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  • Writer's pictureNicole Jorge

Save the Gnomes

By the time Kyle finished sandbagging the aswang enclosure, the clouds above were beginning to swirl ominously. He eyed them warily as Marianne rode up on her golf cart, chipper as ever despite the threat looming ahead.

“How’s it coming along?” she asked.

Kyle shrugged. “It’s coming. Same as the hurricane, I guess.”

Hurricane Catullus had been a stupid name for a storm, especially one presenting as much trouble as this. Nonetheless, they had no choice but to take the damn thing seriously, especially with the threat it posed to South Shores Fantastic Adventures. This wasn’t what Kyle had come here for. He’d come for a year in a bungalow, sleeping in a hammock, partying with his fellow volunteers by night and tending amazing creatures by day.

“Them’s the breaks!” Marianne replied, cheerfully. She paused to look back at the dirt track she’d driven up.

“We got the unis closed off. The gryphons are in their eyries, and the trackers think the gnomes have gone to ground.”

Kyle frowned. “Is that safe?”

Marianne shrugged. “Who knows? These are ancient creatures, Kyle. They’ve been around much longer than we have. We can only assume they know what they’re doing.”

Kyle wasn’t ready to assume they knew what they were doing. Gnomes weren’t very smart. Trust them to drown in their own burrows as the hurricane dumped rain over their heads. In the aswang enclosure, the vaguely-humanoid creatures had already retreated to their rocky caverns for shelter. If Kyle looked hard enough, he could just make out the luminous glow of their eerie eyes through the dark cracks in the rock face.

“Right,” he told Marianne, despite his doubts. “Yeah, okay. I’m just gonna finish up here, all right? Catch you later.”

Marianne gave him a salute and drove on, smiling placidly. Weirdo, thought Kyle. Strange as this place was, he still thought Marianne was one of the stranger things about it. But then, South Shores’s “lifers” were all kind of like that. As for himself, Kyle wasn’t sure what he would do once his year at the refuge was done. He’d quickly grown tired of driving ogling tourists by jeep through the various sections of the park, dealing with inane questions from the kind of folk who could afford exotic vacations and fantastical safaris. The creatures were all right, sure, but the customers were another matter.

But that was something to worry about later. For now, there was Catullus to deal with. And the trouble hadn’t even started yet.

The nixies and the mermaids were next. That wasn’t much fun. The mermaids could be persuaded to swim themselves into the enclosed tanks of the rehab center, where they could spend the storm in shelter, but the nixies were insufferable as ever. Kyle and Sarah finally had to gather the little monsters - no, not monsters, that word wasn’t allowed at South Shores - creatures with nets like the ones Kyle had used as a pool boy. It took them the better part of an hour to get the nixies to safety. There was simply no reasoning with them, contrary as they were.

At last, they had done all they could for the inhabitants of the park. That meant it was time to lock down the bungalows, hope for the best, and to haul their gear into the Visitor Center. It soon grew crowded in there, with some volunteers obliged to crawl into exhibits to lay their sleeping bags among the taxidermied unicorns and kelpies. Kyle found space to bunk beneath one of the benches near the giant ogre skeleton that hung suspended from the ceiling. He hoped the bench would be sturdy enough to protect him if the skeleton came down over his head.

It was just a matter of waiting after that. There were card games, singalongs, and snacks. Senior staff crowded around the radio and kept up with the news as the storm crept in over them slowly but surely. It was evening when the rain began, and then there was no telling what time it was without their watches as the sky grew pitch black.

The power went out about three hours into their vigil. There was a crack of lightning, a sizzling sound, and then it was dark. A hush fell over the gathered staff.

“Right!” called Victor in his booming voice. “Bedtime, kids. Get in your rolls and try to get some sleep. Don’t trip over anything important, would you?”

Easier said than done, but Kyle managed to just knock his head once against the bench as he crawled into his sleeping pack. He lay there with an aching forehead as thunder rolled loudly enough to reverberate all around them. He wanted to sleep, he really did. He wanted to close his eyes and wake only once the whole mess was over.

So why did he keep thinking about the damn gnomes?

Ancient creatures, he reminded himself. They would know what to do. Except he couldn’t forget that time he found a whole trio of them choking on the cherry pits some careless tourist had tossed unnoticed from the jeep. One of them had fashioned his pointed hat from a Butterfinger wrapper and refused to give it up even when offered proper fabric. He was still wearing it, faded and tattered as it was.

“Marianne?” Kyle called, finally. There was a murmuring, and then he yelped when he heard Marianne’s voice right in his ear.

“Yeah, Kyle?”

“The gnomes,” he sighed. “They’re…pretty dumb, aren’t they?”

Marianne was quiet. “Okay,” she said, finally. “What do you want to do?”

Kyle sighed again. This wasn’t what he was here for. He was supposed to be partying and petting dragons, maybe cuddling the squonk when it got too down on itself. This was supposed to be easy. This was supposed to be fun.

And yet…

And yet….

Kyle crawled out of his sleeping bag, and out from under the bench as the thunder rattled the ogre skeleton above.

“Got a raincoat?”

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