What do odd socks, flipflops, a tractor, a can of hairspray, a sombrero, a fishing rod, mouldy bread, the moon, a raincoat and a bottle containing noxious liquid have in common?
Except that they appeared in a list of twenty-five items from which I had to choose at least ten and include them all in a story of fewer than 2,000 words. The list was the May prompt from my writing group, the Basildon Writers’ Meetup.
So, without further ado, here’s my story ‘The Sweet Smell of Success’, which contains odd socks, flipflops, a tractor… (you get the picture). So, I invite you to take a stroll through the Garden and meet the garden ornaments but just keep downwind of the toad…
The Sweet Smell of Success
by Dawn Knox
Gusty Bob made for the small gap in the back row. There was no way he could fit into such a tiny space, even with the aid of the slimy mucous that covered his ample proportions but he’d noticed that in similar situations, space seemed to magically appear and on this particular occasion, he was confident the guys would make room for him without any fuss.
At the right hand side of the gap that was Gusty Bob’s intended insertion point, Crispin, the marble elf, went rigid, shuffled to the left to fill the gap, then thought better of it as a long leg and webbed foot shot past his shoulder. He’d been too slow and the only option was to slide rapidly to the right, into Sylvester.
“Watch it!” Sylvester grunted, elbowing Crispin in the ribs. Gusty Bob slipped into the tiny gap, which had expanded when the frantic shuffling of bottoms, resulted in two people at the end of the row being forced off their toadstools. There was now sufficient room for his width, including a buffering zone on either side. As he settled down, Crispin took in a lungful of air to compensate for being winded by Sylvester and simultaneously, the stone toad lived up to his moniker – Gusty Bob. Noxious gas was ejected from both ends of his slimy amphibian body, filling the air with the fumes of decaying flies, worms and other rotting detritus.
Crispin coughed and spluttered. Others further away giggled and tittered, confident the evil cloud would have dissipated before it reached them.
“Order! Order!” Bartrum banged a rock with his gavel and scowled at the rows of assembled garden ornaments.
Gnomes, elves and assorted animals and birds snapped to attention as he adjusted his glasses, tugged at his beard and scowled at them all.
“This sort of behaviour is typical of your lack of commitment to the aestheticalness of this garden…”
“Ees what?” whispered Sylvester.
“I think he means the garden is a shambles,” replied Crispin.
Bartrum adjusted his hat and carried on.
“This cannot be allowed to continue. Rules will be enforced…”
“And I will be closely watching the situation…”
“You and whose army?” muttered Sylvester.
“…assisted by my newly appointed cohort of monitors…”
The audience sat up as one, eyes swiveling, looking for anyone who might be an informer.
“…who I will now appoint,” finished Bartrum.
Suddenly, everyone seemed to find their feet completely fascinating.
“You, you and you!” said Bartrum, pointing out two hapless gnomes and a wooden robin “And you and you!” he said, indicating Gusty Bob and Crispin. The toad’s sharp intake of breath eventually had to find release but by this time, Crispin was holding his nose.
The gap between Gusty Bob and the two gnomes, one elf and wooden robin increased imperceptibly until Bartrum, who was issuing orders, found he was having to turn his head from side to side to keep everyone in view.
The gap stabilised.
“Correct uniforms must be worn. With immediate effect. So far today, I’ve seen gnomes wearing raincoats, sombreros, flipflops. This will not do. Everyone needs to be in regulation uniform. And you!” he pointed at the wooden robin, “You’re wearing odd socks.”
The robin blushed, “I’m s…so sorry but I’m red-green colour blind and I sometimes get confused…”
“Ah, that explains the green bib. I was coming to that next…”
The robin looked down at his chest in horror.
“Well, just do your best…” said Bartrum, faltering slightly when he saw a fat tear roll down the stricken robin’s beak.
He turned back to the others. “You will check all equipment is in working order. Nevison’s fishing rod no longer has a hook. What’s the point of a fishing gnome who can’t catch fish? And if Perkins thinks it’s funny he’s swapped his toadstool for a toy tractor, then you need to convince him otherwise. Understood?”
The team of monitors nodded and Gusty Bob let loose a loud belch.
Bartrum winced and the gap widened once more between the toad and the other monitors.
“You have until full moon to ensure this garden is once more a place of aestheticalation.”
“Ees what?” whispered the wooden robin.
“Clean and tidy,” replied Crispin.
“It appears the smartening up of this garden is quite beyond you!” said Bartrum to his monitors three days later. “I see very few improvements…and I’m not happy. I’m not happy at all. Why are there still gnomes out of uniform? I’m thinking specifically of Jubbly.”
Crispin took one step forward and three sideways, away from Gusty Bob. “Well, Sir, I asked him to change back into uniform but he said he was having an identity crisis and that he had to find his inner self. Once he’d done that, he’d wear whatever was appropriate.”
“I see, well that explains the curling tongs and can of hairspray, I suppose. I have to say his feminine side seems to be winning. But that doesn’t explain the sombrero…”
“He feels he may be a Mexican trapped in the body of a woman, trapped in the body of a gnome…”
“Well, he, she or Gonzalez had better make up their mind very soon because Ofsted inspectors are due by the end of summer and you know what happens if they put you in special measures…” he paused dramatically.
They all gasped in horror. Gusty Bob’s breakfast of squashed earthworm and mouldy bread had been fermenting nicely within his batrachian intestines and the resulting methane had inflated them almost to breaking point, so a gulp of air had been most unwise. His internal gaseous pressure became critical. Something had to give…and it gave, resulting in a prolonged, thunderous blast that manifested itself as a green haze which floated upwards into the morning air.
They reconvened at the bottom of the garden, after it had been ascertained the noxious cloud was floating towards the house.
“No need to prolong this meeting,” said Bartrum, nervously eying Gusty Bob, “I have only one thing more to say. Since you seem incapable of enforcing the rules, I will bring in a troubleshooter…”
Crispin’s elation was short lived. Rather than being dismissed as he’d hoped, he found that he was now part of a disciplinary force, under the direct command of the newly appointed leader.
“And who is the troubleshooter?” Crispin asked.
Bartrum tucked his briefcase securely under his arm, glanced anxiously at Gusty Bob and rocked onto the balls of his feet as if about to take flight.
“Susan,” he said and fled.
“Susan?” asked the small gnome, “Who’s Susan?”
A shiver ran down Crispin’s spine as he realised who Bartrum meant.
The shock had been so great, it momentarily deprived him of his senses or he’d have followed Bartrum and escaped before Gusty Bob got wind of the troubleshooter’s identity and particularly before they all got wind of Gusty Bob.
Instead, he blurted out, “Oh no, he’s put Spiteful Sue in charge!”
The wooden robin’s knees gave way. “No!” he wailed, as he sank to the earth.
“What’re we going to do?” asked the small gnome.
“We’re going to run,” said Crispin, ushering everyone away from the toad, “you know what Spiteful Sue did to Gusty Bob the last time she was here.”
Thankfully, Crispin, the two gnomes and the robin made it into the begonias before Gusty Bob realised what was going on.
“No!” he yelled, venting his anger and simultaneously venting a rather large volume of methane. The green cloud floated up into the plum tree, leaving seared leaves in its wake.
Crispin, the two gnomes and the wooden robin met in secret by the pond that evening. They didn’t deliberately exclude Gusty Bob but then again, they didn’t try too hard to find him either.
“It’s just as well he’s not here,” said Crispin, “he gets much too agitated when the subject of Spiteful Sue comes up. I know cats have a good sense of smell and I can see why Gusty Bob might annoy her but what she did with that cork was really quite unnecessary.”
“This is all going to end in tears,” said the robin, who was fulfilling his own prophesy. He wiped his beak noisily. “As soon as Spiteful Sue turns up, Gusty Bob will be so nervous he won’t be able to control himself.”
“I hope she doesn’t arrive before that green gas-cloud disappears or she might do what she apparently threatened the last time she was here,” said the small gnome.
“What was that?” asked the robin.
“She said his aroma upset her feline sensibilities and if he couldn’t control his emissions, she’d fit him with a catalytic converter.”
“Feline sensibilities,” said Crispin thoughtfully, “Hmm, I wonder…”
Later that evening, Crispin found Gusty Bob hiding under an upturned flowerpot. They talked far into the night and finally, Crispin handed the toad a large bag. He took it, saluted gravely and shuffled off into the begonias.
“What d’you mean he’s gone?” squeaked the small gnome indignantly, “That’s just great! As if it’s not bad enough being ordered about by a Nazi cat, we’re now down to three men.”
“Four,” corrected the wooden robin.
“Three,” said the small gnome firmly. “No one in this garden takes a robin wearing odd socks seriously…”
“Enough!” said Crispin, “If my plan works, Spiteful Sue won’t be needed, the task force can disband and the garden can go back to normal.”
“We’re listening,” said the small gnome, elbowing the robin out of the way.
Bartrum banged his gavel on a rock, dislodging a snail which lost its grip and slithered back down its slime trail with a whimper.
“Congratulations,” said Bartrum shaking his head in wonder, “I don’t know how you did it, especially with Susan disgracefully deserting us.” He beamed at everyone. “You all look resplendable!”
“Re what?” asked the robin.
“He’s saying we look nice,” said Crispin.
The early morning sun was barely peeping over the top of the hedge when Crispin opened one eye. Today would be the sort of day a garden was made for he decided and turned over for another snooze. For the first time in ages, he could relax. Spiteful Sue had gone, Gusty Bob was back from his ‘holiday’ and Bartrum was off to stay with his cousin for a week.
And all it had taken was a length of rubber tubing, a bottle of water and instructions to Gusty Bob ‘to infuse the water with a unique fragrance’ and then to book a short holiday. Crispin had liberally sprinkled drops from the bottle of noxious liquid around the garden and after a hissy fit, Spiteful Susan had left.
In a hastily convened meeting, Crispin pointed out to the garden ornaments that observing Bartrum’s strict rules – just for a day or two – would be advantageous to everyone. Thankfully, everyone cooperated and even Jubbly agreed that he could explore his gnome persona for a few days and wear regulation clothes. After all, as he pointed out in a heavy Mexican accent, what he wore as underwear, was his own affair.
Yes, a disaster had been averted and it was all thanks to Crispin and now the whole garden could relax.
The frantic knock at the door told him otherwise.
It was Bartrum, his hat askew and his buttons all done up incorrectly.
“Get up! There’s no time to lose! There’s a party of Ofsted inspectors on their way…”
“I’ll be right there,” said Crispin, scooping up the bottle of noxious liquid prepared by the toad.
He had to alert everyone to best behaviour and if on his way round the garden, he just happened to drip a few drops of the concoction, well, it might just persuade the inspectors to cut short their stay.