I watched as the gnome approached me. Oh shit, I thought. This can’t be good. It had been a long boring Friday evening at the library. I had been filing books and organizing shelves for hours, and had a lot of coffee in my system. By this time, it was really no surprise that I was imagining fictional creatures.
This little fellow looked as though he had walked right out of my neighbour’s garden. They had tons of the things, all closely resembling this guy -- short, plump figures dressed in blue robes and red caps, with bulbous noses and long white beards that hung down their fronts.
“Sorry,” I said as he reached me, “but I don’t have time for hallucinations right now. You’ll have to come back later.”
“No, please, I really, really need your help,” his shrill voice said petulantly. He sounded so pitiful that I couldn’t help but look down at him. One single tear slipped out of his eye and rolled down his face.
“Alright,” I sighed. “What do you need?”
“I’m looking for some books. About gnomes.”
“Right. Well, we don’t exactly have a ‘gnomes’ section, but I’ll search the database. Do you want anything specific, or just gnomes?”
“I’m looking for the history of gnomes, actually.”
I entered the search and quickly scanned the results. “Ok, we’ve got a few matches, but not many. They’re all in the fiction section, right over there,” I pointed. I handed him a printout of all the books we had on the subject.
For the next half hour, I shelved books and reorganized the magazine rack about five times. I was just taking a sip of my coffee when I heard a long wail of anguish.
I rushed over to where the sound had come from, and found the gnome sitting beside a stack of open books. “This is a library,” I shushed. “You have to be quiet!”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just that I was really counting on those books, but they’re useless!” I could see the tears brimming in his eyes again.
“Okay, okay,” I said, hoping desperately that he wouldn’t start crying again. “Just tell me what you need, and I’ll do my best to help you. Anything, I’ll do anything.”
“A place to stay would be really nice…” he said wistfully.
* * *
When we got home that night, a familiar face popped up over the hedge. “Oh, hi there, Mrs. Doodlefeather,” I said unenthusiastically.
“Hello, I’m sorry to bother you, but I was just wondering if you had maybe seen a gnome around? One of ours went missing.”
“Oh, um…” At this point I noticed that my gnome was hiding behind my legs. “Nope, I haven’t seen any gnomes, sorry.”
Her face fell. “Oh, okay, well thanks anyway.”
I glared at my gnome all the way back into the house. Once we were safely inside, I picked him up so that he was at eye level. “Did you come from over there?” I growled. He turned his eyes away from my face and squirmed, trying to escape. But it was no use; I had a tight hold on him. “Answer me!’ I roared, shaking him. He cringed and hung limp.
“Yes,” he muttered.
I dropped him. “I want you to go over there and get back in that garden, right now!”
“No, I’m not going back, never! You can’t make me. You promised I could stay here!” Tears welled up in his eyes.
“Fine. Come in and tell me what’s going on; then I’ll decide what to do with you, okay?”
He hugged my legs again. “Oh yes, yes, thank you so much!” We settled into the living room, and then he began. “Long ago, thousands of years by your time, gnomes lived all over this planet.
“Those were prosperous times for us. Then the unexpected hit: a war between humans and dwarves. We gnomes were forced underground.
“We made the best of it all, and tried maintain the usual gnomish policy of cheer and honesty. But some were discontented. They turned to violence and thievery, stealing food to survive.
“The gods were very displeased by this. They decided to punish the behaviour. The war ended when you humans had slaughtered all the dwarves. It was safe to return to the surface. But when we did, we found that we couldn’t move! As punishment, the gods had turned us to stone.
“When the humans found us, they carried us off and put us in their gardens. Luckily, the curse was only to last for 1500 years. That time has just ended. The curse wore off last night.
“For many years, I lived in that garden next door. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by many of my clansmen. When we could move at last, we held a great meeting. It was decided that our first objective was to find the gnomes who had brought this fate upon us and exact our revenge. I was elected the leader of our group. That is why I showed up at your library today. I was hoping you might have some books which would shed illumination on who was at fault.
“So what will you do now?” I asked, interested, in spite of myself.
“We will consult the gods.” His voice was low, dangerous. “We will do it tonight. It is an ancient gnomish ritual that has never been seen by human eyes. No matter what you hear tonight, you must stay in your bed, or your life will be in grave danger.”
* * *
Sleep did not come easily that night, but after much tossing and turning, I eventually drifted off. I was awakened later by a cacophony of babbling noise. In the first few minutes of disoriented wakefulness I tried to discern where the sound was coming from. Then I realized it was all around me. I was completely surrounded by gnomes.
Suddenly, I was moving. The gnomes had lifted me and were carrying me out of bed and down the hall. My body was barely six inches off the floor. They took me out the back door, into the yard. The moon, which was full, shone brightly. They carried me towards a pole in the centre of the yard, surrounded by a pile logs and grass. They tied my hands around the pole behind me with good tight knots.
It was only then that I realized how different these gnomes were from the one I had spent the day with. Their long white hair and beards hung in little rows of braids. They were dressed in grass skirts, with light leather armour across their shoulders and chests. Most had dark lines on their cheeks that looked like war paint. Some carried miniature spears in their hands.
As I watched, one gnome got up onto a little wooden block and gave a long loud shout. Silence fell instantly. Every little gnomish head turned to face this one, whom I assumed to be their leader. Then the music started. Several drums wove a complicated rhythm. A haunting melody, played on some sort of whistle, floated over it.
The gnomes suddenly came swarming toward me. The funny little men began to do a strange shuffling dance. One of them came forward; he was holding something – a torch? Then he held it down to the bottom of the pile I stood on, which caught fire.
The flames spread quickly up the pile. The inner circle of dancing gnomes came forward and threw more logs on. I began to struggle. I pulled at the ropes around my wrists, hoping to either break them or slip my hands out. But the ropes were strong and tied tightly.
The flames were climbing higher and higher. I could now feel the heat getting uncomfortable on my legs. And the gnomes kept throwing more wood on. I yelled at them frantically. They just laughed. The last thing I ever heard was the little buggers laughing at me.