by Chad A.B. Wilson
The lights flickered to life when he opened the door, revealing a typical machine shop: steel tables, drill press, and other unrecognizable equipment. White plastic sheeting covered the far end of the room from floor to ceiling along the entire width of the building. Lights illuminated more equipment behind the sheeting, all obscured behind the polyethylene.
They had broken into the office side of the warehouse, where the windows were. Three of those offices were empty, including the one whose window was now broken. The fourth had a computer and a few papers, but nothing else. There had to be something in the main room they could take, and it better be worth more than a single computer.
“Maybe we can take a drill press,” Bran said. Johnny watched as the big guy flicked one, his lazy, shuffling gait typical of his ADD-induced boredom.
They knew there was something fishy about the place, that’s why they broke in. It didn’t have any security, at least according to Mars, who worked at the warehouse next door. He was also the one who told them the place only had five cars in the parking lot on any given day. Bran and Johnny had watched for two days, and Mars was right. A machine shop this big? Should have fifty people working there. Had to be drugs. And they wanted in on it. If it was all for naught, Johnny was going to have serious words with Mars.
They moved further into the room, past a table with an electric scale and various beakers and containers.
“Shit, maybe they are cooking here,” Bran said, smiling, holding up one of the beakers, swirling its contents.
Johnny moved to another table with several metal devices displayed, three of them in a row. He picked one up and examined it. It was about a foot long, tubular, with an open end and what looked like a handle on the opposite side. He turned it over several times. It was smooth with several buttons and perhaps a trigger. He set it back down and moved to the next one. It was similar but with two tubes on one end and several possible triggers. He held it up and looked back to Bran, who was at the previous table, poking through several glass bowls.
Bran looked up, still smiling. “I knew there had to be drugs,” he said, lifting one of the glass bowls so Johnny could see. Johnny held onto the device with two tubes and moved to the third device, which was similar but larger, and with a blue tint to the steel.
“I think it’s coke,” he heard Bran say. He ignored him. He would rob from drug dealers anytime, but he didn’t share Bran’s penchant for the recreation.
The devices looked like guns, but unlike anything he’d ever seen. The trigger tempted him. He put his finger to it, then decided against it. Who knew what would happen? Damn it, were they making weapons or drugs here?
Next to the gun-type weapons lay a small knife beside a leather sheath, the blade about three inches long. It glowed, almost glistened, as if it pulled in the light and released it in geometric patterns. It reflected light almost randomly, in ways that would have upset his senior physics teacher. He smiled at the thought. He’d hated Mr. Grosman. That dick had nearly failed him. Johnny held up the sheath, slipped the knife inside, and put the entire thing in his pocket. Having a knife was never a bad thing.
“Whoa!” Bran said, and Johnny turned. Bran shook his head and rubbed his nose, a bit of white powder stuck to the end of it. Johnny moved back to Bran, still holding onto the gun. “This ain’t coke, but damn, it’s got a punch!” Bran stepped back, and Johnny shook his head. Bran would put anything up his nose.
Johnny left Bran there, the big guy still rubbing his nose, his eyes wide. He moved toward the sheets of white plastic. They hung from ceiling to floor—almost like a clean room—blocking off an entire wall. He found the opening in the plastic and parted it carefully as he moved inside. Two more steel tables with more equipment, but most of it more suitable for a hospital, not a machine shop. Surgical pans, scalpels, microscope. This was getting weirder. What the fuck were drugs, weird weapons, machining tools, and medical equipment doing in the same goddamn warehouse?
Movement caught his eye, and he moved closer. On a table by itself stood a cage made of metal woven into one-inch links. Johnny rubbed his eyes. He blinked a few times just to make sure he wasn’t dreaming or high.
Inside the cage were three tiny people, each about six inches tall. They glowed—or glittered, rather. They looked mostly alike to Johnny: skinny, long white hair, flowing little dress-like garments in white, light red, and light blue. One of them cradled another in its arms on the floor of the cage. The sick or injured one sparkled less than the other two. Even though they looked alike and dressed alike, it was apparent that the one cradling the injured one was female. The other two were males. The one standing watching Johnny looked like a tiny badass.
The badass snarled and said, “Who are you?”
Johnny shook his head and took a step back. He bent down to get level with the creatures and took a few cautious steps forward until he was right next to the cage. The badass followed him with his head, watching. Johnny looked around them, behind, both sides. Small people, alright.
“I asked who you are, tall one.”
Johnny smiled. “Yeah, I heard you. What are you?”
The creature’s voice was silky, each word mellifluously flowing into the next. It reminded him of the hot young high school teacher reading some of that poetic shit she loved so much. He never understood much of what she said, but he liked to listen to her. They all had a crush on her; Fritz even bragged he had done her, but none of them believed him. What was her name, again?
“You’re not like the others. What are you doing here?”
Johnny shook his head. “I’m looking for shit to steal. So what are you?”
“Tall ones call us fairies, but that’s a corruption. Right now, however, that is not important. See that table over there? There’s a key on it. Why don’t you let us out?”
Johnny shook his head again. “Not sure I should do that. Maybe I should just take you with me.”
“And do what with us? Let us out, and we will make sure you are rewarded.”
“Oh yeah? How?”
“The fae are rich, tall one. We can give you whatever you want.”
“I don’t know,” Johnny chuckled. “I want a lot.”
“We will get it for you. Hurry now and get the key. They will be here any minute.”
“What? Who’s gonna be here?” Johnny stood up and looked around. He spotted them: two cameras, one in each corner. “Shit,” he muttered.
“The cameras are in this section. As soon as you came in, the lights came on, and they knew there was someone here. We must leave. Now.”
Johnny looked around. Shit, shit, shit. He wasn’t prepared for this. He didn’t want to get arrested. But considering what was in this warehouse, it probably wasn’t the police who were on their way. He didn’t even have a gun to fight his way out. Johnny looked down and saw the weapon in his hand. Huh.
“I don’t feel so great,” Bran muttered from the other room.
Johnny shrugged, set down the weapon, and grabbed the key. As soon as he opened the cage, the male fairy—fae—zipped out, flying right by him.
“Shit!” Johnny said.
“J, man, what’s going on? Do you feel weird, too?”
The fae hovered over one of the other tables looking into a surgical tray. Johnny stepped towards him to see what he was looking at. There, in one of the trays lay what was left of another fae; its body had been dissected, like what Johnny had done to that frog in tenth grade biology. Its chest was split down the middle, the two sides pinned to the tray. “Whoa,” Johnny said.
“They removed his dust,” the fae told him.
Johnny took hold of the weapon again. Dust? You gotta be shitting me. Is that what they were doing here?
“J, man, I think I’m gonna be sick,” he heard Bran mutter.
The fae flew back to the cage where the female was helping the third injured one.
“Can you fly?” Johnny asked them.
“I can,” the female said, its voice even higher and more seductive than the others. Damn, she was hot. He shook his head again. “But Tre cannot. Gloam, can we carry him?”
The other fairy helped the female pick up Tre, and they managed to float to the ground.
“What the hell?” Bran yelled, and there was a gunshot, loud, deafening, ricocheting off the metal walls. Johnny jumped and stumbled into the table, knocking everything off, the surgical tray clanging, dissected fairy parts scattering over the floor. He moved into the main room, through the white plastic sheeting, and saw Bran standing with his hands up facing five men.
“You!” one of the men called. “Put your hands up!”
Johnny had had guns pulled on him before. Scary shit, every time. Having a gun pulled on you was a potential ending to the story, kind of like those choose-your-own-adventure books he used to read. Choose poorly, and you get your ass shot by the villain! Every time, his heart raced. Every time, he wanted to turn and run. But these men were not dressed like gangbangers. One looked like he was wearing pajamas. Another wore a t-shirt and jeans, and another’s shirt was inside out and backwards. The man’s hair was all messed up, too. The other two had button-up shirts on, tucked into slacks. They were in front.
All five of them looked around, waving their Glocks, probably just as afraid as Bran and Johnny. That made them potentially more dangerous. If these guys weren’t used to guns, they could shoot someone on accident. The fact that Bran and Johnny were still alive meant they had a chance,. If someone wanted you dead, they killed you, end of story, no fucking sequel, no fucking explanation. You didn’t even get to turn the fucking page. But if you weren’t dead already, you had a chance. And that meant the ending wasn’t decided yet. Choose wisely.
Johnny started to raise his hands when two of the fae flew past him so fast he heard them as much as saw them. A blur, like hummingbirds darting here and there, they zoomed straight toward the men with guns.
“Shit! The fairies!” one of the men yelled, and they scrambled, two of them swatting at the fairies floating around their heads.
“They can’t hurt you!” one of the others said.
Johnny realized that he was still holding the weapon, and he raised it and pointed the tube end toward the men. The one in the front stepped back and held both the gun and his free hand toward Johnny. “Whoa, there, you don’t know what that is.”
“Yeah,” Johnny said, “but you do.”
A gunshot rang , and everyone jumped. Bran ducked behind a table.
“Get this thing off me!” someone yelled. Another gunshot and a clang.
The men scattered, trying to get out of the way of the flying fae and probably trying to make sure they didn’t get shot by mistake.
The man with the gun on Johnny turned back to the others, and Johnny used the opportunity to press and pull everything he could on the tube in his hand.
The entire opposite side of the building exploded, taking everything with it. Men flew. Johnny fell onto his back. Something slashed his cheek. A table landed on top of him. Dust and debris obscured everything. Screams. A gunshot. Everything was muted now, hidden by the dust and smoke. His ears felt blocked. The floor undulated beneath him. But that couldn’t be right. Maybe it just seemed that way.
Johnny pushed the table away and waited until the dust began to settle. He stood and found the weapon again. He pointed it back towards where the men had been.
Moments went by. Then another gunshot. And then the first thing he could make out was Bran, who was…floating. The big guy was unconscious. He bumped into the ceiling twice before settling above them in the center of the room.
Johnny snickered. Bran was flying. Goddamn fairy dust. Bran snorted that shit, and now here he was floating up at the goddamn ceiling, unconscious and probably wacked out of his mind.
No one else appeared to be standing. But then a shot rang out again, and the bullet struck somewhere near Johnny. Johnny scrambled to his feet staying low as he scurried behind another table that had fallen on its side. Another shot, and another. Maybe he could get the gun to fire again. His only chance.
More pandemonium. More shots rang out, not aimed at Johnny this time. Johnny peeked around the edge of the overturned table and saw the dust still settling, but now the air was full of fae, dozens of them, floating and zipping around the men with guns. Someone fired, and one of the other men screamed. The fae glitter lit everything, dazzling the basement and bouncing off the remaining dust clouds, giving the whole room a silver sheen.
It was Johnny’s chance. He ran for the open door, halfway between him and the men. The walls were alight, flames licking out toward the men. Anything that wasn’t metal or concrete would be incinerated. Johnny hopped over some debris, then took a glance back toward Bran. He was still floating there on the ceiling but not really moving. Everyone ignored the big floating bastard apparently lying on the fucking ceiling. Johnny coughed, then tumbled out the door, gunshots behind him. He tripped down the four steps scraping his palm and arm as he stumbled onto the asphalt. He jumped up and ran back to the hole in the fence. As he made his way through, he heard sirens in the distance. He looked back. Smoke poured out the windows, flickering lights on the road.
Bran. Stupid fucking flying Bran inhaling pixie dust. Nothing he could do about it now. Hell, the big fucker might be dead.
What would those guys tell the cops? That they were experimenting on fairies? Making weapons from fairy dust? He doubted he would see that headline. Still, Bran might lead them back to him. He would have to get out of town.
And that’s when Johnny looked at his hand and realized he was still holding the weapon.
“You can’t stay on my couch for fuckin’ ever, man,” Patch told him, looking down, picking up empty beer cans and taking them to the trash can.
Johnny sat there smoking, ashing into an empty can. “I know, I know. I appreciate the dig, I swear. I just gotta go see Grant, then I’m outta here.”
“Then go fucking see him, J.! Go now! Shit!” Patch cradled three more beer cans in his arms.
Patch’s place was never exactly clean, sure, but it was worse with Johnny staying there. It looked like a party’s aftermath, except there was no party, just Johnny and Patch staying up drinking, playing video games, and smoking a whole hell of a lot of cigarettes and other combustibles.
Johnny washed up and left, slipping the glowing knife in his pocket and the backpack on his shoulder. He waited at the entrance to the building before sucking in and stepping into the light. He stopped just outside and glanced both ways. Then he started walking, hands in pockets, head down, looking around every now and then. His car was where he had left it, on a side street two blocks down. Guess they hadn’t found it yet. It had only been three days. Johnny laid the backpack on the front seat and rushed to get the car started, still looking around. It turned over finally, and Johnny pulled out, making his way to Grant’s.
Grant ran a pawn shop in midtown. The ghetto part of midtown, not the hip part. Johnny parked beside two homeless dudes sharing a beverage in a paper bag. The door clanged shut, and Johnny looked around again, head down and walking, looking each way before opening the door to the shop.
“Have you fired it?” Grant asked, holding the weapon to eye level.
Johnny bounced back and forth, rocking on his feet. “Yeah, yeah, once.”
“Knocked a fucking hole in the wall. Destroyed an entire building.” Johnny wiped his brow.
“Really? Can I see?” Grant’s graying hair fell over his face, and he brushed it back.
“Sorry, man, outta bullets,” Johnny told him. “I tried to fire it again, and it wouldn’t work.”
“So where do we get more ammo?”
“Beats me. I don’t think you can buy it at Wally World.”
“Can you sell it for me?”
“No. Not right now, at least. I did, however, have someone come in yesterday asking if I had seen an odd gun or weapon. Said they were looking to buy one. At the time, I had no idea what they were talking about. I think I do now.”
Grant looked at him sideways, his mouth turned up, his brows squinted. “Yes, a fucking person. What do you think, dude? An elephant came in asking about a gun? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“Sorry, man, sorry. Can you contact him?”
“Believe it or not, yes, the dude left a card.” Grant rubbed his eyes and looked at Johnny. “But you better tread lightly, J. If they came looking for it already, it probably means they’re the ones who lost it. I doubt they’ll be happy to see the dude who stole it…or the pawn dealer who sold it.”
Johnny closed his eyes, the tension building inside him. “Fuck me, man! I need to sell this thing and get out of town!”
“I’ll make inquiries, but you need to get this shit out of here.” Grant put the weapon back in Johnny’s backpack and held it out.
Johnny held out his hand to stop Grant. “Wait! You need it to sell it, right?”
“You have no idea what that thing is, do you?”
“It’s a weapon, man! I already told you!”
“But who made it? Who makes fucking weapons? This ain’t some redneck in back-fuck Oregon making his own automatic rifles and stockpiling bullets in his basement for when the libs come to take his guns away!”
“I know! But…”
Grant stopped and put his hands on the table in front of him. “More than likely, it’s government tech, J. That thing is probably Defense Department shit. They made a weapon, and you have one of the only copies of it. You think they’re gonna let you just slip back into whatever hole you crawled out of?” He paused. “Damn. More I think about it, you might have signed both our death warrants just by bringing that thing here.”
Johnny’s hands hung low at his sides. “Bran,” he said.
“Bran? What about him?”
“I think they killed him.”
“Fuckin’ A, dude! Get the fuck out of here before they do the same to me!”
Johnny stopped at a corner store. He cracked open a beer as he walked up the three flights of stairs back to Patch’s apartment. He had two-thirds of it down before he got to the door. He knocked, and Patch opened the door, sighed, and went back to his room. Dude was pissed, but there was nothing he could do about it. He tossed the backpack on the couch and plopped down beside it. He cracked another beer and drank a third of it in one gulp.
What was he supposed to do now? Grant may find a buyer for the thing, but it could take a while, and Patch already wanted him gone. Maybe he should just throw the damn thing away and leave town now. Wouldn’t really make any difference, and it would mean he got to keep his head. Only problem was money. He didn’t have enough to live that long, even if he scrimped.
Johnny downed the beer, flipped on the TV, and picked up the game controller.
The six pack was gone. Patch hadn’t come out of his room.
The first knock made Johnny look around. Had they found him? He had been there for days, and no one had ever knocked. Should he ignore it? Tell Patch to answer it? When they came for him, would they bother knocking? Or would they just blow the door down with another damn fairy gun?
Johnny went to the door and peered through the peephole.
Three fae floated in front of the door, glitter surrounding them. The peephole screwed with their proportions, but they were definitely fae. One looked like the main one from a few nights ago. Johnny looked around the apartment. He was almost ashamed. He didn’t want Patch to know he was talking to fairies.
“Let us in, Johnny,” came a high-pitched voice with a rhythmical flow.
“Fuck,” Johnny muttered, reaching for the door, pulling back, and then finally opening it and letting the fae float in.
“Are you alone, tall one?” the main one asked. It was definitely the same badass as before, but he couldn’t remember the guy’s name.
“No, no,” Johnny muttered, stepping back toward the couch. “My, umm, roommate’s in there.”
“Well, we’d best be quiet, then,” one of the other fae said, floating closer to Johnny. This one was female, its long white hair apparently floating on its own. Different one than before, but damn! That voice!
Johnny fell into the couch and the three floated farther in, eventually landing on the coffee table in front of him. The female and another male stood on each side of the main one Johnny had spoken with at the machine shop. Funny how such small people could appear so big, with their beautiful, stern voices, their flowing dresses, and their long white hair.
“You know why we’re here, Johnny,” the first one said.
“It’s in the backpack, Gloam,” the other male said, pointing.
That was his name! Johnny glanced at the backpack. What were they talking about? Oh, that. They’re here for the gun. Yep, they were going to kill him.
“We need you to bring it to us, Johnny,” Gloam said.
“Why don’t you just take the damn thing? Really, I don’t want it. Take it!” Johnny held his backpack out to them. “Please!”
The fae backed away to the edge of the coffee table. “It’s metal, Johnny. We can’t touch metal.”
“We need you to bring it to us. We can’t allow it to get into anyone else’s hands. It’s too dangerous.”
“Is Bran dead?”
Gloam nodded. “Johnny, I’m sorry, but yes, Bran is dead. Three of the other men also died. We flew out just as the police officers arrived.”
Johnny looked down. So Bran was dead, after all. That big flying bastard and his crazy good nature.
“And then the army arrived,” one of the others said.
Johnny looked up. “The what?”
“Many of them. They forced the police out. Men in suits.”
Johnny stood and paced the room. “No, no, no, no, no.”
“Bring the weapon to us, and you will be free of it, Johnny,” Gloam told him.
“You promised me something! You said it!” He pointed at Gloam. “Anything I wanted! I need it! I need to get out of town. Fine, yeah, yeah, I’ll bring it, you set me up. Money, whatever. I need a lot of it. Can you get it to me?”
Gloam looked at the other two, and one of them nodded.
“We can. Give us two hours. Bring the weapon to Sesquicentennial Park on Maple, and we will meet you there. We will have what you need.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure, sure. I’ll be there.”
The three left, leaving the door open. Johnny got up and closed the door, locking it. Wait, how did they knock? He shook his head. Almost over. Just had to take it to them, get the money, and get out of town.
Johnny sat there.
For a long time.
His eyes felt heavy, and he nodded. Johnny jumped when the door crashed into the wall beside the couch, splinters flying around the room, dust and bits of Sheetrock and hinges landing all over. He jumped onto the couch and pushed himself against the wall. Something followed the door, bursting into the room—something large, dark, and foul, rushing at Johnny and grabbing his shirt, pulling him off the couch.
Johnny stared, unable to move, held up by the creature’s one arm that was too long for its gangly body.
“Here! Here! Here!” the creature screamed in a guttural, inhuman grunt.
Its breath like putrid fire, as if the sulfur in hell were burning. Like Mrs. Warren, who made them read those passages from that fucking poem about hell. “It’s like sulfur,” she’d told them, “because the earth emits sulfur smells and hell is in the center of the earth.”
“Here!” the creature screamed again.
The black eyes were like an abyss—glassy orbs that protruded slightly, bulging a bit too far back on the awkward face. It was shorter than Johnny, but it hunched, too. Its skin was black, mottled with bits of green. The teeth were bright white, the canines jutting out beyond the face, inches long, the nose like a pig snout, a proboscis coming right out of the thing’s face.
The roar came then, loud, deafening, making Johnny wince, spittle flying in his face. The smell of shit and rot and the heat of its throat.
Patch flung his bedroom door open and stepped into the room. “What the hell?” he screamed.
The creature threw Johnny back onto the couch, forcing the couch off its front two legs. The monster turned to Patch, whose mouth dropped open. Patch backed away as the creature came towards him, but the thing was fast. It took Patch in both hands, lifted him above its head and turned him sideways. One huge hand, much too large for the body, held Patch’s left leg; the other hand held Patch’s left arm and part of his chest. Patch flailed his right arm, the only part he could move, hitting the creature in the side of the head. He screamed.
The creature jerked, and Johnny noticed a collar attached to a chain, leading back to the doorway. Three men in suits stood there, all three with black ties and white shirts. Typical government FBI types.
“Hold on, Butch, you stupid piece of shit!” one yelled. “You’re a good boy! You sniffed him out! Now put him down like a good monster.”
Butch turned to the men, still holding Patch sideways. Patch stared at the men, too.
Johnny stared at the creature.
The man holding the chain strained against it, but Butch didn’t budge. “Come on, you motherfucker!” the man yelled.
Then it happened, a blur of speed that imprinted itself as if it were in slow motion. One moment, Patch was there, the next there were two parts of him. Blood sprayed the room, all over Johnny, all over the men. Intestines struck the wall and stuck there, matted in blood and other bits of Patch. Sounds of crunching and squishing and splattering. The creature screamed and threw Patch’s upper half into the kitchen and his lower half over Johnny’s head. More blood. The ceiling, the floor, on Johnny.
The man holding the chain stopped pulling against it. “Fucker,” he muttered, right before Butch yanked the chain, dragging the man attached to it into the room and knocking him into the wall. The creature jumped on him and hit him once, but then another man came forward with something in his hand and there was a sound like lightning, and the room lit up. The creature roared again. “Son of a bitch!” the man yelled, just before Butch glanced around and backhanded him. He flew back, slipped on Patch’s blood and crashed into a cabinet.
The third man reached forward and tasered the creature again, more flickering light.
“This’ll teach you, you…”
The creature faced the man, roared again, and then it pushed forward despite the pain. It grabbed the man by his arm, the taser still sparking. Butch flung the man into the kitchen but didn’t let go. Then he slung him the opposite way through the room. The man screamed as his feet came off the floor and Johnny swore that their eyes met as the man flew by him. Johnny followed his movement through the room past the couch into the window, through it, vanishing into the night. Johnny shielded his eyes as glass burst in at him.
At that point, Johnny knew it was time to go. The creature was on top of one of the other men, pummeling him. One fist, then the other, thud, thud, thud. Johnny leapt up, grabbed the backpack, and ran out the door. Down the stairs, through the front door, to his car. He scrambled for the keys, started the car, then took off for the park on the opposite side of town.
Johnny sat there with the car running, staring out, still breathing fast. He wiped his face. He could feel the dried blood, knew he was covered in it, the bits of Patch that didn’t stay inside one of his two halves. He sucked in, coughed, nodded. But he was alive. Nothing here was trying to kill him now. Unless the damn fae were going to roast him. He sat there a while, wondering whether they had been to Grant’s or not. Was that selfish bastard still alive, or was everyone who knew Johnny already dead? Patch was dead. Bran was dead. No way Grant would survive. What about his mom? He hadn’t talked to her in over a year, but if they knew who he was, they could track her down. Oh well. Nothing he could do about it all now. He sat in the driver’s seat and stared.
About ten minutes later, he sighed and blinked a few times before getting out. He reached in for the backpack, shouldered it, and walked through the tree-lined park. It was different at night. In fact, Johnny hadn’t been here since high school. A few of them would come here after school to smoke and have some beers when they could get them, but it was always during the day. At night, it was serene, almost peaceful. He walked toward the fountain at the center, obscured by trees, lit by a few streetlamps.
The fountain came into view; Johnny knew it was some kind of memorial, but he didn’t remember what for. Confederates or something. Water bubbled.
“We’re here,” Gloam said. There were more of them, probably a dozen or so floating toward Johnny from the woods near the fountain, glitter surrounding the group. A platform floated among them. Six or so fairies weren’t carrying it, exactly, but it was as if their concentration kept it afloat. It moved with them until they reached Johnny. Johnny put the backpack on the floating platform. The six of them floated back the way they’d come, along with the platform.
Gloam held out a brown canvas bag nearly the size of himself. How’d he do that? Wasn’t there something about physics and conservation of something or other? The thing was flying, though, which was what? Perfectly reasonable?
Johnny shook the thought and took the bag.
“As promised,” Gloam said.
Johnny pulled it open. There were sparkling things inside. Gems. Clear ones, blue ones, red ones, all sparkling and picking up bits of light from above. Johnny pulled one out, a green one. An emerald? He held it up to the light. It was small, but it was beautiful.
“We don’t have money,” Gloam said, “but you may sell those. We thank you for what you did for us, Johnny. Are you covered in blood?”
“Yeah,” Johnny said.
One of the other fairies jerked, and said, “Gloam, there’s something there. I can sense it.” They all turned to look the way Johnny had come, into the darkness of the trees.
Johnny dropped the gem back in the pouch and stuffed the pouch in his pocket.
“I sense it, too. It reeks.”
Johnny’s eyes widened. “No, no,” he muttered.
Gloam flew in front of his face. “Johnny, look at me. Did something follow you?”
Johnny tried to focus on the fae. “Well, uh, no, maybe, I don’t know. It ripped Patch apart.”
“Vermill, go get help!” Gloam yelled, and one of the other fae flew off.
The five that were left floated there in front of Johnny. Had the monster followed him here? The man said it had sniffed him out. Maybe it still had his scent?
Then he heard leaves crackling, and a jangling sound…like a chain bouncing.
“A troll!” one yelled, and the fae flew toward it as it bounded from the darkness full bore straight at them. Johnny’s mouth dropped, and his eyes widened. There was no way those fae were going to fight that thing. It had ripped Patch apart and flung another man through a closed window.
But they were on it now, and it stumbled. It swatted, and a fae flew through the air, landing motionless on the ground. Another swat, another fae down. Johnny didn’t hear them, but he noticed the movement: an army of fae flying toward the creature from behind him. The creature saw them and roared, but then they hit it and it thumped to the ground. It leapt back up swatting as a swarm of fae surrounded it. It swatted, but there were too many of them.
Johnny ran. He heard the tumult even as he opened his car door. He turned back as he got in and saw the troll back on its feet, moving toward him. But then it hit the ground again, fae buzzing all around it. The sound ended when he shut the door and started the car.
Johnny stomped on the gas and backed out of the space. The car spun around as he jerked the wheel, and he threw it into drive.
Something hit the roof, and he ducked, looking up. The roof of his car was caving in. Johnny pressed the pedal, and the thing on the roof shifted, jerking the car to the left. Then it appeared before him, directly on the hood, smashing it down into the street. The car screeched to a halt, the engine grinding as the bottom dropped out. He jerked forward and then righted himself, staring ahead.
There, in front of him, stood the troll. It stared at him through the windshield, its black eyes encompassing the abyss itself. He stared back, both hands on the wheel, while the creature watched him. He froze.
Moments, minutes, hours, who knew?
The creature’s mouth opened, and the roar followed. Johnny winced as the creature let out its guttural scream.
Johnny opened the driver’s door, and fell out, stumbling but regaining his feet as he ran through the parking lot. He glanced back, and the troll was gone. He kept running, but looked up, and the troll was above him, coming down, down.
It hit him and threw him to the ground. He fell sideways several feet, his legs and arms, and part of his face scraping against the asphalt. He flipped over and pushed himself on his elbows and feet, sliding across the pavement. The troll advanced, walking, just a few feet away, about to tear him limb from limb like Patch.
He tried to get to his feet but fell over again, still pushing himself away from the troll. He felt in his pocket and pulled out the knife, still in its sheath. He grabbed the hilt with his left and tossed the sheath aside. He transferred the blade to his right hand as the troll leapt and landed directly on him.
They met face to face, only inches apart. Johnny’s mouth opened in a scream that didn’t make a sound, but he felt the creature’s breath, the heat of its sulfur-laden roar. They met eye-to-eye, Johnny staring into the abyss, as if he had descended into hell itself. Darkness, all. Dante and Mrs. Warren would approve.
The creature didn’t move.
Johnny pushed against it, but its weight resisted. He kept pushing, staring into its black eyes. He closed his eyes and pushed further. He felt heat all over his body, like he was being submerged in a vat of boiling liquid. Damn you, Dante! Then the creature fell to his right, flopping onto the parking lot.
Johnny pushed himself onto his elbows and scooted away, not taking his eyes off the troll, which lay there, unmoving. Johnny’s entire body was covered in black goo. He got up and stumbled. Then he regained his footing, and the fae were there. They flew around him and around the troll, directions Johnny couldn’t follow. Johnny stood there motionless, then looked to his right hand, which still held the blade, glistening through the dark liquid that dripped onto the asphalt.
Gloam flew in front of his face, and he staggered, ducking, still trying to get away.
“Johnny,” Gloam said, his hands outstretched. “You are okay.”
Johnny looked past him and saw the troll motionless on the pavement.
“Johnny,” he said again.
Johnny managed to stay still a few moments, then focused on Gloam, floating in front of him.
“Naw, man,” he told the fae. “I am most definitely not okay.”
“You are alive, Johnny,” the fae said.
Johnny half-smiled, not blinking, his eyes still wide. “Yeah, guess I chose wisely.”
He turned and walked away.
Chad A. B. Wilson has been writing fantasy and horror stories since before he had a functioning memory. After finishing a Ph.D. in nineteenth-century British literature and postcolonial theory, he returned to science fiction, fantasy, and popular culture studies. By day, he teaches technical communications for engineers at a major Texas research university; by night, he scribbles away and pines for his own worlds.