Welcome to Storytime Quarterly Blog Hop (January, April, July, October).
This short flash fiction is part of Apocalypse, Signed, Sealed, & Delivered series world. I write a lot of crossover in my Grumpy Old Gods short stories with these characters and world. You may remember Elliot from my story in our Stormdance Publications anthology, Grumpy Olds Gods Vol. 1, my story, ‘Playing Hookie’.
This is an ongoing series world. You may encounter Elliot again in my upcoming story for Grumpy Old Gods Vol. 6 releasing March 2023. Hope you enjoy this fun little moment in time in the ASSD World and Grumpy World. Be sure and check out the other fun stories by authors around the globe in the list at the end of the story, and leave us comments. We love hearing from our readers. Read with joy as Holly Lisle says.
THE PRANCING ROAD HOG MOTORCYCLE CLUB HELP WANTED. APPLY INSIDE.
Rhea gaze lingered on the one rearview mirror, on the motorcycle farthest from the door lined up with ten more out in from of The Prancing Road Hog. She checked her hair one last time, opened her purse, pulled out her lipstick, and then decided against it dropping the tube back in.
Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten all dolled up in my best dress and red heels to apply for a bartender job. Why didn’t I bring a jacket?
Admittedly, she was thinking about the bar’s owner with the red hair and sexy southern creole accent when she got dressed earlier.
A jacket would have toned down the whole look, making it more professional-instead of trying to impress a potential non-date.
Dang it. She needed this job.
Her severance pay from the last job was about gone. Next month’s rent might be late if she didn’t do something soon. Bartending was a temporary solution. She had worked bars in college, and the tips were good. She could do it again. Except… her bad choice in attire might jinx her chances.
Didn’t matter. She grabbed an application by the door as she entered, and hopped up on a bar stool, and noted the current bartender was at the far end serving other customers. When he looked her way, she waved the blank application at him.
He raised his voice so she would hear him. “I’ll let Elliot know you are here.”
She had the application finished by the time the owner of the bar came out to greet her. Her face felt hot. She willed her heartbeat to slow down taking deep breaths.
He leaned over with his face on his hand and nodded at the paper. “Why ya filling dat out, cher? I thought you had an office job closer to downtown Miami?”
“I do, did. I was a toy designer for Tattooed Toys, Inc.” Rhea sighed. “Disney did a takeover bringing in their own team. They gave us all severance packages and let us go.”
“Sorry for dat.”
Rhea shrugged. “It’s been six months. There is not a lot of demand for toy designers in this area. I’d have had better luck relocating to the north pole where there is higher demand and no Disney.”
“It’s a lot warmer in the Sunshine State.”
“Which is why I’m here and not there. I don’t do cold well.”
The idea of going back to her family with her tail between her legs sucked. The thought of all the ‘told you so’ made her cringe. She did not want to spend her life collecting naughty children. “I can’t afford to move to the north pole even if I wanted to, and I don’t.”
“And you’d rather bartend after working an office job?”
“It’s better than going home or working retail.” She batted her eyes and leaned into the bar. “I may not have dressed for it, but I have done the bartend thing before. Besides. You need help.”
“You’re more likely to start a riot in that dress, than help.” Elliot gave her a faux leer.
Rhea’s shoulders slumped. “I wanted to make a good impression. I need this job.”
“Oh, you made an impression, cher,” Elliot said, his grin growing wider. “A lot of eyes are turned this way.”
Before she could respond, three teens, dressed like gangbangers, swaggered into the bar. Her naughty kid sense swung into high gear. This close it was hard to ignore. She swiveled in her seat focusing on them, flicking her tail like a cat ready to pounce.
“Rhea?” Elliott said drawing her attention back to him. He leaned over the bar eyes pointedly on her flicking tail. “I may be, mostly human, but I come from a long line of wizards and seers. You do know that I can see through your glamor, right?”
“You’re a Krampus, so settle down. I’ll handle the kids.”
“I wasn’t going to do anything. It’s just instinct.” Those boys were up to no good. She sensed it. Her nature wouldn’t ignore it, but she did have a choice on what action she took. “It’s been years since I’ve allowed those urges to rule me.” Rhea faced the bar again. “Guess that means I don’t have the job, huh? Can I get a drink?”
“No, you have the job. Just don’t go carrying off my underage clientèle to the Underworld. This is a club. We serve sodas too.” Elliot chuckled, grabbing a glass making her a Peppermint White Russian. “Your favorite.”
“I did.” Elliot was watching the boys as they found an isolated table under a special edition poster of Mount Doom signed by the cast of Lord of the Rings.
Rhea watched Elliot. He knew the boys were trouble too. “They are not all human you know?”
“I do know. Can you start work tomorrow at noon?”
“We have a dress code. Jeans and a handmade ‘Middle-Earth” t-shirt. You can pick your size and color from the selection we have in the back room before you leave.”
“Got it boss.”
STORYTIME QUARTERLY BLOG HOP JANUARY, APRIL, JULY, OCTOBER
“Doors stuck, shelves fell, and don’t get me started on the landscaping.” Albert pointed at the scratches still marring his cheeks. “I thought paint a little and rent it out.”
“It’s a Tudor Revival,” nice, solid pre-Depression construction. “And you know I worked on my Dad’s team, so I can do restoration.” I even had all Dad’s tools in my trailer.
He guffawed in my face. “Jenny, it’s a ruin by a swamp. No one’s lived there for decades, kids just go there to see the ghost lights and get drunk.” Much like he was.
He poured himself another. “Tell you what – you fix it up by month’s end, and I’ll sell it to you for a dollar.”
“A dollar? That’s it?”
He shrugged. “And back taxes, but that ain’t much. And Lynette has to agree.” Lynette had been a friend since grade one; she’d also turned me on to Albert’s latest ‘get rich cheap’ scheme. It was sell or take a bath on those back taxes.
I knew to the dime how much I had in the bank.
I could do this.
We shook hands and he gave me the keys. “Twenty days.”
The outside was ivy and ornate flourishes.
The inside was a place you hid from zombies.
It took me all day to unjunk the place; trash, cigarette butts, empty bottles, unmentionables. I expected dead animals, but even the cabinets were sans vermin. The City of Port Goode wanted to raze the property and make it a gas station or something, but the house had good bones under the rotting flesh. Hardwood floors, casement windows, carved baseboards: the builder had loved this place and it showed.
And under all the slime and grime, the bathrooms… <sigh>
I checked the living room fireplace then built a fire. Cot, sleeping bag, wind up clock and a good book.
Outside, fireflies played in the moonlight. I didn’t get much reading done.
The next day…
Windows stuck. Drawers tried to brain me. My tools moved from room to room, and the power went off – twice! – when I took a drill to a wall. Food rotted and my water smelled funny. I got wallpaper to come off in rotten sheets – thankfully, there wasn’t any carpet anywhere – but the stairs threatened collapse.
I fought back: bleach, wood, nails, and elbow grease. After the first time, I was hauling the trailer with me to get supplies, which ate gas but let me get more at a contractor’s discount. Worked until I was working by lantern and falling over.
And I woke up the next day and…
The zombies had been there and partied. Hard.
So I got up, and started all over again.
It was Monday.
I wanted this place. I loved this place. I needed this place. I’d spent ten days and most of my money.
Dad always said I was too stubborn for words.
I got up – stepped in the obligatory puddle – and rolled up my sleeves. “Listen to me, house. I’ve got ten days to put you right, or they’re going to make you into a parking lot.”
The fireplace belched soot, the pantry door crashed open, and a hippy dressed in leaves popped out, pointing a stick at me. “Get out, stubborn human!”
I didn’t throw the clock at her. “Look, Lady, I don’t know who you are, but I’m fixing this house. It doesn’t deserve to be torn down.”
“My house!” she waved the stick – and kudzu ate my cot.
“Ok,” Palms out, I backed off until the door behind me shut and locked itself. “You don’t want help keeping this place…”
“Keeping?” She frowned at me. “Not ‘gutting’? Not ‘painting white’?”
I shook my head hard. “No! Fixing! Keeping! Restoring!” When she hesitated, I went all in. “I love this place. I’d love to see it back how it was, beautiful, nice…”
She lowered the stick slightly. “Talk, human.”
I spent the morning explaining building codes and eminent domain. Then I got more done in the rest of the day than the previous ten. Bye wallpaper, hello wood paneling – almost everywhere wood paneling, though I got my bathroom.
Every time I went out for supplies, she examined everything I brought back. “Stain, finish, OK, but no paint!”
I lowered my head. “Your house, your rules.”
That got a nod and I got back to work. Almost fell off the roof twice, but there was this tree branch…
The city did it’s inspection three days before deadline. The house ‘barely passed’, but I had the papers in hand when I called Albert.
He was there inside an hour.
“Here, all nice and legal.” I had the new deed all filled out for his signature.
He slid the papers back at me and leered. “I’ll rent it out to you, Jenny. Won’t be that much.”
“That wasn’t the deal, Al.”
The lights went a little dim.
“You have that in writing?” He fondled my new wooden walls. “They’ll look good with some white paint.”
The fireplace spat soot again and the leafy woman stepped out of the pantry, pointing her stick. “Sign papers, man!”
“What is this, Halloween?” He spat on the wood floor. “What are you going to do if I don’t?”
Albert always was a little slow on the uptake.
Lynette signed next to Albert’s scrawl, and I handed her my last dollar. “Place looks like it suits you, Jenny. Your Dad would be proud.”
I stuck the paperwork and the tax receipt in my purse. “Thanks. It was lots of work – more than you’d know. But this place grows on you.”
“It just might. But what’s with the rock sculpture in the living room?”
“Oh that?” I gave her a smile. “Donated by a local artist.”
“It’s so… disturbing. What did she call it?”
About the Author: Chris Makowski
Chris was born in the Pacific Northwest and lived briefly in Hawaii before being reared in New England. After traveling up and down and back and forth from coast to coast, he was dragged kicking and screaming in the bonds of matrimony to the State of Texas and has been mostly residing there ever since with his wife and son.
STORYTIME QUARTELY BLOG HOP JANUARY, APRIL, JULY, OCTOBER
I wasn’t what anyone would call a nice person. I was grumpy, sarcastic, and I’d earned every scar on my body in ways that would make most people have a nervous breakdown.
But nice or not, there were some things you didn’t ignore – not if you saw them and had the power to act. And the hint of power I could feel from the woods demanded action.
“I do believe in fairies, I do, I do…”
I pinched my nose when I heard that half-whispered chant on the breeze.
Damn Peter Pan to hell. The whole play was pure fey propaganda.
I could feel a trickle of power coming from the woods, surprising in the sheer uncontrolled strength but also in the desperation behind it.
Whoever this kid was, they’d managed to crack open the edge of reality like an egg.
Not an easy thing to do.
The whispered chant slipped though the woods, thinning the barrier betwixt and between. I tried to hurry, but my cane was sinking into the soft earth, which was giving my hip hell.
“I do believe in fairies, I do, I do.”
I grimaced. Yeah, I believed in them too, which was why I had a ziplock bag full of salt and mixed with iron oxide in my pocket.
The thing about fairies is that sometimes you ended up calling a unicorn. And sometimes you encountered a redcap. Even the Seelie court was fairly dangerous if you didn’t know what you were doing, and a completely disproportionate number of fey creatures would just eat you if you were in their way. No muss, no fuss.
I arrived and saw a rumpled child in a jacket that was far too light for the weather. Skinny. Frail.
Faintly glowing with power.
I think it was a she.
I glanced at the kid, with very little to indicate whether it was a boy or a girl…not that I knew much about kids, but even with the short hair and clearly mismatched secondhand clothing, there was something delicate.
I clinched my jaw.
They fey liked pretty things.
The sickly-sweet smell of farie power burned my nose as I ran toward the child, casting shields and recklessly spending as much power as I dared.
I dove between the child and something reaching for her, handful of salt and iron making a quick circle.
I pulled the child to me. “Be still.”
“She called us.” The hissing sibilants wound their way from the shadows. I saw the child’s eyes widen.
My lips twisted as I stared into the undulating darkness. “I doubt it was you that she had in mind.”
The darkness inside the shadows laughed. “She didn’t specify.”
I didn’t comment on that. The foolish child hadn’t – an oversight which had once led to any number of children disappearing and never being seen again.
My hands trembled. “Called or not, you can’t cross the circle.” If I could keep them busy until the power faded, they’d have to leave – they couldn’t survive in this magically dry area without power – a lot of power. I looked down at the child.
She didn’t look like much.
Whatever was sitting in the shadows wasn’t fooled by her scrubby appearance. The kid had some serious magical firepower – and all the hallmarks of being completely untrained.
I had a pretty good idea of what was waiting in the shadows, and it wasn’t interested in raising the little girl as a changeling.
It would probably just eat her.
The child was completely terrified and clung to me like she hadn’t been the one calling the thrice-damned things in the first place.
I felt pressure behind me, the hair on the back of my neck raising. I tossed a pinch of salt and iron over my shoulder instead of looking – more than one type of fairy could use the faith of the action against you – the act of looking back lent it power it didn’t ordinarily have. Tossing salt over the shoulder was just good luck – and probably where the superstition came from.
I heard a hiss from behind as the iron fillings and salt hit it.
The child pulled on my sleeve. “What is that thing?”
I kept my eyes on the formless mass. “Hush. Stay still. I will explain later – if there is a later.”
Have I mentioned that I wasn’t good at dealing with small, unfinished humans?
Because I am not.
I felt the power began to dissipate and fed what little power I had left into the shields – it would cost me in a few moments, but I had a terrible feeling that – yep. I felt a jarring attack on the shield as the fey thing in the shadows clawed at the shields with brute force in a desperate attempt to finish what he’d started.
My eyesight dimmed as my hip gave out and I sunk to the forest floor, clutching the child to my side as the shield compressed around us. The rift in between healed- and the fey – realizing that his chance to return was ebbing, fled as the rift sputtered out of existence.
I looked at the child from my seat on the ground. “That was a very foolish thing to do.”
Then I promptly passed out.
I woke up hours later. A cheery fire was burning to one side and the child was poking at it with a stick.
“You should have gone home.”
“No home to go to. And besides, if I had left you, the gators would have eaten you.” She offered me a suspicious-looking bottle of water. I took a quick sip, then another.
“Someone is going to be worried about you.”
“Won’t.” I’m not much for mind-reading, but the word was packed with images that made me think the child was right.
I used a tree to haul myself up. “Put out the fire and let’s go home then.”
The kid looked up at me.
Sometime very soon, when my powers were topped off, the people from her memories would be receiving a visit from me. They would not enjoy it.
Every Christmas Eve we gather at my aunt’s house to exchange gag gifts. Unfortunately, I had to work on Christmas Day so could not stay the night. I had gotten to my aunt’s house late, so I was making the long three-hour drive home just before midnight.
My aunt lived in the country where neighbors were not visible to the eye. Mostly because she was surrounded by trees with a field or two poked in between.
The radio was still playing Christmas music, so I plugged in my iPod to listen to my cruising track. My headlights bounced off the whites lines, marking the edges of the ink black highway.
The night was so black and clear the stars peeked out like a million tiny pinholes across a deep never ending black velvety night sky.
Nights like these made me sure there so much more out there in the universe. I felt small under that dome yet connected to something bigger and more wondrous than I could ever imagine.
I flipped my car heater on low to knock the chill. The whoosh of warm arm felt nice on my arm and legs. I enjoyed the freedom of driving even at night. The time alone in the car allowed my mind to settle, think- and yes -imagine all kinds of wonderful stories I could write.
Winters in Texas were unpredictable. I left home this morning without my jacket with temperatures in the upper seventies. Tonight, there was a distinct chill in the air at fifty- two degrees.
My tires hummed, eating up the asphalt road snaking for miles through rolling black dirt farmland, fields of barley and oat, longhorn cows, and yes, some sheep. The houses set so far back off the road you could not see them unless they had lights on.
Some were just single trailers in vast fields of crop. Many had fence lined or tree lined driveways that went straight back for a mile or more.
My favorite was about half-way to my aunt’s house. It was an old house that had been around since the 1800’s and set off the road about half a mile. They decorated for Christmas, and you could see it a mile before you arrive across the open fields. I was on the last leg of my drive home.
There were no other cars. This late at night and on a holiday, the cars on these long highways were few and far between.
I heard a rackety-clack sound, followed by a loud knock. My little white Kia jerked as if something fell out from under the car.
The engine sputtered.
I coasted to the roadside. Turning the key trying to restart. I heard a couple of clicks than nothing.
I was grateful I always kept a flashlight in the car. I popped the hood. The engine looked intact. I shone the light on the dark road behind me. I saw nothing that looked like it had fallen out, but I guess it could have rolled of the road out of sight.
The night loomed darker and a little ominous despite the starry sky on the country roadside. There were no houses in sight from where I had rolled to a stop.
I fiddled with the battery and checked the water. I inspected my tires, which looked fine, despite the loud noise I had heard.
I went back to my car and tried to call for help using my cell phone. It didn’t work. No service. I walked a little ways from the car trying to get some bars, but did not want to go too far away.
It was then I realized I had forgotten to charge it before I left my aunt’s. I got back in the car to charge it. My car charger was missing. I always kept it in the car. Did someone take it? I searched the car, even checked the trunk.
Nothing. I guess I was walking if a car didn’t come by soon. I got out and looked up and down an empty highway and started to get back in the car to wait.
Held my breath.
The night lit like day, as I was pinned pointed by a oval light brighter than daylight. My mind screamed don’t look as I forced my eyes skyward despite the brightness. I expected it to blind.
The light fluctuated. I could just make out a saucer-shaped craft hovering above me. It’s radius at least a block wide. Multi-colored strobe lights danced in a circle around its circumference.
It was the beam from its center that created the illusion of daylight. A sharp piercing sound made me cover my ears. My stomach rolled, the room begin to spin, and then nothing.
I couldn’t move.
Was I dead?
How much time had passed? I had to blink a few times. I was staring up at bug-eyed- like lights, making think of a honeycomb. I felt cold to the bone.
My arms, legs, body were all free, yet I couldn’t move. I could see nothing holding me down. I lay on some metal bed-table.
Had they given me some kind of drug? My heart hammered. I caught movement to my right through my peripheral vision.
I must be dreaming. Tallish, steeple-like, white big-eyed bipeds were milling around the room carrying royal rainbow colored geometric-shaped boxes. I counted three, taking several deep breaths.
Yeah, I was afraid, but THINK!
I was a 911 Dispatcher, a first responder, for goodness sake. I’ve listened to horrible things and kept my cool. I could do this.
Another deep breath. Exhale.
I tried my voice and sounded like a raspy frog.
“Hey, I need some help. Can someone help me?
“Hey, I need to pee.”
That didn’t phase them either.
They probably couldn’t understand English. I was able to turn my head a little now.
I wasn’t the only human in the room. I could see other beds with small people in green and red costumes, also not moving. Children? The faces looked too old.
On my left lay a large deer with huge 5-point horns.
A jolly voice said, “I am afraid Juneta that Christmas has been abducted this year.”
“You know my name?” The sound of the other voice relaxed me a bit.
“I know everyone’s name. Including the aliens.” He chuckled. “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Alien Christmas!”
“Santa Claus? You’re not real.” Yet there he lay, prone like me in red suite, white hair and beard, and yes beer belly.
His blue eyes dance and his belly jiggled despite his prone state, as he tried to get his breath, and control his deep laughter.
George Warren had never been what anyone would term ‘successful’. He was fifty-six years old, looked ten years older – and felt twenty. He’d already been divorced for years, didn’t own a home, and hadn’t had a real promotion since his early thirties.
He sat, crammed into a tiny office that used to be a broom closet, and did the most miserable job in the entire universe.
He poked the button on the ancient brown speaker system on his desk and sighed as it whined and crackled.
His fingers went to the polyester noose…er…tie around his neck and tugged it down.
He wiped his face with his handkerchief, reached into his desk, pulled out a blue bottle of antacid, and chugged the stuff like it was tequila.
Jesus, he wished he could have tequila. The ulcers in his stomach had resulted in two things: his diet consisted of mostly clear broth, oatmeal, and Maalox; and he spent a good chunk of his tiny paycheck every month buying antacid by the case.
He stood up, not bothering with the second-hand jacket that habitually lived on the hat stand in his office. Policy dictated that he should wear it, but he’d been ignoring that since the thermostat had been set to eighty-five degrees after a decade long inch upward to “save valuable company resources”.
It was probably part of the reason why he hadn’t had a promotion in decades.
He called out the door, “Edna, the speaker is acting up again. Can you call maintenance and see if they can work me in before the turn of the century?”
Edna Fields, septuagenarian, office manager, and if he were brutally honest with himself, his only friend, nodded as she entered the doorway and hoisted an improbably large cup of coffee to her lips. He was frankly amazed that her skinny arms could even lift that much weight at her age. While he lived on mostly antacids, Edna seemed to subsist entirely on black coffee and cigarettes.
“Don’t forget you have that meeting with the director at three o’clock. His battleax of a receptionist croaked out the orders before disappearing like the giant bat she is.” He nodded. Like he could forget something like that. He’d only gotten a handful of memos from the director over all the years he’d been with the company.
“I’m not worried.” Edna gave a significant look to his tie and the bottle of antiacid. He took another long swig and pulled at his tie again. “It’s not like there is much they can legally do to make my life worse. If they somehow find a smaller office, it’ll count as a coffin.”
Edna’s eyes narrowed, “You laugh but Jim went in six years ago and no one has seen him since.”
“I heard he took the early retirement package and left.”
Edna snorted. “I’ve been friends with his ex-wife for forty years. Nobody’s heard from him since.”
George shrugged. “He was a misanthropic bastard. Maybe he took his payout and went down to Mexico to dodge alimony payments.”
Edna took a long drag off her cigarette. “Bullshit.” She smashed the remains in the ashtray.
He gave her a half grin and a mock salute as he straightened his tie.
At three o’clock he found himself outside the office with his sweltering coat on and his tie reasonably straight. The receptionist was at her desk, cigarette burning in her ashtray as she hunted and pecked on her typewriter. Her glazed expression mirrored how he felt nearly every day at three o’clock.
“Go in.” The words seemed forced from her lips.
He stood as straight as he could, took a deep breath, and knocked three times. He heard something inside. George peeked back at the receptionist, but her stare indicated nothing except extreme apathy. He stood for a long moment, debating, but took a deep breath and inched the door open. He could feel the sweat running in rivulets down his neck and he cursed the thermostat.
“Hello? Sir, it’s George Warren. You were expecting me at three o’clock?”
The first thing he noticed as he entered the office was the size: he’d always known there was a disparity between himself and middle management, but this was ridiculous. You couldn’t even see the end of the room! Paintings and sculpture were placed in haphazard piles, along with piles of what looked like gold bars…some kind of artistic statement he was too plebian to understand, no doubt.
The second thing he noticed was the smell.
The director was hardly ever encountered by anyone except his crotchety receptionist…and George wondered for a long moment if the man hadn’t been dead for several years in this room while the receptionist guarded the door for some outlandish reason.
But no. He knew the sickly-sweet smell of death. Who hadn’t found a ripe corpse of some dead animal or another in summer? This was different. Harsher.
His throat constricted and he managed a tremulous, “Sir?”
A rattling noise from his left caused him to pause for a split second, and some instinct had him dodging before the thinking part of his brain knew what was going on.
He had the impression of something sharp and not at all friendly on his right so he rolled behind a pile of Renaissance paintings and tucked as fast as his protesting knees would allow him.
He huddled near the paintings while he tried to calm his racing heart. Something was in here, and it seemed less and less likely that the director was still alive.
A voice rolled from one dark corner. “Not what you expected from your performance review?” There was a slithering, scraping sound, along with the quiet noise of artwork being repositioned. “I have to say, it’s been a while since anyone noticed me. I must be slipping. Old age, you know. Comes for us all. Humans much sooner than my kind, but no one is immune.”
George started inching away from the art, sticking to the darkest shadows. Whatever was talking to him was blocking the door, so the only option was to go further into the gigantic ‘office’. He felt when the carpet was replaced with bare stone under his shoes, and altered his step to tread lightly.
The creature behind him followed at a steady, unhurried pace.
“It’s been decades since I’ve had a proper conversation. Is Kennedy still president? Surely not. They don’t last long, these new-fangled presidents.”
George couldn’t help but make a slight noise at that, and he heard the scrape of talons on rock quicken slightly. He hunched over, trying to make himself small as he dodged piles of goods. He started zig-zagging a bit around them, as quietly as he could manage.
“Despite it all, not much has changed. My princess keeps me apprised of the things I need to know, acts as my human eyes and ears. Unfortunately, it destroyed her mind years ago, so unless I am actively directing her, she’s little more than a meat puppet now.” The voice let loose a small sigh. “I hate to lose her, but I shall have to replace her soon. Pity. She’s not even fit to eat, all skin and bones.”
George heard a sudden sound to his left, overbalanced (thanks to his darned back, which was not used to being hunched over – thank you very much!) and landed on his admittedly well-padded posterior in something that felt like a pile of coins – which was less comfortable than one might imagine.
Out of the corner of his eye he finally saw what was chasing him.
“You are a bit thinner than the last one.”
It – he- stood on four legs, with rows of wicked-looking teeth, and huge, predatory eyes.
“You are a dragon.”
“Yes.” His tail lashed back and forth, almost playfully.
George jerked off the polyester tie and tossed it as far as it would flutter – which was about two feet. “I’m not dying with that thing on.”
The dragon radiated amusement. “That’s sensible. I’ve never cared for the taste of human clothing. Fell free to disrobe entirely if you wish.”
George reached out for a weapon an found nothing. Only a handful of ancient coins. He picked them up anyway. “I’ll pass, thanks. So you’ve been in here all these years, eating a few of my co-workers every year or so?”
The dragon shrugged. “Just one every five years. The rest actually left. It was my princess’ idea. It created a smoke screen to befuddle any irritating human authorities.”
George looked back toward the door. “Princess? You mean your secretary?”
“She’s royalty and had no quarrel with extending her meager human lifespan for the cost of a few peasants.”
“As one of the peasants, let me cordially invite you both to kiss my –“
“Now, now, don’t be rude. Someone as chewy as you are bound to be is rather obligated to at least be entertaining.”
“Am I really?”
“I suppose you could be rude, but that might make this conversation – which is currently extending your plebian life – end rather abruptly.”
George flipped a coin thoughtfully. “I suppose talking is not the worst idea.” He stood up, trying to surreptitiously stretch his back. “Let me get a little more comfortable. My back’s going to start throbbing and I’ll be begging you to eat me when it does.”
The dragon extended a clawed hand. “I have a very nice dining set over there that would be infinitely more comfortable than that pile of doubloons.”
George squinted into the darkness. The light suddenly came up and he could see the actual size of the dragon. “Jeez. How do you live on just one human in five years?”
“My digestion doesn’t really allow me to eat most meat anymore. My princess supplies me with a meat substitute known as Spam.”
George shook his head. “That’s rough buddy. I’m right there with you. I can’t eat much of anything except clear broth myself.” The dragon sighed and nodded toward the chair. George ambled over slowly – he was going to pay dearly for running around like an idiot in short order. It was almost enough to make him hope the dragon would just eat him and put him out of his misery – almost. “So why eat people at all if it’s bad for your digestion and you don’t like the taste?”
The dragon grumbled, “I liked the taste fine two hundred years ago before they invented ketchup. These days all of you cover everything in it and it makes you taste weird.”
“Chalk one up to good old American Hamburgers then.”
“I’m pretty sure the weight you have around your gut could be chalked up to those as well.”
“Hey. Don’t knock it until you try it.”
“I won’t be trying anything until I replace my princess. She’s lived well beyond the limits of even what our blood pact should be able to do.”
I guess that’s how you control her like a meat puppet.”
The dragon snorted. “Just since she passed four hundred. She was quite feisty before that. She managed to set up this business that’s been adding to my gold horde and managed it quite nicely.”
“You should give her a retirement package.”
“It’s when you give people who have done a good job a nice bit of cash and let them toddle off to spend their last years on a golf course somewhere. Companies that treat their workers as more than cattle tend to make a lot more money.”
“Really?” The dragon muttered to himself, “It IS rather inconvenient to eat the older ones – they keep getting stringier and they have that nasty gamey aftertaste…and don’t even get me started on the non-natural fibers…”
George hadn’t ever been what you’d call a successful man, but he wasn’t stupid either.
“You know – I think we might be able to solve each other’s problems.”
The dragon curled around a pile of doubloons. “How so?”
“I can’t believe that you managed to get him to get rid of that barmy bat of a secretary.”
“The General manager was retiring, so he took her with him.”
Edna smashed another cigarette and went to light another. He reached for her hand. “You really need to cut down you know. The retirement package the company is giving you is for the rest of your life – might as well hang on as long as you can.”
“I can’t believe I’m finally going to get to move to Florida and retire!”
“You’ve earned it.”
George watched his best (only) friend walk out the door of their shared office for the last time with a lot of pride and only the tiniest bit of regret. He’d visit, of course, but the years would pass quickly for her and not at all for him.
He took his briefcase and walked into the dragon’s ‘office’.
“And what gastronomic delights do we have today?”
“Hamburgers, no ketchup, pizza, and a bunch of donuts.” The dragon popped a glazed donut into his maw. “Oh! I like these.”
George smiled. “I thought you might. If you’ll look on page nine of my new company plan, you’ll see that weekly donuts and business casual clothing are going to be part of the new corporate culture.”
“And you think this is going to earn me more gold AND give me an accounting excuse to order fast food?”
“Exactly. And we can write it off our taxes too.”
The dragon stopped and blinked, like he was trying not to cry. “You might be the best princess I’ve ever had, George.”
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