The lizards were gathered outside their door. What had they done to upset them? Was it her? Did she fail to heed his warnings? Over and over he explained how things work here; it wasn’t like at home.
We must follow the rules of this new place.
He shouted her name, she came in from the other room.
â€œWhat is it dear?â€
â€œWhat did I tell you about provoking our hosts?â€
She looked perplexed. â€œWhy, what do you mean? I leave the offerings every evening, …I…I…â€ she glanced out the window at the creatures surrounding their home. â€œOh what is it now?â€ Her voice rose out of frustration and outright terror. â€œWe do all that you ask! What more do you want!?â€ She collapsed onto the sofa, burying her face in the threadbare pillow, sobbing.
Just then the scratching began. First at the door, then along the thin wooden walls. They were doing it with their wretched claws. Sighing, with a look to his wife he went to the door, opened it and greeted the largest of the lizards, who was already regarding him with a sideways stare.
He half expected the creature to say something, to make a bold pronouncement in a regal voice. But no, it continued to watch him while its tiny snakelike tongue darted out intermittently.
He dropped to his knees and clasped his hands together in supplication.
â€œWhat can I do for you oh great lizard king?
The reptile sat there, its great tail slowly thrashing back and forth on the sandy ground.
He wracked his brain trying to recall if anything out of the ordinary occurred in the last few days. Anything that could be seen as a threat or insult to these scaly masters. There was just that one thing two days ago, it was really nothing. He had been out tending the garden when one of the smaller lizards ambled over by his vegetables just picked. â€œHold on there!â€ He grabbed up the basket to keep the creature from knocking it over. It hissed at him as he pulled it out of reach. Startled, he grabbed a small zucchini out and dropped in front of the beast, who snatched it quickly with its powerful jaws, chomping. When it looked up at him as if asking for more he walked around and past it.
â€œWe need to eat too.â€ The lizard hissed again at him. The young ones have no respect, he thought. Always getting underfoot.
That’s really how this damn thing began. He and his wife had arrived here some years ago via ship. They found the perfect place to retire, spend the rest of their days in peaceful contemplation. Gardening and watching the sun rise and set. Living simply, away from people, noise and all the complications of the city. The first year was a challenge. Starting the garden and weatherproofing the little house against the torrential rains that came every winter.
Then they came. At first it was only one or two at a time. Watching them from the forest. Those damn tongues always darting in and out. It didn’t frighten them at first but they became vigilant to the curious visitors. How could they have known.
First it was two, then four. One day Helga came in from the garden. â€œGood lord! Theres’ so many! Come look!â€ He followed her outside. There were seven or eight that he could see, at the woods edge, watching them. How many more were back there that he couldn’t see? He became nervous then.
If it came down to it he felt he could fend off two or three of the creatures, but eight? He didn’t know if these things were meat eaters but he knew if they decided to attack it would get nasty.
He pushed those thoughts away, Helga didn’t need to become more alarmed than she already was.
â€œWhat are they doing?â€ â€œIt appears they are watching us.â€
â€œI don’t like it. We haven’t done anything to them.â€
â€œWell, we did move into their backyard as it were. Tore up the land, built a house. You can’t blame them for being curious.â€ He tried to sound empathetic, while really he was starting to feel paranoid. For a moment he felt outrage at these ‘things’ spoiling his sense of well being in their otherwise blissful life here. He considered a hike into the woods, a show of bravery… Then shuddered at the thought of finding himself surrounded by scaly lizards and god knows what else.
Helga stirred him from his thoughts just in time. â€œMaybe they want some food?â€
The garden was finally producing this year after a lousy winter with too much rain. It kept drowning the seedlings and washing away the dirt in the garden beds. When things eventually dried out in the spring he investigated the local terrain and noticed it was the chunky volcanic rock that held soil in place so the rain didn’t carry it off. His project then was to replicate the natural conditions in the garden by hauling buckets and buckets of the black gravel from nearby to mix with the soil they used for the garden beds. Once that was done and the garden replanted, they waited.
The seedlings came up with regular watering, so far so good. They really needed this to work as their canned and dry supplies wouldn’t last forever. Besides, lack of fresh food was making them crabby and listless. There was some sort of fruit growing in trees nearby but it was exceedingly sour, suitable only for squeezing over a bland meal of canned beans and such.
They tended the garden. It seemed this place had only two seasons, dry and wet. They had fashioned a catchment system that collected barrels of water from the roof when it rained. When that was gone it meant hauling water from a stream a considerable distance away.
The seedlings grew in the rocky soil mix. Then the rains came. They had rigged up protection of sorts- plastic sheeting draped over posts to keep the brunt of the powerful rain from blasting down on the fragile plants. The water still pooled around the garden turning the whole area into a vast mud pit. They sipped tea in the house and watched the rain pour down. During a brief respite from the showers he trudged out through the muddy yard and checked the garden. The crops looked droopy and sad but they were still there! In fact the garden as a whole was intact. The new soil mix allowed the water to percolate through without washing it away. He knew once the roots grew down some they would tap into ground moisture and watering would be less of a chore. He felt hopeful again.
By summer the garden was flourishing. The tomatoes were bursting with fruit while the zucchini plants were covered in adorable pickle-sized product. When harvest time came they had much more than they could eat or preserve. They began leaving fruit at the woods edge for the lizards who ate ravenously once they discovered it. Soon the creatures were venturing into the yard prompting him to erect a fence around the garden. The chicken wire he was using to keep birds at bay would not be much defense against the claws of these spiny things. They weren’t able to jump so his low wooden ‘wall’ sufficiently kept them away from the growing vegetables.
The months went on, the garden grew. The couple tended and harvested while sharing their bounty with the scaly denizens of this place. But, like children after a taste of candy the lizards became greedy. They loitered in the yard, dropping their noxious turds everywhere and clawing up the ground. He wished he could fence the whole place but lacked the resources for any more fence building.
Over time they went from sharing a bit of their vegetables to passing out most of them just to keep the creatures from constantly bothering them. It didn’t help, more and more kept coming. The only let up was the rainy season, when the loathsome things must shelter somewhere.
They began to feel as prisoners in their own home. Going outside was no longer relaxing as the lizards followed them about incessantly, like stray dogs after table scraps. He regretted ever feeding them.
She began to regret their decision to settle here. Whenever they spoke they quarreled so for the most part they stopped talking to each other, maintaining a sullen silence as they went about their day.
The garden, once a joyous celebration of hard work and nature’s reward, was now a chore divorced from any pleasure. They were simply growing crops to feed their jailers.
He was drinking now, to dull his senses. The ‘special occasion’ liquor was unlikely to last until the next occasion. They had both more or less stopped making meals together and subsisted on the odd snack from the pantry. She used to paint watercolors, her last work was a still life with lizards she couldn’t bear to look at now. It sat turned around on the easel.
And now they are surrounded by the filthy things.
The food they grow just isn’t enough apparently, they can grow no more. In a fit of rage and exasperation he runs out among them, between them to the garden and begins knocking down the low wooden fence. â€œHERE! YOU WANT IT ALL?! TAKE IT! TAKE WHAT WE HAVE AND LEAVE US ALONE!â€ The reptiles move back from this violent display, slithering out of the way of the flying dirt and slats of wood. Broken, he returns to the dwelling where he collapses into a chair, head in hands.
She watched this display from the window. Now she turns to him, her eyes wide. â€œNow you’ve done it, you’ve finished us. Why in god’s name would you do that!?â€
He doesn’t respond. She continues. â€œYou’re a fool. You’ve always been a miserable excuse for a man and now you’ve done that.â€ He slowly looked up at her. Realizing that this was all her doing. If she hadn’t put out food for the beasts in the first place none of this would have occurred.
The rage that filled him him burst forth and with a savage yell he lunged at her. His large dirty hands grabbing hold of her throat. â€œGOD DAMN YOU!â€ Her eyes bulged as he squeezed tighter around her neck. â€œGOD DAMN YOU.â€ All his fury, all his hate for her and this wretched place poured out through his hands as he choked the miserable life from her.
Then it was over. He realized he was holding a dead woman by the throat. With a gasp he let go, her body thudding to the floor. He cried out. Falling to his knees, suddenly aware of the enormity of what he had just done. She was gone. Gone forever because of him. She was right, oh god she was right!
He was no kind of man! Killing, MURDERING the only woman he had ever loved! Why!? Oh WHY!?
He got up and stumbled into the bedroom, careening off furniture all the way. Reaching the footlocker in the corner he threw open the lid, yanking out the tray and rummaging until he found what he needed. The old revolver was wrapped in oilcloth, unused since his service days. It was still loaded of course.
Must act quickly, must get this thing done. Now before I change my mind, lose my resolve. Gun loaded, cock gun. Point just under chin…
BAM. His dead body slumped to the bedroom floor, minus the part of his head that landed on the bed.
The noise barely registered to the lizards gathered outside, who had mostly shuffled off after the garden outburst. The newly revealed garden itself was unimpressive as all the ripe produce had been picked, what remained was small, withered and sour.
It would hardly matter in time, for there were now small tomato and zucchini plants growing all over the forest. The lizards, carrying plant seeds in their gut had been propagating the plants through their noxious turds. Noxious due to the high nitrogen content that caused the plants to thrive.