Walking across the counter Sammy hopped down the other side, landing with a soft crunch atop the layer of shed bark-skin in the clerk’s work area. Deliberately grinding the bark under his boots he stomped toward Alba and raised both arms in the air.
“Close your mouth hag, and pick me up.” He rolled his eyes as the clerk jammed a hand on his hip and winced, the sappy gash across his forehead gaping like a lopsided, second mouth.
“Excuse me? You did not just call me a hag!” Standing directly beneath the hospital fluorescents, Alba’s natural bone color had a yellowish sheen, and the broken twigs of his now, very loose hair style appeared to be leaking chlorophyll at a fast rate.
Two heavy crows the size of bovine calves, picked their way along the hall, their sharp, black eyes inquisitively scanning over everything they passed. The one closest to the Discharge Desk glanced at Alba and, matching Sammy’s inflection perfectly, intoned “Close your mouth hag.” The other crow began rapidly bobbing its head and chuckling. Silently the elf watched them pass with an expression of deep prejudice while Sammy waved his arms through the air as if he were trying to flag down a city bus.
“What?” Alba huffed without taking his eyes off the crows. “He laughs like he’s part Seagull,” he muttered.
“Stop flirting with security and give me a hand here.” The gnome waved again, then smiled cheerily when Alba finally looked at him.
“I am not carrying you.” He wrinkled his knotty nose. “And that smile makes you look like a demented cherub.”
“Yeah? Well, between that swelling eye, and the extra mouth, you look like the unfortunate love child between yo mama and an Arachnimoth.” The shocked expression on the elf’s face was so profound that Sammy punched one fist into the air and cheered himself right out loud. “YES!” The exuberance of the movement was too much for his hat and the tassel’s one remaining thread snapped. The defunct puff ball landed silently at his feet.
“I – hate – you.” With his shoulders sagging so low that the broken hair twigs swung down to the center of his back, Alba turned away.
Sammy stared down at his lost tassel for a few seconds while a deep moan echoed from the direction of Tink’s old room and the ceiling lights flickered briefly. Poking at the puff with the toe of his boot, he gave the elf’s back a guilty look.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I hate you too, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.” When Alba looked back at him, Sammy pointed at the gash in his forehead. “You want that fixed?”
“You can do that?” Interest crept over his face, but didn’t quite erase the hurt visible in his unsplintered eye.
“I’m a Healing Gnome. What do you think?” He crossed his arms over his chest and gave Alba a stern look. “But first you need to tell me where you sent Tink, otherwise, no deal.” He watched the elf pull nervously at one of his broken twig hairs. “What is it? Alba, tell me.”
“I’m not sure where I sent him.” He looked worriedly at the gnome. “I didn’t plan it, I just kicked the Locater under the desk when I turned the beam on.” He nodded toward the floor right below where Sammy was standing. “I didn’t even do it on purpose,” he said. “It’s in a really awkward spot for my legs when I’m working, so I’m always knocking against it. When I smelled the oranges I knew something was wrong.”
Flopping onto his belly, the gnome slipped over the side of the counter and hung by his fingers a few inches off the floor. The Locater was right in front of him. Letting go, he landed heavily on the tiles, crushing a marigold petal beneath him. The square, black box looked completely smooth and utterly unbreakable. He felt along the sides for a switch.
“If we turn it back on it should take us right to him, right?”
“It doesn’t work that way,” the elf said. “Every time the beam is turned on the Locater tunes it specifically to the patient’s discharge orders. Tink was supposed to go to the Reapers which would have left a burnt cinnamon smell behind, but when I kicked the box it re-tuned and produced oranges instead.” He twisted off the broken end of the twit he was playing with and let it fall to the floor. “Besides, we can’t just turn it on whenever we want to. Someone has to be discharged.”
“So look in the records and see who’s next to go.”
“Okay, mister fix it, then what?” Letting go of his hair, Alba gave the gnome a look that said he was obviously not thinking clearly.
“Then we follow them, duh.” Sammy bugged his eyes dramatically.
“Unless their discharge orders produce a destination that leaves behind the smell of oranges we could be going anywhere.” Alba snickered at the gnome who now looked he was suffering from gas.
“I definitely don’t like you being right,” Sammy groaned pressing a hand to his side. “I think I may have pulled a muscle when I was laughing.”
“That makes me happy.” Alba smiled broadly, displaying a complete lack of teeth. “But to show you what a good sport I really am, I’m going to poke around in the computer for a legend.” Seeing the blankness in the gnome’s eyes, the elf patted him gently on the head. “A legend is a file that lists every possible destination for the Indigo Beam. There might be scent descriptors.”
“Alba, that’s brilliant!” Sammy’s face turned ashen and his eyes rolled back into his head. He collapsed in a small heap on the floor.
Staring down at him in surprise, the elf froze. He looked first at Sammy, then his hands, then back at Sammy. Taking a slow breath, he turned and tip-toed a few steps away, then paused and ran his fingers over his split forehead. With a deep sigh he walked back to the unconscious gnome. “I guess I really am going to carry you,” he said. Hoisting Sammy over his shoulder he stepped around the Discharge Desk, gave the Engorged Water Sprites a scathing look, and sprinted toward Admissions.