen, and without hesitation (except for the aforementioned pause to scream "No!") Sammy leapt across. His arms pinwheeled as he hit the ground and nearly lost his balance, but he somehow managed to avoid plummeting to his death.

Wow. I didn't think he'd actually put his life at risk for that gnome. Is there a stronger bond between the two of them than I realized? Am I not as omniscient as I thought? Or is he just insane?

Sammy picked up Milton and pressed him to his chest. Not in a creepy nipple-sucking way; he just held him like a baby. I'm not suggesting that holding a yard gnome like a baby isn't creepy, but it's certainly less creepy than some other things he could have done.

Another immense crack appeared in the earth. Sammy didn't fall into this one, either. His ability to not fall into chasms was admittedly impressive.

Suddenly there were explosions everywhere.

"This isn't what I wanted!" Sammy wailed. "I never meant for anybody to get hurt! I was wrong; people have treated me with kindness for my entire life! I don't want the apocalypse! Please, make it stop!"

You know, it's hard to dislike somebody who has looked into his soul, seen his flaws, and realized that he needs to change. He's been taught a lesson, and he'll probably be a better person after this. I'm not saying I want to have a beer with the guy or anything, but he's not such a bad fellow if you really think about it.

Then again, the ground cracks open and he thinks it's because of something he said. How egotistical is that? Now, yes, he is technically correct, but he doesn't know that his story is being told by an omniscient/partially omnipotent narrator. (Can you be partially omnipotent? And if I'm omniscient, why don't I know the answer?) Does he think that God is going to start ripping up the earth just because of something he said to a gnome?

To give him the benefit of the doubt, he was talking about the apocalypse right before it happened, and in his moment of panic and confusion he couldn't be expected to say "Gosh, this is freaky, but of course it's merely a coincidence!" If I were in his position I'd probably think I caused it, too, so I'll cut him some slack.

"Please, Milton!" Sammy wailed. "Make it stop!"

What the fuck? He thinks the gnome caused the apocalypse? Seriously? And if so, why did Sammy put his life at risk by jumping over the chasm to save him? Why not just let him plummet? Did he want to make sure Milton was still around to reason with, or did he just now arrive at the conclusion that Milton was the blame? I should know this shit!

"Make it stop! Make it stop! Make it stop!" Sammy shouted at the gnome. If anything, the stressful nature of the situation had increased his redundancy.

"Never!" said Milton.


Did he really just--?

That can't be right. That yard gnome was completely inanimate. No way did it say "Never!" I'm not ruling out the possibility that somewhere on the planet, at some point in existence, there was a yard gnome that could talk, but this one couldn't. I'm positive of that.

"Make it stop!" Sammy shouted.

Milton's painted-on eyes glowed red.

And then Milton opened his mouth impossibly wide, revealing huge fangs, and tore out Sammy's throat. It was really horrific and disturbing, though a savvy narrator such as myself knows that you don't need to describe every little detail of ripping tendons and spurting blood, so we'll just leave it at his throat being torn out.

Sammy, as might be expected, died.

The cracks in the earth closed.

Okay. Well. I guess the joke's on me for thinking that Sammy was talking to a regular off-the-shelf yard gnome. There certainly was no evidence to say otherwise. It's obvious that I'm going to have to work harder on my craft of being an omniscient narrator. That's fine. It doesn't hurt my feelings. I've always been one to take constructive criticism in the matter of which it was intended.

I'm not sure if I'm officially responsible for his death or not. I suppose I probably am. I feel bad about that, but let's face it, it's not as if I accidentally killed off Harry Potter. You're not going to cry yourself to sleep tonight.

I guess I should do something to keep Milton from going on some sort of homicidal rampage, but perhaps I've interfered enough for one story. By now you know not to hug yard gnomes to your chest, right? Good.

The job of a narrator is to know when a story is over, so the end.

Jeff Strand’s books include PRESSURE, DWELLER, WOLF HUNT, DEAD CLOWN BARBECUE, and a bunch of others. His latest is a YA comedy called THE GREATEST ZOMBIE MOVIE EVER, available wherever exquisite literature is sold. His short story “Gave Up The Ghost” was adapted into one of the segments of the anthology film CREEPERS. He lives in Tampa, Florida, and despite his slender frame, he loves junk food.

Read his entire bio HERE

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