A mischievous gnome discovers that home is where the heart is in this amusing Christmas short story by children’s author Lynne North.
Gordon looked around at his surroundings. Once he had found them lovely. Frost covered the grass, and the pond he stood by had a thin layer of glittering ice across its still surface. His friends stood nearby, as usual, Arthur with his fishing rod hovering over the pond, Fred holding the handles of his wheelbarrow, and Burt with his spade at the ready. Gordon didn’t have any tools of the trade, but that hadn’t bothered him at all when he first came to the Thompson’s home. It did now. He felt like the odd one out.
The bushes and overhanging trees above the pond made Gordon feel trapped lately, enclosed in. He didn’t like it.
When Gordon had been bought from the huge garden center in the summer and brought here as the new gnome he had felt excited, happy and wanted. The children, Oliver and Lucy, had fussed around him, placed him carefully as they gave him his name, and introduced him to the other gnomes.
The older gnomes had lived in the garden for years, so Gordon became the center of attention. As he had no tools and stood around with his hands in his pockets, the other gnomes called him “Gordon the Gaffer.” He loved his new name, and played along as the ‘Boss’ overlooking their work.
The children came out to see him every day, took photos of him, and brought their friends around to see him. They told him their dad had named the other gnomes, so he was special to them. Gordon had been happy. His new friends welcomed him warmly to their pond, and when they were alone with no humans around they had chatted, laughed and played in the sun.
That seemed like a long time ago.
Gordon was no longer happy. The days were shorter and the cold nights much longer. The flowers that used to surround the pond had long since died away leaving nothing but soil to look at. The rain lashed down often, and even snow.
Gordon’s friends were much quieter now, seeming happy to just stand deep in their own thoughts.
“It’s always like this in winter, lad” Burt explained. “Relax. Spring will come around again soon enough.”
Gordon didn’t bother to reply. There must be more to life than this. The family showed no interest in coming to talk to Gordon anymore. He was no longer a novelty, he decided. They didn’t want him and, he was bored. Very bored.
The only time he had seen the children recently was when they had nipped out the back door wrapped in thick coats, scarves and gloves. All they did was point at the bushes around him and the low hanging branches of the trees, giggling and chatting together. If they even noticed Gordon, they didn’t say anything to him. They probably didn’t care whether he was there in their garden or not. Maybe he should leave. The thought shocked him at first, but over the next few days it kept coming back to him.
“Does the family not care about us anymore?” he asked Fred one starry, frosty night when the family had gone to bed and the house lights had winked out one by one.
“Of course they do!” replied Fred, the gnome who had lived there longest. “They just have their own lives to lead and of course they don’t spend as much time in the garden in winter. You worry too much, Gordon. They look after us, and they’ll be in and out again in spring.”
Gordon wasn’t convinced. Anyway, it was a long time to spring.
Days passed, and Gordon fell into more and more of a depression. He saw the family through the window, happily putting up a huge Christmas tree. They laughed and smiled, the children clapping their hands in glee. A great Christmas I’ll have, he thought, feeling very sorry for himself. It was then he decided. He would leave and find somewhere he would be more appreciated. He planned for another day, keeping his ideas to himself. He wouldn’t even tell his friends. They wouldn’t understand. They were old and set in their ways. They didn’t know any better. Gordon was heading off on an adventure! With that thought, he began to feel happier already.
Gordon knew better than to make his move during the day. One of the unspoken rules about being a gnome was to never let humans see you move. Most humans had no idea that garden gnomes could move. That made Gordon laugh. Children were more likely to believe, but never their parents.
The little gnome felt a bit guilty about not saying bye to his friends, but he didn’t want them to persuade him to stay. Maybe they wouldn’t have even tried, but once his mind was made up he didn’t need anyone to give him doubts. He waited patiently until it was very dark and he thought the other gnomes were asleep. Taking a deep breath, Gordon edged away from the pond, a little at a time. All the lights of the house were out, and none of the gnomes moved or spoke. Once he reached the hedge, Gordon thought he had made it. He soon found out that wasn’t quite the case. The hedge was thicker and pricklier than he had anticipated and only after a hard and painful struggle did his head push out at the other side. The rest of him followed, with just as much trouble. He fell out onto the pavement outside at last. He was free!
His excitement was short lived as he looked around. Well, he was out, but where was he, and where would he go? Gordon looked up and down the road for a while. Which way should he head? He hadn’t thought about any of that. It was very dark, and equally cold. It occurred to him that his garden was well sheltered by trees and bushes making it quite a warm place to live, even in winter. Of course gnomes didn’t feel the cold like humans do. They were meant to live outside. Still, he could feel a nip in the air away from his pond. He felt it even more when an icy drizzle began to form, soon turning into driving rain.
With his hands pushed back into his pockets and head down against the wind, Gordon turned right and headed down the road. One way is as good as another when you have no idea where you are going.
An almighty ‘bong’ almost made him jump out of his little black shoes! Gordon’s heart stopped beating so fast as the second and third bong continued to count out from the church clock. He had heard it before, but never this loud and in the deepest dark of night on his own. There were twelve bongs in all. He was usually asleep by midnight.
After staring up at the huge imposing building for a while, Gordon turned the corner and walked more swiftly down the next road, then the next. He was pleased no one was around at this time of night, but all the same he kept aware because he would have to hide if a human came into sight. No one must see him walking! He had no idea where he was, but that didn’t concern him. He would know where he was heading when he got there.
Gordon’s enthusiastic walk didn’t last for long. He soon began to feel weary. His legs weren’t used to doing much, and they were very short. The dark too was very, well, dark. He started to get jumpy at the slightest thing. A paper bag blew towards him and made him leap off the ground. A tin can trundling along the road was even worse!
At least the rain had eased off now, for which he was grateful. Being wet wasn’t a big problem for him, but he had no protection at all from bad weather out here. He thought back to his sheltered garden where he usually stood with his friends. Gordon then shook the idea from his head. This was his adventure, why was he thinking back to the boring pond? He was quite angry with himself, and pushed on into the night.
Okay. He had to get his head together. The idea was to find a much better home where he would be appreciated more. Gordon stood looking around, his hands in his pockets. There were shops on this road. They were no use to him, shops didn’t have gardens. He carried on to the end of the road, then down another. After turning another corner he saw a park, then beyond it some large and posh looking houses. This was more like it. Gordon could see himself now in pride of place by a huge pond with lots of high-class gnomes. All he had to do was find the right house.
He walked along the row examining each quiet house, locked up for the night. Which one did he want to belong to? At once, he knew which one. He spotted a lovely house with a well kept front garden. The long velvet curtains at the downstairs windows were red, his favorite color. His jaunty pointed hat was red.
“I bet the gnomes are round the back,” he said to himself with a smile. He walked up the side of the house and climbed under the elaborate wrought iron gate, then moved towards the back garden. The other gnomes might be alarmed if he just ran around the back so he walked slowly until he could peep around the corner of the house.
As he wondered where the gnomes were, he saw it. And it wasn’t a gnome. The dog saw him too. It looked too shocked to move at first, but it soon got over the feeling. In the split second Gordon turned and ran, the dog set off after him barking loud enough to wake up the whole neighborhood. Moving as fast as his little legs could carry him Gordon ran for the gate and dived under it just as the dog got near enough to take a snap at him. It missed by a few centimeters.
Gordon turned only once to see the dog scratching and jumping at the gate. He breathed a sigh of relief that it was too big to get under the gate as he had. Gasping for breath at the front of the house again, Gordon spotted the upstairs lights clicking on. The people were probably coming to check why the dog was making such a racket. He decided it was a good time to carry on running. He did, this way and that, until his little legs could take no more. He pushed into a bush and crouched there, his heart still pounding. Why would anyone have a dog in their garden instead of gnomes?
When Gordon could breathe again, he began to wonder where he was. He decided it was a hedge. He considered whether he should push on through it, or get out the way he came in. The decision was taken from him. As he looked back the way he came, two green, and very mean, eyes glared back at him. A fearsome hiss came from the cat and a clawed paw made a swipe at him! It was by sheer good luck that the leaves and branches prevented him from being struck.
Pushing himself backwards, Gordon fought his way through to the other side of the hedge. He hoped the cat didn’t know of another way in. Still tired from his run and with his heart pounding again, Gordon sat for a while with his head in his hands under the protective cover of the hedge. When he uncovered his eyes and sat back, he couldn’t believe his eyes. A few yards away from him stood a pond, and seven gnomes! Gordon was so excited, he ran forward shouting, “Hey guys, you’ll never believe what’s happened to me!”
A couple of the gnomes jumped, and then turned to look at him. The biggest one stared at him, a strange look on its face. Gordon smiled. Then the smile froze on his face. He had to admit they didn’t look too happy to see him. Maybe he should tell them his story to get some sympathy. “I’ve been chased by a mad dog,” he began, “then attacked by a crazy cat!” he said, waiting for a reaction.
“And what do you want us to do about it?” asked a gnome with a white beard and green hat.
“Well, nothing really,” Gordon said. “I just thought I’d tell you why I dashed into your garden. And it’s so lucky I did, because I’m looking for a new home!”
“Good luck finding one then, bye,” said the biggest gnome.
Gordon stared at him, his mouth open in shock. After a moment he decided they didn’t know what he meant. He gave a little nervous laugh. “No, what I meant is, I’d like to live here now,” he explained.
“Oh no, no, no,” said another gnome holding a lantern. “That would make eight. That wouldn’t do at all.”
Gordon waited for an explanation, but none was forthcoming. “I’m not sure what you mean,” he said finally.
“Well,” said the biggest gnome in a sarcastic voice, “Apart from the fact you can’t just walk in here and expect to live with us, we are seven, and seven we stay.”
“Why?” asked Gordon, none the wiser.
“Grumpy, tell him,” said the smallest, staring through his glasses.
“We are the seven dwarves,” the one probably called Grumpy said. He certainly looked grumpy. “We are seven, not eight.”
“But, you’re gnomes?” Gordon said, trying to understand.
Grumpy sighed. “The children want dwarves. We want a nice home. We’re now dwarves. Okay?”
“But,” Gordon began again.
The look from all seven of them made him close his mouth. They didn’t want him. He felt sad and humiliated.
“It’s time you left,” said the biggest. “Get along now. There’s no room for you here.” With that, they all turned their backs on him.
Gordon walked slowly away, his face glowing the color of his lovely hat. He crept back into the hedge, hoping the cat had gone. There was no sign of it. Gordon was tired, miserable and lonely. He didn’t know what to do, or where go. He sat amongst the leaves and before he knew it he was fast asleep.
The whooshing of a car passing nearby woke Gordon up with a jump. He hit his head on a thicker branch of the hedge and just missed poking himself in the eye with a twig. Rubbing at his head he peered out, trying to remember where he was. Day was beginning to dawn, and light snow was falling. He now remembered all too well where he was. Lost, and a long way from home. The word ‘home’ stuck in his mind. It was home wasn’t it, and he had left it. The family were nice to him and his friends liked him even when he was miserable and moody. Life out here wasn’t safe. What had he done? Maybe he should go back. They might not even have missed him yet. Yes. He felt better already. That’s what he would do.
His heart fell again when he realized he had no idea where he was. He had turned right hadn’t he, then right again? Or was it left? Then he had walked down a long road, and somewhere along the way there were some shops … Gordon felt tears come to his eyes. He had to face it, he was hopelessly lost.
Before long he heard the family come out of the house and set off in their cars, probably on their way to work. It was no use going back to speak to the gnomes. They had been very clear about his welcome. His dreams of meeting new friends, then a happy family seeing him through the window in the morning and running out in excitement to meet him, had well and truly bit the dust. He could try again but then he risked more dogs, cats, and unfriendly gnomes.
He rubbed at his eyes in anger. He was a fool. He belonged with the Thompson’s. It was no use sitting in a wet hedge feeling sorry for himself. That wouldn’t get him home. He had to try. Now!
Gordon scrambled out of the hedge after making sure no one was walking by. This was going to be even more difficult because he couldn’t allow himself to be seen. He brushed some of the wetness off, and then wondered why he was bothering as the snow began to hit him and melt on his hat again. He gave his best guess at the way he had come to find this house, and set off keeping very close to the hedges so he could jump back in if need be. The roads all looked the same. He had been running aimlessly on his way here after the incident with the dog, and it had been dark. He didn’t recognize anything. He also had to keep jumping into hedges, behind cars or bins, and into any hole he could find when more cars drove passed. He even hid in a wide pipe for a while as a young woman trundled past pushing a pram, her other hand hanging on to a youngster talking about school.
Had he seen a school last night? Was it on his way home? If so he could follow them, but he had no memory of seeing a school. Was the child even going to school, or just talking about it?
Now if they had been talking about going to a shopping center that would have been different. He definitely passed shops. That gave him an idea. He sat where he was because it felt quite safe, and looked out for anyone carrying shopping bags. It was worth a try. After a while the thought occurred to him that most people were likely to go shopping in their cars. The light snow had stopped by now though, so he had to hope.
At last someone did pass with shopping bags, but they were full so she must have already been to the shops. He wondered what time it was. Considering it only came light quite late at this time of year, the morning would be getting on now. Anyway, at least he knew which way not to head. Gordon came out of his hiding place and heading on in the direction the woman had come from. He had to find the shops. He didn’t let himself wonder what he would do next. He would worry about that once he got there.
Everything looked so different in daylight. He could see Christmas trees in gardens and through house windows. This should be a lovely time of year. He wondered how long it was to Christmas Day. He had no way of knowing. All the time he pondered, he walked, hid, and walked again. He was getting quite good at avoiding being seen. Well, he hoped he was. At least no one had pointed at him yet and shouted “Look, a gnome!”
His thoughts were broken by a trundling sound coming along behind him. By instinct alone Gordon ran behind a low garden wall and carefully peered around it. It was an old woman leaning heavily on a tall bag on wheels. That must be a shopping trolley? She was well wrapped up in a long coat, hat and scarf. She wasn’t good on her feet so walked slowly. With no better chance to take, he decided to follow her. Keeping his distance he tailed the old lady. She didn’t look back once. He could have whooped for joy when he turned another corner after her and saw the street of shops. He felt sure it was the same shops. They had to be. He couldn’t even let himself doubt otherwise. He knew they had come a different way because he hadn’t seen the park, but that didn’t matter at all. He knew where he was. Sort of.
Gordon was so entranced by all the glittering decorations in the shop windows, he almost forgot to hide. That was dangerous. He must leave the trees, lights and tinsel behind and head away from so many people. All he could do was turn away from the shops again but make sure he was heading in a different direction than the way he had just come.
That sounded fine, but after some time Gordon believed he must be going around in circles. He found himself in a road that he was sure he had been up already today. He also believed he was spending more time hiding than moving. Why were so many people about on such a cold day? He had the answer for that already. It would soon be Christmas. By the time the sky began to darken again, Gordon was still wandering, and hiding. He was ready to give up, but then what? Spend Christmas alone under a hedge or up a drainpipe?
He had been sat hiding yet again among some tall flowers in someone’s front garden when he heard it. At first it hadn’t registered in his brain at all. At the third bong, Gordon remembered the church clock. Please! It had to be! Without a thought of being seen he began to run towards the sound as fast as his little legs could carry him. After the fourth bong, there were no more. So, it must be four o’clock. Longing for the clock to strike again, and praying it was the church at the end of the road where he lived that he had heard, he pressed on. At road turnings he still didn’t know which way to turn. Remembering where a sound had come from wasn’t easy when it had stopped.
Gordon had no idea how long he had searched when to his delight he heard the clock striking again. He ran and ran towards the sound until the fifth bong had faded away. It was much louder, and much nearer. It was of course also dark again by now so Gordon had less hiding to worry about. He carried on, his legs still moving fast despite his tiredness. In the back of his mind he wondered if he recognized this road, or was it his hopes making him imagine it? As he turned the next corner he almost wept with joy. The church was there right on the corner, almost beckoning him.
Not pausing to pay it any attention, he ran on again, past the houses down the road until he saw the red Fiesta that had brought him home on that happy day he had been bought from the garden center. In seconds he was pushing his way back through the thick, prickly hedge, barely noticing it this time. Once through he stopped, something was different. In fact everything was different. For a moment he almost thought he was in the wrong garden, and then he saw the family outside. All of them. They were happy and smiling. Were they happy he had gone? At that moment, Gordon didn’t know what to think.
He then heard Lucy scream, “Look, it’s Gordon!”
He quickly dropped to the ground near the hedge. No one must see him move!
Lucy came running to him and picked him up, holding him gently but tight to her body. “Gordon, where have you been? We’ve all been so worried. We thought we’d lost you!”
You have, you did? Gordon thought. He was carried over to his friends and placed back in his usual spot, near to Fred. He was sure he saw Fred wink. The other gnomes seemed to be smiling. He knew they were happy to see him. He wanted to cry again.
“Look, Gordon.” Oliver called, “look what we’ve been doing!” He waved his arms around at the low bushes and trees around the pond. Twinkling colored lights festooned them all, glinting red, white and blue over their heads. It took Gordon all his of his willpower not to twist his head around and up to look at them all. That would have to wait until they were alone again.
There was even a small decorated Christmas tree in a red pot stood by the pond. “This is your tree, Gordon,” Lucy pointed, unable to contain her excitement. “It will be Christmas in four days time so we wanted our gnomes to have a happy Christmas too!” She then paused a moment and said, “Mummy, it looks like Gordon is crying. Is he not happy?”
“Of course he’s happy, Sweetie,” her mum said, “it’s just wetness from the bushes dripping down his hat onto his face. Gnomes don’t cry. I’m sure they are all very happy.”
Lucy smiled, clapping her hands in glee.
Gordon knew better, gnomes did cry, both when they were sad and alone, and when they were happier than they had ever thought possible.
He was home, where he belonged. Where he was loved. Christmas would be the most wonderful day ever!
Author Lynne North
Lynne is a children’s author who lives in the north west of England. She has been a prolific reader all her life, and for many years have spent most of her free time writing. Lynne has completed courses and received diplomas from ‘The Writing School Ltd’ and ‘The Academy of Children’s Writers’.