Tossing and turning under the bed sheets Sammy mumbled incoherently and pawed blindly at his face. Eventually he shouted oranges! and woke himself. Squinting into the dusky, evening light of his hospital room, he sniffed the air several times, then closed his eyes again and pulled the sheet over his head. The fort-like solitude lasted all of six minutes.
“Bout time you woke up. People and creatures been tryin’ to sneak in here for two whole days.” A Pygmy Rataphant wearing a nurses hat shuffled slowly through the door on two thick, bulky legs that shook the floor with each step. Its slender claws gripped a tray containing numerous specimen jars. Following behind with a second tray holding a covered plate and a glass of milky, brown-streaked liquid glided a female gnome with bright gold hair. She wore a red shirt and a pristine green hat, complete with a blazing white tassel in good standing.
Lifting the sheet enough to expose one eye, Sammy stared suspiciously at the specimen jars that looked to be about twenty total. Letting the sheet fall back down, he held his breath.
“No good, mate. We know you’re there.” Using the elongated fingers of its trunk, the rataphant tickled Sammy’s hip. When he didn’t respond, the fingers quickly grasped the top edge of the sheet and whipped it downward exposing the small gnome in his hospital gown, a sliver of pale, rear end winking beneath the ceiling fluorescents.
Shivering, Sammy pulled the gown tightly around him as he rolled into a ball and buried his head beneath the pillow. His muffled go away was barely audible.
“C’mon pal, we don’t have all day.” Flicking its thick, domed ears forward and back, the rataphant set the tray of containers on the edge of the bed. “These jars aren’t going to fill themselves.”
“Yo! Cookies!” The female gnome’s voice was rough and throaty as she dropped the food tray onto the rolling bedside table and shoved it between the rataphant and the bed. She smiled knowingly at the nurse as Sammy pulled his head from beneath the pillow and rolled toward the tray, hissing as the tapped bandage over the lower part of his abdomen pulled at his skin.
“Really?” Avoiding the jars, he sat up carefully and tugged the table closer as the rataphant plucked the lid from the plate. His eyes feasted on the display of soft, crispy, buttered, powdered and frosted delights laid out in a perfect ring. “Oh wow.” He pointed at the glass. “What’s that?” For a second nobody answered, then the rataphant cleared its throat.
“It’s— ahem, a protein drink to— um, bolster the anchor of— ahem, your soul.”
“My soul?” Staring at the nurse’s hat, Sammy read the name tag pinned to it. “So tell me, Argenta, why— “ he glanced quickly down, then back to the rataphant’s small eyes. “Sir— does my soul need bolstering?” He narrowed his eyes as the nurse struggled to hold his gaze. The female gnome stood quietly by, her attention fully absorbed with the task of petting the perfectly tucked corner of the bed sheets.
“Because you have been touched — accidentally, mind you— by a Reaper.” Argenta’s eyes widened as he spoke. “And your appendix exploded. Completely unrelated, of course.” He pushed the glass closer to Sammy. “Enjoy!”
Scooching forward so his feet hung over the edge of the mattress, Sammy picked up the glass in both hands and stared at the milky contents. Nostrils flaring, he tipped his head down until his nose nearly touched the liquid and sniffed. “Cinnamon?” Holding the glass up to the lights he studied the swirling contents. “What is it?” He looked at the female gnome.
“It’s horchata flavored,” she encouraged. Seeing his eyes roaming over her, she swung a thick, golden lock of hair behind her shoulder, exposing the silver name tag pinned to her shirt. “It says Trypette.”
“Oh, okay.” Dragging his eyes away, Sammy brought the glass to his lips and took a cautious drink, his eyes locked onto Argenta who was smiling a little too broadly.
“Drink up.” The smile changed to a frown when Sammy opened his mouth and gagged, letting the liquid fall back into the glass.
“Birch!” Tongue hanging from his mouth, Sammy moved to throw the glass, but found his wrist immobilized in the Argenta’s grip.
“Don’t do that! It’ll be days before we can get more, and your soul might decide to just wander off before then.” Employing both hands and his trunk, Argenta pressed the glass toward Sammy’s face. “You have to drink this.”
“If you refuse,” Trypette warned, “We’ll be forced to use a funnel.”
“Either way, it’s going in.” Argenta scowled as Sammy kicked at the tray of specimen jars, knocking the entire lot off the bed where they scattered in a plastic cacophony across the floor. When the gnome groaned and pressed his free hand against his bandage he sighed irritably. “I suppose I’ll have to tend to your stitches now, too.”
Several creatures in the hall paused and looked curiously into the room. A single Raven knocked his beak against the door frame three times and whispered “Dreary business, eh mate?” as he passed. Trypette chuckled.
“Ha ha! Very funny,” Sammy fumed. Leaning back to get a clear view, he yelled through the doorway. “I don’t need an audience, here!” Amused chuckles splashed into the room, making the gnome’s ears turn a deep red. He glowered at the rataphant. “When I get out of here I’m taking an axe to that fucking elf.” With a deep breath he raised the glass to his mouth, closed his eyes, and began chugging the contents. When he finished, he opened his eyes, belched loudly and slapped a hand to his lips, clearly fighting his stomach. After a few seconds he dropped his hand and took a shaky breath.
“There now,” Argenta soothed. “That wasn’t so bad.” As the rataphant took the glass away to the sink, the outer window came into view. All five of the sunflowers outside were rubbing their large, round faces sensuously against pane.
“I hope you enjoyed the show,” Sammy growled and reached for a chocolate frosted cookie. “That’s exactly why I didn’t become a Garden Gnome!”