Nobody had seen the moment a crooked man with a long nose and top hat and a shorter but well-built man pitched the tent in an alley. They stood in the streets of London and shouting over the sound of horse-drawn carriages: “Wishing well!” the taller one would say. “One shilling a wish!”
Most people ignored them. Some didn’t. Such was the case of the middle-aged balding man with a brown bushy moustache, who approached the curious two with a sparkle in his eye.
“I say,” the moustached man said. “Is what you fellows claiming true? That you have access to a real wishing well?”
The lanky man bowed. “Of course! For the great Andrew and Pete would not be here in the heart London if we did not have a decent service to sell. I’m Andrew, by the way.”
“Excellent. It’s because, well, you see…” the moustached man took a shy glance down at his own shoes. “I’m afraid these poor things have been worn to an inch of their life, but no cobbler within this city will dare touch the planks of wood that I call feet.”
“Well then, you’ve come to the right place! Step right into the tent, throw your shiniest shilling into the well within, and make your wish well-known to it. Then, should the well find you worthy, you shall receive your new pair of stompers right-away. Well, what are you waiting for? Go on!”
The man eagerly entered the tent.
“So then,” Pete said with a smirk. “What’s the secret trick with this one?”
“That’s the best part; there is none.”
“We’ve sold snake oils, phoney artefacts, promises that nobody made and amulets as spiritually powerful as your kitchenware. But then I thought; why bother going through making all that nonsense when you can sell someone a wish that never existed in the first place? They come out empty-handed, we mumble something about unwilling spirits and unlucky star alignments, wait ’til no-ones looking, and scoop the lot. Easiest money we’ve ever made. Now hurry up and put a sombre face on, he’s about to leave.”
Both of them cleared their throats and put on a face as if they were attending a funeral. The flap on the tent shifted to the side.
“Listen, I know your pain, truly,” Andrew said with exaggerated lament. “But wishes are fickle things. No matter how good a person you are, sometimes your wishes just–”
The moustached man was giving Andrew a happy look. In the man’s hands, as if he had just bought them, were a pair of shoes.
Andrew and Pete exchanged a look.
“Uh, sorry,” Andrew said. “Where did those come from?”
“What, these?” The man said. “Went and wished for them just like you charitable folks said I could. Popped right out of the well, dry as bone. For your kindness, I’ll make sure all of London knows the good you did to me this day.”
The man hadn’t gotten even halfway down the street before replacing his shoes and throwing the old ones over a fence. He didn’t even realise the two ‘charitable’ men were watching him as a walking miracle.
“This is bad,” Andrew said.
“Why?” Pete said. “We helped, didn’t we?”
“Yes, and we didn’t get paid squat for it. Soon there’ll be hundreds of people throwing their shillings into the well and having their dreams come true, and we won’t be taking advantage of them.”
A shrug. “Charge entry?”
“No, he’s going to go around saying he got in for free. Better idea; how many shillings do you have?”
Pete dug into a pocket, holding coins out in a hand. “Got five. Why?”
In a swift motion, Andrew scooped the coins out of Pete’s hand, entered the tent, threw them into the dingy-looking well, and said, “make us rich for once in our god-forsaken lives!”
“Like you said,” Pete said, peering into the tent. “Wishes are fickle things.”
“I don’t get it. How come other people get better fortunes than we do? Why are they more fortunate than we are? You hear that, you stupid well?” Andrew said, yelling down it. “If you’re not going to give me my wish, at least give me my money back!”
A single shilling shot out of the water, striking Andrew in the forehead.
“Yeah?” Andrew yelled, his face red. “You think that’s funny? Well, you’ll be pleased to know you just made mortal enemies with Andrew and Pete, master scammers and swindlers extraordinaire! You may think you’re smart, but we’ll find a way to drip every sucker in this wretched city dry, and we’ll use you to do it! How do you feel about–”
Andrew, until now, hadn’t noticed the small crowd of people who had turned up outside the tent, each of them holding a shilling in their hand. The one-eager crowd were now looking quite sour.
In total silence, one of the crowd members calmly walked up to the tent, past the horrified Andrew and Pete, threw a coin in, pointed at the pair and said ‘I wish they were somewhere else’.
Hey!” came Pete’s voice. “Look at this!”
Andrew turned from sitting under the palm tree near an oasis, the only cool patch of sand he could find. Pete was approaching, dressed in full desert clothes and a turban, accompanied by three others. They were all riding weird animals.
“They’re called camels,” Pete said enthusiastically, noting Andrew’s stare. “I love them. Like horses but with bumps on ’em. The folks at a nearby town let me ride one. Lovely people. Don’t know a word they say, but they seem nice. Come on, let’s go. I think they promised us food and some money to help us get going.”
Andrew smirked to himself as he climbed to his feet. It didn’t matter what side of the world he was on; as long as there was money, there were suckers ready to be swindled out of it.
Frederick was beginning to notice a worrying trend. No matter where in the castle he was, no matter what room he entered, every time he held his torch out to the darkness to see what was within, he found monsters. He didn’t understand; the way into the castle was eventless enough, save for the stray bit of rubble and rusted door. Now he was trying to leave, it seemed the whole place was swarming with monsters.
He opened the door to the next room, holding the torch within to illuminate the darkness. Sure enough, a sparse room with no interesting elements within now contained a ferocious looking wolf. Rapier in hand, Frederick swiped at the wolf, giving it a nasty scratch across the chest.
“No!” a male voiced yelled angrily. “Rapiers are for thrusting, you idiot! Try thrusting!”
The wolf was wounded,but not defeated. Frederick’s new battle strategy involved waiting until the wolf was almost in range, then making small poking gestures at it with the rapier. He didn’t get further than inconveniently prodding at the wolf, but it made it hesitant to attack, at least.
“Lunge, you fool!” the voice returned. “Skewer it with the blade as if it were a kebab!”
Frederick blinked. “That sounds like it hurts.”
“That’s the point!”
Frederick tried lunging. Unfortunately, it required a long wind-up, meaning the wolf had enough time to dodge and snap at Fredericks heels. Frederick swiped and slashed out of panic.
“Take a proper stance!” the voice said. “Sword arm out! Free arm behind! Shoulder facing enemy!”
Frederick held the hilt of the sword up near his face, glaring at the red gem on it. “Can you please be quiet for ten seconds?”
“I’ll be quiet when you learn to fence properly!” the gem snapped, its center glowing in tandem with the volume of its voice. “Now take your proper posture and show me what you have!”
“You know, I–” Frederick said, stopping to dodge a wolf taking the opportunity to try lunging itself. “I’d prefer it if you’d stop giving me lessons and started killing things better.”
“Me? I’m just a soul trapped in the hilt of a blade! You’re the moron using me!”
“Well cast a spell, enchant yourself, anything! Just do something!”
“I am doing something! I’m telling you how not to die!”
“Do something better!”
Frederick felt his entire body lock, as if he had lost control of it. Then, with no effort on his part, his body took a refined fencing stance. It thrusted the sword at the wolf, skewering it with a clean blow. The wolf keeled over.
“There,” the rapier said, returning Frederick’s body to him. “And don’t ask me to do that again. I haven’t much power, and even less patience. Next time, do as I did by yourself.”
“Do you have a training manual?”
“No. I had hoped you wouldn’t need one.”
Frederick tutted. “It’s not like I’m a hero or anything.”
“You told me you were a legend back home!”
“I am,” Frederick said, walking down the corridor with care. The one with seemingly no monsters in it were by far the worst to actually walk. “Beat Freddy Fast-Foot at a race once.”
“Do you have any idea of my legacy? I was wielded by the great Joseph the Quick, my blade used to draw blood from a tyrannical king. Joseph set a challenge that one who could retrieve me from a stone island in shark-infested stormy waters could have me, which Gregor the Witted achieved, using me to turn the tide of an entire war. He then set me within the den of Gezzakar, the Bearmother, who Susan the Brave defeated and used me to set upon the fiercest bandits in the land. Take a guess as to what she did.”
“I don’t know,” Frederick said, opening a door to reveal a decrepit larder with nothing more interesting past bygone foods. “Didn’t pay much attention in history class.”
“She set me within a podium deep within the castle, and cast a curse on it. Anyone brave enough to try to take me would have to prove their strength by fighting their way out.”
Content with looking in the larder, Frederick continued down the corridor. “I didn’t know that.”
“It said so on the podium! ‘Those brave enough to take me should make quick friends with me, for the way back will be more perilous than the trip here’. Didn’t you read it?”
“Of course not, those usually talk about boring civilisations and dead people.”
Another sigh. “Well, let’s just get you out safely. You may be an idiot, but nobody deserved death because they didn’t know how to fence.”
“Great. So, which way is out?”
“I don’t know, I’ve been stuck in a podium for two hundred years.”
“I’ll try the door at the end of the corridor. Looks important enough.”
“Fine. Now, a quick recap; sword hand out, spare hand behind. Aim your sword shoulder toward the enemy, and make sure you’re holding the handle. Now, for the finer points of the ‘balestra maneuver’. The balestra requires that you–”
Frederick opened the door, holding the torch into what looked like a very dark banquet hall. Almost instantly, a huge swarm of eyes glinting in the torch light turned to look at him, displaying a wide range of species, size, and hunger for human flesh.
They all began to creep forward.
“…okay,” Frederick spoke softly. “Can we skip to the part where you teach me how to use you against twenty monsters at once?”
“Yes,” the rapier said. “This one is what I like to call, ‘turn your tail and run’.”
“Sounds fancy,” Frederick said. “How do you do that one?”
Frederick’s body locked up again, his legs moving him at a blistering speed back down the hallway. Behind him, a swarm of monsters tried to cram through a small door all at the same time.
“Oh, this one,” Frederick said. “Yeah, very familiar with it.”
Judy, Sally and Jack were sitting around a kitchen table, looking at their hands of cards. On the wall, a calendar had its days X’d out. People wrote what was happening for each day of the week, but all that was written in the box for the current day was ‘FULL MOON!’ in big red letters, with sad faces drawn in around the letters. From an adjacent room came the constant sound of something large being filled with water.
Judy checked a clock on the wall.
“Six minutes,” she said, half-heartedly. “Hope Chris manages to finish before midnight. I wouldn’t like to have a repeat of last time.”
“He’s been at it for the last half hour,” Jack said. “If he’s not done by now, he’s at least mostly done. We can take care of him.”
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s your go, by the way.”
“Oh, sorry. Three sixes.”
Jack sighed and began to collect all the cards from the center pile. At the same time, the sound of running water from another room had stopped. By the time all the cards had been collected, Chris had entered the room wheeling in a large plastic tank of water. He wheeled it to an empty spot at the table, then climbed into it fully clothed, squatting to ensure maximum water coverage. Everything below his neck was submerged.
“What’s up, Chris?” Jack said. “Glad to see you made it before time was up.”
“Yeah, no worries,” Chris said. “After you saved my life last time, I thought I’d be a little better prepared.”
“Right. Judy and I were just talking about that. What a mess that was. Your turn, Sally.”
“One King,” Sally said. Nobody called her out for it. “Three minutes until midnight, by the way.”
“Don’t remind me.”
Sounds of footfall could be heard upstairs. The sound moved toward the stairs, which they promptly went down, and then stopped just outside the kitchen. Opening the door, Dave poked his head through, looking at the sombre scene with the only smile in the entire house.
“Whatcha,” Dave said. When nobody replied: “So, uh. Really soon to midnight, so I’m going to go ahead and leave now. Sorry that I’m not sticking around, it’s just–”
“No need to justify yourself,” Sally said. “You just got the luck of the genetics draw, that’s all.”
“Right. So, I’ll be off now. Yes.” Dave went to close the door, opened it again, said a quick “Sorry”, and then closed it properly. Everyone listened as Dave left through the front door.
As soon as he heard the front door slam, Chris quiclky spoke: “So how come he got to be a wolf?”
“Like I said, luck of the genetics draw. We don’t get to pick what we become, we’re given it. It’s just so much that most people like us get to be wolves, and we’re the…unique ones.”
“But why have we got to be ‘unique’, as you so kindly put it?”
“You can’t pick and choose, Chris. You just make do with what you get.”
Chris snorted. “Well, if you ask me, this whole thing is a load of–”
The clock chimed midnight.
If anyone had peeked through the window at that given time, they probably would have thought they were looking into a mad scientist’s laboratory. Human-like figures convulsed and twitched as the underwent a change of fur or feather or even scales. Thankfully, the concept of onlookers had been previously considered, and large curtains prevented any unwanted spectators from seeing the frightful sight. As quick as it had began, it was over, leaving several human-sized and fully-clothed animals where humans once were.
“You know,” Sally the weremouse said, “you never quite get used to it.”
“Probably for the best,” Jack the werepig said, trying hard to keep hold of his cards with his hooves. “The moment you get used to your entire body morphing into something else, the moment a part of your sanity dies.”
“Still not as bad at the first time it ever happened,” Judy the wereduck said. “That was a real surprise, let me tell you.”
“For you?” Chris the weregoldfish said, jostling in his tank with annoyance. “You can still breathe air. I was lucky I was next to a river on the first full moon that affected me, else someone would have had the biggest fish and chips dinner they’d ever had.”
“Yes, well,” Jack oinked. “No point making a feud of it now. Let’s just ride tonight out and get back to our lives.”
The card game tried to continue, as much as people could play cards using hooves, paws, and wings. In the middle of struggling to continue their game, a distant wolf howl echoed through the night.
“Tch,” Chris said, his face bittered. “Glad Dave’s having fun, at any rate. Come on, sod these cards for a laugh. Wheel me over to the living room and let’s watch a movie.”
Their wereforms left much to be desired for the case of opposable thumbs, but their eyes still worked very much the same. Thus, as much as it was a decision made by the moon cycle rather than the housemates, that night became a night of going through the DVD collection and putting on whatever came to their fancy. Just so long as it wasn’t An American Werewolf in London.
This story was inspired by this tweet, which became the basis and inspiration of this Friday Flash. While the original tweet states the photo’s location as Finland, this story doesn’t necessarily have to feature there! Thanks to Cat Russell for the idea.
Island House, Finland https://t.co/3nP5gx4DtK—
Architecture (@archpics) June 27, 2016
“Thanks for having us, great-uncle Jack!” the two children said in unison as they left the house.
“That’s quite alright.” great-uncle Jack said, holding up a liver-spotted hand.
The parents of said children were already standing on the boardwalk, the only connection between the tiny island the house sat on and the mainland. To catch up, the children ran across the boardwalk.
“Careful!” Jack called, his tone insincere. “Your noise will anger the siren of the lake!”
When they were younger, this threat would stop the children running and begin near-tiptoeing until they were on solid land. This time, however, one of the children simply turned mid-run and yelled ‘we know stinkin’ sirens aren’t real!’.
The other members of the Carden family didn’t understand Jack. If he wasn’t so kind-hearted and good with the kids, he probably wouldn’t receive visitors at all. There was nothing wrong with him, per-se; they just wondered why he lived in the run-down shack in the middle of a lake. It was old, creaky, and smelt of damp after it rained. Every time the Cardens visited, they made their greetings, caught up with news, then got stuck into the topic of the house.
Houses are cheaper on the mainland. You can get a lovely apartment near the shops for half the price of maintaining the shack. Move out and do yourself a favour. Jack would simply fold his arms and state that the house ‘meant something’ to him. The Cardens wondered what rotting boards and black mold ‘meant to him’. He’d never say.
After waving goodbye, Jack walked back into the house. The washing up had to be done, and if he was quick, he could finish before his favourite TV show came on. The tablet sitting on the kitchen table was the only gadget he owned. He had only just learnt to download and play songs on it a few weeks ago, so he put on a relaxing song and got to work. Scrubbing the plates, he looked out the window over the sink to admire the view of the lake. That’s when he noticed her sitting on the shore just outside of the window.
“I bathe daily,” said the siren, ringing out her red hair with her hands. Her mermaid-like body from the waist down glistened in the sun.
“Sorry?” Jack said, raising his voice a little to speak over the tablet’s music.
The siren scoured over a shoulder. “I said, I don’t stink. I bathe daily.”
“You live in a lake, it’s hard for you not to.”
A sigh of disgust. “Don’t remind me.”
“What’s wrong with the lake? I think it’s a rather pretty place, myself.”
“Yes, but that’s because you weren’t a feared creature of myth, sitting upon the rocks and singing a song of sailor’s doom, watching as entire boats dashed against the rocks. Now I sing a song and some passer-by walking their dog falls in the lake. At best. And then there’s you.”
Jack gave an exaggerated shrug, pretending to not know what she meant. “What’s wrong with me?”
“Oh, I don’t know, the fact that you built a house on the lake’s island so you can listen to me more. I don’t do long-term, only one-off gigs.”
“Nonsense. It’s a shame and a waste for only dead men to hear your singing. Want some bread?”
“No,” the siren said. Regardless, a slice of bread landed beside her. She picked it up and chewed on it, pretending not to appreciate it. “I’m not a duck, you know.”
“If ducks sang like you did, they’d probably be fed whole loaves.”
A snort. “Your terrible compliments haven’t worked for seventy years; they won’t start working now. Still, if I could get back into my singing days, I’d be much happier.”
“Didn’t you join in with that lakeside Christmas carol singing that happened a few years ago?”
“Yes, the one time I tried to make my voice ‘normal’. By the time I had realised it wasn’t working, several grown men in santa costumes were already waist-deep in the lake. I can still remember the faces on their angry wives.”
“But you still enjoyed it.”
“Sure. Beats singing to the fish in this boring lake. But what can I do? The moment I show my face to sing for actual people, I’ll be snatched away in the name of science. No thank you.”
Jack was about to make a comment about putting on fake legs and a dress and getting up on stage somewhere, but then he realised he was already listening to someone singing on his tablet without knowing what they looked like. An idea formed.
Later that week, Jack hired a sound engineer to record some singing, with strict instruction that it had to be done outside. The engineer was confused as to why the recording spot was a strange shack in the middle of the lake, but by the time he had finished, all he could recall was that he heard someone singing the best song he’d ever heard, and that, for some reason, his legs were soaking wet.
The songs would eventually go up for digital purchase, where it began to shift units in droves. Nationwide reports began to spring up of interested men checking to see what all the fuss was about, and the next thing they know, they had bought all the albums. Women would claim that, yes, it’s very pretty, but to be frank, they couldn’t understand why the men made such a huge fuss over it.
In time, people (mostly men) flocked to see the face of the singer that they so loved. All they found at the end of their journey was a strange old man in a crooked shack saying he didn’t know what they were on about, but if they wanted, he’d gladly dress as a woman and try his best, which proved a very effective way of driving people away from the secret of the siren of the lake.
John Bath had been trained for scenarios like these. When caught in a troublesome situation with nothing but their bare fists, a spy is not expected to put their hands in the air and mumble surrender, even if the enemy have rifles. Of course, a large part of making sure you don’t get shot is not allowing them to see you coming in the first place. This is why the guard stationed outside the mastermind’s planning room didn’t go out with a bang, but with a soft thump from a punch by a spy dangling out of an air vent.
John Bath took the fallen guard’s weapon. If he knew Dr. Doomsday as well as he thought, asking for a fistfight wasn’t going to garner any favours. If a fight was going to break out, it was absolutely going to be against the new foul invention Dr. Doomsday might have invented. Pushing the button, the metal doors to Dr Doomsday’s lair opened with a whiff.
The lair seemed standard issue for a scientifically-minded megalomaniac. A large cave cavern was filled around its walls with computer terminals and giant screens depicting ominous threats to the countries of the world. Situated near the middle of the circular room, sitting within a hovering chair guided by a joystick on the armrest, was Dr. Doomsday. He was giving a leering smile that John couldn’t distinguish between sadistic pleasure and annoyance, his bald head and eyepatched left eye wrinkled from the expression. Lying in the very middle, strapped to a table with a large ominous laser emitted hovering over it, was John Bath’s current (and sixth) love interest Daphne.
“Aha!” Dr. Doomsday grinned. “So you finally made it here, John Bath. It’s about time. I thought my wine would evaporate from all the waiting.”
“Whatever nefarious plan you have in mind, Dr. Doomsday, I’m going to put an end to it tonight.”
“As you always say, John Bath. However, this time around, you may find things are slightly…different. Also — go on. Take a shot at me.”
John frowned. “No.”
Dr. Doomsday put on an exaggerated look of concern. “Why’s that, John? I thought you always wanted me to meet my demise.”
“Because every time I see you in that floating chair of yours, I take a pot shot at you, it reflects off, and you cackle and say ‘your attacks mean nothing, John Bath, for I am behind a force field’. It gets old.”
“It’s not turned on.”
“Yes it is.”
“Look, watch.” Dr. Doomsday pressed a button on his chair. Visually, nothing seemed to change. “It’s off now. You can take a shot. You’ll win.”
“I can’t tell it’s off. It’s an invisible force field. For all I know, you just pressed the button for the espresso machine.”
“No, that was it. That was totally it, one-hundred percent. It’s off now. You can shoot me.”
“So why are you smirking?”
Dr. Doomsday looked away, hiding his face. “Just feeling particularly good today, that’s all.”
John exchanged a look of disbelief with Daphne. Half-heartedly, he raised his rifle and took a shot. The bullet reflected off an invisible barrier.
“Ha!” Dr. Doomsday cackled. “Your attacks mean nothing, John Bath, for I am behind a force field.”
John rolled his eyes. “Very surprising.”
“Now that you know your attacks are useless against me, I present to you my latest plan. You have two options; save your precious Daphne from being torn apart by a laser, or disable the laser cannon I have set up pointed at the moon. Save the moon and your precious girl dies. Save your girl and doom the world to a permanent, literal half-moon. So, what will it be?”
John looked between Daphne tied to the table and the screen showing a very helpful and informative animation of a large laser cannon blowing up the moon. After a small deliberation, he said, “did you make that?”
Mr. Doomsday’s evil grin maintained; now, however, it was noticeably forced rather than natural. “Sorry?”
“The cannon. And the Daphne Laser.”
Mr. Doomsday blinked. “…yes, of course I did. You can’t buy moon-destroying lasers on the market.”
“I’m only saying because, well, the first time we met, you put a gun to the love interest’s head. Then you suspended one over a cliff edge, and the one after that was a slow descent into the shark tank. And now you’ve really upscaled.”
“To be honest with you,” Daphne said, “being compared to the moon, I’m feeling flattered right now.”
Mr. Doomsday scoffed. “So what if I upscaled? Isn’t it a villain’s duty to?”
“Given how you’ve basically advanced laser-based technology by a hundred years by yourself, why are you still demanding huge ransoms of money when you could be, you know, inventing and selling things?”
Mr. Doomsday went to answer, stopped, thought, then said: “It’s not like anyone will buy my stuff, given all the horrible stuff I’ve done.”
“Technically, you haven’t ‘done’ anything. I’ve always thwarted your plans before they come to pass. You could still, you know, not blow up entire celestial bodies and make something of yourself. So, how about it?
The secret services didn’t hear much else about what happened when John came back from the excursion. Just that there was a very much intact moon, and an uncharred Daphne, and promises that ‘everything had been taken care of’, despite the fact that Mr. Doomsday was nowhere to be found on the abandoned lair, alive or not.
Elsewhere, a new and wildly-popular laser surgery and tattoo removal center appeared. Customer reviews noted it was strange for the operator to strap them to a table, point something that looked like it was straight out of a sci-fi film at them, and cackle madly. Despite this, it was totally painless, the fastest and cheapest laser procedure of all the country, and the operator gave a free lollipop at the end, so it was alright and got five stars.
Daniel plucked at the taut rope, checking its tension. Once satisfied, he gave a nod to himself, stood up, and darted to a bush nearby, peering over the top alongside his friend Patrick.
“Right then,” Daniel said. “That should do it.”
Patrick peered over the bush, observing the setup. Then, turning to Daniel with a confused look; “will it?”
“Of course it will. My dad always said us twenty-year-olds are at our mental peak, so this is basically a foolproof plan. See, the ogre will come along, and he’ll spot the cake we placed down in the clearing in front of this bush, see? He’ll walk towards it, but as he does, his foot will catch on the rope I put between the two trees, and he’ll fall in our direction. Then we leap out and slice his throat with our swords.”
“Ah,” Patrick said. “Right.”
The pair waited in silence. Birds tweeted and animals rustled around them in the forest. Then, Patrick said; “do ogres like cake?”
Daniel frowned. “What kind of stupid question is that?”
“I’m just saying. If our entire plan revolves around ogres eating cake, we should at least make sure they like it. All I know ogres to eat are sheep, and cows, and bad children.”
“I’m pretty sure anything that looks humanoid, ugly or not, have a soft spot for cake. This is going to work, I promise you. Then we can go back to town and prove ourselves the hero we claimed to be.”
“You claimed to be. Very loudly. After five pints. Got us into this ogre business in the first place.”
“And who was the one that joined me by climbing onto a table and singing a loud and improvised ballad of how ‘strong, mighty, and ogre-killy’ we are?”
Patrick opened his mouth to object. He closed it again, then said, “that was me, wasn’t it?”
Patrick gave a shrug. “Fair cop, I suppose.” Perking up, he added: “One of the farmers said that if we kill this ogre and save the village from its reign of terror, I get to spend some time with his girl.”
“Oh really? Pretty thing, is she?”
“Yeah. Lovely pig he keeps out in his fields. Didn’t see anything quite like it in my farming days. Farmer said I could feed it some lettuce if we win. I’m very honoured.”
“Sure,” Daniel said, unsure. “Very heroic. Now, see, when I get back, I’m going to claim half of the town’s–”
The ground shook.
Both ogre hunters fell into silence. The rhythmic sound of very, very heavy footfall and trees being knocked over got closer and louder as time passed. Before long, a fifteen-foot tall being strolled into view, behind the tripwire trees. It was a large, bald ogre, the majority of its forehead taken up by a single eye. It sported a loincloth and a large weathered club, and had a gut that revealed its strong interest in the livestock of the nearby village.
It came to an abrupt stop, sniffing the air with giant heaves. Peering around the forest and using its nose like a metal detector, it finally discovered the cake on the other side of the tripwire. With a beaming face of glee, it began its charge towards it. It hadn’t even reached its full momentum before its foot snagged the rope, tearing up the trees attached to it. The ogre fell with a confused grunt, its head slamming into the floor not too far away from the two hunters.
“Alright!” Daniel said, punctuated with a laugh. Both he and Patrick leaped out of the bush, wasting no time in drawing their swords. “Told you it would work! Now we can go back as the heroes we always knew we–”
The ground shook again as two heavy hands slammed into the ground.
In what was probably the most terrifying push-up the pair had ever seen, the ogre lifted itself off of the floor, its one eye glaring at the two. As much as Daniel hoped the fall would knock it out for the count, it was as conscious as it had ever been; this time, however, it was also very angry with cake plastered across its face.
Patrick swallowed. “Daniel?”
Daniel kept his eyes on the ogre, his sword visibly shaking in his hand as he stood his ground. “Yeah?”
“Ogres get back up again.”
Daniel nodded. “Duly noted.”
“So now what do we do? Run?”
Daniel mulled the idea over in his mind for a moment. As the ogre climbed to its feet, Daniel made his choice: “heroes don’t run.”
“Heroes don’t die, either!”
“Then we won’t.” Daniel held his sword straight and charged. “Go for the legs! It can’t swing if it can’t stand!”
Patrick stood where he was, sword feebly held in hand, debating between joining his friend or running for the hills. Finally, he clutched the hilt with both hands, yelled his favourite battlecry of “oh, bloody hell!” and charged in himself.
Eventually, they would become the fabled ogre-slayers and saviours of New Cowsbury, spoken of by bards and heralded in tales and legends. For now, however, they were two confused and scared young adults trying desperately to avoid a club the size of a small tree. Because the ballads always sing of how brave and courageous you were, but not how loudly you screamed.
“Sorry,” the man said, pointing to the thick porridge-like substance being poured into his food tray. “Do you have something else?”
The slug-like alien behind the serving counter froze mid-serve.
All the other humans, both in the food queue and in the dining area, frozen in horror. Nobody asks for ‘something else’ in the Delphi Six alien slave camp. The only reply you’d probably get is no food whatsoever. Worse, a plasma shot to the head.
“I mean,” the man continued, knowing full well that he may had just placed one foot in his own grave. “The meal tickets we get just state it’s good for ‘one meal’, right? It doesn’t say it has to be this stuff, right? I mean, right?”
The man turned to everyone else for back-up. Nobody else offered.
The alien frowned. “Something else?”
The man swallowed. “Yeah. Something else than the sludge. Not sure if aliens know of ‘flavour’, but, uh…we do.”
The alien stared for a moment. Then, leaning down beneath the counter, he produced a burger complete with bun, placing it on top of the porridge substance.
“There you go,” the alien said. “Okay, who’s next? You, at the back there, yes? Well, don’t just look at me with those wide eyes, come get your Nutrisludge.”
“Sorry,” the man with the burger said, treating it as if he had just been served a gold bar. “Just need to make sure; this does means you’re not going to kill me, right?”
“Kill you? Why in space would we kill someone for showing a little bit of initiative? You’re slaves, sure, but you’re not animals.”
“I just thought…” the man began, pausing to scratch the back of his head in uncertainty. “I just thought this sludge is all you’d serve us.”
“Of course not! What kind of chef would I be if I just uncanned Nutrisludge all day? I even offered you folks other foods, didn’t I? Stood up here and declared ‘bet you folks wish you had a nice pizza, eh?’ and all you lot did was look forlorn and asked for more Nutrisludge.”
“We thought you were taunting us.”
“Well it’s a good thing we cleared that up, eh? Kept having to throw away perfectly good Lobster Frittata in lieu of Nutrisludge; it was doing my head in. I don’t suppose anyone else here would like something more flavorsome? I’ve only got a few more burgers before they’re all out of–”
The meal counter wasn’t designed to take a large influx of people at the same time; that had changed by the time the day had ended.
435 words (Challenge Goal: 360-440 words)
This piece was written for Thimbleful Thursday, a microfiction challenge posted every Thursday. Come join the fun!
With the flying cars, bustling streets, and giant headquarters for the megacorporations that ran the city, it was easy to assume that New Los Angeles was a perfect city as they come. Even the prettiest face has blemishes, however, and the darker side of New Los Angeles was treated in the same way a blemish would; covered up until nobody could tell it was there at all.
Therefore, the only people who noticed the worn, flame-spewing barrel in the middle of a derelict road were the people using it for their only source of warmth. Three rough characters, donned in spiked leather and even spikier hair, rubbed their hands as they stood around it, the only signs of life in the entire street. The shells of burnt-out and decayed buildings surrounded them on either side.
“Still,” the leader said, wearing shades and a green mohawk. “Only for a few more days, right? Until the agent can confirm the deal went off without a hitch. Then we’ll all get paid out and buy ourselves out of this god-forsaken district. I promise. And you always know Roadstreak keeps his promises.”
The other two nodded.
“The real problem is the waiting, though. If they wanted the data so badly, you’d have thought they’d buy it up real quick-like and give us our money. But no, the suit’s gotta put it through forms and the finance department and–”
Something large and heavy slammed into the barrel.
The barrel tipped over, spewing out the wood and papers used for fuel. Amongst them, a human figure in a trenchcoat rolled out, beating the flames on his body and rolling on the ground. After enough of the flames were extinguished, the man stood up, revealing a young man with a mat of slightly singed black hair. He aimed his laser pistol at the three.
“Freeze! Agent Cartwright!” he yelled. “This is a police raid!”
Roadstreak pointed to his own left shoulder. “You got a bit on you.”
The man looked at his own shoulder, dusted off a piece of flaming newspaper, and said, “freeze! Agent Cartwright! This is still a police raid!”
Roadstreak and his two companions nonchalantly raised their hands. “Made quite an entrance, officer.”
“I wanted to test these new bionic legs.” Cartwright gave one a shake; given how the leg was fully clothed, it was hard to tell it wasn’t real. “Thought I’d get the element of surprise by jumping off a roof, because these things can break any fall.” Then, after a pause; “which they did, by the way.”
“Very nice. But I’m afraid I’m unsure of why you’re here. You can’t arrest someone for heating up their hands on a bitter night.”
“You’re under arrest for being caught in the act of, uh, getting someone’s data over the net. You know, where you accessed someone’s data illegally and stole it. For money. You stole data for money. It has a name.”
“Hacking! Yes. You hacked a megacorporation. The one that handles water sanitation. The big one with a water droplet for a logo.”
“Right! Right. Them. You hacked them. And we caught you doing it.”
Roadstreak, hands still in the air, gave a shrug. “Nice work, detective. You sure got me.”
Cartwright gave a confident grin. “So you admit it, then? In front of an agent? Me, specifically?”
“Sure. I suppose you suits have all the evidence you need to make it an open-shut case. What’s the point of arguing?”
“Right! Right. There is no point, because you know you’re busted. So you’re coming with me.”
Roadstreak gave his companions an exaggerated confused look. “Going with you? I don’t remember agreeing to go with you anywhere.”
“Well…no, you didn’t, but you’re under arrest, right? For doing that computer thing with the data.”
Roadstreak rolled his eyes. “Hacking.”
“So now you have to go where I tell you to. Down to the police office. And if I know my law — which I do — eventually prison.”
Another shrug. “Don’t feel like going. Maybe tomorrow.”
“You can’t say that! You’re under arrest! By the law, I’ll have you know.”
“Right. But if you want me to go somewhere I don’t want to go, you gotta do so by force, right?”
“Yeah, and I have a gun. So what?”
Roadstreak didn’t need to signal anyone; they knew their cues well enough. Like worms out of woodwork, thugs dressed in neon colours and leather came out of every door, alleyway, and even window of the buildings surrounding the group. Pipes, planks, and the occasional smashed bottle were the weapons of choice. They stood along the pavements of the streets, smirks on faces.
“So,” Roadstreak said. “I’m just a bit worried of its effectiveness against my entire gang, you know?”
Cartwright looked around at the newly-arrived group. Not entirely believing his own words, he whined, “I can still shoot you, right?”
If Cartwright blinked, he wouldn’t have seen Roadstreak pull an old bullet-operated revolver from his pocket and shoot his own laser pistol clean out his hands. For a moment, the only sounds were the noise of the gun’s bang echoing around the dead street, and the clatter of a laser pistol hitting concrete.
“Could’ve done,” Roadstreak said. “Not sure about it now.”
Cartwright wringed his hands together as the gang’s grins got wider. “Listen, I have a plan that will solve all our problems.”
“Oh? Love to hear it.”
“Okay, here it is.”
The good thing about bionic legs is that they can accelerate to blistering speeds faster than most people can react to. This means that, by the time Roadstreak had opened fire, Cartwright was already halfway down the street. Hearing the noise of outrage and thundering footsteps behind him, the gang were giving chase, presumably about to jump into hovercars and bikes. If they were foolish and reckless enough, he thought, he could lead them right to the police station, where he’d get backup.
Problem was; which way was it, again?
David knocked the door open with a shoulder, holding a tray loaded with snacks and beer. “Alright, guys!” he said, with a cheer. “Who’s up for some–”
He felt like a clown making his entrance into a funeral. His friends — Paul, Judy, and Anna — were sitting in a circle of chairs, looking at David with solemn expressions. One of the chairs was empty. David presumed this was for him.
“Put the snacks to the side for a moment,” Paul said, from his chair. “We need to talk.”
David set the tray aside on a table. “I just thought I’d get some celebratory snacks for winning the fight.”
“We know, and it’s very much appreciated that you did that. For now, please take a seat.”
David took it.
“So, uh,” David said. “What’s all this about?”
“Before we start,” Judy said, “we need you to remember that we all still love you, and that we’re always here for you whenever you need to talk to us about anything. That being said, the group and I agreed in private to discuss some…worrying things we’ve heard from you.”
“Well, you know me. I’m always joking about stuff that worries you all the time. You don’t need an intervention for those.”
“Yes, but we know you’re joking. These are more serious comments you’ve made; ones you actually meant. Anna heard you talking to a phone to a friend. She quotes you as saying: ‘I don’t see why we have to assemble the Superzord after Evil Weevil makes one of her minions super size. Why don’t we assemble the Fighterzords into the Superzord before that happens and squash them all?’.”
“That’s right,” David said. “I don’t see why we bother.”
The other friends exchanged worried looks.
“David,” Anna said. “You can’t assemble the Superzord before the large minion appears. It’s against the Hero Rangers code.”
David shrugged. “I don’t see why.”
“Because it makes it an uneven fight. If we bring the Superzord to fight a few ground mooks, it’ll be totally overkill.”
“So? If we win, we win, right?”
“The goal is not just to win. It’s also to teach children watching our show to always act fair.”
“But she’s–!” David began, before resorting to a grunt of annoyance. “Okay, look, fine. We don’t assemble the Superzord the moment the fight starts. Can we at least show up in our Fighterzords and use them instead? We only ever use them to assemble the Superzord.”
Anna scowled. “Of course not. We’re not fond of fighting with them.”
“Yeah? Of course you’d say that. You’re the one that pilots the useless Turtle Fighterzord that transforms into Superzord’s left leg.”
Anna folded her arms. “The turtle is a symbol of patience and stalwart defense.”
“And also a symbol of boring body parts, apparently. It’s not even the leg the Superzord uses to kick! That’s the one Judy pilots!”
“Alright, alright!” David interjected, stepping in as Anna almost stood from her chair. “We’re not here to argue who the better Hero Ranger is. While I agree that our Fighterzords are doing very little actual fighting, they’re still too much for the regular enemies that Evil Weevil summons every episode. Rather than bickering semantics, I want to hear why David is so keen to utterly destroy the enemy.”
“Because it’s my desire to take Evil Weevil out.” Then, in response to his friend’s horrified looks: “I don’t mean we kill her! We’re not vigilantes. Just maybe…put her away in prison, make her think about what she’s done. We let her go every episode and she always comes back with an even fouler plan. Remember the episode when she zapped that kid’s gerbil and made a giant rampaging monster? Poor girl was traumatised for weeks!”
“Maybe so, but–”
At that point, the door to the intervention room burst open. Standing there, in all her dark and nefarious glory, stood the wicked witch Evil Weevil.
“Aha!” she said, with a triumphant pose. “You thought you had defeated me, but I have the last laugh now! Now that you’ve hopelessly defenseless, I can…oh.” She gave the group a concerned look. “Is this a bad time to appear?”
Everyone nodded gravely.
“Right. Sorry. Just thought it was a good scheme to, you know–”
“No, no,” David said. “Don’t apologise, it was a good idea.”
“Yes. Right. Uhm.” Evil Weevil pointed to the beers. “Mind if I–?”
“Right, thanks.” Then, after taking a beer; “so what’s getting you lot down, then? I can’t have you lot moping around at the next fight. Won’t be half as fun.”
“David’s having some problems,” Paul said. “Talking about wanting to put you away for good.”
“Yeah, you always do, you heroes. Only so many times you can fight the same villain before you start wondering what on earth you’re doing. Lots of rivalries that have lasted decades. But from our petty feuds, the people watching us learn valuable lessons and get some entertainment from it.”
“What about us?” said David.
“That’s obvious, isn’t it? You guys get to play in your mechs and fight my minions, and I get to turn little girl’s gerbils into monsters.”
“Yeah,” Paul said, “we need to talk about that.”
“Point is, if our little petty feuds stop, then everything grinds to a halt and everyone’s miserable. Even if it means doing weird stuff like not bringing the Superzord to the fight in the first place. I’m surprised you guys haven’t thought of doing that yet.”
“You’re telling me,” David said.
“So let’s keep fighting so the ankle-biters back at their homes have some fun. Besides, if we do well enough, we’ll get another season of Hero Rangers. If that happens, they’re going to give me a moon-base and a laser that can blow up the planet. You know what that means, right?” she said, with an elbow nudge. “Space battles.”
“Space battles, huh?” David said, with a grin. “Alright then. You’re on.”
I put my hand on the corpse. Cold, like stone. Damp to the touch. Lifeless. A being once alive, reduced to nothing more than meat.
I stared at the man across from me dead in the eye. “How long’s this one been dead for?”
The man gave a sneer as he thought, curling the bushy moustache over his lip like a caterpillar. “‘Bout two days, I make it.”
“Two days. Yet still looks fresh.”
“Yep. Gotta keep them refrigerated else bits start fallin’ off.”
I looked around. Cold corpses, just like the one I was inspecting, all around me. So many bodies, and one man was tending to them all; keeping a catalogue of death around him like a toy store owner.
I looked down at my own specimen. As much as there was a whole selection to go through, I knew at first glance that the one in front of me was what I was seeking. Perfect size. Perfect time of death. This was the one I was looking for; the very reason I came down to meet this man of meat in the first place.
“Alright then,” I said, picking it up. “I’ll take this chicken breast, please.”
The man took my order, weighed it, and put it in a bag as white as a ghost. “That’ll be six dollars. Want some of the lollipops you always get? You know, for your kid.”
I gave the man a jaded look, ready to decline at any moment, but I still caved. “Yeah,” I said, handing over a ten. “For my kid.”
I had barely left the butchers when the scum of the city decided to show its ugly face to me. I was approached from an alleyway by a man. He had a mohawk as colourful as his personality and enough studs in his skin to think someone had gone to town on him with a handgun. “Hey,” he hissed, with the same tone the snake gave to Adam and Eve. “You look like the kind of guy that would, uh, like to see what I have.”
Adults never truly ‘grow out’ of candy; they just trade in the sweets and the sugar for trips and rushes. Pills, patches, tablets; it’s all the same. A little money, a lot of fun, and nobody has to know about it. Of course, I’ve never taken a drug stronger than a good painkiller and some caffeine. When a cat approaches a dog thinking it’s a mouse, though, you just gotta go through with it.
“Sure,” I said. “Lemme see what you got.”
The man looked left and right, seemingly convinced that nobody was around. Then, with a swift motion, he revealed what he was keeping in the inner pocket of his jacket — a kitten.
“Listen,” the man said, in a worried tone. “I just found this poor thing in a dumpster down the alley and I don’t think it has a mother. What the hell should I do?”
I frowned. “Take it to an animal shelter.”
“But what if…what if it’s a kill shelter?“
“I know the Smithson Animal Shelter near the stadium is no kill. You’ll probably find a good home for him there.”
“Really? Thanks, buddy!” the punk said, with a smile. “You just saved this little guy’s life.”
“Wait a minute,” I called out to him as he already began his voyage down the alley. “Weren’t you going to sell me drugs just now?”
“Drugs?” the man said, the look of scorn on his face. “Man, if you’re talking to strangers in alleys for a potential drug hit, you’ve got your priorities all wrong. Go clean, alright?”
The man left before I could object.
Life was usual back in the run-down apartment. Lying in a cigarette-scarred recliner, the greasy, gravy-stained remains of the chicken dinner on a plate beside me. I knew tonight was going to be rough; I could feel it within the grit of my soul. Maybe it was the stormy weather. Maybe it was the drink. Maybe it was that I was already on my third lollipop and all the apple ones were gone. Either way, when the phone rang, I knew exactly who was calling; trouble. And it was for me.
I picked up the phone. “Hello?” I rasped.
“Detective Jones,” the familiar growl of the chief of police rumbled down the phone. “Turn on the television. Channel six. Man getting murdered live on TV. Check for yourself.”
I flicked the channel from the movie I was watching. Two boxers were going at it like a pair of angry bulls. One of them had a beat-up face, blood dripping down his nose. He didn’t look like he was going to be standing much longer.
“Can you believe it?” the chief said. “I put a hundred bucks on the guy! Two-to-one odds, my stinkin’ ass. Now he’s taking a real beating and I’m gonna be out of pocket real soon. Just my freakin’ luck. Anyway, just thought I’d let you know so you can cover my rounds at the bar for the next month or so. See you tomorrow!”
The phone went dead just as the boxer hit the mat, out for the count. Maybe the barman will take the nasty lemon lollipops as payment.
Thanks to Ashe Elton Parker for the idea!