The way things were going, he was never going to find a gardener. He was too poor to afford the members of the Earthian Design guild, none of his friends liked getting more than their boots dirty (and they usually tried to avoid that), the lesser gardeners were all booked for the season because of the oncoming harvest, and he... Well he had a long history of killing plants. It was something about his dedication, maybe he payed too much attention? He always watered plants diligently according to what the salesperson said, and he always put them in the proper solar gradient... But they still died.
He looked over the land in front of his house, a hodgepodge collection of weeds, rocks, and dying flowers. Instead of a vibrant green, everything had a tint of brown to them. Even the dandelions were more orange than bright yellow. And the bushes by the road that outlined his property? Well, they were brown around the edges - yesterday.
Blinking slowly as if to clear the illusion from his mind, he looked away and then looked back. They were... green... and bushier... and trimmed? Properly trimmed, not liked his hacking attempts that made the bushes look like they were mauled by a rampaging squirrel. He walked forward carefully, just in case the bushes had also developed carnivorous tendencies.
The earth along their roots looked like it had recently been turned, but other than that, he did not see any reason for their remarkable recovery. Kneeling down on the softened earth, he looked under the bushes. There was nothing there either.
“What in the world?” He mumbled, unnerved. “Maybe the plants decided they like me after all!”
As he went back into the house to call his friends, he did not hear the grunt from the patch of upturned earth by the bushes. He was too excited.
The next morning, he got out of bed, eagerly going through his morning routine so he could go outside and see if the garden fairies had done anything overnight. As he was putting on his shirt the phone rang. “Peter here.”
[Hey Pete!] A familiar voice shouted. The man put the phone away from his ear a little, his neighbor Mike came in two settings: loud and louder. [I tried talking to you last night in your garden but you just grunted and kept your head down. I really want to know how you did that disappearing trick, by the time I looked behind the bushes you were gone! Is that any way to treat your favorite neighbor? I thought we were friends man!]
“What time did you see me?” He asked, bemused. “I went to bed at ten o’clock Mike.”
[But I saw someone in your garden around midnight when I got back from work. Are you trying to pull my leg?]
“No, seriously. I went to bed after my shows.”
[Well I saw someone man. Maybe you should call the cops.]
“I’ll just take a look around... I don’t want to bother them if nothing happened.”
[Wait ten minutes, I’ll come over just in case.]
“I hardly think they’d hang around all night if they did not want to steal anything, and I don’t see anything wrong inside. The door’s still locked too.”
[I’m still coming over. You can’t be too relaxed when something like this happens Pete, maybe they set up a trap or something.]
“If it makes you feel better,” Peter shrugged, sitting on the small bench by the shoe closet to put his on. He tucked the phone between his shoulder and his head.
[I’m just putting on my shoes now, I’ll be right over.]
Peter put the phone done onto the bench and started to tie his laces. Mike meant well, but there was nothing to worry about. This was not the kind of neighborhood that had a high crime rate, and he was not a woman afraid for her safety. He could handle it.
As the front door swung open and the morning light warmed his face, he looked around his property. The garden, as he expected, was devoid of any human faces and so was the patch on the side of his house by the oil tank.
“Mike was probably too tired to see straight.” He decided, turning a rock upside down to see if there was anything living under it. Seeing that it was also deserted, he left it that way.
“PETER! I thought I told you to wait!” His neighbor yelled. Mike was a short man who always dressed too stylishly to ever do honest work with his hands, though he did admit it would help him get rid of the gut that had developed throughout his years of sitting in an office. Right now, he was sweaty and irritated, his breathing a little ragged. “What if there was someone here?”
“You would have called an ambulance if I got hurt and the other guy would have run away by now. It’s been over seven hours since you saw the guy Mike, why would he stick around this long without doing anything?”
“Maybe he was spying on you to figure out your daily patterns so it would be easier to sneak in and steal something.”
“I haven’t seen him.”
“Lets take another look and then you are taking me out for lunch to make up for scaring me like that!”
By the time he got rid of Mike, it was time to go to work so he only had time to do a quick once-over of the garden to see if the garden fairies had actually done anything the night before. Nothing seemed to be different, though if he had looked at the rock he had turned over earlier, he may have noticed that it was now the way it had been.
It was almost eleven o’clock by the time that Peter got home, so inspecting the garden for any changes did not seem viable in the moonlight. It was a clear night, and the moon was fairly full, but there were plenty of obstacles in the garden and he did not want to trip and hurt himself. Instead, he sat on the couch in front of the television and started to go through a bowl of sliced apples with a bit of cinnamon powder sprinkled on top. He flicked through the channels, decided that he did not care for anything, but started to watch the discovery channel anyway.
He woke up fully alert without know why, or when he fell asleep. The television was still on, the audio a soft drone that had probably lulled him into sleep, and with it a slight flashing of the display as predator stalked prey. The house itself was not silent, he could hear the drone of the air-conditioner, the hum of the fridge, the groan of old lumber. But he did not think anyone else was in the house with him, the danger -or what ever woke him- was not that close.
He rubbed the crusty bits out of his eyes -he hadn’t been asleep that long had he?- After muting the television, he crept to the window and peeked out, making a small gap in the curtains. The moon’s light was muted by the cloudy sky, but the lamp post in front of his house shed enough light for him to see most of the garden. Something moved.
Quickly, he ran towards front door and grabbed an umbrella from the stand before opening the door. The shadow in the garden moved as soon as the door opened. “Wait!” He yelped, running into the garden after the shadow. “Did you help my bushes?”
The shadow froze, as if stunned by the first question out of Peter’s mouth. It had not had that reaction before. “UHhhh...”
Peter slowed, thinking that a more sedate approach may not scare away the potential gardener. “I just noticed the improvement and wanted to know if you were the one who was working on my garden... Are you?”
The figure turned around slowly, its torn garments smelling of age and soil. In the low light, Peter could barely make out the man’s face, though he thought it was a man because of the broad shoulders and narrow hips. “...yes...” His voice was low, slow, and cautious.
“Do you want to work for me then? I mean, really work? Not at night of course, but during the day when you can see properly and that.”
“Can’t what?” Peter asked, dejected. Maybe he should not have said anything, then this stranger may have continued his help; he was scaring away another gardener.
“Not day.” The stranger groaned. “Bright. Hot. Dry.”
“But can you see properly at night? I mean, there’s the lamp post but... Well.. And do you have a place to sleep, you look like you’ve been sleeping on the ground.”
“I fine. Green stuff not.” He said sternly.
Peter hung his head. “I tried everything I could think of... But they all die anyway and that’s why I wanted to hire a gardener but no one was available or they charged too much. I always wanted to be surrounded by a dense, green garden full of healthy plants but as you can see; I only managed dirt and yellow-ish stems. So will you help me? I can’t pay you much, but I we can work something out right?”
“... Yes... “
“Do you have an agency I have to contact or is it just you? Do you do pro bono work? But you know I am willing to pay... I just don’t have much cash right now because I keep spending my money on plants and then they die so I have to get more and then they die... Sorry, I’m babbling again. Do you have a card?”
“... Yes...” He routed through his pockets, found a few random things that may have broken off bigger objects at some point, and presented Peter with a yellowed, bent card.
Zombie Gardeners Ltd.
Who better to tend for your land than those who lie in it?
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