Deep inside an overgrown forest, far away from people, lived eight gnomes. Their home was normal enough – a red and white polka dotted mushroom-esque style, complete with a lazy, spiraling flume of fireplace smoke wafting from the chimney. The candle lights inside cast a warm, golden inviting glow that simply whispered homelike comfort. Somehow all eight gnomes were comfortable living together under one roof instead of spread out. They were solitary creatures, never having been to the ends of their forest.
At the edge of the gnomes’ forest, a bustling city carried on their Halloween traditions of tricks or treats, costumes and parties. Though the inhabitants had never seen the gnomes, the legends of their existence were always a grand topic around Halloween. Stories of Grimm Tales and Disney adaptations were whispered around campfires with their s’mores to the children and over time, the tales quickly turned to suspicious and more sinister as the kids grew older. The kids were told they’d steal a shoe. Handfuls of candy from the Halloween stash (even though parents knew darn good and well it was the ‘daddy tax’) – to the elaborate tales later.
Newly fifteen years old, sisters Rosemary and Lillian were excited to finally meet up with their friends at such a non-little kid party for the first time. Unsure to dress up in costume or not, the two bickered and argued over what to wear until Becky, their only friend with a car, arrived and leaned on the horn outside their house. Finally, the twins decided on two matching witch costumes and ran downstairs, kissed their mom and dad bye and were off.
Becky drove for what seemed an eternity down a long single lane paved road. About four miles in, the road turned to gravel. Another mile or so down, and it turned to a dirt road. The only sights out the car windows were rows of corn, dirt clouds and the fading glow of old Chevy headlights.
“Becky? Do you know where you’re going?”
Becky laughed. “Of course, derp. We’re going to the edge of the forest where the bonfire is.”
Lillian and Rosemary shot each other wary glances.
“But what about the gnomes?” Lillian asked, seemingly embarrassed.
Becky threw her head back and laughed hard. “Oh come on. Those are just legends. Ghost stories. No such thing. It’ll be okay.”
Lillian drew in a long breath and let it out slowly and tried to stare out the window, sit back and relax.
An orangey-red glow ahead began to shine brighter as the car drew closer. Becky slowed down and parked in a grassy spot, near at least forty other cars.
Lillian and Rosemary hesitantly got out of the car and followed their friend Becky through a corn field that opened up to a field. In the center, a bonfire at least a story high. Beyond the bonfire lay at the edge of the forest.
Both girls were given red plastic cups of something spicy smelling, and with a matching glance to each other, they took a drink. It was hot going down, with a hint of cider and cinnamon. Immediately, their stomachs were warm and their fears were gone.
Lightened by the liquid and the newfound peace, the twins danced around the bonfire and laughed. It was far better than any time they could remember being at the kiddie parties.
Spotting a log on the edge of the bonfire, backing up to the woods, Lillian took a seat. She flipped off her shoes and rubbed them, taking a small break. Rosemary joined her and sat down offering her another cup of warm cider.
“This is far better than what I imagined.”
“It really is,” Lillian said, accepting the cider and taking a sip. She scrunched up her nose and smelled the cup. “There’s something different about this drink. Is it different?”
Rosemary shrugged. “Some guy gave it to me. He said it was a new batch.”
Lillian’s eyebrows furrowed. “I feel like I need to take a walk. This is making me feel weird.”
Rosemary helped her up, leaving her sister’s shoes behind. But in their addled state, instead of walking toward the group of partygoers, they headed into the forest.
The light from the fire faded quickly, and the two found themselves far from where they began.
“Lillian. I think I need to go back… but I’m kinda turned around.” She glanced around as they walked on a path that felt like the correct direction, trying to see over the tops of the trees. Finally, a soft glow of firelight appeared. Relief washed over Rosemary, and she picked up the pace, trying to get her sick sister to the party, and get Becky to drive them home as fast as they could.
The trees began to thin out and the firelight grew brighter. The little mushroom home appeared in the thinning of the trees.
“What in the world?” breathlessly, Lillian asked.
Rosemary swallowed hard. “I sure hope it’s a kiddie story and not a grown up one…”
Lillian doubled over, clutching her stomach. Rosemary led her to the small rounded door and knocked. rose-cheeked gnome opened the door, cheery as could be, even though it had to be at least midnight.
“Did ye get lost, my lassie?” he almost chuckled.
“Yes, sir. My sister drank something that didn’t agree with her. May we use a… a phone?” Rosemary queried, unsure.
“Oh we have no modern nonsense, but you’re welcome to come have a lie down if you’d wish.”
Rosemary looked to Lillian, who gave a weak half-nod.
The gnome opened the door wide and the three entered. He made a spot on a small couch, very close to a woodstove and helped Lillian become comfortable. Rosemary sat cross-legged next to her sister while the gnome walked to the foot of a staircase and whistled a jaunty tune. Soon, seven other gnomes who were just as cheery as he all but hopped downstairs. Without introducing themselves, they all nodded, smiled, and meandered to the kitchen, pulling out all sorts of pots, pans, and other tools. One gnome made his way toward the woodstove and turned the heater all the to maximum, adding four five large logs. The first gnome chatted quickly and quietly out of Rosemary’s ear-shot, then walked back over to where her and Lillian sat – his hands clasped behind his back. “Well, well. We’re terribly sorry for your predicament. But you’re welcome to stay here until your sister is better. The morning should be right as rain. And hearty breakfast will be had by all.”
He leaned over to Rosemary to pat her over the shoulder, but instead, removed his hands from behind his back – and with a baster, poured melted butter on her back….