The gnome's name was something simple, though he'd long forgotten it by the time he was limping through trash on the side of the road that wet, dark morning. He had spent so long roaming from one garbage pile to another it didn't seem odd to him anymore. In fact, when he heard tires rolling by he didn't even bother to stiffen up. The humans would be paying attention to far more interesting things than him. He hardly ever had a reason to go immobile. No humans came near enough to be of concern and, anyways, his movements didn't exactly break any speed records nowadays. If someone did happen to see his slow shuffle in motion, no doubt they would pass it off as a glint of sunlight in their eye.
Even so, when the tires stopped moving and car doors opened and slammed shut, the gnome froze where he was. His heart no longer pitter-pattered with anticipation. His ears no longer followed their movements to see how close they were to him, trying to measure whether or not they'd pick him up, take him home, love him. He merely waited for their sounds to fade so he could begin his trek in silence once again.
Their sounds did not fade this time. The two young, giggling ladies went straight for the dumpster right beside him that sheltered his weary bones from the mid-day sun. They talked and they giggled and made grossed out noises as they filtered through the waste in the bin. The old gnome, the one with a name, probably would have wondered what two female humans were doing in a dumpster in an alley, but he no longer cared. It was none of his business. It only involved him when one of the girls slipped and fell off the side of the dumpster, landing on her touche with a grunt and kicking him in the process. He clinked against the asphalt as he tumbled head over heels and landed with a thunk against a wall.
"What was that noise?" One of them asked.
"That was me, falling on my ass." The other responded in between pitiful moaning.
"Not that, the other noise."
"I'm fine by the way. Thanks for asking."
"Oh, you were barely off the ground. You fell, like, a foot. You'll live."
The one that wasn't in pain jumped down from the dumpster, kicked her friend out of the way, and rummaged around the plastic bags and empty soda cans littering the ground until she came across the gnome.
"Oh, look at this, Lisa." She turned the gnome over and around and inspected every part and still she did not immediately drop him on the ground. The gnome only hoped she would not deposit him inside the dumpster. It would be hell getting back out of that thing.
Lisa found her way back to her feet and grunted in her friend's general direction. "Looks all beat up to me. Put it back."
'Yes, listen to your friend. I am terribly ugly." The gnome prayed silently. 'Put me where I belong.'
"I like his character. Look at his scrunched up face and whiskers and the scepter in his hand. What do you think? Maybe it was a rake before it was broken?"
"He looks evil to me."
"Well then he's perfect."
And so the evil gnome was renamed and rehomed. He was shoved in a garbage sack in a hot trunk full of smelly objects, most likely also pilfered from dumpsters, and driven over bumps and railroad tracks to a trailer park swimming in humans. How on earth was he to escape from here?
He was admired at first, but not like he once was. This was a mocking sort of love. They took pleasure in his faults and lauded them for good. They called him Evil Gnome like he was a visiting king. He did not like it one bit. He would rather be alone. He was placed in between a faded pink flamingo with a twisted leg and a hedgehog that was missing his left ear and a tail. The garden was small but it was filled with the broken corpses of once brilliant lawn ornaments. Here they were rescued from trash bins and yard sales and given a place of prominence to be admired once again. Most of them thrived there. They had a support group that met every night after the bug zapper turned on because that meant the humans were either heading inside to sleep or out on the town to party. Either way, they weren't paying attention to the order of their lawn ornaments.
Evil Gnome was invited, of course, but he just shrugged and muttered, "who cares?," under his breath. It's not like he was staying.
They were undeterred. They smiled and invited him to join all planned activities. They assumed the scowl on his face was painted, that it had nothing to do with his character and that the bitterness was only surface deep and could be brushed aside once he was given kindness to replace it with. They had no way of knowing that he once smiled brightly or how long he was left to fend for himself after his last owner tossed him aside the morning after a rain storm picked him up and tossed him into a brick planter, chipping the pointy red hat that used to cover his white, wild hair.
Every day he thought of escape and every night he ended up in the same spot, in between a flamingo and a hedgehog. Every morning an elderly lady came out and tended the garden. She weeded and planted and tossed out the trash that gathered through the previous day. She was the first one to look at him with kindness, without laughing. She talked to him like she talked to all the other ornaments, about nothing in particular, probably for the sound of her own voice. He felt the first spark of warmth in his stomach during those times and that scared him. Humans were unpredictable. So he shrugged and thought, 'who cares,' and continued his plans for escape.
There was usually a chance to move around in the middle of the afternoon. All the humans were fed and sleeping or plopped in front of the glowing boxes in the house. There was no way Evil Gnome would be able to walk away from the house. He wouldn't get far enough in the small amount of time he had. This he knew from experience. After he had been discovered pastthe gate in front of the house and, once, all the way down the lane and then in the alley that ran behind the garden, the humans formed a stakeout to catch the young hooligans responsible for moving the gnome around. No hooligans were caught, tensions relaxed and Evil Gnome began thinking of alternatives. He could hop onto the back of a passing car or truck, but that was dangerous and difficult with short arms.
He only made the mistake of trying to enlist help once. The rest of the lawn ornaments were deluded into thinking they were happy. They would beg him to stay whenever he attempted escape and they would console him every time he was brought back, scowling deeper and planning bigger.
"It's not so bad," They would say.
"We can help you if you let us," They would say.
"We're all here for you." The hedghog whispered late one night.
But Evil Gnome knew better. There was no such thing as happiness. So he shrugged his shoulders and muttered, "Who cares."
In time, his diligence paid off. He noticed a white truck that stopped in the same place every day, at the same time. It had wide open doors that never closed so the driver could easily hop out and place papers and envelopes into small, square boxes. If he could time this right, he could hop in without anyone noticing.
The hedgehog noticed the gleam in Evil Gnome's eyes one day as he watched the humans in the house and checked the streets. It was a hot day. Anyone with any sense was in front of a fan. Evil Gnome was going for it. The hedgehog took a breath to say something, but let it out with a sigh. He knew what Evil Gnome would say and he was tired of hearing it. Most of the others felt the same way. Cherry was the ony one who wished him well.
Evil Gnome only rolled his eyes as he slipped through the crack in the low wire fence. "Who cares." He snapped back.
Evil Gnome kept to the sides of the road, for once grateful for all the random boxes and tumbleweeds to have something to hide behind. He got to the white truck, but the opening was just out of his reach, even when he jumped. But luck was with him. The driver was having troubles gettting the last of the boxes open. Evil Gnome was able to use the tire to boost himself into the front of the mail truck. He landed with a thunk against a box of letters. He stumbled back right at the edge, gravity tipping him backwards. The other ornaments, hovering by the fence, gasped. But Evil Gnome whirled his arms with just the right flare and righted his balance. He was safe. He was getting out of there. For the first time in a long time he felt happy. He turned around to wave at the ornaments and gave them an actual smile. He wished, briefly, that he'd said more to them than just those two words. He may have wished for more, but at that moment the driver hoped into her seat, started the engine and tossed her empty basket right where Evil Gnome was waving, not paying attention. The bucket knocked him into the street. That alone would have left him with just a few scrapes and bruises, but he was right in the path of the wheels without enough time to move.
The lawn ornaments by the fence stared, wide-eyed, not believing what just happened until too much time went by without Evil Gnome getting back up. He was in too many pieces.
"Should we go get him?" Cherry asked tentatively. "See if there's enough to patch together?"
Hedgehog shrugged. "Who cares?"