Zombies and vampires have been the subject of survival guides and romance manuals, overdosings of popular fiction and supersaturations of geekery.
This is not a problem; the problem is only vampires and zombies have received this treatment.
Here, then, is a guide to romancing and/or surviving the sauna gnome.
1 : What is it?
Gnomes, you know, gnomes are everywhere. Everything has a spirit, every river, tree and outhouse, and those spirits are called elves, fairies, gnomes or gorrambastids. Most aren’t as photogenic as the sauna gnome: plump, red-cheeked, mostly naked and flashing-eyed. A sauna gnome is about five inches tall and lives in a sauna — well duh — and looks after it. If the humans bathing in the sauna are too loud, disrespectful or annoying, the sauna gnome punishes them.
As this punishment happens in a sauna, a dark and hot room with a pile of red-hot stones in one corner, plenty of basins and bowls of water of varying temperatures in another, and the humans nude on raised benches closer to these than to the door, their privates against the slatted benches and darkness below, the revenge of the gnome can be terrible, surprising and memorable indeed.
Sauna gnomes dress, when they do, in sober gray wool, usually with a pointed hat, a vest, thick felt booties and cat-leather mittens. Because they are not Anglophone, they never call these “kittens”; instead, they are of leather because not even a sauna gnome touches hot stove-stones with bare hands. The stone-touching is required for three main purposes: dragging the stones to the gnome’s room, where they are dropped in a bowl of water to warm it for the gnome’s soup; flinging the stones at disrespectful sauna-bathers; and burial.
2 : How do you survive it?
Sauna gnomes are not malicious by nature, and are not opposed to you taking a good, long, leisurely bath in their sauna. As long as you do your bathing properly, the gnome will honor you and keep your bottles and cans of beer safe from the birch demons while you bathe.
The key to properness is moderation. Throw enough water on the stove, but not too much.
Too little water means the sauna will be cold, and both you and the gnome might get a cold. For you this is a botherance; for the gnome, it will be a botherance to you too.
Too much water means the sauna will become unbearably hot and steam-filled; the gnome will become reddened and angered, and as you stumble out, unable to take the heat, the gnome will stick out a leg and you will crash head-first against the door. Half the sounds you’ll hear in your ears will be the gnome’s harsh laughter; the rest will be you, screaming. Then when you’ve had a break and return to the benches, the gnome will have had time to place hand-made thumbtacks on them; and when you take the next break, a birch demon has drunk your beers and urinated them full, while the gnome has been on the opposite edge of the roof, loudly saying to itself: “Gee! I’m not guarding the beers! Sure hope nobody will drink them and urinate them full because I’m so old and decrepit I know I wouldn’t notice!” — birch demons are not the sharpest twigs in the forest, but eventually they take a hint.
Also: when you throw water on the stove, do not do it unexpectedly. That would be a very bad idea. And for the love of the Old Gods, if your throw elicits a cracking sound from the stove’s darkness, don’t cry “Nailed another one!” The gnomes really hate that, even if it was just a stone.
Reach around for the ladle, bump it against the basin, slosh the water, just to be sure say “More water! Not feelin’ anything yet!”, and then throw the water. Whatever motions you do, do them so that the gnome has time to get out of the way. Gnomes react to being suddenly enveloped in a cloud of boiling steam pretty much the way you would expect.
That is, with a barrage of red-hot stones, and your towels being fed to a moose. (And once a moose in your neighborhood get the taste of cloth, your washing line isn’t safe — and neither are your children. It’s many a child that has ran home, naked and tousled, crying about how a moose ate their clothes and their skis too.)
3 : Why should you romance it?
To repeat: “plump, red-cheeked, mostly naked and flashing-eyed”. Traditionally sauna gnomes have been represented as solely male and rather old, likely to smell more of old socks than of musk, but with these more liberated times both the children’s literature circles and the gnomes themselves have gotten over this neutered patriarchal fixation. These days there’s no saying which sex your sauna gnome is, or which age; if you find the benches littered with the sex toys of a five-inch humanoid, you can rest assured your gnome is one of the happily liberated ones.
Now, five inches: that’s a number that could cause anxiety even when not describing the toes-to-brows height of a potential romance partner. But consider this. Sauna gnomes don’t roam; most hardly even leave the sauna. They wash regularly, and work out — throwing stones and ladles and buckets around is a workout when you’re five inches tall — and, as a consequence of rarely leaving the sauna, they are usually bored out of their skulls and ready for anything that would break the tedium. A sauna warmed to room temperature and a coyly calling nude human on the benches is very intriguing to them, no matter the sex or the appearance of the human: the sauna is dark, and when the size of one partner is measured in inches and that of the other in feet, it would be silly to get caught up in questions of orientation.
It would be indelicate to comment on the actual details of the consummation of such affairs; let us just note that you can get a gnome in a condom and tie it off, and leave it at that.
And now I’m off to write a major urban fantasy… er, rural fantasy bestseller where a lonely teenage girl falls in love with a hundred-year-old sauna gnome who is really small and not heavy, being five inches tall. I’m calling it Twee Light.