What a glorious day, Nod thought, as he inhaled the sweet scent of the early afternoon. He closed his eyes and felt the warm breath of raspberries and cinnamon swirl past the threshold of his door to meet with the cool pine air drifting off the forest. He stepped down and promptly tumbled the remaining steps to the earth, flailing his gangly limbs over the fragrant black soil.
“Dirt angels it is,” he chuckled to himself as he flopped over on his back and mimicked a winged creature in flight. “What was that?” He stopped mid-stroke and sucked in his breath as he gazed over his land. His eyes fixated on the blooming vegetable garden that teemed with green shoots, tendrils, and baby vines. I thought I heard, or maybe felt, an unusual thud from over there, he mused. Sometimes the trees in the shadow of the big mountain would drop their fruit early out of impatience and cause a ruckus (so random thuds weren’t unusual).
Just then, the tallest plant, which stood proudly in the middle of the first vegetable plot, quivered and fell over like it had given up the ghost. Nod sprang up and bounded to the side of his garden, snatching his slightly rumpled hat and placing it upon his head as he went.
“Why…” A faint voice from under the ground grunted words even the sharpest ears couldn’t have untangled. The tip of something metal protruded from the spot where the vanquished pea plant’s roots had embraced the soil only moments before.
“My garden, my darling garden!” said Nod. He peered down the small hole with his weathered hands atop his knees in distress. The soil kept falling away as the terra firma devoured his strapping plants, felling them one by one as if some monster from below sought for revenge. The metal thing chomped a fresh layer of soil every couple of seconds before disappearing back into the oblivion from whence it came. Nod stepped back, wringing his knuckles and waiting for the intruder and destroyer of his garden to show itself. Whatever it was, he could handle it just fine.
The voice came clearer now. “Finally. I sure hope this was worth it.”
What was worth it? Nod asked himself. Maybe I should engage it. He took a measured breath. “Now, I’ve heard of badgers in the surrounding areas,” Nod began to tell the voice. “The trees say they’re usually nice but can be territorial when threatened.” He looked at his wooden friends a ways off for confirmation. “But I sure hope you aren’t one because I don’t know what they look like.” He stroked his long beard in thought and bewilderment.
“Oh good, some fresh air.” A calloused hand sprouted from the hole, followed by a hairy arm. “I was getting tired of breathing in this stuff.” The dwarf propelled his body from out of the hole, using the shovel clenched in his fist for leverage, and landed feet first in the grass.
Nod gasped at the little man in the droopy hat. He touched the tip of his own hat to make sure it still stood straight as a stick. “Wha—”
“Yuck, yuck,” the dwarf mumbled as he wiped away the grime around his eyes and spat the dirt out of his mouth in large balls. He threw his shovel on the ground in frustration of the earthy elements.
“Who are you?” asked Nod. He stepped closer to the stranger and towered over him like the big mountain with unkempt eyebrows and upper lip whiskers missed in shaving. Well, it’s definitely not a badger, he thought.
“Who am I?” repeated the blue-clad dwarf. He blinked rapidly upon first seeing the towering hermit in red only feet from him but gave no ground. “Who are you?” He filled his chest with air and threw his shoulders back to appear more formidable. He still stood about three feet short, though.
Nod tilted his head at the crude fellow in front of him. “Well, this is my property, and my name’s Nod.” He dipped his hat in slight respect to the stranger, for rude hosts soon rue their own insolence. He squinted his eyes in the sunlight, trying to pick out any details that would inform him of this dwarf’s identity.
The dwarf nodded once. “Dwight.”
“What are you doing on my land, exactly?” asked the hermit. Reserving his displeasure for the stranger until he had learned Dwight’s cause, Nod eyed the cruel shovel that had wasted his garden in silence.
The dwarf rubbed his stocky hands together and cracked his neck before answering. “I’ve been digging for days, mate.” He glanced at the thick callouses on his hands. “Trying to see the world and what it has to offer.”
Nod shook his head in disbelief. “See the world?”
Why would anyone want to do that? Nod thought. Why, who wouldn’t want to live in his own home? And such a gorgeous home his was. He breathed in the beauty of his enchanting forest with its hidden places off the beaten path, the vigor of young plants yearning for the sun, and the symmetry of his hexagonal hut. Perfection.
“Hey, earth to spacey,” the stubby man said, breaking Nod’s reverie. He took short steps around the garden from which he’d emerged and surveyed the land. “This might just be the place for me to settle,” he muttered under his breath.
Nod reddened under the words of the stranger. “Settle? Did you say settle?” He glared at the dwarf. “I don’t think so.”
“C’mon, big guy,” taunted the diminutive creature. He balled his fists but left them at his side while lowering his frame closer to the ground in a crouch.
No, I will not fight, thought Nod. I’ll use my words. “First, you ruin my garden. Now you want to stay?” He stepped in front of the dwarf in one long step to halt the advancement on his property.
“’Scuse me. Would you be so kind as to move?” Dwight stood on his tiptoes to peer to the left and right of Nod’s broad frame without inching any closer. “Let me see my land. I found it; therefore, it’s mine.”
Nod’s mouth dropped open, revealing perfectly manicured teeth and pristine gums. “But I was here first. Whose house sits yonder? Whose garden did you destroy? Who confronted you when you popped out of the hole?” The hermit inhaled, remembered his manners, and continued. “This is my home. I’m sure you have your own somewhere.” He vaguely gestured down the hole. “Please go back.”
“Actually, it’s that way,” Dwight responded. He pointed with his thumb over his shoulder to the big mountain. Taking one last look at Nod’s homestead, he jumped into the hole. “I’ll be back.” With that he disappeared, shovel in hand.
“You’d better,” Nod yelled down the empty hole. “You broke my garden and I expect you to fix it!” Turning away from the hole after a few minutes, Nod picked up the bruised stem of the pea plant and cradled it in his arms. He wiped the clinging dirt off the tender leaves and sat down to think of a remedy for his mangled garden…and for this haughty dwarf fellow.
“He said he lived that way, over the big mountain.” Nod addressed his musings to the plant in his arms as he chewed his lip in thought. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been the only one living here. Five hundred and two blissful years under her shadow.” He gazed at the familiar form of his mountain that overlooked everything in sight. He knew nothing of other lands or of her dorsal side, for she was insurmountable in height and pushed away a rugged cliff on both sides. While Nod pondered these things and surmised where the hole led, he yawned a gigantic yawn and fell asleep where he sat. His body yielded to gravity’s urging and slumped defeated over the rich soil.
Nod bolted awake at the awful noise and tottered to his feet. His head still swam with sleep, so he waited for clear sight to anoint his eyes again. “Who’s there?” he called to the open space and into the forest. He ran towards his house, his feet barely hitting the ground, before his big toe caught on a rock and stretched him out on the grass like a conquered giant. Rocks? Nod thought. I don’t have any more rocks on my land. I removed them all centuries ago.
“Look at those big feet,” whooped a familiar voice from somewhere behind Nod.
Dwight. I’d know that gravelly voice anywhere, Nod thought. He knitted his eyebrows together as he got to his feet and turned around. In his haste towards his house, he hadn’t seen the rocks that now lay scattered over his garden plots.
“Big man, big fall,” Dwight called out as he jumped down the hole. “Love to see it.”
Nod thought he saw a sly wink but couldn’t be sure. He hesitated before diving headlong after the scoundrel. “Wait, what was the loud noise for, though?” he said aloud. He hurriedly scanned his property for signs of damage. “No, he wouldn’t!” exclaimed Nod when he saw the deed. He angrily stalked to the front of his house and plucked a wooden sign out of the ground—as easily as a child picks an ant from a leaf. The pronouncement read, PROPERTY OF DWIGHT.
“That’s it! I’m coming for that rascal.” Nod bounded to the hole, being careful of the myriad rocks, and jumped in. “Ouch,” he moaned. “My poor feet. I can’t fit.” Nod gingerly pried himself out of the hole and stuck his head inside to see where it led, remembering to remove his hat first, though. The tunnel seemed to curve back under the mountain, out of sight. There’s no way I’m getting my body in here, he thought. But how do I get to the other side? He pulled his head out of the hole.
“Oh no,” Nod whispered. “I’ll have to go through the mountain.” With a sinking feeling in his stomach, he walked towards the toolbox adjacent to his cozy abode to fish out the right instrument for the job. He hoped the big mountain wouldn’t mind.
The next few days Nod awoke at the first hint of dawn and dug all morning long. In the afternoons after a lunch of tea, cheese, and vegetables, he planned his tricks on Dwight. But since he was stronger and longer than his nemesis, he finished the digging in no time at all. At last, the day came to travel through the big mountain. Although he hadn’t heard a peep from Dwight’s tunnel in the past days, he stopped the mouth of it with rocks, smiling with smug satisfaction over his deed, and proceeded to crawl on his hands and knees through his own freshly dug tunnel in the mountain.
When he came to the other side, he carefully brushed away the veneer of dirt from the mouth of his tunnel and poked his head out. “What is that smell?” he whispered to himself. He scrunched his nose and wiped his green eyes. It felt thick and…savory? No, salty. How did Dwight put salt in the air? he wondered. I’d be in a cross mood all the time, too, if I were constantly breathing in this acrid air, he thought. And the noise, the constant noise—it was like a roaring in his ears. Nod shook his head, pulled his pointed hat over his ears, and unfolded himself from the tunnel. As Dwight was nowhere in sight, the tall hermit smiled to himself and searched for his foe’s house.
These rocks sure are jagged, Nod thought. He made a mental note to wear shoes the next time.
Caw, cacaw, a grey bird sang overhead.
Nod looked up to the sky in amazement, then back to the land. The roaring in his ears seemed to come from the body of water ahead. “Fascinating,” he coughed. The light danced on the surface, beckoning him to touch it. Next time, he thought. But now he had a job to do. “Ah ha! Got it.” The red-clad hermit spotted a craggy little hut on stilts above the rocky beach. Taking the same wooden sign, he drove it into the ground and piled a mass of stones around it.
PROPERTY OF NOD, it read.
Nod rubbed his hands to warm them against the cool breeze and hurried back to his tunnel on the side of the mountain. Dwight sure has an interesting situation going on over here, he thought. He advanced through the tunnel on the way back to his house and pondered. “Rocks, are you kidding me? That rascal!” Nod painstakingly removed the rocks that filled the end of his tunnel. When he was done, he went ahead and dug an extension tunnel to the left and used that as his means of exiting.
“Well, well, well,” said a familiar voice. “I thought you’d never show.” Dwight laughed at Nod’s perplexed look as he leaned against a nearby tree. “Built a new tunnel, did you? What was wrong with the other one?” he mocked.
“Dwight, you devilish dwarf.” Nod had a mind to seize him then and there and try throwing him over the mountain.
“What?” Dwight feigned an innocent face. “It wasn’t my idea.” He winked at Nod and jumped in his hole. “I do hope you enjoy the rearranging, pal.” With that his droopy hat disappeared into the tunnel.
“What rearranging?” Nod said. He scratched the chin that held his long white beard and turned around to his house. He dropped his digging tools and stared. “I don’t believe it! My furniture’s on the roof. My bed, my bookshelf, even my cooking pot and fireside rocker.” He scaled the side of his hut with ease and brought everything back down as quickly as he could. “Tomorrow I’m going back,” he determined.
The next morning, Nod rose while it was still dark, drank his tea, and ate his oatmeal, then set to work. He filled Dwight’s tunnel with the uprooted dirt and grass clods from the garden and from his own tunnel. Then, he covered the ground where the mouth used to be with rocks great and small. Lastly, with the help of his friends the trees, he set a wall of thorns about his house and around the rest of his intact garden plots to protect them. So far, Dwight hadn’t messed with them, and Nod intended to keep it that way.
So days turned into weeks and weeks into months. The feuding hermit and dwarf created multiple pathways through the heart of the big mountain, constantly filling each other’s tunnels and digging dead ends off the sides until the inside of the mountain was a twisting maze of tunnels. Dwight booby-trapped his tunnels while Nod chose to hide his entrances and exits with care. Each learned the lay of the other’s land and collected samples of random things as a prize for trespassing—rocks, shells, plants, dirt, and the like.
Then one day as Nod returned from an excursion to the other side of mountain, he sensed a change in something. He lay flat in his tunnel and felt the moist earth with his hands. The mountain felt like it was trembling. Or maybe that’s me, he thought. But sure enough, the big mountain was shaking! “This isn’t good. It can’t be an earthquake because we haven’t had one of those in years.” He surveyed the mountain from his side of things and waited for Dwight to arrive on his daily mission.
“Waiting for me, eh?” asked Dwight when he climbed out of his hole. “I wondered why I didn’t pass you in one of the tunnels.” His gray eyes sparkled with mischief.
“We need to talk,” said Nod. He eyed the mountain with misgiving and sat on a stump.
“Whoa, what’s with the tone there, buddy? You actually sound serious.” Dwight stood a few feet off to the side but waited for whatever it was Nod wanted to say. He impatiently shifted from one leg to the other.
“I think the mountain’s collapsing,” he said bluntly.
Dwight stepped back. “No, you don’t really think so, do you? She’s a beast. She can handle anything.”
Nod intertwined his fingers. “I don’t think she can handle us.” His eyes locked with Dwight’s eyes, begging him in a tone no ear could hear to stop the games. “Look, you can see it for yourself. She’s shaking.”
“Listen, who knows how many tunnels we’ve dug through her core.” Nod gestured at the pile of broken shovels behind his house. “It’s time to stop, Dwight.”
Dwight’s shoulders sagged. “As much as I love playing tricks on you, I do love my mountain more.”
“All you have to do is help me fix my garden, and then we can part ways.” Nod held out his hand to the dwarf and waited. “You still owe me that.” It felt like an eternity. With a sigh, Dwight stepped forward and shook it.
“Truce,” he said. “For now.” The little man in blue surveyed Nod’s land one last time. “I’m doing this for the mountain, not for you,” he added as he looked away.
“Me, too,” Nod agreed. He shuffled his large feet in the soil and turned to fetch his building equipment.
“I have to go to my house to get my material,” Dwight said as he slowly climbed into his hole.
“Do hurry,” said Nod as he stole a glance at the mountain. Concern clouded his eyes. “First, we’ll fill in some tunnels to steady her, then fix my garden.”
Dwight nodded his agreement. “Maybe we can leave the best passages, though?” His gaze lingered over the entrance and exit holes in the flank of the big mountain.
“Yeah, maybe,” said Nod. I like that idea, he thought to himself. As he watched Dwight’s droopy hat recede into the darkness of the tunnel, he felt a pang of sadness.
“One more thing, mate,” added Dwight as he popped back up. “I misspoke earlier. She’s our mountain.” And he was gone.
Nod turned the phrase over in his head. Our mountain. He liked the way it rolled on his tongue like a round berry straight off the bush. It burst its sweet juices in an instant and filled his mouth with a tingly sensation. He liked the sound of that.