|Rachel lived in a tree at the foot of the great Skull Rock. James lived in the hollowed out dried gourd of a pumpkin that nestled in the exposed roots of the tree.|
Maybe for this reason Rachel did not know how she had come to live in the Skull Garden, she must have arrived when she was too small to remember. She was nearly alone in the lush groves and sweet glades. She ate fruit and vegetables and drank clear, cool spring water. It was a pleasant life if maybe too quiet and sometimes a little lonely.
Not that Rachel was entirely alone in the garden. She had one friend, James the Mouse. Rachel lived in a tree at the foot of the great Skull Rock. James lived in the hollowed out dried gourd of a pumpkin that nestled in the exposed roots of the tree.
So Rachel would make her way around the Skull Garden in the daytime and she would talk with James and James would talk back. Rachel did not know that mice cannot usually speak, so neither of them saw anything strange in that.
Mostly Rachel and James would talk about the seasons, and which fruits or vegetables were growing, and the weather. James was a mouse and not terribly imaginative so he never raised any other topics of conversation. Rachel, however, would sometimes talk about leaving the garden. Or she would talk about being somewhere that wasn't a garden. Sometimes she expressed a wish to meet another little girl just like her. When she talked this way she often imagined herself in another place that wasn't the tree in the shadow of the great Skull Rock.
"I do not understand you sometimes," James said once. It was not the first time he had become exasperated by Rachel's daydreams. "You know that this is all there is, so I do not see the sense in talking about things being different, because they are not different. Things are what they are."
"But James," Rachel replied. "Do you not think of what it would be like to meet another mouse just like you? Are you never sad that you are the only mouse in the Skull Garden?"
"Why would I be sad?" James answered. "This is all I know. I cannot be sad about something unknown because I do not know it."
"So what if I wasn't here?" Rachel asked. "Would you be sad then?"
"I don't know," James said. "You have always been here, I don't know what it would be like if you weren't."
"Impossible mouse," Rachel said and this always meant that the conversation was over.
You may be asking yourself why it was that Rachel never ventured far from her tree in the shadow of the great Skull Rock. She had the vision to send her imagination out into the world beyond, so to wander would be a natural thing.
The problem was that Rachel and James lived in the daylight world of the Skull Garden. When night fell the world was the domain of a giant bat that lived within the hollow of the Skull shaped cave at the summit of the great Skull Rock.
The giant bat hunted in the night. Lying in the hollow of her tree Rachel could hear the slap of the bat's leathery wings through the night sky. Sometimes she would hear the terrified squeal of an animal that the bat had caught to eat. In those times she hugged herself tight, scared in the darkness, waiting for the dawn.
Rachel never wanted to be outside in the night time. To leave the Skull Garden would have risked the bat catching her in its black claws, to bear her away to its lair. Rachel feared that if that happened she would never see daylight again.
So Rachel lived in the daytime garden and her dreams were just dreams. That was until the day that she discovered the four leaf clover growing by the banks of the sparkling spring.
Rachel would sometimes gather clover that grew by the spring to feed it to James as a treat. She knew that clover always came with three leaves. When she picked one from the ground with a fourth leaf she took the time to stop and look at the unusual plant.
She knew that many things were possible in the world and a clover with an extra leaf was one of the least of the unusual things that could occur. Yet, she could not quite bring herself to put it in the small cloth bag with all the rest of the clover for James's meal.
Instead she did something different and if you asked her to this day she wouldn't have been able to tell you why she did it. She pulled the four-leafed clover to her lips and whispered softly:
"I wish that I could leave the Skull Garden and go on an adventure with James so that he could see all that the world could be."
And she blew on the clover so it flew into the air. She fully expected that this would be the end of her moment of madness. She did not know that in the frayed places toward the edges of reality even tiny fragments of magic had enormous power.
The clover blew up and over and began to shower down blue-white sparks so bright they rivaled the sun for light. Rachel found herself forced to blink and turn away her head. When the hissing and spitting of the shower of sparks had concluded Rachel opened her eyes. It took a moment to see what the clover had left behind.
Standing there, near to the water's edge was a tiny little man with a pointy hat and a long white beard. This was the first person that Rachel had ever seen who looked anything like her, even though he was only about as tall as her head.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"I'm a gnome, missy," the little man said. "Who are you?"
"I'm Rachel," Rachel introduced herself. "Where did you come from? Was it from the clover?"
"Gnomes don't come from anywhere in particular, but they come from everywhere all at once," the gnome said.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Rachel asked.
"It means that gnomes come from mind-your-own-business. That's in the land of don't-be-nosey," the gnome said. "Do I go around asking if you came from the clover?"
"I don't," Rachel said. "I come from the tree that grows at the base of the great Skull Rock. It's not a secret."
"It's not a secret," the gnome said. "But it's also not something that I wanted to know. My home in mind-your-own-business is named don't-bother-me-with-nonsense."
"I think you would probably like James then," Rachel said. "He does not seem to have any imagination at all and he never speaks out of turn."
"Yes, he sounds tolerable," the gnome said. "But I have to give you your wish and then be on my own way."
"You know I made a wish?" Rachel asked. "But you weren't here then."
The gnome gave Rachel a look that indicated the little man had little left in the way of patience."
"Gnomes must grant the wish of the person who made them," he said. "Don't you know anything?"
"I made you?" Rachel said.
"By wishing upon the magic clover," the gnome snapped. "One of the ways in which you can bring a gnome, sylph, ifrit, genie, undine, nymph, salamander or other sprite into being. Each of these elemental races must grant the wish that brought them into the world. After that they are free to be for as long as they don't dissipate back into aether. Simple. Or apparently not so simple, to one as thick headed as you."
"I didn't know," Rachel whispered, too lost in wonder to feel insulted.
"I would never have guessed," the gnome said, a vein of sarcasm rich in its voice. "Anyway let's get you on your adventure and then I can find something more useful and interesting to do with myself.
"You'd better take me to this James. Then the two of you can go and come back and I can live my life free of obligation. There's a happy ending for you."
Rachel did not need telling twice, or more pleasantly, it seemed. She picked up her bag of clover and started back to her tree. The gnome followed on behind. When he complained that she was walking too fast and tiring him out Rachel scooped him up. She ignored his protests, and carried him on her shoulder all the way back through the garden.
Before they had quite got to the end of the path that lead to the foot of the great Skull Rock Rachel cried out:
"James! James! Something amazing has happened!"
James crawled up to the top of the hole in his pumpkin and looked out. When he caught sight of the gnome sitting grumpily upon Rachel's shoulder he ducked back into the pumpkin with a squeak.
"James?" Rachel asked. "What are you doing?"
"Stranger!" came back James's terrified reply from within the hollow of his pumpkin.
"He's not a stranger James, he's a gnome, I made a gnome!"
"He's still a stranger," James said. "I'm not coming out."
"But you must come out," Rachel said. "We are to go on an adventure outside of the garden. I wished it and the gnome must grant my wish."
James's head popped out of its hole. Rachel had never been terribly good at reading his expressions. She could never work out whether this was because she was no good at looking at mouse faces or that mice were not very expressive. Right now, Rachel could tell that James was not impressed at her news.
"So this tiny, white-bearded gnome is going to protect us in the night from that enormous, terrible, stinky bat?" he said.
"What makes you think I can't?" the gnome piped up, clearly insulted.
James did not reply he just stared at the gnome.
"I can!" the gnome protested. "You don't have to believe me, I can."
"I don't believe you," James said. "You're mad if you do, Rachel. We need to stay here, where it's safe. If we try to leave the bat will get us for certain."
"Your timid friend is as bone-headed as that skull up there," the gnome said to Rachel. "You made a wish, and when a wish is made right it is the second most powerful magic in all the worlds of the weave. No giant bat can stop this now and nor can a tiny scared mouse in a rotting pumpkin."
"It's dried!" James shouted at the gnome and popped his head back inside the pumpkin.
"Fine," the gnome said. "The wish requires that James come on the adventure, it doesn't need his permission. Shall we get on with things?"
"But... but..." Rachel could not help but feel bad. It had not occurred to her that James would not want to take the opportunity to leave the skull garden. "We can't just force him to leave," she said. "That wouldn't be right."
"One way or another," the gnome said. "You two are going on an adventure. The wish doesn't care. It will just do what it does."
"I'm not leaving this pumpkin ever again," James's voice floated up.
"Oh, you will," the gnome said. "It's a wish, there's nothing you can do about this."
"I don't care," James said. "I'm not coming out, you can't make me."
"I don't know what to do," Rachel said. "It's getting late, soon it will be time for the bat to start hunting. We will sort this out in the morning."
"No," the gnome said. "You won't."
"I wished to go an adventure," Rachel said. "I didn't say when. The morning is as good a time as any."
"If I were to tell you wishes don't work like that," the gnome said. "Would you listen?"
"No," Rachel said.
"Then I won't," the gnome replied.
With that Rachel and the gnome climbed inside the tree and waited for night to fall.
The presence of the little sprite, irritable as he was, comforted Rachel and she soon fell into a deep sleep. She jumped up, awake in an instant, in the middle of the night. A deep booming noise was rumbling and shaking the trunk of her tree.
"What's happening?" she shouted.
"You make a wish," the gnome said, "you live with the consequences. One day, you'll listen to me."
"But the earth is shaking!" Rachel said.
Before the gnome could reply there was a ripping sound followed by a number of thumps. James cried out in panic.
Looking out of the tree Rachel saw the pumpkin illuminated by the moonlight. The earth tremor had dislodged James's home and sent it rolling down the hill.
"James!" Rachel cried but found her voice drowned out by a mighty chittering screech. The giant bat had caught sight of the pumpkin and was even now diving down to investigate.
Not thinking about her own safety Rachel hopped out of the tree. She chased James's pumpkin trying to retrieve it before the bat could get to it. She was too slow. Just as she reached out and grabbed the pumpkin she felt the talons of the bat close upon her shoulders and haul her into the air.
Rachel couldn't help it she screamed in terror. She wriggled to free herself but it was no good, the bat held her fast and flew back towards the empty socket of the skull cave.
And then, something incredible happened.
A star dislodged from the sky and fell downwards towards them. It shone out, white-blue as the shower of sparks from the four-leafed clover. It fell faster than the giant bat could fly and before they knew it all of them were enveloped in a cloak of bright light.
The claws of the bat seemed to slip away, the light dimmed and Rachel looked about. She was in a smooth brown cube. The floor was made of rocks wedged tightly against one another. Rachel was clutching James's pumpkin to her chest and the gnome was standing beside her.
"The wish is always granted by midnight," the gnome said. "But it was pointless to tell you that. Welcome to your adventure."
"Where are we?" Rachel asked.
"If I knew that I would tell you," the gnome said. "But then it wouldn't be much of an adventure would it?"
James popped his head out of the pumpkin.
"Do you mean to tell me we're not in the garden?" he asked.
"I would guess not," the gnome said.
"And we don't know where we are?" James continued, his voice starting to break with panic.
"No, we don't," the gnome said.
"Then we're lost, and alone, far away from everything we ever knew!" James cried out.
"Well," the gnome said. "I'm given to understand that's what being on an adventure means."
"I'm excited," Rachel said.
"I'm scared," James said.
"And, as seems to be my lot," the gnome complained. "I am totally bored."
"Well," Rachel said, "maybe there's something more interesting nearby. We should go and find out."
"If we must we must," said the gnome.
So Rachel stood up, still keeping careful hold on James's pumpkin, the gnome following on behind. Rachel went to find her adventure and find it she did.
But that is a tale for another time.