The Time of Boxes

Hirald had to knock on the door. It was a big door, wooden, with a brass knocker high above his head and one cement step up to it. He’d never knocked on the door before, not in his whole life. He didn’t know anyone else who ever had, either. It was strictly forbidden for box gnomes.

The cardboard boxes were piled on the curb behind him for the picking, some with bits of colorful wrapping still attached. It was the time for the Feast of Boxes. The heavy layer of snow would destroy them before the trash truck did, but for now they made Hirald a happy gnome. He was less happy to be standing in front of the door, though. The door scared him. He gathered his courage and knocked, far below the door knocker which he couldn’t hope to reach. The door required a short wait before a woman opened it.

“Who is it?” a voice called from down the hallway of the house. It was a deep, gruff voice that Hirald didn’t like.

“A gnome,” the woman called back.

“Garden or box gnome?”

“Box.”

“Ugh. Get rid of it,” the voice demanded.

The boxes were still there behind him. He could drop the thing and run, probably make it back to the curb before he took a kick to the head. His heart hammered as he unclenched his fist, holding up the shiny he’d found.

The woman bent her knees and put her hands on her thighs to look down at him. She didn’t kick him at all.

“I- I found this. In the trash,” he explained.

The shiny flickered in the light and cast sparkles across her face. Hirald risked a smile, mirroring the small grin on her face.

“I thought I’d lost it for good,” she said, taking the diamond ring from his hand. Her soft fingertips brushed his calloused palm and he almost jerked his hand back in surprise.

He let out a breath as the weight of it lifted from his hand.

“I thought box gnomes stole everything they could from the trash?” she asked, checking the ring over.

He wanted to run for the boxes. He didn’t like being exposed like this. But it seemed rude not to answer when she hadn’t done anything to him yet. “Only trash. This wasn’t trash,” he said.

The sound of heavy shoes made him look up and he saw the man coming down the hallway. He was a big man and he looked angry. “I told you to get rid of it,” he said, pushing up his sleeves to do the job for her.

Hirald’s view was blocked when the woman stood between the gnome and the man. “You won’t touch him,” she said. As Hirald watched she straightened up to be two inches taller. “And you won’t touch me either.”

She clenched the ring in her fist and lifted her chin, daring him to hit her. Hirald stepped back off the step. He wished he could pull her back with him, but he was just a little gnome.

“I’m leaving you, Rick,” she said.

“I told you already, if you go you won’t take anything from this house. How are you going to live without my money?”

She stepped out onto the stoop with Hirald and he scrambled to make room for her. The man followed as she tried to slam the door on him.

“Don’t you dare,” he said. But she was halfway to the street already.

He saw Hirald on the sidewalk. The boxes were too far and he didn’t dare step into the grass of the garden gnomes’ realm.

“What the fuck are you doing here, you little trash gnome?” the man said, giving Hirald a swift kick.

His breath came out in a swift ‘umph’ as Hirald sprawled in the grass, big feet stuck up in the air.

“Get away from him,” the woman shouted out. Hirald gasped for breath as she pushed her husband away from his little gnome body.

She pulled Hirald up off the ground, away from any garden gnomes who might be lurking. He managed to get a breath in to stop his lungs from panicking.

“It looks like we should both find a new place to sleep tonight,” she said as she brushed his clothes off.

He’d never been picked up like this before. He kicked his feet, wanting to be on the ground but not entirely uncomfortable in her arms, either.

“Do you know what this is?” she asked Hirald, still holding the ring in her fist.

He nodded. It was an engagement ring. Every silly gnome knew that much about human customs.

“This is our freedom. I was afraid I’d lost it when I threw it in the trash. But I can sell this and live for a year if I’m careful.”

Hirald looked to his boxes one last time. The feast was waiting. He hoped there would be plenty of boxes wherever this woman was going as he followed her down the sidewalk.

Dianne Williams lives in Lawrence, Kansas. She grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries and classic science fiction. She once dreamed of being an astronaut. Or maybe a lawyer. Or an artist. She settled for being as many of them as she could all at once through fiction writing.

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