This is the 14th round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS<<link post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “N“.
Readers have until the publication of the next round of stories (about two weeks between rounds) to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the first of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “N” as submitted by its author.
Copyright 2020 — Perry Broxson
(2,922 words – approx. reading time: about 11 minutes based on 265 WPM)
They seemed nice. He, with his tubular dog and two children and absent wife. I mean, there’s always apprehension when a new neighbor moves in. One never knows, does one? A neighbor can be an angel – considerate and quiet. But the opposite is just as possible. One’s neighbor is just as likely to be the devil incarnate.
I’m old, you see. My bones are like the roots in my Garden, twisted and bent. My hair, as wispy as daffodil filaments. My eyes, useless as acorns. My skin, cold as fallow soil.
I’m a creature . . . a creature of habit. I set my alarm for 4:30 and I get up at 4:30. After bathing and making my bed, I retire to my Garden where I sit with tea, watching the birds and bugs and ascending sun. As the dew becomes vapor, I watch my crops rise and welcome the morning light.
I’m not alone. There’s Iblis. Each morning, he accompanies me, sharing the silence, participating in the chaotic quietude of nature. Iblis understands the importance of my connection with the earth and its integral elements. He never stirs; he never slithers, wriggles, or hisses . . . Iblis is a snake.
But this is about neighbors, not snakes.
I don’t know which is worse: Good neighbors or bad. The so-called good ones view an old lady as a gateway to social posturing, posing as helpful and caring – offering to mow my lawn and flush my gutters. As I said, I am old. Older than their species; older than their seed. But I am not a helpless old crone. I am as powerful as I need to be; as my buried enemies would attest.
Neighbors: The good ones are bad and the bad ones are . . . well, I’ve had my share. You might ask: Just what makes one a bad neighbor, Miss Lilith?
Glad you asked. Two things: Noise – I don’t care for it. My eyes are weak but I’ve got ears like a screech-owl. Secondly, my Garden – trespassers are strictly forbidden. Feel free to covet my luscious fruits and delectable vegetables from a respectable distance. If you ask for a tomato, I will say no – without discourse or apology. Same with beets, carrots, berries, and melons . . . no, no, no, and hell no.
It’s not that I’m selfish. It’s the opposite. Humans should not eat the things that grow in my Garden. Bad things happen when rules are violated.
The Addams family broke both rules within their first 48 hours.
It started with their dog, Sara. It’s one of those extruded little beast – stretched to resemble a sausage or a priapic man-part. Unleashed, the beast strayed into my Garden, plunged its snout and paws into my soil, and uprooted a batch of cabbages.
Admittedly, I screamed. It was the toppled green heads that evoked such histrionics. The scream surprised even me, for it was one old and stolen from lore – stolen from mothers of still children in cold cradles.
The two children came running, their father following. They heard my caterwaul, for how could they not? I chased the brown beast, swatting at it with a straw broom, but it was fast and determined to chew the succulent roots.
“Sara,” the girl shouted. “Bad girl,” the boy scolded.
The dog dug, defying the twins. For they were twins. I sensed it. Their smell, you see – there was no distinction.
The man Addams extracted the beast from its malicious mission. “There, there, Sara,” he cooed, allowing the hound to lick him with its muddy tongue.
“My cabbages,” I cried, perhaps the first words I’d spoken to a human since . . . since I’d conversed with the previous occupants of the Addams’ home. “My cabbages are ruined!”
The children kneeled, their scabby knees desecrating my hallowed ground. The girl lifted a decapitated cabbage and examined it. “It’s tattered,” she said, “but still edible.”
The boy, an imp by the arch of his brows, plucked one up and hurled it at the girl. It struck her shoulder and she retaliated, launching a fusillade of cabbages and Heirloom Tomatoes and Nagami Kumquats.
“Children,” the father chuckled, “I’ll have to ask you to stop the horseplay. No, no. Put the kumquats down.”
They did not stop, nor did they drop the kumquats. It was war, and my precious Garden its unauthorized artillery and battleground.
I shielded the strawberries and defended the persimmons; I brandished my broom, daring the juvenile duelers to violate my prized plant, the Omphalos – a bush that bore a magical botanical nut.
Drenched in the bloody juices of my fruits and vegetables, the children halted. The threat of my straw broom startled them, for they’d apparently never encountered retribution.
“Father,” the girl retreated. “I feel unsafe.”
“Me too,” the boy said, his lower lip pooched and trembling.
The man Addams tucked the bitch-pup under his armpit and confronted me. “Madam,” he said, too formal for the bucolic setting, “I’ll have to ask you to lower your weapon and apologize to my children.”
“Apologize,” I spat. “Your hellions and their hound have demolished swaths of my Garden. Look,” I demonstrated, lifting an exhumed baby potato from its grave, “this Macedonian Potato is unearthed. And look. This Chaldean Eggplant, scrambled. Sumerian Figs, flattened. And you want me to apologize?”
The children pressed their polluted bodies to their father’s cream, linen pants. “I’m frightened,” they said, harmonizing.
Addams cleared his throat. “As I have just navigated the bureaucracy of homeownership,” he said officiously, “I am quite cognizant of the bylaws within the HOA Community Covenant. You must be aware that agriculture, on this scale, is forbidden in Glen Eden. Come children, we have complaints to make and grievances to report.”
I did nothing but stand and stammer. You must understand, I was dizzied by the surrealism of the incident. I’d lived in Glen Eden for . . . forever. Long before self-important citizens crafted and codified pedantic decrees. Yes, my Garden is vast, but it had to be so. Every piece of produce is precious and necessary. Each seed a stitch in the fabric of history.
My neighbors and their mongrel vacated my premises. As they walked away, it climbed, did the dog, upon its master’s shoulder, and regarded me. Its bulging black eyes showed no remorse. Its pink tongue swung shamelessly. I flinched, as it sneezed clots of my rich and tended dirt. “I’ll be back,” the cur said. “I will definitely be back.”
And so it was. The bitch came back.
Nothing as true as a dog’s promise – the Giants of Renown used to say. Although, in Nascent Days, dogs were wolves. It was the Giants that tamed them and put them to work.
The following morn, I stood at the foot of my Garden, viewing the waste and plunder, wondering what had happened to me, to the world, to the balance of power. There was a time in Nascent Days that men – humans – were the equivalent of pets. They were the mutts and mongrels – fashioned from mud and magic – pests and playthings.
My partner, Iblis, encircled my leg, sensing my despair. Iblis asked: “Is this the season?”
I stared at the smashed pumpkins and ruined herbs and mauled cauliflower. “The season?”
“The Season of the Final Molt,” Iblis said. “I don’t know about you, but I’m tired. Are you tired, Lilith?”
I sighed so deeply that neither of us knew if my respiration would return. “I am tired,” I said. “But I’ve been tired before. I was tired when I was exiled from Paradise. I was tired when I was cursed to filch children from cribs. I was tired when the Giants of Renown, my children, were slaughtered by the gods. And I was tired when the gods slaughtered themselves. Iblis, my old friend, I am tired, but not exhausted . . . and certainly not dead.”
Iblis rose, his tongue flicking. I could tell that he wished for appendages – arms to hold, hug, and comfort me. “If not the Season of the Final Molt,” he said, “what season is it?”
There was a long hesitation. We breathed the stink of the spoiled yield. We watched the crows plunder and the varmints scavenge.
“The Season of Vengeance, my friend. The Season of Bootzamon.”
Bootzamon, or Boogeyman, is a simple effigy, fashioned to resemble a human. For what could be more frightening than mankind?
Despite my failing eyes, I crafted a man – a strawman – from hay and sticks and ivy and garments – male clothing donated by previous neighbors. I impaled the puppet with a cedar pole and festooned a Goliath Squash atop the rod, for its head. For eyes, I pressed acorns into the skin. Its nose, a Warty Cucumber. Its mouth, a wreath of red thorns that encompassed the squash. Lastly, I curtsied and asked Iblis if he would be so kind.
He nodded and slithered up the stalk, entering the bramble bosom of the ominous effigy. “You know what to do,” I said, uncertain myself.
Iblis protruded from the crotch of the puppet and hissed: “It has been some time, Lilith – not since the time of Nascent Days” he said.
“Nascent Days,” I ruminated. “When my children, the Nephilim, strode over canyons and devoured men like grapes. Everything was new and exhilarating. The sky had just learned to cry, the sun to nourish, seeds to sprout. It was truly paradise.”
“Do you regret?” Iblis asked.
I knew what he meant, but I asked, “Regret what, my friend?”
His oil-drop eyes held my gaze. “You know what I mean.”
“My betrayal?” I said and laughed. “No, Iblis. The man I was betrothed to was not good. He wanted to control me, dominate me. The gods made me indomitable and then commanded me to submit – the union was doomed.”
“And then you found me,” Iblis said.
“Yes,” I smiled, stroking his nose, trying to trade my haggish face for the maiden I’d been when he seduced me. “Yes, then I found you.”
The children and the tubular dog returned on the 7th night. It was a reaping night – the harvest moon looming and lighting the land. From my blind, I watched the twin demons siege my Garden. Like pagans, they danced, hand-in-hand, rollicking as the dog barked at the moon. When the glee waned and the joy waxed, they fought, flinging my produce like javelins. At one low point, I wanted to join them in their warring reverie, wanted to destroy the Garden, then the neighborhood, then on to the earth and its attending heavens. But the truth behind their wanton destruction restrained me. For each fruit, vegetable, fungus, flower, herb and nut represented a tribe of a once Renown Kind – the Kind from which I was spawned – and from which I spawned.
To me, these human children were grave-robbers, trampling on the sacred grounds of the Renown. And for that, they would pay.
Iblis called to them from the motley mannequin, as seductively as he’d once called to me. “Hello, my darlings,” he hissed. “What brings you to the Garden?”
The boy halted his assault and took a tomato in the chest. “Hey,” he sniveled, “not fair.”
The girl heard the voice and looked up at the scarecrow. “Was that you?”
“It was me,” Iblis said, coiled inside the straw sentinel. “I was put here to scare you off. Sadly, it seems I’ve failed.”
“Yeah,” the boy sneered, “you’re not scary. You’re a dumb dummy-doll, with a straw body and a vegetable head. You’re stupid.”
“Let’s knock it down,” the girl said, petting an eggplant.
“Yeah,” her comrade agreed. He then reached into his pocket and retrieved his father’s pipe lighter. “And then, let’s burn it – burn it all.”
“Oh my,” the scarecrow said. “That would be horrible.”
The kids agreed, happy to be horrible.
“Horrible for you,” the scarecrow amended.
“For us?” they rhymed. “Why would it be horrible for us?”
“Because,” the scarecrow said, “if the crops are torched, you will never experience the magic of the Omphalos Nut.”
The twins looked at one another, nonplussed. “What’s an Omphalos Nut?” the girl asked. “Did you make it up?” the boy trailed.
“The Omphalos Nut . . . why, it’s only the most magical botanical nut that has ever sprung from a sorcerer’s shell,” the scarecrow said. With his muscular tail, Iblis managed to move the arm of the Bootzamon, pointing a stuffed glove at an adjacent bush. “See that bush,” he said, “the one with the broad-bladed leaves? That’s the Omphalos Bush. It yields one nut every epoch.”
Scarecrow clarified: “Let’s just say, a Tyrannosaurus Rex might very well have eaten the last Omphalos Nut.”
“Wow,” the boy said.
The girl shrugged. “Guess it wasn’t very magical. All the dinosaurs are dead. We use their guts for gas.”
Iblis laughed so hard that the straw shook and an acorn eye dislodged. “You are so smart,” he said. “I can’t fool you. Perhaps you should go ahead and burn the fields. Then my work is done. No garden, no guarding.”
“Wait a minute,” the boy said. “Just how magic is this magic nut? Can it make me super-fast – like The Flash? And invisible? And strong?”
“I’d like to fly,” the girl said, beholding the full moon. “Does it make girls fly?”
Iblis used silence to set the hook.
“Tell us,” the boy squawked, sparking the lighter at his straw feet. “Or I’ll burn you up.”
“Oh my,” the scarecrow said, “you are quite persuasive. It’s just that” –
The dog barked and the porchlight from the children’s house came on. “It’s Father,” the girl said. “He’ll ruin everything.”
The boy grabbed a thatch of straw and lit it. “I’ll do it,” he threatened. “I’ll shove this up your”–
“Heavens!” the scarecrow cried. “The nut, it’s just there. In the middle of the bush. Once you say the magic word, the shell of the nut opens. Mind you, however, there is but one Omphalos Nut inside. It can’t be shared. The two of you will have to decide who gets to eat the magical botanical nut.”
The twins measured each other, studying their familiar features, gaging their twitches, ticks, and tells.
“You take it,” the girl lied. “No, you,” the boy countered.
Iblis smelled the comingled deceit; as did I, from my blind in the corn.
“Okay,” each said, concluding nothing. In the light of the Reaper’s Moon, they reached into the bush, cleaving its leaves and breaking its branches. In the very center of the shrub, the Omphalos Nut appeared. Its carapace was brown and hairy, like a tarantula’s abdomen. It was thrice the size of the Bootzamon’s squash-head.
“What do we say?” the girl asked. “To open it?” the boy asked.
I wondered what elaborate incantation Iblis would conjure. For his imagination is as vast as his lifespan. I laughed when he simply said, “The magic word, children, is please.”
The man Addams called for his kids in the reflected lunar light. The mutt retorted, giving Addams a vector. The beam of his flashlight swept over the scene, but was washed away when scads of clouds occluded the moon.
“Please,” the children pleaded in synchronicity. “Please, please, please.”
The husk of the nut shook, its shell slowly separating. The children’s hands waggled, anticipating a snatch or a grab or a slap at their opponent.
“You must be ready,” Iblis lied, “the Omphalos opens briefly. When shut, an epoch must ensue.”
“Please, please, please,” they prayed, eagerly, greedily – lusting for the nut.
I heard Addams crashing through my crops, trampling shoots and sprouts.
“Hurry,” I whispered from my blind.
“Are you ready, children?” Iblis asked. “The time has come.”
They looked up at the scarecrow’s squash head. Iblis, the legless dragon, had emerged from the thatched cavity, and was now a part of Bootzamon’s apparel – a serpentine necklace, looped treble under the gourd. He need not hypnotize them; they were already in Greed’s thrall.
The shell opened, its quarters cleaving and unfolding into blossoming spades.
Four hands lunged for the prize – the sweet, magical meat of a single nut.
“Gotcha,” we said, Iblis and I, sharing our own charmed word.
The split shell did what it always did: It opened. Then, as quickly, it closed, snapping, trapping hands in its sharp, hardened case, like an eagle’s beak. The man, Addams, arrived just in time to see his offspring engulfed by the magical botanical eating machine. Addams did what was expected. Though, his craven hesitation convinced me he would not. Alas, however, the keening screams of his kinder activated his paternal instincts. Fatally, he flew to their rescue.
On that night – the night of the Reaper’s Moon – there would be no survivors, save Iblis and me. The family of Addams was no more. Another neighbor, dispatched.
A creature of habit, I rose at 4:30 the next morning. After bathing and making my bed, I retired to my savaged garden and sat with my tea, watching the birds and bugs and ascending sun. As the dew became vapor, I contemplated the carnage of my Garden.
Iblis dragged his logy body alongside me. His sleek length was interrupted by a tubular bulge. He, like the Omphalos, had eaten well. Too well.
Iblis and I shared the silence, comfortable in our assurance that our Garden would be resurrected and its bounty restored. The Season of Vengeance was complete. The tenuous Season of Peace, begun.
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
Nolo Contendere <<Link
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