Amazing Kids! Magazine

An Old Gnome, Chapter 1: The Ants, Spider and Butterfly

By Julia Melik, age 13, Prague


Once an old gnome, who served as a cloakroom attendant for two centuries at the Opera House, decided to go for a weekend to his home in the Dense Forest. He took a few CDs with Bel Canto operas, as since childhood he had adored this style and was going to surprise his loved ones. In the woods lived all his childhood friends with whom he grew up together and studied in the forest school. In the early morning, the gnome sat on a local train patiently for quite a long while, until he was at the last station, completely empty of travelers. He stepped out of the train and watched as it chugged off back to the city.

The gnome was not a snappy dresser, and constantly wore a green cap, faded blue velvet pants and a red coat with yellow cuffs, along with glasses, a cane and a white beard. Now he anxiously looked around, seeing no taxi, no bus, no one and just nothing. Fortunately, next to the cash register he noticed a dragonfly and asked her to take him to the forest. And for this he presented her a CD with some opera. To his delightment, Dragonfly was very fond of music and Bel Canto, of course, was her favorite style. Furthermore Dragonfly said that she was familiar with a very pretty butterfly that danced all day in the woods.

So, she introduced Gnome to that beautiful butterfly and he immediately fell in love with her, almost crazily. She had light blue wings and thick eyelashes, which she so charmingly clapped. The wings were framed in a white fringe, in harmony with her slender silver body of the dancer. Her feelers were covered with little white spots, like drops of dew. A young butterfly was flattered that so respectable, though a bit old, gnome was courting her, and she began to call him Gnomi. The butterfly worked in the city, which none of her young fans were able to achieve. Butterfly gladly received the attention of the gnome and they romped around the woods (of course, in a good sense of the word).

Gnomi, though fascinated by the butterfly, did not forget his old friends. He had not seen them for many, many years since the school times. So first they decided to visit the village where he was born and raised. Along the way, they stopped at a black currant bush, where Gnomi had dinner and Butterfly at this time was happily flitting around.

Another 500 steps from the bush and it would be his village with neat blue and green wooden houses. He well remembered those houses, with a height of just over four feet along with the roof  (the gnomes were about three feet: women and men). Gnomi’s sweet heart ached – he had not seen his birth place for ages! And here the last trees before the glade and Gnomi’s face became heavily wrinkled, lips trembling.

All the houses were destroyed and around them were littered broken chairs and scattered things. The gnome ran into the first house, it was empty, only everything broken, in another, the third… Everywhere there were empty houses, no one there, only one was left – on the stove a still warm kettle, which meant they were here recently.

Gnomi, with tears in his eyes ran from one house to another and Butterfly, accustomed only to have fun, for the first time in her life felt sorry for someone. She even had tears in her eyes, glittering on her thick eyelashes, for there was no doubt that a light sadness and shine in her eyes would really fit to her beauty. What a pity there is no nearby photographer, she thought.

Gnomi stood at the last house, breathing heavily. He didn’t know what to do and where to go. He confusedly looked around, but suddenly noticed a red slipper under the adjacent tree. These shoes were worn by their neighbors, when he was young. He picked it up, intending to cry, but noticed nearby another one, also red. And not far away was another yellow, then green and so on. And with Butterfly they went on, following the trail.

They walked until the sun set. The tracks ended in a nearby grove, in front of a huge anthill as tall as a few gnomes stacked on top of each other, as wide as the width of a boa. Yes, the red ants lived there – a warlike tribe that lived on Earth even before the dinosaurs. In the forest they were known for their cruelty, discipline and diligence. They feared no one, except the ant lion, but he had long retired and now spent time at his house in Africa.

The Black Queen ruled them– once upon a time she was flying, troubling and fearing forest dwellers. But then, they say, she had children and never came out of the nest. She bit off her wings and spent time in the throne room. Soldiers, workers and guards also lived in the anthill. The ants worked as guards when they reached old age and as soldiers when they were young. Workers constantly built or repaired the anthill and also collected food in the nearby vicinity of it.

They had their slaves – orange ants whose hill was in a nearby forest, where they were friends with everyone and ate and drank cultivated mushrooms and milk of the aphids. But the red ants periodically raided them and stole their children , larvae, who then became slaves. In the anthill also lived a few winged ants, which did nothing, just sunbathed and whistled different popular melodies.

Then came the night, the moon appeared and shined with its silver and flickering light, making the anthill look like a castle of a dark wizard or a terrible Eastern king. Gnomi and Butterfly climbed on a nearby tree, watching the anthill.

In his Opera House the gnome loved not only to listen to the operas, but also to read about them. He now recalled a terrible opera about a daughter of an Egyptian pharaoh who was bricked up in the pyramid. He recalled what beautiful and sad music flowed while he rested his chin on his fist and sat in the locker room and drank tea with biscuits.

His eyes were dimmed with tears and he thought about his life passing by – he never married, but all his friends already had grandchildren. But more than anything else, even more than his marriage, he loved shortbread, although, sometimes, was not averse to tasting chocolate ones as well. Yes, now it all was so far away, as if in another life.

So why did the ants kidnap the gnomes? Suddenly, he was pierced by one scary thought: Maybe they also wanted to immure them in the anthill? But why, what’s the point? And the butterfly, who loved to read all kinds of scary and mystical tales suggested that maybe the ants wanted the gnomes for their terrible ant rite, though she did not really know which one. So, it was urgent to figure out how to get into this anthill! Guards were all around and did not sleep days nor nights!

A wind blew, stirring the leaves and Gnomi saw right in front of him eight gleaming eyes. The butterfly tried to scream, but someone clamped her mouth with a blue furry paw. The shimmering pale light of the moon highlighted the stranger – Spider Blue-Furry. Its eight legs were blue and his head reflected a white, as if covered with white down. Gnomi smiled and rushed up to him.

It was his old school friend – they called him the Wise Shaggy. He was the best student in the school, and back then was going to be an architect. Spider also recognized Gnomi, released the butterfly and hugged his old friend. The parents of Gnomi were teachers and not as rich as Spider Blue-Furry’s family, but still were not against the friendship of his son with the gnome, because he was a good guy.

The spider’s parents worked in a very important institution; even the people were afraid of them, although they were perfectly safe and had never attacked first. Yes, there were some distant relatives who lived very far away, who could send a man to the hospital. The fact is that all spiders remembered very well from childhood tales about ancient spiders and ancient people, who were eating their ancestors. Remembered and feared, spiders tried to hide from people in the darkest corners. Only the bravest fought, and there was another group of spider radicals who believed that they were to taking revenge for all.

“How are you?” politely asked the spider.

“Terrible,” replied Gnomi. “I came home and no one was there. All the houses were destroyed.”

“That’s probably the red ants,” said the spider. “Last year they attacked our sacred ancient city and ripped out the very first web and captured all the spiders that protected it. Do you know who wove the web? Our main God, Arachnalf. It was our sacred place.”

“Why are they doing this?” dazedly asked Gnomi.

“They want to show their strength to everyone. They say that the whole world dislikes them and for that they need to punish it. They especially hate the orange ants, who built many different anthills around them. The red want to change the order in the forest and their ruler, the Black Queen, wishes to establish a great empire of red ants. They began to seize and plunder the neighboring anthills. Rumors are that they are planning to attack even animals and then the fishes and other sea creatures, allegedly preparing the sea ants that will breathe with gills and build underwater anthills.”

“Yes, quite strange,” muttered Gnomi, “but how will they attack the village?”

“I heard also that they stole the magical book of the Snakes, and it was described there how to prepare a terrible weapon – the black poison. And if the ant soldiers have that weapon, then even the lions and the bears would be terrified of them and that’s what the red need.”

“But how were they able to read this book? It’s in ancient snake language that is only understood by three rat snakes in our forest. They got it from the messenger of the ancient boa Indicus – mother of all snakes who hunted on dinosaurs.” As you can see, Gnomi was also a well-read forest inhabitant, which was no wonder he was taken to work in the Opera House, even as an attendant. Speaking between us, Gnomi dreamed to be gradually promoted to be a Director, because he has heard the Director would have a very nice salary.

“The ants caught one of them and forced them to translate this book for them before locking them up in his anthill. I know from the red ant, which got into the web last week. He said that an ancient spell will take effect, when the most peaceful and kind inhabitants of the forest are sacrificed – the Gnomes.”