Enjoy a fantasy short story set in a parallel realm during the winter solstice. Meet Ray Jensen, husband, father and physicist, who disappears into an experiment and ends up in a place where his ideas about science and logic are turned upside down. Despite the fantastical world, the questions piquing his scientific curiosity, and his new friends, his only desire is to get home. Journey with him and Tsealie of the Sapphire Gnomes while he figures it out.
Ray Jensen pounded through the trees, then leapt with blind faith into the hole as an arrow whizzed past his ear. The opening sealed over his head like it never existed, as he dropped thirty feet.
Experience taught him the precise point at which to fold his tall body for the landing, and he hit the ground, rolled over the floor covered in thick straw, and came to a breathless halt against a boulder.
He coughed and spat out a mouthful of dirt. Just once, he would like to enter the realm of the Sapphire Gnomes without coming close to breaking his neck.
His eyes landed on a pair of Antlered Hare boots and the bottom of a crooked staff. The voice above them said, “You’re quite good at that. And I can see it was necessary.”
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A Leap Through the Elder Oak is also available in four installments in My Stories.
The six-foot four human had given up applying science to the phenomenon of his two-foot-high companion covering distances faster than him, while appearing to stroll. His efforts these days went to keeping pace with the being who barely topped his knee. He was used to the strangeness now, so he was able to listen as they walked and Tsealie explained.
“It will be a process because as kings, the giant trees can move among their subjects. However, there are only so many locations that will accommodate their size, and as you pointed out, the locations are part of the tradition.”
His dark eyes glittered. “I am hopeful we can get you to the right one in time. I will alert the network at once. Then, you, my friend, will need to be ready to dodge the elves and make it there in one piece.”
When Ray’s face filled with determination, Tsealie said, “Did I ever tell you that you could pass for an Ice Elf with that platinum hair? Especially when your eyes turn steely.”
“You mentioned it a time or two. And if I were to stay longer in this world, I would like to meet the race whose history my ancestors in Scandinavia might very well share, if my theory is correct.”
The two of them continued on, rounding yet another bend in the tunnel, and the yeasty fumes of mushroom ale invaded Ray’s nostrils. He rolled his shoulders and relaxed, inhaling deeper. His favorite soup was on the menu this afternoon. Leek and lentil. Prior to living with these diminutive beings of nature, Ray had been steadfast in his belief he wouldn’t survive on greenery and legumes, though his wife often tried to convince him to go vegetarian with her. It turned out he thrived on the savory concoctions the gnomes liberally dished out.
Tsealie’s smile thinned out his wrinkles. You know I will miss your stories and our games. But I wish this for you as hard as you wish it for yourself.”
“I know you do, Tsealie. And I have a feeling once I’m home, it won’t be long before I will want to come back for a visit, though I can’t see how that might happen. Do you?”
“Before you stumbled unwittingly through a Fae portal and wandered into the fern gardens to trample over my herd of snails, I would have thought not. But with you Raymond Jensen, anything is possible.”
Ray blanched at his words, even as he accepted the humor in them. “I still feel awful about the snails. At least you stopped me before my carelessness grew to unforgivable proportions.”
At last, they arrived at a set of double doors carved out of thick elm. A pair of gnomes, even shorter than their elder, and dignified in their sapphire livery complete with tall, conical caps, made way for them, then stood at attention. Guards were not a requirement in this peaceful realm deep under the earth. The little sentinels made themselves available in this fashion, seeming to appear from thin air, out of respect for Tsealie, who was the oldest among them.
But Tsealie’s age was another logic-bending mystery Ray decided long ago not to spend time puzzling over, so he pushed that last thought aside and bent in half to enter the Great Hall Under the Elm. Thanks to the hollow in the giant tree widening out to unbelievable proportions below ground, he could rise to his full height after squeezing through the door.
Since learning today about the symbiotic relationship between the trees and the gnomes, Ray took time to glance around the natural architecture with new eyes. He let the raucous noise fade away and listened to the sounds of the earth. A trick Tsealie taught him. An array of burls had been turned into small windows that staggered up the great height of the tree, and the dust moted beams of light bathed his face.
Part of him had been aware of the aura glowing off the surfaces of the underground kingdom, but now he could feel the rhythm of life that encompassed more than the tiny people.
Tsealie waited, as if he understood Ray’s need to absorb this new perspective of his surroundings. Then, the elder’s stomach rumbled loud enough to break the spell, and the hall turned lively once again.
Ray smiled and said, “I could use a meal, too. But even more urgent is the need to indulge in at least three pints, and a board game or two to calm me down. You’ve given me my first real hope today.”
“Your clever scientific investigations did that,” Tsealie said as they headed through the throng of citizens, all wearing the signature pointed hat, whether male or female. “Now let’s eat, so we can get to our next round of Lanard. You promised to leave me with a strategy memorable enough to be chronicled in the archives.”
Just then, a sentinel appeared as if out of thin air. His cap was askew, and his eyes were round as he said, “Prince Jonpril’s men are investigating much too close to our entrance, Tsealie. Linton is bolstering the shields.”
Tsealie laid a hand on his guard’s shoulder. “Thank you, Peddrie. You best go back and help him.” It appeared as if the miniature person turned and walked away, but he was simply no longer there. Ray blinked. He still wasn’t used to that.
Ray said, “The winter solstice cannot come soon enough this year for the Sapphire Gnomes. If I don’t make it, Tsealie, I will turn myself in.”
To be continued… stay tuned for the conclusion tomorrow! December 24, 2022.
Visiting an old favorite by Dean Koontz. Twilight Eyes. Anyone else been a fan since the 80s? This is a signed illustrated edition I got for my hubby years ago. Nothing better than a horror story in a carnie setting. Might have to try my hand at it one day…
My all time favorite Koontz is Watchers. What’s yours?