There was a tortoise grazing in Howard Scythe’s garden. It was big and it was gray and it was eating his rhododendrons. It was Saturday morning and Howard stood in his kitchen, bathrobe on, jaw hanging. He watched the rather large creature through the back window. It reached out its strong, leathery neck for another bite and ripped away a tangle of branches.
Howard banged on the glass pane. “Hey!”
The dull-eyed thing stopped, turned its head and regarded Howard, churning the leafy greens in its complacent maw like a cow would cud. The reptilian gaze held no pity. With a dismissive gesture, the tortoise turned its back on Howard, ignoring his continuing objections.
“Hey…Um. Hmm.” Howard was not entirely sure how to deal with this situation. The tortoise’s presence was confusing. He was almost certain that this particular species was not native to the Midwest. Its size alone indicated that. The shell a massive dome, an oversized laundry basket sitting upturned on its back.
Howard watched the tortoise eat away at his rhododendrons for a while before it moved on to the lilacs. He tapped a finger on the counter as he watched, chewing the corner of his lip.
Perhaps the beast would become bored and move on to other gardens or vegetable patches. The Robinsons down the road hosted the community vegetable garden. It was quite nice, with full, juicy tomatoes and peppers and carrots and lettuce. Yes, it would no doubt catch a whiff of the wafting, veggie aroma and soon leave his flowers in peace.
Having settled all that, Howard started a pot of coffee and took a nice hot shower.
When he returned to pour himself a mug the tortoise was gone. He smirked and smiled to himself, pleased that he hadn’t let his indignation get the better of him. Logic and reason, that which separated man from beast, had proved their worth in the end. Howard spent the remainder of the morning filling out crossword after crossword on his laptop, every so often casting a sidelong glance out the window. He recently discovered that he could access the database for every New York Times crossword ever, and had done little else for the past few days. The hours wiled away.
On his third crossword of the day Howard read the clue for 12 Down: Fruity Engagement. Date.
Howard sprang from his chair and scrambled around the house for a fresh pair of socks. It was 12:52. He was supposed to meet Grace at La Casa, that new Mexican place in eight minutes. But it was all the way downtown, a twenty minute drive, and that was only if he hit every green light. Howard cursed again as he fumbled for his car keys, putting his shoes on as he hopped around. He grabbed his phone and wallet and opened the front door.
The path was blocked by an immovable carapace. The tortoise had returned.
(To be continued)