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The Gnome of Elderberry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GNOME

OF

ELDERBERRY

THE GNOME OF ELDERBERRY

By PORPHYRO

Published by PORPHYRO at Shakespir

Copyright 2016 PORPHYRO

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

 

1.

 

Travelling one day down the path, lost in the woods—uh-oh—a young woman comes across The Gnome.

 

He has a big nose that can be seen from A MILE away…!

 

…but not really. It is a huge nose, though. (Imagine a fist attached to your face. Actually, imagine a fist so big, it might as well be two fists attached to your face.)

 

The young woman is happy to see him. She’s usually wonderful at finding her way, just wonderful. This is the first time she’s ever been truly lost. It’s been an entire hour since she’s known where north was north.

 

And so she’s happy to see a fellow traveler, no matter how humungous the fellow traveler’s nose is.

 

He’s way up there in the clearing, going down the path—

 

“—okay, okay,” you say. “Enough about him and his nose. What about the girl?! What’s her name?” And I say, Oh? Has she caught your attention now? How interesting. (I raise my eyebrow.) Well, for starters, her name is of no importance.

 

Well, but hold on. That came out wrong. I didn’t mean it to sound like that. Because I suppose if we’re to talk about her, it would be insulting to keep referring to her as, “Girl,” or “Young Woman,” or “No-Name,” or, “A Name of No Importance.” So let us look at her closely and examine her traits. Perhaps with a little bit of study, we can choose a moniker even better than the one her parents did.

 

Let’s see…she’s rather short. Not as short as The Gnome—God no. She’s short in the usual way. She’s human, after all. Her nose is rather small, not so ginormous as his. Her hands, on the other hand, her hands…. Hmm. They’re rather large for girl hands. And her feet are rather large as well. Hmm. If she were a boy, that would mean—

 

—but enough about the physicals. Enough about her dark hair and her dark eyes. Enough about how fast she walks, about her great sense of direction, about her prodigious ability to focus on the task at hand.

 

But wait! Sense of direction…. Prodigious ability to concentrate…. These are the types of things we want to talk about! Yes, her emotional stability. Her stick-to-itiveness. Her quick wit, vivacity, and sheer optimism. These are the type of things that really make up a person.

 

Ah, but enough, enough, enough! We’ll be making lists about her all day at this rate.

 

Let’s just call her what her father does: Ruthie. A rather stupid name, don’t you think? At least for her it is. Ruth, Ruth, Ruth…. Doesn’t that mean sadness? Grief? Regret? Doesn’t it mean all of those things that are opposite of this cheerful girl? Ruth, Ruth, Ruth…. Ruthie.

 

Ah, but it will have to do.

 

Ruthie cups her hands.

 

 

RUTHIE. (from afar) Sir, sir! Please wait up!

 

THE GNOME. (shouting) Can’t! Got places to go!

 

 

And though he sounds like a rude little one, it’s true. He does have places to go. Oh sure, he could have said it a little nicer. But it’s true.

 

He’s carrying a rickshaw full of heavy orbs. Each of them is about the size of a melon. And they’re made out of beautiful, polished glass. And they’re all dyed a deep, deep purple. And, if you listen closely, they each make a distinct oscillating sound: woOOoooOOooOoOooOooOoooOOooOOOOOoo.

 

Oh…! Oh…! And, and each of them have vicious swirls of black and red deep, deep inside the core. Yes, that’s right. Vicious swirls.

 

They’re interesting orbs. Very interesting.

 

It doesn’t look like The Gnome cares very much about them, though. Because if he did, he would be sure to wrap each of them up in a protective cloth. After all, how could he transport Fragility like that? Glass hitting glass with every bump. That’s irresponsible.

 

You’re an irresponsible carrier, Mr. Gnome. You’ll get chips like that. You’ll cause scratches on your orbs.

 

(But don’t feel too bad, Mr. Gnome. You’re a hard-working carrier, too.)

 

And I’m not just saying that to flatter The Gnome. Because he sure is laboring an awful lot. He’s got the thousands of sweat drops to prove it. His clothes are drenched, his forehead shines, and his arms are a crazy tremble. It looks like he can hardly carry his cart anymore.

 

 

RUTHIE. Wait sir!

 

THE GNOME. Can’t! Load’s too heavy!

 

 

The Gnome’s afraid if he puts the cart down, he’ll never be able to pick it up again. As previously mentioned—his arms a crazy tremble.

 

 

RUTHIE. I see that, sir! But please wait!

 

 

She rushes towards him. Her long legs (at least compared to his) move her swiftly. He should be jealous she can move so fast.

 

And, actually, he is rather peeved he can’t outpace her, the gremlin, the sour, sour man. He would have liked nothing better than for her to be chasing him, “Sir! Sir!” only to despairingly watch the distance between them to grow further and further apart.

 

Alas, things don’t happen that way. She’s right by his side within seconds.

 

 

THE GNOME. (grumbling) What do you want?

 

RUTHIE. I’ve lost my way, sir, and I’d like to know how to get back. My father is waiting for me.

 

THE GNOME. It ‘TAINT my problem you got lost!

 

 

He scowls. That’s worth at least three more exclamation marks…!!!

 

 

RUTHIE. I suppose I did wander a little too far past the river….

 

THE GNOME. I suppose you did.

 

RUTHIE. Sir?

 

THE GNOME. What is it, ya pest?! (he throws his cart down) You know what you’re like? Hmmmmm? You’re like a mosquito that flies too close to your ears. High-pitched little buggers. Awful, awful. It’s like they’re taunting you, buzzing so close to your ears. They know you can’t possibly catch them. It’s like they’re telling you—“I’m here! I’m about to sting!” Well if you’re going to suck my blood and give me a huge itchy pimple, just do it. Just ruin my day. You don’t have to buzz so close to my ears.

 

RUTHIE. Sir?

 

THE GNOME. What?!

 

RUTHIE. I’ve ventured into a different land, haven’t I? I’m looking at those trees nearby and they’re nothing like I’ve ever seen before.

 

THE GNOME. (he shrugs) What’s it to me?

 

RUTHIE. What are those giant orbs you’re carrying in your cart?

 

THE GNOME. Those? (he points to them)

 

 

Ruthie is too polite to say something like, “No, the ones down your throat.” Or, “No, no, I mean the ones hidden inside your shoes.”

 

 

RUTHIE. Yes, yes. Nose. (she covers her mouth) Those, rather! Sorry!

 

THE GNOME. Those are my thoughts.

 

RUTHIE. Oh my. They look…quite heavy.

 

THE GNOME. (grumbling) They are. Almost unbearably so. (he rubs his biceps and winces)

 

RUTHIE. To where are you taking them, sir?

 

THE GNOME. To the end of this path!

 

RUTHIE. Where does this path lead, sir?

 

THE GNOME. That doesn’t matter!

 

RUTHIE. Well sure it does!

 

THE GNOME. You’re abusing me! Away! Away! Get away! You abuse!

 

RUTHIE. How do I abuse you, sir?

 

THE GNOME. I’m too tired to flee from you. I need my rest. You’re forcing yourself onto me. Your voice…! It’s sonic torture! It’s downright sonic tor—

 

RUTHIE. —what if the path curves around all sorts of towns and villages? What if it would be quicker to get off of it?

 

THE GNOME. And do what?! Drag my cart through the grass?

 

RUTHIE. Ah yes. I suppose that is a problem. Hmm.

 

THE GNOME. Grumble, grumble, grumble.

 

RUTHIE. I’m sorry, what was that?

 

 

The Gnome holds a finger up. It’s like he’s saying, wait a minute.

 

He then takes a biscuit out of one of his dirty pockets and stuffs it into his mouth.

 

After a good chewing, he opens his mouth and displays all of the nasty munch and gush inside.

 

 

THE GNOME. Blah!

 

 

The Gnome laughs to himself.

 

 

RUTHIE. (unfazed) Sir?

 

THE GNOME. (still chuckling) Mmm?

 

RUTHIE. What if I help you out? I could pull the cart for a little bit.

 

THE GNOME. No, no, no! Don’t you even think about it!

 

RUTHIE. How far do you have to go, sir? What if, in exchange for directions, I take your cart a few miles down the road?

 

THE GNOME. Ha! I have to go a lot further than a few miles.

 

RUTHIE. Yes, I understand that. But isn’t a little help better than none?

 

THE GNOME. Hmmmfff! (he crosses his arms) I don’t want your stinking help.

 

RUTHIE. But why not?

 

THE GNOME. You’ll cause the cart to tip over.

 

RUTHIE. Is it really that heavy?

 

THE GNOME. It really is.

 

RUTHIE. Who nose? (she covers her mouth up again) Knows, rather! Who knows? What if I run ahead and manage to get a bike? We can tie the cart to the bike and—

 

THE GNOME. Bike? Eh? Making up words are you?

 

 

As you can see, The Gnome is being impossibly difficult. Perhaps purposefully so.

 

I mean, everyone knows what a bike is! It’s right there in the word! B-I-K-E! It sort of looks like a bike, doesn’t it?

 

…eh. Maybe not. Maybe B-I-K is more like it. Yeah, there you go. You sit on the “I.” The B and the K are the giant wheels that carry you forward.

 

In any case, bike rhymes with hike. The Gnome should at least have a clue. Yeah? Yeah.

 

(…maybe not.)

 

But that’s not even the point. No, that’s not even the point.

 

The point is he’s being unnecessarily grouchy. She’s such a helpful girl, too. It would be something else if she were sticking him up with a knife or insulting his little feet or poking fun at his enormous nose.

 

Stupid little jerk. Why does he have to be so mean? Why does he have to be unnecessarily grouchy? He—

 

—ah, but the girl doesn’t take it so personally as all that. She gets it. Ruthie’s a smart one.

 

See, she figures the reason The Gnome doesn’t want her help is because he’s afraid. Yes! Afraid! He’s afraid she’ll take hold of his cart and outrun him. After all, with her long legs (at least compared to his), it’s very possible.

 

And if she runs off with his cart of goods—why, what does he have left? He’ll have lost all his marbles. He’ll be without a single thought.

 

And that’s a horrible thing, isn’t it? Losing all of one’s marbles? Poor, poor Mr. Gnome. Of course he’s untrusting.

 

She needs to do something to convince him she’s honorable—above suspicion.

 

But what could she possibly do? Hmm. Hmm.

 

 

RUTHIE. Say, mister?

 

THE GNOME. What?!

 

RUTHIE. What are your thoughts about anyway? Are they so very precious as they look?

 

 

This was the wrong thing to say. The wrong, wrong, wrongest thing to say.

 

THE GNOME. Why are you so curious about my thoughts, eh? (he licks his lips) What are you thinking up, eh?

 

 

The Gnome reaches into his smelly little boot and takes out a tiny switchblade.

 

 

RUTHIE. Oh!

 

THE GNOME. You better watch it, girly.

 

RUTHIE. Oh! I was just curious!

 

THE GNOME. Just making conversation, are you?

 

RUTHIE. Yes, yes! Of course.

 

THE GNOME. Well I don’t want your pleasantries. Get! Get! Shoo!

 

RUTHIE. But—

 

THE GNOME. Get! Shoo! (he stabs towards the air between them) Shoo! I’ll puncture yer tumsy!

 

RUTHIE. But, sir! I’m lost!

 

THE GNOME. What’s that to me?

 

RUTHIE. But sir!

 

THE GNOME. Get! (he jabs a little closer)

 

RUTHIE. Fine.

 

 

Ah, but the girl doesn’t take it so personally as all that. She gets it. Ruthie’s a smart one.

 

She pretends as though she’s walking away.

 

But then, all of a sudden, she dashes off to the side and runs towards the cart.

 

 

THE GNOME. Hey! Hey!!!

 

 

Ruthie snatches one of the orbs. To her surprise it is even heavier than she expected, and she was expecting something quite heavy.

 

 

RUTHIE. Oooof!

 

 

She tries to run off with it, but the orb drags her arms to the ground. She can barely hold onto the thing, let alone carry it off somewhere.

 

 

THE GNOME. I knew it! I knew it! Now I’ll really shank you, girly!

 

 

But all of a sudden, the orb lightens considerably—both in color and in weight.

 

It’s much prettier to look at now. And it’s quite a lot easier to carry.

 

Ruthie deftly makes off with it.

 

 

THE GNOME. Hey! Hey!!!

 

 

After several yards of separation, though, she stops in her tracks.

 

 

RUTHIE. There! You see?

 

THE GNOME. Whaa—?!

 

RUTHIE. See? If I really wanted your orbs, I could easily steal them. But I don’t want them.

 

THE GNOME. Whaa—?!

 

RUTHIE. So do you trust me?

 

THE GNOME. How did you do that?!

 

RUTHIE. Do what?

 

THE GNOME. With—the colors!

 

RUTHIE. (slyly) …I’ll tell you if you give me directions back home.

 

 

But now the girl has The Gnome’s attention. He isn’t about to let her go without a fight. No, he isn’t.

 

 

THE GNOME. (slyly) You have yourself a deal.

 

RUTHIE. Oh! Really? Do you mean it? Do you really?

 

THE GNOME. Mmmmm. Well, actually, there’s a caviar.

 

 

She thinks of a giant snail. Spirals on its little shell.

 

Huh? Surely that can’t be right….

 

 

 

RUTHIE. Caveat…?

 

THE GNOME. Mmmhmm. A caveat.

 

 

Ah. Caveat. Caveat….

 

Of course there’s a caveat! There always is with these types of people.

 

Bah! Gnomes. I’m going to tell you something…! Gnomes are the greediest, most—

 

—but Ruthie is more pleasant about it than we are:

 

 

RUTHIE. Of course. Caveat. (she nods)

 

THE GNOME. (rubbing his hands) Yep.

 

RUTHIE. Yep! (she nods)

 

THE GNOME. Indeed! Hee-hee!

 

RUTHIE. Hee-hee….

 

THE GNOME. Hoo-hoo!

 

RUTHIE. Umm. Sir?

 

THE GNOME. Yes, girl? What is it?

 

RUTHIE. Yes—that’s precisely my question. What is it? What is the caveat, sir?

 

THE GNOME. Oh, that! Hee-hee! Don’t worry about that! Hoo-hoo! Just go on and carry my orbs into town like you promised.

 

RUTHIE. …and that’s all?

 

THE GNOME. (OBVIOUSLY changing the subject) It’s quite a journey, girl. I don’t know if you’re strong enough.

 

RUTHIE. Of course I am!

 

THE GNOME. Hee-hee!

 

RUTHIE. Umm…. Is that all?

 

THE GNOME. For now, yes, yes.

 

RUTHIE. You’ll tell me the way back home once we get into town?

 

THE GNOME. We’ll see, we’ll see. Hee-hee!

 

 

She doesn’t trust him. Of course she doesn’t.

 

 

RUTHIE. Oh, but sir! I just realized something. If I walk all that way, I’ll have to walk all the way back here. Your directions will be confusing. Can’t you just point the way right now so I remember?

 

THE GNOME. You think it’s just straight over beyond those woods somewhere, girl?

 

RUTHIE. Well—yes. That’s the way I came.

 

THE GNOME. Are you so sure about that?

 

RUTHIE. I’m positive.

 

THE GNOME. Then how did you get so lost?

 

 

It was a pretty good point.

 

 

RUTHIE. You’re saying…?

 

THE GNOME. I’m saying things are different around here, girl. You made a grave mistake coming to this world in the first place.

 

RUTHIE. I didn’t mean to, sir.

 

THE GNOME. Nevertheless, you’re here.

 

RUTHIE. How do I get back?

 

THE GNOME. You’re actually a lot closer if you come into town with me. You’ll have to take an airship back.

 

RUTHIE. An airship?!

 

THE GNOME. A shrinking one, yes. It’s massive at the start. Huge! It’s huge as—

 

 

Here you suspect he’ll say his nose, eh? But he doesn’t! Instead, he says:

 

 

THE GNOME. It’s as huge as a house. A mansion, even. (he stretches his arms out wide, wide) But that’s only at the start. Once you’re up in the air and floating for a while, it starts to shrink. By the time the craft gets back to your land, it’s as tiny as a midge. (he pinches his fingers together) You’ll have to give it a few weeks before you grow back to your normal size.

 

 

Wait just a darn minute here, Gnome slick. None of this sounds right!

 

 

RUTHIE. But—!

 

THE GNOME. It’s expensive, too. A ticket. Really expensive. Unimaginably so.

 

RUTHIE. But—!

 

THE GNOME. That’s because there’s no tourism in your parts of the world. There’s nothing to do where you come from. So no one bothers going that far. I mean, sure, there’s a route the driver can take if someone actually buys a ticket. But it hasn’t been used in years. Decades.

 

RUTHIE. But—!

 

THE GNOME. Well, that’s enough of that! Are you done wasting my time? Are we actually going to do this thing or not, girlie?

 

RUTHIE. We are, sir. We are….

 

THE GNOME. Good! Then get moving! Get!

 

 

And for the first time in her life, Ruthie feels like crying. None of this seems right. Is The Gnome merely lying in order to convince her to carry his heavy load?

 

Oh! Pray, let him be a mischief-maker! A fibber! A prankster! When they get back into the city, let him say, “I gotcha, girl! The way back home is actually very simple! Just take such and such road and go a little to the left and baboo! you’re back.”

 

Because surely it’s impossible—everything he’s saying. A mansion-sized airship that shrinks to the size a midge? It’s so ridiculous! Is the way here actually that much easier than the way back?

 

Is finding trouble actually that much easier than coming across good fortune?

 

Say it isn’t so!

 

 

 

2.

 

I will spare you the thirty miles they spent together. Just know that for the last ten of them, the enormous city before them only grew bigger and bigger to their dazzled eyes.

 

Now, with only but a few miles left to go, the city downright dominates the skyline.

 

 

THE GNOME. That’s where we’re going?! Hee-hee! Hoo-hoo!

 

 

See, like the girl, The Gnome has never been there before.

 

 

RUTHIE. (struggling with the cart) You’ve never been there before?

 

THE GNOME. (defensively) …have YOU? Eh?

 

RUTHIE. No…but—

 

THE GNOME. —look!

 

 

There’s a small group of travelers up the road ahead. They’re not too far, especially with a good hustle.

 

 

THE GNOME. Come on, girly! Get a move on! They’re our first customers!

 

RUTHIE. But, sir! My arms! I can hardly—

 

 

Oh but is Ruthie always destined to be interrupted? At that very moment, a Shyster speeds right past them. He’s carrying his very own cart. And by the look of things, it’s just as filled with thoughts as The Gnome’s cart is.

 

 

SHYSTER. Zabee-ba-da-doo! (it licks its eyeball)

 

 

But what is that thing? Is it a toad? It looks like a toad. But if it’s a toad, it’s an awful big one. Ugly, ugly creature.

 

“Zabee-ba-da-doo!” What does that mean? The way it said it…. Hmmm. Perhaps akin to something like, “Out of the way!”

 

 

THE GNOME. Hey! Hey! Come back here!

 

 

But the toad doesn’t listen. It’s too busy speeding towards the small group of travelers.

 

The thoughts in the toad’s cart look much better than The Gnome’s. They’re much prettier—a swoonesome emerald color. Not like the blackest black that comprise The Gnome’s.

 

If anyone’s going to sell a thought or two, it’s going to be the toad. That much is obvious.

 

 

THE GNOME. Hurry, girl! Hurry! The Shyster’s beating us!

 

RUTHIE. But my arms!

 

THE GNOME. Hurry!

 

RUTHIE. I can’t….

 

 

Thoroughly exhausted, she drops the cart and drops to her knees.

 

 

RUTHIE. I’m so sorry…..

 

THE GNOME. Bah! Pathetic, pathetic!

 

 

So much for gratitude!

 

 

THE GNOME. Pathetic, pathetic!

 

 

The Gnome takes up the cart and speeds towards the Shyster and the group of suckers.

 

By this point, the Shyster is busy being a huckster. And judging by the expression of the suckers, the hucksting is going quite well.

 

 

THE GNOME. Wait! Wait! Waaaaaait!

 

 

The group directs their attention towards The Gnome.

 

But the Shyster doesn’t want to stop. He keeps going.

 

 

SHYSTER. Zamanamana—zolo foo, ah way way.

 

THE GNOME. Waaaaait!

 

 

And hustle, hustle, hustle! The Gnome arrives fast enough. The group is still utterly captivated by him.

 

 

THE GNOME. (panting) Don’t…buy…from…this…. (*][*wheeze!)

 

SUCKER 1. Horta canoo?

 

SUCKER 2. Sha way way.

 

SUCKER 3. Saloo.

 

THE GNOME. Look!

 

 

The Gnome rummages through the contents of his cart.

 

He takes a little while—he doesn’t want to offer his best at first. Not only will that cost him bargaining power, but these suckers don’t even look that rich. Why sell them one of his most precious thoughts?

 

No, best to find a cruddy one. An orb with chinks in it. One that isn’t too brilliantly colored.

 

 

THE GNOME. (holding a dinky up) Look! Compare this one with that stupid frog’s! Much better, isn’t it?

 

SHYSTER. (stamping its feet) Fana ma hooey, ma fa! BaZEE ma sha way, ma foo za!

 

 

They don’t sound like very happy words. But The Gnome doesn’t care.

 

 

THE GNOME. Eh? Eh? What do you suckers say?

 

 

The suckers look at each other.

 

And then, as though in absolute mutual agreement, they all walk away.

 

 

THE GNOME. Hey! Come back here! If you don’t like what you see, I have this girlie here with me who can glaze them over all pink and pretty. It’ll cost you extra, but it might be worth it! Hey! Hey! Come back!

 

 

But they don’t. They’re not interested in anything but getting away. And getting away quickly, too.

 

 

THE GNOME. Pah! Pathetic, pathetic! (redirecting his focus towards the frog) Oh well. At least they didn’t buy from you, you dirty shyster. I saw them first.

 

SHYSTER. ZAMEE NALA MA MALA MA NAA!

 

THE GNOME. Yeah? What are you going to do about it? Fight me?

 

 

The Gnome sticks his wee-little fists up.

 

Unfortunately, he’s not as intimidating as he thinks is. The Shyster grabs hold of The Gnome’s giant nose and twists it about and nurples it.

 

 

THE GNOME. Oww! Oww! Oww!

 

SHYSTER. Zoi shala ma fey.

 

 

Before The Gnome can do anything but cry and wince and jump about, the toad lets go and speeds off after the travelers.

 

 

THE GNOME. I’ll remember you! Oh I will! (he rubs his nose)

 

 

Ruthie approaches him.

 

 

RUTHIE. …do you speak their language?

 

THE GNOME. Yeah, sure I do.

 

RUTHIE. Well why didn’t you use it? I think it would make you a better salesman.

 

THE GNOME. Because…!

 

RUTHIE. Sir?

 

THE GNOME. What is it?! (he pulls on his hairs) Don’t you ever slow down? Don’t you ever let someone finish their sentence?! (he pulls down on his cheeks; his eyes look huge and exasperated) You know what…? I’m going to tell you something…!

 

 

He’s real sore about losing a sale, you see. And he can’t help but blame Ruthie now.

 

He’s about to start dishing out the ol’ opprobrium, when all of a sudden, Ruthie catches him by surprise:

 

 

RUTHIE. Where are we headed? What is this city called? (she points at the staggering metropolis dominating the horizon)

 

THE GNOME. Oh…. …yeah…. That. It’s called…. (he mumbles)

 

RUTHIE. What was that, sir? I didn’t catch what you said.

 

THE GNOME. Catch that.

 

RUTHIE. Huh? What?

 

THE GNOME. Cashdat, you dummy.

 

RUTHIE. Cashdat?

 

THE GNOME. The name of the city! Any idiot knows that.

 

RUTHIE. I’m sorry, sir. I’ve only just arrived in these parts.

 

 

And it’s at this moment that the girl realizes The Gnome knows absolutely nothing. He might be just as lost as she is. Yes, he might be just as much of a foreigner.

 

Because who says there’s a limit on strange lands? There’s her world. And then there’s this world. What if there’s a gnome’s world as well?

 

Hmm. A dilemma.

 

 

RUTHIE. Sir?

 

THE GNOME. What?!

 

RUTHIE. Why are we heading to…Cashdat?

 

THE GNOME. Because everyone’s ripping me off. I’m tired of it. Tired! It’s time to make my fortune. Enough of this charity business.

 

RUTHIE. Ripping you off?

 

THE GNOME. Yeah, dumb-dumb. Didn’t you see that damned shyster and his cart?

 

RUTHIE. Oh.

 

THE GNOME. Ever since I started my business, there’s been dozens of these damn copycats popping up all over the place. (he crushes his wee-little fist into his wee-little hand) I’m tired of it. Tired! Why should they make their riches while I languish in filth?

 

 

He wants to have a monopoly on thoughts. Hmm. How very Gnome-like of The Gnome!

 

Ruthie hasn’t known The Gnome very long. But she already knows so much about him.

 

Yes, she’s quickly forming many thoughts on what counts as “Gnome-like” behavior. And this avarice is definitely a great example.

 

 

RUTHIE. You came up with this idea, sir?

 

THE GNOME. What idea?

 

RUTHIE. Selling your thoughts?

 

THE GNOME. Well, no….

 

RUTHIE. Others have done it before you?

 

THE GNOME. Of course they have!

 

RUTHIE. But…?

 

THE GNOME. But what?

 

RUTHIE. You were the first to…?

 

THE GNOME. I was the first to buy a cart and lug my ideas around.

 

RUTHIE. Ah!

 

 

She doubts it. But perhaps she can learn something useful if she pretends to admire him.

 

 

RUTHIE. That’s really impressive, sir. That you’re able to give shape to your ideas, I mean. That’s really impressive.

 

THE GNOME. Yeah.

 

RUTHIE. How do you do it, sir? How do you get something from out of your head and…. (*][*Hmm. What’s the phrase?) And give it a physical dimension?

 

THE GNOME. Ha! You’d never be able to do it. Nuh-uh.

 

RUTHIE. Oh. I see. (she nods)

 

THE GNOME. Now get moving! We still have some ways before we get into town.

 

 

Ruthie rubs her aching arms.

 

 

RUTHIE. I can’t, sir. I just can’t.

 

THE GNOME. You’re going to have me carry my cart, are you? All the way there?

 

RUTHIE. Well, not “all the way,” sir. To be fair, I’ve carried it most of the way.

 

THE GNOME. You don’t know just how far I’ve come.

 

RUTHIE. (she rubs her aching arms) I just can’t carry it anymore.

 

THE GNOME. Fine! But you’ll have to make it up to me!

RUTHIE. How so?

 

THE GNOME. By helping me sell some of these thoughts!

 

 

The Gnome takes up the cart.

 

Ruthie can’t help but despair. Because what sort of foul, foul thoughts is The Gnome selling? They don’t look like very nice thoughts. They look rather pessimistic, actually.

 

Well no one’s interested in any of that. They have enough of their own worries to contend with. They don’t need to listen to somebody else’s sourness. They have their own sourness due to their own sour lives—ah!

 

But stop it, stop it, stop it, Ruthie! Stop it! Keep up the good cheer. You were able to transform The Gnome’s thoughts once. You gave them a rosy hue. Those will be much easier to sell, yeah? Yeah?

 

Surely they will!

 

…but what if the buyers sense the desperation? She wasn’t so frantic before. If she tries again, she might turn The Gnome’s thoughts an acrid yellow.

 

“Well,” Ruthie thinks to herself, “I suppose there are people who buy lemons. There are people who buy anything. Anything!”

 

But it isn’t true. Not one person had bought a single one of The Gnome’s thoughts. Not one person.

 

 

 

3.

 

The Gnome stands in the middle of the marketplace. His voice is hoarse from all of the shouting, and his shoulders are smarting from all of the exaggerated arm-waving.

 

It’s evident he doesn’t have much a talent for selling. What The Gnome is really good at—what he should earnestly pursue as a career—is crowd dispersal. Because somehow, The Gnome is able to steer massive amounts of people far, far away from him. He’s made a giant circle of empty space around him, which is something of a miracle.

 

Yes: somehow, The Gnome has convinced hundreds of rude people to walk in line around him.

 

He’s incredibly embarrassing. Prodigiously so.

 

It’s amazing, really. Such a genetic gift is seldom nurtured to such fruition. And it must have been a genetic gift. It must have been. That seed must have been planted from birth, because you can’t possibly teach yourself to be so awkward and shameless.

 

 

THE GNOME. (waving his arms) Come on, you suckers! You goofs! You imbeciles!

 

RUTHIE. I think it would be best if we didn’t insult them so much.

 

THE GNOME. They can’t even understand us.

 

RUTHIE. Why don’t we try talking in their language?

 

THE GNOME. …cuz. (defensively) Hmph.

 

 

But let’s take a moment to describe the panoply of peoples and critters coming up and down the market way.

 

…ah! But let’s not. It would take too long, much too long. For a hundred earlobes, I’d have to give a hundred descriptions; each ear is so very different from the next. “But aren’t a pair of earlobes identical on each person? If there are a hundred earlobes, you only have to give fifty descriptions.” Yes, but that’s assuming these are normal peoples and critters. Some of these peoples and critters—you won’t believe me, but it’s true—actually have mismatched earlobes.

 

And that’s just getting into earlobes. Imagine if we started focusing on chins and feet and heights and hair colors and voice pitches and all of that. “But so much detail isn’t necessary. Just general descriptions will do.” But you don’t understand how much variation exists in the crowd. You’re comfortable grouping eggplant and broccoli under the same label. But it’s a rather useless label, isn’t it? Vegetable. “It is not.” Well I say it is and that’s that.

 

The only thing they all share in common is that none of them look like Ruthie. There.

 

 

RUTHIE. What are you thoughts about, anyway?

 

THE GNOME. They’re good thoughts. They’re profound thoughts. Very, very good thoughts.

 

RUTHIE. Yes, but what specifically about?

 

THE GNOME. Well, about hopelessness really.

 

RUTHIE. Hope…lessness?!

 

THE GNOME. Yeah. …don’t look at me like that. Someone’s got to say it!

 

RUTHIE. Say what? That things are hopeless?

 

THE GNOME. Sure! It comforts the soul when there’s somebody else out there who shares your beliefs. Everyone always acts so cheery. Look at that stupid dog over there strutting about, tongue wagging and everything.

 

 

The Gnome points at a dog briskly walking about on two legs. It does look sort of goofy.

 

 

THE GNOME. Look at that idiot. Hey! Hey! You! Stop, doggeh! Thoughts for sale! Good thoughts! Deep thoughts!

 

 

But the “doggeh” continues on its merry way. It wears such a vacuous expression, one wonders if it has ever suffered.

 

But stop it, Ruthie! Stop judging peoples and critters for being happy. The Gnome is rubbing off on you.

 

 

THE GNOME. (grumbling) It’s rather hard for a sorrowful fellow. He feels lonesome in this “happy” world. Well I alleviate that. I think about despair. I think long and hard about it. I think about unalterable fate, brief lives, meaningless existences, long deaths, and eternal pains. You could say that I’m quite the fatalist! Quite!

 

RUTHIE. Quite…the…!

 

THE GNOME. Yes. Quite!

 

RUTHIE. But sir? Who would willingly purchase such thoughts?

 

THE GNOME. Someone will. Someone eventually will! They have to. If only you’d quit distracting me!

 

 

The Gnome shoves her out of the way. He resumes his embarrassing arm-waving.

 

 

THE GNOME. Thoughts! Thoughts for sale! Good thoughts, deep thoughts! Thoughts for sale!

 

RUTHIE. Sir?

 

THE GNOME. Thoughts for sale!

 

RUTHIE. Sir? For what purpose are saving up?

 

THE GNOME. For the purpose of buying myself a ticket on that airship!

 

 

Wait just a minute there! Does that mean The Gnome is also from…?! But no. No. It’s impossible. Utterly impossible. There’s no one alive with such a ginormous nose. Not where Ruthie’s from, there’s not.

 

He must be going elsewhere.

 

But at this rate, he’s going to end up going nowhere.

 

 

RUTHIE. (swallowing her nerves) Just one minute, sir.

 

 

She grabs one of his dark, depressing orbs.

 

 

THE GNOME. Hey! Hey! No, no, no! Don’t touch!

 

 

Ruthie tries to hold it up to the crowd, but the orb is too heavy.

 

Just like last time, though, she tries her best to hold on long enough.

 

 

THE GNOME. Come back here with that!

 

 

Is The Gnome stupid? Or is he really that stubborn? Does he really think his ideas will sell?

 

 

THE GNOME. Come back here! I’ll bite ya! I’ll bite ya!

 

 

Luckily for Ruthie, the orb starts turning a splendent color. It isn’t quite the stunning pink it was last time. It’s more of a purple, really. But it’s still quite beautiful to look at.

 

 

RUTHIE. (holding the orb up) …thoughts for sale!

 

 

For once, the crowd of passersby seem interested. This slows The Gnome down. He’s not so eager now to chomp down on Ruthie’s leg.

 

 

RUTHIE. Thoughts for sale!

 

 

A group of three “boys” in particular seem especially excited to check out her wares.

 

(I say “boys,” but who knows what they really are? They could be “girls,” to tell you the truth. And they could also be “adults.” The Gnome, after all, is a miniature man. And I’m sure he isn’t the only one. These little tykes are shorter than The Gnome, but they could also be older than The Gnome as well. Who knows? Who knows? It’s exasperating. “Boys,” “girls,” and “adults.” Which one is it? It’s impossible to tell. You can’t put these bizarre little people squarely into one category or another. It’s impossible. Why? Well because they’re strange little critters. That’s why. One of them looks like a flower, for crying out loud. Another one looks like a coffee bean. Well what does an adult coffee bean look like? Even a child can be roasted and ground. But how morbid! Stop it, stop it, stop it! I’m hitting myself over the head. You can’t see it, but I am. My apologies—really. The Gnome is rubbing off on me. Anyway, we will call them “boys” because Ruthie calls them “Boys.” She doesn’t even give it a second thought. The moment they run up to her and ooo and ah, she thinks of them as “boys.” How is she so self-sure? How is she so confident? Who knows. Ruthie is a smart girl. Much smarter than I am.)

 

 

RUTHIE. Hello there, boys!

 

COFFEE BEAN BOY. Zee yong ma zuey ma fa la?

 

FLOWER PETALS. Ar yoo mo nizong ma na.

 

THIRD BOY. Zemnay! Zemnay!

 

RUTHIE. Would you like to hold one?

 

 

Ruthie motions towards the thought she’s cradling in her hand. She figures it’s a good way to market her goods—a little sample here and there; a little taste of something good.

 

But is it actually good? Ruthie doesn’t know. She holds the thought, sure. And she influences it. But she doesn’t really register it much.

 

What does the thought think?

 

 

THIRD BOY. Zerbo er ma zoo fuey fuey.

 

RUTHIE. Go on! Take it!

 

 

The Gnome is outraged.

 

 

THE GNOME. Now who said you could give away my goods?! You’ll have to pay for that one! You will.

 

 

What does the thought think? She’ll watch the boy’s face and see for herself. If his lips pucker, she’ll assume it’s a sour idea she’s given him.

 

THIRD BOY. (taking hold of the thought) Zay! Na fuey ma mo zay! Zay!

 

 

His face lights up considerably.

 

In fact, the whole orb lights up considerably. It’s bright, bright, glorious shine.

 

 

THIRD BOY. Zay! Na zay!

 

 

By the look of things, it seems like a good thought. Quite a good thought. This makes Ruthie happy.

 

 

THIRD BOY. (awed) …na zay…!

 

 

The boy gazes at her with wonder.

 

 

THIRD BOY. Zomena er gua fo me la? Joqua? Duqua?

 

 

He gives her a warm smile.

 

 

THIRD BOY. …cinqua?

 

RUTHIE. (unsure) Oh…. Sure! (she nods)

 

 

The little boy reaches into his little pocket and pulls out a hefty little sack. Then, not knowing where else to put it, he shyly drops it at her slippered feet.

 

 

THIRD BOY. Zonka, zonka, ye boo hua!

 

 

The Gnome can’t believe his eyes.

 

 

RUTHIE. Oh! Thank you, little boy!

 

 

Looking pretty darn self-satisfied, the little boy walks away with his brand new purchase. Jaunty, jaunty, jaunty. The boy has a funny little walk. It’s like his butt wiggles. Jaunty, jaunty, jaunty.

 

His two friends jealously tag along. Their butts don’t wiggle, though; no, there’s nothing jaunty about their steps. In fact, they seem to rue the day they were born to poor parents; not everyone can just drop a hefty little sack of coins at any ol’ street vendor’s feet.

 

 

THE GNOME. (rubbing his hands) Hoo-hoo!

 

 

As the boy walks away, Ruthie’s just beaming. She’s beaming. That hefty little sack is so pretty! It’s red and has a gorgeous little bronze medallion stuck right on the front. It’s tied so neatly and elaborately, too! It’s probably worth a good amount around these parts, and that’s just the little sack itself. The coins inside—hoo-hoo! It’s a hefty little sack. Hefty!

 

 

THE GNOME. We’re rich! I’m rich!

 

 

Ruthie can’t help but feel her spirit swell. She doesn’t care much for money. It’s not that, it’s not that at all. It’s that she’s done something! Even accomplishing such a little feat…ah! It’s enough to half-elate her.

 

And the crowd responds accordingly. They’ve seen how pleased the boy looked with his purchase. And they see how radiantly cheerful the vendor is. And so they can’t help their curiosity. Murmur, murmur, murmur. It’s obvious they’re telling each other, “Let’s go get one!”

 

They approach Ruthie and they throw little red hefty sacks at her feet and they wait to receive their thoughts. Murmur, murmur, murmur. “I wonder if she’s any good!”

 

The Gnome jumps up and down with glee. He’s practically clicking his heels and squealing with joy.

 

 

THE GNOME. I’m rich! I’m rich!

 

 

Ruthie goes over to the thoughts. It doesn’t take her as long this time around to convert each one. She’s so very radiant, you see. She almost overwhelms the poor orbs with her overabundant energies.

 

They turn gold! Gold! Not silver, not blue. Not pink or any other pretty color. They turn gold! Gold! The precious color.

 

Little does Ruthie know what she’s doing. Without meaning to, she’s imbuing each orb with a most positive idea. An idea so very positive, in fact, it could have only sprouted from the blackest soils of despair. You see, prior to this most recent magnificent success, Ruthie was actually starting to think she was going to be stuck in this strange world forever.

 

But now? Now Ruthie is starting to see the way out. She’s so sure of her eventual success, so certain she’ll turn out a winner, it’s almost as if she’s already home.

 

Oh! She can see Papa in the corner of her eye.

 

Do you understand, then, what a wonderful idea she’s implanting into each orb? It’s the same idea—that most wonderful idea—that each prisoner harbors in his heart; it’s that hope he tries to kill his fist night in a cell in order to make his new life bearable; it’s that dream he has from time to time, so convincing it forces him to cry. It’s the thought of freedom. Freedom! Not just any old weak, ailing one: the freedom to laze about; the freedom to sleep, to eat, to die. No, no. This was a more meaningful freedom. This was the freedom to escape. A desperate freedom! A freedom desperately fought for!

 

Whoever held one of Ruthie’s golden orbs was immediately injected with this happiest of feelings, this most important of thoughts. Their souls floated! Their souls!

 

How could she not sell out in minutes?

 

 

THE GNOME. Wait!

 

 

Suddenly, The Gnome is holding his head. He looks to be in terrible pain.

 

 

THE GNOME. Wait! Please! Don’t…!

 

 

But Ruthie is much too consumed by the moment to notice him, let alone to hear him. She keeps converting and the little hefty bags keep piling and everything, everything keeps going so well.

 

 

THE GNOME. Wait! Please! Don’t sell all of them!

 

 

He grips his head hard with all ten fingers. But what’s going on? Was The Gnome greedy enough to try and sell every single one of his thoughts? Once Ruthie’s done, will he have anything left in his head? Will he be able to speak? To remember himself?

 

 

THE GNOME. Owwww!

 

 

And that’s all he has left. Because before he’s able to say anything else, anything at all—even a moan!—Ruthie has sold out.

 

 

RUTHIE. We’re done!

 

 

 

4.

 

After everything is done with and the crowd’s dispersed, Ruthie looks absolutely triumphant. There are stars in her eyes; stars that twinkle and gleam. Stars! (I could also be talking about her shining teeth; she’s the widest grin about her right now, Ruthie does.)

 

She feels deserving of some praise. Yup, some pretty heavy praise….

 

As she turns to look at The Gnome (smirky expression, told you so), she doesn’t quite expect him to clicking his heels and squealing with joy, but she does believe he’ll be happy, happy, happy. After all, what else could he be?

 

See, Ruthie doesn’t know much about this whole Gnome business—not yet, at least. And so she certainly doesn’t expect him to be sleeping. But there he is, dirty nose to dirty ground. He doesn’t even bother laying face-up.

 

 

RUTHIE. Oh! Mr. Gnome! You should at least bother laying face up!

 

 

Ruthie goes over and tries to stir him.

 

 

RUTHIE. Mr. Gnome! Mr. Gnome! (she shakes him) Why oh why are you sleeping at such a time as this? This is our moment of triumph, sir. (she shakes him) We should celebrate. We should bless our misfortunes for turning into fortunes. We shouldn’t be so callous. We can’t take such things for granted. (she shakes him) Sleep can come at any time, sir. At any!

 

 

But no matter how hard she shakes him or how much she talks, The Gnome refuses to budge. Is he still alive? All that pressure can’t be good for his nose….

 

She goes over to the pile of bags and cradles a good bunch into her arms—enough to make a pillow. Not the most comfortable pillow, mind you. But a pillow nonetheless.

 

 

RUTHIE. (dropping the sacks into a neat pile) There!

 

 

And then, without much effort, she flips The Gnome over onto his makeshift pad.

 

Now, when I said that Ruthie is smart, I mean it. Had I been in her position, I would have thought it all simply came down to a very gnome thing to do. The Gnome is grouchy? Well that’s because gnomes are grouchy; not just this one in particular, but all of them. This gnome’s ‘much in need’ of money? Well that’s because all of them are. Why? Eh. Who knows? Who cares? Some superficial reason or another. This Gnome just happens to fall into a catatonic sleep in the middle of the day? Ah. That’s because all gnomes are strange, strange sleepers. Either that or all gnomes suffer from a susceptibility to sensory overload; if they’re around too many people, they drop. They plop. Their gnome brains can’t take it.

 

That’s what I would have thought. I wouldn’t have worried about him too much. He sleeps on his nose? Well that’s because it’s so big and padded, it’s his very own pillow. “Nature provided it for him,” I would have said to myself. No need to make him one out of the little coin sacks like Ruthie did. Nuh-uh. No way. I would have opened those suckers up and counted them.

 

See, I wouldn’t have even noticed how unusual it was that everybody paid with the same little sacks. Same color, too! I wouldn’t have spent a single second contemplating the matter. I would have been much too busy opening those suckers up and counting them. 1…2…. All these coins for me! 3…4…. Tee-hee!

 

But look how greedy I’ve become! Bah! The Gnome is rubbing off on me. My apologies.

 

Well Ruthie considers the bags. She spends quite a bit of time contemplating them, actually.

 

She also spends quite a bit of time contemplating The Gnome. And after a while, she comes to a rather startling conclusion—the right one, in fact.

 

She wasn’t thinking, “all gnomes” this, and “all gnomes” that. She was thinking, “this gnome.” There was something up with this gnome—this one in particular. For one, he had given away his thoughts. Hmm. Ruthie stuck a contemplative finger to her temple. Hmm. Whenever she was sleepiest, she was most pained to think; every idea was a hurt to have. She just wanted to sleep, to sleep, to doze. It was a pain to think.

 

And the opposite was true as well. Whenever she was most excitable, she was most pleased by her quick stream of thoughts. In those happiest, most frenetic times, thoughts would come four, five, six at a time. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

So hmm. This gnome. Hmm. He’s completely out of it. He doesn’t even twitch his nostrils or flutter his dozy eye or lick his slumber lips or anything like that. He sleeps like a stone. Stiff and dead—so much so even his huge floppy nose has a rock-like aspect to it. Hmm.

 

He doesn’t even have enough neurons to snore. Was he really so greedy he sold everything? Everything? He probably even sold his dullest memory. Hmm. But do memories count? If they do, Ruthie supposes The Gnome could probably sell all sorts of things like dreams and hopes and…but she’s getting distracted. What she needs to figure out now is if he’s ever going to wake up again.

 

Ah! But there’s no time to think! Not anymore there’s not. DROP, DROP, DROP, RAIN, RAIN, RAIN. Ah! What the…? Wasn’t it just super sunny with clear, blue skies? DROP, DROP, DROP, RAIN, RAIN, RAIN. It seems the weather around these parts is perplexingly unpredictable. (Everyone says that about their parts of the world. “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. Haw, haw, haw, haw.”)

 

But the weather really is perplexingly unpredictable around these parts. Ruthie doesn’t have five minutes to wait, Haw, Haw, Haw. If she waits five minutes, The Gnome will be drenched in rain. He’ll catch his death and then he’ll truly never wake up again.

 

Has Ruthie been so distracted she missed the clouds? She could have sworn just ten minutes ago, it was all about sunshine. Does the weather even work like that? Can it be so quick? So capricious? So very “yes,” and then so very “no”? Is it possible? It’s the strangest—!

 

—thunder! BOOM! CRASH! RUMBLE, RUMBLE! THUNDER SOUNDS!

 

They spook Ruthie into action.

 

Poor Gnome! If she doesn’t hurry, he’ll surely catch his death.

 

She takes a few sacks with her. Like three or four. It feels a little excessive, sure, but you never know. Sometimes prices can be ridiculous. Some places will charge you a full day’s worth of work for a glass of chocolate milk. But that’s me talking. Ignore that. That’s not Ruthie saying any of that. She’ll cheerfully forego the chocolate and even the milk and stick to water.

 

BOOM! RUMBLE, RUMBLE! THUNDER, THUNDER!

 

 

RUTHIE. Oh yikes. Is it really safe to leave so much money with you, Mr. Gnome? Are you capable of protecting it? I don’t think you are.

 

 

BOOM! RUMBLE, RUMBLE! THUNDER, THUNDER!

 

Ruthie doesn’t have much of a choice. It’s raining pretty hard and the crowds are fleeing, hands over their dripping hands, towards shelter.

What can Ruthie purchase for The Gnome? What can she buy for his protection? Hmm. Quite possibly a little house based on the killing they made at the market.

THUNDER, THUNDER!

She hurries through the various stalls and stores, hands over her dripping head, eyes focused on finding something useful. It doesn’t have to be a little house. The lease would take too long to sign. No, it doesn’t have to be a little house. It just needs to get The Gnome out of the rain.

Suddenly, luck of all luck, she comes across a store selling all sorts of seashore paraphernalia. Is the ocean really that close? Has she really wandered that far? It can’t be….

BOOM! RUMBLE, RUMBLE!

No time to think! A huge beach umbrella catches her eye. It looks like just the thing to save the day.

She rushes inside and points to the beach umbrella. The storeowner looks flummoxed.

 

 

RUTHIE. This one! This one! Please! This one! (she tugs on the umbrella) This one!

 

Finally, the storeowner gets it. He tries to point her towards one that’s been all boxed up and packed away. But Ruthie doesn’t have the time to set up. She needs the display model.

 

 

RUTHIE. No, no, no! This one! (she tugs on it some more) Please! Only this one will do.

 

FLUMMOXED STOREOWNER. Foo ma fey mei?

 

RUTHIE. (motioning outside) It’s raining so hard, you see…. And The Gnome…. His nose….! It’s probably filling up with water as we speak! I just don’t have time, sir.

 

 

And miracle of all miracles, it seems like the store owner understands.

He more or less shrugs his shoulders and proceeds to pack up the store model.

 

 

RUTHIE. It’s dirtier than a brand new one would be, I know, and has had more use, but I just can’t wait, sir. You know? (she takes out a little sack) How much will it be, sir? 1 coin? 2 coins? 2 and a half?

 

 

For a moment, he looks at her incredulously. And then he practically barks in her face. Is that laughter or disgust?

She opens up the little red sac despite him trying to stop her from doing so. She fingers through the coins.

 

 

RUTHIE. Well? How much, sir?

 

 

Now he really laughs in her face. He opens both his palms, all twelve of his fingers laid out. And then he closes his hands into fists only to reopen them again. What does it mean? Does he mean twelve coins? Seems a little expensive.

As Ruthie tries to take some coins out of the red sack, the storeowner stops her.

 

 

FLUMMOXED STORE OWNER. Tapir yu sho haran.

 

He takes the red sac from her and delicately reties it. Then he proceeds to do that strangest of hand motions, that opening and closing of his palms. 12, 12, 12, 12, 12.

Is he multiplying?! It can’t be. 144 coins! That’s an outrage! It must be tourist season. Oh if only Ruthie knew enough of the language to barter!

 

But wait just one minute. What if he means…. No. That’s unthinkable. That would be criminal. No, no, no.

 

…but what if he does mean that? What if he means 144 little sacks?! Not 144 coins. But 144 sacks?! No. It can’t be!

 

…but it’s not impossible. Hmm….

Ruthie looks around and sees a very handy hemp sack. It looks big enough to fit 144 of the little reds. She’s going to need it anyway to carry all of her money back to this store. Yes, she’s going to need it anyway….

So just to test her theory, Ruthie goes over and grabs the hemp sack.

 

 

RUTHIE. How much for this one, sir?

 

The storeowner shows two fingers. And so Ruthie gives him two of the little reds.

 

She keenly studies his reaction.

 

He doesn’t look particularly happy about it. Seems like just a normal interaction for him, really. Business as usual. None of that crook’s excitement about him.

So it really is 144 little reds for the umbrella! That’s unbelievable. He should be ashamed!

*

 

Well, we won’t go on and on about how Ruthie went about getting that beach umbrella for The Gnome. We won’t go on and on about how miserably annoyed the store owner was for having to count each bag one by “who’s this goofy girl?!” one.

In the end, she managed to secure the umbrella for The Gnome. Not without wasting all of their money, however. Every single bag—gone!

 

 

RUTHIE. (pouting under the umbrella) Now we’re really done!

 

 

 

5.

 

It’s been hours since it started raining. DROP, DROP, DROP, RAIN, RAIN, RAIN! Oh bother…. What a bore…. What a thief of time, this weather!

 

All the while, Ruthie’s been hoping it’ll just go away as quickly as it came. Minute by minute, she’s been pleading with the sky: “Won’t you just give us a quick reprieve?” She’s been squeezing her wet little palms together and clutching herself tight as a sign of earnest supplication. “Please?”

But she pleads in vain. DROP, DROP, DROPthe rain’s persistent. Or perhaps it’s just deaf to the wishes of a thoroughly inconsequential girl.

 

“But she’s not thoroughly inconsequential,” you say. And I would normally agree. I would! But you must think about things from the perspective of the rain. From up above—way up there in the firmament—Ruthie does look thoroughly inconsequential. You can barely see her, even if you squint your raindrop eyes. And even when you tumbledown the clouds and approach the ground—she looks BIGGER, sure, but not much more impressive.

 

See, though Ruthie might not be inconsequential, she certainly looks inconsequential, which really does her no favors. Remember: often to be is not as important as to seem. Or, rather, scratch that: often to be is not as important as to seem. That’s shallow advice. Here’s something better: if you are, then make sure you give the impression of being, too.

 

Because boy oh boy…does Ruthie sure appear inconsequential: she’s crammed under the beach umbrella, ragged knees touching her tattered chest. The Gnome’s right beside her, too—stiff like a stone, nudgeless, unawake. He has the bunched-up hemp sack as his pillow now. It’s not those little red sacks anymore. She couldn’t afford to keep a single one under his dozy head.

Not a single one….

 

They look like a pair of ragtags. They really do.

 

 

RUTHIE. …sigh.

 

Ruthie’s been thinking how expensive her purchase was. Or, at least, that’s what she’s been trying to think.

Because let me tell you a secret. Hush up about it, OK? What she’s really been thinking about—though she won’t even admit it to herself—is how cheap her goods sold for. She put it all that effort and barely got much of anything out of it.

It was a precedent set by the boy—the one with the jaunty, jaunty, jaunty little caboose. Had she refused his little red sack, no one else would have tried getting away with paying so little. Little red sacks…. How dare that boy! How dare that jaunty, jaunty, jaunty little butt!

Are there other sacks of different colors? Given how GREATLY ANNOYED the flummoxed storeowner acted, Ruthie figures there are; I mean, it was like she was giving him a hundred pennies instead of a dollar. He heaved heavy sighs, and groaned indulgent groans, and even slapped his face as encouragement for the great task ahead.

 

Maybe there’s a little blue sack out there that represents a hundred of the red sacks. And maybe there’s a purple sack that represents a hundred of those blue ones. And a silver one that stands in for a hundred of those….

 

 

RUTHIE. Hmm.

 

How much was The Gnome’s ticket home? How many years would she have to work to afford it? He said it was quite expensive….

How much was her own ticket?

But nevermind any of that! Because The Gnome never said anything about working for years and years. The only thing Ruthie agreed to was pulling his cart all the way into town. She had been nice to even sell one of his thoughts. All of that little red sacks stuff was extra. It wasn’t a part of the agreement.

 

 

RUTHIE. (nodding) That’s right.

 

Ah! But what was the shoddy agreement anyway? Wasn’t it just that he’d show her the way home? He never mentioned anything about buying her way home. Or guarantying her way home. He only mentioned showing her the way. At the time when he had said that, Ruthie suspected it was just a road around the corner. Now she wasn’t so sure. This world was so very different from her own. As a result, it must be so very far away.

 

How did she ever get here? How did she ever get here so quick?

That’s what she wants to know.

 

Will she be able to leave without The Gnome’s help?

 

 

RUTHIE. That’s especially what I want to know.

 

But alas, thunder doesn’t care what you want. It doesn’t answer your questions or resolve any of your too-many problems. All it does is BOOM! and RUMBLE, RUMBLE!

 

Sigh, sigh, sigh. Ruthie looks up and sighs. Useless thunder…. What if this storm won’t let up? What if in this world, it’s months of bad weather for every single sunny day?

 

SMASH! BANG! CRACKLE!

Whoa-ho! YIKES! That was much closer than any other bolt that had, up until then, CRASHED! and BOOMED! It felt like it was right on top of them! Perhaps it had even hit the umbrella itself…!

 

 

THE GNOME. (beginning to stir) Ooooooh.

 

 

The Gnome! He’s beginning to stir!

 

Oh! Nevermind about all of that “thunder not caring” stuff! Nevermind about “useless thunder”!

 

Because the thunder—being so devastatingly loud—just woke him up. Thunder, kind thunder! Ruthie had tried everything up until then. Everything! She had plugged The Gnome’s nose for a whole minute, and she would have gone for two whole minutes, too, but The Gnome was starting to turn blue, so she stopped. She had even held him upside down and had given him a good three or four shakes. Shake, shake, shake. It did nothing but endow The Gnome with a funny, floppy hairstyle. Nothing had worked, nothing. At least not until the thunder just knocked about and woke him up. Maybe the proximity of all that electricity did something to The Gnome. Galvanized his noodles! Who knows?

Either way, The Gnome’s beginning to stir.

Ruthie feels awful embarrassed now. What if the bad weather heard her thoughts? What if the bad weather wanted to prove her wrong? Yes, perhaps thunder has a way of listening to you and trying to resolve your worries.

 

Hmm. But wait a minute…. Ruthie thinks about it.

 

She’s assuming that The Gnome waking up is a good thing. A beneficial thing. But The Gnome might be furious at Ruthie for spending all of “his” money on a beach umbrella. So The Gnome waking up might actually be a bad thing. A terrible thing! Hmm.

Well let him be mad! If he wanted something better, he should have sold something himself. Hmph!

Ruthie preemptively crosses her arms. Hmph!

(But even she doesn’t buy into her own argument.)

 

 

THE GNOME. (stirring) Oooooh.

 

RUTHIE. Hmph!

 

THE GNOME. OOOOOOOH.

 

RUTHIE.HMPH!

 

The Gnome doesn’t seem to even notice her. He groans and moans and whines and rubs his head and stretches his neck. But he never looks towards Ruthie. He’s too consumed by some abstraction or another. His eyes are distant; he doesn’t have the aspect of a man who’s really all that there. Not right besides you, at least. More like a hundred miles away deep in the mist.

The brain’s bigger than any city. Don’t you know? A man can travel for an awful long time inside it. He gets dirty, too; it just doesn’t leave any traces on his shoes.

Well Ruthie’s willing to wait. He has to snap out of it at some point. Just like he snapped out of his strangest of slumbers. It was only a matter of time. …well, time and thunder.

 

 

THE GNOME. Rrrrrruffff. (he scratches his neck)

 

And what do you know! Before long, The Gnome is actually doing stuffs. Physical stuffs, too!

 

 

RUTHIE. Watcha doing, Mr. Gnome?

 

But it’s obvious what he’s doing: he’s putting his nasty little fingers into the wet ground and rolling an array of dirt balls.

He’s patient with it, which is admirable to watch. Each ball is as smooth and sphere-like as a muddy clod can get. Yes, it’s admirable to watch. But also sorta gross; Ruthie can see now why he has such grubby fingernails.

 

 

RUTHIE. Forming your thoughts, eh?

 

It would have been a mean joke had I said it, but that’s because I’m an idiot; I would have really meant it as a joke.

But Ruthie’s a smart one—remember that. She isn’t half-joking or even quarter-joking. She really does suspect The Gnome is remaking everything he’s lost.

Lucky for a man to be able to do that.

 

 

RUTHIE. Mr. Gnome? Mr. Gnoooooome? Hello? Can you hear me?

 

But The Gnome is still deep inside his own head.

He’s muttering and cursing and whining and bickering. Bicker, bicker, bicker. It’s a nasty noise, especially with of all of the ambient clatter up above. CRASH! BOOM! THUNDER! RUMBLE, RUMBLE! followed by pitter-patter, pitter-patter, pitter-patter (it’s raining, after all), and now this, this latest instrument in this symphony of din: bicker, bicker, mutter, mutter. It makes for quite a racket.

 

 

RUTHIE. Please stop that, Mr. Gnome! I know it’s not the most pleasant of weather conditions, but it really isn’t anything to be so upset about. You’ll burst a vein in your forehead from all of this anger. It really isn’t any good, sir. It really isn’t.

 

Oh but how quickly she’s proved wrong! Because within seconds of saying nothing good would come from his curses and bellows and groans, the balls of wet earth begin to glow with an eerie, wicked light. They begin to harden—or crystalize, more like it. And they also begin to grow, and grow, and grow.

And the more he curses and bellows and groans, the more the balls glow and harden and grow. It’s a remarkable thing to watch.

 

 

RUTHIE. Oh, Mr. Gnome! That’s wonderful! Wonderful! …but imagine, sir…. Just imagine how much more wonderful your creations would be if, instead of cursing and bellowing and groaning, you whispered sweet nothings to them. You might even form thoughts of a beautiful rosy color, sir! You ought to at least give it a shot. Oh, give it a shot, Mr. Gnome! Give it a shot!

 

But The Gnome is doing no such thing, nor would he ever. He curses and bellows and groans his way back to a handsome amount of heavy, cumbersome thoughts: a nice collection of orbs.

 

 

THE GNOME. (caressing his thoughts) Oh yes…. Oh yes….

 

And so now well-equipped, he is himself again, all rude and vicious.

 

 

THE GNOME. (looking straight at Ruthie) Bah!

 

 

Ah, what a relief!

 

 

RUTHIE. I’m glad to see you’re awake, sir.

 

THE GNOME. Bah!

 

 

Wait. Is The Gnome mad because of the umbrella?

 

 

RUTHIE. (suddenly remembering her argument) Hmph!

 

THE GNOME. You aren’t one to listen to anything are you, girl?

 

RUTHIE. Oh I listen to a lot of things. More importantly, I sell a lot of things, too.

 

THE GNOME. Yes, but you weren’t supposed to sell everything! You dumb, dumb—

 

RUTHIE. Well how was I supposed to know?

 

THE GNOME. Had you listened—!

 

RUTHIE. —you mean had I paid attention to one voice out of eager hundreds waiting to buy my goods?

 

THE GNOME. ‘Eager hundreds.’ Bah! More like dozens.

 

RUTHIE. Dozens more than you ever had in your line. (she crosses her arms) Hmph!

 

THE GNOME. Yeah? And what good did it do you?

 

RUTHIE. What good? How could you say that, Mr. Gnome? I sold everything. According to you, I was so successful, I overdid it and nearly ruined you.

 

THE GNOME. Yeah, so what? What did you get out of it? (he looks up at the umbrella) This stupid thing?

 

RUTHIE. I only bought it to shelter you from the rain.

 

THE GNOME. I would have rather borne the rain and had my ticket than—!

 

RUTHIE. —you’ve no idea how expensive things are, Mr. Gnome! No idea!

 

THE GNOME. You’ve no idea how to price things, girl! You’ve no idea about anything! No idea!

 

RUTHIE. (brazenly) Well you’re a liar, sir. A real liar. You promised you’d show me the way home and you haven’t. (she waits for a moment) …so there!

 

THE GNOME. OK. I’m a liar. So what?

 

RUTHIE. …what?!

 

THE GNOME. Get out! Get out! I’ve no need for you anymore! Get out! You’re lucky I don’t write you a bill and sink you in debt. You undersold all of my assets. Way, way, undersold them. Oh you’re very lucky I don’t write you a bill!

 

RUTHIE. You would if you knew how.

 

THE GNOME. Get out!

 

RUTHIE. You would throw me out into this rain?

 

THE GNOME. Get out!

 

 

Ruthie doesn’t need to hear it again. She gets up and leaves as quickly as she can.

Fine! Let The Gnome suffer! He won’t get anything done without her. Anything!

Once he eventually realizes this, he’ll get up from his sorry spot and come looking for her himself. And then she’ll have leverage on him. Real leverage. She might even force him to buy her a ticket back home. Hmph!

 

 

6.

 

And what do you know? Look up, Ruthie! It’s like the weather agrees with you; it sides with you; it wants to cheer you up.

Rather than RAIN, RAIN, RAIN and THUNDER! and BOOM! the sun comes out. He’s kind of a mess, though, the sun; it’s like he’s only half-dressed: one sock on, hair still greasy from a lengthy nap.

It’s still misty out and his shine isn’t so bright. But he’s trying. He’s trying, all right.

Ah but it’s the clouds that are doing a better job of things for Ruthie. As much as they would like to go on and keep on clouding, they restrain themselves. They don’t even drizzle.

 

 

RUTHIE. (looking up) Thank you, kind weather!

 

And if the weather could blush right now, it would. It most definitely would. But it has to wait for evening for any of that.

 

 

RUTHIE. (looking around) Hmm. It’s so dirty now….

 

And it is. It is dirty now. And it’s a shame.

Before, the marketplace—despite being so crowded with goods and peoples and critters—had a clean feeling to it. Spick and span, spick and span. The cobblestone paths were nice and swept—no dirt between the cracks. The trash was all picked up, too. And there was nothing like black gum stuck on the ground to soil the appearance of the place. It was a pristine marketplace. It was a sanitary marketplace. If Ruthie had dropped a pickle, she would have picked it right back up and munched on it.

But now? She’d consider it the loss of a perfectly good cucumber; there’s no way she’d eat a dropped pickle. No way.

Because the marketplace looked downright grotty now.

Grotty. There’s something about the rain that brings out the grottiness in people.

And can you blame them? The water’s falling hard. It’s drenching your favorite shirt and ruining all of your sensitive valuables; anything that’s paper won’t last long in the downpour, not even inside the sturdiest pockets of the sturdiest pants. Well money is paper. Pictures are paper(like). Love-letters are paper, as are epiphanies quickly jotted down in the middle of the street. These are all important things. You’d run for cover too if the rain were destroying them.

So people are in a hurry to get dry. And so they forget trash, or it falls from their wet grip, or they’d rather leave it behind than encumber their free hands that could be used to cover their exposed heads.

They get mud on their shoes and don’t watch their step. Things got knocked over, things get spilled.

In short, everything becomes chaos.

The grottiness, then, is perfectly justified.

 

 

RUTHIE. (looking around) Yes, but still…. Must things be so very dirty?

 

Ruthie wonders: how could so much trash have accumulated so quickly? More importantly, how could so many bizarre and out of place pieces of waste and litter have made their way over here? For instance, there are leaves and twigs and branches all over the roads. But there aren’t any trees. It doesn’t make any sense to her.

And I suppose it shouldn’t make any sense to anybody. Because it’s true! Where are the trees?

 

 

RUTHIE. Oh!

 

Ruthie spots a “woman” in the distance. (Is it a rabbit?)

She’s wearing a conical straw hat to protect her from the no-longer-showering-or-even-dribbling-rain. And she carries a huge “broom” or sorts with her. It’s a “broom,” by the way, and not just a broom because the bristles look…well they don’t look like bristles. The “broom” has been used so much, it looks more like a wooden stick with a carpet attached.

The rabbit is obviously a cleaner. The city probably employs a lot of them. Yes—probably many, many cleaners. And so cleaning is not what’s interesting about her.

What’s interesting about her is how openly she’s sabotaging her own job. Instead of cleaning the roads, she’s littering them with all sorts of junk she keeps inside a massive black bag. The rabbit reaches into the bag and WHOOPS! there’s garbage all over town.

She doesn’t even bother to give a suspicious glance around. The nerve!

 

 

RUTHIE. Hmm.

 

But then—look at this: once the rabbit has finished her fake job, she starts on her real job. Yes, once the rabbit has finished with untidiness, she dutifully resumes with her tidy responsibilities and sedulously cleans off the litter on the ground. SWEEP, SWEEP, SWEEP, she becomes a scrupulous, sweeping rabbit. SWEEP, SWEEP, SWEEP. (But notice how she puts all of the trash back into the black bag. Isn’t that just a tad bit perverse? It’s a never-ending cycle. Oh! It’s definitely a tad bit perverse.)

Gah! It doesn’t make any sense. Who’s even watching the rabbit work? For whom is she putting this show on?

 

 

RUTHIE. Oh!

 

Out of nowhere, people start to come back outside. Apparently, there’s news that the rain has stopped.

Several people see the rabbit at work. You can tell because there’s lots and lots of muttering about her. The people even point at her, too.

It seems they really appreciate her for getting right back into the dirt and grime of things. The way they mutter and point, it’s like they’re saying the marketplace is a mess after the storm; it’s only due to hard-workers like that rabbit over there sweeping and picking things up that things return to normalcy relatively quickly.

Yes, you can tell they’re saying such things, or at least thinking them, because they actually go on and reward her kindly. Yes, several people just waltz right on up to her and drop little green sacks by her feet.

Green sacks!

By golly, not even red.

How much are the green baggies worth?

Whatever they go for, it’s got to be more than the red ones. It’s got to be.

 

 

RUTHIE. Little green sacks….

 

Ruthie looks around. If she can somehow find a broom and a hat of her own, she might be able to save up some money…. Yes, a nice little collection. Little green sacks, little green sacks. After only a few hours of easy sweeping, she might be halfway home. After all, the tickets can’t be that expensive.

 

 

RUTHIE. Surely The Gnome was exaggerating. He always is.

 

And what do you know? Ruthie’s the lucky one yet again!

Because over there in the distance, there’s a dozing sweeper; dozing, dozing, zzzzz. He probably snoozed right through the storm! The man looks tired past tired (is it a monkey?). Ruthie’s never seen such an exhausted expression on anyone. Poor man-monkey must be overworked!

 

 

RUTHIE. Hmm. So much for “easy sweeping.”

 

Still, the idea is worth trying out, especially when luck is so much on Ruthie’s side. First the weather, now this—Ruthie has to try her idea out. She has to.

Besides, the man will probably be glad to be relieved of his duties for a few hours. While he sleeps, Ruthie will “borrow” his equipment and make some quick cash. By nightfall, she should have enough to bring back half the earnings to the man-monkey and still have enough to purchase her very own equipment as well.

Yes. Ruthie is sure the poor man-monkey will like that very much. He’ll be making money as he rests. It’ll be a panicked rest once he wakes up and sees his equipment is gone. Sure, sure. That’s true. But Ruthie won’t be too long. The panic won’t last too long. She’s sure the man-monkey will understand.

 

 

RUTHIE. I’m sure he will!

 

As she starts to make her way towards him, though, she catches sight of something that puts an end to all her monkey business.

A little up the road, she sees a man sprinting her way. It’s a real man, too. Not a monkey-man or a rabbit-man, but a man-man.

Ruthie recognizes him immediately. Of course she does.

It’s her father!

 

 

 

7.

 

Would it be worth mentioning he has a mustache? Most fathers seem to, so I suppose not.

But then again, most fathers with mustaches have complete mustaches. It’s 100% on the upper lip. Not 55% like Ruthie’s father.

What happened to the poor man? Usually his mustache is a 100% mustache, too.

Why does he look so traumatized? Why does he have cuts up and down his arms? Why is he running so fast?

 

 

RUTHIE. Papa, papa!

 

He’s so intent on escaping, he doesn’t even notice his own daughter.

 

 

RUTHIE. Wait! Papa, papa! It’s me!

 

But he keeps running and running and running.

Ruthie takes off her slipper and tries her best to hit him.

 

 

RUTHIE. Here I go…!

 

 

Her slipper boomerangs through the air. WHIR, WHIR, WHIR, WIZZZZZ

—and luck of all luck! She actually manages to BOINK! the back of his head.

 

 

PAPA. (looking back) Huh? Wha—?

 

He finally sees his daughter.

 

 

PAPA. Ruthie!

 

RUTHIE. (rushing towards him) Papa!

 

They embrace.

 

 

RUTHIE. (touching his face) What happened to your mustache, dear Papa? Why is it shaven like that? Why do you look so ragged? What’s happened to you?

 

PAPA. Oh, Ruthie!

 

RUTHIE. Why are you running, Papa? Where are you going?

 

PAPA. I’ve been looking for you!

 

RUTHIE. Oh, Papa. You shouldn’t have. You shouldn’t have come. Now that we’re here, it’s impossible to get back.

 

PAPA. Don’t say that, sweet child! (he looks around with wild eyes) One must keep the hope alive!

 

 

He doesn’t sound very convincing.

 

 

RUTHIE. What’s wrong, Papa? What’s going on?

 

PAPA. You wouldn’t believe it if I told you. This is a strange, strange land we’re in. An awful land. (he shudders) Hideous!

 

RUTHIE. (touching his arms) What happened, Papa? What’s going on? I’ve encountered some strange things as well. Go on, tell me.

 

PAPA. Oh, Ruthie! Don’t say that! Don’t tell me you’ve been through what I’ve been through!

 

RUTHIE. Well what have you been through? I wouldn’t be able to say without knowing.

 

PAPA. No, no, no. It’s impossible. (he studies her) I’m looking at you up and down and you look well taken care of. That’s good. That’s very good.

 

RUTHIE. I can’t say the same for you, Papa. You look terribly abused. What happened?

 

PAPA. Ruthie…! These people are awful! I was asking for directions when…. (he shudders)

 

RUTHIE. When what?

 

PAPA. I was deceived. Some little critter—it looked like an upright beaver with a big paunch—took me deep into the woods. He said he’d show me the way. He said he knew exactly where you were. I gave him your description like an idiot and he repeated it back to me. And so I followed him like a fool. I thought he knew you! I really thought he did!

 

RUTHIE. And he pummeled you, dear Papa? Oh! We’ll be sure to find this beaver! He’ll be sure to pay!

 

PAPA. It’s worse than that, sweet girl. Much worse. (he shudders)

 

RUTHIE. He…? (she shudders) What happened?

 

PAPA. He took me deep, deep into the woods. It was a long journey, my girl. So long, in fact, that eventually I was wheezing and was running out of sweat. My tongue started forming a thick, gluey texture to it. Even my eyeballs were drying out. I was awful thirsty, Ruthie. Awful thirsty. Thirst does terrible things to you. I believe the soul is a wet substance and that thirst sucks it away. Do you understand me, girl?

 

RUTHIE. I do.

 

PAPA. My head was throbbing and I was feeling so very angry. So angry. But more than that, I was feeling dizzy. Luckily, by the time I actually felt close to fainting, we were right by a spring. He told me to stop and relax. He told me to take my time and take a drink. So I knelt down and started cupping water with my hands. That first sip…! Oh! It was immediate relief! Immediate! (he caresses his throat)

 

RUTHIE. I sure bet it was. (she caresses her throat too)

 

PAPA. I was relishing it, when all of a sudden, a whole pack of those paunchy-bellied beavers fell right on top of me. I don’t know where they came from. But they tied me up, Ruthie. I don’t know where they got the rope, but they tied me up.

 

RUTHIE. And did they leave you there, Papa? Are all these scratches and bruises from you trying to escape?

 

PAPA. No, my girl. No. I only wish they would have left me there! But they didn’t. They took me even deeper into the woods. Deep, deep into the woods. We went so deep, in fact, I could hardly see a thing. We walked for hours. Maybe even an entire day. It was so very deep into the woods…. Everything was dark, Ruthie. There are parts of the forest so deep and dark, the sun becomes a stranger. The foliage is so thick, it seems like there’s perpetual night. It seems like the moon has finally proven herself the only one who deserves the sky; like she has vanquished her enemy; like she has blown out the sun. FOO-woo! Those are her silver lips extinguishing the candle. …darkness!

 

RUTHIE. That sounds so frightening, Papa. How were you able to cope after all of that?

 

PAPA. I only wish that was the worst of it, Ruthie! But I’m not done yet. Do you know what lives there in that deep, deep darkness?

 

RUTHIE. Not at all.

 

PAPA. Many vicious critters, my girl. Many. But none of them so bad as giants.

 

RUTHIE. …g—giants?!

 

PAPA. (he opens his eyes up wide) Giants!

 

RUTHIE. And…what makes giants so bad? (she shudders) Oh! Don’t tell me, Papa! I’m afraid to know.

 

PAPA. Ruthie! Oh, Ruthie! (he sobs)

 

RUTHIE. Papa! What’s wrong?

 

PAPA. There were many of us, Ruthie. Many of us. Prisoners, I mean.

 

RUTHIE. Prisoners?

 

PAPA. Slaves. And each of us had different tasks.

 

RUTHIE. Giant-related tasks?

 

PAPA. Yes. Some of us had to prepare the giant’s meals. Other of us had to make him clothes.

 

RUTHIE. Clothes! For a giant? I imagine even the simplest shirt would take some time to make. Quite some time.

 

PAPA. Yes. And they didn’t want simple shirts, either. Giants are snobs, Ruthie. They want to wear the finest ornaments.

 

RUTHIE. What was your task?

 

PAPA. (he shudders) I was in charge of filing and cleaning nails.

 

RUTHIE. Fingernails?

 

PAPA. I only wish it were so, Ruthie. (he shudders) Oh! They all have athlete’s foot.

 

Ruthie is about to ask him more questions when, all of a sudden, she notices some little critter sneaking up behind Papa.

 

 

RUTHIE. Papa! Watch out! Behind you!

 

 

But it’s too late. The paunchy-bellied critter has Papa noosed with a rope.

 

 

PAPA. Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!

 

The little critter yanks on the rope and leads him away.

 

 

PAPA. Ow! Ow! Ow!

 

RUTHIE. Now you hold on there, creature! You leave my papa alone!

 

LITTLE CRITTER. Zee ma zo ne fa!

 

The little critter flashes its chompers.

But what does Ruthie care about being bitten?

She runs up to the little critter—but no: she CHARGES at him, more like it.

 

 

LITTLE CRITTER. (flashing its chompers) Zee ma zo ne fa!

 

She raises a mighty fist in the air and…!

THUMP!

The little critter is surprisingly easy to knock out.

 

 

PAPA. (choking) Ghgggghgh!

 

RUTHIE. (undoing the rope) We have to get out, Papa! You’re a hunted man!

 

PAPA. Oh, Ruthie…. (he rubs his sore neck) Where could we possibly go? We have to get home, my girl. We have to get home. But how do we do it?

 

RUTHIE. I know somebody who might be able to help us! We have to try, Papa. We have to.

 

And of course she means The Gnome.

What an awful, desperate situation! To have to rely on The Gnome! Oh! What an awful, desperate situation!

 

 

 

8.

 

On the way back to The Gnome, Ruthie explains what she’s learned so far: about the little colored hefty bags of coins, about having to take an airship home, about making money in these parts, about the weather, about the peoples and critters that populate the market.

 

She seems wise and perceptive, and not for a lack of trying either; she wants Papa to be impressed. She’s only been here for such a short amount of time, and already she…blah, blah, blah. That’s what Ruthie wants him to think. She already knows about blah, and has already formed opinions about bleh.

Halfway through explaining everything, though, her stomach betrays her. It interrupts her with its giant gurgles and growlings.

 

 

PAPA. When was the last time you ate, sweet girl?

 

 

And with that, the illusion is burst to pieces. BUBBLE POP! Ruthie’s not a smart girl after all. She can’t take care of herself.

 

 

RUTHIE. Oh. I suppose I haven’t.

 

PAPA. You haven’t eaten a thing?

 

RUTHIE. Not since I got here, no.

 

 

Her father’s horrified by this piece of news. And of course he is. In his younger days, he labored much to get toddler Ruthie to eat her Brussels sprouts. He cares about her nutrition. He cares deeply about it. If she’s not eating—BAH! That’s horrible! If she’s not eating, she’s dying. (Which she always is anyway, “but not if Papa can help it.”)

 

 

PAPA. (pointing to a food stall) They’re selling hot buns over there. If you distract them for me, I can snatch us a few.

 

His stomach gurgles and growls as well.

 

 

RUTHIE. But, Papa! That’s not fair. It’s not good to steal. That’s not fair.

 

PAPA. Well I don’t think it’s fair that you and I are stuck over here.

 

RUTHIE. But, Papa….

 

PAPA. Just do as I say, Ruthie! Go on and talk to the man. Look at how busy he is. He’s both baker and cook. And merchant, too. He barely has any time to look up and accept those little red sacks. Look how busy he is. In fact, stay here, girl. I don’t even need a distraction. Stay here.

 

RUTHIE. But Papa!

 

Papa rushes over to the food stall. He slyly scoops up as many buns as he can. Little does he know, though, how hot they are.

 

 

PAPA. YOOOOOWWWW! Ow! Hot! Hot! Ow!

 

He wants to drop them. Oh! How wants to drop them! But he holds on.

 

 

PAPA. Ow! Ow!

 

With all of his hollering, of course he’s gotten the merchant’s attention. As Papa tries to run away, the merchant drops everything and chases him.

 

 

PAPA. Ow! Ow!

 

MERCHANT. Jaho bo la no sei, hama!

 

One of the buns seems like it’s about to bounce out of his arms.

 

Rather than sacrificing it to the ground, Papa bends down and bites on it and carries it in his mouth. It’s so hot, though, tears pour out of his eyes.

 

 

PAPA. Mmmmm!!!

 

Papa runs right past Ruthie.

 

 

RUTHIE. Oh, Papa! You’re making us humans acquire such a horrible reputation!

 

The merchant doesn’t seem ready to give up the chase. Papa’s hurting. He’ll have blisters all over his hands….

 

Even though she doesn’t want to, Ruthie needs to help him. She needs to.

As the merchant’s just about to pass her by, Ruthie sticks her foot out and trips him.

The poor little critter SMASHES to the ground.

Ruthie feels as though she’s about to commit some horrifically unethical deed. She doesn’t want to do it. No, she doesn’t. But Papa…! She’d do anything for him. Yes, she would even compromise her morals.

She raises a mighty fist in the air and…!

THUMP!

The merchant is surprisingly easy to knock out.

Papa returns with the buns.

 

 

PAPA. Mmm! Mmm! MMMMMMMM!

 

RUTHIE. (holding her shirt out like a tarp) Here, Papa. Put them in here.

 

Papa drops the buns into Ruthie’s shirt. He opens his mouth and out comes that little steaming one, too.

 

He feels immediate relief.

 

 

PAPA. (with hands shaking) Owwwww!

 

RUTHIE. Oh, Papa! Why did you do all of that? Look at your hands! They’re red and they have boils all over them! Oh, Papa!

 

PAPA. We need to eat, girl. I did what had to be done.

 

RUTHIE. Let’s take some to The Gnome.

 

PAPA. What?! No, no, no, no. All of my efforts aren’t going to that…thing! That stupid thing that’s mistreated you so bad.

 

RUTHIE. Last time I spoke with him…well, we didn’t end on the greatest of terms, Papa. I’m sure he’s hungry, too. He’ll appreciate a bun or three.

 

PAPA. Three?! But there’s only six! Well, five-and-a-half; I don’t suppose we can give him that bun right there I slobbered all over. (he points to the gloppy bun)

 

RUTHIE. We need his help, Papa.

 

PAPA. I don’t think he’ll have much help to give. You said he doesn’t even speak the local language.

 

RUTHIE. No. He speaks English just like we do. He’s the only one I’ve met so far. It’s a curious thing, isn’t it? It makes you wonder if he’s—

 

PAPA. —slyer than you think. There aren’t any gnomes in our country, lass. (he wags his finger) Don’t be fooled. There’s never been one in all of Elderberry. Check every nook—you’ll never find one.

 

As they’re talking, Ruthie notices some commotion in the distance.

 

 

RUTHIE. But look, Papa! Look! He’s right over there!

 

 

And, indeed, The Gnome is over there. He’s tall as he’s never been, standing on his cart; yes, he’s high up above a frenzied crowd. He’s yelling and hollering about something. Probably about goods being for sale.

He’s rocking the beach umbrella side to side to draw even more attention.

 

 

PAPA. You said he was an abysmal salesman.

 

RUTHIE. And he is. Hmm. How strange. Hmm. Papa?

 

PAPA. Yes, Ruthie?

 

RUTHIE. Please stay here. I’m going to go over and have a talk with him.

 

PAPA. I don’t think he’ll be very inclined to talk. Not when he’s having such success. Just look at how wild that crowd is!

 

RUTHIE. I’m patient. I can wait.

 

Ruthie goes over to The Gnome. She still plans to offer him one or three buns.

Luckily, by the time she gets close enough, the crowd heaves a tremendous sigh and disperses. This isn’t because Ruthie’s food reeks or anything like that. It’s because The Gnome just so happens to run out of goods.

He looks positively delighted. There are dozens upon dozens of little silver bags surrounding him.

 

 

RUTHIE. Mr. Gnome!

 

THE GNOME. (getting down from his cart) BAH! What do you want?

 

RUTHIE. Mr. Gnome! I’m here to offer you some buns.

 

THE GNOME. Hmm. I suppose I can— [* (taking one) -- ]ow! Ow! Ow! It’s hot! [*(putting it back into her outstretched shirt)] You wretched girl!

 

RUTHIE. I’m sorry about that. Let’s wait a while so they can cool off. (she blows on them)

 

THE GNOME. (he sucks on his finger) I don’t have “a while” to wait! I have to capitalize on my success! You’re in my way. Get! Get! Shoo! Go away!

 

RUTHIE. But how did you do it, sir? It’s only been an hour since I’ve left you!

 

THE GNOME. And already I’ve made my fortune! It only goes to show how much you were slowing me down. You’re an impediment, girl. So get! Get! Go! Impediment shoo!

 

RUTHIE. But…how?! Are you still selling your thoughts, Mr. Gnome? The very same ones? Or is there some new trick you’re using?

 

THE GNOME. No trick, girl. Just my good ol’ thoughts. (he knocks on his noggin) The very same ones you disparaged.

 

Ruthie doesn’t believe it. She can’t.

She remembers that The Gnome can’t sell all of his goods. He has to leave a certain amount, lest he loses his brains. Well he isn’t trapped in a coma like he was earlier. That means he must have some left.

She pokes her head into his cart.

 

 

THE GNOME. Get away from there!

 

RUTHIE. Hey! What’s this?!

 

THE GNOME. That’s none of your business.

 

RUTHIE. But it is my business! It looks just like me!

 

She lets go of her shirt and all of the buns drop to the ground.

She reaches towards one of the rosy figurines.

 

 

RUTHIE. It looks just like me!

 

THE GNOME. I think not! (trying to snatch it away)

 

RUTHIE. (holding it away from him) You carved this from one your thoughts?

 

THE GNOME. Give it back!

 

RUTHIE. You’re a quick craftsman, Mr. Gnome. I won’t deny you that. But I never gave you permission to use my image.

 

THE GNOME. I don’t need your permission!

 

RUTHIE. Sure you do, sir.

 

THE GNOME. HA! Oh, yeah? And why’s that?

 

RUTHIE. You’ll forget what I look like. Not now you won’t. But eventually you will. Your figurines will stop selling.

 

THE GNOME. As long as I keep one around, I can always copy it.

 

RUTHIE. They’ll be lifeless. You know they will.

 

THE GNOME. So what? I don’t plan to do this for very long! I just need enough money to get back home. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.

 

RUTHIE. To get back home?

 

 

That’s all Ruthie wants, too.

 

 

 

THE GNOME. Yes, you stupid girl! It’s been years and years that I’ve been trapped over here! Years! I came as a boy.

 

RUTHIE. As a boy?! Oh my!

 

THE GNOME. Yes! And look how terribly I’ve aged, girl! The air here does funny things to you. (he tugs on his skin) So don’t be so self-sure and condescending, girl. I didn’t always have this nose! (he flicks his nose)

 

RUTHIE. Oh!

 

THE GNOME. I looked just like you once! Just like you! (he flicks his nose again)

 

RUTHIE. You’re lying!

 

THE GNOME. I’m eager to go home. That’s what I am!

 

RUTHIE. But Mr. Gnome! My father and I are trapped here as well.

 

THE GNOME. And? What’s that to me?

 

RUTHIE. Half of that money belongs to us.

 

THE GNOME. HA!

 

RUTHIE. It does, Mr. Gnome! You’re using my image!

 

THE GNOME. Get away! Get away! (he takes out his little knife) Shoo, impediment! Shoo!

 

RUTHIE. Mr. Gnome! Have a heart! I’ve helped you so much. You’re still even using the beach umbrella I bought you. Mr. Gnome, you wouldn’t have made it here without my help. Have a heart!

 

THE GNOME. BAH!

 

RUTHIE. Look at how you hesitate, Mr. Gnome! Sir! You would never stab me! You have too much of a heart!

 

THE GNOME. BAH! Come any closer and we’ll test your theory! We’ll make your theory science! (he jabs the air)

 

And Ruthie actually has enough guts to do it. She moves in mighty close to The Gnome.

 

 

THE GNOME. BAH!

 

RUTHIE. Oh! I knew it, Mr. Gnome! I knew it! You’re too kind.

 

He doesn’t stab her.

Glad—overjoyed, in fact—Ruthie can’t help herself; she kisses The Gnome right on the nose.

He is so shocked by this, his face loses all of its color. He looks as though he’s about to faint.

 

 

RUTHIE. Thank you, Mr. Gnome! Thank you for helping my family out!

 

She’s thanking him in advance, of course. A sly one, this Ruthie.

 

THE GNOME. …oh!

 

Suddenly, it looks like there’s something terribly wrong with The Gnome.

 

 

RUTHIE. Mr. Gnome! Are you all right?

 

THE GNOME. …oh!

 

First, it starts with his feet. Then it moves up his legs, up his tummy, up his neck, and all over his face.

He begins to crystalize!

 

 

RUTHIE. Oh!

 

 

Before long, The Gnome is no longer “Mr. Gnome.” He’s a giant golden statue.

 

 

RUTHIE. Oh!

 

Papa rushes up to her. He’s seen everything from afar.

 

 

PAPA. You’re brilliant, Ruthie! Absolutely brilliant! Already you’ve picked up some wicked magic spells! Brilliant!

 

RUTHIE. …but!

 

PAPA. Just make sure to keep those smackers away from me! HA! HA! HA! HA!

 

RUTHIE. …but!

 

PAPA. Here’s our ticket home, Ruthie. (he knocks on the golden statue with his knuckles) We need to find out how much it costs for each of us. And then we sell this thing off. We sell it at such a high price, it’s guaranteed to cover the airfare. (he knocks on the golden statue) Here’s our ticket home, Ruthie!

 

RUTHIE. …but!

 

 

It’s a horrible situation for Ruthie. She feels so bad for The Gnome. So bad! Instead of selling him off to the highest bidder, she wants to find him a cure. She wants to turn him back. The Gnome doesn’t deserve such a horrific fate. Is he still alive? Can he still feel? Is he still thinking underneath all that shining, sparking, dazzling, dazzling, expensive metal? The Gnome doesn’t deserve such a horrific fate.

But Papa is being hunted down. They want him to slave the rest of his days away cleaning giants’ feet.

Plus, Ruthie doesn’t know anything about this place. Anything. Who would she approach to ask about reversing spells? And was that what it even was? A spell? Or was it something else? Who knows? Who knows!

 

The Gnome turning into a solid gold—it’s been her only true break thus far, her only real chance at money (and thus freedom). She might be wasting it by sticking around much longer.

Yes, opportunity is presenting itself.

But it feels so wrong. It feels so horrible. But what else can she do? If she doesn’t take advantage of this one and only chance…she might eventually become a gnome herself. Both her and Papa might be stuck here forever.

How terrible! How horrible!

But what else can she do?

 

 

RUTHIE. Oh, Papa! We’ll do it. We’ll sell The Gnome….

 

PAPA. Of course we will! I’ll stay here and keep guard over it. You go and find out how much it costs to get us home.

 

And from here, dear friend, there’s no need to go on anymore. Or, well, there’s no need to go on for much longer. We only need to go on long enough to say that Ruthie stood still for quite some time, and that she seemed wracked with indecision. Had she come out of those crushing, soul-searching minutes saying, “No, no. We’ll find another way. This is not the right thing to do,” we might have followed her a bit further down an extremely uncertain and dangerous path. And who knows? We might have gone on for a lot longer. This might have been but the prologue to a HUGE epic. We might have gotten to know each other very well, you and I. And after thousands of pages, I might have been forced to relate poor Ruthie’s brave and moral death.

 

But alas, things didn’t happen that way.

 

Once she takes the first step towards the ticket office—well, that’s all we need, isn’t it? It says it all. It speaks for itself. Papa and Ruthie get to go home.

And though that first step might not be in the right direction, we know she’ll get to the airship eventually. That first step is the most important one. It shows all of Ruthie’s intentions. It shows us who she is and who she’s become.

 

Prisoners usually don’t make for very good friends, but when they do—oh! They’re heroes.

 

Too bad that Ruthie’s not. Yes, too bad for The Gnome.

 

How wonderful for Papa, though. How wonderful.

 

 

THE END


The Gnome of Elderberry

A girl goes for a long walk and ends up getting lost--which is highly unusual. Bewildering, in fact. Given where she lives, walking is really all there is to do. So how could she have possibly gotten lost? "Well, even fluent speakers make grammatical mistakes. And even fluent walkers take wrong turns some times." Or so she tells herself for comfort. Little does the girl know! Little does she know how very far away she wandered from home! Little does she know in order to get back, she'll have to rely on the foulest, nastiest, meanest and bickering-est Gnome who's ever been.

  • ISBN: 9781370412600
  • Author: Porphyro
  • Published: 2016-09-01 23:50:13
  • Words: 16062
The Gnome of Elderberry The Gnome of Elderberry