North to Alaska

“Mormor, Bapa! Come on, there’s a lot of cool stuff at the top of the hill.”

Tristan, age nine, leaps and bounces in the trampoline-like mat of vegetation.

“You run back up there and learn all about it,” I say. “Mormor”—his grandmother—“and I will stay and rest a bit in the tundra.” 

“Okay, Bapa—if you’re sure.” And he leaps back up the hill.

Me enjoying comfy tundra. Jo Sommers photo, used by permission.

#

Alaska has a way of wearing a man down. 

The first time we visited, in 2010, at age 65, there was enough bounce in my bones and enough tingle in my tendons to hike with a group up the mountain that overlooks the Mendenhall Glacier, near Juneau. We scrambled over exposed roots, clambered through corridors of rain-slicked rocks. It was a tiring, yet exhilarating, trek.

This trip, at age 76, Your New Favorite Writer—still an enthusiast—strategically avails himself of frequent rest opportunities. 

Elsie, Katie, and Tristan at top of impossibly high tundra hill, enjoying Sidney’s lecture. Jo Sommers photo, used by permission.

Our time on the tundra in the middle of Denali National Park is precious. The softness, the springiness, the sink-in-ability of that blanket of tangled vegetation covering the deep permafrost challenges the hiker to walk without falling down and taxes one’s pulmonary system—especially going uphill. 

On the other hand, should you happen to fall down, you couldn’t pick a better place to do it. You almost can’t get hurt falling into the soft tundra. 

It’s an even better place to sit and rest, watching the mountains and listening to the enthusiasm of younger hikers as Sidney, our mountain guide—the young lady who carries the bear spray—points out wild blueberries and other flora just up the hill, telling which ones humans can eat, which ones the bears like, and so forth.

It’s a fine, warm day. Denali, the mountain, was out a few minutes ago and we got to see its peak before it was re-cloaked by its very own weather system. 

Denali seen behind Wonder Lake. Denali National Park and Preserve photo by Albert Herring. Public Domain.

#

We have come here because we like Alaska; but even more, we want share it with our daughter, Katie, and our grandchildren, Elsie and Tristan. This resembles nothing they have experienced and nothing else they will ever experience—possibly not even in long future lives. 

Panning for gold. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

For a time, we have lured them from their telephone screens into the powerful beauty of the real world.

Later today we will pan for gold in Moose Creek. Lucky Tristan will find a flake in his pan and have it laminated on a piece of black paper. A speck of gold to carry with him forever after. Or until he loses it, which is likely. But the important thing is, he will find it in his pan and will always remember that. 

Elsie, age twelve, will find one too but lose it on the way to have it laminated. That will be all right, though, because she will find prizes of her own in the wilderness, including sightings of bears and moose and the chance to befriend a young adventurer, Rhys, traveling with his own family.

Katie and Mormor will not try panning for gold. They will opt for a horticulture hike instead, another rewarding adventure.

Old Bapa—Your New Favorite Writer—will stand in the creek swishing gravel around his pan, to no avail . . . but will bring home gold anyway.

Blessings,

Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer

Ultra-Gnomic

©2021 by Larry F. Sommers

Read Time: 12 minutes

Below is the first draft of a story. You can help make it better by commenting on what you liked or what you didn’t. Feel free to make suggestions. How could the story be better?

#

PANADON, A GNOME OF THE INFERIOR GRADE, WAS GOBSMACKED. He had never seen a creature so bewitching as the one who admitted him to the back office of Novotny’s Pizza Palace. 

It was taller than he by half, though not generally so wide as it was tall. It looked down at him from a round, freckled face and pierced him with a thrust of its violet eyes. 

His granite composure crumbled to such a degree that he felt the full weight of the 247 pounds of gold in his left hand.

Where was he? What was he doing? What was his mission? 

Oh, yes. “Novotny.”

“Mister Novotny is out.” The creature fluttered its eyelids. “I’m Lucinda Potts, his assistant. How may I assist you?”

Did Panadon look like one who needed assistance? If the creature assisted Novoty, why did it offer to assist Panadon instead? Irregular. It made him nervous. But he must make the delivery. He teetered on the wood threshold.

Pizza with fresh Mediterranean herbs. Photo by Sahand Hoseini on Unsplash.

Lucinda Potts frowned. “Are you dizzy? Perhaps you should step inside.” Lucinda backed away from the door with that gentle, swaying grace that Panadon had imagined would be the way of she-gnomes. Not that he had any practical experience with she-gnomes. But, more to the point: Could this be a she-human?

He stumbled into the little office room. To stand near Lucinda Potts in cramped quarters was a delicious sensation, compounded of fresh Mediterranean herbs and essence of Lucinda. But, back to business. “I brought the gold.”

She zeroed in on the case at the end of Pandon’s arm. “You had better set it on Mister Novotny’s desk.” She glided across the room, swept a pile of papers from the desk. 

Panadon laid the case down and opened it for inspection. Inside lay one bar of pure gold,  about the size of a large paving block.

Lucinda gasped. “Close it, please.” 

He did so.

Panting, she placed a hand at her throat. “Forgive me. I’ve never seen so much gold.”

“Four million, six hundred eighty-two thousand, eight hundred seventy-three dollars’ worth,” Panadon said. A pointless precision, since no receipt was to be given; his orders had been explicit on that point. So why did he state the amount? To impress Lucinda Potts?

He felt hot and stuffy. “Why do you stare at me?”

“You’re not like the others.” She smiled. “They have pointy heads, but yours is flattened, as if it wanted to spill over the sides.” 

He groaned. Why fixate on the shape of his head? The very reason all the hosts of the Gnomic ovals—or, rather, those few who took note of him at all—ignored his proper name and called him Muffintop. Must she, like they, pounce on a mere deformity? 

He drew himself to full height, gazed upward, and spoke straight to her face. “Pay no heed to my head, Miss Lucinda Potts. I assure you I am all pointy inside.”

And why did she make a purring sound?

#

Malkebart stood before Clanbert Wabengner, Chief of Precious Metals Underwatch, Europe Division. He stood upright and trembled at proper intervals, though filled with glee.

“Malkebart,” the old gnome whined, “can you comprehend what a threat this was—is—to me? I was forced to dispatch a dolt with three full warkins of aurum lucidum to buy this Novotny’s silence.”

“A dolt?”

“Muttonchop, or Bufflehead, or some such. One of our toilers in the Far Beneath.” 

Bufflehead? “Muffintop, you mean, perchance?”

“Yes, that’s it!” cried Clanbert. “Trufflescap.”

“Why him?” 

“The most convenient dolt, you see, Malkebart. Detailed some ages ago to mind the slow congealment of a drift of gold some miles below Cisalpine-yet-Transpanadine Gaul, he watched over an inconspicuous lode large enough to make an impression on our pizza man.”

“Yet small and remote enough, I suppose, Your Slyness, that the Ultra-Gnomic Council’s auditors might easily overlook it?”

Clanbert Wabengner coughed. A look of pain settled on his conical old face. “Well, what was I to do? How did that Novotny get wind that I was connected to his scheme? There is my position to think about!”

“Calm yourself, sir. Apoplexy does not become you.” Malkebart raised his brows as if struck by a new thought, which was really only one that he had already thought and had conveyed to his cohort Novotny. “Those long-bearded ultras who run the Council pretend everything we do is for the good of humanity. If they thought you were using subterranean vectors to convey contraband—”

“Precisely, Malkebart. They would have me pickled in brine and replaced by one of their grand-nephews. Then they would crown one another with laurels for their virtue in the matter.”

#

“Nerves” Novotny crashed through the front door well before opening time. He shouted “Get to work! Put some zip into it!” as usual and rushed through the kitchen to his office.

There he stopped cold, because the oddest three-foot courier he had ever seen stood toe-to-toe with Lucinda Potts while she made strange, bubbly sounds. “What’s this?”

Lucinda swiveled her chubby head. “He has brought something you ought to see, Myron.”

“How many times I gotta tell you, it’s Mister Novotny in front of the help,” he said, not taking his eyes off the gnome with the big head. 

“Nonetheless, you ought to see.” Lucinda turned away from the creature, waddled over to Novotny, grabbed him by the left hand, and dragged him to his desk, where a small leather case lay.

“Open it,” said Lucinda.

He lifted the lid and staggered back. “Is that . . . what I think it is?”

“Pure gold, Mister Novotny,” piped the gnome in a treble, not unpleasant, voice. “Raised and harvested it myself.” 

“Raised. You grew it?”

“After a manner of speaking. Metals take form, as Mister Aristotle so clearly explained,  when vaporous exhalations are condensed underground. I cannot make gold grow, but I have attended its growth since youth. It has now ripened and is yours.”

“Mine.” Novotny stepped up to the brick and tried to lift it. “Ow, it’s so heavy I can’t get my fingers under it. That’s a lotta gold.”

 “Four million, six-hundred-some thousand dollars, he says,” noted Lucinda.

Novotny looked Panadon in the eye. “What’s the catch?”

“Catch? There is no catch. We earth-cruisers delight in supplying worthy humans such as yourself with as much wealth as they can use. It is our duty.”

“Right.” Novotny frowned. “Lucinda, how we gonna get this in the closet? I can’t even lift it.” 

“I can help you with that,” said Panadon. He stepped forward, closed and latched the case, and hoisted it by its handle with ease.”Where do you want it?”

“Over here.” Lucinda opened a door. She pointed inside. Panadon began to set the case on an overloaded wooden shelf beside a lot of whitish, cakey things, then thought better of it. The shelf might collapse. 

He set the case of gold on the floor. “You have a lot of white powder, in cake form,” he said, by way of conversation.

Novotny slammed the closet door. “We, uh, use it in the pizza dough.”

Panadon, whose head had just missed being pinched as the door slammed shut, wheeled to face Novotny. “No. You don’t.”

“What?”

“You do not use those white powder cakes to make pizza. You use them for something else. Something nefarious.”

Nerves Novotny grew red in the face. “Nefari—Listen, buddy, go back where you came from. Tell your boss thanks for the gold. I don’t need you around here with insinuations about drugs.”

Lucinda gasped.

“So, drugs, then, is it?” said Panadon. “That’s illegal and immoral. You’re not a fit recipient of our largesse. I must take the gold back.” He reached for the handle of the closet door.

Something clanged against the narrow side of his flat head. Ouch! 

Panadon looked around and saw that Novotny had whacked him with a large pizza tray, then tossed it aside. Now he held a nasty-looking pistol, aimed at Panadon. “Over your dead body, Shorty.”

At that moment, Lucinda gracefully swooped over and bit Novotny on the gun hand.

“Ouch!” cried the crook as the gun fell to the floor.

Panadon stepped forward, picked up the pistol, crumpled it in his hand. Then he advanced on Novotny. Nerves fled his restaurant the way he had come in.

Lucinda gaped, awestruck, at Panadon. “All those powdery cakes were delivered by pointy heads. They kept bringing them, but the stash in the closet never got bigger. I wondered about that. Almost like somebody came and took them away in the night. How did you know they were illegal drugs?”

“I did not know. I only sensed a great wrong. We have, ahem, a certain intuitive gift.”

“Aw, gee,” said Lucinda. 

“I’ll take my gold now,” Panadon said, almost apologetically.

She opened the closet door. “It’s a shame you had to come all this way.”

#

Crime does not pay. So stood the unanimous view of the ultra-gnomes gathered in the Council chamber forty miles below The Hague. 

The head of the Ultra-Gnomic Council? Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash.

They had polished off today’s agenda rather handily: Ousted the poltroon Clanbert Wabengner from his post and banished him, with his henchman Malkebart, to the quasi-pre-Cambrian lead mines in the deep crust; appointed one of their own number, Grizedek Bomf, in his place; and bestowed a Certificate of Merit plus a nice promotion on the oddly-shaped gnome who had uncovered Clanbert’s vile subterfuge.

As Panadon left their august presence, assured of the opportunity to supervise a dozen underwatchers on a large platinum deposit beneath Saskatchewan, he thrilled at the thought that some of his new colleagues would be she-gnomes. Perhaps one would remind him of the gracious Miss Lucinda Potts, now installed in his mind as Permanent Dream Girl.

“And what was that young fellow’s name again?” asked an aged member of the Ultra-Gnomic Council. “The one with the flat head?”

“Mumblestump,” said the member on his left as each awarded the other a fresh laurel wreath, in cognizance of their mutual virtue.

The End

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