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The Guide Called Grunhool

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Sarah woke up with a start that morning to the sound of her alarm. She reached out and turned the knob that would silence it’s beeping, and her blonde hair fell over her shoulder. She pushed her tresses behind her ear and groaned as she stared at the ceiling, reluctant to leave the heated shell that was her fluffy down comforter. She got up, stumbled into her slippers, and went down to the kitchen. She grabbed the cereal, and turned around to get the milk when her eyes widened in surprise.
Snow! It glittered and winked in the sun, and rose six inches high where it had settled on the branches of the trees, and piled up on her back porch. A few bright red berries popped against the alabaster white. She decided to run outside—a first snow should be enjoyed. She pulled on last-year’s winter boots, and they bitterly pinched her toes. Sarah staggered out into the snow, and then was embraced by the cool, brisk air. She inhaled deeply, and shut her eyes tight, spinning around joyfully. She smelled the pure and icy fragrance of the morning, and felt the snow sneak over the top of her boots. She ran down the stairs, and skipped a step to land where the freezing powdered ground should be. Except it wasn’t.
Frozen in shock, her panic-stricken eyes opened to an enormous size as she dropped farther and farther down. Until—“Oof.” She landed with a thump on soft warm dirt, and a pang snapped up her tailbone. She looked up to where she had fallen from, a little less than two stories high. Her tailbone screamed at her, and she winced, as tears filled her eyes. The dimly lit hole was in fact more than just a hole. It was a tiny, round, moist, heated corridor that strung off from what looked like a longer hall. Maybe this is just a new sewer, Sarah thought, and maybe there are some workers down here too, she reflected as she noticed scuffling noises and some soft tapping. She tried to get up and walk toward the hall, but her tailbone rejected. It seared in pain, and she thought it must be broken.
“Hello?” she called out, her voice inflicted by pain. “Hello!” she raised her tone. The scuffling got louder and she breathed a sigh of relief. Whoever the person may be, he was coming. Although to say person was still a statement to be questioned.
The small, bearded creature that gaped at her from the hall was definitely not human. His earth toned pants and shirt were the size of a doll’s, and his body was sized to match. He wore a dull, red, pointed hat over his graying curly hair and had fluffy beard that reached down to his waist.
He scuttled over to her and said in a high-pitched voice, “What are you doing here?” he sounded panicked, and worried. “What’s wrong?” he continued, seeing the pain in her caramel eyes.
“My tailbone,” she groaned, not even minding for now that her rescuer seemed to be a gnome, as she was probably just hallucinating from the pain and shock of the fall.
“I’ll fix that up,” he said hurriedly as he scooped up some of the warm soil, and pressed it against her hip.
“Wha—“ she started, about to ask him what on earth he was doing, but stopped when she felt cool relief in her tailbone. “How—“
“Please no questions!” he screamed quietly. “Just go back!”
“Back? How can I?”
“Valid point…” he thought absently. “I’ll take you to the stairs. What a risk! But I’ll have to do it, I’ll have to.”
Sarah stared at the stranger uncertainly as he argued with himself. “Er... Sir… The stairs, I think, would be a good option,” she tried to help politely, thinking that for her to simply take the stairs back up was quite obviously the best option.
“Oh but dearie, they’ll all see you if I take you to the stairs.” he said, as though this were quite obvious, pushing her thought aside. “The Elders,” he thought out loud. “But it’s never certain what they’ll do. Oh dear this is bad. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”
“What do you mean, sir?” Sarah interjected.
“They mustn’t know you’re here. Absolutely mustn’t. They don’t like you folk. In fact, I don’t like you folk, but it’s absolutely cruel what they might do. How did you get down dearie?” he asked, for the first time really seeming to care about Sarah.
“Well,” Sarah started, not sure what to say. “I was outside on my porch, and when I went down the stairs, there was a hole in the ground an I fell in it.” She winced again, this time not for pain, but how dull she sounded to recite the story. The little gnome looked puzzled, so Sarah pointed up to where she had fallen from and said, “See?” but how could he see, when even as Sarah looked up herself, the hole had vanished. “It was there just a second ago…” Sarah said tenderly. Then realization struck the little gnome’s rosy face.
“A portal hasn’t opened up in more than one hundred years! I can’t believe this. Can’t believe it!”
“What can’t you believe, sir?” Sarah asked with a twinge of annoyance. It was becoming irritating to receive such worthless information.
“Lets see, let’s see,” said the gnome while his eyes darted around the room, searching for all the things he had said without explanation. “Dirt with gnomes heals. Stairs, the only constant connection between humans and us. Elders, our leaders. Portal, little glitches that sometimes pop up on earth, leading you to us.” he defined quickly and quietly, rushing through every word.
“And why don’t you like me? I mean us?” Sarah said, searching for her last answer and assuming that us meant humans.
“You’ve ruined our earth of course, pushing us to the underground.” The undersized man looked at Sarah like she was crazy. “Well hop to it,” he said, still eyeing Sarah incredulously. “We really haven’t any time to waste.” Sarah got to her feet, but remained slightly hunched. The ceiling there was most definitely not made for humans. “It’ll be better in the hall dearie,” The gnome walked toward the hall briskly, and looked back at Sarah to make sure she was following. She wasn’t.
Sarah remained frozen for the better part of a minute, trying to register what was happening to her. Countless thoughts flittered around her eyes and until one thought stopped in its tracks. Step forward, her conscience told her. And she did. Whatever she had gotten into, there was only one way out. Forward. So she began to follow the gnome out into the large hall, but she stopped again.
“And how did you find me?” Asked Sarah, making sure that this tiny being wasn’t feigning friendship to turn her in to the so-called ‘Elders’.
“I work in Memory Control, see? And we were running low on Forget Powder, so I went to fetch some.” the gnome said quickly, and slightly wistfully he added in a mumbled tone “So many questions,” he turned away and Sarah followed him out into the hall.
The little gnome had been right; it was better in the hall. Sarah stood at full height in this new space with a couple of inches to spare. What’s more, the walls glittered and shone brighter than the snow had, they were built out of gemstones every color of the rainbow. Sarah looked behind her and saw a large sign that said:
TIME CONTROL
Altering the Earth’s time since the very beginning

Lights Flashed through the open doors of the hall labeled Time Control, and Sarah was thankful that her and her pint-sized friend were headed down a different hall as she thought—Controlling the earth’s time? These gnomes really are incredible. The soil floor squished under Sarah’s old winter boots and she could hear a strange sounding banging approaching. The gnome slowed down and so did Sarah.
“We’re passing an opening, just passing,” the gnome whispered. “Quickly, quickly!” He took two large steps past the open cavern where the tapping noise was coming from, and Sarah followed suit, although only requiring one small step.
The strange duo then approached a second opening to which the gnome did the same thing—a quick two-step pass by. As for Sarah, curiosity got the better of her. Instead of passing immediately by, she peered around the opening in the hall to see whatever was inside. There were gnomes. At least twenty of them, some furiously pounding scraps of metal, some setting in jewels to the finished pieces. The place emanated heat, and red fire glowed in the eyes of the soot-covered faces of the gnomes. Then, one of them looked up. His face took on a look of shock, and he stuttered with his disbelief when he screamed.
“H-H-HUMAN!”
“Run!” Sarah’s gnome friend squeaked to her, and she did not hesitate to do exactly so. Gnomes were popping out of doorways everywhere, but the two kept running, the gnomes from the first room sprinting as fast as their little legs would carry them in pursuit.
Sarah and the gnome skittered to a halt where the grand hall took a turn, for what Sarah assumed where the elders stood resolute. The elders were not bigger than any of the other gnomes, but were most certainly older. Their skin wrinkled and sagged, their beards the purest white, like the snow that Sarah had left behind. They had deep blue satin robes, and matching pointed caps that crookedly reached to the very top of the ceiling. The strange pair were then bound in hand-made handcuffs and brought to a round wooden room with all the elders. The room was bare and dirt stuck out of where the wooden boards met. The only things in the room were back-to-back chairs that the human and her gnome friend were bound in.
“So.” The oldest looking Elder spoke in a voice slow, deep, and dark as sap. “You pair would like to break the rules. We’ll make sure to break you.”
The elder closest to the entrance opened the door, and a black clothed, burly looking little gnome came in with a plank of wood while Sarah began to fumble with her bindings.
“P-please sirs, I-I was only trying to get her to the st-st-stairs!” the little gnome friend sobbed. As another corpulent gnome entered the room wielding a knife.
“She’ll get to the stairs eventually, Grunhool,” the oldest Elder cooed.
So my little guide is called Grunhool. Sarah thought, barely managing to remain calm as the knife-bearing gnome approached her and Grunhool.
“T. For traitor,” said the oldest Elder, and Grunhool let out a blood-curdling scream of pain as the black clothed gnome engraved a letter T into the palm of his hand with the knife. “And as for you, little miss. You will be sent back to earth. And don’t ever come back.”
Sarah made one last tug, and her bindings came undone, along with Grunhool’s. We have the same rope, Sarah thought, hardly believing her luck.
“Run Grunhool!” Sarah shouted, and she stood up from her seat. She lifted her foot, but before she could take a single step, the gnome with the wood smacked it against Sarah’s arm, and she felt the bone snap. Before she could scream, another blow was delivered to her head, and she was out cold.
While Sarah was unconscious, the gnomes meddled with her memory. As far as she knew, she had never even fallen down the peculiar hole. Then the gnomes wound back the earth-time to exactly 7:30, when Sarah had been woken up by her alarm that morning. Then they woke her up, and resumed time.
Sarah awoke that morning, lying in a heap at the bottom of her back porch stairs, with a broken arm, a small red gem in her old winter boots, and covered in fresh virgin snow.





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