Once upon a time, there was a little gnome who lived in a garden that, in season, was full of lush plants and bright colors. But, alas, when this story opens, winter has cast an icy grip over the land, and the lovely garden has gone dormant. The plants had been cut back, the trees are bare, and all decorations, except for the little gnome, have been brought inside for the winter.
The little gnome was covered in snow. On a very cold and icy day, a very tiny human tried to pick up the gnome, but her hands slipped, and she tripped and fell. Her mother was not happy and blamed the gnome for the little girl falling. "You made my daughter fall. You are a bad gnome." But the gnome could not speak because it was too cold. And besides, gnome mouths just don't open. That's why people love gnomes.
The next day, three large men came with sledgehammers, determined to smash the little gnome. But they slipped on ice and they all fell on a big heap. They started swearing at each other. "You piece of sh*t. You tripped me." "You stupid sh*t. You tripped over your own feet!" The three sledgehammer people weren't the sharpest knives in the drawer.
The three sledgehammer people left without smashing the little gnome because they forgot that they were there to smash a little gnome. When they returned to the office of the Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss who had hired them, he said, "Where are the broken shards of the Little Gnome that I never liked?" The sledgehammer people just stared at the Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss because they didn't want to admit that they forgot to use their sledgehammers to smash one tiny gnome.
The Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss hired a man with a great big cannon. The cannon man was to shoot off the cannon and blast the little gnome into smithereens. The Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss loved overkill. He also liked to hear loud explosions. Unfortunately for the Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss, the garden and everywhere else were struck by a huge blizzard. The cannon man couldn't find his cannon in the whiteout so he acknowledged defeat. The Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss did not appreciate the concept of acknowledging defeat. He said to the cannon man, "YOU ARE FIRED!!!" The cannon man left, wondering how a cannon man could be fired, when, normally, a cannon man does all of the firing.
After the blizzard ended, the Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss decided that he would smash the little gnome himself. "I've got to do it myself," said the Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss. "You just can't get good help these days." He hopped into his enormous gas-guzzling vehicle. Unfortunately, he was having trouble driving the car because he had fired the chauffeur for driving at the speed limit. He got out his Not Very Smart Phone and looked at a few Youtube videos about how to Drive an Enormous Gas-Guzzling Vehicle. He then turned the car on, stomped on the gas pedal, and the car lurched forward.
"You will reach your destination in 247 days, four hours, and thirty minutes," announced the GPS with the sultry lady's voice. The Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss growled with anger. He threw the GPS on the floor of the car, where it smashed into pieces and stopped talking. "You're fired!" he announced. Then he realized that the GPS was broken and could never be repaired. "Good," he said. "That useless decoration will be next. I hate garden gnomes. They are evil. They are scum. They are..."
"Ugh!" said the Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss Who Was Used to Getting Other People to Do All of the Work and Thus Had No Practical Skills. All of a sudden, there was a whiteout, and visibility reduced to almost zero. "I need to order someone to fill my Most Magnificent and Most Enormous Gas Guzzling Vehicle with premium gasoline. NOW!" You see, when you drive a Magnificent and Enormous Gas-Guzzling Vehicle,you don't have to travel very far before your Magnificent Vehicle needs something to drink. Something like large quantities of Black Gold.
The Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss was able to pull off the road and park in a parking lot. He managed to park in four parking spots simultaneously but he didn't care because he knew that he was Important Enough. He got out of his vehicle and his face immediately froze into a grimace of anger. He felt so angry that he didn't even know that he was cold. He had no minions to clear a path for him. He had to push through snow and risk tripping on ice to get to... he didn't know where. He slipped and slid through the parking lot, with the snow flying into his face and the bitter cold biting into his cheeks and pounding pain into his eyeballs. After what seemed like a long time, he opened a glass door and found himself in a diner. It was full of people who were eating eggs and toast and drinking juice, coffee, or tea. He wrinkled his nose at having to stay in a place with such lowly people. Unfortunately his Enormous Gas Guzzling Vehicle had run out of gasoline, and it wasn't going anywhere.
The Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss squeezed himself into a booth near a window. He didn't want to look at the lowly people, so, instead, he watched the whiteout. He saw nothing whatsoever, except for snow rapidly churning in the air. A woman approached him. He looked at her with distrust and suspicion in his eyes. The woman was wearing a red and white dress in a heart pattern. He wondered why such a vapid Valentine was approaching him. He also wondered why she looked vaguely familiar.
"Hi, Georgie," the woman said cheerfully, causing the Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss to feel an abrupt sense of panic. The last person to call him Georgie was his high school sweetheart. But she died in a fiery car crash. That fiery car crash burned all of the love from his heart, leaving him the Cold and Calculating Man that he became. This woman, the Big Boss suddenly realized, looked like an older version of that lovely girl of his childhood. Was it possible? No! She was most definitely dead.
"I am your guide to the Valentine's Days of your present, past, and future," the woman who looked like Maureen said.
"I don't need any Valentine's Day! Past, present, or future. Lady, I don't need you, either!"
"Please, Georgie, call me Maureen." She held one of George's hands gently.
George, the Unpleasant Boss, felt his blood run cold. He shivered involuntarily. How did Maureen return from the dead?
"Come here," Maureen said. She helped George to his feet and she walked him to a door.
"This is a portal to your past. Just go through it. It will take you to a beautiful garden."
"I don't want to..." but, all of a sudden, he was through that door, with Maureen. He found himself in a bright garden, full of blooming lilacs, tulips, jonquils, daffodils, and other spring flowers. The apple and cherry blossoms were blooming. He stood there with Maureen and he saw himself, the far younger himself, holding the hand of a young girl.
"I have a gift for you," said the younger George.
"Oh, Georgie," gushed the girl. "You don't have to give me anything. You are the gift."
"Open it, please?" George said. He handed his girlfriend a box. She opened the box neatly and slowly, making Georgie nearly burst with excitement.
"I never had any patience," the older George said. "Come on, girl. Pick up the pace."
After a bit of delay, the young Maureen pulled a ceramic garden gnome from the box. "Oh, George! I love it! It's the most beautiful thing that I've ever seen! But I want to share it with everyone! Can we donate it to the park? Pretty please and with a cherry on top?"
"I don't know why he agreed to that stupid idea," the older George growled.
"You are such a grumblebunny," said his guide. "But, once, you were a young man filled with love."
"But she died. And my love died, too. And that stupid gnome still sits in the garden, mocking me. I hate it! Why did I end up with a gnome, instead of a wife?"
In a flash, the Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss was back in the diner and at his table. A server, dressed in black pants and a t-shirt advertising the name of the diner, brought him a plateful of food. An omelet made with cheese, mushrooms, and onions, with bacon and a piece of sourdough bread on the side. Hot black coffee was poured into a mug.
"How did you know that was my favorite thing? How?"
He looked at the server again. She looked like his sister. But how was that possible? His sister had died years ago in a ship. She was traveling overseas to be a volunteer in an agriculture program. She always had a green thumb. After she died, he hated both garden gnomes and flowers and plants. He stared at the young woman's light brown hair, her blue eyes, and her pinkish cheeks. She looked like an exact reproduction of Patty.
"Who are you? What are you doing to me?"
"I'm serving you food."
He looked up and saw a small display case jutting from the wall next to the window. It was filled with tiny garden gnomes.
"No! Smash those gnomes. I hate them! They ruined my life!"
"Enjoy your meal, sir," said the server, who turned toward other customers.
"Wait! Come back, Patty! Please come back! I was never ready to lose you!"
He looked out the window, expecting to see snow. Instead he saw a window to another world. It could be last week, this week, next week. He suddenly realized that he was staring inside the home of the Cannon Man. The Cannon Man was eating breakfast with his wife and two sons. He observed that one of the boys seemed kind of different. He sat on the couch and wrote down numbers. That was good, George thought. He will be an accountant.
"How will we afford Ryan's school?" asked the wife. "The last time you worked was for that odious man who wanted you to fire a cute little garden gnome to smithereens."
"I don't know," said the Cannon Man. "There really aren't many job opportunities for a Cannon Man these day. I need to go back to school."
"But our son was bullied and he had to be taken out of..."
"...public school. Yes, I know," said the Cannon Man. "And the education we want for him costs more than we could ever afford."
"Do you think that you could get some sort of work out of The Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss?"
"No, I think that ship sailed a long time ago."
Just then, the phone rang.
"Yes?" said the Cannon Man. "Oh. The rent. I am so sorry. I will send you a check."
"I can't bear to look at this. Make it go away," the Rapidly Shrinking Boss whimpered. "I want to go home. I want to forget these people and I want that garden gnome smashed. I am the Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss. Don't think that you can do these three ghosts of Valentine's Day, past, present, and future. It will never work on me."
Maureen gracefully walked back to the booth and sat with the Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss.
"You are angry," she said. "That is all right. It's OK to be angry after living with a broken heart for so many years."
"You bet I am angry. I am not heartbroken. I am angry because of all of the people who take away from my importance, who don't do the jobs that I hired them to do. How dare they? How dare they!!!"
"There is one more place that I need to take you. But you must be prepared. It is dark and it is devoid of love."
"I don't need love. I never needed love. Love is evil. Love is scummy. Love is..."
Maureen walked away and George decided that the only thing that he could love was his breakfast. It was cold.
"Waitress!" George yelled.
The Patty look-alike approached. "How may I help you," she asked.
George heard his sister's voice. He felt angry. She had abandoned him. His sister was his best friend and, all of a sudden, she was gone. How could she leave him like that?
"Warm up my food," he commanded.
"It's time," Maureen said abruptly. "Now."
The Really Big and Not Very Nice Boss was not used to having other people order him around, especially someone who looked like a doppelganger for his lost love. He wondered what sort of spell he was under. Were there some secret ingredients in those eggs? Was the coffee tainted? Also, what was going on outside with all of that snow? The blizzard was over, according to the weather forecasters and no more snow was predicted. Nevertheless, he got up and dutifully followed Maureen. She opened a closet door and led him in. He was sure that he was not going to like this. Suddenly, he had a flashback of the time that his father made him sit in the closet for half an hour to think about his misbehavior. He cried and cried but, later, he toughened up and he decided that his father was very wise in his punishments. His son was to grow up and become someone who was not influenced by emotion.
The inside of the closet was larger than the outside. Suddenly, he realized that he had been transported to a future time. There were strange little vehicles zipping around in space and tiny trolley cars being pulled by pulleys on a maze of tracks. People got on and off of those trolleys and went into buildings. He did not recognize the architecture. It reminded me of the science fiction stories that he had watched in the movie theater when he was a child.
A being dressed all in black led him through the city. The being simply pointed at people and at streets and at buildings. The being never spoke, and George was unsure of whether the being was human or some other species. Soon, they had walked out of the building. They were in a garden. It looked like George's garden but George couldn't tell for sure. The plants were very healthy. All of a sudden, George knew where he was. It was that garden gnome. That evil, demonic garden gnome. It stared at George as if to say, "you have been gone for years, but I am still here. I outlived you. What do you think of that?"
"No!" George screamed suddenly, as the being pulled him toward something in the garden. A grave. His grave. He also handed George two newspapers. One was turned to the obituary section. George read his obituary. "George, the tycoon, has passed away at the age of 93 of a brain hemorrhage. He was said to be the richest man in town. He grew up poor but a few lucky stock transactions left him very wealthy. George never married and has no survivors."
He couldn't read any more. No survivors. No one to remember George. His only friend was his money. That was all. He lost his girlfriend and his sister and his parents.
Then he saw the second newspaper. It was dated 200 years after the first. George was amazed that there were still printed newspapers that far into the future.
He read the news. It was something about some archaeological dig that had been done near his house and garden. Various objects had been found that told the story of a forgotten rich man who lived a long time ago. George stopped reading. He had become the subject of an archaeological dig. His life didn't matter.
His collection of money didn't matter. His head was spinning. Where was his guide? Why wouldn't his guide speak to him? George remembered Maureen and Patty. He sank to his knees and wept. These were the first tears that he had shed since his father locked him in the closet. He had never cried for Maureen and Patty. But now, he wept the tears that had been unshed for many years. The world spun rapidly and it shook violently, knocking George face forward...
George was in his own bed, in his own home. He stood up and looked at the calendar. It was Valentine's Day. "Was that real or was it a dream?" On the floor, he found photographs of Maureen and Patty and wondered where they came from.
"It must have been real," George said. "I have to make life right for the Cannon Man and his family. I need to bring them the best Valentines ever." He got into his gas guzzler car and went to the supermarket and bought the fixings for a fabulous dinner, together with Valentines and a shiny new garden gnome. He then drove over to the home of the Cannon Man. The Cannon Man said, "Sir, you can only fire me once."
"I'm not here to fire you. I'm here to give you a great job. Do you know how to take care of gardens and to grow plants in a greenhouse?"
"Why yes. I do."
"Well, then, you're hired. May we celebrate with your family? I have no one any more. I want to bring you and your family a special Valentine's Day."
The Cannon Man looked at the Really Big and Suddenly Nice Boss. He looked confused and somewhat mistrustful. "What happened? You are a totally new man."
"It's a long story," said George. He handed the surprised Cannon Man a garden gnome and then walked into the house and into his first Valentine's Day for many years.