Meet Virginia

This is the third assignment I’ll be turning in for my fiction writing class. It’s my favorite so far and the longest. Enjoy!

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The sun slipped beneath the horizon, and twilight arrived in the garden outside the one-story house where seven-year-old Nathan Clarke and his mother, Camille, lived. On this autumn evening in late October, a few remaining dying leaves clung to the tree branches, and fallen leaves coated the ground. A stiff wind blew suddenly, ruffling the blossoms of the carnations and mums. One dark red leaf swirled down, landing directly on the pointed tip of a garden gnome statue. The leaf balanced precariously for a moment before continuing its journey to the ground.

Suddenly, the sound of tiny feet walking through the leaves could be heard in the once-quiet garden. Occasionally, the rhythmic shuffling was broken by a crisp sound, as if the owner of those feet were taking particular care to step on a delightfully crunchy leaf. As yet another breeze stirred up the leaves, a whisper, carried with the wind, floated through the garden. “Awake, magical creatures of the night!” the voice quietly called out.

These words brought life into the garden. The gnomes, who kept silent watch during the daytime, suddenly awoke. Smoke curled up from Belvedere’s pipe as he sat atop a mushroom-shaped stool in a bed of foliage. A few feet down the garden path, another gnome, Jehosophat, bent his head to dig through the brown sack he held in his left hand. Each night, Jehosophat collected objects from the flower beds in the garden. His sack was full of buttons, coins, bits of fabric, and other treasures, mostly items that fell out of Nathan Clarke’s pockets when he was playing during the day.

A third gnome appeared from behind an oak tree, carrying a large black book. Here was Brimley, the one who had called the other gnomes to life, the first to awaken every night, the gnome who enjoyed stepping on crunch leaves. During the day, Brimley sat beside the wooden swing where Nathan Clarke loved to play. Each evening when the sky grew dark, however, these magical gnomes came to life and roamed around the garden, finding adventures and treasures, quoting poetry, and occasionally making mischief. The gnomes developed a routine each night that had never been discovered by Nathan Clarke and his mother.

On this particular evening, things began normally. After Brimley had spoken the words to awake his fellow gnomes, he skipped down the little stone path towards Belvedere, who had a hard time waking each night.

“Wake up, Belvie! Darkness has returned to our fair garden. Now hop off your toadstool, and let’s gather the others!” Brimley scurried along the path, reaching out a hand to assist Belvedere, whose short, little legs made it difficult to leap from the mushroom. Once Belvedere had hopped to the ground, the two gnomes hurried to Jehosophat, who was still plundering through his sack.

Brimley opened his mouth to speak again, but his words were halted when a window near the corner of the house slid open. Out rolled Bernard, a tiny gnome no taller than two inches. He rolled off the window sill into a pile of leaves, then leaped up and started running quickly towards the three larger gnomes.

“Jumpin’ Jehosophat!” he cried. “What have you got there?”

Jehosophat finally pulled his head out of the bag. His hand followed, clutching a gold arcade token. “Look at this coin I found after you left last night, Bernard!”

Jehosophat handed his little friend the token. Bernard grasped it, but it was too heavy and fell to the ground, pulling the tiny gnome down with it.

Jehosophat gasped. “Oh, I’m sorry, Bernard! Here, let me help you up.” The taller gnome lifted the token and Bernard from the ground. He perched Bernard on his shoulder and held up the token for the smaller gnome to investigate.

“Beautiful! Have you found anything else, Josie?” Bernard asked eagerly.

“Yes. Have a look at this!” Jehosophat reached into his bag once more, as Bernard held onto the larger gnome’s ear to keep from sliding off his shoulder. When Jehosophat pulled out his hand, he was clutching a small brown button, just like the ones the three larger gnomes wore on their clothing.

When Brimley spotted the button that Bernard was examining, he gasped. “Are any of you missing a button?”

All of the gnomes, including Bernard, who didn’t even wear buttons, looked down at their tunics. Then they looked back at Brimley.

“If none of you is missing a button, then where did it come from?” asked Belvedere.

Silence fell as the gnomes comtemplated this question. Finally, Brimley spoke the inevitable conclusion: “There must be another gnome!”

“Another one?” Belvedere lamented. “We don’t need anyone else!”

“Relax, Belvie,” Brimley soothed. “You were new once, remember? We must find him and welcome him!” Brimley, as the first gnome to arrive in Nathan Clarke’s garden, felt that it was his duty to greet each gnome that appeared in the garden. “Let the search begin!”

“Oh, goody!” Bernard began hopping up and down on Jehosophat’s shoulder. “This is the first time I’ve gotten to greet a new gnome!”

“That’s the spirit!” Brimley stated, pumping his small fist in the air. “We know he isn’t in the front garden, so let’s start on the side. This way, everyone!” Brimley pushed past Belvedere and marched resolutely down the path toward the side of the house. Belvedere and Jehosophat, with Bernard riding on his shoulder, followed.

Before Brimley had led the group of gnomes very far, however, he was horrified to hear a moan and the grating sound of wood moving against wood. He swiveled around, colliding with Belvedere, and fervently murmured, “What was that?”

Bernard and Jehosophat stopped their quiet conversation and listened intently, as well. Brimley scanned the garden and the small house before resting his gaze upon the window from which Bernard had emerged. Horrified, he watched as Nathan Clarke’s small hands slowly worked the window up. “Quickly! Stiffen!” Brimley ordered.

The gnomes aligned themselves next to the cement spacers on the garden path and mimicked their daytime postures. Brimley held his breathe as Nathan Clarke finally opened the window wide enough to stick his head through. The young boy rested his chin on the window sill and dangled his arms against the side of the house as he stared wistfully out into the garden. When he spotted the gnomes, he jerked his head upward, banging it against the window. “Ouch!”

“Nathan?” his mother’s voice inquired from within the house. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, Mom!” Nathan pulled his head back inside. “I just hit my head on the window!” The boy paused, glancing back at the gnomes. “Can I go play outside?”

Through the window, Brimley could see that Camille Clarke had appeared in her son’s doorway. “Just for a few minutes, and you must stay in the garden,” she instructed. “And be sure to come back inside when I call you.”

“I will, Mom,” Nathan said as he dashed past his mother towards the front door of the house.

Brimley heard the hardwood floors creaking as Camille crossed the bedroom. Placing her hands on the window, she forced it closed without even glancing outside. Brimley shuddered. Their secret was safe from Camille, but Nathan Clarke was, at that moment, swinging open the front door of the house and stepping onto the front porch.

Brimley trembled, nearly losing his grip on the poetry book tucked beneath his left arm, and watched the boy bound down the front steps. Nathan Clarke slowed his steps as he approached the group, and when he reached them, he settled down onto one of the stones and curled his legs beneath him.

Brimley tried to maintain a vacant stare, but Nathan Clarke focused his penetrating, intelligent eyes on the gnome, and Brimley reluctantly turned his eyes to meet the boy’s gaze. Unsurprised, Nathan Clarke grinned and reached out to inspect Brimley’s book.

“What are you reading?” he asked quietly.

“It’s poetry, kid,” Belvedere responded before Brimley could speak. “You read poetry?”

Nathan Clarke slowly shook his head. “No. My mom does, though.” Closing the tiny book and handing it back to Brimley, he continued. “I didn’t know all of you were alive.”

“What do you mean, ‘all of you’?” Brimley asked hesitantly. “Did you know some of us were alive?”

“Of course. Bernard leaves the window open when he leaves. I’ve seen him come back when he things I’m asleep.”

Belvedere glared at the tiny gnome who huddled behind Jehosophat’s ear. “You should have been more careful,” he muttered.

“I’m sorry,” Bernard whimpered. “He’s just a kid! I didn’t think he’d notice!”

“No, no, it’s okay.” Nathan Clarke plucked Bernard off Jehosophat’s shoulder and held him up to his face to quietly reassure him. “I won’t tell anyone. Even my mom. I promise!”

“I believe him, friends,” Jehosophat continued. “Hey, maybe he can help us find . . . “

“Wait a second,” Belvedere interrupted gruffly. “How do we know he can be trusted?”

“You’re always so suspicious, Belvie. Bernard’s been sneaking out for months now! If Nathan Clarke were going to tell someone our secret, don’t you think he would have done so already?” Jehosophat gestured toward the boy, shaking his treasure bag in the process.

Nathan Clarke nodded emphatically, while Belvedere merely gave a “harrumph” and puffed his pipe.

“What is it you’re trying to find?” Nathan asked. “Maybe I can help.”

Bernard trotted over to where Jehosophat stood and tugged on the edge of the larger gnome’s tunic. “Show him the button, Josie.”

Jehosophat set his sack on the ground and held out his left fist, which still held the button. “We found this. It’s just like ours, but none of us have lost any. We think a new gnome has arrived in your garden. Do you know?”

“Of course,” Nathan Clarke responded. “I always help Mom pick out the gnomes. I helped name all of you, you know.” The boy gestured to the gnomes surrounding him. “We put the new gnome next to the little pool beside the house yesterday.”

Belvedere grunted. “Only been here one day, and he’s already lost a button?”

Brimley ignored Belvedere’s grumblings and turned to Nathan Clarke. “Can you show us?”

Brimley nodded emphatically, and the gnomes all quietly shuffled through the foliage beside the path where the boy walked. Their alert gazes scanned the house and garden for any sign of Camille Clarke, and all were prepared to dive into the bushes in case she appeared. The little company safely crossed the small, wooden bridge connecting the side garden to the one in front, and even Belvedere seemed to relax knowing they were no longer in direct view of the front porch.

Nathan Clarke marched over to the reflecting pool in the center of the side garden and knelt down beside it. “The gnome sat right here earlier today. I wonder where it is now?”

Brimley walked to the edge of the pond and peered down at his reflection and the leaves scattered across the surface of the water. “If I were a gnome in this part of the garden,” he speculated, “where would I go at night?” Brimley glanced around and spotted a cement bench nearby. He had taken one step in that direction when Camile’s voice rang through the garden.

“Nathan! Time to come in! Nathan!”

The boy gasped and jumped up. “I better go, guys. Good luck finding the new gnome!”

Brimley called out before Nathan had reached the bridge. “Nathan Clarke!”

The child turned. “Yes?”

“You mustn’t tell your mother, all right? Keep this a secret!”

He nodded solemnly. “I’ll keep it a secret. I promise. Can I come see you again tomorrow night?”

Brimley glanced at the others. Jehosophat and Bernard nodded emphatically, but Belvedere merely grunted and shrugged his concession. “Of course you can.”

Nathan Clarke grinned. “Good night, then!” He ran around the stone path back to the porch, and the gnomes were once again alone in the garden.

Brimley turned to the others. “Let’s go check that bench.” As Brimley led the way, he suddenly heard the faint sound of a flute playing. When he neared the bench, the music grew slightly louder, and Brimley spotted tiny feet clad in brown leather slipper sticking out from beneath it.

“I knew you’d find me eventually,” a mellifluous voice floated out.

The unexpectedly soft voice surprised Brimley, who came to a sudden stop a few feet away from the bench.

“You knew we were here?” he questioned.

“Of course. I saw you pillaging last night in the front garden.”

“We weren’t pillaging,” Jehosophat stated defensively. “Just searching for lost treasures.”

The gnome chuckled. “Whatever. I watched you from far away. I even saw you find my button and knew you would eventually figure out I was here.”

Brimley shook his head. “Okay, then. Will you at least come out, so we can introduce ourselves properly?”

The feet disappeared as the gnome pulled them back in before emerging from the bench on hands and knees. When the gnome stood, Brimley stared in shocked silence. The clothing and hat were the usual garb of a garden gnome, but instead of the traditional dark blues, reds, and greens, this gnome wore chocolate brown pants and a lavender tunic, which was missing one button. A light pink, pointed hat sat atop a mass of blonde curls, and the gnome’s blue eyes sparkled. Held tightly in the gnome’s right hand was a small, silver flute.

Brimley and Bernard could only gape at the new arrival. Jehosophat dropped his bad with a loud clunk, and the hand that clutched Belvedere’s pipe fell limply at his side.

“But you’re, you’re . . . ” Brimley stuttered.

She smirked. “Hi, boys. My name is Virginia.”