Five nights ago, as the sun sank below the horizon and the glow of vibrant colors faded, we three were visited by a fourth from our world. It was the Hargo Chetti. Like us, he had a long flowing beard and a pointy hat, but, unlike us, his face was twisted into a menacing glower. His shell was monotone brown, it was just a temporary husk pulled together from the earth for our meeting. There was no point in a permanent shell; Master Hargo couldn’t stay in the world of humans for long. (Humans thought of the gnome’s shell as the gnome, but to us it was just a container for our noncorporeal selves.) It’s the scowl. The shell must reflect the gnome’s nature, and no one wants a scowling gnome in their garden. Well, there may be demented people who would like such a gnome, but those people are already beyond our assistance.
In gnomish, a language that doesn’t register in human hearing organs, Hargo said, “I come bearing orders from the Council. They want you to be more active in your man’s dream state.”
I was impressed by Hargo’s ability to project his voice to us, given our wide spacing. We three can only communicate in close proximity, or in the man’s dream state. I was less pleased with the content of his message. I bristled in my response, “I assure you that we are intervening when necessary to keep the man’s dream world from falling into darkness.”
Hargo huffed, “The Council’s orders go beyond maintaining the status quo.”
I said, “We’ve seen nothing suggesting the man needs an injection of cheer into his dream state. Surely, you’ve read our reports.”
Hargo replied, “The Council, which I needn’t remind you has more vision and wisdom than a mere worker gnome, isn’t requesting an injection of good cheer. They desire shadow-mares.” Shadowmares were like nightmares but the ones that cannot be remembered in the waking state. Humans imagine that a nightmare that they can’t remember is inconsequential and has no impact on their waking lives. They are wrong.
Furk, one of my peers, just said, “Yes.” Furk was bored. He thought three gnomes for one man was excessive, particularly when that one man wasn’t important. I suspect because one of the neighborhood cats liked to wee on his shell, Furk had soured on our assignment. Though correlation not being causation, I couldn’t eliminate the possibility that the cats peed on him because he was such a jerk.
I was momentarily speechless. Hookl was also speechless, but that was his usual state.
After a long pause, I said, “I would like confirmation that this is the will of the Council.”
Hargo’s scowl seemed to tighten. Icily, he said, “Are you calling me a liar?”
I felt a shudder rise up through me, but still managed to reply, “No. I just think such a rare and unusual order demands great care.”
“You have your orders.” Hargo said, and then his shell collapsed into a pile of dirt, which was then caught up in the breeze and spread over the lawn. By morning there would be no trace of him.
I didn’t trust the Hargo Chetti. He looked like Santa, sans the jolly. What screams lie more than a scowling Santa. Yet, he is our only point of contact with gnome world while we are on assignment. I’ve always thought that was a weakness in our system.
As Furk began to plan and Hookl resumed being Hooklish (which is to say disinterested), I strained to propel my shell toward the driveway. I moved as swiftly as I could, but it was still a pace that would make a turtle proud by comparison.
A few hours later, I noticed lights stretching down the road toward the drive, the twin beams — with the car— decelerated. The car swung into the drive nearly crushing my shell. Had the shell been crushed, I would have been evicted back to our home world. Gnomes required a shell. I wasn’t powerful enough to summon a shell from the dirt, like Hargo had, not even for a short time. My plan had been to get onto the driveway and block access to the garage. In retrospect, it was not a well-thought plan, but it was the only warning I could give the man in his waking state. Once he went to sleep, it might be too late.
The man seemed to take note of my changed position, but he didn’t return my shell to its original position. He just shrugged and walked into the house.
I wanted to persuade Furk to hold off on obeying the order for now. Silently screaming gnomish across the lawn wouldn’t work, I didn’t have Hargo’s power of projection. The distance between us was too great.
I would have to subvert Furk in the man’s dream state. It would be difficult; Furk would have a plan by now, and I would have to improvise, injecting characters into the dream as needed to counter the shadowmare. In the dream state, I wouldn’t look dwarfish – unless that was called for. I could morph into any character that I could imagine. If you’ve ever had a dream and seen a face that looks totally unfamiliar, you’ve had a gnome dream. If you aren’t sure if you were the lead character in your dream, a gnome has probably been monkeying around in your noggin.
Four nights ago, I convened a meeting to the side yard. I wanted to be out of sight. Humans often won’t miss a gnome if it’s gone, but seeing three cavorting draws undue attention. I migrated across in front of the house, a two bedroom ranch, and nudged Hookl, who was positioned midway between my usual position and Furk’s. We then proceeded to meet up with Furk. This would put me at a disadvantage. Moving the gnome shell by force of consciousness is exhausting, and if I had to battle it out with Furk in the man’s dream state that night I would be weaker than usual.
For Furk, who was positioned near the corner of the house, the journey to the side yard and back would short. This was probably why he agreed.
I said, “As you well know, I want to hold off on initiating shadowmares.”
Furk said, “An order has been given by the Council. It may be unusual, but I’m sure they have a good reason, and it is not ours to challenge.”
Hookl said nothing.
I replied, “Maybe they do, and if they confirm their order I will comply. But this is serious, and if there is not an explicit order from the Council, then it is high crime against the Gnome Code of Conduct. You know what shadowmares can do to humans after a time. The humans might not consciously recognize the effects, but we know them well.”
Furk retorted, “If the Council didn’t give the order, then the Hargo Chetti is a liar. Are you prepared to make that accusation, because I’m not?”
Hookl said nothing.
I said, “I’m not calling anyone a liar. I’m just saying this is an extremely rare order and since there is only one gnome linking the Council to us, the possibility for miscommunication exists. If it were a less risky order it might not justify my concern. What if the man does something disastrous because of our mental mischief?” I was lying. I did think Hargo was a liar, but saying that would serve nothing.
Furk said, “It’s like Hargo said, you can’t see the whole picture.”
Before we could even begin our retreat back to our proper positions, we heard the car slow and turn into the drive. There was no use in moving now.
I said, “The man is home. Furk, it is clear that we will not be able to persuade each other. I want to hear where Hookl stands, and we will decide by majority.”
Hookl was not happy to be put in the role of tie-breaker. Making decisions was not his strong suit. “Gee, I’ll get back with you tomorrow.”
We three were well-attuned to the man’s brainwaves. We knew when he went into the house. We all knew that he noticed we were missing. We knew when he was about to come back outside with his flashlight. Soon he was shining the light on us. His forehead was crinkled and his lips pursed. It was an expression of puzzlement. He was trying to figure out how we had gotten into the side yard.
Three nights ago, one of us was ejected from this world. As darkness fell, in the feeble light, I approached Hookl to inquire about how he intended to vote. I had no intention of reconvening the group. Furk could come to us if he wanted. He did so.
Hookl said, “I mean, I don’t think we should be hasty. We should take our time, and figure things out. Rushing now won’t help any…” He just went on like that, noncommittally, for some time.
It must have sounded to Furk like Hookl was siding with me because Furk kept migrating, pushing into Hookl’s side. I don’t know if Furk just wanted to persuasively intimidate Hookl, or if his intentions were more nefarious. At any rate, there is a slope to the land in the front yard, and many loose rocks. This contributed to Hookl’s shell begining to tip; Furk did not let up. There was nothing I could do but watch as Hookl’s shell tipped.
There was a hole in the bottom of Hookl’s shell from the manufacturing process. It didn’t matter as long as the hole was sitting on the ground. If the shell tipped over, Hookl could maintain himself inside as long as there was only on hole in the container. It was the same principle as a bucket being inverted and pushed down into water. The bucket captures air inside. Add a second hole, and the water plunges in to push the air out. When Hookl’s shell tipped, its shoulder landed on a rock and the ceramic cracked. In a whoosh, Hookl was ejected and forced back to our world, to our dimension.
There would be at least one more night of battling it out with Furk
Two nights ago, my fight with Furk continued beyond the dream state and into the physical world. It ended with a gnome sumo match, and Furk was sent home much as Hookl had been.
I didn’t know how long it would be before someone showed up, Hargo or someone on the Council’s behalf. If I was right, and Hargo had gone rogue, it might be never. He might cut his losses.
I began to rest easy in the belief that I could protect this man’s dream state. And then the putz put a baseball bat through the side of my head.
TO BE CONCLUDED