Gnome Alone

This little story takes place well before the events of the prequel story “Siloed,” back when Marquez had only been a sorcerer-agent for a year or so, and was working with her first partner, Tomlinson. Hope you enjoy it. As always, let me know what you think.

The garden gnome stood frozen on the table in the R.U.N.E. interview room. The manifestation was a foot tall. Mud covered his face and head, dulling the red of his pointed cap, and a canal fern was still stuck to his side. His expression was frozen in a look of surprise.

An Otterkin supernatural had found the manifestation in a forest of garden gnome statues at the bottom of the Hood Canal and notified the R.U.N.E. sentinel in nearby Olympia. The sentinel in turn told the Seattle front office, which ordered Tomlinson and me up from Portland, since the Seattle team was over the border in British Columbia dealing with some supernatural shenanigans.

My first reaction was to wonder aloud who’d leave garden gnome statues at the bottom of canal. It turned out that scuba divers liked to buy them from garden centers, dive the bottom of the canal and leave them there as a joke. Best guess was that the garden gnome manifestation had been stolen from a yard. This wasn’t a fleeting manifestation, it had been around for some time.

That begged the question of how an actual garden gnome manifestation ended up at the bottom of the Hood Canal. They weren’t like other manifestations. They existed in two states, the one seemingly inert, like a magical artifact, the other alive like a fairy or a troll. They largely moved about at night. In the daytime, they were inert, because going out was dangerous, when humans, who had a consciousness behind their gaze, might see them.

The garden gnome manifestation would have had plenty of chances to leave a garden center at night. It could shrink in size when animate.

“This would be so much easier if we had a Clairvoyant with us,” I groused to Tomlinson.

“Well, we don’t.” Tomlinson leaned against the wall on the opposite side of the table from me. His business suit was rumpled. An unlit cigarette dangled from his mouth.

I tapped the gnome right between the eyes. “Wake up, pal,” I said. Tomlinson and I were sorcerers, so this garden gnome manifestation shouldn’t be inert in our presence.

The gnome remained frozen.

“Huh, maybe it doesn’t like you,” Tomlinson observed.

I frowned. “Funny. Can’t you see what the deal is?” I asked him. Tomlinson was a Seer, he could see the details of magic.

“No, and before you ask, I don’t know why. You’re going to have to bind with it,” he said, the unlit cigarette bobbing up and down as he spoke.

“I know, I know.” I had to try the easy way, first. Garden gnomes gave me the creeps. I cracked my knuckles, then pulled out my wand from its holder inside my motorcycle jacket.

I turned back to the garden gnome. “All right, pal, let’s get this over with.”

I inhaled, and twirled my wand. The tip began glowing gold, and a faint purple nimbus appeared around the gnome.

Lien,” I said in French, tendrils of golden light streaming from the wand and encircling the manifestation. “Link,” I repeated, over and over, as a web of tendrils began to cover the little garden gnome’s body.

The garden gnome remained frozen. I pushed more mana into it. Food for the manifestation.

The garden gnome’s eyes widened and it loudly drew breath as it suddenly came to life. I swear, it was the “abruptly revived” TV/movie cliché.

The garden gnome’s name sounded in my mind: Sigmund.

Lien,” I whispered again, deepening the connection between us. “I see with your eyes, recall with your memory.”

A parade of images flashed through my mind. A big Tudor-style home, overlooking the Puget Sound, Queen Anne Hill maybe, in Seattle. The name Parkers sounded in my head, and an image lingered for a long instant of an elderly couple toiling in a huge, manicured garden in the afternoon. Then, it was night. The gnome scurried about, helping plants grow, fixing them, helping banish weeds, all the while humming happily.

An ambulance outside the house. The elderly woman toiled alone in the yard, but struggled to keep up. Sigmund worked hard at night and brought the garden to its old state of glory.

Then, another ambulance in front of the house, followed by a trio of middle-aged adults who resembled the now-passed away couple.

A for-sale sign appeared in the yard, “sold” sticker on it, followed by a new family arriving.

Weeds began to spring up. Worse, discarded paper, candy wrappers, nails, all kinds of jetsam of human existence began covering the garden. Sigmund strove to keep the garden weed and garbage free.

Sigmund began wandering the surrounding streets at night, and twilight, trying to find the culprit.

A feeling of futility and frustration ran through me from the memories. The last image was a garbage can, an ancient old aluminum kind, battered, in an alley way. The lid was askew, a sliver of black shadow between it and the can.

Then nothing.

I blinked.

 I stared at garden gnome. “Let me see if I got this right,” I told Sigmund. “You kept the Parker place neat and tidy even after the Parkers had left?”

The gnome nodded. “Begging your pardon, ma’am. He doffed his cap, held it to his chest, and bowed his head. “One’s duty to the garden continues regardless of who “owns” the garden.”

I glanced at Tomlinson. He sucked some more on his unlit cigarette, thinking.

“Garbage can,” I muttered. I looked back at Sigmund. “What’s with the old-style garbage can?”

Sigmund trembled. His eyes looked at me imploringly. He wanted to speak, but couldn’t.

Someone had cast a spell on him. Or something had.

“Garbage can, garbage can,” I mumbled to myself, seeing it again in my mind.

I smacked my palm on my forehead. “Hades be cursed,” I swore, in arcane style. “A grump.”

Tomlinson’s worn face creased into a question. “Really?” he said.

“Yes! The garbage can.” I high-fived the air. “That explains everything. A grump lives in a garbage can, and loves to strew trash around a neighborhood.” It was a modern manifestation, created by the echoes of a puppet from a famous children’s TV show. Grumps could cast spells on other manifestations, but not humans.

Now that I knew a grump had compelled Sigmund, I had the key to removing the compulsion. I cast a release spell, and Sigmund shuddered, put his cap back on, and bowed to me, three times. “I am in your debt,” he said.

I smiled. “No, you’re not,” I replied. “But a certain grump is going to magical prison.”

Staying Invisible

I’m currently working on Empowered: Hero, the final novel in Mat’s story, and one thing that she is concerned about from the start is what happened to the sister she left behind, Ella’s twin, Ava. Ava, who was there for Ruth when no one else was. Well, I’ve written a flash fiction story set during the previous novel, Empowered: Rebel, when two visitors arrive at the apartment with unexpected help, and, moreover, an unanticipated insight about Ava.

Staying Invisible

(Copyright 2019) Dale Ivan Smith

I wished so hard I was Empowered. If I were Empowered, I’d find a way to save my grandmother. Stupid, because chances are I wouldn’t have a power that could save her, but I’d go work for the Hero Council and get them to help her. My sister Mat was Empowered, but she’d refused, and went rogue instead.

Ruth coughed again, a deeper, scarier sounding cough this time. I put down the pot scrubber and went down the hall to her bedroom. The room smelled like rancid bread. The Thalik’s disease ravaging her had turned ugly. We’d used up the supply of the experimental drug the government had provided for Ruth last month, now she grew sicker each day. Damn them for stopping the drugs.

I lifted my chin and forced myself inside the room. She was my grandmother, and I was the only one left to take care of her.

“Ava?” she asked, her voice a low croak.

“I’m the only one here, Grandma,” I said, then immediately regretted it. It wasn’t Ruth’s fault she was dying from a mystery disease that had no cure.

I knelt beside her bed. Shrunken, she looked like a mummy. Her white hair, which just a couple of months ago had been thick, now had mostly fallen out, leaving only patches so I shaved it once a week.

“Water,” she said. Water was all she asked for. You’d think her bedpan would be filled to the brim, but Thaliks kept her dehydrated.

I poured her a glass, and lifted her head to help her drink.

“Are Mathilda and Ella back yet?” Her gaze pleaded with me to tell her they were. But I wouldn’t lie to her. Not ever.

“No, grandma,” I replied, trying to keep the resentment out of my voice. Mat and Ella should be here to help. Instead, they were on the run from the law, supposedly doing Big Things.

The doorbell rang and I jumped and went down the hall of our tiny apartment to the front door. I squinted to look through the peephole.

A forty-something man with a shaved head and a blond woman with an eyepatch, both in black suits with white shirts and thin black ties waited outside. Their look screamed Support, the people in charge of looking for rogue Empowered, like Mat and Ella were. There’d been a parade of them coming by every so often, for the last year, but it had a been a couple of months since the last ones. I didn’t recognize these two.

I unlocked the door.

“Ava Brandt?” The man asked.

I nodded.

“I’m Thomas Winterfield and this is Irene Zhukova.” The woman’s icy blue eye looked me over, her face expressionless. “We wanted to ask you a question about your sisters, Mathilda and Ella Brandt.”

Mat. It was always a question about Mat, but never before Ella about.

“I don’t know where they’re at,” I said, and started to push the door closed.

Winterfield pushed against the door. “We know,” he said. “That’s not what we wanted to ask.”

Zhukova cocked her head. “Did you know that our remote viewers cannot see you?”

I shivered. “You’re not supposed to be spying on normal humans.”

“Officially no,” she said. “But matters of security override protocols.”

“What do you mean, your remote viewers can’t see me?”

“Just that,” she said. “You are invisible to them.”

“Why are you telling me this?” I asked. I swallowed.

“So that you understand you have potential value to us.”

She reached into a pocket and pulled out a small ampule box embossed with a gold X and the medical symbol. The experimental Thalik’s drug.

I swallowed. Took the box from Zhukova, my fingers trembling.

Winterfield looked at me levelly. “Do your sisters care about you and your grandmother?”

I wanted to shout, hell no, because it sure didn’t seem like it.

I closed my eyes, resentment fading. I’d been so angry with them, especially Mat, but she was my big sister. Off saving the world, or maybe destroying it.

I opened my eyes and returned his gaze, not blinking. “Of course, they do.”

“Good. Because we do, too.”

He handed me a business card. It was on plain white paper, the cheap kind, not the cream thick card stock all the other Support agents had handed me. It didn’t say Support. It just had a number on it, no names.

“Call us if you need help.”

“Don’t tell anyone about this,” Zhukova added, her tone steely.

“Do I look like I’m five?” I snapped.

A hint of smile played around Winterfield’s lips.

“What?” I demanded.

“Mat’s like you,” he said. That stopped my irritation cold.

Not, you’re like Mat.

“Yeah, we both have short fuses.”

He shook his head. “Strong,” he said. “Thanks for your time.” They turned to go, leaving me standing there looking like an idiot with my mouth open. Winterfield turned back. “Stay strong,” he said. “And stay invisible.

The two of them disappeared down the stairs.

Stay invisible. From who?