The creature in front of us on the patio was unlike anything we had ever seen. He was covered in so much dirt it was not possible to tell if he was wearing clothes, much less what those might have looked like. His face was disfigured so badly I couldn’t be sure if he was even human. I had to assume he was, since the only other option was that he was an alien.
My little sister, Lenore, followed me out of the house in her slippers after the dog wouldn’t stop barking at something outside on the patio. I told her to stay inside. I don’t know why I thought she would suddenly start listening to me at that moment. She peeked out from behind me, holding my waist.
“Davie, what is it?” she asked.
“I think it’s a homeless kid.” I lied.
“He’s ugly. And tiny.” Five year old sisters are brutally honest.
“That’s not polite, but yeah. He is. Try not to say things like that to someone’s face.”
“Is he naked?”
I didn’t know how to respond, so I lied again. “Naw. His clothes are covered in dirt. And no, I don’t know why?”
Forgetting about the small filthy creature in front of me, I turned to talk directly to her. “I told you I don’t know why. I never know why so you should stop asking me.” I took a breath to get control over myself. “Why is a great question, but I’m betting Einstein couldn’t tell you why.”
I smiled and coughed to hide my laugh. “A really smart guy from a long time ago. Don’t worry about him. My point is nobody would know why.”
“Well, I do.” The twisted creature spoke with a deep growl. Lenore and I startled and stepped away from him keeping her behind me.
In the dim light on the patio I could see his eyes open unevenly like their placement on his face. His nose was round and rough on the end, and crooked like it was broken several times. I couldn’t decide immediately whether he was born that deformed or if life did that to him.
I gathered my thoughts and spoke to him. “You know why?”
“In a manner of speaking, I do know why — at least for some things.” His voice started to smooth out as he used it more. “I meant that I know if I’m naked. I am not naked, if you must know.” He began to roll over and sit up. Lenore snickered behind me and tried to hide there and see around at the same time.
“Why are you so dirty?” she asked.
“There you go, young lady. That is an excellent question. It is a much better question than a simple ‘why’ is in this situation.”
“But, why are you?” Lenore pushed harder since she didn’t get an answer she liked or understood.
“Wait!” I interrupted. “Let’s start at the beginning. I need to know who you are and why you are on my patio.”
“Those are certainly reasonable needs,” he said, cocking his unnaturally large head for such a short body to the side. He raised what I had to assume was an eyebrow. “Well, are you going to ask a question or just tell me all the things you need?”
I was getting aggravated, but didn’t want to be attacked by this little grungy monstrosity. “Okay. Who are you, and why are you here — on my patio?”
“My name is Gad. I am here because I need assistance. We need assistance.”
“My turn!” Lenore was not going to let her question go. She stepped boldly out from behind me. “Why are you so dirty?”
Gad smiled as much as could be expected from a face so ravaged. “I live underground, and I have a very messy job. My turn.” He winked a little at her. “Tell me, what are your names?”
“I’m Lenore. He’s Davie — I mean David.” she waved a hand wildly in my direction.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Lenore and David,” Gad said.
Lenore was jumping out of her slippers. “Now it’s my turn. What is it? What is your dirty job?”
“Think of me as a guardian. Do you know what that is?” He was being so gentle and sweet to Lenore.
“Yes. It’s like a watcher who takes care of somebody.”
“That is perfect. You’re absolutely correct.” Gad leaned back on the post holding the patio cover up and took a breath. “What sweet air you have here. It is a treat.”
I took my turn before Lenore could jump in. “You said you need assistance. Who is ‘we’ and what help do you need? I can call someone to help. Can I call someone for you?”
His hunched shoulders bounced a little as a grunting chuckle came out. “You don’t understand. We need your help — both of you. I need you to help me. We watchers, as you call us…“ He nodded to Lenore. “…are dying. There is very little time left.”
“That’s awful,” Lenore said in a quiet voice. Her face began to sink into a deep frown. I put my arm around her shoulder.
“We would love to help. Really. But she’s only five. I just turned thirteen. We get in trouble if we cross the street without our parents.”
Gad sighed deeply with a groan. “Yes. I’m not surprised. I can see that you’re sad for me, but you should not be. I also feel sad for you. You do not know your own power and by now you should know of me and my fellow guardians already. You should know what it is we guard, and in days long ago you would already be working with me.”
“We have power?” Lenore said.
“You do. Both of you have it. It’s why I came to ask for your help. There are very few that ever learn anything of their power, and fewer who keep that knowledge into adulthood.”
Lenore and I exchanged looks. Her face was lit up with a giant smile, pleading for me to say yes. I looked back at Gad, the poor creature. There was no self pity in his face. There was a calm strength and I felt confident all of a sudden.
“What can we do?” I said.
“There are not enough of us left to guard our secrets. There is a treasure unlike anything you’ve imagined. We protect that, and it is in danger. We need your help to protect it. Will you come and help us?”
Something compelled me to speak before the thought could form. “I will.”
Lenore looked at me and hesitated. “Where do you want us to go?”
“Smart girl. I knew I was right to pick you. We are going to my home, underground.”
“Is it big? Is there room for us?”
He looked at me, then her. “Quite big. It is called Skarstten Slott.”
“It has a name! That sounds like a castle!” Lenore was getting more excited.
I was too. “If you live in a castle are you important?”
Gad stood and his full height was barely to Lenore’s chin. He lifted a tall, dirt-covered hat from the ground that he had been sitting on. It stood almost his full height on top of his head for a second and then bent over about half way up. “I am. My name is Gad Erlander,” he said with a slight bow. “I am King of the Gnomes. Shall we go?”
He offered us his hands and we each took one.