- LI: Sophomore Year #1 – Rags to Rags Part 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #2 – Rags to Rags Part 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #3 – Rags to Rags Part 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #4 – Rags to Rags Part 4
- LI: Sophomore Year #5 – Rags to Rags Part 5
- LI: Sophomore Year #6 – Rags to Rags Part 6
- LI: Sophomore Year #7 – Gnome and Goo Part 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #8 – Gnome and Goo Part 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #9 – Gnome and Goo Part 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #10 – Gnome and Goo Part 4
- LI: Sophomore Year #11 – Gnome and Goo Part 5
- LI: Sophomore Year #12 – Gnome and Goo Part 6
- Liedecker Institute Annual #4
LI: Sophomore Year #7 – Gnome and Goo Part 1
‘Normal is never an option’.
That was the personal creed by which Gerald Anthony Smith, Jr lived his life. From his perspective, it was the opposite of the one his parents lived by. His father was an accountant for a textiles factory and his mother developed business software. Even outside of work, they were not people who stood out or particularly wanted to for that matter.
Gerald wanted that attention. Not as validation or as a replacement for affection (his parents were plenty affectionate, just not interesting). It scared him that he might end up living an unremarkable life, unnoticed and unimportant.
Then one day, six weeks after his twelfth birthday, the universe gave him a blessing: a guarantee that if he didn’t want to be ‘normal’, he didn’t have to be.
It didn’t seem like a blessing those first few, terrifying minutes. He remembered having a nightmare; that monsters were chasing him through his school and he had nowhere to hide. Nowhere to hide, that is, until he spied an air vent in the floor next to him.
Dream logic was the only way he could explain why he tried to crawl into a two-foot vent in the first place. His shoulders didn’t even fit, and the clicking claws and cruel snarls of the monsters were closing in. Panic took over and he kicked at the floor, trying to work his way further into the space, trying his best to suck in his chest and compress his shoulders. With terror mounting, he scrunched himself as small as he physically could and…
Something inside him felt like it collapsed, like a plug had been pulled and part of him was running down a drain. The vent expanded around him until not only could he crawl inside, but he could stand if he had a mind to. Without thinking about what just happened (again, dream logic), he scrambled deeper into the safety of the metal passage.
The monsters couldn’t reach him. Outside, they howled and scratched, and slammed against the wall, but they couldn’t get in. Gerald felt elation—until the vent began to collapse in around him, the suddenly soft walls enfolding and smothering him.
He woke up with his blankets and sheets caving in all around him—and his body only six inches tall. After tearing his way through the cloth-turned-cavern, it took him three months to get comfortable sleeping with anything heavier than a sheet over him.
His mother and father had to take him all the way to Milwaukee to find a medical center that understood even the basics of descendants physiology. Even those doctors were stumped by his ability to shrink and in doing so, somehow become stronger. They said a lot of things about phase shifting and the astral plane, but they had no concrete understanding of what was going on with him.
That suited Gerald perfectly. Not only as he a descendant, but he stood out even among other descendants. Not that he stopped there. Gerald Smith Jr never stopped looking for ways to stand out, whether that was working hard to get the best grades in his classes, or making a scene.
It was the ‘making a scene’ part that resulted in his being enrolled in the Liedecker Institute. He refused to refrain from using his powers whenever he wanted and however he saw fit, no matter what the punishment—right up until that punishment ended in expulsion.
Now part of a student body full of unique powers, he stepped up his game by adopting not just a codename, but a uniform of sorts. All of his classmates and even all but a handful of teachers bothered calling him Gerald anymore. To them, he was the young man who proudly word a tall, red pointed cap and referred to himself in the third person as… The Gnome.
Not Gnome. He was just any gnome, he was The Gnome.
“And I’d like to remind you all that I expect your reports on the Korean Reunification in my inbox no later than eight tomorrow morning.” reminded Mrs. Kepler as her students filed out of the last class of the day. “No excuses.”
Phil Simms groaned and leaned over to The Gnome as they headed out the door. “I’ve still got like five pages I need to write for that.”
“Really? The Gnome finished that this weekend.”
“That’s what you were doing while we had the Vertical Edge tournament?” asked Phil.
“The Gnome doesn’t care for fighting games. When you play an FPS, he shall hand all of you your asses, he assures you.” the other teen said with a smug grin and a boisterous voice.
They left the hall their classroom was on and joined the larger flow of students moving from their own last classes down to dinner, back to their rooms or off to whatever after school activities they had planned. Phil let out a soft laugh at his friend’s boast. “Yeah, good luck with that, man. We’re playing War-fighter Tactics 2 tomorrow night.”
The Gnome sniffed theatrically “Then prepare for your defeat.” He cocked his head to the side. “What about tonight?”
Phil shrugged. “What about tonight? After dinner, I’m going to have to get started on that dumb report, plus I’ve got some coding to do for Ms. Duvall’s class.”
“Finished that too.” The Gnome said offhand, “By the way, what’s for dinner today?”
“I didn’t pay much attention when I checked what was for lunch, actually.” said Phil. “Let’s see, it’s Thursday and that’s usually when they serve pasta, so probably spaghetti since we haven’t had that in a while.”
Around them, the foot traffic was thinning out, so they stepped off to the side to talk. The Gnome stroked the scraggly blonde shadow under his chin that might generously be called a beard…maybe…by his mother and considered. “The Gnome already had a frozen meatball sub for lunch; he does not want tomato sauce twice in one day. What do you say to going off campus—it’s near the end of the month and if The Gnome don’t use his monthly flex dollars, he loses them.”
“Nah, man.” Phil shook his head with a knowing smile. “I know what going off campus means for you. We wouldn’t be back for hours and I’ve got things I need to get done still.”
With a sign, The Gnome adjusted his cap. “Very well. Good luck with your paper then. The Gnome is off to explore new culinary horizons!” He pointed dramatically in a random direction.
“So… you’re not just going to head down to Midnight Black?”
“Indeed not.” said The Gnome, striding off.
At the end of the hall, he came to one of the side staircases down to the ground floor of the main building. He got a running start toward it, then activated his power. There was a sound like surging electricity, a stirring of the air, and a whiff of ozone as that thing he discovered years ago in a dream triggered and collapsed, causing his stature to follow suit.
No matter how he practiced or how many techniques Ms. Keyes taught him, it never happened as a smooth progression from his normal size to small. Instead, it came in stuttering jolts.
Surge. He was now five feet tall. Surge. Now three-foot-six. Surge. One foot, three inches. Surge. Six inches tall.
He could go all the way down to two-and-a-half inches tall, or stop at any of the intermediate size, but six inches seemed to be the best size; small enough to get almost anywhere, but large enough that there was little chance of being stepped on. Once he hit six inches, he stopped shrinking and jumped.
That was another thing none of his doctors could explain: why he retained his normal strength while at miniature size. With a lower mass, but the ability to exert the same force, he was capable of amazing physical feats—such as leaping from the floor to the banister in one go.
Quickly gaining his balance, The Gnome surfed the smooth, wooden railing all the way down to the next landing where he deftly leapt to the next bannister and continuing the rest of the way down. He had no fear of falling, because at that size, serious injury from a fall was nearly impossible.
At the last banister, he dove off, did a quick somersault in the air, then regained his original height just after hitting the ground in a light jog. Unlike shrinking, his growth back to normal was so quick that it was nearly instantaneous, as if his body couldn’t wait to return to its original size.
He’d made that jump dozens of times in his year at the Institute and always stuck the dismount. It was the sudden yelp of surprise that almost made him stumble and tip over, meeting the floor face first.
“Sorry.” someone nearby said.
The Gnome took personal stock: his nose hurt, but it wasn’t broken or bleeding; he was dizzy of confused—always a good sign; and nothing else seemed injured beyond promising bruises later. “Have no worries, The Gnome is unharmed.” He declared, rolling over on his back so he could sit up.
Doing so revealed that his hat had come off and slid about three feet across the tiled floor to rest at the feet of the person whose yelp catalyzed his fall. Said person was a young woman about his age; her blonde hair in a buzz cut, wearing a red and black button-down flannel shirt under a slightly ratty gray jacket and a pair of jeans with legs so long that it looked like she was trying to walk the excess length off.
Putting on his best ‘I meant to do that’ expression, he waved at her. “Greetings, Virginia!”
“Hi…um… The Gnome.” she replied. It might have been the first time she directly said his name; he wasn’t sure. They only knew each other because he played the piano at choir practices and the one art class they shared.
The Gnome kipped up into a crouch. Five years of karate lessons that were really mixed martial arts deemed ‘safe’ for kids and taught out of a storefront in a strip mall, and that was about all the in the way of moves he remembered.
“Going out to eat?”
Virginia gave a noncommittal shrug. “I might get something while I’m out, but mostly I’m… well I’m going to be spending most of the time at the junkyard. I picked ‘found art’ for our free-form art project.”
The Gnome straightened out to his full five-foot-ten and stretched to work out the kinks from his fall. Free from his hat, his chin-length, blonde hair fell into his eyes and curled around his ears. “Ah yes. The Gnome chose clay sculpture—he is still without a subject, however. Not that it matters, The Gnome takes art because it is fun, not because he is good at it!”
After an awkward moment seemingly trying to think of something else to say, Virginia reached down and picked up The Gnome’s fallen cap. “Here’s your hat?” She offered it up while somehow making it sound like a question. As she did, however, she was forced to regard the accessory with confusion. “It’s… heavy?”
“It is!” said The Gnome cheerfully. He stepped forward and took the hat, then reached inside, retrieving his school-provided palmtop. “That’s because it does more than just be a very fine hat.”
With a flourish, he tilted the hat so that Virginia could see inside. There were pockets in the lining there, held closed by Velcro tabs. “I keep all manner of things in here: snacks, flat format sticks, a refillable cash card—in the city, one might be mugged at any moment and The Gnome intends to be prepared for just such an eventuality.”
Virginia cringed. “That’s what my mother says. That doesn’t really happen, does it?”
Putting his palmtop back in its place, The Gnome returned the cap to his head with a shrug. “It might.”
“You sound like you’re looking forward to it.”
He grinned. “The Gnome never wishes for bad things to happen; he merely feels that everything can be an adventure.”
Virginia half-cringed again and bent to resume doing what she’d been doing when The Gnome came down the stairs: tying her sneakers. “Not me. It’s enough of an ‘adventure’ just being here and not making people mad.”
The Gnome cocked his head to the side like a curious puppy. “Why would you make people angry?”
She shrugged, task complete. “Saying the wrong things, staring.” Unconsciously, she crossed her arms, hugging herself. “I’m not used to other psi… uh, descendants. See? I even keep using that word and people get kind of sensitive about that…”
Nodding sagely, The Gnome wandered to the wall opposite her and leaned back against it. “The Gnome understands. There was once I time that he was worried about what might others might think.”
“Really?” Virginia asked, then winced as if to bite her tongue. “I-I mean…”
Instead of being offended, The Gnome merely laughed. “The Gnome eventually decided that he’s not going to be able to get away with this kind of thing in the real world. One day he will probably be a mild-mannered content provider to some website, or something where he will have to wear a tie… by day at least. Until then, The Gnome feels that this—” he raised his hands expansively to include the entire school. “—is freedom. As long as The Gnome doesn’t care what people think, then The Gnome gets to do whatever he wants.”
“I don’t think talking fun… um, your kind of freedom is the same as accidentally saying stupid or hurtful things.” said Virginia.
Rubbing his chin again, The Gnome agreed. “Indeed it is not. However, since you know that you do this and are trying not to keep doing it, The Gnome fails to see the problem.”
“Because I keep doing it!” Virginia said, slowly getting to her feet.
“Is your power the ability to turn your inner censor on and off?”
The Gnome shrugged again. “Then it is not a thing that will happen instantly and you will have to keep failing occasionally before you learn to stop entirely.”
Standing up put Virginia nearly at eye level with The Gnome. “That… wasn’t reassuring at all.”
“But it was truthful.”
“The truth isn’t going to keep people like the girl with all the hair or her friend who can move things with her mind from punting me through a window next time the word ‘psionic’ comes out of my mouth.” Virginia fretted, running her fingers through her hair in frustration.
For his part, The Gnome merely gave an inquisitive look to empty space. “You know, it’s a funny thing: The Gnome does not recall anyone being punted out of a window all of last year. This is saying a lot when you remember that both The Gnome and Kura Akagi were at this school all last year. There have been a few fights, but very little injury.”
Virginia regarded his expression carefully. “Was that meant to make me feel better?”
“Well I guess it’s nice to know I’m not likely to be killed with superpowers because I talk like my mom without meaning to…”
“Then yes. That is exactly what I was trying to do.” It only took the narrowing of her eyes to wring the truth out of him. “Or actually no. I was kind of surprised that there has been zero defenestration since this school has been here.”
Pursing her lips, Virginia tried to decide how to feel about that. Once she failed, she pointed to the exit to the main lobby. “So anyway, I’ve gotta… you know, the scrap yard and stuff.”
“Indeed. The Gnome will not keep you.” he said, stepping back and giving a little bow. “In fact, he should get moving to find a place to eat.”
“You don’t already know where you want to go?”
The Gnome laughed. “Of course not! What would be the fun of going out to eat in a big city with a destination in mind?”
“Actually knowing you’ll be getting something you want to eat?”
This time, The Gnome outright scoffed. “Without some sort of risk, there is no adventure—though The Gnome will never order kimchi again.
“What’s wrong with kimchi? I like kimchi.” Virginia said, folding her arms defensively.
The Gnome stopped cold, staring at her. His mouth worked for almost a full minute of flabbergasted silence before he said, “My god, Virginia, you’re more adventurous than The Gnome first thought! Suddenly, the scrap yard sounds far more exciting than simply wandering around. Do you need help gathering supplies for your art project?”
‘No’ was right on the tip of her tongue. If not for the sake of avoiding any and all adventure, then to avenge the insult to her beloved spicy cabbage dish. Then Virginia’s more pragmatic side treated her to a slide-show of The Gnome happily shrinking down and exploring the labyrinthine depths of the junk piles to find her the exact perfect pieces for her found art project.
“…Sure, why not.”
It wasn’t using him, she reasoned. He would get the adventure he craved and she wouldn’t have to bungle her way through the scrap yard. How could she ever end up regretting it?
“Excellent!” cheered The Gnome. “That reminds me: The Gnome overheard Rapunzel calling you ‘Goo’ the other day. What’s that about?”
…Or she might end up regretting it immediately.
To Be Continued…
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