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Sun glittered on the gray, cracked pavement that divided two rows of identical houses. Houses with identical gardens, splotches of faded green and parched yellow. On the scorched straight ribbon of road, a child galloped past, dragging a cherry-red wagon containing a cowering dog wearing a miniature pink bonnet. A sprinkler spurted water into the stagnant air, and a rainbow materialized, suspended for a fleeting moment in a sparkling sunbeam.
In this idyllic panorama of suburban America, among the multitude of uniform abodes, one house contained an element of variation not readily apparent. Beneath a sagging, withered sapling, in the scant shade provided by the shadow of the young tree under a noon-time sun, crouched a jolly, colorful lawn ornament: a garden gnome.
“Day’s been rather slow today, huh, Stu? Not many humans out and about,” said Arthur the garden gnome, yanking at his white beard.
“Yup, Arthur,” replied Stu the lizard. “On days like these I wished I worked on the inside, like Fred the piggy bank.”
“Yeah, or like Dave the shoe. That’s one dedicated agent, that is. He follows humans around everyday, everywhere they go. Doesn’t just observe like we do. Gets some excitement, Dave does,” said Arthur.
“I know how you feel, Arthur. I tried transferring to the city last year, for the excitement, but my wife almost killed me!” said Stu, rolling his glittering eyes.
“My wife’s just as bad. Can you believe she called Bob from the Labor Bureau demanding I get a shorter workday last month? Woman doesn’t understand that our hours can’t be controlled. We stay out until the humans we’re assigned to fall asleep. Martha can be so dumb sometimes!” said Arthur, raising his hands in irritation.
“Yeah. Barbara doesn’t understand my job either. Doesn’t respect it like she like she did when we were dating. She used to love that I was so mysterious, working for the United Non-Human Secret Service, but now she wishes I’d quit and that we’d move to the country, away from humans,” exclaimed Stu, shaking his head and pursing his lips.
“You don’t say?” replied Arthur.
“Yeah. She’s terrified, she is. Believes all that ballyhoo about humans eating lizards that my brother said to scare her. Didn’t help that George the frog from the Labor Bureau got run over last week. Barbara won’t hush up about moving to the country. Says I need to stay safe for the kids,” said Stu, raising his eyebrows.
“That’s nothing! My wife’s even worse. One time, she actually asked me why we have to watch humans! Can you believe it? That’s women for you!” snorted Arthur in frustration.
“The audacity!” gasped Stu.
“I know!” said Arthur through his teeth. “And to top it off, Charles heard about it. Charles! During the last weekly meeting, you know, the one in which we report our findings about our humans? Charles, our boss, told me he’d cut back on my vacation if he heard more about my wife’s insubordination,” said Arthur, running one hand through his beard and rubbing his eye with the other.
“That unfriendly little b****** can’t stand anyone questioning the job, because if someone questions the job, they question him. So now I’m on probation! One more ‘mistake’ and I’m out,” continued an infuriated Arthur.
“Yeah, our boss can be a pain in the a** sometimes. He’s a strange one,” whispered Stu haltingly, darting his eyes back and forth.
“You know I’ve never seen him laugh? Or even smile? Not even an evil, supercilious smile?” said Arthur, raising his bushy eyebrows.
“It’s so creepy and weird. Aren’t ferrets supposed to laugh and smile a lot? Aren’t they supposed to be mischievous and cunning?” said Stu in a low voice, twining and untwining his hands.
“It scares me that Charles never shows emotion. I think he’s hiding something. I think he has agents watching not only humans, like we do, but watching non-humans. Watching us!” continued Stu in a rushed hurried whisper.
“Oh, Stu, you’re such a silly, paranoid little lizard! You think there’s agents watching us?” sniggered Arthur. “That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard!”
“Yeah? You know all those squirrels, always around in the trees, always watching? Who are they surveying Arthur? Have you ever seen them at a debriefing meeting? Have you ever heard a squirrel talk about a human they’ve been observing? They’re not monitoring humans. They’re watching us!” exclaimed Stu, jumping up in excitement.
“That’s too much, Stu!” chortled Arthur. “Non-humans watching other non-humans? You’re crazy!” Arthur raised a finger to his mouth, suppressing a laugh, and cocked one ear to the left, listening intently. “Oh hear, that? It’s the Labor Bureau croaking away! That’s the signal. Humans are asleep! Time to go home,” said Arthur, his eyes sparkling with mirth.
“See you tomorrow Arthur,” said Stu quietly, with his eyes on the ground and his lips pursed.
“Yeah, Stu! I hope you come ready with more crazy conspiracy theories. They’re hilarious!” guffawed Arthur, patting Stu on the back.
Arthur grabbed his briefcase, which was hidden behind the sapling and began on his way home, still chuckling quietly. As he approached the hollow tree that was his home, in which his wife and children were waiting, he heard a soft scuffling behind him. He turned quickly and just glimpsed a snatch of bushy tail before it disappeared. Arthur blinked twice, thinking of his conversation with Stu, but continued on his way. Shortly after, Arthur once again heard a noise: a crunching munch. Apprehensive, Arthur wheeled around swiftly, only to find a small acorn with gnaw marks lying on the ground behind him. Arthur shrugged, dismissing the shaggy tail as fabrication of his tired mind and the acorn as meaningless, and opened the door of his little house, welcomed by succulent aromas and the warm embrace of his loving wife.