It was said to be a cursed place, stained by the blood of a thousand battles, the dead stacked upon one another in great columns and turned to stone by their own weight. From a distance it seemed a dead forest of granite, some trunks straight and glistening, some corkscrewed and black as pitch as if scarred by the fires of hell. So it was written in the local histories, passed down from well before the Europeans had come to settle. Yet no one had ever actually seen this place of woe and mourning. It was assumed to be an ancient type of campfire story, a myth, something with which the very early natives kept their children from wandering too far from their homes. “Bullshit” old mister Bedford would say, “B as in B, S as in S! Bullshit!” But Billy knew better.
was a curious lad, always talking, ending nearly every sentence with a
question mark though never meaning to press for information of
consequence. The boy might have made a fine athlete, perhaps a French
horn player of some repute or even a rocket scientist, but Billy wanted
to be famous for discovery, an adventurer really but he hated that title
as life itself was an adventure and everyone was capable of doing life.
He wanted to be special, revered, in spite of doing as little
schoolwork as was possible because he simply hated schoolwork. In fact
had he understood that what he was dreaming of doing was “research” and
“exploration”, he’d have quit and taken up rpg gaming to assure that he
was not in any way using his time constructively.
He’d made his
great find in a nearby cave, one previously undiscovered as its only
entrance was the hole through which Billy had fallen while walking
aimlessly through the hills of Donnick Downs, avoiding homework “like
the plague”. Had he not landed “just so”, and had the floor not been a
pool of very deep yet bathtub warm water, Billy might have died right
then and there, but after a few moments of reorientation the boy was
able to find his way to the surface and reacquaint himself with the
properties of oxygen.
The fellow who had been standing there
awaiting his recovery was an incredibly short yet chubby bloke; the kind
one would see occasionally tending gardens in empty nester
neighborhoods. He was though without the pointed red hat that all these
landscapers seemed to favor, which pleased Billy greatly as they’d
always seemed clown like and he feared clowns.
“It’s lucky you’re
not fat” the gnome said (for Billy had identified the man as a gnome
based on his reading of ‘Gnomes Are People Too’) . “You stopped just
short of the bottom and if you had died I’d never have been able to get
“I’m in no mood for stories” Billy said through
chattering teeth (for he had become suddenly chilled), “so how about you
tell me the way outa here?”
“Oh no” said the gnome, “There is no
way out. I’m afraid you’re here until your last day, which I’m guessing
by your chatter will be any day now.”
Billy laughed, though
laughing was hard to accomplish what with all his shivering. “No way
out? That’s absurd! There’s always a way out of everywhere and
everything.. isn’t there?” (He finished his sentence with a question
mark, in keeping with the tradition)
“Nope” repeated the gnome.
“Look over there. Those are the others who have fallen through, and as
you can see, none of them found the way out”.
Billy looked to his left and gasped. There it was, the forest of spires, the granite jungle, the BS wasn’t BS at all!
mean” he said, working his way toward a question mark, “people who fall
into that pool turn into giant rock knitting needles?”
“Oh no no” the gnome giggled; “those are tombstones, and I carve them myself, just as my father did and his father before him.”
Billy was so fascinated he had no time to contemplate the obvious and the fear that would surely paralyze him.
“I’ve never seen tombstones so tall. Aren’t they usually little rounded things?”
and that’s very sad, we think, that a person’s entire life could be
compressed into a single, and sometimes meaningless phrase, if even any
words at all save the name of the deceased. It’s not like stone isn’t
plentiful, nor is it fact that there isn’t a sea of talented people out
of work at any given time. So why is it you humans care so little that
you don’t say more in memoriam of those of your ilk who have passed on?
Why do you not employ more of your time and effort scribing your
history? You are curious creatures, yet you deserve better than even
yourselves are willing to give. So here in this tiny corner of the
universe, we take care of it for you.”
The gnome, ‘Mr.
Haberdasher” by name, explained to Billy that he wanted to hear the
entirety of the boy’s life story, each experience, each emotion, every
movement of his too few years. Billy might have ignored the little man
if he weren’t also told that in giving his tale, the shivering would
stop, and he was beginning to rattle so hard that his eyeballs seemed to
be losing their place in their sockets. So he began at the beginning,
or at least as far back as he could remember which was more like age
three when he’d flung his spaghetti across the table at his father’s
boss and had covered him in Alfredo sauce.
As he spoke, the
tinker tinkered, his procured hammer and chisel rattling above the
ground, seemingly striking only thin air. Yet after each series of
strokes a length of stone would appear, covered in symbols, growing from
the ground as if an instant, granite stalagmite.
On and on
Billy yammered, up and up Mr. Haberdasher hammered, until at last Billy
said “and then I fell through a hole and into a very deep pool, just
before I found myself talking to you.” And then, without so much as a
grunt or a groan, Billy died.
It took only a few minutes for the
gnome to lay Billy’s body to rest beneath his crooked obelisk. He spent
a moment with his sadness, and said a gnomish prayer, just before his
concentration was broken by a loud splash.
Jackie was a curious
lad, but a very, very lazy boy. In fact it was almost unbelievable that
he’d walked uphill at all much less all the way up the very hill that
would bring him to the very hole that would rocket him toward the very
pond from which he was extricating himself when he spotted the gnome.
you only been doing your homework” the gnome said as he waddled within
Jackie’s earshot, “you might have never been granitized.”
Jackie said, slightly annoyed that not only had he fallen through a
freaking hole and landed in freaking the water, but now he was freaking
cold and shivery and had to talk to a freaking midget!
“Oh never mind” said the gnome; “Just talking to meself. So, just curious... how far back can you remember exactly?”