I was seven when we moved into the house. It was a huge place—a mansion, really. I remember tiptoeing through the rooms like it was a museum, afraid to touch any of the ornate furniture.
My parents got it for a ridiculously low price. Mom thought it must mean the house was a lemon, but Dad’s a contractor, and he checked the whole thing out himself. I guess the reason it was so cheap was because people thought it was haunted. Things would happen in the house… furniture would move, messes would be made that no one in the house saw happen. It spooked people. The house had been relisted seven times in the past five years.
My parents don’t believe in things like that, so it didn’t stop them from snapping the house up. Little things did start to happen, but usually they just blamed me for it. It wasn’t me. It was him.
I liked to call him Gimlet. We’d lived in the house for almost six months when I first saw him. He was a tiny little man, maybe eight inches tall, with disproportionately wide hips and an oversized nose—everything else about him was thin and bony. He was a very strange little man.
He was angry when I discovered him, toppling over the bobbins of thread in my mother’s sewing room. He screamed at me in a language I didn’t understand, jumping up and down in a rage. I think he was mad that we’d come and lived in his house without asking him.
I tried to tell my parents about Gimlet, but they thought I was making up stories. When I showed my mother the sewing room, she folded her arms and gave me a lecture about how I should never blame things on other people—especially imaginary ones.
After that, Gimlet wouldn’t let me sleep at night. He’d come in and pull my hair and pinch my nose and make a ruckus, right next to my ears. I didn’t know what to do. I tried telling Mom about him again, but she was still mad about the sewing room, and she just ignored me.
And then it hit me. Maybe Gimlet wasn’t so bad… maybe I just wasn’t treating him the way I should be. I was a Girl Scout, after all… I knew what Brownies were. Brownies were helpful creatures. I didn’t know if Gimlet was a Brownie, but it gave me an idea.
I started leaving treats out for Gimlet. Little things, like a bowl of milk or a lump of sugar, left in little corners of the house. Sometimes Mom would find them and scold me for them, telling me that I was going to attract ants. I didn’t try to explain to her again about Gimlet. I didn’t have any trouble sleeping after that, though, and sometimes my chores would be partway done before I got to them.
Soon, Gimlet knew the places I left things, and he always took the gifts before Mom could find them. The little mishaps around the house stopped happening, too. I guess my treats were enough to stop the mischief all around the house, not just towards me.
By the time I was in middle school and had done a bit of research about it, I realized Gimlet was probably some sort of Hobgoblin. Like a Brownie, but not quite so nice. Brownies weren’t the malicious things I’d seen Gimlet be at times. I thought we’d gotten on good terms, though, with my regular tributes to him, keeping him appeased. I’d put something out every three or four days. It got to the point where Mom would openly deride the things people in town had said about the house before we moved in. Besides an extra tax on our supply of honey and milk and sugar (Gimlet’s favorites) we were a fairly normal family.
Gimlet seemed to fade into the shadows the year I hit high school. Before that I’d see him once in a while… he always knew how to find me in the house, it seemed. When I got to high school, I never saw him anymore. I tried looking for him, but he hid from me, as he’d been hiding from my parents for years. If the food I left out for him hadn’t always disappeared by morning, I’d have thought he’d gone for good.
One day when I was sixteen, I saw a mouse licking at the breadcrumbs and milk I’d left in a small bowl in a corner of my room. My heart nearly jumped a beat. I don’t know why a mouse scared me when a small man living in the rooms of my house didn’t, but it did.
And at the same time… I started to wonder. What if Gimlet really had been a figment of my imagination? I hadn’t seen him in years. I didn’t have any proof that he’d ever existed. For a while I still left things out for him, out of habit, but I wasn’t sure it was worth it anymore.
When I had the opportunity to go to a gymnastics camp for three weeks the summer after my sophomore year, I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t think twice about it. Even if Gimlet was real, surely he’d understand a couple of weeks’ absence.
I loved the gymnastics camp. I learned more in those three weeks than I had in years of dabbling in the sport. Maybe I’d never make it to the Olympics, but being able to control the fluidity of my body lit a fire in me that nothing else ever had. Mom always sounded a little stressed when I called home at nights, but I was too involved in my own little world to really notice it.
And then I got home.
The house was in ruins. It wasn’t like it had been burned to the ground or anything, but it was pretty bad. Cushions torn apart, things spilled in the kitchen, papers from my Dad’s office shredded in pieces all around the house.
I knew it was Gimlet.
I also knew what I had to do. I had to find a way to get rid of him forever. Was I supposed to plan my entire life around something that wasn’t supposed to exist? In a few years I’d go to college, and then what would he do?
I borrowed my mom’s car and drove to the library, looking up every single thing I could find on hobgoblins and house spirits. I still didn’t know exactly what Gimlet was, but I knew a lot of the stories overlapped each other, and I just needed one tactic that would work.
I found one little scrap of information that just might work. Not that it would be easy for me. I had to give him clothes. Now, if he were a nice, doll-sized little thing, that might work out just fine, but like I said, Gimlet was all disproportionate—and I was working off of memory anyhow. I’d have to make the clothes myself.
I didn’t really know how to do that, but on the other hand, nothing in the book had said the clothes had to be any good. Just that they had to be new to him. Now that I thought about it, Gimlet had always been wearing the same thing when I’d seen him.
I considered my options. I’d learned how to knit when I was younger, but only straight rows. Designing a whole three-dimensional outfit seemed impossible. I had learned how to crochet, too, which was supposed to be easier than knitting, but I’d never really gotten past making a long string of loops, so again, the three-dimensional criteria didn’t fit.
I was going to have to sew. Mom had tried to teach me over the years, but she was a hobbyist at best—it wasn’t like she was making my prom dresses or bed-sized quilts or anything. I still didn’t really know how to make flat fabric into clothes that would fit comfortably, but I wore clothes all the time, so that was a leg up, I guess. I spent time studying the way my shirts and pants were made. I was a decent artist, so I drew out what I thought the shapes of the fabric were for each piece. Then I made them Gimlet sized.
Meanwhile, he was still making a wreck of things. I found Mom sitting on the floor crying one day, because she’d just finished cleaning up the living room to come back and take the trash out—and find it all over the room. I promised to take care of it myself, and told her to go take a shower and relax, which made her cry all the harder, but she finally listened to me. I got another trash bag and started her work over again, making sure to put out a small bowl of honey, just in case.
Seeing my mom put iron in my soul, as they used to say. I’d been trying to do the best I could with the clothes, so that the spell—or whatever it was—would work, but that day I decided that I was going to get it done, no matter what.
Maybe I should have picked fabric for Gimlet that would have helped him blend in to wherever it was he’d end up going… browns or blacks. Neutrals. I was pretty mad he’d made my mother cry, though, so his shirt ended up being a light yellow with hot pink polka dots. His pants I made out of a turquoise and lime paisley. I don’t even know why my mother had fabric like that.
That night, in the spot where I usually left his treats, I left Gimlet’s new little outfit. Usually I left my gift and walked away, letting him be as secret as he liked. Instead, I stood and watched the little corner. I wanted him to know it was me. I must have fallen asleep, though, because when I woke up the next morning, the clothes were gone—and I had a terrible crick in my neck from falling asleep sitting against a wall.
Gimlet never bothered us again. Sometimes I think I see his ridiculous outfit out of the corner of my eye when I’m walking through town… but when I turn he’s never there. Probably he found another empty house to call his palace. I’m just glad he’s gone.
Mom’s gotten a lot more superstitious ever since, though.