Hazel and Holly — An Unwelcome Visit, Part Two
Previous: An Unwelcome Visit, Part One
Water dripped onto Hazel’s forehead as a little old man the size of her forearm rifled through her pockets. Startled, she pushed herself up, scrabbling across the stone floor as she tried to get away.
The gnome gave a wry smile. “You don’t got anything worth taking, dearie. Don’t need to be overzealous about it.” He picked up a little lantern and started to walk away.
“Wait.” Hazel said.
He turned around.
“Where are we?” Water dripped from a low craggy ceiling, barely illuminated by the gnome’s lantern. All else was dark.
“Miss Zinnia’s cellar.” The gnome wrinkled his bulbous nose. “Well, part of it anyway.” He started to walk away again.
“Wait.” Hazel said.
The gnome let out a sigh and turned back around.
“How do I get out?”
“Yes. Out. Where is the exit?”
The gnome screwed up his weathered face. “There isn’t any out.”
Hazel scoffed, but her voice sounded dead and hollow in the dark, damp cellar. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
He shrugged and walked away.
“Wait!” Hazel cried, but the gnome had gone, as had the light from his lantern.
She stared into the darkness where he had disappeared, willing the little man to come back, but he never did. She sat there, listening to the racing thump of her heart, beating out of time to the drip drops of the falling water from the ceiling.
“What have you gotten me into, Holly?” Hazel said, but no one replied, not even an echo. She got to her feet, running her hand along the wall as she walked. The stone wall was cool and damp, just like the rest of the room. Every now and then her fingers would run over a patch of soft moss, or a strand of slimy algae. When Hazel came across an alcove in the wall, her heart jumped, thinking it a door. But it was only a deep impression, within which lay shards of bones and other indistinguishable items–some brittle, some sticky and soft. Hazel jerked her hand away and moved on.
When Hazel at last felt the rough, splintering texture of wood, she let out a heavy breath. She ran her hands all along it, looking for a door handle, a keyhole, anything that might let her out or even let her see. But nothing was there. Only a solid wall of rutted, heavy wood that went clear to the floor.
She hesitated, her hands roving. No, it didn’t quite reach the floor. There was a narrow crack, no more than a finger’s breadth. She wedged her fingers into the crevice, trying to find the other end of the door. Instead she felt a tickling on her fingertips. Hazel cried out and yanked her hand back. She stared into the darkness where she knew the door to be, but she saw nothing.
A scratching sound came from the door and then, just as Hazel was about to move away, a faint squeak.
She hesitated. “Chester?”
Another squeak. Hazel sat there, trying to think of what to do, but there was only one thing to do. She gritted her teeth and then lowered her hand—palm up—to the floor. She ground her teeth harder as the soft feeling of fur tickled her palm, along with tiny pricking on her skin from the mouse’s claws. Hazel closed her eyes and shuddered, trying not to dwell on the way the creature’s stiff, cord-like tail wrapped itself around one of her fingers.
Cringing, she reached with her other hand and felt the mouse resting on her palm. It was Chester all right, she could feel his vest with its bulging pockets. And yet, the disgusting animal presented an opportunity. Being in another witch’s home, Hazel needed a personal item to use her own magic. The mouse, though he belonged to Holly, would probably work. They lived in the same house, after all.
Hazel’s heart quickened as she set Chester back on the ground. She kept a finger on him, though, and spoke a spell of Transformation. Underneath her hand, Hazel felt as the mouse grew. And grew. And grew yet some more. She backed away and then, after a moment, reached out and felt a wall of fur and rough fabric. She cleared her throat.
“Chester,” she said, and a resounding squeak came in reply that seemed to dwarf her own tentative voice. She grimaced, not wanting to dwell on the fact that a monstrous creature lurked next to her in the darkness.
“Could you take down the door?” She cleared her throat again. “Please.”
Another deafening squeak came, and then a scratching sound at the door. Chester’s deep, heavy breaths quickened, and then a cracking sound as the door began to splinter. Hazel backed away, putting her hands to her ears as the cracking grew louder and then, in a cloud of dust, the door broke from the hinges and fell.
Hazel coughed as she waved at the air. Beyond the door was a hallway, dimly illuminated from a distant, feeble light. Chester’s hulking form filled the doorway, and Hazel swallowed. This was the only way out. “Let’s get out of here, Chester.”
Chester squeezed through the doorway and charged down the hall. Hazel trailed after him, trying to work out in her mind what she’d do should they run into Zinnia and her guardian statues. From behind, a feeble light flickered on the dark stone walls.
Hazel turned, finding the little gnome behind her.
“What do you want?” she said.
The gnome shrugged. “I’m coming with you.”
Hazel opened her mouth, but before she could reply, the gnome said, “You’d best hurry. Looks like your mouse is leaving without you.”
Hazel turned to find Chester charging up a set of stairs, coming to another door that he then knocked over. Hazel hurried after him, up the stairs and through the doorway, before stepping into a room cluttered with junk. There were suits of armor and massive potted plants. Incense censors swung from the ceiling, and paintings covered every wall. There were massive wooden chests and piles of clothing, heaps of papers and books, and bundles of dried flowers tied together like sheaves of wheat.
Chester charged through all of it, toppling the suits of armor and sending the incense censors to clang together like disharmonious bells.
From behind one of the closed doors, came Zinnia’s voice. “What’s all this, then?” She opened the door, and Zinnia’s mouth dropped open when she saw the massive mouse hulking before her. She cried out, backing away, but then Chester leapt through the air, landing on the witch and knocking her over.
“Get off me, you foul beast!” she said.
Chester put his nose near her face, his long whiskers twitching as he sniffed at the witch. The gnome hurried through the clutter and knelt next to Zinnia as he rifled through her pockets.
Hazel grabbed a wooden box and stuffed it in one of Chester’s pockets. “You should have taken the mead, Zinnia. I once felt bad about stealing from you. Not anymore.”
“You’ll pay for this,” Zinnia said.
“I doubt it,” Hazel said. “But you’re welcome to try.” She finished stuffing Chester’s pockets with anything she could get her hands on. Then, ripping a strip of cloth from one of the clothing piles, she tied Zinnia’s hands together.
The gnome crawled up onto Chester’s back, and, with Hazel following close behind, they made their way out of the witch’s home and into the night.
The sky was lightening with dawn by the time they made it back home. The gnome slid off of Chester’s back, his weathered face splitting into a wide grin.
“Most fun I’ve had in a long while,” he said. “Thank you for that.”
“What were you doing in her cellar?”
“We’re both collectors, and so it suited me a long while to live under her house. When it no longer suited me, well, it seemed that I became another item for her to keep.”
Hazel frowned. “That’s terrible.”
The gnome shrugged. “There are worse fates than being kept and cared for.”
“What will you do now?”
“Find a new cellar that has need of a gnome.” He peered up at her. “Say, what about you? I’ll keep your preserves tidy and prevent your root vegetables from rotting. In return, I take some beer and some treasures that I can add to my collection.”
“Uh… no. I don’t think we need a cellar gnome, Mr… ah…”
He nodded. “As you like. If you change your mind, though, just set some beer outside for me and I’ll come right in. Think about it.”
Stunned, Hazel could only nod.
Tum smiled, gave her a wave, and then ran off into the darkness.
Hazel watched where he had gone, and then turned to Chester and emptied out his pockets. She spoke a spell that returned him back to his normal size, and then she walked inside the house to go wake up Holly.
Next: Masked Revelry, Part One