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Landscaping Gnomes

I really wished I had cleared away a few more sticks and stones before lying down on my stomach by this big old sycamore. A boulder the size of a Chevy was digging into my bladder, and a redwood was biting into my shoulder. That’s what it felt like, anyway, but if I wiggled I’d have to start all over. Gnomes were so skittish. I had done all the prep work, even the bits I suspected were unnecessary. I was dressed all in cotton and wool, no synthetics, no leather. I’d bathed in rainwater, no soap, and then tied my hair back with braided grass rather than elastic. I wore no metal, other than the silver-bladed pruning shears at my waist (on a knotted cotton belt, which I’d nearly forgotten). All that effort would be for nothing if I wiggled now and scared the little buggers before they came out of this root-outlined doorway into the trunk around dusk. Landscaping was complicated work.

Sycamore gnomes weren’t so bad, really. Nothing like a nest of wyverns, for instance. Even this far north along the rolling line of the Appalachians, they were a problem in outlying areas, especially on newly-cleared lots. You think squirrels gnawing on wiring is a problem? A nest of wyverns has much stronger jaws. Mark and I took more than pruning shears after wyverns. That’s what the shotgun that lived in my truck was for. I wouldn’t even bother with the gnomes, except they were breaking the land treaty and wrecking my work. When they moved in, I’d negotiated on behalf of the homeowner (placidly ignorant of gnomes, or wyverns, or of landscaping even, but they listened to my planting suggestions and paid on time). The sycamore had been vacant for a few years, probably due to outdoor cats, but this band of gnomes had moved in last spring. We had negotiated the standard contract — residence in the sycamore for as long as the gnomes should wish, and in exchange they would leave the grounds and gardens alone, and also keep the pixies away. The nest of pixies had dealt with the feral cat problem, making space for the gnomes to return, but I still didn’t want pixies making messes in the yard or biting the Landis children while they were playing.

The urban-rural interface was the source of many kinds of tension. Farm vs development and coyotes eating cats were just the most obvious. Humans vs fae was a more serious problem, under the surface of things where most people would never notice. Landscaping was a great way to get to poke around in people’s yards and see what was really going on. Which brings me back to the gnomes. Instead of foraging outside the boundaries marked with ink and iron, they had taken out two entire beds of bulbs. I had no doubt the bulbs been sliced and dried, and would be served during the winter ahead. Sensible, but a contract violation, so I was waiting quietly outside the backdoor to grab one or two and have a chat.

“Gina!” Walpurga’s voice hit my ears about two seconds before her dog bit my ankle. She’d been trying to train that rescue dog to be a monster hunter, but so far the dustmop was a monster coward and an ankle hunter. The shelter was refusing to take it back. Actually, Annie hung up on me as soon as she heard my voice, so I didn’t know for sure. I guess she was still upset about killing the cu sidhe instead of rehoming it. Walpurga probably wouldn’t give up the dog anyway. She seemed to like it, for some reason. Probably she wouldn’t want to return it even if Annie would talk to me, but I was angry because it had chewed up my favorite deerskin gloves, then uprooted a whole row of native shrubs that were intended for a hedgerow at a job south of town. “Bad dog!” So much for the gnomes. I’d be doing this all over again tomorrow.

I stood stiffly, stretching my back. At least the boulder and the redwood weren’t poking me any more.

“I saw your truck, and stopped to see if you wanted to go to the harp. What were you doing, anyway, lying on the ground like that? I thought for a moment you were dead.”

“Looking for varmints, but now you’ve scared them off.” I aimed a half-hearted kick at the dog-thing. “So sure, why not.” It was Tuesday, so the house band wouldn’t be playing, which meant I wouldn’t have to worry about the guitarist seeing me dressed like this, but I pulled the grass band out of my hair anyway, just in case.

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