Note: This post is part of a series of stories about a boy. Find the rest and other writing by browsing the “writing” category. Feel free to drop a comment and let me know if you liked it, or how it can be improved.
Gaylord was shoulder deep in the fridge, searching for snacks. Despite the appliance being nearly overflowing with food, there weren’t many edible-looking options. The back of the shelves contained jars of mysterious oily liquids and plastic sacks of squished things. These were guarded by a wall of leftovers: desiccated meatloaf, plastic containers of spoiled squash, wilting salads, plates of half fruits and vegetables, a bagel with a bite taken out of it. Jammed in front were the freshest options. But last week’s foil-wrapped enchiladas were no more appealing than a sweaty pot of meatless chili.
Today’s snack would be a handful of bacon bits and a graham cracker. Both were damp from being stored in the fridge, but it was a better option than being nibbled by the pantry’s resident cockroaches.
Gaylord dusted off a glass and poured himself some apple juice. He took a long sip and looked around the kitchen. Two beady eyes stared back. The gnome hid amongst an old upright vacuum and a stool stacked with clean towels. A tattered red cap cast a thick shadow on its haggard face and grey beard speckled with crumbs. It stood still and stared at the opposite wall. If its little chest hadn’t been breathing, it could have been mistaken for a lawn sculpture.
Gaylord looked away, and pretending not to have noticed the little man, steadied his nerves and set the glass on the counter. He downed another handful of bacon bits and closed the fridge.
The gnome was gone. Body odor and garbage smells lingered in the gnome’s hiding spot. A tattered box of single serving cereal was spilled on the floor, along with a few scattered crumbs and a pool of urine.
“That stupid idiot ruined my corn puffs!” Gaylord mumbled as he stomped off to his bedroom.
Gaylord heaved a pile of toys and drawings off his bed and looked out the window into the backyard. An overgrowth of tall, dead weeds was surrounded by scraggly trees, thorny underbrush and a chain-link fence. Beyond the fence was a thick and seemingly endless wooded area. The trees were gnarled and ugly, many of them dead-looking even past winter. Gaylord didn’t like hiking too far into the woods, but there were a few enticing spots to reach such as a makeshift appliance dump and an unused train track. There was also the door.
From the right angle in his bedroom, Gaylord could see it. About the size of a shoebox lid, the door blended in nearly perfectly to the base of the tree. It was made from the trunk, complete with wooden handle and peephole. But it was neither quaint nor well-made. The edges were roughly cut, and the handle looked like it had been part of a garden spade. Besides the door, there was no evidence of habitation. No toadstool chairs. No little smokestack or flower garden. The tree felt quiet and abandoned.
Gaylord strained his eyes, hoping that this time he catch the gnome actually going inside the tree. But it was getting too dark to see much anyway, and prime-time sitcoms were imminent. Like the night before, it would be canned laughter, a shower, and bed.
As Gaylord lied in bed, he though about the grammar rules being tested tomorrow. He was struggling to get past the pink box that focused on adverbs. There were two blond girls that had already gotten through all the lessons. He had a crush on the athletic one that always wore shorts. The other had such pale skin you could see the veins in her face.
That night, the boy dreamed of crawling through a tunnel.
Gaylord awoke. Something had bumped into his nightstand. The lampshade bobbed. In the darkness, a little pointed hat made a break for the door, wheezing as it tripped over a pile of blocks. The gnome passed through the sliver of light and scampered down the hallway, leaving the smell of body odor and urine behind.
Without turning on the lamp, Gaylord sat up and looked out the window. Only the grass was visible under the moon. The yard was still and empty. It must have been the middle of the night. Gaylord reached for his watch. But its spot on the nightstand was empty.
“Oh come on! That watch even had a calculator on it!”
Gaylord stayed up waiting for that little kleptomaniac to return to his hideout in the woods. With heavy eyes, he tallied up all of the items the gnome had taken:
– Four, no five boxes of cereal
– Engine car of the Lego monorail
– Pair of scissors
– Leather belt
– Bowl of chips
– Ad in a video-game magazines that featured an attractive female tennis player
– Small pack of firecrackers
– Various coins
– Unused bar of soap from a motel
– Stuffing from a bed pillows
– Handful of marbles
– Plaque off bowling trophy (though it might have just fallen off)
– Small army backpack
– And now, the calculator watch
They were a random assortment of trinkets, all small enough to fit through that little door. Why the gnome wanted them, Gaylord couldn’t guess. But he clearly imagined that somewhere inside that tree, maybe deep underground, they were getting ruined.
The following day at school, Gaylord was surrounded by gnomes. The floors, walls, shelves, snack tables, play areas and just about anywhere in that Waldorf classroom was full of them. These were just toys of course, but Gaylord eyed them cautiously. He wasn’t going to be taking any unnecessary chances with his sandwich.
Gaylord did poorly on his grammar test and missed a few easy shots in kick ball. Throughout the day, he instinctively looked at his wrist only to find a watch-shaped tan line. Both of the blondes were home with the flu. The day dragged slowly into the afternoon.
“How was your day?” Gaylord’s mom asked soon after he got in the station wagon.
“Fine, except for all the gnomes.” Gaylord mumbled grumpily.
“Oh yeah?” His mother chuckled. “What have they been up too?”
“Well most recently, one of them stole my watch.”
They were at a stoplight. A homeless man was walking amongst the cars and asking for money. A plastic bag was stuck to the underside of a bumper like an embarrassing tuft of toilet paper.
“Mom, do you think that Gramps is a gnome?”
“I don’t know. Why do you think so?”
“Ms. Stanco said that if someone’s spirit doesn’t improve in a lifetime, he comes back as a gnome.”
His mother chuckled.
“Well, that’s sure a sad fate.”