All There in the (Monster) Manual are stories based on creatures from the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. Over 2022 I released a different story fitting the theme every single week and I’ve now expanded to Dungeons & Dragons’ Monsters of the Multiverse and even the Pathfinder Bestiary. Could be fantasy, science fiction, horror, or something else entirely! Check them out on the main page of the website.
This Week’s Inspiration: Gnome
Trigger Warnings: Cruelty to Animals, Cruelty to Children
Tobey didn’t trust the gnome in Ms Haberfield’s garden. Every time he went outside, he could feel its painted eyes following him, watching, waiting for something. But when he tries to get rid of it, things don’t quite go as he expects.
Tobey didn’t trust the gnome in Ms Haberfield’s garden.
Since it appeared two weeks ago, Tobey had started avoiding going out into the front yard if he could help it. At twelve-years-old, he knew it was stupid, childish. But every time he went outside or even glanced out the windows he could feel the gnome’s eyes on him. It looked like a normal garden gnome, with a jaunty red hat and red overalls over a green shirt. A pickaxe tossed against its shoulder as if it were about to whistle its way to work. About a foot-and-a-half tall from its boots to the top of its peaked cap.
Tobey hovered at the living room window and looked out. There it was, at the edge of Ms Haberfield’s porch stairs. A knowing smile quirked its lips. Its eyes looked entirely too real as they bored right into Tobey from all the way across the road.
Wordsworth whined and scratched at the front door. The cocker spaniel interpreted Tobey’s actions at the window as a precursor to going out.
“Honey, are you taking Wordy for a walk?” Tobey’s mother asked from across the house.
“I wasn’t going to, no,” Tobey said.
“Come on, take him for a walk! You haven’t taken him out in days.”
Reluctantly, Tobey fetched Wordsworth’s leash and clipped it to his collar. The dog showed no hesitation about going outside, leaping and making an excited whine. Tobey kept his eyes lowered as he left the house and walked down the driveway. When he looked up, the gnome appeared to be staring right at him. Childish, stupid, it was a dumb piece of lawn decoration, and yet Tobey couldn’t escape the uncomfortable feeling that crawled the length of his spine.
Tobey could feel the garden gnome’s painted stare on his back as he walked Wordy up the block, until they were all the way out of sight. At the end of their street the Holloway Bridge crossed a small but deep ravine. Strips of nature ran along both sides of the gap. Tobey steered Wordy down a dirt path. A chain link fence separated them from the dropoff, which was steep and ended in a rocky bottom covered in scrub. Wordsworth stopped every few strides to sniff or spray urine, or more often both. It gave Tobey plenty of time to think. Staring at the ravine, he found an idea forming.
Tobey circled to the next block and walked Wordsworth back up their street from the other direction. Nonetheless, as soon as he got close enough he could see the gnome staring. He knew some optical illusions could make it seem like certain paintings or statues were always watching you no matter which direction you looked at them from, but the gnome really did seem to turn to face him, only subtly, wherever he went.
Head down, Tobey reached the bottom of their driveway and turned toward the house but suddenly Wordy pulled him to a stop. The cocker spaniel’s eyes fixed on the garden gnome directly across the road. Tobey tugged on his lead. Wordy whined and backed up but seemed reluctant to turn his back on the gnome. Tobey pulled harder and both of them retreated to the house. Locking the door, he went to check the front window again. The gnome hadn’t moved, of course it hadn’t, but its eyes met Tobey’s and it smiled that knowing smile. A plan turned in Tobey’s mind.
That night, after his parents had gone to sleep, Tobey dressed again in the dark, pulling jeans and a t-shirt over his pyjama pants and pushing his feet into a pair of sneakers. After he’d been sent to bed, he’d lain awake for the last couple of hours. Stupid or not, he’d felt too amped up to sleep. Part of him wanted to laugh at himself for being so crazy, but the laughter wouldn’t come.
Creeping through the house, Tobey eased the front door open. Wordsworth, in his bed in the living room, stirred but didn’t wake. Tobey gently pushed the door closed again as he stepped outside, leaving it unlocked. He used his phone as a flashlight.
The street was a different world at night. He’d never been outside by himself this late and had underestimated just how alien it would feel. His pulse quickened. For a few long moments, he was so distracted taking it in that he forgot why he was outside to begin with.
The night air settled cool and damp on Tobey’s skin. A couple of powerful halogen lights shone down the end of the street near the entrance to the bridge. Another lamppost sat at the far end of the block, but everything in between was webbed in shadows. All the windows of the houses surrounding their own were dark, including those of Ms Haberfield’s house. Only in the distance could he hear a muffled television set. No cars went by and everything appeared still and silent.
Remembering his purpose, Tobey looked across the road to Ms Haberfield’s house. There, in the garden, the silhouette of the garden gnome with its peaked hat shadowed the corner of her front stairs. Tobey hesitated. His hand, holding his phone, shivered.
Looking both ways, Tobey crossed the empty street. He didn’t have any excuse for being outside by himself at this time of night. He couldn’t tell his parents or anyone else his real reason of course, but he didn’t know what else he could say if he was caught. He was extra cautious as he entered Ms Haberfield’s yard, feeling the spongy grass under his sneakers.
Tobey’s heart hammered against his chest as he neared the gnome. Briefly, he directed his flashlight toward the statue and immediately regretted it. Its eyes, painted on though they might be, locked directly onto his. Its smirk dared him to come closer. Was this what it wanted, somehow? To lure him in? No, no, it was a statue! It didn’t want anything. It was just a creepy statue and Tobey was going to be rid of it soon. He just wasn’t going to look at its face while he did it.
The air around the gnome felt thick, and electric. Like the coming of a storm. It was all in his head, Tobey told himself as he snuck closer and closer. His hand shook as he reached for it. His nerves screamed that something was about to happen and all it would have taken was a single sound or movement nearby to send him sprinting home. But nothing interrupted, and he grabbed the gnome. It felt cool and heavy. Heavier than Tobey expected but it came loose from the garden all the same, dirt crumbling off its little black boots.
Tobey carried the gnome awkwardly as he hurried out of Ms Haberfield’s yard, holding it away from his body like something that stank and making sure it faced away from him. Nothing and nobody stopped him as he took off down the street. Heart pumping so hard it made him feel sick, and yet a little bit thrilled, he certainly didn’t want anyone to spot him now.
The bridge was relatively new, a big erector set of steel grating and crisscrossed girders. It was only two lanes with a sidewalk down one side. The fences that ran down both sides would have been awkward to climb. Tobey carried the gnome to the middle of the bridge, over the deepest part of the ravine.
Tobey gave the garden gnome one final look. Nothing about it changed. Its level stare and knowing smile, pick tossed against one shoulder. It, of course, raised no voice in protest. Putting his phone in his pocket, Tobey could still see thanks to the halogen lights on either end of the bridge, surrounded by armies of swarming moths. He took the gnome in both hands and raised it above his head, backing away from the fence. Weighing it in his hands, he threw the statue with all of his strength.
The garden gnome arced over the top of the fence. Its smirking face caught the light. It seemed to hang in midair for a heartbeat then, twisting, turning end over end, it dropped from view. Tobey hurried back to the fence and listened. The stream winding through the bottom of the ravine was pretty small. He should have heard the gnome shatter on the rocks below but instead he heard nothing. Nothing at all.
Tobey’s parents noticed what a good mood he was in the next day. They put it down to him enjoying the school holidays but Tobey felt like a weight had been taken off his shoulders. The gnome was gone and, more importantly, nothing had happened when he got rid of it. Those spooked feelings had been in his head the whole time. He could move on and, in time, forget the whole thing ever happened.
“You’re not up to something, are you?” his mother asked. “Planning on throwing a party while we’re out tonight?”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Your father and I are going out tonight, remember? I’m only kidding! You’re going to be alright at home by yourself?”
“Oh, yeah, I’ll be fine!”
It rained on and off for most of the day so Tobey stayed inside and played video games. When his mum and dad got ready to leave it was misting and turning dark outside, on the verge of another downpour. Tobey followed them out to the driveway.
“We should be home by ten o’clock,” his mother said. “But call us if you need anything, anything at all. Keep the door locked and don’t talk to anyone.”
Tobey went to reply but the words died in his mouth. He felt his heart stop. The gnome. It was back in the same spot, at the corner of Ms Haberfield’s front steps, where Tobey snatched it from last night. But no, it was impossible. He actually rubbed his eyes to make sure he wasn’t seeing things, like in a cartoon. The same knowing smile under its black beard, the same red overalls and hat. Same eyes boring into his. It couldn’t have climbed out of the ravine by itself. It couldn’t have been recovered, it should have shattered into a hundred pieces and remained totally lost. For a few moments, Tobey thought he must have imagined the whole thing. That last night was just a dream. But no, it was real, he’d gotten rid of the garden gnome and yet now it was back.
“Tobey? Tobey, are you alright?”
Tobey snapped out of it. “Uh, yeah! I’m okay, I’m fine!”
“Okay, well, be good and call us if you need us.”
“You can order off Uber Eats, buddy. Have them leave it at the door,” Tobey’s dad said. “And only two beers from the fridge.”
“John!” his mother laughed.
“Okay, one beer. Be good, kiddo.”
Tobey watched his parents climb into the car and drive away. Rain dampened his hair. He raised his hand and waved but his breath felt frozen in his lungs. Across the street, unmoving but always watchful, the gnome stared and smirked.
Once Tobey was back inside, he locked the door and went to the living room window. Rain began to splatter the glass. As if sensing his discomfort, Wordsworth whined behind him. The gnome was still there, of course, but Tobey would swear it had swivelled slightly to face the window instead of their driveway.
Ms Haberfield must have gotten another gnome. It was the only thing that made sense, nothing supernatural about it. She’d really liked the statue and as soon as she’d seen it missing she’d gone and bought another one from the same place as the first. Maybe, for whatever reason, she’d already had a spare in the garage, or sitting in the backyard instead of the front, which she’d brought out when she noticed the first one was gone. He’d proven there was nothing to worry about when he’d picked up and carried off the gnome last night. But he’d never heard it land, he thought. Tobey couldn’t get that out of his mind, that he’d never heard the gnome smash as it hit the ravine floor.
“Don’t be crazy,” Tobey said to himself. “If it’s such a problem, I can just-, go and get rid of that one too.”
Tobey felt very alone in the empty house. It was only recently that his parents decided he was old enough to stay at home by himself anyway, and to be honest he did get a little anxious every time. He kept Wordsworth close. The rain got heavier as the light outside dimmed. Tobey tried to ignore it by watching some streaming shows his mum wouldn’t usually approve of. He avoided checking the window. Eventually, he ordered food. Not because he was really hungry but for something else to use as a distraction.
After half an hour, someone knocked on the front door. Wordy barked and leapt off the couch. Tobey had put in the instructions to leave the food at the front door but he knew sometimes the drivers ignored that.
“Hello?” Tobey asked.
“Delivery for you!”
“Leave it at the door, please!”
The driver left the food and retreated into the storm. Tobey heard their car drive off. Opening the door, he gathered the brown paper sack. He couldn’t help looking up and peering across the street to check on the gnome. And again, his blood froze.
The garden gnome no longer stood sentry at the foot of Ms Haberfield’s front steps but now sat, devoid of context, in the middle of her lawn. Its eyes met Tobey’s through the rain. He actually gasped and reeled back inside the house with his food, locking the door behind him.
“No, no, it couldn’t! It wasn’t!” Tobey said. “Someone must have moved it, it couldn’t move by itself!”
Tobey sat on the couch, brooding, while his burger and fries went cold. Wordy sidled up beside him, at first just hoping for some scraps but then sensing his master’s distress. When Tobey could stand it no longer he went to the window to check the street.
Lightning strobed, accompanied moments later by a peal of thunder. In the flash, Tobey saw the gnome had moved even closer. Now it stood beside Ms Haberfield’s mailbox, right at the edge of her yard. In every other respect it was the same, smiling, pickaxe on its shoulder. Rain ran down the sides of its peaked hat.
“No! No, no, no!”
Did someone know what he did? Were they now playing some kind of prank on him? But if it was a practical joke then Tobey didn’t know who could possibly be behind it. He left the window and went to double check the front door was locked. It was, but he immediately regretted taking his eyes off the gnome.
Tobey returned to the window. Wordsworth scampered underfoot, yipping. For a few long moments, the street was too dark and rainy for him to see anything. Then, lightning lit up the sky and Tobey saw, to his growing horror, that the mailbox stood alone. In that brief fraction of a second, his eyes searched the rest of Ms Haberfield’s yard but he couldn’t see the gnome anywhere. The street lapsed back into blackness. Tobey stayed where he was, breathing hard. His breath misted the glass. The next lightning strike seemed to take an hour to arrive. When it did, he spotted the garden gnome instantly. It had crossed the road in a straight line and now stood at the edge of Tobey’s yard instead. Its back faced the street as it smirked at Tobey’s window.
“No, no! It’s coming!”
Tobey looked to his phone and wondered whether to call his parents. But what would he say? That he was being stalked by a living garden gnome? He’d have to tell them what he did last night, and he couldn’t do that. Tobey ran to the kitchen instead and yanked open the junk drawer. There, among other things, was a simple claw hammer with a rubber grip. It seemed like the most logical weapon to use against a living statue. Wielding it in one hand, he returned to the front room. Thunder bellowed overhead.
Wordy had been running back and forth, unbothered by the rain and thunder. Suddenly, the cocker spaniel’s behaviour changed. Fur raised on his back, he turned toward the front door and began to growl. He seemed imminently wary of someone or something right outside.
Tobey scanned the front lawn. In the dark and rain, he couldn’t see the gnome. All he could say for sure was that it wasn’t at the edge of the yard where he’d last seen it. A car drove by, wheels sluicing through the water on the road, and its lights bathed the lawn for long enough to confirm that the gnome wasn’t there. Based on Wordy’s reaction, it was easy to imagine the garden gnome standing right outside the front door. Holding the hammer, Tobey tried to angle around, but he couldn’t get a good view of the front door even while pressing his face to the glass.
Suddenly, lightning cracked the sky open and thunder exploded almost directly overhead. The power went out and their house plunged into darkness. Immediately outside the window where Tobey’s face was pressed, the gnome appeared. In the blue-white flashbulb of the lightning, its eyes drilled right into Tobey’s.
Tobey screamed and launched himself away from the window. In the darkness, he swung the hammer wildly and was lucky he didn’t smash anything. Wordsworth yipped and started barking, running around in confusion.
The power didn’t come back on. Tobey panted, breathing hard. He stumbled into the couch and then crawled across it, groping with his free hand. Eventually, he found his phone laying on the arm of the couch. He thought about calling his parents. Nothing he could say would make sense, he’d be just raving, crazy, but it didn’t matter anymore. If he just told them to come home, that he needed them, then they’d come. Before he could act on the thought though, he felt it. He felt the weight of the gnome’s stare.
Tobey turned on the phone’s flashlight. Its small but powerful beam filled the room, making everything colourless. Wordy whined and barked. The dog stood in the entryway but turned toward the other side of the living room. Slowly, fearfully, Tobey moved the flashlight in the same direction.
The gnome stood on the corner of his family’s dining table. Its eyes fixed on Tobey, still wearing its knowing smirk. It had clearly come from outside. Raindrops ran from the tapered tip of its red cap, over its face, its overalls, and down to its dirty boots.
“No, get out! You can’t be in here, get out!” Tobey yelled.
Tobey was still holding the hammer but he didn’t dare get close enough to use it. Last night, he’d picked up the gnome and carried it with no trouble. But that sense that it was all a lure, bait for some kind of trap, returned tenfold. He backed away. Dropping the hammer, he grabbed Wordy by the collar instead. The dog whined and barked, wanting to charge the gnome. Together, they reversed into the hallway. The gnome watched them the whole way, somehow turning without turning.
The two of them retreated down the corridor to Tobey’s bedroom, the boy dragging the cocker spaniel by the collar. Thunder rolled outside. Wordy tugged at Tobey’s grip as if wanting to defend his home from the intruder, letting loose with full-throated barks. Tobey reached his bedroom doorway, planning to lock himself inside. He kept his eyes on the corridor, afraid to blink. Suddenly, Wordy’s collar slipped from his hand. Barking, the dog sprinted back down the hallway and into the living room.
Tobey froze, half-in and half-out of his bedroom doorway. His dog disappeared around the corner, still barking. He could hear Wordy confront the gnome, although it sounded one-sided. And then, the dog let out a wretched howl. Tobey heard him whining, and then shrieking. The sounds were awful. Tobey had never heard the dog make noise like that, didn’t know he could make such noises, and they cut through to the heart of him. Tobey heard a terrible pop and the dog’s cries silenced instantly. A grotesque and grisly crackling sound made its way down the corridor. Something splashed, like water hitting a wall or a ceiling. The noises went on for some time.
Step by step, Tobey returned down the hall. Aside from the sound of rain, and another crack of thunder, the house had fallen silent again. His heart pounded. Reaching the end of the hallway, he angled his flashlight around the corner.
The gnome was gone from the table. In the middle of the room, right in front of where it had been standing, was a ragged mass of fur and flesh. Blood pooled on the tiles. Tobey grabbed his mouth and made a strangled noise. He’d never seen anything so horrible. It was like Wordsworth had been hit by a truck. No, worse. It was like the dog had been picked up at both ends and wrung out like a wet towel. Limbs and tufts of fur and unrecognisable things stuck out at a mess of angles.
“No, no, please, no!”
Tobey felt like he was going to be sick. His poor Wordy. Even worse than the thought of his pet dying so horribly was the realisation that he could be about to die the same way.
Tobey backed away again down the hall. He couldn’t spot the gnome, he didn’t know where it had gone. His legs went weak and he fell against one of the walls, dragging himself most of the way. When he reached his bedroom, he threw himself against the door and shoved its meagre push button lock into place.
Breathing hard, Tobey raised his phone. With a sense of inevitability, he felt the weight of the gnome’s stare on his back. Slowly, he turned and used his flashlight to scan the room. He didn’t even register surprise as he saw it standing on the middle of his bed. The last of the rainwater pooled on the bedspread. Its eyes met his. All Tobey could feel was terror. Shrinking against the doorframe, he let out a shrill scream.
The next morning, the result of last night’s rain dried on the street. A police cruiser pulled to a halt in front of Tobey and his parents’ house, two officers climbing out and hitching their equipment belts. They looked dejected as they approached the house. Only seconds after they knocked, the door was snatched open. Tobey’s mother swiped at her tearstained face. His father, looking just as pale and withdrawn, joined her in the doorway.
“Have you found him? Have you found our son?”
“I’m very sorry, Ms Grafton, Mr Grafton.” Neither officer could meet the couple’s eyes. “Your son is no longer with us.”
Tobey’s mother wailed and collapsed, her husband catching her before she hit the ground. His face spasmed, too overwhelmed to process what he was hearing.
“The ravine down the end of your street. Maybe it was some kind of accident, last night, in the rain. It’s possible he was-, thrown down there.”
“I need to see him! My baby!”
The two cops thought back to the condition in which the body had been discovered. “I don’t think that would be a good idea just yet, ma’am. Not until the investigation can rule some things out.”
The sight of the police cruiser drew several curious neighbours. Keeping their distance, a few gathered across the street at the edge of Ms Haberfield’s yard. Ms Haberfield herself, a stocky woman in her early seventies, walked down the driveway with a steaming mug of coffee in her hands.
“Do you know what’s going on?” another neighbour, Reggie, asked.
“The police knocked on my door last night, woke me up,” Ms Haberfield said. “Not that I sleep very well these days. Apparently their young boy, Tobey, has gone missing. They’d gone out for the night and when they came home, he and his pet dog were gone.”
“Oh, that’s terrible. If the police are back now, it’s probably not good news.”
Craning his neck, Reggie tried to peer past the two cops to get a better look at what was happening inside. As he did, he accidentally caught the eye of Mr Grafton. The man’s expression was so tortured and raw that Reggie immediately felt like a vulture, and he quickly looked away. His gaze swept across Ms Haberfield’s yard.
“That’s, uh, quite a bit of lawn decoration you have there,” Reggie said awkwardly.
Ms Haberfield looked back at the garden gnome at the corner of her front steps. It smiled its usual gentle smile, eyes strangely sensitive. Same as always, with its red hat and overalls, pick on its shoulder.
“Isn’t he darling? It’s the strangest thing, he just turned up in my garden a little while ago.”
“Oh, yes, someone must have thought my garden was missing something, so they just left him there without even ringing the bell!”
Reggie looked away from the garden gnome but he felt strangely uncomfortable. It was almost as if he could feel the gnome’s painted stare on his back. Somehow its eyes and knowing smirk followed him even as he decided to walk back to his own house.
Sean: Back before we were even dating, my now-wife bought a copy of my first book Wave of Mutilation, which is a zombie novel, and there’s a scene in it with a dog that she told me made her have to “put the book down for a while”, which I thought was just the most wonderful compliment. Somewhat surprisingly, she did start dating me afterwards and eventually agreed to marry me as well, and I’ve been killing dogs ever since. Just like in real life, it always gets a reaction.
Some similarities here with Horny MILFs in Your Area, but I’d like to think that if you’ve been reading my stories since last year that I’m not getting too predictable. Like, is it all going to work out to be a wacky misunderstanding? Or am I going to kill more children horrifically? I don’t want to be pigeonholed after all.
I’m going to release something nice for my next story. It’s been a couple of horror tales in a row and that seems to be largely where my mind is at the moment, but I’ve got something on the way from the Land of Giants setting I established last year so I’ll make that the next one to come out in a couple of weeks. Watch this space!
Next Inspiration: Giant Crab