Max had just fallen asleep when small bursts of pain from his scalp woke him. He rubbed his hands over his head. Was something moving in his hair? He opened his eyes. A miniature fat man, no more than an inch tall, walked across his chest carrying a bundle of black fibers. Another gnome followed a few steps behind, holding the other end of the bundle. Both wore red flannel pajamas tucked into blue boots.
The gnomes dropped the bundle on his chest, where a female gnome snipped the fibers into smaller sections. Other gnomes threaded the fibers through tall needles. Then the first gnome plunged the needle through the skin just over Max’s nipple.
“Ow! Ow! What do you think you’re doing?” Max jumped up and tried to brush off the gnomes.
The first gnome grabbed a fistful of nipple hair and cupped the other hand around his lips, “The dome is restless. Double time!”
Max could barely hear the high, thin voice. The gnome planted his feet on Max and walked upright as if Max were still lying in bed.
The other gnome poked Max hurriedly on his shoulder. Both gnomes pulled the needles through and tied off the fibers.
“Is that my hair?” Max yelped.
The gnome glared at Max and said, “Roger.”
“Where did you get that?” Max ran his fingers through the hair on his head. Did it feel thinner? He felt a gnome in his hair, but it dropped to the pillow before he could grab it.
Feathery strands of hair tickled his forehead as a pair of gnomes crossed his face. Then he felt the jab of needles in his nose and ears.
“Dammit. Stop that!” Max pinched his nose and twisted a finger in each ear, but he couldn’t dislodge the gnomes.
“Why are you doing this?” Max yelled.
“Duh, sludge for brains. We’re relocating the hair from your head to the rest of your body.”
“Stop. What if I give you some money? How about 20 bucks?”
“20? The going rate is 50 cents per hair. That would be 100 total. Do you have that on hand?”
Max shook his head.
“Didn’t think so. No one carries cash anymore.” The gnome’s voice was thin, shrill and childlike despite his anger.
Max tried to hold back giddy, uneasy laughter as he said, “Can I give you something else? Food? Beer? I have lots of beer.”
“No.” The gnome punched two more hairs into Max’s eyebrow.
“Well.” The gnome paused. “Do you have any buttons?”
“Buttons? Sure, I have buttons.” Max opened the nightstand drawer and pulled out a fistful of buttons in the little plastic bags that came with new clothing.
“Ditch the bags. Just the buttons.”
Max dumped out each button on the bed.
The gnome used his needle to push the buttons around, lifting one, pulling another closer. “These’ll do.” He waved to the other gnomes, who each picked out a button, then disappeared in a small flash of green light.
“Why do you want the buttons?” Max asked.
“It’s winter.” The gnome picked up a big black button and held it to his butt. “Not a bad sled. Especially when snow gets packed into the holes. See you tomorrow!” The leader winked out.
“But I just paid you off!” Max pounded the mattress.
Max stopped at a fabric store on his way home from work and bought 50 buttons. Throughout the evening he drank coffee and colas. He went to bed later than normal and slept lightly. Even so, he barely felt the prick of the gnomes’ needles.
The gnomes ignored Max.
“I brought you more buttons.” Max grabbed the bag from the nightstand and dropped it on the bed.
“Kiss off,” said the leader.
“What do you mean? These are buttons.”
The gnome jabbed his needle straight down into Max’s breastbone and leaned on it. “How many buttons do you think we need?”
Max pulled out the needle and rubbed the wound. “Something else then? Marshmallows? Paper clips?”
“No deal. Besides the boss would notice if we skipped out two nights in a row, baldy.”
Max flicked over the leader with his fingernail. The gnome went flying and landed a few feet away. Max ran his hand through his hair. It was still thick, wasn’t it?
The gnome stood up. “You lucky baby boomer. 20 years ago, I would’ve called in three more crews and finished this job tonight. But we’re gonna leave you with that tufty in the front, comb-over boy. I promise you that!”
Max grabbed the gnome and tried to squish him. The gnome bit Max. Another gnome jabbed Max’s ear drum with a needle. Max dropped the leader and stood up. He brushed frantically at his chest, face, arms, trying to knock off the gnomes. They stuck to his body like lice.
Max dashed into the bathroom and turned on the shower as hot as it would go. He grabbed a comb and stepped under the scalding stream of water. He twisted back and forth as he raked the comb through his hair, but the steaming water had no effect on the gnomes. He turned the faucet handle the other way and screamed as the icy water hit his inflamed skin.
The gnomes winked out in a simultaneous green flash.
The next night Max skipped the caffeine and fell asleep earlier than normal. He woke when a needle pierced his nose. The leader was standing on Max’s nose.
“Pull that out,” Max said, closing his eyes again.
“Dim dome, what have you done?”
Max rubbed his completely bald head. He’d lathered it up and shaved it just before bed. “Like it?”
“This changes nothing, Mr. Clean.”
“I guess I’ll see you in six weeks then.” Max plucked the needle from his nose, rolled over, and fell back asleep.
Leanna Timanus lives in Minnesota with her husband and son. By day she is an integration specialist for a technology company. By night she is an aspiring writer with neither a garret nor any time to spend in it.