Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Gardener Fred's Monster

Scariness level: beginner
Posting my Halloween Story early this year... it is a full story with beginning, middle and end, and in the conventional order too. The ending is left open, and if you are an imaginative sort you might like to supply a scenario for the sequel. Writing (boo hoo) can be a lonely sport, so a bit of holiday collaboration will be greatly appreciated.                                                                                          



[With thanks to Mary Shelly and her Monster]




Gardener Fred’s Monster

Gardener Fred had ideas. Ideas and dreams. Ideas, dreams and ambitions. Ideas, dreams and ambitions that he worked for; he dug for them, he weeded for them, he pruned and raked and was out in all weathers for them. 

In his house he had a trophy cabinet chockablock with shining cups. 

He grew the biggest sunflowers, bloomed the brightest roses. His carrots were the envy of the village, his marrows almost canoe sized. Strawberries, cabbages, orchids and cucumbers, he grew them all with great success. His shed was neat. He had a potting bench, stacks of flowerpots, bags of compost, a hangnail for his tools, little labelled drawers of seed packets and different sizes of string. He had a stout pair of wellington boots and special oil to stop his spade blade from rusting. 

It is, however, a well known phenomena that people who have everything still want something and this was true of Gardener Fred. There was nothing else he needed but there was one thing he wanted: the one prize he had not yet won. 

He had not yet grown The Biggest Pumpkin.

He could not work out what was going wrong. Every pumpkin plant he nurtured popped out two identically lovely just not overly huge fruits and if he snipped one off the other one wilted away. He tried everything. He kept notes. It did not make sense. Perhaps it was some kind of magic, he thought, though he believed in nothing so silly. He kept trying. He kept trying for years. He had the ambition, he had the dream and, eventually, he had an idea. He would graft the two fruits together!

The first attempt, alas, was consumed by mould. The second attempt was conducted in sterile conditions; the greenhouse looked like a laboratory. Mould was kept away but the spliced pumpkin looked wrong: pale and damp and sort of lifeless. It needed something, Gardener Fred concurred; but he knew not what until he was sulking in his shed and his eyes settled on the electric fly killing machine. Zap! It needed some zap! Batteries could be attached to electrify the pumpkins: just enough to give them the elusive zap of energy to grow into giant prize winners!

Gardener Fred grinned. He strutted his welly boots back to the greenhouse to begin his experiment. And it almost worked. One lively decent size of pumpkin was produced… but it was not giant. There was still something missing. He still refused to believe in magic. He sadly trawled the internet for more ideas. He felt like his ideas had run out.
‘Magic Compost he read. ‘Magic growth guaranteed or your money back!’
Gardener Fred sighed. He pressed the button for the special offer. It wouldn’t actually be buying magic off the internet he reassured himself, it was more scientific than that.
‘Synthetic mineral breakthrough,’ he read. ‘Long lasting effects. Avoid contact with marine life.’
He pressed ‘Yes’ for next day delivery.

A bright red van parked alongside his gate the next day. Gardener Fred did not recognise the delivery company’s logo; it looked a bit like devilish eyes. The driver was wearing a balaclava and sunglasses which would have struck Gardener Fred as odd had he not been preoccupied with the man’s legs. They did not look human. There was something goat-like about them. And why did he have a tail, a serpenty tail? Gardener Fred signed for the parcel with a wobbly hand. Only when the van had squealed away did he notice how the Magic Compost bag had a faint greenish glow.
‘I’ve been working too hard,’ he claimed. ‘I’m seeing things.’
And he dragged the compost up to his greenhouse where he took not two but four pumpkins to cut and fix together. He hooked up the batteries, he opened the bag, he used the free plastic scoop to add the perfect measure of Magic Compost. A pulsating neon glow enclosed the spliced fruits.
‘I’ve been working too hard,’ Gardener Fred decided, ‘and I’m very tired. I had better go and make a cup of tea. Perhaps a sandwich?’

He made three cheese and gherkin sandwiches, drank two cups of warm sweet tea and watched a nice documentary about Victorian kitchen gardens. When he peeked outside the green glow had gone.
‘I had been working too hard,’ he agreed, ‘started to imagine things! How silly.’
He settled into bed and dreamt of dahlias, and not a demonic radioactive reanimated pumpkin monster running amok in the village, in spite of eating all that cheese before bedtime.

When he woke up he noticed how lovely the weather was for the time of year. He noticed that his breakfast toast was crispy on the outside and soft inside, just how he liked it best. And when he went to his greenhouse he noticed most of all his amazing gigantic success. It was a good thing he had double doors or he would have had to dismantle the front of the greenhouse to get that pumpkin out! He didn’t remember leaving the doors open though…

He rolled the monster pumpkin onto a cart and hid it under a very large tarpaulin to pull through the village, hardly believing his luck. It was the day of the village show. All the years he had tried and failed and never given up and never got his prize and now he had perfected the growth process at exactly the right time to finally win that prize! He was so excited he almost knocked over his neighbour, Mrs Harpsichord. She was stood in the street, crying. He looked up and saw that her house was missing… well, not exactly missing but changed somehow to a much less useful shape.
‘You might as well come up to the show,’ Gardener Fred said, ‘at least you’ll get a nice cup of tea up there.’

She followed him up through the street towards the village hall where a crowd of people were making noises like more crying. Gardener Fred looked all around and saw that several homes had bits missing or had become flat or unusually aerated. He saw the poster for the show and the word CANCELLED written over it.
‘Cancelled?’ he questioned.
‘Yes,’ Postmistress Tess frowned. ‘We have a crisis to deal with here.’

Gardener Fred’s face conveyed his fury. A new house could be built in minutes these days and it had taken him YEARS to get this pumpkin super-sized. He flung the cover from his wonderful giant and revelled in the gasps of astonishment. The pumpkin was unnaturally large and it was visibly growing larger and that was not all. It was growing eyes. It was growing a mouth. Seeds poked up like shark’s teeth in spiky rows. It grew hands and feet with seed-claws. It grew legs. It stood up…

‘Quick!’ Postmistress Tess led the screaming crowd into the village hall. She had the keys for the pitchfork cupboard. Gardener Fred and The Monster looked at each other.
‘We’d better run,’ said Gardener Fred. He wasn’t sure if the mob would be chasing just The Monster or him and The Monster.
The Monster had just grown ears and winced at the sound of pitchforks clanging.
‘This way!’ Fred yelled.

They ran along lanes and over stiles and under trees until they were both quite puffed. (Gardener Fred could dig soil for hours but running required quite a different sort of fitness.) They crouched behind the barn in Old Timberstone’s big field. The Monster was almost as tall as the barn. Fred wondered if it would squish him. He looked at The Monster and it looked at him. A tear rolled from one flame-orange eye.
‘Why don’t they like me?’ It spoke in a deep, sad, gravelly voice.
Gardener Fred patted its tough skin. ‘I think you broke their houses,’ he said.
‘I couldn’t help it. I was being born.’
‘Born?’
‘I should have grown out of a stem, slowly, in my own time. But suddenly ZAP and here I am, no wonder I rolled about a bit. I knew nothing of houses then, my brain was too new. I only knew that something was terribly wrong and I was afraid and alone. Rolling seemed to help.’
‘Oh,’ said Fred. ‘Are you done rolling now?’
‘Oh yes. But I’m still scared. I don’t think they will ever like me.’
‘Was it the compost?’ Fred asked, ‘or the electricity?’
The Monster shrugged. ‘I don’t know. It was just ZAP like magic, here I am. I wish they liked me.’
Gardener Fred patted the leathery skin again. ‘We’ll think of something,’ he said and tried to think of something. He always used to have ideas!

Back at the village the mob too had grown weary from running. They had a fun run every year but the half marathon had been unpopular.
‘Pitchforks are dreadfully heavy, after a while.’ Mrs Harpsichord propped hers against a wall. ‘Perhaps we should think about rescuing our homes instead, for a while. I don’t think that monstrous thing is coming back.’
‘I shall notify the authorities,’ Postmistress Tess announced, ‘and while we await further instruction if Mr Yewberry could organise a watch then myself and Mrs Harpsichord will assess the house damage and rescue what we can. Everyone else can wait in the hall. There’s plenty of tea and cake and as long as it’s signed for you can keep hold of a pitchfork for now.’

‘It seems to have gone quiet out there,’ Gardener Fred told the mournful Monster. ‘We could sneak back to my garden. I always think better in my shed. If you don’t mind crouching between the apple trees, behind the fir tree, you’ll be well hidden.’
Light rain fell, tiny drops that clung to every surface and soaked slowly in.
‘Perhaps I could help to rebuild the houses,’ The Monster said.
It followed Gardener Fred along the footpath and back to the garden where it had been surprised to find itself alive. It was actually feeling rather cold but  how wrong it would be to make a fuss about that. Those poor people having their homes rolled over was much worse. It wasn’t sure if it had a heart but  there was a pain where a heart might be. It put a hand to its chest. It felt colder than it should, but then it hadn’t been alive long enough to be sure of that. Its head felt hotter. Perhaps it was too hot? It was all so confusing. Slow tears rolled down its face. What a terrible start this was. It wondered if Fred was planning to get rid of it.

Neither Gardener Fred nor The Monster were spotted on their journey. The plan had worked, if hiding can be thought of as a plan. The Monster shuffled off behind the fir and under the apple branches, sighing. It was almost glad of the discomfort, so miserable did it feel.

Gardener Fred made himself a discreet cup of tea.
‘Poor Monster,’ he said to himself. ‘He’s not a monster at all. It’s my fault. I should put this right. I’ll go to the hall and explain. We can help to rebuild. A giant pumpkin will be a great tourist attraction, after all, this could be good for the village. I just hope they listen.’

‘I’m going to talk to the people,’ Fred told The Monster. ‘I’ll see what I can do to put this right. And we should think of a name for you. People like you better when you have a name. Less, um… monster-ish.’
‘Thank you,’ The Monster whispered. It was still crying.
There had been far too much crying today, Gardener Fred thought. It was time for some happiness. With this in mind he set off towards the village hall.

‘Excuse me!’ Gardener Fred waved his arms for attention, and also to show he was not armed or dangerous.
Mr Yewberry pointed pitchfork prongs in his direction. ‘Wait there,’ he ordered.
Postmistress Tess appeared. She was sipping hot tea and holding a biscuit. She pointed the biscuit at him.
‘Don’t come any closer! Where’s the monster?’
‘It was all a terrible mistake,’ Fred pleaded, ‘it’s not a monster, just a creature that didn’t know how to behave. It never meant any harm and now it is very sorry and willing to help: to put the village on the tourist map and bring prosperity to us all; if you’ll listen; if you can forgive; it does beg forgiveness!’
Tess dunked her biscuit and gobbled it up. She tilted her head in a manner suggesting that her mind was busy.
‘Well.’ She finished her tea. ‘Hmmm.’ She took the cup back inside.
Fred could hear voices. He wished he had a biscuit. Mr Yewberry looked tired from holding the pitchfork.
‘You can put that down if you like,’ Fred told him. ‘I’m not likely to knock a house down, am I?’
Mr Yewberry sighed and rested his arms. ‘No funny business,’ he warned Gardener Fred.
Fred thought it was a little late for that advice.

Postmistress Tess reappeared, heading the mob. They were still waving pitchforks but they were quieter than the last time.
‘We will see your Monster,’ she informed Gardener Fred, ‘and we’ll make up our own minds, thank you.’
‘Okay,’ Fred agreed, ‘but please try not to upset it, it is all ready so sad and remorseful.’
He lead them up the village to his garden.

The Monster, huddled up under the apple trees, could hear a murmur of voices and pitchfork prongs gently pinging. It could feel the cold fur of mould creeping up inside, suffocating whatever internal workings it had. If it had a heart, the beats grew muffled. Tears slid freely down the sagging skin.
‘They are coming to get me,’ it sighed, ‘they don’t like me at all.’
A little bird landed on a branch, curious at the noise.
‘It doesn’t seem to be afraid,’ The Monster paused its crying, and felt a moment of contentment before the mould fluffed up in its head and all thoughts ceased. It did not hear Fred rustle the foliage of the fir tree to find it slumped, nor did it hear him burst into tears.
‘Perhaps its for the best,’ Tess whispered. ‘Well, we’ve got insurance forms to fill out, we’ll leave you to it. Make yourself a nice cup of tea, eh?’

Gardener Fred sat on the wet ground and sobbed for several minutes.
‘You weren’t a monster,’ he wiped his eyes, pointlessly, ‘and you never even had a name!’
Up in the apple branches he caught sight of a little bird. It flew off, showing a flash of red chest-feathers.
‘That’s what I’ll call you. Big Red. You were my creation, Big Red. I made you.’
The sky darkened as thick storm clouds gathered overhead. Gardener Fred began to have an idea.
‘I made you…’
He ran to his greenhouse and began to rig up a line of batteries, and a lightening rod, and a series of cables.

When the lightening hit, brilliant fire crackled the lightening rod, sparked up all the batteries, the cables sizzled; Gardener Fred was stood fixing the last jump lead to Big Red’s limp arm; they had one last second of life together, full of wonder and surprise, before it was all intense white light and soft, soothing night darkness, with tiny stars that zizzed and faded. All of Gardener Fred’s ideas, dreams and ambitions that he had worked for: dug for, weeded for, pruned and raked and been out in all weathers for: his trophy cabinet chockablock with shining cups, his neat shed, stacks of flowerpots, bags of compost, the hangnails for his tools, little labelled drawers of seed packets and different sizes of string, his stout pair of wellington boots and special oil to stop his spade blade from rusting: all disappeared. He didn’t even mind: he was so happy to see Big Red, and Big Red was so happy to see him, too.

The whole village had a similar experience. Postmistress Tess held her best china cup in one hand and a chocolate digestive in the other. She was glad she had used the best china, it would set the right tone for her afterlife. Mr Yewberry was reclining in his armchair, his feet on a mismatched hassock.
‘Ah,’ he thought to himself, ‘this is heavenly.’
Mrs Harpsichord was standing in her kitchen, not feeling like tidying up or filling out any insurance forms.
‘Well,’ she thought, as the light flashed, ‘I suppose that’s quite convenient.’

There was hardly anything left of the village at all; there was the hall, where the prize cup for The Biggest Pumpkin stood immaculately gleaming, and outside, a vast, cautionary hole. Bits of the poster for the cancelled village show blew about, here and there a pumpkin seed settled, or a prong of twisted pitchfork stuck up like a burnt sapling. The storm stopped as suddenly as it had started. Everything was quiet, a special sort of quiet that happens after a large explosion and no one, not even the birds, knows what to say or do.

And that would have been the end of the story, perhaps, but as the clock ticked towards midnight a strangely greenish glow oozed up from the scorched-raw ground…








3 comments:

  1. Tiny village houses repaired themselves, pitchforks gleamed in blue-black steel, a small bird sat high in a tree overlooking Gardner Fred's shed, witnessing a strange combination of fruit-flower things - frightful things that a small bird shouldn't see. Then he himself began to glow and sprouted the most majestic red feathers - at once flying off with a loud piercing screech - it was Halloween again.

    Okay, that's my fun 2 cents. Loved your story. can't wait to read the sequel!!!

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  2. Houses that repair themselves! Excellent idea! Happy Halloween Dixie :-)

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  3. A wonderful fantasy! You've created an enigma. How does one conclude the story of a process that converts diverse village-matter into pumpkin? Some stabilizing creation is called for --a sequel, I think: Bride Of Gardener Fred's Monster!

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