Seamus the Gnome no longer made his life a secret. He couldn't really. There were just too many people in the garden section when the full moon rose and brought him to life. He just couldn't be bothered to hide himself from them any more. Besides, one of the late-night gardeners already knew him. Was that his name? Wellsey? Something like that
The old feller wore a plastic safety hat which some keen artist had painted in camouflage colours. He stood in the gap between the impatiens and the camellias, right next to a huge thing of cast iron and bamboo that looked somewhere between an ugly garden ornament and a surprisingly attractive anti-aircraft gun.
Beside Wellsey was a young woman, also in a hardhat, scanning the skies with a pair of binoculars. A young man was clearly also supposed to be watching the skies, but his work here was hindered by frequent breaks to look at the young woman.
"Saints preserve us, and what's going on here?" Seamus said.
"Oh, it's you, Seamus," Wellsey said. "Laura, Carlos, this is Seamus."
Laura grunted a hello, and Carlos stared, boggle-eyed at Seamus.
"Whoi not take a picture? Sure and it'll last longer!"
"Stand down Carlos," Wellsey said. "He's one of ours. I should have warned you, I forgot he comes to life under the full moon. How have you been Seamus?"
"Inanimate, thank you very much. But yer ain't said what's going on?"
Seamus looked into the end of his pipe. He picked a twig from the ground and with it he cleaned out the bowl. "Go on."
"We're worried about aerial attack," Laura said. "And we think they'll use the full moon's light to their advantage."
"I see," Seamus said, raising his pipe to his eye to inspect his work. Finding it wanting, he went back to cleaning.
"So we're waiting here in case they attack," Carlos said.
"Sure, and that was implied," Seamus said, sticking the stem of the pipe back in his mouth. "Now d' thing is, y'see, the thing is… Why is a hardware centre about to bomb another hardware centre? Isn't dat… a little… you know… feckin' insane?"
The gunners looked at each other, then back to Seamus. "You kind of had to be there," Carlos said.
"Faith and bedad!" Seamus said. "Well, sure and if you're right, I'm in wit' ye. Won't have 'em causing trouble with me plants, so I won't. I got good eyes and better ears and I stand ready to help."
Wellsey squatted down and laid a calloused hand on Seamus' little glazed shoulder. "Thanks mate," he said. "I'm bustin' and I didn't think anyone would be relieving me for another hour."
As he marched off—double, or possibly triple time – Seamus climbed up the AA gun and sat behind the target finder, fighting the urge to make machinegun noises.
Carlos stared at him, his round face full of wonder. "So you're a living gnome?"
"If yer call dis livin'."
Confusion replaced wonder on Carlos' features. "I mean, you're like a garden gnome somehow animated? Are you, like, an actual gnome? A spirit being? Or…"
"No, no, I'm a very tiny golem, so I am," Seamus said. "One o' dem Jewish priests…"
"No, one up from dat," Seamus said. "Like a Jewish monseigneur, or maybe a bishop. He put a spell on me, so as I can protect the Prague ghetto. Guess it ain't as big a job as it once was, so and it ain't."
Confusion fled Carlos' face, to be replaced with the look of a man who wants to call someone a liar, but is only ninety five percent certain that he's right. It was a very specific look.
"I'm going to see what's keeping Wellsey," he said, walking off.
Seamus looked up at Laura, who looked down at him with a wryly.
"You know I was just pulling his leg?" Seamus said.
"Yeah," Laura said, going back to her binoculars. "You're a Type III mineral animate, probably the result of excessive Class 2 mystical energies in or near the manufacturing facility you come from. Golems are Type I mineral animates."
Something about this response irritated Seamus intensely. "Sure, you're Voyager, the superhero."
"You do have good eyes," Laura said. "Most people can't spot that. No idea why, exactly. I only wear this tiny little mask."
"Oh," Seamus said. "So why don't you just go smash up the DIY Barn with yer powers?"
"Rules. Being a superhero doesn't work like that. Besides, I need to save my strength for…"
"You know that Carlos is sweet on yez?" Seamus said.
Finally a reaction. Laura put her binoculars down, then quickly put them back to her face. "You think so?"
"I think so. What's more I think you're sweet on him."
Laura twitched very slightly but said nothing.
"Ah, big people!" Seamus laughed. "You can't do nothin' without some sort of drama. Here's an ideal situation—all parties want the same thing. So what do yer do? Do yer say great, 'we all want some, so let's have sex with our weird meaty genitalia?' No. Yer get feckin' paralysed."
Laura turned and glared at him, but whatever she was about to say was interrupted by the return of the boys, adjusting their belts as they passed the azaleas. Laura narrowed her eyes at Seamus, who beamed at her, his teeth pearl white against the brown enamel of his beard.
"Thanks, Seamus, I needed that," Wellsey said. "We're being relieved around midnight, but I needed some relief before then, if you know what I mean."
"Faith and… shhh!"
The big people fell silent as Seamus cocked his ear. "Incoming!" he said in an urgent whisper.
A black shape darted in front of the moon, and was gone into the black.
"Glider," Wellsey said. "Too fast! Axel said if they were carrying explosives or something, it would slow them down."
"When did he say that?" Laura asked.
"When they were shovin' him in the back of the police van,"* Wellsey said. "I was taking notes. He was doing his villain voice. Never heard him do that before. It carries really well."
"That's for sure," Laura sighed. "Uh… I've heard.
"That's impressive, hearing a glider," Carlos said. "Those are some good ears."
"Sure, and I heard no glider," Seamus said. "I heard that."
The others could hear it now, the low rumble propellers over the rear wall of the garden centre, somewhere behind the cast iron wall-art and mounds of faux-Tuscan pots. It was over the wall in a moment – a silvery cigar-shape, perhaps the size of a large bus.
"Okay," Wellsey said. "Okay. Fucking seriously. I mean… Okay."
They all watched a little longer as the airship struggled forward.
"How strong d'ye reckon that headwind is?" Seamus asked. As he turned to ask the question, he noticed that Laura and Carlos were holding hands.
"Two knots, maybe," Wellsey said. "Well, no rush, but we should probably aim that AA gun."
Laura and Carlos began cranking handles on the gun furiously, while Wellsey stood behind and watched the airship through the viewfinder.
"Steady," he said. "Steady. All right, got it in sight. It's moving backwards a bit, reckon the wind is picking up. I think we can just about hit it. It'll land in the Place O'Pets loading bay, I reckon. Whoever's inside it won't fall far. Just need to pull the trigger. You want to do it, Mr Gnome?"
"Sure and why not?" Seamus said.
"Just press that," Wellsey said, gesturing to a doorbell button glued onto a the back of the contraption."
"By all the Saints, today is a foin day to be alive!" Seamus said, pressing with his whole right hand.
The gun was surprisingly quiet as it spat a stream of glowing projectiles at the tiny airship. The blimp's envelope caught fire immediately, the bright flames spreading rapidly across its front section. A silver-clad man threw himself from the tiny one-man gondola but, as Wellsey had said, he didn't have far to fall.
"Shit," Wellsey said. "Just thought I'd puncture it. Let the helium…"
Wellsey never finished that sentence. With a damp, wet 'thump!' the burning blimp exploded.
"Don't reckon that was helium," Seamus said. Something burning caught his eye, and he looked upwards to see some piece of airship descending towards the gun. Instinctively he, leapt for safety in the sturdy branches of a nearby fiddle-leaf fig. Wellsey staggered backwards too, as the piece of burning metal came down like a falling star into mechanism of the gun.
Seamus watched, horror on his ceramic eyes as Carlos leapt towards Laura. Probably he meant to push her to safety, but Seamus heard several of his bones break as he collided with her invulnerable body. She swung him away, shielding him from the gun. That was the last Seamus saw before the explosion threw his tiny body towards the garden centre wall.
The last thought that passed through his head before impact was: "Sure, and it'll be another four weeks before I even know if I feckin' died."
* This may be confusing. Don't worry. It will become more confusing later.