PEST CONTROL • by Beth Cato

Gertrude froze, the morning dew soaking through her thin-soled slippers. Half-eaten pink petals littered her lawn. A full swath of her prize tulips had been chewed down to nubby stalks — the rest looked intact, for now. She could only stare for a moment, tears filling her eyes. “What? How?” she whispered.

Her late husband had gifted Gertrude with her first bulbs twenty years before. They never had children; instead, she channeled her energy into her garden sanctuary. The tulips were her greatest joy, their brief blooming time in March the high point of her year.

And now, something was destroying her flowers.

Trembling, she stepped forward. At the base of the leaves, deep tracks were gouged into the mulch. Something rattled in the tall hedges nearby. Gertrude spun around just in time to see a flash of white mane and the gleam of a golden horn.

She had a unicorn infestation.

Gertrude vaguely recalled reading about this sort of thing in Martha Stewart years before, about using your garden to commune with unicorns and kelpies and whatnot, establishing a symbiotic relationship. Her hands balled into fists.

Damn the unicorn. She wanted her tulips to live.

Gertrude promptly drove down to Lowe’s, where she waited thirty minutes for an attendant in a blue vest to notice her pacing the vermin control aisle.

“Unicorns?” The man gawked at her, scratching a zit on his jaw. “We don’t have anything for unicorns. They’re a protected species.”

“There must be something. I’ve lived here for twenty years and I’ve never had a problem before.” Tears filled her eyes. “I can’t let these things eat my beauties.” When she sat on her screened-in back patio, staring at her garden with tea in hand, she could pretend her Hugh was still alive and in the chair beside her. Hugh would have scared off the unicorn with a BB gun, like he did pigeons. As angry as she was, a shotgun felt more appropriate.

“Those fires last summer and the dry winter probably drove ’em into the valley to forage. Could be worse. We could get werewolves or sasquatches. They do a lot worse than eat flowers. They eat people, animals, whatever.”

“So what do you suggest?”

“I dunno. Check the mythology?”

Gertrude headed home. She checked the combination U-V volume of her encyclopedia set.

“Unicorns are all about purity and innocence,” she muttered. “I need something to counter that and drive the thing away.”

She drove to the mall, to Hot Topic. After flashing a twenty, she drove back home with an authentic gum-chewing goth in her passenger seat.

“I just gotta be home by five before my boyfriend gets up for night shift,” the girl said. Her numerous facial piercings reminded Gertrude of metal thumbtacks in a corkboard. “So, you just want me to walk around your yard and stuff?”

“Yes. I’ll pay you twenty more afterward.” This would work. This girl probably listened to that black death metal or whatever they called it. She just had to let her corrupt little body waft around the flowers for a while. That was all. No gunfire necessary.

Gertrude prepared some tea while the girl did her wafting. When she headed to the patio to take in the view of her perfect garden, she saw the black-clad girl sitting on the grass. The unicorn used her lap for a pillow.

“This isn’t what I’m paying you for!” Gertrude burst out into the garden. The unicorn scrambled up and leaped over the hedge and away.

“Oh my God. Did you see that? A freaking unicorn!” The girl squealed.

“You’re not supposed to be a virgin!” Gertrude snapped.

“The hell if that’s any of your business! Oh God. I have to tell Becky I pet a freaking unicorn.” She squealed again and pulled out her cell phone.

Gertrude dropped off the goth at the mall and then drove south. She needed something nastier, more corrupt, so she headed to south Everett.

The necromancer’s office was in an old strip mall near the Boeing plant. The place reeked of formaldehyde and pepperoni pizza. An empty pizza box still sat on the man’s desk.

“Sure, you can rent a zombie for a week,” he said. “What, you scaring off neighborhood kids?”

“Something like that.”

“Here. Fill out these forms.” He slid a thick stack her way. “I’ll feed him brains so he’ll be satiated until you return him. Just keep him fenced in, okay?”

“Yes, fine.” Gertrude skimmed through and signed papers.

While she sipped her tea that evening on her porch, she studiously ignored the shambling undead man amongst her rhododendrons. This would work. Nothing could be more profane than the soulless undead.

The next morning, she found her entire garden dead. Everything. The rhodies, the tulips, the ferns. Even the needles of the pine tree had turned brown. The zombie shuffled in his mindless circles. Gertrude rushed for the legal paperwork to find that shill necromancer’s phone number, and noted a bold print warning on page six.


Gertrude let the papers fall to the floor. “Oh my,” she said weakly.

She returned the zombie.

At home again, she stood in the ruins of her backyard and sobbed. Hugh planned this garden, planted the trees and bushes. Now it was all gone. Hooves crunched on the dry grass beside her. She stiffened.

“It’s all dead. There’s nothing to eat here now.”

The unicorn ambled to the brown tulips and lowered its head, horn scraping the ground.

A thick green leaf pushed through the mulch.

Gertrude sucked in a breath. The unicorn could have revived her tulips all along. She looked at the grass beside her and found green in the shape of hoof prints. A slow smile spread across her face.

“Wait here and I’ll get some carrots,” she said, backing away slowly.

Maybe Martha Stewart was right after all.

Beth Cato resides in Arizona with her husband and son. Her work has appeared such places as Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, and Stupefying Stories. For information on her latest projects, please visit

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