Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Gnomenclature


The most-recent 24-hour short-story contest gave 850 as the maximum word limit (although the following is 861, as I've made some post-submission additions) and the following as the prompt:

Blue ice stretched to the horizon, fading into the blinding rays of another waning winter sun. She shivered violently as the shifting mass groaned under her feet. She instinctively glanced down, looking for cracks under the transparent sheen. Suddenly, she tensed and dropped to her knees. Desperately clawing at the ice, she screamed...

So I submitted the following:

Gnomenclature

Blue ice stretched to the horizon, fading into the blinding rays of another waning winter sun. She shivered violently as the shifting mass groaned under her feet. She instinctively glanced down, looking for cracks under the transparent sheen. Suddenly, she tensed and dropped to her knees. Desperately clawing at the ice, she screamed, "Papa! Papa! Come home!"

Her cry was a barely intelligible mix of squeal and death moan. Tears burst from her eyes like boiling water from a geyser. By the time they hit the ground, their temperature'd chilled to ambient.

Her face covered in a mixture of tears, mucus, saliva, and sweat, she felt her head drop down into the snow, her neck too weak to do anything but guide the landing. Her arms lay slack by her side. The snow didn't sting or ache. Rather, it felt like the best pillow she'd ever known.

When she awoke, the temperature had risen by at least twenty degrees. Her limbs were stiff but fully functional. And she felt rested as she rarely had before.

When she finally managed to roll over onto her back, she felt a strange combination of intense heat and persistent pressure. Gnomes they were, with a capital (but silent) "G", although only at the beginning of a sentence or when part of a proper name. And what proper names they were:  Gnome Alaska. Gnome Agaciaparra. Gnome Ann Isanisland. Gnome Chomsky. The names seemed somehow familiar to her, yet she knew not how - she was certain she'd never before met a gnome. At least, not formally. However, there had been those crazy nights at the clubs, after her breakup with Petr, and one couldn't confidently dismiss anything as having not happened during that blitzkrieg she'd raged, armed only with alcohol and birth control.

Of course, she didn't know their names back then. It's not as if they wore nametags on the fronts of their vests. (They wore them on the back. Ha! Gnomes - can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em in a massive, orgiastic genocide. At least, not without some itch at the back of your mind born of fear of their supernatural powers. They're like indigenous peoples that way. Or gypsies.)

As she tumbled back onto her front, she realized these gnomes were weak. Extremely weak. Like babies who hadn't hit the gym in months, no matter how many times they'd paid lip service to doing so to their wives as they lay on their couches until 3 a.m. watching two Division 3 teams they'd never even heard of before play each other on a poorly lit dirt field surrounded by more cows than fans.

She also realized that the gnomes were pushing her back onto her front. She turned her head and saw why - the scalding sensation she'd felt, before the pushing had distracted her, was from a large fire the gnomes had made. In pushing her away from it, their backs were extremely close to it - so close, in fact, that, had she known they wore nametags on their backs, she would have wondered how they kept from melting. (A space-age polymer, she would later learn.)

All this is to say that she finally ended up on her other side, away from the fire. And it was from this relatively safer position that she began questioning the gnomes.

"Who are you?" she asked.

"Who are you?" they asked in unison.

"I'm Stephanie," she said.

"We're gnomes," they said, in trison. (The fire had thrown off their timing.)

"What are your names?"

They introduced themselves. Alaska was tanned, Agaciaparra was built like a stocky, power-hitting catcher, Ann Isanisland was the only one without glasses (for she was illiterate), and Chomsky just kept spitting (for his mouth was full of chew).

Stephanie liked them all immediately (except for Ann Isanisland - and it was thus Stephanie discovered that her jealousy of other females extended even into the gnome world). 

They helped her up and took her back to their hovel (beside which she built her own dwelling into which she could wholly fit.)

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, she began to think, "This is strange - where I come from, a week is always seven days, and a month is always thirty. Or thirty-one. Or, sometimes, twenty-eight. OK. OK. And, once every four years, twenty-nine. But never a week!" But this was gnome time, and much like party time, temporal perceptions were challenged and new understandings reached, but almost always with a concomitant hangover.

The five of them became bests of friends (even Stephanie and Ann Isanisland - after all, girls got to stick together) and worsts of enemies - when Ann Isanisland saw Alaska coming out of Stephanie's domicile one morning, groggy and half-dressed, she didn't speak to Stephanie for almost a year (which was really only a month and a half, but it kind of felt like a year). 

However, when you're stuck with people, you learn to get along. Or kill each other. And gnomes are semi-immortal, so Stephanie learned to deal with it.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Kind of.
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