Howard’s foot sank into the welcome mat on his way to get the paper.
No. That was wrong.
Looking down, he saw that the tortoise had left a stinking present for him. Howard smeared the greenish excrement on the front step. Looking back up, he saw that it hadn’t stopped there.
There were bare patches of brown in the once-uniform sea of grass that was his front lawn. Several neat piles of feces that looked to have come from a family of tortoises lay carefully placed. Clumps of loose dirt and grass were strewn about as well, and Howard had to wonder how such a slow moving creature could manage to make such a great mess of it all. Part of Howard didn’t even believe that a tortoise was capable of all this. It looked like someone had taken a pickaxe to some parts by how much loose soil had been upturned.
At this point Howard began to take it somewhat personally. His gaze flitted about the lawn. But the tortoise was nowhere in sight.
Flipping out his cell, Howard texted Grace, letting her know that he wouldn’t be meeting her at church this morning after all. Something just came up. Then he walked through the yard, searching for the abominable tortoise. It wasn’t on the driveway, or anywhere in the front yard, so he circled around back. It wasn’t by the bird bath, or in the bushes, or even back at the rhododendrons, which were looking sad and bare. He wondered whether or not it had moved on.
But no. There, in the back by the pines, Howard could just make out its domed form as it paused next to a tree.
In an effort of herculean strength, the tortoise righted itself on its hind legs and reached its long neck out to grasp at a branch. With a mouthful of leaves and branches, the tortoise reared back, trying to rip away the next portion of its meal. It thrashed its head side to side, fraying the thin, whip-like limb. The branch snapped and the tortoise teetered, unbalanced. It looked as if it would regain its composure a split second before it toppled backward onto its shell.
Howard let out an unexpected whoop, and sauntered over to the disoriented tortoise, stopping to smell how fresh and intact the lilacs were this morning. He skipped the last couple steps until he was looking down on his reptilian oppressor. Thick, scaly legs gripped for purchase in the air while the head wobbled to and fro. A low fluctuating groan filled the air like a lover’s lament.
Howard smiled and leaned down until his face was inches away from the cold-blooded eyes.
“Ball’s in my court now,” he said.