“Get! Off! My! Lawn!” Mary shouted.
In the center of her garden, the two lawn gnomes stood frozen. Smiles on their faces, one with his head tilted to the side like a curious dog. Mary scowled, looking right at them.
The gnomes blinked, then scattered. One paused to turn around and drop its trousers, mooning Mary with its porcelain bum before scampering into the bushes.
Bloody vermin. Mary thought. She scanned the garden for others before returning to the kitchen. They were getting more aggressive. For a time they would lurk at the edges of a yard. At a casual glance, you wouldn’t notice. But these were in the wide-open where anyone could see. If you didn’t deal with them quickly, there would be more. A neighbor a block over had seven of them last week. They tried to be inconspicuous by looking like Snow White’s dwarves.
It could be worse, Mary supposed. At least they weren’t those racist black lawn jockeys. Get one of those in your yard and your social standing in the neighborhood was over. Rumor had it that over time the critters gravitated to the lawns of people who liked them.
Maybe there was some truth to the rumors. There was a time when Mary loved the sight of gnomes in her garden. She had quite a collection back in the day. The kissing couple, the sleepy one, the fishing one. She’d even put out a couple of holiday gnomes depending on the season. But that seemed a lifetime ago. Now she despised the sight of them.
No one thought it would be like this when the aliens came. When they first arrived they looked like the kind of aliens you’d see in children’s books. A rainbow of skin colors, big heads, and beautiful big eyes. They were immensely powerful, and they seemed friendly.
But they weren’t interested in communicating with us. Even after years of trying to build a connection, nothing. They seemed to have more interest in flowers, trees, even blades of grass than they did in humans.
Then we learned that the aliens were shapeshifters. There was a period of panic as we feared they might shift into huge alien monsters, but for reasons no one can understand they mainly took the form of ceramic statues. Usually, garden gnomes at this point. Occasionally you might find one as a Chinese waving cat, but mostly they preferred to take gnome form.
At first lawn jockeys were their preferred shape. That’s how we learned they were shapeshifters. There’s only so many times you can find a lawn jockey in the yard of a “vote blue” millennial couple before folks start getting suspicious. Garden gnomes were better cover. Some people still like garden gnomes.
But not Mary. She had seen how they would infest the neighborhood. One or two here and there, then entire sets. Pretty soon a cat would go missing, or a dog. Mary wasn’t fooled. She knew the threat was real.
The way Mary figured it, the aliens knew humans better than they know themselves. She was a biologist back in her younger days. Her dissertation had been on invasive species. She understood how a species could find an ecological niche, use it to build a foothold, and then overwhelm other species. Mary figured it would only be a few years before they would be worse than the rabbits of Australia.
Mary was determined not to go down without a fight. Over the past couple of years, she gathered data on sightings. She even had written a program anyone could use to track them. She had plans to put together a citizen science project to track gnomes across the country.
With the data she already had, she knew the aliens were migratory. They came north for the Summer but seemed to cluster in Florida and Texas in the Winter. They also preferred the lands of middle-class suburbia.
With more data, Mary hoped she could develop a plan to irradicate them. If she could figure out their paths of migration, she figured hunters could winnow their number. Though the aliens were shapeshifters, they reproduced sexually, male and female, just like humans. And they seemed to shapeshift only within their gender. Girl garden gnomes were the females of the species. If hunters targeted the pink ones, perhaps we had a chance.
But despite her hopes, Mary feared it might be a lost cause. Across history, the invasive species had won far more than they lost. Rabbits, cats, kudzu. Life adapts, it spreads, it finds a way.
As Mary washed the morning dishes, her worst fears were realized. They were taking a new form. She saw one right outside her kitchen window.
It was a pink flamingo.