Fear of change and an aversion to moss thrust Dan into an awkward position on Tuesday afternoon.
Uncomfortable as it might be to formulate a plan while wrapped in rope from chin to toenails, it wasn’t impossible. But the steaming cauldron below did complicate the situation. The carrots had gone in first; he was surely destined to follow before long.
Cruel as it was, Dan couldn’t blame anyone else for his plight.
His sister had, after all, instructed him to sing to the Gnomes this year, but that would have required him to take a different road from his usual one. The Giants, to whom Dan had belted his songs last year, lived along a bright, flower-strewn path, as did their neighbors the Dwarves (they’d grumbled that he sang off key two years ago), the Nymphs (who were so impossible to find that he was only moderately certain he had sung to them three years ago, the other possibility being that he had serenaded a tree stump) and the Mermaids (from whose flirtations he’d barely escaped four years ago).
The path to the Gnome village was covered in thick green moss.
Dan hated moss, and he liked his usual path, so he convinced Joe to trade Singing spots and headed off in the direction of the Giant village. He had gone there last year, but all those rumors about their abhorrence of repeat performances couldn’t possibly be true. Had anyone even tried?
Rumors were always exaggerated, anyway, or so he told himself. If it was true, the Giants might bellow at him for a while, but they couldn’t be worse than the moss. After all, the Singing was a gesture of friendly good faith from the humans to their diverse neighbors. Or rather, it was a plea not to use the human villages as spell-testing grounds, mushroom plantations, potion dumping sites or, worst of all, dinner meat markets.
The Giants had interpreted his return as home delivery of the latter.
One of them meandered to the pot and bent down to sniff at it. Massive rolls of curls fell around his face, but he paid them no mind.
“Careful,” Dan cautioned, “no one likes a hair in his stew.”
“Ah, you’re right,” the Giant said and pulled his locks back before sniffing again at the cauldron. “Tell me, human, why did you come this way again? We hate seeing the same one two years in a row, and that’s well known.”
“I didn’t believe the stories that Giants had such memories — and short attention spans. No offense.”
“None taken. We get bored by humans, though most of you are silly enough to be amusing at first. No offense to you, either.”
“None taken,” Dan said. “I came this way because I had such fun last year. Gnomes aren’t nearly so jovial, and you enjoyed my performance so much. Best dancers in the neighborhood, by far!” That they had almost destroyed half the forest with their stomping was hardly the point.
“Have you ever been to see the Gnomes?”
“Well, no.” If Dan could have shifted uncomfortably, he would have. “The path here is so much more pleasant.”
“Oh? How do you know?”
“If I went to visit the Gnomes, I’d have to walk on all that… moss. The whole way.”
“Ah, moss. Wet and spongy. And green.”
“I suppose. Are you going to put me in there soon? I’m beginning to feel impatient and well… a little cliché, hanging around up here.”
The Giant shrugged. “We’ve always done it this way.” He pointed to the cauldron. “And there are only little bubbles. Takes a while to get these things to boil. They hold so much water.”
“That must be inconvenient.”
“If we don’t time the bread right,” the Giant replied placidly. “Did you really come this way for fear of some moss?”
“Not fear. Dislike.” Dan tipped his head back, trying to see the size of the bubbles. Maybe he could still get himself out of this mess. “What if I tried singing now? Perhaps a ballad?”
“Tastes all right, you know. Good for you, too.”
“I’ll try some and write a song about it.”
“Good for a nap in the summer, when it’s dry. Nice and soft.”
“There once was a Giantess boss — ”
“We don’t really like poems.”
Unable to shrug, Dan put on what he hoped was an expression of helplessness. “Isn’t there anything I can do?”
“S’pose not. But a story about ten kids or a crippled mother at home is more amusing than a limerick.” Great folds of skin rolled over each other as he wrinkled his nose. “Something about a true love might be good.” He gazed down at Dan hopefully.
“I’m not much for stories.”
“All right, then. Well, I feel bad about this but the water’s beginning to boil, so I really ought to…”
“I guess I understand,” Dan said. “Sorry you won’t have a singer this year.”
The Giant laughed, a great rumbling noise in the back of his throat. “Can’t say you didn’t try. We’ll be all right until next year, I imagine. It was nice talking to you, human.”
If Dan could have tipped his hat, he would have.
Kate Sheeran lives in Astoria, Queens with her sister and an enormous (but personable) orange cat. When not strapped to the keyboard or fabricating magical lands, she works as an arts administrator in Manhattan. Should you feel inclined, you can follow her blog at http://creatively-untitled.blogspot.com/.