Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Carillion’s Schemes
by Michael Hodges

by Edward H. Parks

It Don’t Mean a Thing
by A. Miller

Morning Glories
by Jude-Marie Green

Take a Good Look
by Holly Schofield

Fifty Kilograms
by Jim Stewart

Jupiter Hero
by Rob Pearce

Breaking Eggs
by Justin Woolley

To Hunt a Sky Eel
by Daniel Ausema

Gone Fishin’
by Thomas Canfield

Archangels of Heaven
by Leslie Lupien


Faster Than a Speeding Bullet
by Eric M. Jones

A Turn to the Dark Side
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips





By Edward H. Parks

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

RAYNE SET THE BOOK DOWN. Shakespeare always did help her get to sleep. And she needed that help here in the wooded foothills of the Andes Mountains, where the sounds of birds and insects were subtly different from those of the Sierra Nevada. Curling up in a tent that was too short for her tall, gawky frame, she didn’t feel drowsy until Hernán started snoring in the next tent and silenced the nearby fauna.

As she drifted off to sleep, Rayne imagined that there were phantom intruders hopping around their campsite as if in some macabre dance, and she tried unsuccessfully to rouse herself. Part of her recognized the familiar grip of sleep paralysis, and realized that the prowlers were probably just a hypnogogic hallucination. But that didn’t stop her from trying to wake up, until sleep won out over panic.

The rising sun lit Rayne’s tent with an orange glow. She opened her eyes feeling like she had woken up inside of a lantern. The peaceful quiet of the early morning was one of the things she loved most about being a field geologist. Then she heard her colleague Hernán cursing in Spanish, and she bolted out through the tent flaps.

Rayne’s Argentine guide sat in the driver’s seat of their SUV trying to start the vehicle, but the engine wouldn’t even turn over. She noticed a wet stain in the dirt in front of the grill, and lifted the hood. The vehicle had clearly been deliberately disabled. Cables and hoses had been ripped out of the engine compartment, apparently from below. Memories of her forgotten dream instantly flooded back.

There was no way to repair the vehicle, so they called the main camp on the satellite phone and requested a ride back. It would take all day for another truck to reach them, so they packed up their gear and hiked downhill to find a clearing large enough for the mining company helicopter to land in.

Rayne and Hernán sat on a boulder, drinking yerba mate and admiring the Alpine beauty of the surrounding Patagonian landscape while they waited for the old chopper to pick them up. They didn’t call this region the Switzerland of South America for nothing. She hesitated before telling him about her dream. It seemed ridiculous before, but under the circumstances she couldn’t be sure now that it was just a dream.

“You know, last night as I was falling asleep I imagined that someone was prowling around our campsite. I thought it was just a dream.”

Chilenos!” Hernán spat. “They come across the mountains to cause problems.”

“Chileans? But why?”

“They argue with us about where the border is. And we have more oil than them. They don’t like us working here so close to them.”

“But we’re miles from the border, I mean, many kilometers. That’s a lot of trouble to go to just to interfere with out prospecting. You Argentines are so paranoid!”

“Then who broke our automobile, eh, Señorita Rayne?” he said, in a tone that reminded her again that Argentines were touchy, too.

She had no answer for that.

Hernán scowled and mumbled to himself in Spanish, then changed the subject.

“Your name. It means lluvia, no?” He looked at his feet.

“Sort of. It’s spelled differently, though.”

“Strange name for a woman.” He pushed a stone with his foot.

“Hippie parents,” she explained. He snorted, but smiled just a little.

After that his mood lightened. They passed the hours in a useless debate comparing “Martin Fierro” to “The Last of the Mohicans,” until the staccato beat of the rotor interrupted them.

A crowd awaited their return. Rayne recognized the camp boss by his cigar and the way he stood, arms crossed and feet tapping impatiently. Migo was not pleased. He berated the two in front of the whole crew.

Pero, carajo! Do you know how much your vehicle cost the company?” His English was almost as good as Hernán’s.

“Yes, more than you make in a year,” Rayne answered.

“You shut up!” Migo blustered. “You probably did this! Who do you really work for, eh?”

“Just send a mechanic,” Hernán interjected. “He can fix it.”

“Yes, I send a mechanic. And you two go with him! If he no can fix, then I have to call a bigger helicopter to pick up. And then you have to pay for that!” He jabbed a finger at Rayne.

The stocky foreman stomped off. Rayne rolled her eyes, slung her pack over her shoulder, and started walking back to her cabin. On the way there she came upon one of the men harassing a young woman. Rayne recognized Yamila, the domestic who worked as both cook and laundress. The man had a firm grip on one of her wrists. Every time she pulled free he grabbed her again.

Basta! Basta!” the girl cried. Stop! Stop! There were tears rolling down her ruddy cheeks. The man spoke rapidly to her in low, angry tones, and kept tugging on her arm.

“Hey! Beat it!” Rayne yelled in English, knowing the lout would get the gist of the message.

The man tried to shove Rayne with one hand while holding onto the girl with the other. He yelped when he found himself in a finger hold. Two more men came out of a nearby dormitory shack and threatened Rayne in rapid-fire Spanish that was too fast for her to understand. They fell silent when Hernán arrived. Rayne could hear the men grumbling as she and Hernán escorted Yamila away.

Yanqui de mierda!

Rayne understood that.


The next morning, Rayne was repacking her kit for the return to the disabled SUV when she heard a knock on her door. It was Yamila.

“Come in, come in,” Rayne motioned with one hand.

Yamila entered holding a small covered basket and began speaking rapidly in Spanish. The words tumbled out of her like an avalanche, and the only one that Rayne could make out was gracias, said many times.

Un momento,” Rayne said, and grabbed her phone. She switched on the voice recognition translator. “Are you OK, Yamila? Did that guy hurt you?” She waited for the device to speak the translation.

“Yes, I am fine. Thank you, thank you!” the phone answered for the girl. “He can’t understand that I don’t like him anymore.” She proffered the basket to Rayne. “I brought you this for your trip.”

Rayne accepted the basket and pulled the cloth aside. A delicious aroma wafted up from freshly baked empanadas.

“These are wonderful! How kind of you. Thanks!”

“You can reheat them over a fire,” the girl said. She paused, biting her lip. “But be very careful when you go back! You may be attacked again!”

“By who? Our saboteurs?” Rayne said mockingly as she carefully placed the basket in her backpack. “I doubt it. Hernán thinks they’re Chileans, but they’re probably just crazy eco-terrorists. We have them in the United States, too.”

“No!” Yamila was still agitated. “You must take this seriously! In this part of the country there are elves, and they can be very dangerous!”

“Elves? You’re kidding, right?” Rayne looked at her phone’s text display. The Spanish word duendes had been translated as “elves.”

“No, I’m not joking! The goblins live underground, and they don’t like all this digging!”

“Goblins? What?” Rayne looked at the display again. What was Yamila going on about now? But there was that same word again: duendes. It must be a hard term for the database to translate.

“OK, I’ll be careful,” Rayne humored the girl. She didn’t know what else to say, so she slung her pack over one shoulder and gave Yamila a hug.

Migo was waiting for her by the helicopter.

“The mechanic is already here,” he said, opening the door for her. “We’re still waiting for the pilot.”

Rayne grabbed the doorframe and was about to pull herself into the aircraft when she saw the man inside. It was the same one who had been bothering Yamila. They glared at each other for a moment before Rayne vaulted into the helicopter cabin. She settled into a seat directly across from the swarthy man.

Hernán boarded the aircraft and sat next to the mechanic. He didn’t look happy either. “This is Gustavo,” he said to Rayne.

“Right,” she answered. She got out her phone to translate for her and looked at Gustavo. “Did you bring enough tools and spare parts?”

“Yes,” he sneered. “If cables and hoses are all that is wrong with it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? Are you accusing me of something?” Rayne narrowed her eyes.

“No, he is not,” Hernán interrupted. But Gustavo ignored him.

“Maybe she broke the truck,” he said, pointing his chin at Rayne.

Hernán interjected again. “No, Gustavo. I told you it was the Chileans.”

“Maybe she works for one of the American oil companies,” Gustavo said, keeping his eyes on Rayne.

Hijo de puta!” she said coldly, her lip curling. You couldn’t work alongside Argentine miners without learning how to curse like them.

“Whom do you work for?” Gustavo said, speaking to her directly this time. The phone’s translation sounded absurdly formal. “Shell? Exxon?”

“I work for the same company that you do,” she answered slowly, exaggerating every word.

“Then who broke the truck?” he asked. “I don’t think it was the Chileans.”

“I think it was eco-terrorists,” she shot back, “people who don’t want anyone developing the natural resources of Patagonia. Can you understand that?”

Gustavo snorted in derision and seemed about to say something else when the cockpit door opened. The pilot jumped into the left-hand front seat and began strapping in.

Todo listo?” he called back to his passengers. Everything ready?

Si,” Hernán answered. They all donned headsets as the turbine engines began to whine. The rotor blades spun faster and faster, and the helicopter soon lifted off. They could have conversed over the intercom, but there was no further discussion during the ninety-minute flight. Rayne’s phone translator wouldn’t work at this noise level anyway.


The helicopter dropped them off in a clearing over a mile from where Rayne and Hernán had left the disabled SUV. They unloaded their camping gear, and Gustavo pulled out a toolbox and something else: a rifle. For the first time, Rayne felt a pang of fear. Most of the company men at camp were rough and fond of crude conversation, but Rayne’s height and the Aikido she remembered from college had discouraged their attempts to get overly familiar with her. But this Gustavo was different. She had no doubt now that he was capable of violence.

The path west through the woods gradually sloped upwards and the exertion kept them silent. Rayne kept her phone in her backpack. Hernán spoke English well enough, and she wasn’t interested in anything Gustavo had to say anyway.

They reached the campsite as the afternoon light started to fade, and Gustavo jogged forward to get there first. The other two soon heard the brutish mechanic cursing passionately in Spanish. Hernán rushed over to the vehicle, and Rayne ran to join him. She saw her equipment and core samples strewn over the ground. They had been stowed in the back of the truck. The two Argentines were talking far too fast for her to follow. She stood there bewildered for a moment, and then remembered the phone in her backpack. It soon gave her the gist of the men’s conversation.

The SUV was more damaged now than it had been the day before. More components had been removed from the engine compartment. The gearshift was gone, and two of the tires were slashed. As a final insult, mud had been jammed into the gas tank port.

Rayne wheeled on Gustavo angrily.

“You idiot! Do you still think I did this? I wasn’t even here! God, you are such a pig!”

Gustavo just glared at her, and for a moment Rayne thought he might strike her.

“Please, Senorita!” Hernán interjected in a pleading tone.

She caught her breath at the look in Gustavo’s eye. Perhaps she had gone too far. Rayne exhaled slowly and collected her thoughts. She decided to keep the translator on at all times from now on.

“Guys, this is the work of amateurs. Not a Chilean mountain patrol, and not American industrial spies. I really think we’re dealing with some radical environmentalist group here.”

Gustavo walked away without a word. He pulled out what looked like a satellite phone and turned his back to the other two. Hernán and Rayne erected the tents and got out the cooking gear. Gustavo didn’t come back until the food was ready.

“I’m not fixing that mess,” he told them, lighting a cigarette. “Tomorrow the company will send a big helicopter from Neuquén to pick up the truck. We don’t have one with a sling long enough to pull it up with all these trees around. They’re calling the Army now.”

“Your environmentalists are becoming a problem, Rayne,” Hernán observed glumly.

She sought to lighten the mood. “Yamila thinks it was duendes.”

Gustavo and Hernán just looked at each other.

“I know, it’s a silly superstition, right?” Rayne continued. “Do many Argentines believe in duendes?”

“It’s more than a superstition,” Hernán answered. “The Patagonian Indians had legends of gnomes long before the Spaniards came. Some called them the trauco, others yosi.”

Rayne was puzzled. Gnomes? Was that yet another translation of duendes? She looked at her phone display. No, Hernán had said gnomos. Gnomes.

Gustavo put his cigarette butt out in the dirt. “I don’t believe in your gnomes or your environmentalists. I’m going to sleep.” He went into the two-man tent. Hernán sighed with exasperation and followed him.

Rayne settled into her tent and pulled out her Shakespeare reader. Then she changed her mind, grabbed he smart phone and started an Internet search on gnomes. How can some mythological European earth spirit have anything to do with local Indian legends? But she found that the first known use of the word “gnome” was in the works of Paracelsus, a Swiss alchemist who wasn’t even born until the year after Columbus discovered America. Could those little garden statues with the pointy hats actually be based on some garbled version of Indian stories brought back to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors?

Shakespeare was no help getting to sleep that night.


Rayne woke up to someone shaking her shoulder. She groaned groggily and rolled over.

“Señorita, wake up!” Hernán seemed worried.

“Whuh? I am awake.”

“Gustavo is gone! I woke up and he wasn’t there! He took the rifle!”

“Oh, jeez! Now what?” Rayne was more annoyed than worried.

The two looked around the campsite. Rayne was about to call out Gustavo’s name when she thought better of it. Something about all this made her uneasy.

Suddenly they heard Gustavo yelling in the distance, his angry shouts echoing off the mountainsides. Rayne couldn’t understand what he was saying, but it sounded like Gustavo was provoking a confrontation with someone. This was bound to get ugly. She grabbed her backpack and stuffed a first aid kit into it, along with a couple of tee shirts for bandages. They both took out flashlights and started in the direction of Gustavo’s voice.

The two slowly made their way through the woods. The moon was nearly full, shining through the tree canopies here and there to light their way. Still, it was difficult to avoid tripping in the dark. Gustavo had stopped shouting, so the two paused to listen and to make sure that they were still headed in the right direction.

Two gunshots shattered the still of the night. Rayne and Hernán froze, and the world seemed to freeze around them. They stood in their tracks and looked at each other. No bird or insect made the slightest sound. Suddenly they could hear light thuds in the distance, followed by a man’s screams. A cacophony of screeches joined the screams, a noise that made the hair on the back of Rayne’s neck stand up. The screams and screeches rose to a crescendo together, punctuated by more thuds, and then just as suddenly stopped.

Que fue eso?” said Hernán. What was that?

“Shh!” Rayne squeezed his shoulder to silence him. She could still hear the unidentified creatures chittering to each other. The sounds had the cadence of speech, like one individual speaking and others responding. Presently they faded in the distance. Her heart pounding, Rayne decided to turn off her flashlight.

“Come on!” They continued in the direction the screams had come from, stumbling along in the patchwork moonlight. At one point they had to cross a stream. It was ice cold, and Rayne felt like needles were being jabbed into her shins. The trees grew denser, and presently they could barely make out something lying on the carpet of pine needles. Hernán switched on his flashlight, gasped and then switched it off again. It was Gustavo, and he was quite dead.

Rayne rolled the corpse over on its back. Gustavo’s face was a bloody mess, and his clothing was drenched from multiple puncture wounds. Rayne decided to risk turning on her flashlight for a moment, quickly surveying the scene as she swung the beam around. They were alone. Stones littered the ground around the dead man, many stained with blood. Something, or someone, had stoned and stabbed Gustavo to death. Then she noticed something that convinced her once and for all that they were not dealing with any kind of animal, and again she felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise. She doused the light again.

Gustavo’s rifle was gone. His hands still clutched the leather strap, which had been cut cleanly at both ends.

“Let’s get out of here, Hernán,” she said, struggling to keep panic out of her voice. “There’s nothing we can do for him now.”

Si, vamos, pronto.

Again making their way without the aid of their flashlight beams, the two stumbled their way back to camp, splashing noisily through the frigid stream and tripping on falling branches.

A quick sweep of the flashlight confirmed that they were still alone. Rayne turned on all the lanterns and started rummaging through the men’s tents.

“Where’s that satellite phone?” she asked Hernán. “We need to call them to pick us up!”

“It should be here,” he answered.

“Well, I’m not finding it!” Her voice rose in pitch with each word, and she fought to maintain her composure. “Keep looking!” she said unnecessarily.

Rayne futilely tried to place a call on her cell phone, knowing full well that there was no chance for a signal this far from anything.

Ay, carajo!” Hernán cursed after several minutes of searching.


“I think Gustavo, he took the satellite telephone with him.”

“Oh, shit!” Rayne threw her flashlight at the hood of the SUV, still propped up from when they had first discovered the damage just this morning, what seemed like a lifetime ago. The light broke apart and went out.

“That jerk!” she screeched. Rayne beat her fists against her head, trying to think. Hernán said nothing.

She took a deep breath and let it out. “OK, we have to go back and get it.”

“Señorita?” He managed to sound both incredulous and reluctant at the same time.

“We’ll go back to Gustavo, find the phone and call for help from right there. Then we’ll come back here and wait for them to come get us. OK?”

Bueno,” he said dejectedly.

This time the path almost seemed familiar, illuminated all the way by Hernán’s flashlight. Rayne’s feet were now numb from cold, and she hardly felt the sting of the icy stream when they crossed it. They reached the place where Gustavo had met his end, then stopped and looked around, bewildered.

Gustavo’s body was nowhere to be seen.

Hernán swept his beam over the area. Yes, there was the bloodstain where the body had lain, the rifle strap was still there, and many of the rocks thrown at the mechanic still littered the ground. But the corpse was gone, and Gustavo’s backpack with it.

“OK, OK. Maybe the phone fell out when they dragged him away.” And Rayne began searching the area as desperately, as futilely, as she had back at the tents. Hernán joined the search with his flashlight, the only one they now had. They found Gustavo’s wristwatch, but no satellite phone. Rayne sat on her haunches, turning the watch over in her hand and trying to decide what to do next.

Then she noticed that Hernán had fixated on the trunk of a large tree. He stood there looking at a spot about chest-high. The guide bent a little and put his eye close to the bark. Rayne cocked her head to one side. Was there a hole there?

Suddenly, something inside the tree poked Hernán in the eye. He yelled, dropping his light, and thrust his arm deep into the bole of the tree. Yes, there was definitely a large hollow in there. A muffled screech from inside the trunk confirmed that suspicion. Hernán seemed to have a firm hold on something that gnomoswas struggling wildly to escape his grip. Rayne stood frozen in her tracks until another creature dropped on Hernán from somewhere up in the tree. The creature was small, at most a few feet high. It had two arms and two legs. And it wore clothes.

Rayne started running towards Hernán, her progress slowed as she tripped on tree roots in the fading moonlight. Hernán still had his arm in the pine tree, refusing to let go of his captive, while he frantically tried to pry his assailant loose with his free hand. She saw that the creature had a tail, which was flailing wildly about. No, not flailing randomly, but methodically searching Hernán’s body. Rayne could see other squat figures quickly approaching the combatants on foot, and she rushed to get there first.

Then the creature’s tail seemed to find something on Hernán, and it did something unexpected, something incredible. Hernán kept a knife scabbard in the small of his back, as the gauchos of old had. The tail grasped the handle, pulled the long knife from its scabbard, and drove it into the man’s side.

Hernán screamed and fell to his knees, finally pulling his arm out of the hole in the tree. Rayne yelled and lunged at the creature. It leaped off Hernán’s back and scampered away, still grasping the knife in its tail. The other creatures, which had also arrived on the scene, began pelting Hernán with stones. Rayne flung herself over the now prostrate man, shielding his body with her own. Her backpack absorbed some of the impacts, but others found their mark, striking both her and Hernán. She cried out in pain.

As she endured the painful blows thudding against her, part of Rayne’s mind seemed to detach itself, as if she were observing it all from above. Calmly, dispassionately, she saw herself huddled on the forest floor, surrounded by the diminutive creatures. Were these Yamila’s duendes? The air was filled with anguished cries of agony and despair, and she realized that they came from her.

This is it: I’m going to die, she thought calmly, dispassionately to herself. Cowering on a bed of pine needles, in a moonlit forest in the mountains of Argentina, I’m being stoned to death by things that I don’t even believe in.

But then her rational mind took over. Whether she believed in them or not, this situation was real and she was moments away from death. If they really were intelligent, she thought, perhaps they could be reasoned with.

“Please, stop!” she cried out, her face still buried in the pine needles, her eyes screwed shut. “Stop this! You’re killing us!”

There was no response. Then it occurred to her that these creatures had probably never heard English spoken before, but they might have heard Spanish.

Basta! Basta! Por favor, no nos maten!” Stop! Stop! Don’t kill us!

A murmur arose. The pelting slowed, but didn’t stop entirely. Rayne cursed her clumsy accent, and wished that she had worked harder to learn the language. Then she remembered her phone. She managed to retrieve it from the side pocket of her pack, switch it on, and spoke into it.

“Please, we can share this land.” The phone translated for her. Por favor, podemos compartir esta tierra.

The bombardment immediately stopped, and she heard the creatures utter curious, hooting sounds in a questioning tone. She decided to repeat her statement.

A raspy voice said something unintelligible, and the pelting ceased. There was silence. Rayne tensed, expecting the blows to resume.

Hombres no comparten tierra,” the same voice intoned with surprisingly good pronunciation. The phone had no trouble translating. Men don’t share land.

Slowly, almost timidly, Rayne opened her eyes and lifted her head. Blood ran down the side of her face from a cut in her scalp, but her eyes were clear. She looked about, and saw a group of ... gnomes. They did not look like the popular depictions of the “little people” that she was familiar with: not like garden statues or cartoons, nor like miniature humans. But no other name seemed to fit. The gnomes surrounded her, numbering at least a dozen individuals. One stood forward from the rest, facing her. It leaned on a knobby walking stick carved from wood.

The gnomes were short, ranging in height from two to three feet tall, and stood fully erect. Their faces were hairless, with smooth foreheads and cheeks. Without exception, all wore beards. Rayne realized that the beards did not grow from the gnome’s chins, which were also smooth, but rather sprouted from their jowls and necks. Their noses were little more than bumps, with nostrils that faced out to the sides, rather than forward or down. They wore jackets or vests, trousers that came to their shins, and pointed hats. Not the pointy dunce hats of garden gnome statues. Rather, these hats were much shorter, with peaks that flopped forward. They actually looked practical. The rims were pulled up at the front so as to uncover the gnome’s eyes, and hung down like flaps everywhere else. The trousers were open at the back, like chaps, allowing the tail to swing free. It was difficult to ascertain what the gnome’s clothing was made of in the dim light, but Rayne didn’t think it was leather. It looked more like a kind of woven fiber.

Some gnomes held tools fashioned from wood and stone, while others had man-made metal implements. One little warrior brandished a machete like a two-handed sword. Another was now the proud owner of Rayne’s favorite rock hammer. All of the gnomes were armed with something held at the ready, except for the one that stood before her. This individual was gray-haired and grizzled, obviously much older than the rest, and only held the walking stick in one hand. It was also the only one wearing footwear. Rayne couldn’t tell if it was male or female, but she was sure that it was the one that had spoken to her. Most likely this was a leader of some sort, and she decided to press her case with it alone. Rayne rose to her knees and placed her hands in a supplicating gesture, while still clutching the phone between them. She hoped this would seem non-threatening.

“Please we are only looking for our big telephone.” Por favor, solo buscamos nuestro telefono grande, the cell phone said for her. And Rayne pantomimed holding a phone to her ear. The old gnome just looked at her.

Then she had a thought. Slowly, carefully, she unslung her backpack from her shoulder, and unzipped the top. The gnomes eyed her warily and raised their weapons. Rayne reached inside without looking, searching for some food to offer the gnomes, a granola bar, anything. Her hand found a cloth-covered basket. Of course: Yamila’s empanadas! They felt a little smashed, but were still fresh. She withdrew the basket and offered it to the old gnome.

“We can pay with this. With the big telephone, we can leave and never return.” Podemos pagar con esto. Con el telefono grande, podemos ir y nunca volver. What luck that her cell phone had survived the pummeling, she thought to herself. Surely she’d already be dead without the translator.

The gray gnome hobbled forward and took the basket from Rayne with two gnarled hands that looked like those of a Halloween witch. The old one hobbled back to the others and spoke to one. The younger gnome undid the cloth and bent its head down to sniff the food. It broke off a piece of empanada and nibbled it. A short conversation ensued, until the old one uttered something that sounded definitive, like a pronouncement or a command. The younger gnome took several steps towards Rayne. With an almost comical gesture, it tossed something at her. Reflexively, Rayne tried to catch it, but missed in the dark. It bounced off her chest and clattered to the ground. She bent to pick it up, and couldn’t believe her eyes.

It was their satellite phone.

Rayne looked at the crowd arrayed around her. They regarded her with large, dark inhuman eyes. Their little faces seemed both child-like and as ancient as the forest itself. How long had they lived here before the first humans came? And yet somehow they managed to survive in obscurity. She saw no hate or hostility in their expressions, only curiosity and expectation. Perhaps they were waiting for a response from her. She raised the satellite phone and nodded in what she hoped was a gesture of thanks.

Gracias”, she said, her voice catching in her throat.

The old one said something that the translator couldn’t process, and one by one, the gnomes turned to leave.

Rayne watched as the gnomes departed. Some disappeared between the roots of a large tree, while others descended into a hole in the ground. One swung itself up and into the hole that had first caught Hernán’s attention, and she heard a brief conversation take place within the tree trunk. Within moments, the area was deserted. She was left trembling and alone in the darkness; the only sound came from her ragged, shivering breath. The forest was still once more.

A moan from behind her told Rayne that her companion still lived. She retrieved the flashlight and bent to examine Hernán. He was badly hurt, and nearly unconscious. She turned on the satellite phone and was able to raise the camp. Would they believe what had really happened? Probably not. The group had been attacked, she told them. Gustavo was missing and Hernán was injured. They needed to be evacuated immediately. The dispatcher read her GPS location and told her the forest was too dense there for a helicopter rescue. He directed her to return to the campsite and the SUV.

Rayne tended to Hernán as best she could with the First Aid kit. One of his fists was still clenched from gripping the gnome in the tree. She pried it open and found a tuft of hair. Turning it over in the flashlight beam, she could see fleshy hair follicles still attached to several of the hair shafts. A quick search through her pack turned up one of the plastic bags that she used for geological samples. She placed the tuft of hair in the bag and stuffed it into her shirt pocket.

Rayne tore the tee shirts into strips and bound the worst of Hernán’s wounds, then helped him to his feet. He swayed precariously and leaned on her as they made their way back to camp. The journey was an interminable ordeal, and later she would not even remember crossing the icy stream.

Rayne managed to get Hernán into the back of the SUV, conveniently emptied, she now was sure, courtesy of the little gnomes. She got some water and painkillers into him, pulled the tailgate shut, and then held him as they both drifted off into an exhausted, dreamless sleep.


A bright beam of light shone in Rayne’s eyes, awakening her. She heard the unmistakable beat of a helicopter rotor and opened the tailgate, then stiffly unfolded her long legs. The rotor downwash hit her as soon as her feet touched the ground. Looking up, she could see a soldier being lowered from a large aircraft that hovered just above the treetops. Rayne gestured towards Hernán, and the crewman nodded in comprehension. Soon, her injured colleague was being hoisted up into the helicopter on a stretcher.

While Rayne waited for her turn to be rescued, she pulled the plastic bag out of her pocket and removed the clump of hair to examine it again, musing over the realization that Earth had spawned a second sentient species. She knew people back in the States who would do a DNA analysis on the sample for her, and tried to guess what secrets that would unlock. It would be the scientific discovery of the century, she told herself giddily.

Rayne pictured one of the gnomes in her mind’s eye again, noting the mere bump of a nose with its outward-pointed nostrils, and that grasping, prehensile tail. She was no biologist, but she knew what those features meant. Only New World monkeys had those characteristics. Gnomes were primates, just like humans. Their race had not evolved from apes, however, but from that separate branch of the primate family tree that was unique to the Western Hemisphere. Nothing magical or supernatural about these gnomes. These are real, she thought. And their species could be older than ours.

What would happen to these reclusive creatures under the spotlight of science, she wondered? They had escaped notice for so long, skillfully erasing all visible traces of their presence above ground, until the mere rumor of them became the stuff of myths and legends. Now, proof of their existence was literally in hand. If history were any teacher, there could be little doubt of the outcome.

Rayne relaxed her hand, and the rotor wash immediately swept the tuft of hair from her fingers. It flashed for an instant in the spotlight, and was gone. END

Edward H. Parks is an aerospace engineer currently residing in the Sacramento area. He pursues writing and photography in his spare time. His work has appeared in “Interstellar Fiction” and in a “Third Flatiron” quarterly themed anthology.


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