Gnome Song: A CreepyPasta

Updated: Oct 10

When you think about it, it's pretty wild the way that strange little rhymes, songs, stories, and witchy traditions continue to be handed down from generation to generation.


Society has changed so much since the dawn of humanity, and yet, there are some things that tend to stay the same.


The other day, I was cleaning up and began absentmindedly singing a song I hadn't heard in ages, a tune played on a music box I owned when I was a little girl. Where did that come from? I wondered.


A chill ran down my spine when I realized that I couldn't--and still can't-- remember where I learned the song's lyrics.


I did a little basic Google research and learned that the rhyme is quite old; the first recorded version of the song dates back to sometime between 1904 and 1906. It's a hand clap style game that kids play on the playground and has been covered by many popular artists, including Willie Nelson, over the years.


I'm sure I heard it in passing at some point and my subconscious picked it up? This unsettling experience inspired me to write a CreepyPasta.


See if you can spot any homages to Irish Faerie lore or Celtic traditions in this story.


Here's to a spooky October.



“Gnome Song”

A CreepyPasta by Caitlin M.F. Hornshaw



I was 8 years old when I found a strange old key out in the woods behind my grandmother’s house.


That was the year Gran moved from Indiana to be closer to us—and first came to inhabit the creaky old home.


It might have been a creepy place were it not for Gran’s presence. Every room was filled with her bright light--her soft, vibrant floral bedding, the smell of the lemon rosemary cakes she’d bake, the whistling of the teapot, her unceasing smile.


My older sister Meg was eager to explore the woods and because I modeled myself after her, I was also excited by default. My arms weren’t even through both sleeves of my jacket before we were running out the back door, feeling giddy from our sugary snack: apple cider and homemade chocolate chip peanut butter cookies.


During that first visit to the woods we came upon the rotting trunks of two adjoined fallen trees and Meg determined they would make the ideal secret fort. We would just need a roof to shelter us and keep us camouflaged, she explained. We weren’t hiding from anyone in particular and yet, it seemed we were still running from everyone and everything when we played in those woods.


We were going to weave long branches across the top and then add in smaller twigs and leaves to make rafters. I was scooping up an armful of colorful, rustling leaves to add to our growing pile of sticks and other dead foliage when I spotted a shiny, unfamiliar object lying in the dirt.


I dropped my collection of leaves to the side and picked it up. Heavier than I expected, the artifact resembled some kind of strange, toothless key. It was bronze, long and skinny with a triangular head. I held it up in the sunlight for a better look and could vaguely make out the faded whimsical floral designs etched onto its surface.


“What is that?” I looked up and saw that Meg was walking toward me, the leaves crunching under her shoes.


I shrugged and held it out for her to examine.



#


“Carrie found something in the woods!” Meg announced as we came through the back door. Our Mom and grandmother were sitting at the kitchen table and nearly spilled their cups of coffee, startled by our sudden commotion.


I held out the key and Gran took it in her hands, also reaching for the glasses she wore on a chain around her neck.


My mom watched over her shoulder as my grandmother walked to the sink, rinsed the dirt and dust from the artifact, and then carefully patted it dry with a dishtowel. They both quietly studied it for a moment.


“It looks like it goes to a clock,” my mom suggested.


Gran nodded and crossed the room, headed for the mantle in the living room. She took down the knobby ornamental wooden clock displayed there and carefully turned it upside down.


“Nevermind,” she said after a moment. “This opening is too big. The key must go to something smaller. And… That’s odd.”


“What is?” my mother asked.


“Well, clock keys usually have a circular bottom to connect with the circular-shaped slot on the back of the clock. This one is a triangle.”


She walked over to where we were standing and held it up for us to see.


“Maybe it goes to an old toy,” she said.


She handed it back to me.


“You found it. It’s your mystery to solve.”


#


I started carrying the key around with me everywhere. I liked rolling it between the palms of my hands, wondering what it could be for. I liked telling friends and even strangers about the mystery—seeing if perhaps they had any guesses as to its purpose or age.


My family soon grew tired of me talking about it all the time, but I ignored them. It felt unique and valuable and so I felt special for having found it. I was afraid of losing it, so I kept it in the wooden jewelry box on my bedroom dresser. I had decided this would be its home, its little bed when I wasn’t awake. I liked to lay it across the bracelets diagonally, in a position I deemed most comfortable.


And then one morning, my key was gone.


A flash of rage ran through my body.


“Meg!” I yelled across the house.


I stormed into her room and found her sitting on the floor, watching TV.


“Give me back my key or I’m telling Mom.”


My sister's face wore an expression that merged confusion and irritation.


“What key?”


I sighed heavily.


“You know which key—the one I found in the woods at Gran’s. It was in my jewelry box and now it’s not.”


“Well, I didn’t take it,” she said.


“Yes, you did! Who else would have?”


“No one wants your stupid key. You’re the only one who thinks it’s cool,” she said.


“UGHHHHHHHH. Mommmm!” I shouted across the house.


I stomped down the stairs to the kitchen, where I found my mother making dinner. She had just gotten home from work and was still wearing her nurses uniform. She had dark circles under her eyes.


“If she says she didn’t take it, she probably didn’t take it, Carrie. But I’ll ask her about it. I know how much that thing means to you.”


My sister swore up and down that she hadn’t touched it since that day in the woods. I was mad at her for weeks. Slowly, though, life continued, and as weeks went by, I began to forget about the missing key.


Until one day, I opened my jewelry box to take out a bracelet. The key glimmered in the sunlight streaming through the window. It was positioned exactly how I had left it.


#


I tried to keep the key with me, but I lost it again and again over the next few months. At first I was sure Meg had finally just returned it, and when it disappeared again, I yelled at her again. But this time, the key showed up again in a couple of days.


At first, I theorized that it was some lame, elaborate practical joke that my sister was playing on me. So the next time, I slipped the key behind my bed, in a little divot where the carpet met the wall. It was a place I knew Meg would never find it. But again, the key disappeared. But this time, Meg was gone — away at a summer camp for two weeks. And I couldn’t see my single mom, who worked a lot and always seemed so tired, having the time or interest to screw with her kid like this. What would be the point? I had nobody to blame.


Later, I was in the shower and had just finished rinsing the shampoo from my hair. I went to reach for the bottle of conditioner. I screamed out in surprise. The key was lying there on the tile floor, near the drain. And I know for a fact that it hadn’t been there when I had climbed in just minutes earlier.


I put it back into my jewelry box and placed our family’s heavy copy of the dictionary on top. “Stay in there,” I said aloud.


But the next morning, when I went to investigate, the key was gone again. Despite the fact that the book didn’t seem to have moved.


I found it a week later—it was resting across the lap of one of my dolls that are displayed on a high shelf in my bedroom. I had to use a step stool to get it back down. “Why are you up here?” I asked. I looked at my doll, whose eyes were somehow more menacing than I remembered.


I started wearing the key on a chain around my neck, even at night. That’s when the weird dreams began. Every night, I was back out in the woods behind Gran’s house, near where I found the key. But I kept seeing flashes of a single tree, standing out in the middle of a clearing. I could hear the sounds of rustling leaves and—whispers? They were only just barely and I could never understand what the whispers were saying.


I started feeling tired all of the time and my mom said that all of the color in my cheeks was gone.


#


Meg and I were so excited when Mom told us we’d be spending Halloween at Gran’s.


“All of those big, spooky houses probably pass out the king-sized candy bars,” Meg said.


We headed over to our grandmother’s house, already fully dressed in our costumes. Because I already looked so pale, I decided to dress up as a vampire. The key still hung around my neck. Meg was dressed as a black cat.


“Mom, do you think we have time to play in the woods before dinner?” she asked.


“Maybe,” she replied. “Let’s check it with Gran when we get there. We want to make sure you guys are ready to go when the trick or treat sirens go off at 7.”


I guess it was my excitement that made me start humming—and then singing.


“Say, say, oh playmate, Come out and play with me And bring your dollies three, Climb up my apple tree. Shout down my rain barrel, Slide down my cellar door, And we'll be jolly friends forevermore….”


The car was silent. I noticed that my sister was staring at me and my mom was watching me in her rearview mirror.


“What is that? Some kind of gnome song?” my sister asked, wrinkling up her forehead. “It’s kind of creepy.”


A chill ran down my spine. “Gnome song? What makes you say that?”


My mom chimed in “Did you learn that at school, sweetie?”


I paused and stared off into space for a moment, trying to remember. Where DID I learn the song?


#


“Last one there is a poisoned candy bar!” I shouted.


“Hey, wait!” my sister laughed, chasing after me toward the trees.


Dinner wasn’t ready yet, so Meg and I had some time to play in our fort before eating and then heading out to trick-or-treat.


“Pay attention to the time!” my mom shouted after us, pointing at her wrist. “Be back in 30 minutes!”


“OK!” we both replied.


I dodged a low-hanging branch as I entered the woods and pulled my cape around me to keep it from getting tangled in the brush. The key swung back and forth on its chain against my chest as I ran. I could hear my sister behind me. “Wait up,” she yelled out.


CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH went the sound of our shoes on the leaves.


“You have to catch me!” I cried back.


I knew these woods well after a year’s worth of Gran visits, and yet, I felt strangely disoriented. Despite many of the leaves having fallen, the sun wasn’t coming through the canopy and seemed so much darker than it had during the summer. But after a moment, I found a worn-out path that looked familiar and followed it, running along the trail as fast as I could.


My ears were ringing, my breathing heavy, but I could faintly hear my sister off in the distance. “Carrie, you’re going the wrong way!”


I stopped and spun around. She was right. I had lost my bearings and nothing looked familiar. I stopped to catch my breath. I could hear a crow squawking.


“I’m over here!” I yelled.


I started walking up the path, back the way I'd come when I saw something that caused me to pause. There was a clearing through the brush and in the middle, a single tall tree. The woods around me felt denser and darker than usual, but the sun seemed to shine bright on the tree. I had seen this scene a hundred times before, in my dreams. It was actually a real place?


Straying from the path, I walked through a natural arbor in the twisted overhead boughs. The tree was taller than I remembered. Its bark was almost gray in color and its branches were full of thorns and serrated leaves that were somehow still green despite the time of year. The base of the tree was littered with these massive, moss-covered stones. It occurred to me that someone must have gone through a lot of trouble to drag such big rocks out into the middle of the woods.


I heard something close by. A twig snap? A rusting of the wind in the trees? Maybe it was my sister?


“Meg!? Is that you?” I asked.


I listened more intently. Whispering? I heard what sounded like a voice, but I couldn’t understand what it was saying. It sounded like it was coming – from the tree? The tree was whispering.


“Are you trying to tell me something?” I asked out loud.


I hadn’t really thought it through and immediately felt silly. Talking to a tree? But at the same time—no. It felt right.


The sound did not stop. It may have been my imagination, but had it gotten a bit louder?


“I’m going to come closer to you…. if that’s OK.” I said to the tree, hesitantly.


The whispering continued as I circled its perimeter. I didn’t know what exactly I was looking for. I figured I’d know it when I saw it.


After a moment or two, I spotted an opening in the tree. There, not quite hidden behind three smaller mossy stones, was a hole about the size of a basketball.


“Tree?” I asked. “Can I reach inside this hole?”


The whispering continued as I hesitantly moved the stones out of the way and my hands plunged into the hole. My fingertips wriggled around and grazed the surface of something metallic and cold. I wrapped my hands around its hard, square edges and pulled up and out.


I cried out in surprise.


It was some kind of toy carousel. You could tell it was an antique since many of the horses' details had been chipped or worn away. It was beautiful, intricately hand-painted in different shades of green trimmed with bronze. A few glimmering crystals hung from the top of the “tent” part of the carousel, but most were missing. I noticed a familiar floral pattern etched into the shiny metal and instinctively turned the carousel upside down. I knew it would be there before I actually saw it. There was a triangular opening on the bottom. I pulled my necklace from my neck and immediately felt a kind of magnetism, drawing the key to the box.


I carefully slipped it into the slot and turned the crank three times. A song started to play. It was a music box! The key went to a music box! That I found in a tree?


As I listened to the simple song, I realized it sounded familiar.......


“There you are!”


“AGH!”


My sister was crossing the clearing. I could tell she was mad, but her hand-drawn cat features and the furry tail that swayed behind her as she walked made it a little hard to take her seriously.


“You scared me,” I said.


“Ughhh, I scared YOU? Do you have any idea how long it took for me to find you? I almost went and told mom you were missing...”


“Meg, shut up for a second” I interrupted. “Look at this.”


I lifted the music box from my lap. “And it takes the key I found! Can you believe that!”


She walked closer to inspect it.


“Whoa, where did you find that?”


"In the hole in the tree over there,” I said, pointing, my eyes still on the music box.


“This is so nuts. I was walking back to find you, but something told me I had to come over here. This clearing and tree looked exactly like the one in that dream I told you about.”


“Did you check to see if there was anything else in here?” Meg asked.


I shook my head.


“There’s so much weird about this, but the song. That might be the weirdest part….” I said, trailing off.


I watched the horses dance up and down and around the carousel, over and over and over again. The tiny sculptures were so pretty, the choreographed music and movement, so calming. I didn’t stop watching--and looking back, I don’t think I even COULD have stopped myself from watching-- until the song came to a slow, pingy conclusion.


I stood up, brushing the dirt off my costume.


“Well, we’d better be getting back. Mom’s probably looking for us. It’s almost dinner time.”


“Meg?”


I turned around and Meg wasn’t there.


“Meg?!”


#


I tucked the music box under my arm and ran back toward Gran’s house as fast as I could. Up the worn path, through the treeline and across the grass until I was at the back door.


I swung it open and found Mom and Gran sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by a bunch of uniformed police officers.


“Meg!”


My mom let out a sigh of relief, jumped from the table and hurried over to me. She embraced me tightly. “Mom, you’re hurting me.”


Gran was standing behind her. She freed me from her hug and I could see that their eyes were red from crying. They both had heavy bags under their eyes.


“I’m so glad you’re OK. Where’s your sister?” my grandmother asked.


“Of course I’m OK. I don’t know where Meg went. I looked all over for her and thought she might have come back. She’s not here?”


The room full of adults studied my face in solemn silence.


“Well, she’d better hurry up. I want to go Trick-or-Treating and we still need to eat.”


One of the police officers cleared his throat.


“Honey, Halloween was four days ago,” my mom said. “We’ve spent the last three days searching the woods for you.”


My mom started crying again and the police officers all started talking to each other at once.


I felt dizzy, so I set the music box on the table and sat down. I plugged my ears and started singing to drown out the noise:


“Say, say, oh playmate, Come out and play with me And bring your dollies three, Climb up my apple tree. Shout down my rain barrel, Slide down my cellar door, And we'll be jolly friends forevermore….”


THE END











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