Harold expected the lizard to scurry into the ground cover, but then — one hand on a knee to support himself — he knelt and lifted the limp body by the tail. “Damned cats.” He scowled at his neighbor’s house.
With a grunt, he raised himself and examined the lifeless form in his hand. It’s young. Ought to have outlasted me.
The compost heap lay at the end of his lot, and he considered taking the lizard there, but as he shuffled over the brick walkway, his gaze fell on the circle of upright stones to his left. He grinned a crooked grin. Why not? And veered off the path through the horse herb that blanketed the yard.
A few years ago, the large, rectangular stones had been discovered during an excavation on his block. “They must’ve been part of an old walkway,” he said to the workers in passing. “Want to get rid of them?” A mound of earth was left over from the digging of a fish pond in his back yard, and as soon as he saw the stones he thought to encircle the mound with them, like a little Stonehenge with a hump in the middle.
After the stones were placed, and the vegetation grown up a bit, a matron from the library visited. “The structure’s quite old,” he said. “On the solstices, the light used to shine through these two vertical stones onto the heel stone over there. But that hasn’t happened in a long time; the neighborhood’s built up so.”
She regarded the nearby houses askance. “What a shame,” she said, and went on to examine his black iris.
Harold never told her it was a joke.
Standing, now, at the edge of the stone ring, he tossed the lizard onto the top of the mound. It landed upside down, its white underbelly stark against the green blades of monkey grass.
Later, as he knelt in the soft earth weeding his bed of dahlias, he frowned. Depositing the tiny body on the Stonehenge mound no longer seemed a cute idea; gardens were for the living. But when he returned to the mound, the lizard was gone.
He peered beneath the shrubs along the fence and then beneath the tall, Pampas grass. “At least they could leave the corpse alone,” he muttered and stalked into the house, the screen door slamming behind him.
The next morning he returned to the house after an early hospital visit, gauze in the crook of one arm. Why did they always have to draw blood at the crack of dawn?
Thinking to get an early start on his chores, Harold dragged the pitchfork to the compost heap at the back of his lot. The decaying leaves and grass turned with ease, but the last forkful contained a clutch of tiny, white eggs. Damn! The cats were giving the herps in his garden a hard enough time without him destroying their nests. Must be snake eggs, he thought, remembering the rat snake he had seen earlier in the spring.
He picked up the soft, leathery eggs and gently carried them to the Stonehenge mound. After clearing the grass, he deposited them on the top of the mound and covered them with a bit of earth.
Snake eggs, he recalled from Herpetology 101, would die if they were not reburied right side up, so each egg had a fifty-fifty chance that he’d positioned it correctly — not the worst odds for survival. And besides, maybe the circle of stones would bestow some kind of beneficence on the transplanted eggs.
Two days later, he slipped between the big stones and bent for a closer look. Little holes riddled the earth. Pleased that he had saved at least some of the snakes, he scraped back the dirt. Crumpled egg sacks were all he found: twenty-three, the exact number he had buried. How was that possible? The odds that he had positioned every egg correctly were astronomical.
He surveyed the surrounding ring of stones with suspicion, but there was no time to ponder the blessed event: another doctor’s appointment.
Two hours later, he pulled his gray Taurus into the carport, braking quickly to stop. Prolong life for what, to be tortured with radiation? Almost, he didn’t see the furry body in the leaves by the fence.
He was not fond of Squirrels. They scattered the seed in his bird feeders and chewed the wires on his Christmas lights. Still, he hated to find one dead. It hadn’t been there this morning when he left, he was certain of it.
“I’ve lost my mind,” he said as he laid the body on the Stonehenge mound. Still, he hadn’t actually observed what had happened to the lizard or the snakes, so this time he would watch.
He dragged a lawn chair into the midst of the ground cover where he had a clear view. Glancing about, sheepishly, he trusted to the privacy fence to keep the neighbors from witnessing his folly.
When he woke, the squirrel was gone. Damned pain killers. Wonder I didn’t fall out of the chair.
Bracing himself on one of the stones, he knelt to examine the bare top of the mound. The earth was too hard to show any tracks. He groaned with pain, pushing himself back to his feet.
What the hell. I don’t care what the neighbors think. If it worked for the lizard, the snakes, the squirrel…
It took a while. He couldn’t lift but half a spade of dirt at a time, but resting frequently he managed to excavate a hole in the mound big enough in which to set his chair.
The next morning the delivery man rang the bell. No one responded, so he hefted the package and took it around back, like always. When he pushed open the redwood gate two mangy cats scampering over the fence and into the neighbor’s yard. Scattered dirt surrounded the peculiar rock garden that Mr. Gompper always kept so neat, and in its midst sat a lawn chair in a shallow hole.
Gerald Warfield‘s short story, “The Poly Islands,” won second prize in the first quarter of the 2011 Writers of the Future contest. The same year, his humorous story, “The Origin of Third Person in Paleolithic Epic Poetry,” took first place in the nationally syndicated Grammar Girl short story contest. His poetry has appeared in numerous magazines including New Myths, edited by Scott Barnes. Gerald published music textbooks and how-to books in investing before turning to fiction. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writers Workshop (2010). He is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.