Ivan and I were playing catch in the backyard. Nothing extravagant; just back and forth. He didn’t even have a proper glove; just an oven mitt. My bat was an old paper towel roll I had managed to dig out of the trash. Our sorry excuse for a ball was a combination of rubber bands and grayish yarn we had twisted together. Parts of it flaked off every time it struck the ground after inevitably missing the small tube of cylindrical cardboard.
Our hands began to feel numbed from the cold after an hour or two of me not hitting the ball. We decided on one more pitch for good measure, however before going inside for some hot tea mom had begun fixing. We had smelled the aromatic boiling of leaves and it made us long to finish up our experiment in baseball.
I got into position and Ivan threw. The amalgamation of rubber and strings whizzed past my bat and bounced along the ground. I chased after it and Ivan followed. But we could not seem to catch up. When I slowed down the ball appeared as if it was doing the same. When I sped up, it did too.
This went on for a good ten minutes, with us going further and further from the warmth of mother’s tea, until we reached a rabbit hole at the end of the yard. I was sure we could grab the ball out of there as it inevitably got stuck. But it was not quite so simple. The ball broke through layers of dirt shorter than it and tunneled through clay of the earth.
I put my eye level with the rabbit hole in disbelief. There was a silver-green gleam of sorts. Maybe that was our ball? I reached my hand in through worms and hand-forming clay to find out.
There was a tugging sensation. I contemplated how a rabbit must be biting my hand. But, as the force pulled harder and harder it certainly had to be something more dangerous. A badger, a gopher, I couldn’t say. Whatever it was, was far from the worms and clay I had felt just seconds prior.
Ivan began to yank at my arm, in an attempt to dislodge it from the grip of the strange phenomenon. Despite his best efforts, things only got worse. The dirt-like clay was soon up to my shoulder blade. Eventually, my chest, my other arm and then… my head was covered. I saw nothing as the ground consumed me even faster, forming to the shape of my head. A vortex was soon pulling me, with Ivan clutching on my shoe, toward something.
We awoke on the cold stone floor of a cave. Yet, it clearly was not a cave. Enormous beakers stretched up to where you might expect stalactites might. Test tubes wound themselves in shapes of mushrooms. And, all around, tending to the cavernous laboratory were stout, bearded creatures bickering in what seemed like high-pitched arguments.
“Where is this?” I asked.
“Exactly, two meters North East of the earth’s core,” one of the small scientists said.
“And who are you?”
“I am a gnome, as are my companions. Who else would be at the center of the earth doing secret research? The Minotaur!?”
The gnomes laughed uproariously finding his jest quite humorous.
Work was not stopped, however, with their concentration being as stringent as before their merriment set in. Buttons were pressed and switches pulled causing bubbles to react both up and down within their beakers.
“Why have you kidnapped my friend and me?” I asked.
“We did not kidnap you silly man-boy, you knocked on our door with your token of friendship. A strange token it was, I must say.”
Several gnomes, leaving their posts, gathered around the mass of rubber bands and thread to lift it up. Their arms shook under the weight but they continued holding it until the signal to drop it was given.
I felt almost arrogant as I walked up and took it in my hand with ease. I had greater worries than their pride, however.
“Why did it roll on the ground, slower and faster, if you only knew about it after the rabbit hole?”
“We cannot say.”
“Does that mean you know and won’t say, or you really don’t know,” interjected Ivan, overcoming his momentary shock at the enormity of his surroundings.
“We… cannot… say.”
“Can we leave then?” Ivan argued.
“No, I’m afraid that is impossible. You will help us.”
“Mind your business, that’s what.”
The ball I was holding began to twitch inside my palm. I tried to tighten my grip, but it rolled out and bounced away much as it had on the surface. Faintly it appeared like it had gone into a circular depression at the bottom of a large electrical source, but I could not be sure. Gnomes around it were possibly attaching metal fragments.
“The key! The key at last!” I heard many shout.
I was not left much time to ponder. The stone beneath my feet shook violently and cracked. I, Ivan and various gnomes fell down. But, they, unlike us, rose cheering.
“What is going on? What does our ball have to do with this?”
“It was the key!”
“Yes,” began Ivan, “we have gathered that by now. What does the key do?”
“It is the first step in a long stride.”
“Will you stop with the metaphors!?”
My head felt suddenly as if it were exploding. Every thought I had ever had began to creep back into consciousness. Old crushes, math problems, regrets, hopes, dreams, lust, envy, greed…
A gnome in Bermuda shorts approached holding a mass of tin foil that practically covered his entire form. Ivan and I lacked sufficient energy to strike at him.
Gently, hats were placed on top of our heads by him. We could breathe once more. The thoughts were less overwhelming, though still stifling. What had happened? The pain seemed so close to incapacitating us forever, and then, in a mere instance the bulk of it was gone.
“You will want to keep those on,” the gnome said. He slapped us both and ran off giggling.
“Now, you two man boys will make us more of your wonderful electro-regulators” the leader spoke.
“You mean the ball?”
“Yes, make them or you die.”
“Was that pain we felt happening to other people?” Ivan asked.
“Of course, the gnomes won’t win a war of brawn.”
“The one humans began in the days they were apes. Dinosaurs died for them to have dominion, and their death will herald the age of the gnome!”
“Long live the gnome!” All chanted.
“But why does rubber and yarn make your scheme complete?” I asked, as Ivan was lost in thought.
“It does not. The creators did.”
“You mean our…”
“Deoxyribonucleic acid, correct. All matter will break at a certain frequency, and it would appear we have finally found yours.”
“You made one mistake,” Ivan said.
“And what would that be?”
“You gave us these hats.”
Ivan and I nodded at each other and moved toward the machinery. Our hands barely touched the first beakers before we fell down in agony, unrivaled by our suffering before.
“The hats only shielded you from stray frequency going to the surface. We have now unleashed the full power within the caves.”
“You… will… regret this,” Ivan stammered.
“Or you will… if you do not submit. We can keep this frequency alive until your minds implode, if that is your desire.”
“Why… not just… take our… DNA?”
“Our hands are not large enough to fix it to the necessary rubber and metal. Soon, our supply will run out. But we have more than enough left to murder the both of you, so I beg, keep that in mind.”
The gnomes continued to torture us. They would turn the frequency up throughout the caves until we thought we would die and then they would turn it off, leaving us to writhe in pain.
I do not know how long it took to finally break our will. It may have been days, it may have been weeks. But, most certainly as we began to absentmindedly fuse rubber and yarn together, with nearby tin it was evident the gnomes had won.
Our DNA was fueling a holocaust of epic proportions upon the surface and we could do nothing.
Gnomes frequently took their leave through the portal from which we had come down. They bore few weapons, merely having an occasional sword amongst them. Yet, this was enough for their purposes.
Ivan and I thought and thought of ways to sabotage, or even escape as cowards might during our imprisonment. But there was never an opportunity that was not preempted. Too many years had been spent plotting by the gnomes underground as man evolved into ever more threatening primates.
One morning, after a night of contemplation together, I pushed Ivan toward a set of test tubes to create distraction. For a moment it seemed as if I may get at the bubbling beakers but the gnomes as always pushed a damnable button incapacitating us both. I had soiled myself to my further embarrassment. There was great laughter as the smell permeated the room.
“Filthy human, go poo poo?” one asked in jest.
That night, still rank and unclean, I had yet another long discussion with Ivan. I decided it was best to let the frequencies kill myself, instead of working further toward the destruction of mankind.
Therefore in the morning, I refused to work. Naturally the gnomes unleashed the signal and my head began to tear itself apart. The pain, though incapacitating, I felt used to. It was an old familiar thrum. However, what came after I had never experienced before.
I was a babe once more held up in my mother’s arms. She rocked me and perception shifted to crawling, then first steps. I was riding with my arms out on a bike downhill. First kiss, dancing, lying on the grass in summer. My father saying his last words, stay strong, as limpness to his wrist…
Somehow, someway I woke up and the pain was gone. My head was still pounding but I realized there were no gnomes and the laboratory was in shambles. Glass was scattered and the stone caved in upon the various test tubes and beakers that had once curved so mightily.
Ivan was lying next to me. I put my ear to his heart: the beating was faint.
With strength I could not be sure from where I heaved him on my back. I took him with great effort to the spot we had come down from, and the gnomes had gone up. There was just enough power to lift us back up through the vortex.
I was not sure what might greet us at the surface. Perhaps armies, death or some combination of both?
Much too my chagrin, it appeared to be neither. Nothing was in sight but patchy grass and empty distance. My house had once stood right in front of us but now seemed as if it never had. Where was it all?
Ivan was beginning to feel overbearingly heavy. I set him down and continued to stare: partly gawking, partly searching. There was a strange glint of silver once more I noticed, as there had been the night we were abducted. I walked toward it, continuing to keep a watch on Ivan, lest a gnome or some other bizarre creature attack him. I was still of the opinion othat everything seeming much too quiet.
The glint was merely one of the balls we made below, however. I was unsure how it reached the surface. In many ways it seemed the exact same as the one that led us to our misery that day.
Ivan had managed to get onto his feet. I walked back toward him and he saw the ball. He smiled and I tossed it to him. Nothing extravagant; just back and forth.