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My Life as a Garden Gnome

Photo credit goes to Son of Groucho at https://www.flickr.com/photos/sonofgroucho/

 

I like gardens well enough, but for someone who managed to murder a cactus, I’ve spent an awful lot of time working in them. Unless you count the time I was playing with markers in kindergarten, I’ve never had a green thumb and I’ve always liked flowers more than I liked vegetables, which can be a problem if you’re gardening for food. Dandelion greens are probably the only thing I could keep alive, whether I wanted to or not.

A few years ago I found myself working as a landscaper in the Poconos. Most of our clients were wealthy and had large yards with expensive gardens, pools, perfectly manicured lawns, which always seemed odd to me because no one ever seemed to be home to enjoy it. I enjoyed it though, spending most of my summer days driving from property to property, mowing the lawns, watering the plants… I even did a little planting of my own, some of the only plants that I managed to keep alive for more than a couple of weeks. As far as I know they’re still there, unless the deer made it through the fence and at them that is.

I’ve worked in vegetable gardens on the farm I grew up on, in greenhouses with my dad, that landscaping job in the Poconos, and even a few landscaping jobs in Manhattan. Most of the time I felt relatively useless, more like a mobile tool cabinet than a useful gardener. When I worked alone it was chance to think, when I didn’t work alone it was a chance to watch people and learn more about how they act and interact, something that is essential for anyone who wants to write. Most of all though, I blended in to the background, staying out of the way of the few clients that were home, and leaving almost without notice. The grass would be clipped, the flowers watered, the fences repaired, and the garden beds mulched, and I would be just another ornament amid the blossoms.

I think that might be why I named this blog what I did. Otherwise, you might be reading My Life as a Gardener about how to get rid of aphids or how to stop the chipmunks from eating the roots to all of your strawberry plants.

If you’re an observant type, you probably noticed the other title, the one in the URL or in the link on facebook. Very different to be sure, than My Life as a Garden Gnome, but maybe there’s a story in that too. If you’d like to hear the tale behind Guns God and Heavy Metal, give this post a like and maybe share it with a friend. I haven’t given a timeline, or any plans for this really, so maybe I’ll do it now. I won’t be posting every day, I can tell you that much, but hopefully once or twice a week will work out well. You’ll find stories here, stories like today, or short fiction, sometimes even excerpts from longer bits that I’ve done. So, until next time, make sure you remember the garden gnomes you know, maybe shake their hands or offer them some water. Unless of course they are actual ornaments, in which case it might be better not to be seen talking to tiny plaster people.

 

 

 

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Summer is Finally Done

Ugh… summer is finally over and I feel like I can breath again. There should be some new posts on the way soon. For now though, my book has been updated and the formatting problems fixed. I’ve even added three more original stories and added a paperback option! You can find the ebook and the paperback here.

From Philly to the Forest

I had known there was something odd about Jim from the moment I met him. We were both sixteen and had decided that the best way to spend our summer was to work at a summer camp. I was working on the maintenance team and Jim was working as a counselor.  I don’t know what it was about him… maybe the way his eyes bugged out when he saw that we used tents instead of cabins.

It was the weekend before the first campers were going to arrive and several of us decided to go camping, real camping at the state park in mountain tents, not the platform tents we used, and I made sure that Jim knew he was invited along. He sat on the seat next to me as we drove, the hardest part of being sixteen years old at camp being that you needed to be eighteen to drive a camp vehicle. He was staring out the window for most of the trip, a funny look on his face. I edged away, just in case the funny look was the kind of funny look that leads to motion sickness.

“Are there bears out here?” he asked suddenly.

“Uh…” I hesitated, my interest in bears was unexpectedly revived. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. Why?”

He seemed to ignore me. “What about mountain lions?”

“I was pretty sure one lived in my barn for a while,” I said slowly. “But it just turned out to be a big barn cat.” The funny look on his face grew funnier and he began to tap nervously on the armrest. I scratched my chin, wishing that I had a beard to tug on. “There aren’t supposed to be any mountain lions around here, but you never know. Are you okay?”

“I thought this would be a camp like in the movies,” he said. “With cabins and actual buildings. I’ve never been actual camping before. What if a bear comes out of the woods and tries to eat us?”

It was a question I’d pondered before, usually late at night when I was camping out and there was rustling in the woods near my tent. Once, a couple of years before, I had pondered that same question at high velocity after hearing a rustling and a growl while spending the night in the campsite behind the family barn. It was amazing, during the day it was only a couple of hundred feet from the campsite to the back door, but that night it was closer to two miles. By the time I made it to the safety of my bedroom I had exhausted all the possible endings to a bear trying to eat me and had moved on to quantum physics, specifically the effects of darkness, or possibly moonlight, on distance.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “There aren’t any bears around here, and even if they are they won’t come too close to the campsite.”

A few minutes later we got to the campground and found our site. There, not ten yards away, was a barrel bear trap.

“Oh cool!” shouted one of the other counselors as we climbed out of the van. “A bear trap!”

Jim turned accusing eyes on me and I shrugged. “Maybe there are bears here.”

“You’re sleeping by the door then,” he muttered as we picked up our tent and dragged it to a flat piece of ground. “Then if a bear comes in, it will eat you instead of me.”

The little mischievous part of my brain that makes up stories kicked in almost before I knew what was happening. “You know in Africa, man eating lions would sometimes step over the first person in the tent to get the second one….” The blood drained from Jim’s face and I trailed off, chuckling nervously. “Heh, heh, but I’m sure that doesn’t happen with bears.”

“Seriously?” I asked him later. “Three people in this little tent?” I nodded at Kevin, another one of the younger counselors. “Hey.”

“Hey,” he replied. “Why am I here again? Not that I mind, I was supposed to be in a tent with Greg and he snores.”

I rolled my eyes, breaking in before Jim could respond. “Jim thinks that a bear will get him if he’s too close to the door of the tent. We’re his human shields.”

“If a bear wanted to get in, couldn’t it just rip through the wall?” Kevin asked. He crossed his arms behind his head, oblivious to the wild expression building on Jim’s face. “You know what I’d be more worried about though? Bigfoot.”

“Uh…” I hesitated, detecting a sudden rise in my own adrenaline levels. “Bigfoot?”

“Yeah,” he said as Jim and I exchanged glances. “I read somewhere that people have seen him near here. Oh hey, that reminds me, I have a perfect scary story! Hey, what are you doing?”

I unzipped the door and tossed his bag out into the dark, following up with one shoe and then the other. “I’ve heard Greg snoring and believe me, I bet I’m louder than he is. You’d be better off back in your tent.”

“Yeah,” said Jim. “And if you don’t like snoring, you won’t like having me around. I talk in my sleep all the time, just non stop chattering. Whistling too, it’s terrible, just ask my brother.”

When he was gone, we were left alone, listening to the sounds of the encroaching dark just in case there was anything large and hairy with sharp teeth lurking anywhere nearby.

“Bigfoot isn’t real right?” Jim asked after a while. His eyes were so wide I could see them in the shadows. “I mean, it’s just an urban legend….”

“I don’t know,” I said. “My neighbors said they saw something happen once, but I haven’t ever seen anything. All I know is that if he is real, I don’t want to find out. So, do you want to take the first watch?”

“Sure.”

After narrowly surviving a rogue chipmunk’s assault on a bag of potato chips and our nervous systems, Jim and I became friends. After all, it’s hard not to become friends after almost dying from simultaneous heart attacks. And hey, we even matched. We both had white hair and couldn’t close our eyes.

 

Mountain Lions in the Haymow

The plan was working perfectly. I had spent days convincing my little brother that I’d seen a mountain lion on the farm, and I had even painstakingly made tracks in the mud by the machinery shed, always carefully staying on dry ground so that he wouldn’t see my own footprints. The life of a five year old was boring, I thought, and as an older brother it was my job to make his life as interesting as possible.

“Come on,” I said, watching as he tossed rocks down the ravine into the creek. “I saw it last night in the haymow. If we hurry it might still be there.”

He stared at me doubtfully. “Dad says there aren’t any mountain lions around here.”

“You saw the tracks,” I insisted. “They’re way too big to be a bobcat. It has to be a mountain lion. And remember what the neighbor said? He said something went after one of his horses.”

“I don’t know… if it went after a horse are you sure we should try to find it?”

I puffed out my narrow chest and hefted a spear I had made from a fencepost, reasonably confident that I could protect myself from an imaginary cat. “The horse didn’t have a spear. Come on, we could make a lion skin coat!”

He dropped his pebbles and picked up a twig, slashing it before shooting me one last suspicious glance. “Are you trying to trick me again?”

“Oh no, of course not,” I said, leading him off toward the barn. “You’re five now, too big for pretend tunnels to China. Come on, let’s go get that mountain lion before it escapes!”

“Why are we going this way?” he asked as we crawled through the mud under the electric fence. “Can’t we just walk up the road to the barn hill?”

“Don’t you see the wolves?” I asked, using my spear to point over the road.

His eyes widened as he stared at the tall, waving grass and he nodded, his fingers whitening on his stick sword. I held my finger to my lips and ducked behind a row of wrapped round bales, stopping every few moments to pop my head up and check our progress. The path was treacherous, littered with landmines left behind by our constant enemies, the herd of heifers lead by a particularly mean animal named Bessie. They weren’t deadly, but they could certainly cause a painful case of the spankings when one wandered indoors without washing one’s feet. There were also three big geese that ruled the land between the barns, at least as frightening as a made up mountain lion, and we scuttled from cover to cover and finally made it into the barn.

“Are you ready?” I asked, stopping in front of the narrow stairs that lead up into the haymow.

My little brother nodded and took a practice jab at a passing chicken.

“Okay, then, stay behind me.”

We crept up the stairs, through the shafts of light and the drifting dust from the hay, our weapons at the ready. Everything was dim and quiet.

“Where is it?” the sudden question, louder than I expected, almost made me jump. My brother was right behind me, his eyes wide, and his knuckles white as he clenched his stick. “I don’t see anything.”

I took a hasty step away, wondering where he had managed to find garlic chives. “It was up on the hay bales over th….”

There it was, on the wall in a patch of sunlight. The shadow of a mountain lion, bigger and more real than I could have ever imagined. Once I found my eyeballs and shoved them back in their sockets and figured out where the floor had hidden my jaw, I grabbed my brother by the shoulder and shoved him toward the door.

“Run!” I shouted as my spear turned back into a fencepost. “It’s real, the mountain lion is real!”

The barn cat on the window ledge looked down, watching disinterestedly as two little boys fled, leaving human shaped clouds of dust behind. It rolled over and went to sleep, caring little for the chaos it had caused.

 

Confessions of a Metalhead

I love heavy metal. It’s been my favorite genre since a friend in highschool showed me Nightwish. I’ll happily call myself a metalhead, and if I could play worth a darn I’d probably start my own band. (Luckily for the world, I couldn’t carry a tune if it was given to me in a bucket.) The only problem I have with metal is the fans.

It’s not all the fans either. I’d like to think most of us are the reasonable type of idiots that just happen to like aggressive guitars and drums and vocals that sound like someone trying to gargle rocks. Unless you like power metal, in which case it’s more like finger blistering guitars and people with the voices of angels singing about dragons and swords. I’m more of a melodeath kind of guy myself, but now I’m getting off topic.

Metal fans can be the worst. There’s two kinds that really bother me. One is the actual metal fan that tries to gobble up fingers like popcorn, and the other is the elitist yapping about what’s real heavy metal and what’s not.

“Oh you like that band?” they ask. “Why don’t you go sit at the cool kid’s table until you figure out what real metal is.”

To you elitists out there I say, pthbthhhhh! Why the heck do you think I care what you say I should like? And a better question, why do you think that whining about bands you don’t like on the internet does anything other than get those bands free publicity?

“Silly little poser,” they say, safely hidden on the other side of a screen, yes I know I am too. “Those lyrics sound like they were written by a sixth grader.”

So? Do you really think I listen to Alestorm because I want to be intellectually stimulated? No! I listen to Alestorm because I want to daydream about time traveling pirates, because time traveling pirates are awesome! As I side note, I think anyone using the word poser as a serious insult should have to spend ten minutes alone in the corner with a dunce cap on for committing an irony.

Oh, by the way, this is for you critics out there too. STOP TELLING ME WHAT I LIKE. I don’t give a flying crapsicle what you studied in college, if I want to listen to Five Finger Death Punch, I’ll listen to Five Finger Death Punch, or Insomnium, or Children of Bodom, or Iron Maiden, or Amon Amarth, or whatever I feel like listening to. I hear those little troll fingers too, hammering away on the keyboards, screaming that FFDP is most definitely “not metal!” That other sound you might have just heard, by the way, is me rolling my eyes so hard it hurt. I have to ask again, so?

If you want to listen to old school black metal that sounds like it was recorded on a potato, go right ahead, I have better things to do than complain about it. You want to listen to Miley Cyrus? Go right ahead, I don’t care, as long as you don’t make me listen to it too. Anyway… if there are any other reasonable idiots like me out there and you haven’t heard of Beast in Black yet, may I suggest listening to Born Again or Blind and Frozen. I think you’ll find they are well worth it.

 

Inspiration Lives at the Blog Next Door

If you are looking for Inspiration, I think he’s at the blog next door. I spent long hours chasing him the other day, and I almost caught him, but Writer’s Block jumped out from behind a dumpster and stole my wallet. He also hit me over the head with a nearly lethal cocktail of cat and dog videos from Youtube.

Even without help, Inspiration is a tricky little monster. It’s even worse when he’s joined by his cousin Ridiculousness. One of Ridiculousness’s favorite games is to dress up as Inspiration and lead me on a wild goose chase, gobbling up my paper and drinking all my ink. He’s everywhere too, and shows up in lots of places at the same time, which is one heck of a superpower if you ask me. He seems to infect everyone sometimes, some people more than others as my wife is so fond of reminding me any time I try to sing along with Arch Enemy.

I think Ridiculousness might have an evil twin too. Sometimes he’s just funny, spreading mirth and laughter wherever he goes. A few minutes later I see him leading an outraged mob waving phones and social media posts. The twin thing would certainly explain why he can be in two places at once. I think I’ll call them Funny Ridiculousness and Scary Ridiculousness. If they invite Inspiration along and I can keep them away from other people, they are actually pretty helpful. When they are alone and running rampant it’s another story. If you get lucky though, you can sometimes nab Inspiration as he sneaks back in to watch the chaos. Then you can turn Ridiculousness on his head and turn his trouble into something good, at least until Inspiration pulls the fire alarm and jumps out the window.

 

Goose Feathers

When I was growing up on the farm, there were three big grey geese that were the bane of my existence. They wandered the farm fearlessly, entering and exiting every building but the house with impunity. My father and mother ignored them, going happily on their way as they did the chores. To me however, they were a source of constant terror and invariably sent me fleeing from their beating wings and pinching bills. My only sources of refuge were the haymow and a huge pile of tractor tires in the corner of the machine shed.

After an entire summer of torment, I began to watch my feathery enemies from the safety of my rubber tower, planning a way to exact vengeance. I began slowly, stockpiling an arsenal of the clay clods from the gardens that I used to keep them at bay as I played. One day however I ran out of ammunition before the geese lost interest and I found myself stuck atop the roof of my grandfather’s workshop. The geese patrolled the yard beneath me for what seemed like centuries, only leaving when the farm dog took arrived with howls and yaps of delight. I climbed down using the same tree that had saved me earlier, desperation giving me the bones of a plan.

The dog was the key, one of the few creatures that the geese truly  seemed to fear, and maybe, just maybe, I could use that fear to my advantage. The next day, I armed myself with more dirt clods and a slender fencepost and settled down in the bushes by the heifer barn to wait. Today was the day that I would be free.

It was an amusing sight I’m sure, a small boy with a makeshift spear hurtling across the yard barking and howling like a miniature werewolf, for once sending the geese fleeing in terror. Whatever the effect my antics might have had on a human audience, the plan worked. The geese never bothered me again.

 

The Battle of the Barnyard

When I opened my eyes, the cow looked nearly as surprised as I was. She stared down at me with a look of bovine puzzlement before leaning down to lick my frazzled hair. I escaped the slimy tongue and climbed shakily to my feet, inspecting the red mark on my elbow. The last thing I remembered was climbing up the cabinets and hot water heaters to the cubby I had found, where chickens and cats liked to hide their young. A live wire came out of the wall near where I climbed, feeding power to the electric fence. I had touched it with my arm and the jolt knocked me off my perch and across the aisle.

I sighed in disappointment. I didn’t even get a cool new scar.

Now, almost twenty years after that adventure, my younger sister said something that I would like to repeat here.

“In the last twenty odd years, we’ve had more adventures than most people have in a lifetime. Sometimes I look back and wonder how we got out alive.”

I sometimes wonder that too. Growing up on a farm was an endless series of adventures and we all left more than our fair share of blood and hide behind. With all the hours we spent romping through the woods and fields and playing with animals and machinery, it’s a wonder we didn’t make it out with more scars than we did.

One of my most memorable adventures actually never happened, though if it did, history would be quite a bit different for all of us. I have no idea how the battles of World War Two spilled onto my farm in rural Pennsylvania, but one night it did. I had defended my barn against all comers, from barbarians to aliens, and the German invaders were no different. Bullets snapped and pinged off of the concrete walls as I ducked into a machine gun nest and returned fire. The battle lasted for hours, until charred husks of tanks and planes littered the ground beyond the walls of my farmyard fortress. I was winning too, until the Germans unleashed their secret weapons

The sight sent me bolt upright in my bed, with cold sweat pouring down my face as I grabbed for my non existent weapons. Let me tell you, a mechanized T-rex with rockets and cannons snaps you out of a dream quicker than just about anything.