Heathen Stories and New Myths ~
The Sto:Lo tribes would pass through, but never stay. They feared the spirit of this place, calling it a Basket Oger. Its fearsome shape peering out of the trees like a child devouring monster would give them no peace. Each season one tribe or another would come to hunt and fish, but never to stay.
When the Europeans came, the demon haunted trees scared the church going town folk, but the hardy pioneers and hill folk were of stronger stuff. With stout axes and saws, they cleared the land for planting. With few tools and fewer animals, they tamed the wild spirits of the land, and with the blood and sweat they poured into the soil, they made it their own.
Few of the great wild wights and svartly elves lingered in the dark places of the forest, still resisting the axes and saws of man, the iron ribbons of his railroads, the stone rivers of his roads. The Basket Oger would not yield. When its rock was shattered by the railway men, it moved into a young sapling. Year upon year it sunk its roots deep, waiting and hating, until one year in the heavy rains it held the runoff deep within the soil until half the hillside slipped down into the river, carrying the hated railroad and brickworks right into the river. The town rebuilt away from the haunted place, and the Basket Oger waited in its twisted tree, and hated some more.
Lars and Betty Olson came west to the mountains, seeking a new beginning. Lars had fought in the Second World War, and when he returned, wanted to start a family in a simpler life, away from the madness he had seen. To claim and clear the ill-omened land seemed a good way for a young family to make a place in this half-tamed land. A lone maple tree, heavy and twisted, loomed about the place, seeming to threaten the little firs and cedars of the rest of the woods. Lars laughed, the town was called Haney, but from the way that old man kings it on the hill, it might be called Maple Ridge (as indeed it one day would). Betty hated the tree, and asked Lars to cut it down. Lars looked at the tree, and felt its black hatred. It made him laugh. It’s a nasty old bugger, just like me, he would say.
As often happens with young couples, children came along in time, and soon beneath that old maple grew a small horde of small, then not so small children. The little house grew, and the yard grew fences and outbuildings, and everywhere were the signs of children, mischief and fun, everywhere except the old maple. Only Lars would go and sit with his drink, and talk, as he said, one nasty old bugger to another.
In summer time, the house would ring again with the thunder of little feet, the laughter of little voices, as the first lot of grandchildren would come to stay. Among the children was Betty’s delight, young Iris. Iris was a happy child, but one who saw things that others missed, or at least said things that others only thought. When she saw her grampa trip over the root of the big ugly maple in the back yard, her eyes grew very big.
“Grampa” she said, “When you tripped, I saw a big face with great big teeth growling at you from the tree”
Lars laughed, and rubbed her head. “That would be the ugly little alf in the tree. I swear he’d love to gobble you up” He made a little mouth with his outstretched hands and chased and tickled her around, making “Nom-nom-nom” biting sounds as he nibbled at her hair with his pretend jaws.
When the grandchildren asked later about the mean alf in the tree, grandpa Lars had to tell them all about the legends of wights and alfar, and how they were remembered here with the little garden gnomes people put out for their house-wights to live in. Iris declared that the Nom-Nom alf in the tree was mean because he had such an ugly tree to live in, causing grandma Betty to laugh, as she had heard some of the local lore about the mean old thing.
When Yuletide came, and the grand children came for dinner and presents, grandma and grandpa got a surprise. Besides the presents for each of them, there was the strangest gift they had ever seen. A ceramic garden gnome, with a big goofy smile, and terrible shining teeth. It was ugly, cheerful, a happy little monster painted in bright, slightly sloppy colours. Iris announced that she had made it for the Nom-Nom Gnome, so he could have someplace nicer to live. Grandpa Lars thought it the funniest thing, and decided they should put on coats and boots, and head out into the snow to introduce the Nom-Nom Gnome to his new home. Explaining to the other children how important it was to bring a little bit of the feast to share with the Nom-Nom Gnome to make it feel welcome, he tore off a bit of ham, and clutched it with his wine as he stomped off through the snow towards the waiting tree. A procession of slightly drunk and amused adults, mixed with slightly frightened but excited children followed the solemn Iris and her bright painted gnome.
He was the Basket Oger, the terror of children. He had terrified the bravest Sto:Lo warriors, caused the great Shaman to stay away from the lands he haunted, and this was the Yule-tide, the heart of the dark, the height of his power. The grey one came with them, the old warrior. Such fear he had faced in his life, such hatred he had fought and overcome that the Basket Oger had no power over him. He had watched the railroad men come, and swept the work of decades into the river with his power, he had driven off the pioneers, terrified the wild trappers and lumber-men, what could he fear from little children? Wise as the old alf was, he did not know the lore of the north and the magic hidden in the laws of hospitality.
Iris held up the painted statue, a garden gnome, painted in bright happy colours, yet with fierce and terrible fangs. “Happy Yule to you Nom-Nom Gnome, here is your new home” She planted the gnome at the base of the tree, looking towards the house.
Lars put a slice of ham in the snow in front of it, and poured wine from his glass to spill across the rough bark and red hat of the gnome. “Share meat and drink from our table, be our guest at our feasts as we have been guests on your land. Be welcome in our home little gnome”
One after the other the adults and children left a gift and a smile for the Nom-nom Gnome, and turned back from the wind to the hall and the home. The oger slipped gently from root to the gnome, feeling the warmth and the welcome in the painted old stone. Hate and pain are hard habits to break, but hospitality is magic both subtle and strong, for the Oger felt powerfully drawn to the gnome. Long he had hated, feared and alone. Now he was welcomed and offered a home. In the heart of his power, in the dark and the cold, the Oger felt oddly lost and alone. Land takings have power, hospitality builds bonds, the magic of yuletide is both quiet and strong. Gifts freely given of welcome and love can make greater change than a bolt from above.
Summer is coming and the children return, the Oger is watching to see what will come. Iris brings a blanket, and wagon behind. She picked up the Nom-Nom Gnome, and went for a ride. She took him around to the old patio, and with her girl cousins had high tea with scones. The boys in their turn took the fierce painted gnome, set him up as the king and then played at war. With girls he had feasting, with boys played at war, until the anger of oger’s wasn’t his any more.
Lars passed away, and was laid beneath the tree. The Gnome was the marker the family could see. Betty alone found the place hard to keep. Deep in the stone of the old battered gnome woke the fierceness of ogers to defend his new home. With the power of a svart alf he warded the home, slaughtering aphid to defend the roses, bringing the berries where old women can reach, and scaring off dogs who would poop on the lawn. Try as he might, the gnome couldn’t stop time, so with the years came the day Betty died.
He who had hated so long and so hard, cursed that stone had no tears he could cry. Oger no more but the old Nom-Nom Gnome, he silently guarded the now empty home. The day of the funeral the grand children came. Almost grown up now, and too old to play. Iris was crying, her bright eyes did weep. At last to the garden, an old friend to seek. He’s a battered old gnome, care-worn and drab, but a piece of her childhood and link to her past.
“Nom-nom!” She laughed, with her eyes full of tears. Just the
sight of him brought back her earliest years. His paint was all faded, his
fangs and his cap, but she picked him up gently and turned him around.
In a teenagers room, with a fresh coat of paint sits Nom-Nom the Gnome who forgot how to hate. Not an oger to fear but a goodly house wight; he will keep his folks' home, and keep it all right.
© John T Mainer
This work by John T Mainer is
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