The Plod Thickens

Hansel was torn. Grendel was proving to have a limited range of conflict resolution strategies, but GnaGna was threatening their lives. Justified gnomicide? Probably?

The gnomes were also conflicted. Several screamed, but many more hit the dirt in relief. Costumes came off and nearly naked gnomes fanned themselves, directing fresh air over their sweaty bits. Hansel waited a minute to see if there would be some retaliatory attack, but the gnomes just milled around, a hum of chatter building, and wandered off in small groups. Hansel made his way to the earth-tethered monster.

“How are we going to get you the rest of the way up?” Hansel asked Grendel.

Grendel chewed a few more times and swallowed painfully. “Glad I didn’t have to eat all of them, unwrapping them would take hours. There’s a knife in my pack.”

Hansel found the knife and cut Grendel mostly free, letting the monster take care the groin region himself. The gnomes were mostly gone by the time they finished, but Gnash was back in his street clothes.

“I guess you guys will want to take off now.” The gnome seemed more cheerful.

“Yeah, we need to get to Aunt Linda’s place. Sorry about NaNa,” Hansel said.

“It’s GnaG—you know what, never mind. She was terrible. Safe travels.” Gnash joined the last little knot of gnomes as they left.

Grendel took a big swig of water and got his bearings. “That way.” He pointed the opposite direction of the gnome’s departure and Hansel was okay with that, even if it was the wrong way. It was noon, and they could still put some distance between them and the Heart of Gnome Country.

Hansel grabbed some jerky from the monster’s pack and walked after Grendel. The going was slow because Grendel’s limp was more pronounced.

“Hey, how’s your toe?” Hansel asked.

“Not good.” It really didn’t look good, red and swollen with something oozing out.

“What can we do about it?” Hansel thought it needed a doctor. “Is the bullet still in there?”

Grendel looked at his toe and frowned. “Yeah, I guess it is. It was so small, I didn’t really think about that. Guess you’re going to have to dig it out.”

“What? No. I’m nine.” Hansel regretted mentioning it now, even if it had been a very mature observation based on watching action movies he shouldn’t have been watching. “Can’t you do it?”

If Grendel had had more skin showing, it would have blanched. “Uh…I don’t have the right kind of knife,” he lied.

“Do you say you need a knife? I would agree with that, but I would have to suggest a different use for a knife.” Agnton stepped out from behind a boulder, every weird hair in place and a deep well of nothing in his eyes.

Hansel picked up a rock about the size of a key lime and chucked it wildly. “Where have you been?” he blurted. Grendel rose, trying not to put his weight on the bullet-riddled toe. The confrontation with GnaGna had been conspicuously Agnton-free.

“Where have I been?” Agnton asked.

“Why weren’t you protecting GnaGna?” Grendel asked, apparently mad that he hadn’t had a harder time eating her. Hansel kicked him lightly in the non-injured foot. “Uh…go away,” the monster amended.

“I have many responsibilities! So many! Protection comes in many forms!” Agnton yelled. Not an answer, but answers were not Agnton’s bag.

“Okay,” Hansel said, “if you say so. Why are you bothering us now?”

“You steal my Queen’s heart, and then you EAT IT,” he continued. Hansel had thought the gnome’s emotionless stare bad, but this anger was terrifying. Agnton reached behind him and drew a sword from a back scabbard. The blade shone in the sun, reflecting the murderous glint in Agnton’s eyes. “Now I will show you what that feels like. Prepare to die.”

Agnton strode toward Grendel, who was standing gingerly on both feet and holding the backpack in front of him as a shield. Hansel realized the monster was more incapacitated by the toe than he’d admitted. A little leaky bullet hole had him all clenched up.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” was an unoriginal battle cry, but Hansel didn’t have time for a rewrite. He sprinted forward, drawing back his right leg and kicking the gnome like a psychotic soccer ball. He put all his repressed frustration and resentment for every soggy soccer Saturday behind it, and Agnton flew a satisfying distance through the air. His sword left his hand, twirling in slow motion through the air, flashing brightly as the sun found it. It landed point down in a grassy hummock. Agnton landed face down in a tangle of thorny vines. Small moans drifted across the verdant green.

“C’mon!” Hansel urged, hurrying Grendel away from the incapacitated assassin. The monster shouldered his pack and followed, limping.

“You will regret your existence!” Agnton yelled after them.

“Says the weirdo stuck in a bush,” Hansel muttered. He wasn’t really keen on his existence this week anyway. Agnton shook the thorny branches but couldn’t extricate himself.

“I could have taken care of him for good,” Grendel said after a solid ten minutes of slow hiking.

“You mean you could have eaten him?” Hansel prompted.

“I guess, yeah. He didn’t even have a hat.”

“There are other things you can do besides eating people, you know.”

“It works, though.”

“Yeah, you’re stuck with me because of how well it works.”

Grendel had no answer to that.

They had to take frequent breaks because of Grendel’s toe, which looked worse and worse as the evening wore on. His whole foot was swollen and his attempts at conversation made less sense.

“I miss GnaGna,” he pined.

“Dude, you a—” Hansel stopped when he saw Grendel’s sad face. “She’ll always be a part of you,” he said instead. The monster nodded and wiped his eyes.

“Do you think your Aunt Linda will like me?” he asked during one break.

Hansel frowned. “No? You ate my sister and you’re a monster, so no, I don’t think Aunt Linda is going to invite you in or adopt you or anything.”

“Oh. What will I do then?”

“Go home? Don’t you want to get back to your cave?”

“Yes, my cave.” Grendel got a far-off look. “I have a cave, just like Batman.”

Hansel needed to get the monster help before he thought he was the Batman. He got him back up and trudging, now through the twilight of the cooling forest. When he saw a glow through the trees to their left, he steered them towards it. They needed help, and true to himself, he chose the light.