Afraid of the Dark | A Short Story

A long, razor-sharp claw scrapes against the round glass window sending Toothwort Button deeper into the folds of his enormous patchwork quilt. He tries to keep his eyes closed but they pop open as the wooden front door creaks within its minuscule frame. Rolling into a tight ball, he tucks his fingers and toes as close to his body as he can. His fluffy white beard tickles his knees.

Something’s in the house. He feels it inching through the room sniffing at the empty hearth, scraping by his collection of acorn caps, and bumping into his walnut shell bed. Maybe it will leave on its own, he hopes. Pressing his eyes tightly closed and covering his ears with both hands, he lays as motionless as he can, repeating silently to himself “please go away, please go away, please go away.”

When he’s certain some time has passed, he uncovers his ears and listens to the quality of the silence. The creaking of the door remains, but the shuffling and bumping has stopped. To be sure, he listens harder until he can hear the crickets outside and harder still until he can hear the faint babble of the creek.

Pulling back the edge of the blanket he peers around the dark circular room but with the thread-bare moon giving off only a sliver of light, all he can see are wispy shadows darting across the moss-covered ceiling. There’s still plenty of deep darkness where things could be hiding. He’ll have to light the lantern.

With careful, slow movements, he climbs out of bed, slips on his bright yellow wool slippers with upturned toes, and sneaks to the lantern beside the fireplace. It takes him three tries to get the match lit, filling the room with a sulfurous smell and a yellowish glow. After the shadows settle, he can see the room is indeed empty.

“Fiddlesticks and gumdrops.”

Not finding anything is the preferred outcome, of course, but it means he’s still afraid of the dark, and gnomes are not supposed to be afraid of the dark. The realization makes him feel like a silly fool. It’s a good thing he lives alone, for who would want to be friends with an old gnome with watery eyes and stubby fingers who is always scared. It’s laughable.

He kicks at a heap of dried calendula flowers sitting by the front door. In the morning he plans to use them to dye a fresh batch of wool yarn so he can knit himself a new sweater for winter. His old one is full of holes and, although it’s still comfy, has stopped keeping him warm.

Looking at the leafy shadows dancing around the walls of his house, he has an idea. What if he didn’t go back to bed tonight? What if instead, he decides to find out what’s so scary about the darkness? The idea makes him shiver with a kind of energy he finds both terrible and exciting. Maybe he can be brave. It’s worth a try.

Pulling on his old sweater, his bright red pointed cap, and sturdy brown boots, he grabs the rounded metal handle of the lantern and presses open the bark door fully to the night. For a few minutes, he stands on the threshold shivering. This is a very bad idea. A terribly stupid idea. But he’s going to do it anyway.

Toothwort Button lives in the center of a bustling ancient forest, but he rarely speaks to anyone. The creatures he meets are usually too much in a rush and gnomes don’t hurry. This time of year, when the leaves are crunchy and mushrooms are plentiful, there’s no shortage of things to do during the day. He might take a refreshing swim in the creek, forage for rose hips or the last of summer’s berries, or take a walk through the mushroom fields. 

Looking at the darkness around him now, however, he has no idea what to do. Everything is different in the dark—the trees more looming, the air thinner and harder to breathe, and the smells mustier and sharper. He takes a tentative step. Then another.

His boots look odd in the lantern light and he watches them walk over the dark soil as if they belong to someone else. Suddenly his face smacks into something sticky and he freezes. High above, a looming shape lowers through the canopy of trees, a large shiny wet body—a killer whale leaping through the dark to attack. 

This is exactly why he’s scared of the dark. He drops the lantern, closes his eyes, curls into a ball, and screams.

“Don’t eat me!”

“What?”

It’s a thin voice, not at all whale-like, and when he opens his eyes and looks up the creature has stopped a few inches above him. Dangling from a nearly transparent string, it rotates in a circle showing off its eight spindly legs and numerous shiny black eyes. The gnome wants to scream again but realizes it would be rude and instead swallows hard and takes a step backward.

“Are you going to eat me?”

The creature laughs, a soft and not-at-all unpleasant sound. Toothwort smiles and tries to look friendly, but his feet want to run. They wiggle inside his boots.

“Of course, I’m not going to eat you. The name’s Agaric. Agaric the Spider.”

It bobs its big body up and down, and although the small gnome finds it funny, he isn’t sure he should giggle so he swallows hard again.

“I’m Toothwort Button. Toothwort Button the gnome.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, but why are you out so late at night little gnome? You gave me quite a fright.”

The idea he could scare someone else made him giggle and this time he didn’t swallow it. The spider blinks its many eyes at him and smiles widely.

“I’m sorry. I was trying to find out why the dark is so scary. Do you know?”

The spider lifts each of its eight legs as if the answer might be found beneath them, and then shakes its head slowly.

“The dark is the safest time for me. I’m far more afraid of the light, so I can’t help you. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. Thank you for not eating me.”

“You’re welcome. Good luck!”

The spider waves all its legs at him which makes Toothwort giggle again. He waves back.

“Thank you!”

Picking up his little lantern, the gnome holds it out in front of him, noticing how the rays of light form a star pattern casting thin straight lines into the darkness. As he walks on, it’s hard to make sense of all the shadows. He knows the forest is filled with rocks, sticks, leaves, tree branches, ferns, mushrooms, and acorns, but in the darkness, they all become unfamiliar lumps.

Squinting hard through the thick trees, he can make out tiny stars dotting the vast blackness of the night sky. While safe in his bed he imagines them as friends watching over him. However now, in the dark of the night, they look more like balls of fire about to flash through the sky to land on his head. Feathery fear prickles across his skin as he walks a bit faster.

A rustling sound in the tree above him makes him jump and freeze in place. He wants to run, but this time his feet won’t listen and stubbornly sit still within his boots. Raising the lantern shakily upward, he expects to see twin gleaming fireballs streaking toward him, but instead finds two sharply pointed ears, two large outstretched wings, and one sniffy wet nose.

This is exactly why he’s scared of the dark! He drops the lantern, closes his eyes, curls into a ball, and screams.

“Don’t eat me!”

“What?”

It’s a squeaky voice, not at all fire-like, and when he peeks through his fingers at the figure above him he finds it hasn’t moved any closer. In the darkness, he can make out soft brown fur and round black eyes. It wiggles its outstretched wings and yawns making a strange high-pitched peep. A red liquid drips from its furry chin.

“You…you…aren’t going to eat me?”

The thing blinks its watery eyes and Toothwort worries it might be crying. Did he hurt its feelings? Before he has a chance to apologize, the thing swoops gracefully and lands on the ground beside him. Toothwort yelps and closes his eyes again. Why must it be so close and why won’t his feet run?

“Of course not.”

It’s making a wet, slurping sound and talking with its mouthful. Toothwort slowly opens his eyes to see it taking bites of a mushy raspberry sitting beside the lantern. There’s sadness in its wide black eyes.

“I’m Puffball. Puffball the Bat. Sorry if I scared you. Everyone is scared of me. Some rabbit called me a ‘depraved monster of the night.’ Can you believe it?”

Toothwort can. Despite being furry, it’s kind of scary with those veiny wings and strange big eyes, but it’s clearly hurting. Brushing himself off and standing he remembers his mother always said “the cure for sadness is praise.” He clears his throat.

“Well, I don’t think it was nice of that rabbit to call you names. You are beautiful with those wide, thin wings. I bet you can fly super fast too. Also, you must be good at finding things because I’ve not found any raspberries for weeks.”

The bat stops eating and stares at Toothwort blinking for a minute until a huge smile bursts across its face. It makes him look a lot less scary and the gnome smiles back.

“What’s your name?”

“Oh, sorry. I’m Toothwort Button. Toothwort Button the gnome.”

The bat pushes a piece of raspberry toward him, but he shakes his head.

“No thank you. I’m not very hungry.”

“What are you doing at night if you’re not eating?”

“Oh, I’m trying to find out why the dark is so scary. Do you know?”

The bat looks around the forest for a minute and shakes its head.

“The dark is the safest time for me. I’m far more afraid of the light, so I can’t help you. I’m sorry.”

The gnome nods. It’s the same thing the spider told him. He wonders if anyone will know. Picking up his lantern he gives the bat a final smile and waves.

“Well, I better keep looking.”

“Bye! Good luck!”

The bat grabs the rest of the raspberry with its feet and swoops into the trees with a graceful back-and-forth motion. He’s scary, but nice too. Pressing the lantern up a bit higher in front of him he continues through the forest.

All around him are unfamiliar shapes and fleeting sounds. Scuttling sounds. Whooshing sounds. Big dark shapes. Small thin shapes. It seems the further he walks from the bat the more fear clings to him. It’s like a rumbling inside, a thunderous feeling climbing up and up from his wee toes to the tip of his bright red cap. Toothwort doesn’t like this at all. He hates it.

Although his feet are still moving forward, he wishes he’d never left the warmth of his bed. Why did he think the answers to why he’s scared of the dark would be found in the dark? All he’s managed to accomplish is finding new things to be frightened of. What if he meets a spider who isn’t nice? Or a bat who isn’t sad? What if he meets something far far worse than both.

Toothwort has always been fond of his ability to play make-believe and imagine things, but it’s not a worthy skill when you are in the dark. He puts together creatures he’s seen in new and frightening ways. A large warty frog with bat wings. A scuttling ladybug with huge rabbit feet. A firefly with spider legs, spitting flames.

It’s at this exact moment when all the fears inside him seem ready to rip through his body and come pouring out into the night, he hears a rustling sound right next to him. Freezing, he moves the beam of his lantern slowly to the left and finds a large, dark bush mere inches from his face. And it’s moving.

This is exactly why he’s scared of the dark! He drops the lantern, closes his eyes, curls into a ball, and screams.

“Don’t eat me!”

“What?”

It’s a soft voice, not at all monster-like, and it ramps up immediately talking faster and faster. Toothwort isn’t sure what to make of this rapid-fire voice in the bushes, but by the time it’s done talking, he’s standing and brushing dirt off his yellow sweater.

“Eat you? Eat you? What are you talking about? You are about to eat me? I can tell with your light…your stomping…your breathing! Let’s make a bargain. Okay? We can do that, right? Right?A deal? You don’t eat me and I don’t eat you. What do you say? Deal? Deal? Deal?”

As it repeats the last word over and over Toothwort sees a small nose poke through the bushes twitching wildly. It’s quickly followed by two almond-shaped black eyes, two small ears, a long slender body, and an enormous bushy tail.

“I’m Truffles. Truffles the Squirrel and I hope you don’t want to eat me. Do we have a deal?”

It thrusts a furry paw out toward the gnome.

“We have a deal.”

They shake enthusiastically until the squirrel, overcome with excitement, sweeps Toothwort up into his arms and swings him around in circles. It’s a bit scary, but also fun, and Toothwort laughs and laughs. They spin so fast that the gnome’s boots fly off his feet disappearing into the night.

“Oh, I’ll get ‘em! Sorry!”

With a bouncy leap, Truffles scurries around in the dark, bumping into things and rustling leaves. In less than a minute the boots are back on the gnome’s feet, but Truffles mumbles quietly under his breath hopping from one foot to the next.

“What’s wrong?”

“You don’t like me. I didn’t even ask you your name and now….”

The gnomes thrusts out his hand.

“I’m Toothwort Button. Toothwort Button the gnome. And I do like you.”

Truffles sniffs loudly.

“You do?”

“I do.”

“Wait? What were you doing before you came across me? Did I stop you from some big quest? I did, didn’t I? I ruined your quest. I spoiled your fun. I’m always doing that. I’m such a silly fool!”

Toothwort is smiling again. There’s something so enduring about this new friend. He’s comfortable around him. It’s as if the broken parts inside him, the things he doesn’t like about himself, don’t matter as much. Taking Truffle’s paw into his hand he wonders if maybe he has the answer he’s been searching for.

“Actually, I’m trying to find out why the dark is so scary. Do you know?”

Truffles jumps into the air, spinning and leaping.

“I do!”

Toothwort jumps to his feet and the two of them dance together, holding hands and moving in a circle, but this time Truffles is careful not to spin him so fast that his boots fly off. When the celebration winds down, Truffles gives him a hug and steps back.

“You are scared of the dark because you are alone. You need a friend and now you have one.”

“I do?”

“You do.”

For a moment Truffles and Toothwort simply smile at each other in the pale golden light of the lantern. Neither of them jumps when an owl hoots in a tree above them or when they hear the sound of a mouse scuttling nearby. They are simply content to smile at each other in the dark.

“Truffles, I have an idea! Do you want to come live with me?”

The second the words come out the old fears inside Toothwort spring forth as well. He was so certain a second ago of everything, but what if this new friend doesn’t want to spend all their time together? What if he already has a friend? Truffles has a strange look on his face.

“Do you need help cleaning? Like a janitor?”

“Oh, no! I mean…like so we can be brave together. So the dark isn’t scary all the time…We could live in my house…together…”

Toothwort feels tears about to spring from his eyes, but before they do Truffles pulls him close whispering “yes” into his bright red hat. Hugging, they stand in the dark for a long time both thinking about what it’s like to not be scared anymore and to have a friend.

Author’s note: This week’s story is dedicated to my darling daughter with big feelings. It might be a silly little tale but it’s full of lots of heart. Sometimes the darkness is shadows across the wall, but most of the time it’s dealing with loneliness and scary thoughts of not being good enough. May you find something here you can cling to.


Short Story Challenge | Week 42

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story with a good reason to be scared of the dark. We had to include the words a killer whale, depraved, janitor, bargain, dye, fool, heap, kick, praise, and quilt.


Write With Us

Prompt: A deal with the devil

Include: Regime, album, torch, lodge, highway, sandy, rune, contract, taken, suit


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

49 thoughts on “Afraid of the Dark | A Short Story

  1. Bridgette, I adored this little story. I love the pattern of the story telling, the intricate details, and the very happy ending that goes hand in hand with such a wholesome message.
    This could easily be turned into a childrens story.
    So cute!
    I think I’ll be saying “fiddlesticks and gumdrops” when I also face troubles in my days and nights.
    Your writing is magical. Don’t doubt yourself. ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much, Geli! You have no idea how much your support means to me. Having you on this journey has been such a wonderful blessing. You are such an inspiration!

      I’ll be reading this comment over and over when I start to question myself. It’s such a gift.

      Like

  2. I loved this story. I was wondering why the gnome knew what a whale was, lol. Your stories are so good! I hope your daughter is doing okay. I think the week is getting better for you and your family. Hard times always come, and the only way out of them is through them. Hope each day gets better.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, sometimes these words we have to include just don’t fit with my story at all. Whale and janitor in a story of a gnome being afraid of the dark? Ooof.

      Thank you for loving my story and the kind words. We aren’t over the hard times yet, but I’m trying hard to remain hopeful we can get some answers and get my girl feeling back to herself.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a delightful story, Bridgette. Not only that, but I could read a more profound meaning within the words, which I appreciated. I felt all the emotions of the little gnome with his fear and finally joy at having made a very special friend to help calm his fears of the dark. I didn’t think I would be able to read it all through because my concentration is so poor at the moment. Still, I was totally transported into this little fairyland story. I found myself in a very much-welcome and enjoyable world. Thank you for offering that opportunity for escapism in your writing. Your love and concern about your daughter come across so well – I do hope she can read this and find a lot of beautiful thoughts amongst your words. I know this is a difficult time for you and your family right now; I keep you in my thoughts with much love, my friend. Xx 💖❣💝

    Liked by 1 person

    • This makes me giddy with joy, Ellie! I’m so glad you found it engaging and could see the message I was trying to send my dear daughter. I feel all your love and support. I’m so grateful for you! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Bridgette, I wish I would have come across this one before Nikolai fell asleep and was BEGGING me for a good story! I’m taking a scene so I can come back to it again tomorrow night. This one is perfect for him, he will love it as much as I do I just know it!! I’ll tell you what he says about it tomorrow night 🥰❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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