It was absolutely pissing it down outside and Darlene was not best impressed. It was the first holiday time that she and her house mates had managed to get together and now it was raining. Darlene pulled on a thick jumper and a pair of jeans before heading down to the living room. She was halfway down the stairs when the front door opened and another girl dashed in out of the rain. Darlene flicked a strand of white blonde hair over her shoulders and jumped the last few steps to land beside the newcomer.
"How'd things go at the cop shop?" she asked, leading the way to the kitchen. Tabitha pulled off her bright pink rain mack and hung it over the sink before dropping into a chair. Darlene glanced at her housemate as she prepared the tea things and smiled. Tabitha was always very glamorous but surely a yellow mini skirt and see through blouse wasn't warm enough for this weather. Even so, not a curl of her red hair was out of place.
"Not much luck. They don't seem to think we'll get them back; missing gnomes aren't high on their list of priorities. Never mind, we'll just have to get some more." Tabitha helped to carry the tray through to the living room where Ruby was waiting.
"It's empty out there without our little dudes to guard the garden" she said, letting the curtain drop back into place. Tabitha and Darlene agreed but they could always get more gnomes.
About an hour later, the letter box flapped and a bundle of letters dropped onto the mat. Tabitha checked her watch and frowned.
"Seriously? Half past two? First class post my arse!" she cried. Ruby laughed as Darlene vanished out to the hall and came back bearing a handful of letters. She passed the top few around and then stopped, what looked like a postcard was in her hand. The colour drained from her face and she dropped into a chair.
"What happened?" asked Darlene. She got up and moved across to Darlene while Ruby took up a position on the other side. They all went very quiet as they stared at the picture on the front of the postcard. It showed a woman with black hair, she was lying on a floor with her head turned towards the camera. But there were at least eight inches of empty space between the top half of her body and the lower half, blood was everywhere. In the foreground of the photo, grinning at the camera and still holding their fishing rods were their missing gnomes. On the back, smeared in blood, were the words BE HOME SOON.
Tabitha hurried back to the police station with the postcard while Darlene and Ruby waited at home.
"What does it mean? I remember hearing those old stories of people stealing gnomes and sending postcards back like they were on holiday but this is new to me. Who was that poor woman? Do you think it's real?" asked Ruby. She had changed into an oversized woolly jumper and black jogging bottoms and curled up in a corner of the sofa. Darlene rubbed her face and shrugged.
"We'll have to wait and see what Tabby says when she gets back." Just then, the door opened and the pink rain mack came back in. Ruby and Darlene and sat up in their seats and waited until Tabitha had taken off her dripping mack and sat down on the other side of the sofa.
"Apparently the woman in the photo was murdered last night about three miles away. That photo on the postcard was taken after she was dead, obviously but the gnomes weren't there when the police arrived. They had no idea what's going on but intend to send someone round to talk to us later" said Tabitha. The words came out in one, long sigh and she flopped back into the cushions. They sat in silence for a moment, lost in their own thoughts until the letterbox flapped again.
"What now?" Ruby snapped. She got up and stormed out into the hallway, there was a moment of silence before she staggered back into the room and threw another postcard onto the table.
"Another one? But we've had the post already" said Darlene. Tabitha picked up the postcard and gulped at the photo. This time there was a blonde girl on the floor, her hands and feet were tied and there was a gag in her mouth, the flash of the camera showed the stark terror on the girls face all too clearly. In the corner of the photo were the gnomes, they were splashed with drops of red. On the back was smudged COMING HOME NOW.
"I know her!" cried Ruby. She snatched the photo from Tabitha and stared at it, her brow puckering in an act of remembrance.
"I've seen her in my shop, she's a regular. I think she lives in one of those new houses at the back of the estate. I can't remember her name though." The doorbell rang they all jumped, Darlene gave vent to a little shriek of laughter before clapping her hand over her mouth. Tabitha placed a hand on her arm and squeezed while Ruby went to answer the door. It was a policeman from the station to ask them some questions about the first postcard. However, when Ruby showed him the second one it was decided that they should all go back to the station and speak to the officer in charge.
There wasn't much they could do after that. The three housemates couldn't give the police much more information than they already had so, after giving brief statements and signing them, they went home.
"Some holiday, huh?" said Darlene. Ruby and Tabitha gave little groans of agreement. Darlene was halfway up the stairs when she heard Ruby give a little shriek. Darlene dashed back downstairs and ran into Tabitha who was just emerging from the living room. They ran along the short hallway and into the kitchen. Ruby was lying on the floor, there was a wound on the back of her head and a little trickle of blood ran down her cheek. On the table was one of the gnomes, a meat tenderiser beside him. Tabitha dived forward to check on Ruby, Darlene was about to join her when something connected with the side of her head and the world went dark.
Darlene opened her eyes and blinked against the light. Her hands and feet were tied and there was something tied across her mouth. Ruby was tied into a chair but Darlene's gaze went higher she realized that her friend had no head. Darlene screamed against her gag and tried to wriggle across the floor but she connected with Tabitha. Her head was still attached but turned completely around, wide eyes stared at Darlene and the tears were still drying on her cheeks. Something dropped onto the floor and Darlene twisted to look over her shoulder. One of the gnomes was there; it was edging towards her on its porcelain base. Darlene began to wriggle away but she wasn't fast enough. The other three gnomes were waiting for her in the doorway.
And they had a camera.
When the police called round the next day, they found three bodies, four gnomes and a postcard. The gnomes were in the living room, each was settled on a cushion on one of the chairs. The bodies were in the kitchen, one tied to a chair and the other two on the floor. The photo was propped up by the salt and pepper shakers in the middle of the table.
It showed the three girls sitting in their seats around the table and the gnomes were gathered in the centre, smiling for the camera. One the back were smudged the words NICE TO BE GNOME.