Gnit-wit Gnipper and the Perilous Plague

by T.J. Lantz

After eight years of life Gnipper Tallhat was noticing a disturbing pattern beginning to form. No matter where she went disaster seemed to follow her around like a lemming off a sharp cliff. These occurrences weren’t the simple kind of disasters that most eight year olds brought with them, like skinned knees, broken dishes or a stray ball flying through the bedroom window. No, when it came to personal catastrophe Gnipper was a child prodigy. It was to the point where most of the creatures around the island tried desperately to avoid contact with her, and those that couldn’t spent their time regretting that circumstance.

Gnipper could always figure out how these things happened, a hereditary benefit of being the daughter of one of the world’s truly great scientists, Professor Gnorbert Tallhat. The problem she struggled with was the why. Regardless of how much thought she put into it, Gnipper was never exactly sure why these things happened to her. Some people around the island assumed she was just born unlucky, while others claimed she tried too hard. Those were the nice people; usually the lucky few that had managed to avoid losing a roof or a beloved family pet1 to one of Gnipper’s experiments. The majority of people, however, held a much less polite viewpoint of the youngster. That opinion might have been summed up best by Gnipper’s first governess, a wrinkled old hag that smelled like a combination of mothballs and butterscotch. She quit after three hours, screaming that the little girl was crazier than a leprechaun that lost his rainbow. Gnipper wasn’t sure why her teacher was so upset. She was positive the old lady’s eyebrows would grow back eventually, after all that was what eyebrows tended to do.

The little mishaps that followed her around like a puppy weren’t all Gnipper’s fault though, at least not according to her. She was positive that society was at least mostly to blame. Gnipper always said that the pressure they put on young gnomes was just ridiculous, perhaps even scandalous. However, despite her beliefs, Gnipper was still eager to prove herself to the world. She wanted nothing more than to stand in front of the entire community, as their leader, the Lord of the Board of Knowledgeable Gnomes, read her accomplishment out loud for everyone to hear. Or at least for everyone to hear that wasn’t busy that night and had bothered to show up at the ceremony. She could just imagine the applause she would receive as her father himself, as the current Lord of the Board, would be the one to place her new pileus upon her head. Receiving that cone shaped felt hat was the dream of every young gnome…or at least it used to be, back in the good old days.

Gnipper wasn’t sure exactly when the good old days were, or what happened in them, but they sure sounded nice. Nowadays things were much harder. Earning that prestigious pointed cap had become more of an expectation than a lifelong dream. As a matter of fact, over the years a rather rude practice had become accepted. Now, if you didn’t earn your pileus by the time you had completed seven years of existence, many harsh words were spoken about your inadequacies. The behind her back words never bothered Gnipper much, as she couldn’t hear those anyway. It was the to-her-face comments about how pathetic she was that really got to her. She always assumed that was just her father’s way of speaking, but it definitely made for awkward dinner conversation.

A person might wonder why gnomes felt this strongly about a headpiece. The answer is simple really; gnomes strongly believe that the taller hat you wear the more important you are. This has been their way for almost two thousand years, ever since the other species started stealing all their best ideas and inventions! Gnipper knew from her history lessons that at first the gnomes considered waging a conventional war to force the thieves to stop stealing from them, or at least to give them proper credit! However, despite their initial lust for battle, the wisest of the gnomes were quickly able to convince their kin that physical warfare was not the best path of action for a species whose largest members needed a step stool to reach the bottom shelf of their own homes. Instead, they would use their immense brainpower to invent a new way to maintain credit for their work. That idea was simple, for each great invention he or she created that gnome would be granted a slightly taller version of their colorful pointed caps.

Unfortunately, despite the gnomes’ excitement, this great idea had a small drawback. At first, only the greatest thinkers and scientists were awarded their pileus. It was a huge honor, one worthy of songs and stories, or at the very least a rousing toast. However, soon those gnomes wanted to make sure their children received that same distinguished honor. Who didn’t want their offspring to follow in the same illustrious footsteps that they had laid down before them? And then, of course, how would it look if grandpa and mom both had their pileus, but their granddaughter was a bare headed failure? That would be horrible, so of course parents pushed their children to make sure that travesty never occurred. Gnipper’s father was certainly no exception.

Soon, the hats were no longer a symbol of honor, but the lack of one a symbol of complete and utter shame. Somewhere along the way some genius decided that it would be developmentally appropriate for a gnome to achieve this great lifelong goal before their eighth birthday. Gnipper was sure that an idea that idiotic certainly earned that gnome a taller cap. He even developed a term for those gnomes that were “developmentally stunted”. That word was the most dreaded term any young gnome could ever have to hear slung at them: gnit-wit! It was an old gnomish word that loosely translated to one without adequate intelligence. It was the worst insult Gnipper could think of ever being called, and yet, because of the recent anniversary of her birth, one she was forced to hear on a daily basis.

Finally though, after weeks of work on her latest project, Gnipper was confident that soon she would be able to shed her gnit-wit status and cover her head in victory. When she closed her eyes she could just imagine the feel of that cap sitting proudly atop her skull, directly centered between a bright pink pony-tail on each side of her head, screaming to everyone about the gargantuan importance of Gnipper Tallhat. She may have had a few setbacks in the past, but if it was one thing Gnipper didn’t lack it was confidence in her next invention. She was a Tallhat after all.

The thought of her impending success made her smile. A look her father saw as she handed him his morning tea and paper, the same thing she had done every morning since her mother passed away when she was four. As always, his enormous pileus towered over the room like a gargoyle sitting atop a tower aweing and intimidating passersby.

“Good morning, Professor Tallhat” said Gnipper, greeting her father with the formal title he most appreciated. She had tried calling him ‘father’ when she was younger, but he had promptly informed her that he didn’t spend years of his life studying to be a father. Since then, he was always Professor Tallhat to her.

“Good Morning, Gnipper. You certainly seem chipper this morning. Working on a big idea are you? I’d hate to see my only daughter bring anymore embarrassment to the family. It’s hard enough when the greatest thinker of this generation has a gnit-wit for a child.”

The Professor had an uncanny knack for making himself sound great, while simultaneously making other people feel horrible. Gnipper wondered if one day he would earn a hat for his ability, after all he’d earned one for almost everything else he did. One of the benefits of being the Lord of the Board was that you had the ultimate decision as to whether or not you deserve to be honored for your work. As far as she knew no Lord had ever decided something they did wasn’t worthy of the honor. If there was one thing no gnome had ever mastered it was humility.

As she poured the tea into his ceramic mug, Gnipper suddenly found that her smile had decided to run and find refuge from her father’s words. She couldn’t wait to finally be able to prove to him that she wasn’t just an embarrassment.

“I know, Professor.” Gnipper responded, trying hard to keep the annoyance out of her voice. “I’m working on a great idea right now. I think you’ll be very proud once you see it”.

“Really?” remarked Professor Tallhat, a skeptical look darting out from under his dark black spectacles as he looked up from the paper. “What exactly is it you’re working on? Do I need to warn the neighbors about this one?” Professor Tallhat chuckled.

“No, not this time. This time it’s very safe, I promise. I can’t tell you yet though…it’s a surprise.” Gnipper put her finger in front of her mouth in the universal sign for ‘don’t tell anyone’.

“Well, I won’t pry then, little one. Though, I will ask you a small favor. Please don’t do anything…like you usually do. I have an important speech tomorrow evening and I would prefer to get through it without hearing any more ‘Gnipper’ jokes.” Confident that he had made his point Professor Tallhat took a large swig of his beverage, cringing slightly at the taste. “Did you do something different with the tea today, Gnipper. It tastes a bit strange.” Professor Tallhat stared into the cup, peering as though his eyes might suddenly be able to identify unnatural flavors.

“No, nothing different. Just a regular cup of tea.” Gnipper stared at the ceiling as she stumbled through her words, as she did every time she was lying. She had spent enough time studying the ceiling that she knew exactly how many cracks it had. The truth had never been something Gnipper felt too strongly about. Her father had taught her from a very young age that ‘the truth was the story told by those important enough to matter’. Gnipper figured she was only a few hours away from mattering, so whatever she said to get her experiment working was absolutely fine.

“Gnipper!” cried Professor Tallhat, realizing that something was wrong. “What did you do? What’s happening?” Gnipper could see the color fading from her father’s face as he spoke, leaving him pale and ghostly in just a few seconds.

“Don’t worry Professor, it’s nothing serious. You’ll be ok very shortly.” Those were the last words Professor Tallhat heard before he lost consciousness. Gnipper took no pleasure in infecting her father, but she couldn’t help but get excited thinking about how proud he would be when she had cured him. He always said “a scientist needs to do whatever it takes to get results.” That was one bit of advice Gnipper had no problem following.

Gnipper was surprised at how quickly his system became infected. She thought she would have a few hours before he felt sick and went to lie down. Must have put too much in, she thought, brushing off any concern.

Now all she had to do was figure out a way to get her father downstairs to her lab. She could probably manage to drag his limp body down the steps, but she wasn’t sure if she had the strength to keep from dropping him. Gnipper knew she’d just hate herself if somehow he got hurt during this endeavor. Suddenly, she had a great idea. She ran outside into the yard, returning a few minutes later with a small wooden cart that she used to carry goods from the market. It was long enough to fit Professor Tallhat’s entire body and low enough to the ground that she would be able to lift him into it. She took his hat off and placed it on the table. She would hate to get his pileus dirty, especially now that she would soon have a matching one to wear.

Five minutes later Gnipper was ready to roll. The small wooden wagon filled with Proffesor Tallhat was aimed directly at the stone stairs that led into Gnipper’s basement laboratory. Gnipper stretched her arms and legs, making sure to prepare her muscles before beginning. Safety first, Gnipper thought, I would hate to pull a muscle on such an important day!

Grabbing the back of the cart, she began to push as hard as she could, trying to gain the small vehicle as much momentum as she could before she hit the stairs. A few seconds later, the quiet morning air was pierced with a series of bangs, crunches, and snaps. Looking down the stairs at the broken cart and her father’s battered body, Gnipper remembered why she had stopped her work in Physics. Oh well, she thought, at least he made it all the way down in one attempt.

Gnipper made her way down the stairs and helped her father onto the bed she had set up for the experiment. She was confident that a few bumps, bruises and compound fractures weren’t going to matter once her experiment was a success. Professor Tallhat was going to be so proud of her.

It took Gnipper some time to bandage his new wounds. She made sure she tied him down in case he woke up from his little coma. He’d understand…this was science after all. You had to do whatever it took to get results, or so Gnipper kept telling herself.

It was his blood that first made her nervous. Checking it under her magnifier, she could see that the disease had progressed far more quickly than she had anticipated. She wasn’t sure exactly why that occurred, but she knew that it was time to give him the cure. She’d been working hard on it, ever since she found Fuzzy down by the docks. Originally, she had only wanted to do some maze tests with him, but when she found out how special the rat was, she knew that he was going to be the ticket to her first pileus.

As Gnipper prepared the final ingredients for her cure, she noticed that her father was making a low guttural sound. She placed her hand on his forehead and could feel that he was rapidly burning up. This was not how she had planned it. He was supposed to be cured long before his fever got anywhere near this high. She crushed the medicine a bit faster; worry beginning to overtake her actions. Opening his mouth, she lathered the green paste all over his tongue and throat, where it would dissolve and enter his body.

Gnipper tried to calm down as she finished administering the medicine. In just a few minutes her amazing cure would spread through his body and then they would be off to present her findings in front of the Board. Everything was finally going to go right for Gnipper, except for one little detail: the medicine didn’t seem to be working. It had worked almost instantly when she had administered it to Fuzzy, yet now it seemed to be having no effect.

Gnipper tried another dose. Perhaps she simply hadn’t given enough? She had been known to miscalculate measurements every now and then. She always had trouble remembering the difference between tablespoons and teaspoons.

Gnipper waited, but saw no improvement in her father’s condition. She listened to his heart and checked his pulse. Both sounded slow to her, though her experience in actual medicine was quite limited. Limited meaning exactly one rat cured over eight years, and zero experience treating actual gnomes. She grabbed a cloth and soaked it in cold water before placing it on her father’s head. At least that should help a bit, she thought hopefully.

Gnipper couldn’t understand why this was happening. She had been able to cure Fuzzy without a problem; the same medicine should work now. What could she possibly be missing? The young gnome racked her brain trying to think of a solution. As far as she knew no gnome had ever earned their pileus after committing murder, and she certainly didn’t want to try to be the first. It didn’t help that she neglected to get permission for the experiment first, but she really wanted it to be a surprise! He usually loved surprises.

Finally, after several hours of pacing and watching her father’s fever grow, Gnipper decided she needed help. As a scientist this was not an easy thing for Gnipper to admit. She certainly didn’t want to just run out and tell the world that she infected her father with a potentially fatal disease! Luckily for Gnipper, being so “accident” prone had one extremely valuable side effect: she was really close friends with the city’s doctor, Kelda Pearlhorn. If anyone could help her father now it was Dr. Kelda, not to mention Gnipper hoped she might be willing to keep this little setback quiet from the rest of the creatures on the island, especially the other gnomes.

Leaving her father in the lab, Gnipper ran out the door and down the road. The one bit of good news was that the Doctor wasn’t far away, less than half a mile.

Not long after, out of breath and sweating hard from the warm morning sun beating on her during her run, Gnipper arrived at Dr. Kelda’s practice. There were a few healers on the island, but only Kelda had the skill to be called a “doctor”. The rest of the healers were a bit more amateur, the kind of people who would order leeches placed on you for any ailment they could diagnose from a splinter to an appendectomy, which considering gnomes didn’t have appendixes really made Gnipper question their credentials.

Gnipper banged on the iron door, hoping that Dr. Kelda was not busy with a patient. At least most of her hoped she was free. A small part, no bigger than a middle toe at most, hoped the doctor had moved to another island very far away so she wouldn’t have to sit and explain that she made yet another ‘little Gnipper’, as her father liked to call these mishaps.

Much to her toe’s dismay the door swung open with a loud piercing screech.

“Good morning, Gnipper” said the cheerful doctor as she opened the door for the small gnome to enter. Something about Dr. Kelda always made Gnipper feel a bit more at ease. Perhaps it was her calm, soothing voice or her warm smile, or perhaps even the way her mane and tail radiated in the bright sunlight. Whatever it happened to be, Dr. Kelda was the only creature on the entire island that didn’t judge her ‘mistakes’, she just fixed the damage and said “I hope I don’t have to see you anytime soon!”

Gnipper wondered if all unicorns were as kind as Kelda. She had never met another one, as they tended to keep to themselves and live in the woods a few miles outside the city. They rarely even showed up at big community events like carnivals or beheadings: the fun stuff that all the different species on the island enjoyed.

“Dr. Kelda, I have an itty bitty problem. I was hoping you might have some time to help me.” Gnipper showed Dr. Kelda her thumb and index finger very close together, indicating just how small it was. Gnipper could see that despite her gesture Dr. Kelda was far less than convinced.

“Itty bitty, you say? Like last month when you brought that poor little friend of yours in after all her hair fell out?” Dr. Kelda maintained her smile as she brought up Gnipper’s most recent visit. She had been trying to invent a hair dye that changes color every morning, but it never quite worked out the way Gnipper planned.

“Yes, Dr. Kelda. Just like that.” Gnipper cleared her throat before she continued, not exactly sure how she wanted to proceed. “You see, my father seems to have gotten a bit sick today.” Gnipper struggled to keep her neck from instinctively turning to the sky. She assured herself that technically she hadn’t lied yet.

“What do you mean ‘sick’, Gnipper? The sniffles kind of sick, or the house blew up and the roof fell on top of him kind of sick?” Gnipper was sure that if the doctor didn’t need all four limbs to stand that she would be folding her arms tightly right now.

She thought for a moment, trying to figure out a scale in her head that would accurately represent the difference between the two options. “I would say it is definitely right in the middle of those two things…well, maybe closer to the house explosion than the sniffles.”

“Gnipper, what did you do?” Kelda’s voice turned from cheerful to stern as she stared down at the little gnome. Now Gnipper knew how a worm felt when you went fishing. No matter what happened now, there was no wriggling off the hook on this one.

“Well, you see” started the nervous gnome, as she stared a hole into the floor beneath her. “I found this rat, and he was sick, so I decided to see if I could cure him. I worked really hard for weeks testing different plants and herbs. I must have tested five hundred different combinations. Finally I found a medicine that completely destroyed the disease from his blood! I wanted to surprise my father with my discoveries and prove to him that it worked, so I infected his tea. I gave him the cure, just like I was supposed to, but nothing happened. I think I may have messed up!”

“Gnipper, what disease are you talking about?” asked Kelda with a nervous tingle in her voice.

Gnipper lowered her voice to a whisper, trying to hide her shame as she spoke, “The Black Plague.”

“The Plague!” exclaimed Dr. Kelda excitedly. “Gnipper, don’t you realize how dangerous that is? The last time the plague broke out millions of creatures died! If it spreads the entire island could be at risk! We need to get to your father as soon as possible, where is he?” Dr. Kelda didn’t bother waiting for an answer as she grabbed her medical bag in her mouth.

“He’s sleeping at the house” Gnipper decided that this sounded far better than saying he was unconscious in her lab.

The trip back to Gnipper’s house was even quicker, due to Kelda allowing Gnipper to ride on her back, something she had never seen the unicorn do for any other creature. Gnipper held on for dear life as the determined doctor galloped down the cobbled road, yelling for people to get out of her way. Both the gnome’s hands gripped Kelda’s silky mane as tightly as they could! As Kelda continued screaming, Gnipper offered apologies to those being knocked to the ground during their desperate attempts at avoiding the charging equine. At least apologizing was something she was good at.

Gnipper cringed as one particularly old dwarf dove out of the way and landed directly in the pear section of the market fruit stand. Gnipper was very glad that Kelda’s yelling was louder than the Dwarf’s because she was positive she wasn’t allowed to hear the words he was slinging at them.

Once they arrived, Gnipper brought Dr. Kelda directly into the house and down to her lab. She noticed that her father looked even worse than when she left. His eyes were hollow and his cheeks pale and gaunt. The worst part was the odor. Professor Tallhat was always very keen on hygiene and often bathed two or three times a week, far more than most creatures on the island. Yet, despite his extreme cleanliness he was giving off a horrid smell, almost as bad as the gryphon droppings that lined the city streets after the great winged beasts had been let out to hunt. Despite the offensive odor, Gnipper moved next to her father’s side and gripped his hand. For the first time in her life getting her pileus did not matter to her in the slightest. She would gladly spend the rest of her days as Gnipper the gnit-wit if it meant her father was going to be alright.

“Gnipper, you will be assisting me”, said Kelda, her voice indicating that this was not a request. The unicorn began ruffling through her bag, taking out small glass bottles with her muzzle and placing them on the counter. “Start by mixing the contents of the red bottle with the white powder, equal parts of each. There should be several empty vials in the bag you can use.”

As she followed Kelda’s instructions thoughts flooded Gnipper’s mind. How had she let this happen? Why had she rushed into this without proper testing? Was the Professor going to die? She wanted to earn her hat so badly and was so sure of herself that she was willing to risk her own father’s life to achieve her goal. Everything she had been so confident about with this experimental medicine now seemed like pure foolishness. It wasn’t that Gnipper felt that she couldn’t create a cure for the plague, she was still positive she could do that with some more time to research, but perhaps her motivations were a bit off. Dr. Kelda practiced medicine to cure people and save lives, yet here she was trying to create a drug that would cure millions, not because she wanted to help those people, but because she wanted a hat that told everyone that she did. What does that stupid hat even matter, she thought to herself as tears began pouring from her big green eyes.

“Now Gnipper, take out my scalpel. We’re going to need to drain your father of some of his bad blood. Are you going to be able to do that?” Gnipper nodded an affirmative answer to the doctor, wiping the tears away with the sleeve of her dress.

As she slipped the sharp knife across her father’s lifeless body all Gnipper could think about were the people she had hurt trying to be important: her family, her friends, random strangers that happened to be passing too close. All of them had the difficulty of their lives raised just by being near her. Maybe I should just leave the island, the gnome thought sadly. This had been her home since she was born, but how could she stay here now after being the cause of her father’s death?

Gnipper cringed as she watched the blood drip from her father’s body into a bucket below him. It was darker than usual, almost the color of tar.

“Now add the clear liquid to the bucket.” Kelda commanded. Gnipper quickly obliged the Doctor. The healer stared at the blood for several minutes watching for changes and reactions before she finally spoke. “Hmmmmm…I thought this might be the case.”

“Yes, Doctor?” Gnipper’s heart raced as she waited to hear the doctor’s prognosis. Maybe things weren’t as bad as she thought. Maybe she just missed something simple and this whole fiasco would be over in a few moments. Gnipper swore that if Dr. Kelda could save him that she would never run another experiment again, at least not for a long time.

“He’s dying, Gnipper. I’m sorry. The disease changed rapidly from what the rat carried… somehow it mutated. That’s why it affected him so quickly and didn’t respond to your treatment.” Gnipper expected the Doctor to look at her with blame and anger like the rest of the community did when her mishaps occurred, but all she saw was sadness and compassion in her eyes. That made Gnipper feel even worse. She knew that things were most dire when people skipped angry and went straight to sad. It’s how it was when her mother died.

Gnipper tried to respond, but couldn’t make the words leave her mouth. She wanted to scream and cry out, but nothing happened. Her body just sat there refusing to listen to anything her emotions demanded. If she had just tested her product more this never would have happened. The thought, I killed my father, repeated in her head over and over again.

“If I had just had some patience”, Gnipper managed to blurt out, forcing her mouth to work again. “But, no! I had to do everything so fast so I get that dumb hat! I just couldn’t wait and now my father is going to die because of me.” With that, Gnipper’s emotions refused to be silenced anymore and she broke into hysterical sobs.

As she sat crying on the floor, feeling that all hope was lost, Gnipper had a familiar feeling: an idea.

She popped up from the stone floor and ran over to a wooden table next to the wall. On it was a small metal cage filled with a single plump rat. Fuzzy looked quite confused as Gnipper grabbed him and yanked him out of his secure little world.

“I’m sorry, Fuzzy” Gnipper spoke softly as she cut a small incision into his hind leg. She grabbed an empty vial to collect his blood as it dripped off his body. He tried several times to wriggle free, biting wildly at his captor, but Gnipper held him fiercely, determined to see this new idea through.

“Gnipper, what are you doing?” asked the Doctor inquisitively.

“His blood, Dr. Kelda. Fuzzy had the disease, but I was able to cure it in him, which means his blood would have produced the needed antibodies to fight it. If I can mix his antibodies with my cure, it might be enough to help father’s own immune system fight back…I just need a way to boost his natural defenses for a bit to get it started.”

“I will take care of that” replied Dr. Kelda, understanding what the gnome proposed. “When you are ready bring the scalpel here.”

Gnipper finished mixing her new medicine and headed back to Kelda, scalpel in hand.

“Now Gnipper, you may not like what I tell you to do, but it is necessary to save your father. Now, in one quick motion I want you to cut under my horn and remove it.”

Gnipper stared at her in shock. It was common knowledge that a unicorn’s horn contained immense regenerative powers, able to purge great illnesses. It was the reason humans had hunted them to near extinction before Kelda’s herd had moved to the island for refuge. Alone, Gnipper’s new cure had a chance to work, but with Kelda’s horn significantly increasing her father’s natural healing, those odds changed greatly in his favor.

Unfortunately, it was just as well known that giving up her horn was breaking the first rule of the herd. They treated their horns with respect and reverence, their length showing the honor the unicorn deserved. To be giving it up would mean she would be forfeiting her place among the herd. She would be exiling herself from her only family. Knowing well the feeling of losing a family member, Gnipper felt that she couldn’t ask Dr. Kelda to do that.

“You can’t! What will the other unicorns think of you? I don’t want you to lose your horn or your herd”. Gnipper felt like she was about to cry again. She was really getting sick of crying.

“Ah, Gnipper” Kelda replied with a grin. “Over time, it will grow back, and eventually the herd will allow me to return. But if I sit by and allow your father to die there is one thing I could never regain…my respect. You are still very young, but I hope one day that you learn one important lesson. It doesn’t matter what others think of you, what matters is what you think of yourself. All the hats in the world can’t make you a better gnome, only you can do that with your deeds.”

Unable to come up with the right words to respond to Dr. Kelda’s gesture the gnome lifted up the sharp metal blade and severed the unicorn’s horn in one motion. To Gnipper’s surprise there was no blood, and the wound closed up almost as fast as it had occurred.

She dropped the horn into the medicine, watching it dissolve on contact. The liquid turned from a dark green to a shiny alabaster within seconds. Opening her father’s mouth with her fingers, she poured the medicine down his throat. Gnipper watched as Kelda laid her muzzle upon her father’s head, not speaking for what seemed like an eternity.

Finally, the hornless unicorn lifted her head, looked down at the quivering gnome child and declared in a booming voice “He’s going to be fine! The fever has broken!”

Gnipper relaxed her body, only now realizing that she had been holding her breath. “Thank you Doctor, you saved him!”

“No, Gnipper. We saved him. Without your idea of using the rat’s blood my horn would not have been enough. That was very good thinking.”

Gnipper smiled for the first time since this morning. It had been good thinking. She knew there was no way she would get her pileus after accepting Kelda’s help, but that didn’t matter to her anymore. She was proud of herself and that felt better than any head accessory in the world. Turning her back to Kelda, Gnipper stormed off towards the stairs.

“Who does the Board think they are telling gnomes who matters and who doesn’t?” Gnipper loudly proclaimed. “If I want a hat I don’t need them to tell me I earned it. I can decide myself what I’ve earned! I’m a good gnome. I’m smart and I AM NOT A GNIT-WIT!” Gnipper yelled the last part as loud as her small lungs allowed.

Gnipper looked eagerly around the room until she found what she was looking for. Hanging above the doorway was a large iron skillet that had belonged to her mother. Since neither she nor her father knew how to cook it had sat on the wall for the past four years collecting dust.

Gnipper grabbed the skillet and slid it off the hook. She stared down at it remembering Kelda’s advice. She didn’t care anymore who called her a gnit-wit. They were wrong and she would show them. She placed the skillet upon her head, making sure it sat straight when she lifted her head up. It certainly wasn’t as comfortable as a nice pileus would be, and it wasn’t going to keep her warm, but none of that mattered to Gnipper at that moment. She no longer cared about the Board, or what the other gnomes thought of her, or if her accomplishments were recognized. No, she only cared now about what she thought of herself, and she thought her new hat looked pretty good.

With a smile Gnipper headed back down the stairs to the lab. Perhaps one day she would earn her pileus, but for now she just wanted her father to be the first one to see that his daughter was no longer a gnit-wit!

Suddenly the young gnome stopped with a thought. I wonder if Father would like a cup of tea when he wakes?

The End

Footnote:

1 It must be made clear that Gnipper didn’t actually kill any beloved family pets. She simply switched her not-quite-ready-yet tearless animal shampoo with her even-less-ready invisibility gel. Though many people sprained wrists and ankles tripping over unseen terriers, no permanent harm occurred before the effects wore off.