Pauline at The Contented Crafter wrote a post recently in which a small gnome took a meaningful role. One thing followed another and the suggestion followed that I write a short story about the Gnome. Pauline kindly allowed me to use her photo and, knowing she enjoys the exploits of Pearl Barley, exorcist, it seemed only right to give life to…
Pearl Barley And Gnorman Gnome
Pearl Barley took in the twee country church, the neatly maintained graves, the clipped yew and frowned.
‘Wassup?’ Her hair curled around her ears, tugging at the lobes to get Pearl’s attention.
‘It just seems to gnormal.’
‘Did you put a ‘g’ on the front of that word?’
‘I did, didn’t I? Well, bang goes my theory. Hardly gno… not strange if it’s doing that to me.’
‘Goodie. Come on.’ Her hair formed a rope and began dragging Pearl towards the heavy wooden (but subtly carved) door.
‘Ok, ok. Now behave. No scaring the natives.’
‘No, Miss.’ A neat sober bob appeared and sighed.
Inside, a short rotund man in tweed jacket and dog collar wrung his hands as he paced up and down the Nave. The man’s face suggested he was more used to smiling but right now it was losing a battle with a deep grimace.
‘Reverend St Aubin?’
‘Ms Barley? Oh thanks be. Now, do call me Chaste.’
Pearl blinked. ‘Why? I mean, of course, if it makes you feel better.’
The vicar managed something approximating a smile but under pressure from the grimace it was more redolent of excessive wind. ‘It’s my name. Shall we take tea and I’ll explain?’
The Reverend St Aubin led the way into a cosy sacristy that was more Chintz than Christian. Having waved Pearl to a chair at a table already laid out he disappeared ‘to put the kettle on.’
Four places had been prepared which Pearl noted when Chaste reappeared.
‘You’ll see,’ was all the vicar offered by way of explanation.
The tea was accompanied by the sort of biscuits that cause muscle bound gym addicts to give up protein. However, while Pearl and Chaste sipped, nothing was said.
Suddenly, there was a crash before Pearl caught a glimpse of a flash of red and sat back as a small, bearded figure dressed in a scarlet cloak stood by one of the empty places. Moments later a stringy anxious woman appeared in the doorway and slumped in the fourth seat.
The small red clothed person – he was no more than a foot tall and Pearl hesitated to think of his as a man – grabbed a chunk of scone and stuffed it in his mouth. ‘Nice. Started without me, did you? Very polite.’ He waved vaguely in Pearl’s direction. ‘Who’s the girlie?’
Pearl bristled, mostly because she could feel her hair beginning to rise up and she knew it would protest at any moment. ‘Pearl Barley. I’m an…’
Pearl goggled at Chaste who shrugged.
The small person-thing nodded while gobbling down more food. ‘Bout time you unblocked the bog. I’m fed up crapping in that grave.’
‘You did what?’ Chaste looked horrified.
‘Joke, matey-boy. Joke. Hey, Mattie. Grab us some cream, would you?’
The gaunt woman stood wearily and turned for the little kitchenette where Chaste had prepared the tea.
‘Tell you what. I’ll get a beer and grab it and you can explain to the ‘plumber’ – yeah right – why you need her to get rid of me.’ With that the irritating little thing disappeared.
As soon as he was gone, Chaste slumped into his seat while Mattie, if that was her name followed suit. Chaste spoke first. ‘That… thing was Gnorman Gnome and this,’ he indicated Mattie, ‘is Miss Matilda Pettigrew. She is trying her best to control our little guest.’
Pearl had pulled out her notebook. ‘I’ve not seen an animated Gnome before. He’s like a poltergeist but more corporeal that usual. Has he been around long?’
‘About a week. Before that he was part of the Christmas decorations.’
‘You mean he was an actual gnome? As in an ornament?’
Chaste nodded. ‘Best Dorset clay. A gift from an, erm, grateful parishioner.’
Pearl noticed how Chaste shifted in his seat and Mattie cast her glance away from him. Before she could continue her hair tickled her ear and whispered. ‘Do they look shifty to you?’
Pearl was about to shush her locks when she realised, from Chaste and Mattie’s expressions they had heard. She smiled quickly. ‘I think out loud a lot. Gets me into trouble you know. If you wait a mo…’
While her hair struggled and swore causing the older couple to goggle, Pearl tied her tresses into a large scarf. ‘Right…’
Mattie spoke. ‘We should explain. Chaste is gifted with abundant love, which benefits the whole parish.’ She smiled as if this were enough of an explanation.
Pearl waited and then said, ‘Ok, and that is relevant how exactly?’
Chaste coughed. ‘When I came here as a young man, I found that I… that is, people were… I could…’
Mattie tutted. ‘He’s exceptionally fertile. Things grow under his Ministry.’
‘Like green fingers?’
They looked at each other. ‘Yes, any other, erm, things.’
Pearl felt rather queasy. ‘Such as…?’
‘I appear to have been given the gift of fecundity.’
Pearl began to slide her chair back and stare at her cup and plate.
Chaste shook his head. ‘No, there’s nothing odd about it. There needs to be a combining, a willingness but if there is…’ He shrugged again. ‘Nothing seems to stop a blooming happening.’
Mattie smiled, a proper smile and stroked her stomach. ‘Number seven.’
‘Oh,’ said Pearl. ‘Great.’ She looked at Chaste. ‘That’s a lot of children.’
Chaste shook his head. ‘I’ve fathered seventy two.’ His face drooped. ‘If you ignore Gnorman.’
Pearl rocked back, terrifying images of the little fat vicar in flagrante with a garden statuette. ‘That is a lot. Have you had a lot of wives?’
‘Perhaps dear,’ Mattie tapped the back of Chaste’s hand while glancing at the kitchenette from where a loud and lewd version of Two Little Boys emerged, ‘you should explain about Gnorman.’
Chaste nodded. ‘The problem I face is that there are times when I’m overwhelmed by the spirit and, well, when that happens…’ He looked horribly embarrassed.
Mattie leapt in. ‘I come running. Sometimes it can be a trifle inconvenient. I was sorting through the box of decorations when Chaste appeared ready to perform an act of.. erm.’
‘Conception. Only I wasn’t ready and, well, we rather reinacted Chaste’s favourite parable.’
Chaste nodded. ‘The sower. I can be rather over vigorous at these moments but usually not much, erm, you know, falls on stony ground.’
Pearl swallowed dryly. ‘I probably shouldn’t ask but this time?’
The older man stared at his lap. ‘We were a trifle clumsy what with Mattie’s rubber gloves being wet…’
‘… and the prophylactic was especially runcible…’
‘… and we shouldn’t forget you rather over exuberant overbite…’
Mattie nodded, ‘And everything rather coalesced you see.’ She waited as if expecting Pearl to nod but all she could do was shrug. Mattie went on, ‘There was a veritable parabola of a parable, and the unexpected recipient of some of Chaste’s largesse was Gnorman. One minute the little thing stood sentinel by the door jamb, the next he was jumping around and trying out a whole range of swear words. It was ghastly.’
‘Since then he’s interrupted my sermon on the need for charity by stealing from the offertory plate, he triggered another bout of acrid conniptions in Mrs Wellbelow by doing something highly inappropriate with her carnations while she was doing the flowers…’
‘… and yesterday, at Cadwallader Beehive’s little boy’s Christening he called out ‘Buttocks’ just as I made the sign of the cross. The Beehives took some convincing that that didn’t mean their son was forever more to be know by that name.’
Mattie stood up as Gnorman bounded into the room, dragging an open bottle of beer. ‘He’s got to go.’
The Gnome let the bottle go so the contents began to pool on the floor and began drinking from the growing puddle. Between mouthfuls and belches he said, ‘I agree. This place is so DULL. They told me you’d take me to the city. Gotta be a few laughs there.’
Pearl frowned. ‘It’s not reversible, your gift? Has it ever worn off?’
Chaste looked down. ‘No, but then I’ve never fertilised pottery before now.
Pearl reached across and tapped Gnorman on the head.
‘Ow, gerrof.’ He turned his furious face on Pearl, little fists balled at his sides.
Pearl ignored him. ‘He’s still pottery.’ Dodging his flapping hands she picked him up and tuned him over. ‘He’s still hollow inside. And…,’ she peered in closely; the insides were smeared with chewed scone and wet with beer, ‘no internal organs.’ She smiled. ‘He’s not real. I suggest you just break him.’
Three horrified faces turned on her. ‘Nooooo!’ they said as one. Chaste’s expression changed to anger. ‘He’s a gift from our Lord. I have passed on life. Adam was clay before Our Lord made him man.’
Pearl pulled a face. ‘Leaving aside the ongoing debate about the accuracy of The Book Of Genesis, the difference here is he has no internal organs. Putting food and drink through is mouth has much the same effect as sticking a kebab in a letterbox…’
Pearl’s hair snickered. ‘You did, didn’t you?’
Pearl ignored it. ‘Up to now all you’ve done is what people do…. Well maybe a few more times than normal but the principle remains sound. This is of a different order.’
Chaste nodded and looked at Mattie. ‘That’s true.’
She didn’t look convinced. ‘What about that poinsettia? You brought that back to life when Jemima Brohaha took advantage of your need for absolution last Palm Sunday.’
‘That may have been a fluke.’
Pearl smiled. ‘Can I see the Christmas decorations, please?’
‘Why? Do you think it might help?’
She looked at the Gnome who wouldn’t meet her gaze. ‘Maybe. I imagine, what with one thing and another you’ve not had time to put them up, have you?’
‘No. And we have the children’s party tonight. Chaste always gives a party for his flock. It’s a very personal moment.’
‘I can imagine. Come on.’
With Gnorman trailling in their wake, the three adults headed for the cupboard. Once inside Mattie tugged out the box. Hiding under the lid was a almost translucent furious looking Santa. Pearl used ghost-clips to grab either end of the writhing apparition. ‘Ghosts, indeed all spectral beings need energy to function. Life, as well as magic is the best. I suspect word of your gift Chaste has been spread around, a bit life your gift itself. This little troublemaker is a Santageist. They’re sort of Santas gone bad, if you like. He’s used some sort of magic on the Gnome and if I’m not much mistaken now I’ve nabbed him…’
They all turned. Gnorman Gnome stood in the middle of the hall floor as stolid and inert as always.
‘He’s gone back to his normal… there, I can say it… back to his usual self. If I take chummy here you’ll have no more problems, at least not for the foreseeable. We’ll see him deported to Lapland in the new year. And you two had better get ready for the party.’
Pearl looked at Mattie who was blushing and at Chaste who’s cheeks had gone red, with beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead. His voice was a croak. ‘I’m filling with the spirt, my wonder.’
Pearl’s hair reacted the fastest, French plaiting a face mask. ‘No, you don’t young lady. No peeping. Come on, time to get back to HQ. It’s mince pies.’