Lisa didn’t think much of the first acorn, except as one of those weird things that just happen to everyone now and again – a small anomaly to discuss at the breakfast table.
“I found an acorn in my bed this morning,” Lisa said as she poured her cereal.
“Really?” asked her younger sister, Georgia. “That’s pretty weird.” She crunched thoughtfully.
“Yeah, I know. I don’t even think we have oak trees in the yard.”
“Well, who knows where it came from? You could have tracked it in from anywhere.”
“I don’t go to bed in my shoes, you know. And it wasn’t crunched up. It was whole.” Lisa thought for a second. “It was on my pillow, like someone put it there on purpose.” She gave Georgia an accusing look, complete with raised eyebrows.
“I didn’t do it, I swear.”
“Sure you didn’t.”
“I didn’t. I don’t even know where to get acorns.”
“Well, maybe the dog did it, then,” Lisa said as Jody, their large golden retriever, happily flopped her tail under the table.
“Plausible,” nodded Georgia. “She does crazy stuff all the time.”
But Lisa wasn’t convinced. There was something strange about the whole thing – something a little too deliberate about it. Still, she put it out of her mind and headed off to class.
The second incident was a little harder to ignore, however. Lisa awoke six days later with six perfect little acorns clustered near her face on the pillow.
“What the what?” she gasped. No one answered, though the garden gnome display in the corner of her bedroom caught her eye. “You guys leaving me gifts again?”
She laughed to herself. She had brought the trio of gnomes inside last year after her mother had thrown them out, saying they were too cheesy for her newly re-designed yard.
Again, at the breakfast table, Georgia denied any involvement – and this time Lisa believed her. Jody had an alibi, too, as she had spent the night accidentally locked in their parents’ closet.
“Too weird,” opined Georgia.
“But what does it mean?” asked Lisa. “Where are they coming from?”
Georgia shrugged. The acorns weren’t showing up in her bed, after all.
Life went on as usual for several weeks: her parents bickered, Georgia tried out for a school play, and Lisa tried to focus on mid-terms at college. She sometimes hated the fact that she still lived at home, but at least, she reminded herself, she was saving money – even if she missed some parties.
Really, Lisa gave the whole acorn situation almost no thought at all, and almost began to believe that she had imagined the whole thing.
She was walking to her car one Thursday afternoon after her last class, when she passed one of her favorite trees on campus. Someone had recently placed a plaster gnome at the base of the tree, and no one had yet moved it. It grinned up at her, a wheelbarrow at its side. She suddenly heard a disturbed chittering in the tree above her, and looked up to see a squirrel staring down at her.
“Hello, Mr. Squirrel,” Lisa said with a smile.
The squirrel’s reply was less civil, as he lobbed a large acorn right at her.
“OW!” Lisa said as the acorn ricocheted off her forehead. “What the hell was that for?”
The squirrel squeaked something rather rude sounding and climbed farther away in the tree. Lisa rubbed her sore head as she walked away, comforted by a single thought: As embarrassing as it was to be beaned by a squirrel, at least no one had seen it happen.
Except the gnome, of course, she chuckled to herself as she walked to the parking lot.
But something nagged at her as she drove home. She couldn’t help but think of the anomalous acorns in her bed, though – and something disturbing gnawed at the edges of her thoughts as familiar landmarks sped by.
She began to suspect that someone was trying to warn her –against what she couldn’t say. But it suddenly seemed that things were moving quickly from curious to disconcerting. She was sure of that.
Lisa had intended to sleep in the morning after the squirrel incident, but awoke as though from a nightmare at first light. There were 20 or 30 acorns scattered across her duvet, each one dark and menacing in the low light – clearly a threat of some kind.
She thought for a split second that she had seen movement in the corner of her room where the plaster gnomes stood, but surely it couldn’t be. She was dreaming. Wasn’t she? She thought she had heard a strange rustling sound, too, but that couldn’t be, either. Could it?
Lisa was already in the kitchen, her eyes puffy and a little wild from the coffee she had already had, when Georgia came down. Lisa pushed a zip top baggie filled with acorns across the table.
“They’re back,” she whispered. “I think it’s a threat.”
“The acorns?” Georgia yawned. “Wait, why are you whispering?”
“I don’t want them to hear.”
“Who? Mom and Dad are already gone, I think.”
“No, whoever’s leaving the acorns.”
“Do you think there’s a grand acorn-leaving conspiracy or something? Did someone leave the acorns in your bed as a message? Like a horse’s head from the mob?”
“I don’t know what to think anymore!” Lisa shouted.
“Okay, okay – you don’t have to yell at me. I can see that you’re freaked out. Let’s just, you know, think through this logically and figure it out.”
Lisa poked at the bag of acorns, as though it might give her some clue. “Wait,” she said, “remember that squirrel I told you about yesterday?”
Georgia snorted. “How could I forget? That was hilarious.”
“I’m serious. What if we have a squirrel infestation? Like squirrels living in the attic or something?”
“Ew. Squirrels are technically rodents. That would be like a swarm of rats crawling all over you in bed…”
“Exactly. Disgusting. But it would make sense, right?”
“I guess so. But wouldn’t we hear something? Scratching or something? And what about the poop?”
“Isn’t that how you always know you have mice or rats or whatever? You see their poop.”
“I definitely haven’t seen any squirrel poop in the house. Have you?”
“Not even in your room?” Lisa shook her head. “What about sounds? Have you heard squirrel sounds?”
“I thought I heard something this morning, but…it didn’t sound anything like a squirrel. And I’m not sure I heard anything. I was still half asleep.”
Georgia grabbed her toast as it popped out of the toaster, waved her fingers in the air, and muttered “Ouch, ouch, ouch,” under her breath, as she always did. She scraped margarine against both slices, thinking hard as she did so.
“Okay,” Georgia said, taking charge through a mouthful of toast, “If we were in a horror movie, this would be the part where we would go see a priest or something. Bring in an expert.”
“Do you think we need a squirrel exorcist?” Lisa asked, half serious. She had lost a lot of sleep, after all.
“No, no.” Georgia waved her toast at her sister. “I thought we’d already established that we don’t have any squirrels, spectral or otherwise.”
“I don’t know. Acorns don’t just appear in beds like apports in Victorian ghost stories, you know. They have to come from somewhere. Think, Lisa. You have to have some idea where they’re coming from.”
“I really don’t know.”
“Come on. There has to be something. Maybe Greg? He didn’t take the break up very well last summer. Maybe he’s gone all Single White Acorn on you, or something.”
“Even as mad as he was, I don’t think he would do something like that. Besides, he went off to school – he got into Ohio State.”
“Well, someone’s doing it. Or something.” Georgia waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
Lisa narrowed her eyes. “Look, you’re going to think that I’m crazy, but…”
“What if they’re coming from…the gnomes?”
“The gnomes?” Georgia made a gurgling sound, and almost shot soy milk through her nose. “You’re right. You’re completely nuts.”
“Well, I thought I saw them moving this morning – just for a fraction of a second. And someone did put a gnome at the base of the tree at school where the squirrel was.”
Lisa wiped her mouth on a paper napkin as she stood up. “Brain damage,” she pronounced carefully as she flicked the knot on Lisa’s forehead with her index finger.
“Hey! That really hurts!”
“I’m about to miss my bus,” she said as she left the kitchen. “But we’ll get to the bottom of this tonight.” She grabbed her backpack in the hallway and opened the front door, pumping her fist in the air as she went. “Stake out, baby, stake out!”
Unable to concentrate on her lit paper, Lisa took a long nap on the living room sofa, only waking when Jody poked her with her wet nose and squeaked a rubber chew toy in her face. Lisa opened her eyes to the happy dog, whose tail was wagging in its usual rhythmic manner.
“Okay, okay. You want to play? Give me that toy, girl!”
Jody dropped the toy into Lisa’s hand. She saw with some horror that it was a small rubber gnome, his red hat and blue tunic slicked with dog drool. She threw it hard down the hall, but when Jody trotted back, it was her favorite rubber frog that she had retrieved.
When Lisa ran into the hall to check, the other toy was nowhere to be seen. She shivered against the wall, then went back into the living room where she turned the TV on and turned up the volume to wait for Georgia to come home.
Georgia stretched her legs across Lisa’s bed. “Twizzlers, check. Rainbow toe socks, check. Cheesy movies of the 80s, double check. Stake out has officially begun.” She tossed a DVD of “Pretty in Pink” at Lisa, who popped it efficiently into the DVD player on her dresser.
“Okay,” Lisa said as she settled down beside her sister. “We watch just this one movie, and then we’ll have to take shifts staying awake.”
“Oh, I forgot – crazy strong energy drinks, check.” She gestured her Red Bull at the FBI warning screen.
“Maybe we should have taken the gnomes out of the room,” Lisa whispered as she stared at their hard plaster faces.
“No, we need to know if you’re crazy, crazy pants. So we can’t move them until we know who’s really behind it all.”
“But now, class struggle and 80s fashion. No acorns allowed.”
“Right,” Lisa said, though she stole a furtive glance at the three gnomes in the corner and gave an involuntary shudder.
Lisa woke again right at dawn, a streak of color passing quickly by her eyes. She heard the same rustling as before, but when she snapped her attention to the gnomes in the corner, they were as still as ever – just plaster and paint. “Georgia!” Lisa nudged her with her foot. “Georgia, look!”
The entire floor of Lisa’s bedroom was covered in acorns, every inch of carpet coated.
“Holy shit balls, Batman,” croaked a barely conscious Georgia. “That’s what I call escalation.”
“You were supposed to wake me up at 2:00 a.m.!”
“I’m sorry! I guess I fell asleep, too. Sorry!”
Lisa jumped up, acorns crunching under her rainbow toe socks. “That’s it. They’re out of here! I can’t stand it anymore!” She grabbed two of the gnomes, tucking each one under an arm. “You get the other one, come on…”
Georgia picked up the last one and stared strangely into its painted eyes before she followed her sister out of the room.
They marched across the yard together, dew from the cold autumn grass soaking through their socks. Lisa placed her gnomes carefully at the edge of the lawn, near the wooded area in the next lot; Georgia followed her lead, and left her gnome in a line with the others, facing away from the house.
“Damned gnomes,” Lisa huffed. “Stay away from me! And keep your lousy acorns!”
Georgia shook her head as if to shake the sight away, but she thought about the line of gnomes facing the woods for a long time after that.
They saw that the gnomes were gone when they took Jody for a walk Sunday morning. Lisa and Georgia were both relieved that they had disappeared.
“They never wanted to be inside,” Lisa said. “That’s what they were trying to tell me. I guess they just wanted to be…free.”
“I’m just glad it’s over,” Georgia replied.
And it was. Lisa never saw any acorns in her room again.