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Stories from Members
K. Scott Forman

Gnome

The hostel was hostile. It had been a well-intentioned arrangement to save money. If I had to do it again money would have been the last of my concerns. I would have stayed anywhere else on earth.

I had only seen him once. He looked normal: my first mistake. I would be sharing a bathroom with him - suitemates - on the third floor of a converted frat house. He reminded me of a large garden gnome - a hairy gnome - innocent and alone tucked into a flowerbed.

The garden I would share with him was carpeted, a stain covering the worn wood sub-floor earth. The boards seemed to whisper don't stand here too long. I can't support you. The walls were a little better. A coat of paint hid the flipped and flicked tidbits of human cast off. Previous tenants treated this transient space like a rental car. The bed was the only positive: made with production line cleanliness. The mattress, however, was a hidden secret probably containing blood-glutted bugs that had feasted on generations of travelers, who, in turn, shared an additional body fluid or two.

The man - my suitemate - was just over five feet and one rung up from skid row with an unusual amount of body hair. How he became a permanent resident in a hostel I will never know. His pants polyester, shirts goodwill golf, and a glimpse of his room revealed a collector. He was starting to gray, which somehow emphasized the packrat in his face, not a miser, but certainly not a sharer of anything, including conversation. It was only a bathroom we were sharing.

The first night was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. I had slept in the jungles of Colombia with real bloodsuckers, in the backwaters of the Ecuadorian coast with things that liquefied flesh, and even strolled the Soviet chemical dump dotted road to Dushanbe. This was nothing.

I worked from dawn until dusk. He usually rose before me and was in bed when I returned. The odds of us meeting in the bathroom were unlikely, and so it went. In hindsight I should have checked out immediately.

* * *

The carpet had probably changed colors several times before my arrival, and the hint of beer, barf, and bad milk hung in the air as if tattooed to the walls and floor. The morning after the first night reveals the sensory things. A day and a night and a day down: only 12 days to go.

I forced the latch and struggled with the bathroom door. The light poured down onto an aged toilet, a sink, and dentures soaking in solution. I tried to sit on the throne and concentrate.

Brushing my teeth at the sink brought me within smelling distance. I wasn't sure if it was his teeth, or the aging tile and bad sewer system that surrounded me like a canary's cage. I was a canary in a coalmine.

The third night I returned late and resolved. I turned on the light only to find the floor, the sink, the toilet, and every available nook, edge, and cranny covered with a black hair-like substance. A tornado had hit a barber's floor, scattering curled death haphazardly. No attempt to corral the unruly herd of hair had been attempted. Pubic hair? The sheer amount of the furry plague led me to believe my suitemate had shaved his entire short, stumpy body; like a cat, he offered his black curly mouse to me as if I was his master. Could gnomes be werewolves? Did werewolves shave?

I wiped the toilet seat, I wiped the sink, and in my slightly disheveled state the resolution to avoid the gaze of the teeth was forgotten. If the hair hadn't turned my stomach, bending over to wet my toothbrush and meeting the gawking dentures of death at eye-level did. I dry-heaved, but the fear of touching anything furry prevented me from disgorging. I exited the bathroom and wondered what phase the moon was in.

* * *

The hair had begun slowly dissipating like morning frost or baby's teeth. Things were still not that bad. The seat was relatively clean and the dentures were acting as if we were old comrades. I went to the sink to brush my teeth.

There! There in the sink! My eye of the vulture! The gnome, the wolf-bitten hairy gnome, had left a piece of raw, red flesh in the sink. It had to be his flesh. The reds and the glisten emanating could only have come from the mouth or gums of a short stumpy man, a cursed man who was cursing me.

He must have had trouble removing his dentures and spit the offending piece of flesh into the sink. No amount of water could remove it. I was afraid to touch it, even with several layers of single-ply tissue from the roll nearby. I feared it, and feared spitting into the sink afraid of what might swim up and mingle with my soul.

* * *

I did not love the old man. He had wronged me. He had given me insult. I think it was his teeth, his hair! Yes, it was this! My blood ran cold, and so by degrees - very gradually - I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the teeth and hair forever.

* * *

Being on the third floor in a ramshackle former frat house with the floor ready to fall in of its own accord would have prevented any prying up of boards to hide a dismembered body. The logistics of the thing just wouldn't work: that, and the fact that I was no killer. Damn this gnome, damn his disregard for others, and damn if I was not going to pay him back ten-fold.

Tonight, smothering him with a pillow in his sleep was out, but performing some disgusting act that would exceed the villain's was not. I had to send a clear message, and I would send it on the day I checked out.

* * *

Perhaps his was a world of rites and rituals. His behavior may have been an exercise in bonding of which I was ignorant - leaving parts of one's own body as a token of friendship. Still, I wanted to crush him in his lack of decorum and rebuff any advance of his tribal friendship. He lived in my world, but obviously not in the same neighborhood.

He may have thought he had the bathroom to himself. I was something he did not have to consider, despite the fact that my towel hung in plain sight on my side of the bathroom. He was an innocent, an innocent faux pas had been made, and a mild confrontation would resolve the situation. Yes, a confrontation. I would talk to him, but what would I say? Hey gnome boy, do you think you could stop leaving the body parts in the bathroom? So, what's your favorite brand of disposable razor? How about a Milk Bone?

No, I couldn't talk to him, especially in my state, and I was already arguing with myself that it would do no good. I wanted the little man to feel what I had felt, what I continued to feel. I wanted to crush him like the exoskeleton of a large bug he was. Still, what if it was an innocent mistake? What if he viewed a reprisal on my part not as a reprisal, but as a provocation, a prelude to war? What kind of reprisal would await me if I attempted to even the playing field only to have him really set his mind to purposeful harm?

* * *

It was the last night, and nothing my gnome friend had done in the last week surpassed his behaviors of the first week. I entered the bathroom and was surprised to see a sticky note attached to the mirror. I didn't recognize the language, or the hand, but assumed it to be my suitemate's scrawl. I left it in its place and went to bed.

I tossed and turned all night thinking of the note. Hairy bloody teeth chased me from one public bathroom to another, the full moon shining, no people, only gnomes laughing.

* * *

A disembodied set of dentures smile at me. They really aren't there. The moon is waning. I reach for the two-ply roll. A black hair-like substance rolls off with the paper, floating to the floor as if enchanted, and comes to rest atop my bare foot like a seedpod from an obscure garden.


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