The War of the Gnome and the Mountain Devil

The War of the Gnome and the Mountain Devil


by Thoraiya Dyer

thoraiyadyer

Thoraiya Dyer, a NSW-based Australian writer, sends her stories like sparrows into the wilderness. Occasionally someone will shotgun one out of the sky, have a taxidermist carefully reconstruct it, and then slip it into their collection. She hopes you have enjoyed peering through the glass at this particular specimen. http://www.thoraiyadyer.com

Rain doused the mountain town, swift, silken and sibilant.

Shoppers at the Saturday morning market vanished like smoke from a pinched wick. Christine Caley, caught without an umbrella, stood miserably under a cherry tree wiggling her toes in her wet stockings.

It was a long way uphill to the train station. The pension pass in her pocket was wet. The ache in her hip had predicted the storm earlier in the morning. Regardless, a shaft of sunlight striking the mulch-spattered earth where the hollow tree had stood had spurred her out the front gate.

She clutched her single purchase, a potted shrub in a plastic bag.

Perhaps she could wait in a shop until the worst had passed. She peered across the street. Everyone had their black, trench-coated backs turned toward her. They always had. They always would. There was no need for the rain to pull a grey curtain between Christine and the world. It was ever-present. The wind touched her and the wet, the light and the shadow, but no human hand, except for the fists of that young man.

They had shackled those long, pale wrists. She remembered his black running shoes at her eye level, leaving bloody prints on her floor. In a sickening moment of confusion, she had opened ruined lips and tried to call him back; she didn’t want to be left alone, not even by him.

She looked down at her sensible shoes and wriggled her toes again. At such moments, only the physical barrier she posed between the crying skies and the pavement proved that she existed at all.

Movement drew her gaze back up. An umbrella blossomed above her. Streaky yellow light fell over the lumpy features of Brian Hacking. 

Brian was her neighbour. Like her, he lived alone. Christine had waved to him before, but they’d never spoken. Christine was careful about who she spoke to.

“Mrs Caley,” he said seriously. “You’re drenched. Please allow me to escort you home.”

Christine stared at him, wondering if she was dreaming. 

“I came on the train,” she said at last, looking away. She placed one cold, surreptitious palm against a branch of the cherry tree. It was solid; if it was real then so was he.

“So did I. But I’m going home in a taxi. Seems a waste not to make use of the back seat, don’t you think?”

If she hadn’t tentatively lifted her gaze again, she would have missed the mischievous smile that shrank his wide mouth into a pinched, provocative pucker.

Had she thought him ugly? He wasn’t so bad. Her eyes skittered away again; they lit on a garishly painted garden gnome in his other hand. Immediately, she wanted to laugh. Had she thought him serious? Perhaps, just this once, it would be safe to let someone take her home. After all, there was capsicum spray in her pocket, and there would be the security of a witness; it was unlikely he was in criminal collusion with the taxi driver.

“I think you’re right, Mr Hacking,” she said. “It would be a shame.”

They set off together for the village centre. The colours of autumn swirled in rivers of rain, down gutters and over the black backdrop of bitumen street. In nearby eucalypt gullies the bellbirds had not stopped calling; their song was a reminder of the cracked sandstone canyons cradling the towns, the green and gunmetal labyrinth lurking beyond the Federation architecture and European gardens. 

Christine hadn’t always lived in the mountains, but the Great Western Highway and the state railway still connected her to her birthplace in the Sydney basin, forming a paired umbilical cord of snaking tracks and hairpin bends.

“Call me Brian,” Hacking said, making her jump.

“And what’s his name?” Christine ventured bravely, indicating the gnome.

For a moment he seemed baffled by the statuette in his possession.

“I don’t know why I bought this,” he admitted eventually. “It just kind of jumped into my hand. I love to lose myself in a garden.”

Abruptly she remembered the day Brian Hacking moved into Toilworthy. He’d taken immediately to the roses and box hedges with assorted pruning implements, even though a trail of movers still wriggled like a cardboard centipede through his front door. It was as though he’d been waiting a long time to see green and growing things, to be able to move freely, to shape in some places and shelter in others. 

“I love gardening, too,” Christine gushed, feeling her face turn pink. She lifted the pot in her hands and peeled back the plastic so he could see.

“Lambertia formosa,” he said. “A mountain devil. Wonderful.”

“A hollow tree in my back yard came down last week. I wanted to fill the space.”

“Oh, would you like some help cutting and removing the dead timber? I have a sharp axe.”

“No,” Christine said, scandalised. “Habitat for the native animals.”

“Of course,” Brian replied, and she risked another look at him, anxious she’d spoken too sharply. But the hand holding the garden gnome was just shy of her shoulders and he angled the umbrella to keep the drips from the back of her neck, even though she was already wet. 

He was protecting her. Christine’s heart skipped a beat. She was close enough to feel the heat from his body and she recklessly imagined him in her living room, building a fire from sweet-smelling bluegum he’d cut with his axe, smiling at her in that mischievous way.

“I watch your verandah,” she blurted.

“I’m sorry?” Brian laughed. It was a kind laugh.

“I watch your verandah,” Christine tried again, feeling her colour rising, “in the mornings when the king parrots drink from the puddles. You have a wonderful sprinkler system. The way it pops up and does its job and then pops out of sight again.”

“I made and installed it myself. All controlled remotely from the garden shed. I’m a retired electrician.”

“Sounds like you’re very handy to have around.”

“You should have me around more often and find out for yourself.”

Christine tittered but then she fell silent. She wasn’t sure. 

She still wasn’t sure when he seated her on his jacket in the back of the taxi and got into the front seat himself. He chatted amiably with the driver and she still wasn’t sure. She wasn’t sure while the sunflower umbrella opened above her a second time, or as he pressed her proffered money back into her hands.

“Mrs Caley,” he said, “I wonder if you’d come with me to the folk music festival tonight.”

Christine stood in silence for a moment. It was like the silence when she came upon a wild animal. Like the moment before it disappeared into the bush, leaving her alone.

Brian Hacking did not disappear. Finally, finally she felt sure.

“I would like that, Brian.”

She took her mountain devil through the front gate of Tanglethicket, thinking that she should plant it before she got changed into dry clothes. There was no telling when it might rain again.

***

At last, I was in the earth.

It clung wonderfully wet between my toes. Life filled me. A wild sweetness cavorted inside. The enemy; I smelled them in the market. Dozens of them. Ever since awareness had come to me, I’d felt the itch inside which was the drive to defeat the enemy. One of them or a hundred, it didn’t matter.

One of the ones from the market was still close, but I had the advantage, for he was trapped inside the walls of the Kingdom they gave him to rule, slave to the straight line, while I was free to come and go as I pleased.

In the earth, I waited for the woman to turn her back so I could peel away, grin through moss-green teeth and skitter along branches. I longed to dance the dance of the scribbly gum and kiss the whiskers of the wattle. Out of season, I’d wake the seeds and draw their shoots into the sun, commanding them from the feathered backs of saddled songbirds.

Before night, before the enemy had time to make his first move, I’d have the mountainside alive with my magic. So long I was forced to watch and wait, while I bloomed and my scarlet petals fell. Now I had a foxy face, two wicked horns, a long, twining tail. Now I’d been set loose. My roots were unravelled.

All I needed was the absence of human eyes.

***

Brian Hacking’s heart skipped along a winding stave, each step a crotchet, each toe-tap a quaver.

He grinned at his date – much drier, now – and she grinned at him. He savoured her happiness and his spirits lifted even higher. How simple it was, to uncage a sparrow and yet how many had stopped to do it before, how many had felt the light pressure on their wrist and the satisfaction of seeing Christine Caley test her wings?

Her husband, he supposed, but there had been no husband, she whispered over the creamy head of her poisonous-looking Guinness, for forty years.

“Did he die?” Brian murmured respectfully.

“No,” was the curt reply, and Brian sensed a retreat behind bars and racked his brains for a change of subject. Something safe. Something he knew would win another smile.

On stage, the guitar and the cello, both honeyed by the dim light, were separated by six or seven metres, and yet they held hands in the darkness overhead; they struck sparks in their audience’s eyes and ears and marinated in their mouths. Invisible were the backdrop and the white plastic chairs, the fluttering flaps of the marquis and the rubbish underfoot.

“Tell me about your garden,” Brian said.

“Tanglethicket is more of an idea than a garden. It’s a haven. I like to sit and listen. I imagine I can hear green things growing.”

Brian nodded enthusiastically. His garden was his refuge, too. While he worked there, while he wrangled that small piece of wilderness, he could sometimes forget the horizontal rain of fire; the hurled, splintered, flaming fists of wood flying through exploded windows.

He could forget the bright, tear-filled eyes of his screaming children as he buckled them into the car. The dog; the dog was still inside the house, barking. Brian turned, plunging into the smoke; dragged the mutt outdoors by the scruff of its stupid neck. Hurling it away from him under the ash-smothered sky, he turned again.

The car was burning. The children were silent.

The children were burning.

Brian blinked and they were gone. Christine Caley sat beside him, dreamily sipping her stout.

“I like the battle,” he said slowly, recovering, “for perfection. The overall plan sits in the gardener’s mind’s eye. Nature has no plan. Nature is mindless. The geometry of a garden, the way the water flows in the fountains or the moss forms a checkerboard with the paving stones, it’s a way to celebrate the majesty with none of the mess. None of the ugliness.”

“There is no ugliness in nature,” Christine reprimanded him.

“Oh, there is. Nature is a bitch.”

She was a murderess, throwing her dead boughs around the house, holding it in arms of flame. She was a sadist, cutting up the access roads with blazing trunks, blowing smoke into the eyes of helicopter pilots and firemen, pulling her black and orange shawl over all of them. In the outback, she had the upper hand, but not here.

Not here, where her wanton ways had been civilised, where the bush had been pushed back and the towns planted with the jewels of northern hemisphere manors.

Too late, he noticed Christine Caley’s fingers close around her elbows and her eyes return to the floor. And he couldn’t help but feel angry. She was too sensitive. He was tired of watching his every word. And she was just like the greenies who’d stopped the fuel reduction burns in the National Park. It was because of them that Brian had buried two small black bodies – and one larger one, its soft and secret places desecrated by fire – in an unfamiliar graveyard.

“I want to go home,” Christine said.

“After this song ends,” he replied, tight-lipped.

***

I was through the gate.

The gate; the Man had given me a plot. A plot to make perfect. A plot to rule. I felt the fences, my new boundaries, unbroken. My willpower bounced off the barriers, the ripples striking ripples. All the time it grew; fed; multiplied.

As soon as the sun went down, I saw what the enemy had wrought. The roses had embraced and native seeds in the lawn had erupted, despite the poison laid down by the Man. The trees had sent stray tendrils out to test the wind, rebelling against their glorious symmetry.

No matter. I was here now and the enemy was sleeping. From the very first moment I came out of my mould and the magic awoke in me, I knew I would have the advantage of darkness. I knew I must strive to bend the green things to my will.

The tendrils of those trees curled away from me as I approached. They knew I was come to cure them, to teach them right from wrong. They were reluctant, my lambs, my wayward flock; they found me hateful but they’d be grateful in the end.

There would be order. I had a plot to rule.

First, every gardener had to sharpen his tools.

Crooning, I cast the Workspell. It drew the Man from his bed into misty moonlight. He shivered in his thin singlet and drawstring trousers. I looked on him with scorn. Perhaps he didn’t have the strength, but he was all I had.

“The weeds,” I instructed him. “The weeds must be pulled out by hand. And then the grass must be cut.”

The Man bent to his task, glassy-eyed, single-minded. The seedlings were destroyed by his digging, determined fingers. The grass was tamed by his hungry machine. I cast the Silence over Man and machine, so that the enemy would not be forewarned.

“The birds,” I hissed at the Man when he stopped to rest. “The birds that brought the seeds. They must be dealt with.”

The Man cast his blank gaze over the fence. On the other side was a wretched tangle of incestuous vines and native scrub. That was where the foul creatures roosted. I cast the Deep Sleep on them. I couldn’t pass the fence line, but the Man could. It was within his power. I cast the Darkness over the Man, so that he passed unobserved.

He climbed, awkward as a sick snake. He scrabbled amongst the thorns for the sleeping birds. His hands stretched their necks and he let them lie where they fell. It wasn’t enough. The proximity of that shameful snarl repulsed me. 

“It is an abomination!” I shrieked impulsively at the Man. “Do something!”

Night was running thin. The Man did not have much time. He took another machine into the demesne of the enemy and sheared away at the madness until there were straight lines. There were flat planes. There was order. My sensibilities were soothed.

On his return, the Man was bleeding; exhausted; barely able to stand.

I released him from the Workspell and he collapsed into his house. Sprawled on the carpet, he slept, just as light touched the treetops. I turned to stone with a satisfied smile on my face.

***

Christine Caley woke with the smell of wet leaves in her nostrils.

She was comforted by it. Her dream of flying over waterfalls still lingered; it merged with the song of lyrebirds in the dells.

But then the smell was too strong, and she sat up in bed, unlocked the security shutters, unbolted the sliding sash and cracked open the window with a frown. Outside was a scene of devastation. If she hadn’t known the clouds had cleared long before Brian Hacking brought her back from the jazz festival, she would have sworn there’d been a destructive thunderstorm in the night.

Leaves. Branches. Debris everywhere.

It wasn’t natural. Somebody had done it. Fear and fury warred within her.

Christine undid the seven locks on the front door and crept outside, bare-footed, her pepper spray in hand in case the intruder was still there.

Intruder, she thought, but she was terrified that she knew who had done this. Brian Hacking, who thought gardening should be a battle for perfection. When their night at the festival had turned uncomfortable and they’d retreated to their separate homes, he must have waited for her to fall asleep and then taken his psychotic revenge on her garden. He couldn’t bend her to his will, so he had bent Tanglethicket instead.

But why hadn’t the sensor floodlights come on? Why no alarms, no summoned police cars? Somehow, he had avoided the system – or sabotaged it. He was an electrician, after all. It all fit perfectly.

The banksias were maimed. The waratahs had been beheaded. Sprays of button grass had been shorn into cubes and all the tender growth of the flowering eucalypts was gone; they’d been turned to balls on sticks, forming an appalling row of prescribed horticultural standards.

The strangled bodies of king parrots littered the driveway.

Christine’s knees gave way at the sight of them; she vomited into a clump of grevilleas. She had allowed that man to touch her. She had dared to think they might be friends. But of course he was capable of murder. Of course he was made to do harm. All men were made to do harm.

And Christine was made to be taken in by them, to trust them right up until the moment they struck out, whether it was with words or fists.

I don’t love you, Matthew had shrugged. I don’t think I ever loved you. Marriage just seemed like the right thing to do. But you’ve lost the baby, now. There’s no reason to stay together any more.

But you said you loved me, Christine’s youthful self had whispered, feeling as though her chest had been opened with a hacksaw and salt water poured inside.

I lied.

Shivering uncontrollably, she went back into her house and locked the seven front door locks. She set the pepper spray down on a padded chair in the kitchen. Closing and bolting her bedroom window, she curled into a ball under the covers. How gentle Brian had seemed. Her gazelle-heart had kicked up its heels when he knocked on her door, when he took her hand and kissed it.

But he had left a bloody trail behind him; pieces of his madness. How had he appeared so normal? How had his depravity been so completely hidden?

Christine wept.

***

There’d been a battle in the night.

I smelt the blood. I glimpsed the fallen, lying in the soft, feathered graves of their own skins. The enemy had somehow been here. My place had been desecrated.
I closed the wounds in Old Man Banksia. My magic drew out the slashed spines of kangaroo paw til their tremulous tips swung whole and rolling in the wind. I couldn’t replace the lopped limps of the sap-seeping gum trees, but I could kink and knot their trunks to break the curse of their sameness.

Perched on a twig, I let the sun seep into me. It warmed my thoughts. It kindled my plot for revenge.

Over the fence, the alien plantings shed dead foliage. Autumn colours, an admission of weakness, an admission that growth was to be stopped for a season. Soon, the trees would be bare. I sensed the pipes the Man had laid for them under the earth. Pipes to feed them water. They who were pampered strangers, helpless to fend for themselves in our harsh home.

My plan crystallised. I called a steed from inside a tree hollow. The glider came grouchily, unfurling its furry membranes. Together, we leaped; we flew over the fence, and I saw the stone face of the enemy, frozen and helpless while daylight, ally to the trees, filled the natural world with movement and life.

The glider stuck it snout under a layer of straw, locating my entry point. Thinning myself to twigness, I slipped into the pipes. Some were full of water, but I didn’t need to breathe. I followed them to a dark, musty, manure-smelling place with wires and switches and I bit through plastic and metal with my pointy green teeth.

There was lightning in some of the wires. Most of it escaped to earth, jittering through me. It would have stopped my heart if I had one, but I was no beast; it would have burned me if I was a branch, but I was no tree. Instead, flame blossomed in the manure.

Fire would destroy the intruders. Fire would cast them out. House and hickory, pickets and pines. Building and birch bower, outhouse and oak. Only the soil and the blackened stumps of grass trees would remain, but fire was known to us. We embraced it. The native trees would put out fresh growth.

The foreigners would die.

And the enemy? His hated, painted visage would peel like snakeskin. The bubbles inside of him would burst. He would fly to pieces and golden guinea-flowers would cover the grey dust of his evil innards. He was only one of an army of enemies, but still, there would be one less.

I sent the glider to warn the animals.

***

Brian Hacking fought for consciousness.

His leaden limbs wouldn’t obey him. His nostrils felt clogged. Behind his closed eyelids, child-sized skulls accused him with blackened teeth. He was supposed to take Nick and Helen to the dentist. Too many sweets, but Brian couldn’t help indulging them. They wouldn’t stay small forever. One day they’d have jobs, partners, children of their own, and they wouldn’t need Brian to buy them chocolates.

Don’t spoil them, Athena scolded, hands inky from doing an oil change on the paddock-basher. She wiped her greasy hands on her overalls, but the blackness wouldn’t come off. It covered her like a spreading stain. She sank into darkness under a cascade of bricks. 

Tumbling masonry rocked the foundations of the earth. The collapsing garage wall was more momentous than the Berlin Wall or the Great Wall of China; the fire crackling over the car was more disastrous than the Great Fire of London. Three people held the whole of creation for Brian Hacking. 

They were his whole world, and they were burning.

He opened his eyes and found himself spread-eagled on the carpet, covered in garden clippings. It was early morning, but something was wrong with the light; it glowed dirty scarlet at the back door. There were cuts and bruises and bloody smears on his hands; there was dirt beneath his fingernails and he distinctly remembered scrubbing them raw before taking Christine Caley out to the festival.

The festival. It had all gone wrong.

They had shut each other off. He remembered that much, and was ashamed by it. In a bout of impatience, he’d taken her home when he should have smoothed over the disagreement and kept trying to get to know her. She was a little fragile. So what? Nothing worthwhile was ever easy. 

Brian tried to stand, and staggered. Every muscle felt like it had been pummelled with a meat tenderiser. He couldn’t understand what was wrong with him. What was he doing on the carpet, anyway? Hadn’t he watched a little TV in bed and then had an early night?

It struck him that the eerie light was the light of a bushfire. He staggered to his feet, his senses cleared, skin prickling at the imminent danger. He heard crackling and realised the house was full of smoke. It wasn’t his lingering nightmare. It was reality.

Impossible. The rooftop sprinklers would have come on. His system was infallible. Backups after backups had been installed. Timber frames and shutters had been replaced by aluminium and steel. The petrol generator and the pumps were all state of the art. He’d tested it and tested again. Fire could never touch Toilworthy.

An invisible beast burst out of his chest. Howling, it flogged him out through the back door and into a wall of smoke. Disoriented, he tried again to comprehend how the fire could have gotten past his defences.

Someone had to have inactivated the sprinkler system before they set fire to the shed. Brian had only told one person about the garden shed.

Christine Caley.

Maddened, struggling to breathe, to see, Brian snatched up the axe that lay in the woodpile. In the haze, he saw the ghostly silhouettes of charred skeletons. Their teeth dropped out of their heads as they laughed. Flame dripped out of their hollow eye sockets as they cried. 

And Christine Caley danced with them, pulling their puppet strings, laughing.

***

I was trapped.

Baking; boiling; scorching. I felt the pressure building. The sandy loam beneath me turned to glass and the loathsome sun kept me bound and helpless to retaliate. Where was the Man, whose mind was so attuned to mine that the Workspell fit him like a glove?

Where was the Man? Could he not defend my kingdom?

***

It wasn’t knocking that brought Christine out of her self-pitying stupor. It was a chopping sound.

Glass splintering. Chains rattling.

Christine flew out of bed for the second time, only to find an axe embedded in her front door. As she watched, the metal wedge wriggled a retreat. It vanished momentarily before driving again through splinters. The sixth of the seven bolts fell to the floor, adding to a scattering of impotent screws and bent tin plates.

Before she could scream, she saw through the rent in the door that Toilworthy was burning and her crippling fright subsided. The axe belonged to the fire brigade. They were coming to get her out. She took a step forward as if to undo the final lock, reconsidered in light of the axe-wielder’s enthusiasm and sank instead into a padded chair to wait.

Funny, that there had been no sirens. And that the bulky shape of the fireman was not clad in reflective yellow and orange, but a dirty singlet and brown, drawstring trousers.

Brian Hacking burst into her house, covered in soot and with black holes for eyes. The axe shook in his hands. 

“You think you can destroy me?” he bellowed, raising the axe over his head. “You think you can take my soul? My soul’s already lost!”

Christine’s fingers found the pepper spray behind the cushion of the chair. Her throat was closed with fear. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t speak. She raised the can and sprayed it into the merciless set of Brian’s features. He arched his back and fell, clawing, at his face.

She watched him thrash, still frozen in her chair. Half-entangled in the long strip of oriental carpet, he pulled the hallway mirror down onto himself. It dealt him a cracking blow to the head, and he was still.

Christine rose from the chair and took the axe from his hands. Shaking, she set it against the wall. Outside, flame licked at the dagger hakea by the front step, and embers wafted in and settled in the carpet backing. 
He was a madman, he had come to kill her, and yet, unconscious, he was non-threatening. Unconscious, his crease of a mouth and pudgy cheeks took on the kindly cast she recalled from the market.

Christine couldn’t move him. He was too heavy. She imagined herself leaving him in the house, running down the street with her flyaway hair and soiled nightgown. Perhaps someone would come to help. Perhaps they would take Brian away to hospital. Or perhaps no-one would come, and she would watch Twigthicket burn, a blazing tomb for Brian Hacking. Either way, she would be alone again, always alone.

“I am tired of being alone,” she said softly.

She closed the splintered front door. It was no barrier to the thickening smoke, though the heat from the flames was somewhat lessened. Lying down on the floor next to him, she pulled the carpet over them both. She took his warm brown hand, held his palm to her cheek and closed her eyes.

In her mind, he smiled at her in his mischievous way.

Mrs Caley, he said, I wonder if you’d come with me to the next place. We can go together. You won’t be alone.

Christine felt lightheaded. Her chest hurt.

“I would like that, Brian,” she whispered.

***

I followed the wild things along the bank of the stream.

It wended and it wound. Past horny bark and brittle autumn flowers. Past patchworks of broad, serrated leaves and woody seed pods. All were toughened survivors. All had the power to rise from the ashes.

We poured into the gully, where the open, exposed forest of the clifftops turned to a pocket of jewel-sprinkled rainforest.

The smoke had not come this far; not yet. The stream disappeared underground, beneath a stand of man-sized tree ferns. I scuttled along the roof of the damp tunnel, upside-down on the water-slicked stone. Careening around a side wall of the cavern, I scaled a vine and reached a collapsed part of the ceiling where interlaced foliage formed a dark green web.

I spent the last of my magic on an upwelling of water. I wove it through the litter and suspended it in a glittering seal of crystal across the opening. The plants did not fear death, but the animals did. They could be utterly finished by a river of fire. I reassured them. Here, they were safe.

Leaping, I landed in the fork between two brown branches. Strength waning, I tucked my four legs and my tail into my thin body. I curled around the branch and vanished.

The branch was not the branch of a Mountain Devil. Today, nonetheless, it bore a little green seed pod in the shape of a two-horned, foxlike face.

Nature had triumphed, today.

It was the end of the enemy, the gnome from the market.

There were more, always more. Where did they come from? They were not natural bush creatures like me, to reproduce by flower and seed, water and light. What was it that entered into stone and turned it so vengefully on my kind?

In the distance, two houses burned. I heard the sound of sirens, but I knew they were too late.

***

Brian Hacking had never felt so cold.

It was in his bones. Bones? He had no bones. Frozen in the twilight, he felt all of a sameness, a bland grey sameness with a thin veneer of paint.

Strangely, he did not mind. He was made of magic and stone and he had a job to do. As the last of the daylight faded, he found he could wriggle his concrete fingers. He could tap his concrete toes. He couldn’t start the work until he was given a plot of land to rule, but that would be soon, surely. The battle for perfection, that was what made time amongst unruly growing things so satisfying.

Unruly growing things? That was defeatist thinking. They would be his henchmen. His soldiers. He would be their commander and they would obey him. But how?

As knowledge seeped into him, memory faded. He learned the Workspell and forgot he’d had a wife and children. He learned the Darkness and forgot his own name. He learned the Deep Sleep and forgot he’d ever been a man.

And with forgetfulness came a wonderful lightness, a blissful release.

Certain odd facts, he didn’t forget. The nursery, he knew, was a busy one, on the edge of the Great Western Highway. Every tourist on the way back to Sydney had to pass it, and some would pull over, and of those that came close, some would resonate with him. Some would feel the urge to pick up the garden gnome, and soon, very soon, he would leave the nursery.