I was floundering in the wake of an apocalyptic bender last Tuesday morning when the intolerable mewlings of my dog, King Midas, awakened me. Due to an oversight on my part, he’d been locked out of the house for several weeks and was desperate to get back in. I touched a match to the pilot light in my head and groped my way to the front door, pausing only once for an unpleasant but very necessary side trip to the washroom.
I was going to throw a paperweight at the dog, but when I opened the door my senses left me. Midas held in his mouth the limp body of a tiny old man. He was bluish white, with a hopelessly bald head and a long, jaggedly trimmed white beard. His eyes were a bottomless black with undulating swirls of iridescent color floating across their surface. They were the eyes of a gnome — that rare breed of diminutive hobos who sleep in abandoned cars and subsist entirely on peyote buttons. He was dressed in a snappy purple suit with silver trim. He wore a wide, diamond-encrusted belt from which hung a beautifully wrought silver dagger of Sumerian or possibly Bolivian design.
The little guy was still alive but obviously the worse for wear. Innumerable tooth marks discolored his neck where the dog had grabbed and shaken him like a rag toy. His neck was probably broken. He rolled his eyes downward and flailed his arms in a silent attempt to retrieve the conical hat that lay crumpled on the doorstep. I kicked the hat away from the porch, thinking it might be a bomb. I told Midas to drop the little man, but like most dogs, he had a mind of his own. A nasty tug-of-war ensued, in which I became the victor and Midas a very sore loser.
The gnome could hardly find the words to thank me. Instead, he begged me not to touch him or take him inside. His accent was strange and very hard to understand. He blubbered something either about burning alive or being turned inside out. I knew he was delirious and unable to comprehend the extent of his injuries. Ignoring his pleas to be left alone, I carried him inside. I laid him on the sofa and took his boots off. His feet were ice-cold.
“So this is the way you would have it,” he said bitterly. “To diminish like a candle, such a long and lingering death. Just as my uncle said it would be.”
“Shut up,” I said, slapping him a few times to sober him up. “You need rest, pal. Don’t worry. You’ll be all right. Now go to sleep.”
“Not sleep, but death,” he moaned. “My feet are growing numb.”
I looked at his feet. They were gone, melted, nothing but a damp spot on the cushion. I shrieked like a little girl in spite of myself, and ran to the washroom where I became violently ill. When I was able to return a few minutes later, half of him had melted away. I bit my lip and tried to pretend everything was okay. “Nice weather we’re having,” I said in the most vacuously cheerful voice I could muster.
“Yes, I’m dying,” croaked the old man. “I don’t care what happens to the dagger. I got it at a dollar store in Philadelphia. But will you see that my wife gets the watch?”
With his one remaining arm he tugged at a chain in his breast pocket. Out fell a watch that no doubt had once been a priceless heirloom. It now looked like a refugee from a surrealist landscape. As I took it in my hands, the numerals slithered out from beneath the watch crystal and vaporized in midair, hissing. The misshapen timepiece slipped from my grasp, sputtered on the carpet like dry ice and then vanished.
“Please see that she gets the watch. I stole it from her a few years ago and she’d be glad to get it back.”
“But who –”
“Frost. Jack Frost’s the name. But that probably wouldn’t mean anything to a numskull like you.”
He clenched a fist. His thumb snapped off and slid across the floor like an ice cube. “Would you do me one last favor?” he whispered almost inaudibly.
“Yes, of course. Anything.”
“Kill the dog.” With that he closed his watery eyes and rapidly sank into a slushy mess. Soon, nothing was left but a large, gooey stain with steam rising from it. Of course, the cheap little dagger was still there, but I threw it in the garbage. Suddenly I remembered the hat. I ran to the front door. The hat was still lying in the grass and was only slightly mushy. I wrapped it in aluminum foil and stashed it in the basement freezer.
I had every intention of selling my story to the highest bidder and furnishing the hat as irrefutable evidence. But such was not to be. Our city had a power failure on Thursday when, as luck would have it, I was away on a business trip. Needless to say, the freezer defrosted. Inside, all I found was 20 pounds of rancid calves’ brains and a nauseating chocolate-colored swill that knocked me out cold when I got my first whiff of it. Now that the freezer’s been drained there’s really nothing left but a thin red line around the inside, sort of like a bathtub ring, and it seems no amount of cleanser will take it off.
You probably think I’m a fool for not taking some pictures when I had the chance. Or maybe you think I’m a damned liar and that none of what I’ve said is true. Yeah, that’s probably what you think. Well, I’m not going to try to change your mind. Now that King Midas sleeps with the fishes, only a tiny widow woman with icicles hanging from her eyes would believe me.