The Secrets in the Attic
By Christopher Stamfors
A boy walked aimlessly down a hall. Voices of the adults disappeared in the endless corridors of the large house, becoming distant as he went. The old man, who lived in the house, didn’t care to lighten all of it and he probably didn’t use more than a third. The boy glanced from side to side, looking at strange paintings on the walls and flowers that had died and withered a long time ago. And the deeper he went, the darker and muskier the smells became. He’d never been to his grandfather’s house before, he barely knew he had one. His parents never talked about him and they had never told him why. But one day, the old man had a heart attack and suddenly the old man was whisked into existence… But it was all the same to him, his grandfather was very old and talked strangely. Thankfully, his grandfather allowed him to explore the house, so the old man wasn’t all bad. As he came to the end of the corridor, he followed a set of stairs, to the third floor, where there was a locked door. He peeked inside the keyhole but it was too dark to see anything. This made him all the more curious and he hurried down the stairs to the kitchen where the adults were. He stopped half way and tightened his collar and then headed inside. They were all drinking tea and all the excitement from before drained as he entered. There was his mother who had pink hair and a small frame compared to his father, who was tall but skinny. They sat straight with tired looks that brightened a bit when he entered. To his left there was his grandfather who slumped in his chair. He was clean shaven, though the hair on his head grew past his shoulders he was completely bald on top. The boy felt his eyes on him. “What is it, my boy?” The old man said. “Found something?”
“There’s a door to the attic that’s locked. May I look inside?”
“Sure, sure,” he said and dug into his pocket but hesitated. “That is, if it’s okay by your father.”
The boy looked at his father who nodded slowly. His mouth was a thin line and he rarely smiled so it was hard to tell what he was thinking. “You may,” he said.
“Thank you, father,” the boy said and bowed lightly. He received the key and headed out as quickly as he could. It was suffocating when adults were together… He loosened the collar again and headed upstairs. The door creaked open and the light from the hallway lighted the room a little. There were boxes and boxes everywhere, covered in drapes. He looked around and noticed a small source of light behind some velvet sheets and he pulled it down. Dust spurt around and tickled his nose, but there was now light and he could look clearly around the attic. It was filled with stuff and he stared at it all, excitedly. There could be anything buried in here, he thought, and began searching. Most of the things he found were regular stuff, mostly clothes, tools, and tableware. But sometimes he found something strange which he wasn’t sure what they were for, and he put them aside and dug for more. He found a pocket watch, nothing special, then he found a gold encrusted pen. Now that’s more like it! After a while, he couldn’t stand the itchiness in his nose as he stirred the dust around and he decided to take his treasure downstairs. The adults were outside when he found them, smoking. He hated smoke because it made his eyes water but he approached them and poured the contents of his bag over a table. “What have you got there, boy?” the old man said with a smile.
“Fredric!” His mother snapped.
Stunned, he found his collar was loose and he quickly tightened it. “That’s better,” she said and leaned back and drank her tea.
The old man dug into the pile and was very happy to see these old things that had once been very useful but had no use anymore, either because they had invented something better or it had gone out of fashion. The old man stopped for a moment when he got to the pen. “It’s gold, isn’t it?” said Fredric.
The old man examined it. “It’s gold alright, but I can’t remember where it came from.”
“Do you remember everything you owned, father?”
The old man looked askance at his son. “I suppose not,” he said and put the pen back in the pile.
“Can I keep it?” Fredric asked.
The old man smiled. “Sure, why not? Take the watch too, get some use out of it.”
“Thanks grandpa,” he said with a smile and sat in the corner and waited as the adults talked. They didn’t stay for long and when they got home, Fredric went to the kitchen and polished the pen until it shone. “Can I bring it to school?” He asked his mother.
“It’s not proper to boast,” she said.
“Yes, mother,” he said and pocketed it and headed upstairs. “Goodnight, mom. Goodnight dad,” he said and stood by the door to his room. Before entering, he pinched a needle that was stuck at the door frame and a thud came from inside. A rope hung in front of him with a large sandbag attached to it on the floor. He propped the trap back into place and closed the door. He skipped over several wires that stretched across the floor, and before he undressed and went to bed, he tapped the wooden frame of the bed three times and then crawled under the blanket, sleeping soundly soon after.
He went to school the next day. His clothes oppressed him, it was hard to move and the collar pressed up against his chin. His clothes were very expensive too, black and sophisticated, not at all like a schoolboy of 12, but that of a grown gentleman. It was how his parents wanted him to be, to be as far above the rest as he could be. His father even took away all his children’s stories when he turned 10, even his favourite one about the gnomes and humans who lived side by side. He remembered it clearly: the gnomes made magical things to aid the humans, but over time, the gnomes grew weary of being treated like slaves and they took back their magic from the humans and disappeared, bringing in an age of darkness until humanity brought themselves back with their own kind of magic of cogs and machinery. There are other tales about the gnomes but his father was insistent that he only read this particular one, or other’s like it. Fredric didn’t rightly know why.
On his way to school, he took the long way around, avoiding the houses of his classmates. He’d memorised them all and he knew which route they took. He walked between small dilapidated houses, and the tiny roads between them, where the grass had grown through the pavement, roads nobody cared about. For some reason he liked those roads, they seemed almost like lost ruins, but most of all, he liked it because he was alone. He’d tried to make friends once. His father never approved any of them and only belittled them because they were not good enough for his son. People stopped coming then, and after a while, Fredric stopped trying. Finally, he came out on the big road. He walked behind the school at the football yard which was empty so early in the day. There was only one or two who saw him, nobody from school, thankfully.
He stayed outdoors for as long as possible, dreading to go through the crowded corridors and waited until the teacher came. It wasn’t difficult, because the teacher was always punctual, never sick and never took vacations. Today, he managed to come into the classroom with minimal interaction. And in class he was safe because the teacher was very strict. “Good morning class, I hope you have studied well for the test today.”
“Good morning miss Grench.”
The teacher handed out the tests. Fredric was prepared for it and dug into his backpack for a pen. He couldn’t find any. He dug deeper but there was nothing he could use and he started to panic. There was nobody in class he could ask, and even if there were, he didn’t want to disturb the class or draw attention to himself in anyway so he dug around his pockets and found, to his surprise, the golden pen. He had forgotten he put it there and he wondered if he should use it? He had little choice and he tried. To his even bigger surprise, the ink came out beautifully. Not only that, his writing was exceptional. It wasn’t like his style at all and every word came out confidently. The classmates beside him started to take notice of the flamboyant pen. The murmurs spread and the teacher took notice too and approached.
“What’s this ruckus about? Answer me!”
“Teacher, teacher, look, he has a pen made of gold!”
The teacher frowned at Fredric but she also noticed the beautiful handwriting on the paper. If anything, she was a diligent teacher and wanted her students to do good and wasn’t above rewarding good performance. She took his papers and said. “I hope your answers are as good as your handwriting,” she said. But, she was also a bitter woman and any compliment barely sounded like one. Fredric curled up in his chair, trying to make himself smaller, preferably disappear altogether. After class, he collected his things. Seeing how they eyed him, he passed the flowerpots on the windshield and buried the pen in the dirt as inconspicuously as he could. He tried his best to avoid everyone, but there was no use once they got a reason to attack him, and they always found something. They ganged up at him and pushed him against the wall. “Why do you have such nice things?” They asked.
“You think you are better than us? Give us the pen,” they said.
Fredric kept quiet because he knew saying nothing gave him the least amount of trouble. They would bully him for a bit, mess up his clothes and perhaps take something else from him, but that was all. And when school was over, he picked up the pen and waited in the empty classroom until everyone was gone. He took the same route back home, behind the school and between the small dilapidated houses which nobody walked. He made sure his clothes were tidy before he came home. Once, he’d been pushed into mud on a rainy day by his classmates, the stains wouldn’t come out and his mother was mortified when he got home. He was punished for it even though it wasn’t his fault… While at home, he went straight to his room and placed himself by his desk. He was finally able to process what had happened. The golden pen gleamed in his hand and he wrote with it. It came out beautifully. Then he tried a regular pen… The difference was night and day. The ink was even clearer in the golden pen, which didn’t make sense, it was older, much older, the ink should have dried out a long time ago. Could it be… A thought came to him; his body jerked in the chair, sort of winced at the very idea as you wince at being stung by a bee or stubbed your toe. He brought out an empty piece of paper and started drawing circles until several papers were covered in ink. All of it came out as clear as the first stroke. Then he tried opening it, but the tip wouldn’t budge. He took out a knife from the drawer and tried to bend it open but the knife slipped and stabbed the desk instead. There was no use. This was all too much for him and he threw the pen across the room and was ready to go to bed when he realised he hadn’t done any homework. He stayed up late and did everything he was supposed to. All the while the pen still lay in the corner, under a chair, where a bunch of books were stacked on top. He tried not thinking about it when he went to bed, it’s too silly to even consider that there might be magic involved.
He was sleeping soundly despite the distress. In the dark, the door opened softly. The thread snapped and there was a thud as the sandbag hit the floor. Fredric shot up. The door stood askance and he heard scurrying on the floor. There was another twang as a thread on the floor broke and something was dropped. Fredric crawled out of bed and turned on the light. “Who’s there?”
No response. He craned over his own traps that hadn’t been activated and looked outside the hall. It was empty and silent. His heart was racing when he locked the door and propped the trap back into place, like he always did. He felt something under his foot which he picked up and recognised as the golden pen in his hand. It had moved. His heart didn’t slow even with the door locked, and safely tucked under the blanket. He stared into the dark, clutching the pen, unable to keep his eyes from the bedroom door.
He came down for breakfast, tired. He hadn’t slept at all. His father and mother were already sitting and eating. “You are late,” his father said. Fredric sighed under his breath. A while back, his father had insisted that they eat together, always, though not possible everyday, his father still expected him to be on time on the weekends. “I’m sorry, father,” Fredric said. He took a seat and reached for a sandwich with his on hand, clutching the pen firmly with the other.
His father eyed his hand. “Put that away,” he said.
At first, Fredric didn’t know what he meant, he didn’t realise he still held it. His fingers opened stiffly and the pen rolled on the table as he let go, but even as he ate, he wouldn’t take his eyes off it. “Your fencing instructor is not the best,” his father said. “You made many mistakes last week. I want you to come to my office at 1200 hours and I’ll teach you proper.”
And there it was, it would be his punishment. His father would run him exhausted and sometimes whip him with the saber if he made any mistakes, which he’d do because nothing was good enough for Gallon Hemperton. During breakfast, his father blabbered on and on about his shortcomings and he tried to listen earnestly, but he had his own conversation going on in his head.
‘Something broke into my room tonight,’ he’d say. ‘It tried to steal my golden pen.’
‘Ridiculous!’ His father would yell, and maybe smack him across the cheek. And that’s where the conversation would end. He looked to his mother who was looking attentively as his father spoke. He couldn’t talk to her either, he knew, not even in private. Fredric remembered once saying that butterflies sometimes looked like elves and she got all tired, as if his words sucked all the energy out of her. A battle would ensue in her mind whether to tell his father or not. Often she didn’t, sometimes she did. She wouldn’t be receptive to what he had to say anyway, but he had to tell somebody! It was too big of a secret to keep for oneself. He had no friends to turn to… Maybe his grandfather would listen? After all, the pen came from his house, perhaps he knew? When his father was finally quiet, he excused himself and went outdoors. He took the bike and rode down the country. Nobody would miss him because it was a Saturday, not until 12 o’clock anyway.
The country road was nice. Nobody knew him there and there were a lot of farms on the way and there were many different smells. The road was made of dirt and he couldn’t drive very fast, but life went slower outside the city, the farm animals lazing around in the sun. Eventually, he saw the house at a distance. It was situated on a hill overlooking the valley, staring menacingly down at him. But no horrors had happened there, as far as he knew. The house was old, so nobody except the walls themselves couldn’t be entirely sure. Fredric rode up to the driveway and knocked on the door, his grandfather opened. “My, my, what a happy surprise! Come in, come in,” he said.
Fredric was led to the backyard where he had a seat and waited for the old man to come back with tea and cookies. The sun warmed their lower halves while their faces were in the shade. “Would you like some sugar?” the old man said. “No? Of course not,” he smiled.
The old man seemed nervous, fidgeting with the kettle as if unsure what to say. “So, how’s school?” He asked.
Usually, Fredric would indulge adults who asked, but he had his own burning question that couldn’t wait. “Grandpa, did anything strange happen in this house?”
The old man coughed on the tea and looked at the young boy who stared intently back. The old man was firm in his chair, looking around himself before asking. “What makes you think that?”
The boy placed the pen on the table, reluctantly, and folded his hands. “I think they are trying to take it back,” he said.
The grandfather eyed the pen closely, then a big smile grew. “So it is true then,” he said, mist-eyed. He lit a cigar and puffed on it violently. Grey smoke surrounded them. “But they didn’t manage to take it from you, did they? How?”
“I make traps in my room, ever have since I was little.”
“It makes me feel safe, I don’t know.”
The old man never lost his smile and it only grew bigger. “You are different from your father, you know?. And your mother.”
“I suppose…” He hadn’t noticed it until now, but the old man’s demeanour was so different that Fredric wondered if he was talking to a different person. The old man continued. “You knew this had magic in it, that’s why you were drawn to it. I had a hunch myself, but… To think it’s been in my house all this time… I’m quite jealous.”
The old man puffed on his cigar once more and saw the child’s eyes water from the smoke. He put it out. “Listen, you cannot let your parents know about the story I’m about to tell. They won’t let me see you again, you understand?”
Fredric nodded and the old man took a breath. “There once was a boy, about your age, that lived about a hundred years ago. He lived in a large house, just like this, and the family was very rich. The boy would have had a great start in life but fate had other plans. His mother died while giving birth to him and on top of that, he was born lame. His father wanted nothing to do with him so all day long he was alone in his room, with only an old nanny to take care of him:
“It’s time to go to bed, little lord,” the old nanny said.
“I’m already in bed,” the boy said bitterly.
“Now, now. No need to be nit-picky with semantics,” she said and tucked him in. She sat on the side of the bed and said. “How about I tell ye a story?”
The boy sighed. He couldn’t rightly stop her once she began. “Did I ever tell ye about when I was a little girl. We had a cute little cottage in the woods where we grew our own vegetables. We were very poor, but life was still pleasant because everyday we would put out a bowl of porridge on the doorstep.”
“Why would you do that?” the boy asked quizzically.
“The gnomes love porridge, especially with a large stick of butter in it. We had our own living with us. He made sure the house never broke and making it all warm and comfortable during the harsh winters.”
The boy rolled his eyes.
“One day we forget to feed the gnome and it was furious. The house started leaking the same day and the animals barely gave any milk. We had to give him thrice the next day to calm him down… I never did see the gnome but they don’t like being seen neither. To this day, I leave a bowl of porridge by the stables every week. You might wonder why the stables, and why only ones a week? Well, the porridge isn’t mine anymore and nobody goes to the stables. I do hope a gnome will find his way here one day and make this estate homely again.”
The boy didn’t know what that meant, but it gave him an idea. “So gnomes fixes things?”
“In a way, yes.”
“Do you think it could fix my legs?”
The nanny bent over and kissed him on the forehead. “I’m sure he would.”
She left and took out the lights. But before she left, the boy asked. “Will you put out another bowl tonight?”
“I will… Goodnight, dear.”
But the boy wasn’t tired and indeed, after waiting several hours he crawled out of bed and into his wheelchair. It was difficult to open the door alone and even more difficult going down the stairs. In the yard he was forced to abandon his wheelchair and he crawled all the way to the stables and hid under a pile of hay and watched the bowl of porridge from a distance. But the trip made him tired and he soon fell asleep. He awoke later that night, feeling something pinching his lower back. “So that’s where your feelers are, eh?” A low voice said. There was some creature on his back and the boy rolled over and propped himself up against the wall to see.
“Who are you?”
“Me? I’m the gnome,” it said, and it was true, he did look like one, with a large grey beard, so small he barely reached the calves of a grown adult. “Quite the journey for you just to see me, at least for you.”
“You know about me?”
“Course, you are the lame boy!”
The boy frowned.
“Oh, don’t be mad, lad, it’s just the truth.”
The boy couldn’t stop looking at him, he still couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “You’re real,” the boy said.
The gnome jumped on his lap and said. “Hmph, humans having trouble believing their eyes?” He shook his head. “Nothing changes.”
“But the house…” He couldn’t describe it with words because he didn’t understand it. How can you explain a feeling you never felt? “It’s broken,” he said.
“What’s that? Some old gibberish isn’t it? Expecting my help with just a measly bowl of porridge a week. You should be glad I don’t burn down the house, boy!”
The boy didn’t know they could do that and he got scared. The old gnome’s face softened. “Ach, never you mind what I say, I’m just a bitter old gnome,” he said and jumped off the boys lap and to the ground.
“Wait!” the boy called. “Please fix my legs. I’ll do anything.”
“I can do non about your legs, boy,” he said and waved his hand. “Now go to sleep.”
The boy was out. He didn’t know how he was back in bed again. But he was sure it wasn’t a dream because his pants were all dirty from dragging himself all the way to the stables where his wheelchair couldn’t get him. He tried to hide it from his nanny but she knew. She found the pants hidden away when she was cleaning and she was a clever woman, putting two and two together. “Did you meet the gnome?” She said one day.
The boy shook his head. It was easier to lie than try to explain what happened. The nanny hugged him and made his favourite meal, fried chicken with mashed potatoes. After a while, when the pants had been cleaned and the memory became ever more distant, he wasn’t sure if what he’d seen was real anymore. It didn’t matter, however, because the gnome was nothing like the ones in nanny’s story. But the trip did make him taste adventure and instead of being in bed all day, he’d sometimes go out in the day and sit by the porch and stare out the country, like an old man, feeling the wind and sun on him, but it all failed to put spirit in him and he always returned to his room as glum as before. Then one night, he awoke, feeling nervous, as if somebody was watching him in the dark. “Is someone there?”
“Keen senses,” a voice said and the grey bearded gnome appeared before him in bed. “You are a sad little boy, aren’t ya? It’s hard to watch.”
The boy frowned. “Then don’t.”
“Hehe, but there is still spirit in ya! Good, good.”
“What do you want?”
“I came to help.”
“I thought you could heal my legs.”
“I cannot, but there are other things I can do,” he said and dug into his pocket “Try these,” he said and handed him a pair of spectacles.
“I don’t need glasses,” the boy scowled.
“True, but they will help you see the light of things,” he said with a smile.
Hesitantly, the boy put them on, and suddenly, the gnome didn’t seem as dirty and weary as before. His clothes had golden buttons and his vest was coloured in red and blue. Everything around seemed a tad brighter, even though it was nighttime. The gnome pointed to the sky and the boy rolled around and saw that there was another moon in the sky. He gasped and was speechless. The gnome said. “With this you’ll never be lonely, even if you spend all day indoors,” and the gnome was gone. The boy lay all night staring at the sky, the stars, and every now and again, a winged creature passed a silhouette across the bright blue moons. The Nanny found him on the ground by the window, shivering and she carried him back to his room. He wanted to go out. He wanted to see this new fantastic world! And he did. He took longer and longer trips to the outside, with help, of course. The Nanny didn’t mind his strange behaviour because he was much more spirited and full of energy. The gnome’s help didn’t stop there, however. He made many things to help him in his daily life, the pen too, I’d imagine,” the old man said.
Fredric eyed the pen closely. “Then where did all the other things go? Did the gnome take them back?”
“No, my father… I mean the boy gave them all up. You see, he went and found the love of his life. He wanted the best life for her and he knew having magic would only bring confusion into her life. People, especially fancy people, weren’t too keen on those that believe in magic, so he gave them back. He didn’t need them anymore, anyway. All he wanted to look at was his wife.”
“Then where did the gnome go?”
“I don’t now. He probably went to find another child or family to help.”
The boy looked at the pen, it gleamed beautifully. “But someone wants this.”
“Yes, question is, do you want to keep it?”
Somehow, the thought of not having the pen was so painful he couldn’t even imagine it. Especially after hearing about this story. “I do.”
“The fight for it.”
The boy nodded firmly. “Thanks, grandpa,” he said. and rode his bike as fast as he could. His heart burned with feelings he didn’t know. He felt it all the way to his stomach. Was it pride? Whatever it was, he liked it. Fredric came home a couple of minutes after 12 and his father was angry at him and made him ‘practise’ for several hours before he could go back to his room. Fredric had several bruises and he was sweaty, but his heart still burned. Without losing anymore time, he tore down all his traps and made new ones. But would they fool the gnome? Did they expect this? Thinking it over, he put some of the old traps back in place along with some new ones. Perhaps he could fool the gnome that he hadn’t prepared? Avoiding the first trap would set of the second… Fredric smiled and went to bed, keeping one eye open watching the door.
The night was still, even the bats that were loud this time of the year were silent, or maybe he was too focused to hear them. His heart had barely settled and he wasn’t tired when the door opened. Light from the hallway shone in. Fredric smiled, proud with himself for thinking ahead. The trap went off but the sandbag did not fall, at least he didn’t hear it fall. But it didn’t matter, the first trap was a ruse, but moments passed and no other sound was made. Fredric struggled to control his breathing when he heard tipper tapper on the desk. Fredric grinned knowing the pen was a trap also. He waited and waited, but nothing happened. Then, he saw a golden glimmer on the floor and without thinking, Fredric shot up and rushed to catch it. But in one moment, he was in his room, the next, he was elsewhere. He was on cold ground flat on his stomach and he couldn’t move. Little faces with large beards gathered around him. They looked just like the stories, with their big hats and vests. They didn’t look happy.
“He’s awake,” one in the crowd hissed.
Fredric tried to speak up but he found his voice without breath, yet he was still able to breath. A small man went forth and stared menacingly at the boy. He too had a large beard. There were buildings around him, very small but perfect size for them. The glaring gnome made the golden pen appear from behind his back. “ Human, where did you get this?”
Fredric opened his mouth, but no words came out. The gnome did a motion with his hand and suddenly he could feel his breath again. “That’s mine,” Fredric said. “Give it back.”
The gnomes laughed. “Mine, he says.”
“Ho ho, humans are such simple creatures.”
“No child,” the glaring gnome said. “This is borrowed. It was never yours.”
The Gnomes clapped approvingly.
“How did you get a hold of it?” He continued.
There were murmurs in the group. How could it have eluded us for so long? I sure don’t remember making it. What if there’s more?
The glaring gnome raised his hand to quiet them down. Fredric noticed he was flushing under his beard. “Who made it is not important. What is, however, is how he got it.”
The throng nodded.
“Well, boy. Answer us.”
Fredric didn’t want to tell them, he felt defiant and scared at the same time. He tried to think of a lie, but his mind raced and he couldn’t come up with anything. Tears started welling and the crowd looked on silently. The glaring gnome’s face softened. He waved his hand and Fredric couldn’t feel his breath anymore. “We’ll ask you again tomorrow. You’ll tell us then,” he said.
The crowd dispersed and everyone went indoors. Fredric was suddenly all alone. He tried to make out where he was but there were no stars in the sky, no wind. It was neither cold nor warm, a perfect but quiet climate. The lights in the houses flickered and he saw little faces peek through the windows as he lay there. He was very tired and he would have drifted off to sleep had not some of the gnomes appeared before him. One after the other, one by one, they gave him drink and food and made sure he was comfortable. He nodded and smiled, unable to speak and they seemed happy too. After a while, the gnomes went back indoors and turned of the lights. When it was completely dark, Fredric too drifted off to sleep.
He awoke the next day.
He still couldn’t move and it smelled differently and damp. He could feel a draft across his face. The air was also thick and he felt a weight on his shoulder and saw a pair of small feet dangling in his periphery. “Finally awake, eh?” the gnome said and jumped down in front of him.
“Where are we?” There was a crack in the ceiling, a large one where light came in, casting a veil of light across the dark room.
“Doesn’t matter,” the gnome said and sat on a little chair in front of the boy. A dust cloud spurt in every direction as he sat. “You are going to tell me where you got this from.”
The boy hesitated. “Will you give me the pen back if I do?”
The gnome laughed dryly. “Impudent! Humans are so impudent. Even in bondage you have the gall to make demands.”
“Please,” the boy said looking steadily at the gnome.
The gnome sat back down. “Hmph, why do you want it so much? It’s not powerful and it won’t get you riches.”
“I don’t know, okay, I don’t know why I want it so much. It’s important to me, to my family…”
“Ha! I knew it, a Hemperton are you? Should have known from those lazy eyes of yours…” The gnome sighed. “I thought I’d searched this whole damned house,” he said and kicked the chair over, toppling another piece of furniture.
Fredric flinched at the crash. “Where—.” There were steps, heavy steps that reverberated through the ceiling above. Dust sailed down on them and collected on their heads. Fredric looked up, now realising where he was.
The gnome dusted off his hat. “Yes, we are at your grandfather’s, under the floorboard… Are there anymore?” he said, brandishing the pen like a knife. “You might as well tell me, I’ll know it when you use it.”
The boy shook his head.
The gnome seemed relieved and was about to fall on the chair he just knocked over. Instead he simply sat cross legged on the ground.
Fredric looked quizzically at him. “Who are you?”
“Hmph, why should I tell you? And what does it matter? Surely you know the stories? Yes I’ve read them, very flattering by the way. We take back what’s ours, that’s all you need to know.”
“You are not my Great grandfather’s gnome… Your beard is not grey.” Fredric continued.
The gnome eyed the boy. “So he told you, did he?… No, my beard is not grey, that’s not a sign of age, by the way. My father’s beard was always grey… Sometimes I wonder if his heart was too. To stoop so low as to make things for humans again, it’s disgusting. There was so much stuff hidden here when I finally found this place… Spectacles, magic shoelaces, can you believe it?!” He said and shook his head.
“But not a magic pen…” Fredric said.
“But not a pen…” the Gnome repeated. “He was always a bit forgetful, my old man, head in the clouds. Or maybe he hid it just to spite me…”
“He was very nice though… and you seem nice too.”
“Hmph, what would you know? Maybe I’ll decide to keep you? Lock you up somewhere!”
Fredric showed no sign of fear. “The gnomes in town were very nice to me too. Gnomes are just overall nice and helpful, aren’t you?”
“…I won’t give you back the pen, if that’s what you are trying.”
“I know,” the boy said and he meant it. He didn’t know when this was no longer about the pen. It wasn’t important to him anymore, maybe it never were? He was without regret and indeed felt stronger somehow.
The gnome looked at the boy and nodded softly with solemn respect. “We’ll never see each other again. Take care, little human,” he said and with a wave of his hand, Fredric was in his bed again. It was morning and he got up and looked at the desk. The pen was gone and he smiled. He clothed himself and rushed down the stairs, skipping breakfast. His father shouted at him from the kitchen but Fredric didn’t listen and jumped on his bike and rode away. The air was fresh and mild and he felt the freedom of the open road. He could go anywhere, he felt like. But the road took him to his grandfather’s and he jumped off the bike in a hurry without propping it up properly. He ignored the front door and went directly to the backyard where he found the old man sitting by the porch in the sun. “Well, well, who do we have here? Welcome back, my boy. You are simply radiating! Tell me what happened.”
And Fredric did, and as he told it, he saw a pinch of envy in the old man’s eyes. “So what are you gonna do now?” The old man said.
“How about we go to the attic and dig through some old trash?”
The old man laughed and the boy laughed. Perhaps they’ll find another magical item laying about?