Arnie had known when he bought the place that it had a local deity. The spirit lived in a spring that bubbled gently in the northeast corner of his yard until he had covered the whole area with mulch one summer. Now the spring was content merely to give that part of the mulch a sort of marshy consistency. The spirit lived peaceably for years in Arnie’s yard, eating birds and squirrels and leaving their desiccated carcasses for him to find in the morning.

In October, Arnie had given a barbecue. His cousin Frank, in town on a sales call, had been squishing around that part of the yard expounding on the benefits of French drains. The spirit had taken offense at what amounted to an insult to its home, and had done something rather unsightly to the left half of Frank’s body. Frank alleged that Arnie had purposely avoided mentioning the territorial sprite out of a juvenile desire to embarrass Frank at the sales meeting. Arnie admitted that he didn’t particularly approve of Frank’s employer’s political maneuvering in the last election. When Arnie’s mother called a week later and demanded to know why Frank and his wife had canceled plans to come for Thanksgiving, Arnie decided the situation had gotten out of hand. Besides, he thought, there were liability issues.

He did what any red-blooded American man would do and went down to the hardware store. The fellow at the counter listened sympathetically and then related a chilling tale about his uncle in Baltimore, who had been sued into bankruptcy over a kleptomaniacal garden gnome. In the end, Arnie went home with fifty feet of chain-link fence and four metal posts, which he erected around the sodden part of the yard. He also pinned a sign to the fence that read, in large white letters on a red background, “Beware of god.”

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