Gnome by Mobmij

I been a farmer all my life. I’m 75 now, and I seen a lot of things. But nuthin’ compares to what I seen this last couple months.

I found her by the side of a dirt road. She was lying there, half covered in dirt and weeds. It looked like she had been buried by one of those big machines the mining company’s been bringin’ in to clear off what few trees are left hereabouts. I couldn’t even tell it was a person at first. Looked just like a heap of earth laying there. But the outline struck me funny, so I stopped the truck and got out.

But it wasn’t a heap of earth. It was a young girl lying there naked in the dirt. She was conscious and all, but dazed like. I helped her to her feet (it was like uprooting a tree, she was so deep in the ground) and got her in the truck. I wrapped her up in a horse blanket though she didn’t seem cold or anything. She just seemed confused at first, not answering any of my questions. Then, as we passed the mine site, she got real alert, tracking the activities over there like a wolf spotting a wounded deer. Since she seemed more awake, I asked her what her name was. She hesitated at first and then said something that sounded like “Gaya” or “Guya” or some such. I introduced myself and asked her if she needed a lift somewhere. She just shook her head. Then I pointed to my house up ahead and asked if she wanted to come in and get cleaned up. I told her some of my wife’s clothes might fit her. (Bessie passed 3 years ago now, but I still hadn’t the heart to throw any of her things away.) The girl looked about and said “OK”.

Sure was odd finding a girl in a fix like that. But you kinda got used to strange things happening those days, specially to young girls. Things were changin’ around these parts. Lotta farmers had sold out to that bigass mining company, and now they were coming through rippin’ up trees and tearin’ up the ground, gettin’ ready to strip mine. Raping the earth, I call it. They wanted me to sell, but I wouldn’t. Some others wouldn’t either. And those that wouldn’t sell at first ended up gettin’ beat by company goons. Sometimes they’d take your wife or your daughter and cut off their hair. You’d see a number of women and young girls walking around in town with bandanas tied round their head, covering their naked scalps. It was pretty brutal. And the mining company owned the new police in town. They were no help. I thought the girl in the ditch might have been the company’s latest message to someone, but she still had all her hair. Tons of it, in fact, dark and lush, like black ivy. But that treatment, together with real good money for your farmland, had driven plenty of folks off. But I didn’t have no women folk they could harass, and I never wandered too far from my 12 gauge, so I just had to deal with some vandalism here and there. They left me pretty much alone.

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The girl had nowhere to go, I found out. I offered to let her stay with me a bit. I was old and safe, I told her. She said she’d stay a while. I told her she should get checked out by a doctor, but she shook me off on that one. And she didn’t seem the worse for wear. Tough as boulders she was. Next day, even after whatever she had been through, she was doing chores around the place, making herself useful. In fact, it was strange. I had this garden out back, just planted. One afternoon, she went out there and started rooting around in the dirt. Came in the house with some radishes the size of baseballs and a cabbage that looked like a watermelon. “Where did those come from?” I asked. “From the garden,” says she, just like that. I scratched my head. It didn’t seem natural, but those were the best radishes I ever tasted, bar none.

About a week later, we went off into town for some supplies. The girl went off to fetch some stuff of her own. I watched her walk down the street. I got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw her pass the barber shop just as some of the mining company toughs were comin’ out. They knew she was with me by now. The company kept tabs on folks who hadn’t sold out. I saw one of them reach out at her and fluff her black hair out. “Coming in for a haircut, little sister?” I heard one say. “You could use one of them shortie buzzcuts,” another one said. Then a third one reached up to touch her hair again. Quick as lightning, she grabbed his wrist in her one hand. You could hear the bone snap from where I was standin’ down the street, and the goon just screamed and shouted “You broke my arm, bitch. You broke my arm.” Over and over, till his friends drug him away to the hospital.

On the way home, I asked her if she was OK. She said she was. I didn’t mention anything else. I figured it was one of those martial arts things, like in the movies.

Next day, I found her looking out over to the next farm. Or what used to be the next farm. Now it was mostly a huge shallow hole in the ground. The last stand of trees was being shaved away from the rim, and those huge yellow monster machines were crawling around in the hole. Short, even tree stumps surrounded a low rise – but that rise would soon be leveled out too.

“What have they done to the trees?” the girl asked me.

“That’s clear-cutting. They’re just getting rid of everything they don’t need before they start to strip mine that section.”

“Clear-cutting,” the girl repeated.

Some days later, we had to go into town again. This time I stuck close to the girl. I didn’t want no more trouble. We were about to pass by the barber shop, when the girl veered off and went in. There was a bunch of the company goons in there, hooting’ and laughin’. Though they all got real quiet when they saw who was there. Especially the guy with his arm in a cast. There was a young girl in the chair already. She looked like she had been crying’ pretty hard. Half her head was already shaved down to a real short, little-boy’s, beginning-of-summer crewcut. The other half was still filled with curly blonde hair that hung down to about her chin.

“Hey Sally,” one of them said. “You want Earl to go on with that haircut? Or d’ya want us to come visit your daddy tonight? I don’t think your daddy would like us to visit, do you?”

The girl in the chair shook her head. Then she whispered in a kind of trembling voice, “Please keep cutting.”

“You sure, Sally?” Earl asked. As though he could stop now, with half the girl’s head looking like a Marine recruit’s.

The girl tipped her head once in a tiny nod.

Earl the barber looked real uncomfortable. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he depended on company business now that so many farmers had cleared out. But he lifted his comb and the clippers again and sheared off another row of curly gold hair, up over the top of the girl’s head. The shaved-off locks tumbled down and joined the pile on the floor. Then Earl began working at the back of her head, up the nape and across. Earl had to move the clippers as odd angles to let it chew away the hair as it crossed grains on the girl’s neck. Short blond hairs, fine as silk on the girl’s long neck, were razored down to stubble. The girl kept her head down and her eyes closed, but I saw a tear or two squeeze out. It took a strong girl to accept this kind of sheep-shearing so her daddy wouldn’t take a beatin’. (I knew Sally’s dad, and I’m sorry to say that he was the kind of spineless bastard that would let his daughter get shaved this way to save his own ass. He was gonna sell his land anyway. He just wanted to wait for a better price.) Earl kept his machine buzzing at the back of the girl’s head, clipping and tossing small packets of hair out of his way with a flick of the wrist. Then he tipped the girl’s head back again and shaved back from the hairline at the forehead. The girl’s head got smaller and smaller.

This wasn’t the best crewcut Earl could give. It was just a headshave with a small guard. But I don’t think either Earl or the girl had the patience for a careful cut. They both just wanted it to be over. I felt shamed just watching it.

Finally, Earl cleared off the hair on the left side of the girl’s head, working slower around her ear. The shorn curls landed on her shoulder, and Earl had to brush them away with his hand. It was like he didn’t really want to touch the cut-off hair. Then he was done. He took the cape off the girl and shook what looked to be a pound of hair onto the floor. Under the cape, the girl was wearing a sleeveless, frilly blue dress. It was real girly lookin’. Seein’ that shaved-down blonde crewcut on top of that frilly dress was quite a sight. I thought the girl might cry or something. Earl reached into a drawer and offered her a bandana. But the girl just shook her head, ran her hand back over her new crewcut and flashed the goons a “fuck-you” look. She walked out of the shop with her head held high. No tears at all. The goons still laughed themselves silly.

Gaia took it all in real quiet. Once the girl had left, she walked over to the goons. “Who’s next?” she asked. She normally had a quiet smooth voice. Now it was harsh as gravel to the ear. She was lookin’ hard at the guy with his arm in the cast. I couldn’t tell if she was askin’ who’s next for a haircut or who’s next for a whuppin’. I don’t think any of them could tell either, cause they all cleared out pretty quick, mumblin’ black curses.

Then the girl went over and sat in Earl’s chair and said, “I want a clear-cut.”

Earl was real puzzled, and I was too at first. Then it clicked in my head, and I asked, “Do you mean ‘crewcut’? Like that girl got?”

“Yes,” she said. “Crewcut. I want a crewcut. Very short.”

Earl was too browbeat at that point to put up any fuss. He asked her to lift up her hair in back, and he tied a tissue around her neck and fluffed a cape into place around her. I could see him fumbling with his tools, as though he didn’t know what to use first. Then he just picked up the clippers and snapped them on.

He started on her left side away from me, so I couldn’t tell what was happening. Except that at Earl’s feet, I saw a long shank of black hair hit the floor. Then another. As he moved around back, I could see the machine at work. Earl would push it up into the curtain of thick hair hanging down the girl’s back, where it would disappear for a second, until the hair fell like an avalanche over his moving hand. Dark short hair appeared in the machine’s path. The girl had dark foreign-looking olive skin, and the short hair gripped it like close-mowed grass, dark against darker. The girl’s hairline in back was solid and clean, despite Earl’s shaving it back there almost to the skin.

The girl kept her head down real patient as the clippers ran over her head. But Earl wasn’t taking his time with this haircut either. He was just mowing the hair away, quick as he could. But he couldn’t work too fast. The girl’s hair seemed too thick and hard almost. The buzzer would move in slow motion up the back of the girl’s head, and black hair would rain down. Earl would run the clippers up over the same shorn area sometimes, but usually one slow pass was enough to clear away the hair down to a short dense fur. It looked like a harvest to my farmer’s eye – long black crops standing tall next to the neat, even, harvested row that had been mown almost to the ground. Through it all, the girl never moved or changed the expression on her face. She was pretty much a stoneface usually, but she was even more… I don’t know… distant now, like she was thinking about something else entirely. Funny thing was that for all the stony exterior, you always got the feeling that there was something burning inside her – like she was hot and molten at the core of her.

Earl moved around to the girl’s front and changed his grip on the machine. Then he pressed it against her forehead and pushed. Black hair slid down the cape. It looked like a dark, dark landslide. The girl had a nice shaped head, even close shorn as she was. It was round and small, but her eyes were big and brown. Dark as new-plowed earth they looked to me. The hair in front stood up stiff as pine needles, with a little twist in the middle of her forehead. Close-shaved as the hair was in front, the clippers couldn’t erase that little twist. Earl finished up the cut by running the clippers back and forth, back and forth on the top of the girl’s scalp, like it was an electric shaver or something. You could see tiny hairs flying up and shooting out sideways, like sparks erupting from the top of a volcano. Then he stepped back.

The girl reached around and took off the cape and tissue herself. She brushed off a few long tresses that had clung to her shoulders and rubbed her head with both hands. She had on a white tee-shirt and jeans that didn’t really fit well. (Bess was a larger woman in her time.) But she looked like she liked the feel of the slick bristles bending under her hand. I thought I heard her say to herself, “This will do.” Then she walked out.

I paid Earl and followed. We did our few errands and then went back home. As we passed the area where the trees and such had been clear-cut down to stubble, the girl just rubbed her head and said some words I didn’t understand. I don’t think it was English.

That night, I passed the girl’s room. Her door was open as wide as could be, but she was standing there buck nekked. She had my straight razor and lather cup and was lathering up her underarms. The one I could see was pretty hairy, a small shrub of black hair sprouting out sideways. But after some lather and a quick pass of the razor, it was shaved smooth as a river rock. I stood there a moment, stunned and I guess kinda excited. The girl never looked up from her shaving work. I think she had shaved most everything from the neck down, but I didn’t stay long enough to make sure.

Later, the girl came in to where I was sitting in the parlor.

“I may have to leave tonight. You’ve been a good friend. I want to thank you for everything.”

“Where are you gonna go?” I asked.

“Just away. But tonight, please stay here – in the house. You’ll be safe here. OK?”

“OK,” I said. But I didn’t know what she meant by “safe”. I still had my 12 gauge close at hand if there were any trouble with the goons.

I went to bed a little while after. The girl was still up, standing on the porch. She was rubbing her new crewcut and looking out to the stripped-away area on the hill. The stumps and stubble were outlined in the moonlight, a larger version of the girl’s crewcut carved in the earth itself. It might’ve been pretty except for all the mining equipment and tin huts that littered the hillside. There was a tension building somewhere in the air. Not a storm or anything – the sky was as clear as could be. But something was building deep somewhere. Last thing I saw was the girl stepping off the porch and walking out with a purpose into the moonlight, silhouetted with her small, crewcut head. Must have been my eyes or the moonlight or something, but the girl seemed to ripple and vibrate kinda as she walked away.

About midnight or so, I woke up. I thought I heard thunder in the distance, though the night sky had been clear when I went to bed. Then the thunder got louder and louder, and then I felt the house shaking. The shaking went on for at least a minute. I counted slow to a hundred for sure, and I didn’t start with the first rumble either. All that time, the thundering got louder and louder. Pictures fell off the wall. The bed was vibrating so much I started skidding around the room. I heard some crashing from other parts of the house. I tried to get up to see about the girl, but the waves that passed under me knocked me off my feet. I held onto the floor as best I could. Finally, the shaking stopped.

I got up slow and walked through the house. Some stuff was broke, but nothing valuable. And once I got outside, nothing looked different at all. Except over at the mining site, where there was smoke rising against the full moon. And you couldn’t see any of those yellow monster trucks anymore nor any of the tin barracks. They was all gone. The whole operation – vanished. Just as though the earth had swallowed it all up.

Next morning, there were all kinds of scientists in white coats and hard hats wandering about, measuring and looking around. They said there was no known fault in the area, but it was an earthquake all the same. Though it was a strange earthquake that actually opens up the earth and swallows buildings whole, I found out later. About 2 dozen men were lost, all at the mining site. And all the equipment was a dead loss too, buried under tons of rock and dirt. The company pulled out a few weeks later. Said they couldn’t mine safely in such a “geologically unstable” area.

Things are a little better around here now. I bought some farmland from the mining company real cheap. And farmers are starting to come back now. Crops are good too. Though everyone asks me why my corn yields are twice what anyone else can get. Even though I don’t use them fancy chemical fertilizers and such. I just say I’m real lucky, I guess.

There’s something else too. When I finally cleaned up my house later that next day, after the quake, I found a note on the kitchen table. It was from the girl. It just said “Thank you”, printed with what must have been a lump of coal in kind of a child’s handwritin’. The note was weighed down by this big rock. Twenty pounds it was, I later found out. I was about toss it in the yard when a bit of earth broke off it. Twenty pounds it was, all right. Twenty pounds of pure gold. One of the geologists I asked about it said he’d never seen anything like it – that the ore was so pure, he thought it must have come from 20 miles down or more. But no mines went anywhere near that deep, so he couldn’t tell for sure. It was just theory. I didn’t ask no more about it. And I never saw the girl again.


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