Under the Bridge

Cover art for Under the Bridge

Devon found the streets better than the risk of living with his father. Even when he slept under a bridge instead of in a bed.

He met all sorts. Or thought he had, until he met the shirtless kid. A freak of some sort, but okay.

Getting out of Aberdeen, that was it for Devon’s plan. He never expected where it would lead him.

A standalone story in the Goblin Alley universe.

🍎

Devon hitched his backpack straps up over his coat’s padded shoulders. The coat pulled tight across his chest. It was too small and purple, but it was warmer than no coat at all. He peered up at the bright gray skies with suspicion.

It wasn’t really raining right now. Not as cold as it had been lately either. He rubbed his nose on his sleeve. Flowergies, the lady called it. That wasn’t right. He knew that. Allergies was the word. But the lady in the yellow caddy had called it flowergies, and he liked the sound. It was better.

The lady wasn’t his mother, but he wished she were. She had given him a ride back to Olympia from Aberdeen, that was all. An hour out of the rain, out of Aberdeen, and out of his father’s reach. Devon had long since given up worrying about whether or not his father would come looking for him. The bottom of the next bottle was the limit of his father’s focus.

Devon kicked at the cracked asphalt at the edge of the path. He could head on up Boulevard, maybe check out around Ralph’s Thriftway to pick up something to eat. Then down to the library when they opened, but that wasn’t until eleven anyway. The sun was just up, so that was hours away.

Better to move on out from under the bridge anyway.

Someone sniffled.

Devon turned, looking around carefully. Up on the other side of the bridge, across the stream and right up between the dirt and the bottom of the bridge a small gray shape moved in the shadows.

Jeez, a little kid. At fourteen, Devon had seen other kids living outside. Some with adults, so not. This one had been quiet, he hadn’t heard the kid when he settled down late last night.

It was hard to see anything except ratty blond hair, what might be a gray hoodie and a skinny little body. The kid was all tucked back up into a ball just in the dirt. No pack. No blankets that Devon could see. It was warmer last night, but still plenty cold.

“Hey, Kid?”

The little kid squirmed backward further under the bridge.

Scared. Who could blame him? Devon kicked another piece of asphalt. His stomach growled.

Hell, he’d tried. He wasn’t going to risk falling into the stream and go climb up there. What good would it do?

“Whatever,” Devon said. “I’m heading out anyway.”

He left the cover of the bridge and started up the trail to the switchback that would take him up to the road. It wasn’t that far to walk down to Ralph’s, and someone might help him out with bus fare money. That was the easiest. People coming in and out would give up a couple bucks for bus fare. Not that he’d use it for that. Why would he? He could walk anywhere the bus went.

Rocks rattled behind him.

Devon didn’t stop walking, but he slowed down and glanced back. The kid was standing on the dirt slope. Dust rose from the rocks that he had dislodged sliding in the loose dirt.

Big white eyes stared at Devon, white except for a big dark pupil. No iris at all, it was freaky. The kid’s whole body trembled. He was just like a rabbit, paralyzed for a moment before it bolted off into the bush. Except there was something wrong with the kid.

For one thing, he was skinny. His rib cage showed easily through his gray skin. It wasn’t a hoodie at all. He wasn’t even wearing a shirt — it was his skin that was gray. He did have on pants at least, a pair of worn, holes-in-the-knees blue jeans.

And he was sort of hunched, with a hump that Devon had taken as a hood on his back. More than that, the kid had thick spikes sticking out of his elbows and a jutting underbite with two fangs or tusks that thrust up out of his mouth.

That wasn’t right at all. Devon’s breath caught in his throat, and he forced himself to take another breath. The kid was some sort of freak. Like a mutant or something from comics.

“Hey,” Devon said, and his voice cracked. He flushed and took a breath.

“It’s okay, right? I was just going?” Devon pointed up the trail.

The kid’s fat bottom lip stuck out more. He said something, but it was all gibberish as far as Devon was concerned. Not only was the kid a mutant freak, but he also didn’t speak English.

Whatever this was, it was some deeper shit than Devon wanted to get into.

“Look,” he said. “I didn’t understand that, but I’m going up there. To get food, okay? I’m hungry.”

Devon patted his belly for emphasis.

The kid drew his hands into together into his belly, clenching them tight and wincing.

Shit. Shit. Devon looked away, rubbing his jaw. He couldn’t go out there, not with the kid looking like this. It would screw everything.

He shifted his pack, and the coat pulled on his shoulders. Hell, it was getting too small anyway. Maybe he could get a poncho or something, then it could cover his pack too which wasn’t waterproof.

Devon slung off the backpack and unzipped the coat. He pulled it off. A couple fluffs of white stuck out of the places where the outer fabric had gotten snagged, but it was still a decent enough coat. The air was a lot cooler without it, but not bad. He still had his hoodie and two t-shirts on which was three layers more than the mutant kid.

Picking up his backpack, Devon held the coat out toward the kid.

“Here. If you’re coming, you’ve got to cover up man. People will stare.”

It was crazy anyway. What did he need with this kid? He could find someone, maybe from social services but any kid like this was going to have a hard time no matter what. And was it really up to him? The kid was out here for a reason, probably. Looking like that didn’t help. The kid couldn’t do what Devon did to pass himself off as someone just trying to get home. It’d get harder in a few years when he was older, but maybe by then he could get a job or something. The main thing now was staying on his own. That was safer.

The kid still hadn’t moved. Devon lowered his arm. “Look, if you don’t want it, I’ll keep it. It’s kinda getting small, but it still helps keep me warm. I can just leave.”

He took a step away.

“Bak! Bak!” The kid jumped down the loose slope, stumbled and nearly fell.

An instant later he was up, jumping up on the concrete footing. His feet were bare, dirty and had thick claw-like nails. He jumped off the concrete and landed knee-deep in the stream with a splash.

“Bak! Bak!” the kid said again as he splashed across the stream.

Reaching the other side he stopped, wrapped his arms around his middle and shivered. His pants were now soaked nearly to his crotch.

“Jesus Christ,” Devon said. He pitched the coat at the kid.

It fluttered to the ground in front of the kid who just looked at it and back at Devon.

“Put it on,” Devon said. “Or not. I don’t care. I’m going.”

He turned around again and started walking. This kid was too freaky. He needed to just get out of this. He had tried to help — had even given up his coat — so that was enough.

He heard the coat rustle and didn’t look back. I’m going up to Ralph’s, that’s it.

There was the sound of a zipper, and then feet slapping the asphalt trail. Devon looked back. The kid was running up the trail and stopped when he saw Devon looking.

The coat swallowed the kid like a purple coat-monster. The kid had the hood up, which helped hide the fact that his face and eyes were so weird. It hung down to his knees. It didn’t do anything for his feet, but if the kid sat down with his legs crossed and kept his head down no one would notice anything.

Well, they might get more bus fare if they were brothers trying to get home. It was worth a shot.

“Okay,” Devon said. “You can come. Let me do the talking, okay? ‘Cause they wouldn’t understand you anyway. I don’t know what language you’re using, but I haven’t heard it.”

The kid didn’t move. Probably didn’t understand a word Devon was saying.

Devon beckoned. “Come on. Let’s go.”

The kid took a couple more steps closer. Devon smiled and nodded. “Good. Keep up.”

He started walking, and the kid followed, soon catching up to walking right behind Devon. It was sort of freaky, having him right behind him like that, but each time Devon moved to one side or the other the kid also moved, so Devon left it alone.

They went up the switchback to Boulevard and then on down over to Ralph’s. It didn’t take too long to get there. Along the way, Devon explained the plan.

“I don’t know if you’ll understand, but maybe we can figure it out.”

When they got to the store, and there were people about, the kid walked so close he was nearly attached to Devon’s butt. It was impossible to do anything with him so close.

Devon led him over near the bus stop, but not on the street side. Devon turned around, and the kid stepped back, blinking his big eyes and his lip bulging out over those fangs. The kid needed some serious dental work.

Devon pointed at the ground. “Sit.”

“Shit?”

The kid said it so seriously that Devon couldn’t help but grin. The kid’s grinned back and showed off a hellish display of sharp teeth. It wasn’t just those big fangs, but his other teeth were also pointy and sharp.

“Yeah, no,” Devon said. “Sit, not shit. You don’t want to shit. At least I hope not.”

The kid closed his mouth and didn’t move.

“Like this. Sit.” Devon sat down on the ground, crossing his legs.

“Sit.” The kid sat down in front of Devon.

“Great!” Devon stood back up.

Immediately the kid popped back up. Devon shook his head. “No, no. You sit.”

Slowly the kid sat back down. Devon smiled. “Good. That’s right. Wait there.”

Devon backed away, and the kid whined, just like a puppy or something whining. Devon came back closer and crouched down.

He pointed at the low brick wall of the grocery store. “I’m going to get food, okay?”

He pantomimed eating.

“I’ll come back here.” He pointed at the ground, and then the kid. “I’ll bring you food, okay? You wait?”

“Wat. Wat. Bak.”

Good enough. “Right, wait here. I’ll come back.”

There wasn’t anyone standing at the bus stop in the rain, and even if there was, a lot of the bus riders carried passes, not cash. At least not that they’d give it up.

People shopping, those were better. They had cars and felt bad for anyone needing to catch a bus in the rain.

A young couple came out of the store right as he got closer. They looked like a possibility. He looked back. The kid was still sitting there, hunched in the coat, he did a great job of looking miserable.

Perfect.

He hurried over to address the couple before they were gone. “Excuse me, I’m embarrassed to ask this but my brother and I —” he pointed at the kid, “— are trying to get home to Yelm. Could you help us with bus fare?”

The woman was already shaking her head before he finished, but the guy reached for his wallet. “I’ve only got a couple bucks, I’m not sure it’ll be enough.”

“It’ll help, thank you,” Devon said.

He accepted the wrinkled bills that the guy pulled out of his wallet, pretending not to notice the twenty the guy tried not to let him see. The woman wasn’t happy even with what he got.

“Thank you,” Devon said again, as the couple moved off.

He stuffed the bills into his pocket and walked back to where the kid waited. When he got close, the kid looked up.

“Bak?”

Devon shook his head. It had to look good for the couple. “No, not yet. I’ll be back. Wait here. That’s good.”

“Wat,” the kid said, slumping.

“Yeah. Hang in there.”

Several rejections, and a couple givers later, Devon had eight dollars in his pocket. Plenty for now. Stick around too long, and there was the risk that one of the store employees might tell him to leave. Through it all the kid stayed where he was told.

Devon went into the store and came out with a day-old loaf of bread, some string cheese and a bag of older discount fruit. All of it perfectly fine, but people didn’t want to buy apples if they weren’t flawless. It was crazy, but they’d pay way more for waxed and polished apples than one that had a tiny ding in the skin.

He carried the bag over to the kid and held it up. “Hungry?”

“Shit wat?”

Devon laughed. He motioned for the kid to get up. “No more waiting. No more sitting. Food. Let’s eat.”

“Ut?”

Devon handed the kid a string cheese. The kid hooted and quickly pulled the plastic open and took a big bite. That was good, Devon had thought he might have to show the kid how it worked.

“Eat, that’s right,” Devon said. “Come on. Let’s walk while we eat.”

The kid was obviously hungry. He finished the string cheese and looked confused about what to do with the wrapper until Devon took it and put it back into the bag.

He handed the kid slices of bread, and an apple, and there was even more hooting. Then the kid looked between both hands like he couldn’t decide what to eat first. It was so funny that Devon laughed again.

“I’ll tell you,” Devon said around a bit of string cheese. “That scheme with a younger brother and all, it worked great. Even when it didn’t pay off, it was still better.”

The offers to call a parent had taken some explaining. No cell phones at the construction job where their Dad worked, seemed to take care of suspicion. It was a good line for those people.

Walking down the hill, Olympia spread out below them. Lots of houses, and businesses in houses in this part, but down there was the downtown area. It was nicer than Aberdeen at least, especially down on the pier and that area. When it was nicer he liked to go up around Capitol lake and hang out, read library books.

Not today though, not with this rain. At least the kid was walking beside him instead of right on his butt like before.

He looked at the kid, finishing the apple, all of it even the core. The kid just munched through everything. “You want to go to the library?”

“Lary?”

“Lie bare ee,” Devon said.

“Liberery?”

“Close enough. Yes. The library. They have books, computers. You can get online. Places to sit. It’s not too bad if you don’t attract attention.”

“Liberery.”

“Yes, great. We’ll go there.”

The kid finished the last of the apple and eyed the bag Devon held. “Fud ut?”

“Not now,” Devon said, switching the bag to his other hand. “Wait. Later we’ll eat more. Got to make it last.”

“Wat ut?”

“Right. Wait to eat.”

The kid made a grunting noise and kept walking.

🍎

They’d gotten as far as Chestnut when Devon turned to head over to 8th and get over to the library, when the kid suddenly hooted and ran ahead of Devon.

“Hey, wait!”

The kid stopped a second later at the mouth of an alley. It was a dirty old pink building on one side, and a rusted metal building on the right. There was one of those big new State buildings or something across the street, but the kid was just staring into this alley like it was something special.

Devon didn’t see anything unusual. A narrow paved strip, some weeds and dirt along it between the buildings. Nothing exciting.

“What is it?”

“Gob bak! Gob bak un wan!”

Devon shook his head. “I don’t understand kid. The library isn’t that way.”

“No liberery, gob bak un wan!”

Getting nothing from Devon the kid blew air out of his wide nostrils like he was trying to get rid of snot and then headed off up the alley.

What the hell? Devon stared after the kid walking along swallowed in the purple coat. After everything that Devon had done, the kid was just leaving? What was down there anyway? It didn’t look like the alley went very long at all, just to the ends of those buildings before it opened up on one side to a parking lot or something.

The smart thing would be to just leave the kid here. Obviously, he wanted to go that way for some reason, he was a mutant freak of some sort, so who knew what went on in his brain? That might not even be a language he was speaking, but some sort of gibberish that the kid had made up himself.

He might even be dangerous.

“Gob bak un wan!” The kid jumped up and down and started running.

Hell. Devon took off after the kid, sprinting down the alley after him. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid!

But he couldn’t just ditch the kid. Not now.

The little guy was fast, but he was small. Devon’s longer stride quickly closed the distance. The kid was just out of reach when he went all blurry. A bright light hit them, flooding the alley and lighting up the big brick building that rose up several floors on the right side of the alley.

Devon put on the brakes. The kid was dancing in a circle in front of him. Devon squinted against the light, raised his hand to shield his eyes and turned to look up at the massive building that hadn’t been there a second ago.

Four stories tall, balconies with sliding glass doors, some sort of apartment building or something. There were plants and clothes hanging out. And on one balcony a massively large woman with a tiny white thong disappearing between her twin globe pink ass-cheeks. Not a pink like she was flushed or something, but a pink-pink, a medicinal pink. She was wringing out something, and then flicked it out onto the railing.

Devon looked back at the kid. He’d thrown the hood off and beamed up at the bright sun in a crystal-clear blue sky.

“See?” The kid said, perfectly clear. “Goblinus! Back home!”

“You’re back home?” Devon said. It wasn’t just the apartment building, the building on the other side was concrete and even taller, rising up to glass and steel at least ten or twelve floors up. And beyond these two were more buildings, and past them a street that teemed with people walking. There were voices, bells ringing, something hammering somewhere, a dog barking, but no sounds of traffic. Even with all of the noises, it was quiet.

“Wait,” Devon said. “Where are we? How’d we get here? And how come you can talk here?”

The kid laughed. “It’s Goblinus! Everyone understands here, duh! But you should go back.”

The kid looked around. “Now. We have to go before the Royal Guard shows up. You’re not supposed to use the Goblin Alleys.”

“The what?”

The kid came at him, pushing his hands at Devon. Devon backed up.

“You need to go back!”

Devon turned around. The alley stretched on behind them much longer than it had a moment ago. And the big state building wasn’t there. Instead, there was an even taller building of dark glass and steel that climbed up at least twenty stories. A pedicab rolled past the alley being pedaled by a muscled shirtless guy. A guy with green skin, and tusks like the kid except smaller.

“Go where?”

The kid grabbed Devon’s arm. “Come on! The way back is closed anyway. We’re too late.”

Someone screamed, back up the other way. There was a sound like hoof beats.

“Come on!”

The kid took off running back down the alley toward the big dark building that hadn’t been there a moment ago. The sound of hoof beats was getting louder, and there were snorting and squealing noises. Shouts and more screams.

Yeah, maybe the kid had the right idea. Devon sprinted after him, the bag of food banging against his leg as he ran.

They left the alley, and after that the kid was in charge. Devon kept on his heels now, bewildered by the changes all around them. This wasn’t Olympia. This was big and insane. There were normal-looking people, but they were out-numbered by the strangest people that Devon had seen. Like the kid, many had tusks, but they came in different sizes and skin colors that definitely were not normal.

The kid mostly went West, zig-zagging through streets and alleys. Finally, he slowed down and stopped running so fast. They were on a quiet street. The kid stepped over into a doorway and leaned against the chipped concrete wall. He grinned up at Devon.

“Lost them, I think.”

“Lost who?” Devon moved into the opposite side of the doorway, watching the street. No one was paying attention to them.

“Royal Guard, Boar-riders. Navigator’s Guild doesn’t like people using the alleys without a license. You’re supposed to register.”

“I’m so confused. Start over, where are we?”

“Goblinus.”

“What’s that?”

The kid shrugged, gesturing at the buildings around them. “The goblin city. You really don’t know?”

Devon shook his head.

“Weird. The Goblin Alleys connect Goblinus to every city on the Otherside, where you come from.”

“And there are goblins? Are you a goblin?”

The kid’s lip curled. “Naw. I’m a troll. Goblins killed my parents, made me a servant. I ran away when I sensed the alley connection, but then I couldn’t get back.”

The kid glanced out and around. “Looks like you’re stuck now unless we find another connection.”

It was incredible, but Devon couldn’t deny what his eyes were seeing. A woman walked past in the street. She was tall and elegant, with flowing white hair and eyes that didn’t have any color to them, like the kid but she didn’t look much like him otherwise. There were others, men and women, with her, but they wore thick body armor and carried guns openly.

“Who are they?”

“Trow,” the kid said.

“Troll?”

The kid shook his head. “Trow, and I’d stay out of their way too. Evidently, there’s a whole big thing going on with the Goblin King, the trow, and the Erlking.”

“Who’s that?”

“He leads the wild faerie. Come on, we shouldn’t stay here.”

The kid stepped out of the doorway.

“Wait,” Devon said.

The kid looked up at him from the purple coat.

“What’s your name?”

A big toothy grin split the kid’s face. “Evil Boy.”

“What?”

The kid smirked. “That’s what the goblins called me. I don’t remember my troll name.”

Devon chuckled. “I’m not calling you Evil Boy. How about Neville?”

“Neville? Okay. Yes! I like it. What’s your name?”

“Devon.”

Neville nodded. “Okay! Let’s go.”

🍎

With no other option except to trust Neville, Devon followed the troll kid through the goblin city. It was obviously huge, bigger than any city he’d ever been in. Both Aberdeen and Olympia would only make small sections of this city. At one point Neville led them up a small hill, but even looking back down the street there was no end in sight. An orange smoggy cloud hung over the city to the South, but they were moving away from that section. The oddest thing was the lack of cars. It was just people and bikes and pedicabs. Even some on horses, and once he was sure he saw an elephant down one street before it passed out of view. In the clear skies overhead a massive zeppelin floated through the sky.

“Where are the cars?” Devon said as they walked.

“Only on the highways,” Neville said, gesturing off into the unseen distance.

“Are there subways?”

“Some districts do, but you don’t want to go down there. Safer up here.”

Neville turned down a wide avenue lined with trees and street lamps. Walking past one of the lamp posts, Devon happened to look up, and there was a tiny naked woman with wings inside the lamp looking out at him. She clutched her hands together, and her tiny red mouth moved as if she was begging him for something. Behind her other, other naked, what? Fairies? Whatever they were, they stirred and started to rise. Men and women fairies, some of them lying on the glass, or curled around each other. Several took off and hovered in the glass globe.

It was a warm day, they had to be baking.

“Come on,” Neville said.

Devon pointed. “But there —”

Neville slapped his arm. “Stop it! People will notice.”

“I don’t—”

Neville pressed close, his lower lip trembling. “Come on. Now.”

The kid was right. He didn’t know what he was doing. He tore his gaze away from the fairies and followed Neville down the street. It was all cafes and stuff, with tables out in small fenced areas, the bright red brick street weaving between them. Spicy odors that brought to mind pizza floated along the street and made Devon’s mouth water.

There weren’t many humans here. And no one that looked like Neville. Mostly it was goblins, greens and grays, with a few pinks and dwarf yellows. Devon got a few unfriendly looks and after that kept his head down. This place didn’t feel very safe.

They left that area behind and entered a section of the city that was more shabby and in disrepair, and Devon felt more comfortable. The graffiti and broken glass, the faded paint and chipped concrete was all a lot more familiar.

Neville’s pace slowed.

“What was that back there?” Devon said.

“What?”

“In those lamps. Where those fairies?”

“Sure. Nasty fairies, so what?”

Nasty? Devon let it go. This was all incredible enough without sticking his nose into it. The little fairy woman hadn’t seemed nasty, but what did he know?

“They’re fake,” Neville said. “Magic disguise, you know?”

“No, what do you mean?”

Neville huffed and scratched his head. Then he hooted. “Camouflage, they don’t look like that. Not really.”

“What do they look like then?”

“Bugs.” Neville nodded confidently. “Ugly bugs. Bloodsuckers.”

Devon waited for the laugh, but Neville just stood there looking at him. Finally Devon said, “Really?”

“Yeah. Bloodsuckers.”

Oh. They were still walking, but now Neville lifted an arm to point out a building ahead. It was a concrete structure, lower floors boarded over with graffiti-tagged gray wood while the upper windows gaped wide open. Except a few had dirty sheets and plastic bags strung across the openings.

“We can stay there,” Neville said. “I know someone.”

🍎

Neville had been telling the truth. There was an old woman, a goblin, with wrinkled gray skin like she’d come out of an old black-and-white movie. She was swaddled in layers of bright, colorful fabric. Neville found her on the third floor, tending fire pit near the windows. A couple pots hung from spits, and the smell was somewhere between chicken soup and clam chowder.

The woman’s face beamed when she saw Neville.

“Evil Boy!” She threw wide her arms. “Come give Mancher a hug!”

Neville threw himself against her generous bosom. Then she thrust him back and fingered the coat. “Where’d you get this?”

“Devon gave it to me.” Neville pointed at Devon.

Mancher sniffed at Devon. “Othersider?”

She spun and shook her finger at Neville. “Evil Boy! You promised to stay away from the alleys!”

“I didn’t mean to,” Neville protested. “Geists chased me!”

“What’re you doing around geists?”

“There was a shopkeeper, and —”

“And I know all about it. You bolted and didn’t pay attention to where you were going.” Mancher squinted up at Devon. “Why is this Othersider here? Plenty of trouble, you bringing me.”

“Didn’t mean to, he crossed. Couldn’t leave him to the pigs.”

Mancher’s face softened around her tusks. “No, I guess not. But you’ll bring ‘em here.”

“Look,” Devon said. “I can go if you’ll look after Neville. If you can tell me how to get back.”

Mancher looked at the kid. “Neville, is it? You think of that?”

“No, Devon gave it to me.”

“I like it,” Mancher said. She looked back up at Devon. “Not a good time right now, to find a crossing. Early, just before sunrise, that’s the best. We’ll go then.”

“Mancher used to work for the Navigator’s Guild,” Neville said. “She knows the alleys.”

“Okay,” Devon said. “If it’s better then.”

“We brought food,” Neville said. He gestured to Devon.

Right. Devon pulled the bag from his backpack and handed it over to Mancher. She took out the rest of the loaf of bread, two remaining string cheeses and the apples, chuckling with pleasure over each.

“This is fine,” she said. “Thank you, he called you Devon?”

“That’s right.”

She beckoned. “Come sit by the fire. It’ll get cold.”

🍎

A hand shook Devon awake. He started to say something, and the hand covered his mouth. The smell of Mancher’s unwashed bulk filled his nose as her hot breath tickled his ear.

“Boar riders. Don’t make a sound.”

She pulled back and released him. Devon rose carefully. There wasn’t much light. The fire had died down during the night and ashes had covered the coals. Faint moonlight came in through the open windows. Mancher moved like a dark cloud across the moon, a shape just briefly passing the window before she crouched and woke Neville the same way.

Devon quietly stuffed his blanket back in his backpack and rolled up his sleeping bag. It only took him moments to tie it beneath the backpack and Mancher was back pressing against his side.

“Follow close. Don’t make noise.”

There were loud snorts, and rough voices outside that chilled him more than the cold night air. Somehow the goblins had followed them here. Or they were just searching likely places. Either way, it was time to go.

Mancher moved deeper into the dark building, and Devon stuck close to her, with Neville bringing up the rear. None of them spoke. Away from the windows, Devon couldn’t hardly see his hand in front of his face as they went deeper, so he grabbed onto one of Mancher’s cloths. She didn’t object. Both Neville and Mancher seemed to have better night vision.

Crashing wood and squeals below floated up through the floors. There were shouts from other squatters and the Royal Guard.

Soon Mancher led them into a narrow staircase, folded back into the corner of the building. The steps were wet and narrow. Devon couldn’t see anything at all and had to trust Mancher’s presence as he made his way down. He knew Neville was behind him only by the kid’s soft breaths as they made their way down.

It took a long time before Mancher stopped. She grabbed Devon’s arm and pulled him close to whisper in his ear. “Basement. Tunnels here. Stay close and quiet.”

“Yes,” Devon whispered.

“It’ll be okay,” Neville whispered. “Mancher knows all the ways.”

There was a lot of crashing noises above, and a scream abruptly cut off. Apparently, the Royal Guard didn’t like other squatters.

The tunnels stank of shit and stagnant water. Devon was just as glad not to see where they were going, except for the time when the ground crumbled and he nearly fell. Neville helped catch him. After what seemed like an hour of walking there was finally a light ahead. It seemed like an illusion until they got closer and Devon could make out dim light coming in the mouth of a tunnel.

Moments later they came out on a hillside, a cutout designed to catch water. The sun wasn’t up, but the moonlight was still bright compared to the darkness of the tunnel. Devon breathed deeply, glad to be out of that place.

Neville gave him a toothy grin. “Go back now?”

“Not back in there,” Devon said. “But I wouldn’t mind going home.”

Mancher was already climbing up the hillside. “Come on. Don’t have much time. Easier to cross now.”

🍎

Unlike the bigger city environment that they had left, more of the buildings in this area were smaller. It almost reminded Devon of Olympia, with a sort of mix of houses and more commercial buildings, but nothing bigger than a few stories. The city still seemed to go on without end, maybe like Los Angeles would seem if he was suddenly dropped into the middle of it.

Mancher stopped at an alley that extended between two apartment buildings. She pointed at the narrow space. “Go on, there. You can cross if you go now.”

Devon stepped into the opening of the alley. “It’ll take me home?”

“Back to the Otherside,” Mancher said.

Neville said, “It might not be your city.”

“What?”

“Go, or you’ll miss it,” Mancher said. “Hurry!”

“Goblinus connects to all the cities,” Neville said.

“So I can end up anywhere?”

“No time to map it,” Mancher said. “Go!”

A distant squeal floated through the morning streets. The Royal Guard was still out there, looking for him. Did it make a difference where he ended up? He’d been on his own for years now. He could start anywhere.

“Okay.” He looked at Neville. “Take care kid.”

“Yeah, you too.”

“Go!” Mancher said.

Devon turned and ran down the alley. It was only an alley, nothing else special about it except it was in a goblin city. There didn’t seem to be anything unusual about it. Maybe Mancher was wrong —

— rain hit his face. And it night time, but lit with electric lights.

The buildings were different. Pale walls closed in on either side. The one on his right looked pale yellow in the light from an electric lamp on the corner of the building at the mouth of the alley. The alley was paved in interlocking stone tiles. Balconies looked out into the narrow alley, with plants and laundry hanging over the railings.

Devon made his way down the alley — hearing laughter and the sound of cars — and stepped out into a narrow street. Small rounded concrete barriers blocked off a section of street and sidewalk. Across the street was a wide walkway within the building there, with a long row of arched openings. More balconies stuck out over the street, which wasn’t black asphalt but more rectangular stones at angles. The buildings were all about four stories high and seemed to hang over the street. Cars parked in a row along the way in front of the arches, and there was a strange pay phone with a curved plastic shield over it.

Back, but not Olympia. He walked out along the street and studied the signs in the shops. Some had familiar words. Audio Video, PlayStation on one shop. Others, he didn’t recognize. French? Italian? It didn’t look like Spanish. He didn’t speak any of those, but some of the signs were in one of those languages. At last he came to a street sign. It wasn’t like the familiar green and white signs back home, but it was places and arrows pointing.

Roma. Napoli-Caserta. Duomo.

Roma? Rome? Was he in Italy? Devon still had his backpack, with his spare clothes, sleeping bag, and blanket. It was enough for now. He’d gone from meeting a troll under a bridge in Olympia, through a small stretch of Goblinus, and ended up around the world in what looked like Italy.

There had to be other people who knew about the Goblin Alleys. Just like back in Goblinus, there were probably people here that knew about the other world where faeries were trapped in street lamps. He’d have to be very careful not to give things away, but if you could find your way around? He could travel anywhere. Neville said that the alleys connected to every city.

Devon kept walking. For now, it was enough to learn this city and figure out where he was, and where he might get his next meal. The universe was a lot different than he had imagined, and it was going to take time to figure it all out.

When he did, he wouldn’t be sleeping under bridges anymore.

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6,148WORDS

Author’s Note

This story is the 93rd short story release, written a few years ago in March 2014. It’s a standalone story set in my Goblin Alley universe.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Next up is my story, Shermmies’ Planet.

The Forest Path

Don Hyland served his country and now he paints landscapes, imagining the wild places of the world untouched by human hands. Or saws. He studies a scene until he can picture what it might have looked like when the very first people set eyes on it — and that’s what he paints.

Only this time his painting leads him to a world he never imagined, a world that couldn’t possibly exist, one hidden behind the magically alleys that connect every city in the world — and an ancient connection believed lost to time!

 

Rolling back time, that’s how Don Hyland described his portfolio when he met people and they asked what he did. If only he really could roll back time!

Fat rain drops pounded the evergreen boughs far, far overhead as a wind blasted through the giant-sized trunks. Don easel rocked on the uneven split-log boardwalk. Don moved quickly, forty-one years of climbing and hiking the outdoors had kept him nimble, collapsing the easel’s legs.

He was thin and of average height. What hair he had was a mix of dark and silver buzzed close to his scalp. For this trip up to Mt. Rainier, to the Longmire visitor area, he had just worn cargo shorts and one of the t-shirts with his weary lumberjack painting on the front. Instead of hiking boots he had on his trail running shoes. This wasn’t meant to be an expedition into the back country, just a quick pop up the mountain to do some plein air studies.

Don finished folding the portable easel as fat rain drops pelted the board walk. Out in the Longmire meadow the tall grasses waved back and forth in the wind. The studies he’d already done that were drying on the half-log bench, flapped and threatened to fly off. Fortunately he’d had the sense to weigh them down with his painted rocks or they’d already be gone. That didn’t stop the rain drops from hitting the sheets.

As he gathered them up, stuffing the sheets into the easel case, he could see the damage already done. There were visible water drops on the paintings, running and blending colors. He got them all up and snapped the brass catches on the wood case. He slung the strap over his arm and scooped up the painted rocks, which disappeared into his pockets.

That was everything? Don looked around and spied a water brush that had rolled away into a crack between the logs of the board walk. He was bending down to pick it up when he heard a scream behind him.

Don’s fingers closed on the brush and he spun around. Another scream sounded on the mountain behind him. A woman? Someone might be hurt!

He ran down the board walk and hit the dirt trail. The easel case bounced under his arm and banged into his side. He clutched the water brush in his hand as he ran. The Trail of Shadows, this path was called, an easy loop near the visitor center. Nothing too hazardous or difficult.

No one was visible. Rain drops hit his arms as he ran. The wind howled through the trees.

“Hello?” Don called out as he ran. “Hello? Is someone there?”

He reached a small log bridge over one of the many little streams coming down the mountain and pounded across. Up ahead he saw a white-haired couple, a man and woman. The woman clutched at the man’s arm. Both were looking up the slope as Don ran up.

“Did you hear that scream?” Don asked.

The man nodded and pointed a liver-spotted arm at the slope above them. “It came from up there. I dunno what it was, a cat maybe? Do those big cats scream like that?”

“A cougar?”

The man nodded.

“I don’t know. I don’t think it was a cat,” Don said.

He studied the slope above them. It was wooded, of course, covered in big trees and fallen debris. He couldn’t see anyone.

Then there was another scream. Don slipped the easel down to the ground. “Watch that, for me, will you? I’ll be back.”

He bounded away across the path and scrambled up the slope. Only when he reached for a thick root did he realize that he still held the water brush. He shoved it in a pocket, knowing it might leak, and pulled himself up.

His legs felt the effort of the climb up the slope, but he was used to that feeling.

There was undergrowth and ferns, but not so much that it impeded his progress. Before long he had climbed up out of sight of the path below and he slowed his pace. He still hadn’t seen anyone and it was making him nervous.

What if the cries had been a cougar? It might be watching him right now.

Don braced himself against the papery trunk of a cedar tree at least six feet across. “Hello? Is someone out here?”

He saw something flash white between the trees. Not a cougar. A person with long white hair. That’s all that he saw before whoever it was disappeared behind a thick Douglas fir.

“Hey! Are you okay? Was that you screaming?”

He picked his way around a clump of thick ferns and climbed over a moss-covered log to get closer.

A woman looked out from behind the tree. She didn’t look like anyone he’d ever seen before. Fine porcelain features, narrow, with high cheekbones and large wide eyes. White eyes. No iris that he could see at all, just a wide dark pupil as she looked at him. Her eyebrows were up, mouth open. She looked terrified.

Don raised his hands. “Hey, I’m not going to hurt you. I heard screaming. I wanted to help.”

She said something fast and musical. It almost sounded like bird song, but he heard her voice tremble as if she was scared. From the looks that she gave him, and the sound of whatever it was that she had said, Don guessed that she wanted him to move away.

2

He took a step back and to the side, so that he could see her better and she could see him. “I’m not going to hurt you. I only want to help.”

The woman eased around the tree, still watching him with her oddly white eyes. They didn’t look cloudy, just white, and it was clear that she was watching him carefully. But that wasn’t the only odd thing about her. There was also what she was wearing, some sort of silvery tunic with black laces up the front. She carried a deep purple tube-like bag that wrapped around her back, the strap crossing from her left shoulder, down under her right. The tunic went down to her knees, but she wore nothing else below that. No shoes. Her feet were coated with dirt.

“It’s okay,” Don said softly. “Are you hurt?”

She eased out more from behind the tree and looked around. Her lower lip trembled. The sight of it was heart-breaking. He wanted to do whatever he could so that she wouldn’t look so sad. Was she part of some role-playing group? Maybe she got lost? Her eyes could be part of a costume.

“Are you lost? There’s a path right down there, it’ll take us back to Longmire.”

She still didn’t respond to what he was saying. Instead she went to a big tree that had fallen, roots made a wall at least ten feet high of gnarled twisting wood, like a nest of giant snakes frozen in place. She didn’t even come up to the mid-point, but she walked into the hollow where it dipped down into a small cut between the roots and the hillside like a natural alley.

It must drop off fast, because she was almost out of sight. It didn’t feel right. Don felt it in his gut, like something was pulling him after her. He gave into the sensation and ran after her.

She was gone before he reached the cut where the giant tree had fallen. He scrambled down, loose rocks sliding beneath his shoes, and nearly slipped. A root caught his sleeve for a second but he pulled free and hurried around the root mass.

His next step landed on a rock he hadn’t seen or expected. It was flat and anchored firmly. That wasn’t the problem. It wasn’t only one rock, but a whole semi-circle of stones like a small stone patio.

Don turned, surprised to find the small stone circle here. The fallen tree and its roots were gone. Not only that but the trees had changed. The trees growing from this slope were beyond massive. Each one thrust up to the skies above as if they were the very pillars upon which the sky rested. Where there had been roots and a cut through the hillside was now a path paved in cobblestones with two stone fences along each side. The path traced a line off down the slope to his left before disappearing from view.

Either he’d lost time and been taken someplace else with trees that dwarfed the redwoods in California, or he had moved from Mt. Rainier to somewhere else in the time it took to take a step. Both sounded equally impossible, but these trees were unmatched in his experience.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore,” he said aloud.

He laughed, but it wasn’t that funny. He’d read about such things. Oz, Narnia, and others, but it was one thing to read about it in a children’s story. For it to happen in real life?

“Hello,” said a soft voice behind him.

Don spun around. The woman he’d seen before, with the long white hair and the silvery tunic, stood just down the slope from the stone circle.

“Hi,” he said, and remembering that she had been screaming. “Are you okay?”

She bit her lip and nodded. “I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have been able to follow me here.”

Don spread his hands. “Where are we? And why didn’t you say something before?”

She twisted her hands together. “I did say something, you just couldn’t understand me.”

“Then why can I understand you now?”

“Now, this place, it makes it so that we can understand each other.”

Don wasn’t sure what she meant but he pressed on. “What is this place?”

“An olden place.” She pointed to the path behind him. “This once led to a trow keep, a place of learning. I came here to study the path, to try and find a way to shut the connections between the goblin city and your cities.”

Don shook his head. “This is a lot to take in. Why were you screaming?”

She ducked her head and shrugged. “I was set upon by a woodwose and fled. I didn’t even realize I’d crossed over at first. It’s never worked before.”

“What’s a woodwose?”

She gestured at him. “A human, like yourself, but one one of the wild ones that lives in the wilderness. They can be dangerous.”

Don looked around at the surrounding forest. Wild men in the forest? “I’m Don, Don Hyland. You are?”

“Na’pi.” A smile touched her thin lips. “You aren’t what I would have expected from a man of your world.”

“You’re exactly as I imagined someone from your world,” Don said.

“You know of our world?” She stepped forward. “How? Do many?”

Don laughed. “I was joking. I had no idea that anything like this existed outside of children’s stories.” He looked again at the trees, ten feet across and more thrusting up to the sky. So high up that their tops looked fuzzy. “I wish I had my paints.”

“Paints?”

Don pulled out the water brush and noticed it had made a wet circle on that pocket. He held it up. “I’m an artist, watercolors, mostly. I left my kit back there when I ran up the hill. I only have this.”

Na’pi took a small step forward and held out her hand. “May I see it?”

Don closed the distance between them and handed her the brush. Her fingers grazed his as she took it. Even with the odd eyes, she was beautiful. It was all just so strange.

Na’pi turned the water brush in her hands, shook it and poked at the plastic. “What is this made of?”

“Plastic, I guess.”

She brushed it on the back of her hand, leaving a trail of wetness. She looked up at him, eyebrows raising.

“It’s only water. I use pencils, with pigment? Then the brush dissolves the pigments to spread them on the paper.”

Na’pi handed it back to him. “Remarkable.”

Don pocketed the brush. “This is all a bit much. I have to ask, how do I get home? You said something about a connection?”

Na’pi shook her head. “I don’t know. The stories suggest that this path was one of the first to connect to your world, but I haven’t learned much. I didn’t even know that the connection still existed at all.”

The path behind Don was quiet, peaceful even. The place had a feeling of age about it, like really old. It was the trees that did it. To be so big they had to be many centuries old. So old and big that they were like part of the mountain itself.

Don looked back at the path. “If I just walk down the path, will it take me home?”

“I don’t know,” Na’pi said. “I’ve walked the path many times without finding the connection.”

“But it was there this time, when you ran from the wild man?”

Na’pi walked up beside him. Don noticed a minty scent from her, over the dusty pine smell of the forest. She touched her shoulder. “We should go back to my camp. It might not be safe to stay here, in case the woodwose returns.”

“Let’s try the path first,” Don said. “If it works, I’ll be back home and you can go on with whatever you need to do.”

“If you must do this, be quick. I’ll wait.”

The stones that made up the path were worn, almost flat from the passing of many feet but the spaces between were filled with dried fir needles. Looking at it again, it looked old, with plants growing up alongside, and even on the path.

It wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine Na’pi out here clearing out the path, opening it up for study. It might have been better to leave it covered. But what had she said about a goblin city? Did he even want to know?

Don followed the path as it curved down the slope and vanished around the undergrowth. As he got closer there was more and more debris on the path until the stones were completely covered and the plants hung over the short walls.

He stopped, frustrated. It hadn’t taken him back. A chill curled up in his gut. What if he couldn’t get back?

Don turned back on the path. If there was a connection that would get him him home it wasn’t there now. His best home lay with Na’pi, maybe she could find some other way of getting him home. What had she said? She wanted to learn to close the connections. Maybe he couldn’t go home this way, but there might be other options.

Na’pi stood waiting for him at the end of the path and seeing her his shoulders relaxed from tensions that he hadn’t even been aware he was feeling. If she left him he might not have any other way home.

A man stepped out from behind a tree behind Na’pi. Then two more came around the other side. All of the men were lean, with clearly defined muscles. They didn’t wear much, only ratty skins tied around their waists. All had bushy beards and unkempt hair. Their attention was entirely on Na’pi.

Don opened his mouth to shout a warning when Na’pi turned toward the men as if she’d heard something, or sensed something.

The men responded instantly, howling and sprinting forward, grinning like mad men.

Na’pi screamed.

In his mind Don sprang forward to save the beautiful young woman, but his feet refused to move. Other than a few school-yard scuffles he hadn’t ever been in a fight, didn’t know the first thing really about fighting.

Na’pi bolted down the path in Don’s direction. That moved Don into action. He sprinted forward to meet her. As they came together he pushed her behind him and faced the three charging men.

“Stop! Stop right now!”

The men didn’t stop. They kept coming and the distance between him and the men shrank quickly. The one in the middle was closest. He had startling blue eyes, like deep pools but Don didn’t see anything in them. Like deep ice. Beneath the dirt and the beard and the hair, the man was probably half Don’s age, and didn’t have any fat on him. Nothing but corded muscle, arms as big around as Don’s legs.

Don spun around and grabbed Na’pi’s arm. “Run!”

Together they bolted down the path away from the men. Don had little hope of escaping their pursuers, but it was the only thing he had.

Na’pi stayed with him, clinging to his arm. Don’s stomach lurched and he felt dizzy. His next step came down hard on flat bricks as light blinded him. Don raised his arm against the light and saw a brick building towering four stories above him.

Twisting around he saw another building, this one six stories, of dark brick on the other side. Don looked back, expecting to see the men behind them, but instead there was a brick-paved alley between the two brick buildings. Lines criss-crossed the alley, hanging with laundry. A woman leaned out the window, fat, with lank blond hair. She tugged on the line and pulled off a wide shirt. As she did her head turned and Don saw that she had two yellowed tusks protruding between fat lips. Her skin was pink, not a normal pinkish color, but pink like a pink rose, darker near her cheeks. Her nose was up-turned slightly at the end and pointing. She saw him looking and her lips drew back revealing more fang.

Na’pi tugged on his arm. “We’ve gone through.”

He looked at her odd white eyes. “Okay, I see that. To where? Another world?”

Na’pi shook her head. “No, it brought us to Goblinus, to the goblin city.”

“I thought the path was supposed to take me home?”

“Ordinarily, it would. Usually the connection only flows from one world to the other. The alleys don’t connect to one another within the same world, but according to stories the path is where it all started. Now that it’s open, it may connect to anywhere.”

Don looked up and down the alley. At the far end was obviously a busy street, with people going past. Only they didn’t all look like people that he was used to. For one thing, they came in more colors. He saw a couple walking past that were dandelion yellow and short. A man passing the other way was tall, broad and granite gray.

“These people, they aren’t human?”

Na’pi shook her head. “Goblins, this is the goblin city. You’ll find mostly goblins, but also humans and others.”

“Not to be indelicate, but what are you? You don’t look entirely human, but not like them either.”

“I’m trow,” Na’pi answered. She tugged on his arm. “We should go. The Navigator’s guild watches the activity on the alleys. They will send the Royal Guard to investigate our use of the alley.”

Don followed her down the alley. The day was already so incredible, how stranger could it get? And besides, he’d be lost without her. She knew this world. He still needed her help to get home. That hadn’t changed.

Although Don tensed as they moved out into the bustling throng in the street, no one paid any attention. They fell into the crowd, turning right and headed down the brick road — an actual brick road! — which dropped away before them. All around the street buildings rose up, a massive city that stretched away as far as he could see. Buildings piling upon buildings, rising higher against the crystal clear sky.

Store fronts lined the street and spilled out their wares into the crowd. Signs and banners flapped in the cool, spicy breeze blowing between the buildings. The unfamiliar smells made Don’s mouth watered. Up ahead he could see a cafe, tables and chairs gathered around the front. Goblins sat and ate and drank, and a few humans too.

They’d gone nearly a block before he realized what was missing. Cars. He saw people on bicycles, and a few pedicabs pulled by shirtless, muscled goblins, but no cars. Just the crowd of people. The goblins looked a bit odd at first glance, like the time he had found himself in the midst of a costume parade, but otherwise nothing strange.

“Watch out.” Na’pi tugged on his arm.

Don looked where he was going and saw the curved green pole of a lamp post that he’d nearly walked into. He started to laugh but then he looked up and saw at least a dozen tiny faces looking down at him from the glass bulb on top of the post.

He stopped moving, resisting Na’pi’s pull. On top of the post was a big round glass ball. Within it were more than a dozen tiny, winged people. Naked, but each looked exquisite and perfect. Faeries. They couldn’t be anything else. There were faeries imprisoned in the lamp. For each that was looking sadly at him, another lay languishing against the bottom of the lamp.

“Don! We mustn’t draw attention to ourselves.”

Don glanced at Na’pi, and in the process noticed that he was attracting looks from those passing.

It felt terrible to simply walk away, but Don did, letting Na’pi lead him by hand away from the lamp post. But there was just another one coming up after the first and more down the street. Since the street dropped way down hill he could see the posts dotting the street on both sides on down the hill into the city.

And in each of the lamps were fairies slumped against the glass.

As they passed under the next lamp post a fairy beat on the glass with his tiny hands, his mouth opening soundlessly. It looked like he was screaming, but no sound escaped the glass.

“Don!”

Don looked at Na’pi. She took his hand and led him around a fruit stall into the opening of an alley.

“You’re attracting their attention, and that’s drawing attention to us. We can’t afford to be noticed.”

Don glanced at the crowd walking past and moved closer to Na’pi, lowering his voice. “Why? What happens if they notice us? Why are those fairies in the lamps? They are fairies, right?”

“Yes,” Na’pi said. “It’s all more complicated than you realize.”

“Faeries,” Don said. “I mean the rest of this is incredible, but —”

“They’re prisoners of the Goblin King. It isn’t safe to notice them.”

“But that’s wrong!” Na’pi winced at his shout. Don took a breath and spoke softer. “How complicated can it be? You don’t stick people in glass balls. That’s not complicated.”

“This situation is complicated, and you’re not making it easier. I feel obligated to help you get home, but I can’t do that if you don’t listen to me.”

“So you’re not part of this?” Don waved his hands in the air. “This city? You don’t live here?”

“No. I serve another, and I can’t talk about it right now. Let’s try and get you home. It’s my fault you’re here.”

3

They walked then for a time without saying anything. Don found himself itching for his sketchbook, so he could just sit and sketch this city.

It was unlike the car-filled cities back home. This was a place bustling with bodies rather than combustion engines. Rich scents floated in the air from cooking food. There was a new establishment every few store fronts. Farmers sold fresh produce and even slaughtered animals from carts. The street had the feel of a fair or farmers market.

Except that the goblins, in the whole range of colors, were the most common people on the street. Still, they acted like people anywhere. Talking, bartering, and walking in a hurry. They wore all sorts of clothing, much of it recognizable. Suits were popular for women and men and made the odd skin colors and tusks all the more unusual. T-shirts and jeans were equally common as well as wrap-around robes. He even saw a group of tough-looking lemon-skinned goblins wearing black leather. Their short-stature and color combination suggested biker bees and Don had to cover a laugh with his hand.

Despite the lack of cars, technology certainly wasn’t lacking. Don saw plenty of people, human and goblin both, checking cell phones or reading on iPads and similar devices. Plenty of customers at the outdoor tables had laptops. They even walked past a male trow in a dark suit working with several holographic screens at one table.

Not a technologically backwards world.

Na’pi never slowed her pace. If anything she walked faster, her eyes darting from side-to-side as she obviously searched for something.

Don touched her arm to get her attention. “What are you looking for?”

She didn’t stop. “We’re being followed. We need to get away from here. I’m trying to find a connection to get you home!”

“Followed?”

“Don’t look!”

Abruptly Na’pi turned down a side street, not quite as busy as the one they’d left, but still with plenty of people, just fewer store fronts. Her delicate forehead creased.

“Can you run?”

Don nodded.

“Then come on!”

Na’pi took off running, her lithe form slipping around a cyclist coming up the road.

Don chased after her. In a few seconds he caught up and matched her pace. For now. Despite all the hiking he did, he wasn’t sure how long he could keep it up. He wasn’t a runner.

They’d gone two blocks before Don caught his first glimpse of their pursuers. Three goblins dressed in black uniforms ran around the corner a block ahead, onto this street. The crowd parted before them like sheep before a wolf.

“This way!” Na’pi grabbed his arm and pulled dim around.

They plunged into a narrow alley between two low buildings. It was empty, marked only by a dry drainage channel down the middle of the passage. Litter and dirt clogged the spaces between the bricks and piled against the walls.

Don tensed, expecting every step to care him someplace else but that didn’t happen. They ran down the alley and came out the other side without going anywhere.

Even then Na’pi didn’t slow. She ran straight across and into the next alley, not so different than the last except the building on the left was four stories tall and concrete instead of brick.

As they ran down the alley a scarlet swirl of graffiti on the wall suddenly moved, taking on the form an an emaciated person clinging lizard-like to the wall. The creature snarled, showing teeth like broken shards of brown glass.

Na’pi grabbed his arm.

In the next step a cool rain-mist sprinkled Don’s face. The alley wasn’t brick anymore, but cracked asphalt, and a dented and rusted green dumpster appeared just ahead. Don stopped running, gasping for air.

Na’pi had also stopped and came back. She stood near him and crossed her arms.

“Where are we?” Don asked, when could manage it.

Na’pi shook her head. She spoke in that fluid, bird-like language that she had used when they first met.

The implication sank in. They weren’t in her world anymore, he couldn’t understand her. He smiled at her and held up his hand as he looked around. It was late evening by the look of the light. The alley could have been anywhere. Power lines ran along it above. And at the far end Don heard and saw cars driving past.

“Come on,” he said, beckoning. “Let’s find out.”

Na’pi hesitated, but she followed him. As they left the alley Don saw a Subway sandwich shop across the street, which was a wide four-lane road. Turning left the street dipped down a hill and he could see the spill of the city. One building in particular was very recognizable.

It rose up with slender, sweeping grace, topped with a fat saucer. The Space Needle. Don laughed. “We’re in Seattle!”

Na’pi said something else. Her voice and words were beautiful, but he didn’t understand any of it. Still, it seemed clear from the way she pulled back that she wanted to go.

He carefully took her hands and pressed them together in his. He smiled at her.

“You might not understand this, but thank you. I can get home from here. But what about you? Do you want to come with me?” Don pulled her hands closer to his chest. Then he pointed at the alley. “Or go back into the alley?”

Na’pi bent and her lips brushed his fingers where he held her hand. Then she stepped back, slipping from his grasp. She spoke again, musically, and gestured at the alley.

She was leaving.

Don touched his chest and gestured at the alley.

Na’pi shook her head and gave him a small smile. One step, two, and she raised her hand in parting.

It was hard not to follow, but he stayed standing in the alley mouth as she sprinted away. One second she was there, then she faded just for an instant, and was gone.

Don reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone to call a cab. He’d go home, but he needed to go back up to Mt. Rainier to get his plein air kit, assuming it was turned in to the rangers. Could he find that cut in the hillside again? Did he dare?

In his head he saw images of another world, one he hadn’t imagined. Na’pi had left a lot unsaid about what was going on between her people and the goblins. It might not be something that he wanted to get involved in, even if he decided he wanted to go back.

The phone was ringing in his ear. Don walked down to the awning above a nearby camera shop to take the call, leaving the empty alley behind. For now, at least.

5,024 WORDS

Author’s Note

This story is the 24th weekly short story release. I wrote this almost exactly three years ago, in anticipation of writing Trow Forge, the third Goblin Alley novel. It was included, with a few changes, in that book. It introduced a new major character into the story.

I’m releasing each of these stories, one per week, here on my website. Eventually I’ll do standard e-book releases when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the books. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new  e-book versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Check back next week for another story. Next up is a science fiction story with a very special kid, Oswald Hamilton, Invader.

Alley Cat

Catherine ‘Cat’ Eagle, petite bike messenger with a pixie nose, red hair, freckles and a perpetual tan, loved nothing better than the freedom of riding. Just her, her bike, the city streets and her uncanny sense of direction.

That sense led her to discover the Goblin Alley, the magical connections that connected every city in the world to Goblinus — home of the goblins and other faerie creatures. That secret world called to Cat, and she had to follow, only this time she wasn’t alone.

Lounging on one of the threadbare, ass-eating chairs in the front lobby of Mercury Messengers, Catherine ‘Cat’ Eagle watched the rain run down the outside of the office’s single-pane windows and the condensation running down the inside. Two drops on opposite sides of the glass were in a neck-and-neck race. Who would win the Tour de France? Outside? Inside? Outside merged with a larger drop and surged into the lead. Cat let the weight of her bicycle helmet pull her head back on the chair, groaning.

“Come on Bert, what’s the point in keeping me on the clock this afternoon? It’s dead.”

Behind the orange counter Bert Downing, her boss, chuckled hard enough to make his thick jowls jiggle. Sometimes she thought that Bert was entirely made of Jell-O, given how much of it he ate. Even now he had a cup of strawberry banana and was spooning it into his mouth. “Someone might call for a pick-up. No one wants to go out in the weather like this.”

Cat closed her eyes. He actually could be right, except the phone hadn’t rung once. Not like last month before Valentine’s day. Something about the most nauseating holiday of the year compelled people to have their flowers and chocolates and stuffed bears and who knew what else delivered via bike messenger. At least she got out riding. But March? She ended up sitting around too much. Some of the other guys loved nothing better to loaf around but for her the best thing about the job was being out on her bike cruising the streets and, when she got the chance, ducking back into the goblin alleys. She could spend a lifetime exploring the goblin city of Goblinus, connected to – she was told – all of the cities of the world by the alleys. If Bert would only give her the afternoon off she could slip out and find an alley leading to the other world. Maybe there it wouldn’t be raining. Even if it was it’d still be more interesting than watching the Seventies era orange and brown stripped wallpaper peeling from the walls, or listening to Bert slurp down yet another cup of Jell-O.

The bell of the back door jangled. One of the other riders stuck with working today must have returned. Probably Erik Powell. Cat sat up, swinging her bare calves off the arm of the chair. Her cleats on the bike sandals clunked against the tile. “Bert, look, that’s probably Erik. Let him sit around here in case anyone wants a pickup.”

Bert put down his empty Jell-O cup. He pointed his plastic spoon, still decorated with gory bits of strawberry-banana Jell-O, at her. “You sound like you’re not too interested in a job, young lady. Don’t I pay you for this? What other job lets you sit around so much? You should consider yourself fortunate.”

“If I sit here any longer my ass is going to melt into that chair. You’ll have to hire professional cleaners just to scrape me out.”

 

Bert grinned. Right then Erik came through the swinging doors to the back room where the messengers had their locker rooms and Bert kept the packages waiting to go out. An empty room right now. Erik was alright, cocky, dark hair and five years younger than her. So far he hadn’t given up on asking her out, obviously deluding himself into thinking that he could wear her down. Erik looked between the two of them and opened his mouth. Cat held up a hand.

“Well, Bert?”

He chuckled, jiggling again on his chair like his favorite desert. He waved his spoon around in a circle. “Fine. Don’t want to get paid? Just saving me money.” He jabbed the spoon in Erik’s direction. “You sit down where I can see you. I’m not sending everyone home yet.”

Cat bounced up and out of the chair. “Thanks Bert.”

Erik took two stiff steps toward the chair. His tight blue jersey glistened with water, more drops ran off his helmet and down his legs, bare beneath his knee. “Don’t I get a say in this?”

“No.” Bert and Cat said together.

Cat touched Erik’s arm as she went past. “Tough luck.”

She grimaced before she even hit the door. Why did she do something like that? Touch his arm? It was only going to encourage him. Simple answer. Get the hell out of there before Erik found some excuse to follow her into the back. She hit the door moving fast and picked up speed as she shoved through. In the back she ran to her locker. Her fingers felt like lead as she spun the dial for the combination lock. For a second her mind went blank. She didn’t have any idea what the numbers were, but her fingers stopped it on the first number. 13. Lucky 13. All the rest came back. She got the locker open, snagged her bag, making sure that she had her u-lock inside because she had forgotten it before, and locked back up. In the lobby the phone rang and she faintly heard Bert answering. Slinging the bag strap over her head onto her shoulder she headed toward the rack to get her bike. The bells on her bag jingled with each step. She copied that from the pedicabs over in Goblinus. Those guys, mostly goblins, all had bells on their cabs to alert pedestrians to their presence. Now it sounded loud and annoying.

Cat pulled her bike out of the rack just as the lobby door swung open, with Erik hurrying into the back. His face lit up when he saw her.

“Great! You haven’t left yet. Hold up a sec, I’ve got a pickup run to make but I have loads of time, we can ride together for bit.”

Cat pushed her bike toward the exit. She never should have touched his arm. “Sorry, can’t wait. I’ll see you later.”

“Hey!”

She didn’t stop. Erik ran for the bike rack and she shoved her bike outside into the wet and rain. One, two steps and she swung her leg up over the seat and dropped onto the pedals. She pushed hard and shot down the back alleyway behind the building. Her attention turned inward, looking for that feeling in her chest that signaled the alignment of an alley with Goblinus. She felt it, but not here, not right now. The alleys shifted and moved over time. She had an unerring sense of direction and it was telling her that she needed to head North.

Cat rolled out to the street, turning smartly into the lane when she saw it was clear, and stood up to tackle the hill. As she rode she looked over the top of a battered Geo parked on the street and saw Erik come out of the alley behind her. She pushed harder. No way he’d be able to keep up and soon enough she’d ditch him when she found an open alley.

At the top of the hill her gut told her to head left and she did, climbing slightly again but heading towards a development along the ridge. Lots of office buildings with a view rising up above the trees, expensive places for people with expensive tastes. And wherever there were people with expensive tastes they’d have alleys to hide their dumpsters and let their menial workers come and go through back entrances. That had to be the place. Traffic increased on the road but she kept the lane, pushing to the pedals and easily cruising along at almost thirty. She didn’t see Erik anywhere when she checked her helmet mirror. He might have given up on the charge up the hill, but she doubted it. She started looking around, sure that he had to be somewhere, but she didn’t see him.

The feeling that she was on the right track grew stronger as she reached the conflict. She raced around a roundabout planted with young Douglas fir trees and on into the main drive for the first complex. Movement out the corner of her eye caught her attention and she saw Erik coming up the sidewalk! She shot past, cursing because he had to have seen her. Now she had to get to the alley before he caught up or he’d see her cross over.

Her bike carried her on past all of the V.I.P. parking, around the back of the nearest building. A metal bar gate crossed the road ahead, but there was space to the side. She curved smoothly around it and kept going, pedaling hard as the pull grew stronger. It was almost time for the alley to change. She had to hurry!

There. Just ahead a narrow alley opened onto the roadway. She knew that was the spot. She raced toward the opening and heard gears grinding and the growl of something large. Cat braked hard, her tires sliding on the road, and she stopped just before a large garbage truck squeezed out of the alley with the concrete buildings rising on either side. It barely fit at all, maybe a foot to spare on either side. Cat clenched her handlebar grips and waited for her chance.

As soon as the truck cleared the alley she shoved forward, pedaling hard into the narrow space. Her tires splashed through the thin ribbon of water running down the center of the concrete alley. Recessed yellow lights gleamed in reinforced pockets on the walls. As exultant as if she were crossing a finishing line Cat rode the change from this alley to another only to realize with shock that there was someone coming up hard on her left elbow. Too late to stop, too late to do anything except cross.

Bright sunshine hit her eyes as if the clouds had been ripped away. The smooth gliding ride across concrete gave way to a teeth-rattling cobblestone. Cat hit her brakes and came to a stop. She heard swearing and saw Erik lose control of his bike, as he wobbled and then toppled over on the uneven surface.

The buildings rising around them were made of light yellow bricks but the alleyway was paved with cobblestones. Balconies hung over the alley, overgrown with plants that dangled down the sides of the buildings. Clotheslines strung with colorful garments crisscrossed the alley above there heard. She heard voices, some raised in song and others laughing, and smelled something eye-watering-hot cooking. Even more striking was the absence of any traffic sounds. Further down the alley, at least a hundred yards past where Erik was slowing picking himself up, a couple people in bright tunics were walking this way. Only not human people, she could tell even from this distance. Both of them what she thought of as classic goblins, standing about shoulder-high with green skin, pointy ears and large yellowish eyes. The one on her left wore a blue tunic stretched tight by his bulk and had a shaven head. His companion wore a bright pink tunic and had long dark hair pulled back into a top-knot. Neither goblin looked alarmed to see two humans on bikes suddenly show up in the alley. The trick, Cat had learned, was to look like you belonged and had a purpose. Then most folks left you alone. In both worlds.

She rolled forward to join Erik as he picked up his bike, but his attention was on everything else. She leaned closer. “You look like a tourist. Close your trap and follow me.”

“But—”

“Do it!” She pedaled toward the approaching goblins, hoping that he’d be smart enough to follow. She checked her helmet mirror. He was on his bike, riding after her, his fingers holding tight to his handlebars as they bounced along the alley. It wasn’t that bad once you got used to it, but rougher than most city riding. Some sections of the city had better streets but vehicle traffic was limited to a few radial streets and designated roads around the center of the city. She didn’t recognize this section of the city but that was hardly surprising considering the vastness of Goblinus. She knew that the Goblin King’s city was a huge amorphous blight on the landscape and stretched miles out from the dark spires at the heart which housed the Goblin King himself. So far she’d stayed out of the inner districts, always coming into the city in places like this. And so far her luck had held for her to find her way back out again, thanks to her keen sense of direction.

It only took moments to reach the goblins. She didn’t say anything to them, just focused on steering around them, her bells jingling the whole time. Erik stayed right behind her as if he was trying to draft off her. As they passed the goblins she heard one of them sneer, “Othersiders.”

Cat didn’t respond. She kept riding, but slowed slightly now that the alley was clear. Erik rolled up alongside us. His face looked pale.

“What was that?”

Cat glanced back, but they were far enough away. “Goblins. This is their city. Not just goblins, of course, there are other types of people here including humans. Don’t act like a tourist and you won’t stand out.”

“This is impossible. You went into that alley between the offices –”

“And came out here. Tell me something I don’t know.” Cat softened slightly. “It surprised me too the first time.”

“You’ve done this before?”

“Yes.” Cat brought her bike to a stop. Erik stopped with her. “You shouldn’t have followed me. I didn’t think you could follow me, honestly.”

“You mean you brought me here?”

Cat shrugged. “It’s not like I meant to. I was trying to ditch you.”

Now Erik got some of his color back and grinned at her. “Not that easy to ditch me.”

“I guess not, but now we’ve got a bit of a problem.”

“What?”

“I’ve got to get you back safely but I don’t know if I can. Even if I find the route back what if you just stay stuck on this side?”

“That could happen?”

“I don’t know! Maybe? It isn’t like I’ve brought people over here before.”

“I followed you this way, why wouldn’t it work going back?”

“Maybe it will.” Cat pushed off on her bike. “I just wish I knew if it would or not.”

Erik caught up with her and they rode down the alley to a wider cross-street. There was a lot more pedestrian traffic on the street. Mostly goblins of the green variety but Cat saw some of the leather-clad yellow goblins that looked like some sort of police from a nightmare bondage fantasy, and even a couple of the bigger gray goblins stomping along with their over-sized feet and protruding lips. Here and there in the crowds she saw other types. A thin, fine-featured man with long white hair, no idea what he could be, as well as the occasional humans. No one looked like they were giving her any second looks as she wove among the crowd, trying to project the image of a bike messenger with a purpose. Erik wisely kept up and didn’t say anything. So long as they kept moving Cat felt better. She concentrated on her sense of direction. Which way home?

Her gut told her to keep going down this street so she kept pushing on the pedals. Now and then she checked on Erik with her helmet mirror but he doggedly stayed right behind her on her left. Everything considered he was handling himself well. Her gut feeling didn’t get stronger but she remained convinced that she was going the right way. As she rode she kept an eye and ear out for any trouble. Goblins mostly gave way at the sound of her bells. She caught a few scowls but also passed a pedicab being pedaled by a big gray goblin with his own bell jangling from the canopy over his empty passenger seat. She smelled fresh-baked bread riding past one building, and right at the next something with a strong garlic odor started her stomach growling. A short distance on she passed a cart with row after row of dried fish hanging on strings. Other merchants hawked their wares along the street from carts and tables, boxes and discreet samples in pockets. A constant babble of overlapping voices came at her from all sides. Riding past a group of yellow goblins they burst into raucous laughter, which she thought was directed at her and Erik at first, but then she saw one of the goblins flick a pebble at one of the light posts. The rock pinged off the glass globe at the top and inside one of the captive fairies kicked and hit at the glass, making rude gestures at the goblins. The others lay about in their day-time stupor, too tired or too apathetic to care. Another rock hit the glass and triggered another tantrum which set the goblins off laughing once more.

Cat looked away and kept peddling. She’d been shocked the first time she saw the fairies in the lamp posts, now she tried not to look at them. Erik rode up beside her.

“Did you see that?”

“Yes, but there’s nothing we can do about it. Get behind me.”

“Are those fairies?”

“Yes, Erik watch out!”

Her warning came too late. He didn’t see the big pink goblin in his path until he was just about to collide with the unfortunate pedestrian. Erik swerved wildly, somehow missing the goblin but his only option was to head into a narrow alley. The goblin shouted and took a swing at Erik, but missed. Cat braked and swung her bike around. The goblin turned his attention to her.

She smiled widely. “Sorry about that.”

In the alley Erik shouted in alarm. Cat stood up on the pedals and shot toward the alley, swerving around the goblin’s grasping hands. More shouts rose up behind her but she didn’t look back. She shot into the alley and saw Erik pedaling away from her, deeper into the alley. At first she didn’t see what he was fleeing from but then a section of the red brick wall moved. It bulged out and jumped down into an alley, landing on all fours. It wasn’t a section of the wall at all but a geist, a sort of chameleon-like goblin she had encountered before. Its skin matched the bricks as it loped after Erik. And it wasn’t alone. Several other geists chased after him, some leaping from balcony to balcony above, or racing along the roof top. Cat hesitated only a second before she raced after the geists and Erik, the whole while her gut telling her that she was going in the wrong direction. Erik was standing up, pedaling as fast as he could, but it looked like the geists were gaining on him.

They raced down the alley, the geists hot after Erik and Cat speeding along behind, but gaining. The rough cobblestone of the alley rattled her teeth and bike until her arms and wrists ached. As she closed the gap between her and the geists she caught a strong urine scent from them. Then she rode up alongside the trailing geist, a creature of knotted muscles beneath the lumpish cobblestone appearance of its skin. It snarled at her with teeth of splintered stone. Cat reached back with one hand, and pulled her u-lock from her messenger bag. The geist lunged at her calf and she swung the metal u-lock down at its head hard. The blow sent tremors up her arm and the geist crumpled to the ground. Just then her bike’s front tire hit a protruding rock and bounced. She almost lost control of the bike but managed to recover and pedaled harder to catch up with Erik.

Geists on each side came at her but she swung the lock and knocked them back. One leaped from a balcony, attempting to land on her but she ducked down and it missed. All around she heard the harsh panting of their breath and that urine scent stung her eyes. Then she passed the leading geist and pulled up alongside Erik. His face was pale and intent on navigating the alley. It was so narrow that there wasn’t much more room than the two of them side-by-side. Cat thought about home and felt the tug in her gut that indicated a crossing, but it wasn’t home. She didn’t know where it would go. She was still debating it in her mind when a large geist with skin colored like stone and nails like wrought iron dropped from the rooftops three floors above and landed directly in their path. It rose up baring teeth of broken glass and roared.

“Oh shit!” Erik cried.

Before he could brake Cat reached over and grabbed his arm. Inside she reached for that sense of the crossing and –

They rolled together into an equally narrow brick-lined alley that came to an end right before them. There wasn’t any time to stop before they rolled out, startling a woman, and into a street in front of a small blue car. The car braked and the bearded man inside swore at them. Erik lost control of his bike and toppled into the street. Cat swung off her bike and knelt beside him.

“Are you okay?”

The man in the car yelled at them again, in French. Cat recognized a word or two. She raised a hand. “Pardon!”

Erick picked himself up. “I’m okay.”

He grabbed his bike and she went to her bike. Together they pushed their bikes on across the street. Erik was looking at her but Cat’s eyes were drawn to the end of the road. There, rising above the trees, was the Eiffel tower. The man in the blue car drove on past.

“What is it?” Erik asked. “Not more monsters.”

“No.” Cat laughed. She pointed down the street. “Take a look.”

Erick looked. “No way! How?”

Cat tore her eyes from the tower and looked at Erik. He was sort of cute in a kind of goofy way with his curls poking out from beneath his bike helmet. “The goblin alleys connect Goblinus to cities everywhere. It looks like we ended up in Paris.”

“That’s crazy. How do we get home?”

Cat grinned again. “Well, since we don’t have passports I think our best bet is to go back through the goblin alley. I’ve got a great sense of direction.”

“You brought us here!”

“That was only to get away from the geists. We’ll be more careful the next time. Are you up for it?”

“On one condition.”

“What?”

“Okay, two conditions.”

Cat raised an eyebrow.

“Look,” Erik said quickly. “Just two things. When we get back you explain everything, and we go out to dinner together. Like a date.”

“If you do what I tell you too this time,” Cat said.

“Of course.”

Cat turned her bike away before he could see her smile and swung her leg up over the seat. First, find the way back to Goblinus and then home. After that, a date might be nice. And it’d be cool to have someone to share all this with. She pedaled slowly down the street, Erik falling in behind her, savoring the view of the tower. Her gut told her it might take a while to find another crossing. Or maybe she just wanted to check out the sights a bit before they left.

3,942 WORDS

Author’s Note

This story is the 23rd weekly short story release. I originally put this story out under my pen name “Michael Burges.” I wrote this back in early 2011. It was a tie-in to the Goblin Alley series that, at the time, was only one novel. Cat would eventually show up again in a guest appearance in The Eleven Lords.

I’m releasing each of these stories, one per week, here on my website. Eventually I’ll do standard e-book releases when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the books. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new  e-book versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Check back next week for another story. Next up is another Goblin Alley tie-in, The Forest Path.

Last Day for Trow Forge Special Price

Buy Now

Today is the last day to get Trow Forge for the special pre-order pricing of .99¢! I’m excited that the book will finally be out, I’m very fond of the Goblin Alley series and glad to have the initial trilogy of books done and available. Will there be more Goblin Alley books? Yes, I can’t imagine that I won’t return to the Goblin Alley story again, I just don’t know when it’ll be. I have some other projects to work on right now.

 

 

Trow Forge

Pre-orders start today for the third Goblin Alley book, Trow Forge, publication date: December 22nd, 2014.

While it is available for pre-order, it’s at a special $0.99¢ price, and will switch to the regular price on release. Buy Now

If you can help spread the word, that’d be great!

Description

A college student. A natural born runner. A fierce upcoming competitor among ultra-runners. The goblin king’s chosen messenger, gifted with the ability to navigate the shifting goblin alleys.

Dalton Hicks lives an uncommon life, turned upside down by an assassination attempt on his life.

A shape-shifter, fox spirit. Ghost rescuer. Specializes in obtaining the unobtainable. Skilled with knives. Protective of her freedom.

Mingmei lives between two worlds, ours and the faerie world. Recovering a rare artifact, she struggles to evade pursuers.

*

A veteran. An artist able to envision landscapes untouched by man. Isolated and alone among those he fought to protect.

Ben Hyland finds new purpose in protecting the faerie world from potential destruction.

The paths of these three intersect in a new novel of fantasy, of wonder and darkness, joy and fear. The world of Goblin Alley lies just ahead, connecting every city on the planet.

Novel, 440 pages
Publication Date: December 22nd, 2014

Podcast Episode #3

We’ve had a cold catching in the house this last week. I’ve been fighting it off, but today I’m feeling a bit worn down. It might not be the cold, it could just be that I’ve been busy.

 

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Podcast Episode #2

I’m not a big fan of how early it gets dark this time of year. It’s dark when I get up, and it’s dark by the time I get home from work. Usually I’m a morning person and get up around 4 AM, so that I have time to write, paint, publish, or exercise before I go out to work. But it seems when it’s dark like this I tend to want to sleep longer. Last night that wasn’t true.

 

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The Eleven Lords Pre-order

Pre-orders start today for the second Goblin Alley book, The Eleven Lords. I’ve wanted to get this book out for a long time, so I’m thrilled that it’ll finally be up. Publication date: November 3rd.

While it is available for pre-order, it’s at a special 0.99¢ price, before returning to the regular price.

If you can help spread the word, that’d be great!

Blurb

Plunge into Goblin Alley, a world wide web of magic, wealth and danger linking every city around the planet to the goblin city Goblinus.

Dalton Hicks, about to start college, meant to leave the goblin alleys behind and live a normal life safe from the powerful forces that nearly killed him the last time.

Burning for revenge over the loss of the Bloodied Fang, the Erlking, ruler of the sylvans, orders a special assassin to remove Dalton before the Goblin King calls on him again.

Dalton’s escape from the goblin alleys proves short-lived. He returns to Goblinus alone, unaided by Mingmei, the shape-shifting fox girl that helped him last time.

Summons from the Goblin King disrupts Mingmei’s own life when he orders her to find Dalton Hicks and help him complete a mission to the Eleven Lords of the Goblinus council.

Hunted by an ancient evil, Dalton faces his greatest race yet!

Novel, 440 pages
Publication Date: November 3rd, 2014

August Update, and my fully immersive writing desk

This morning I wanted to get started on my August update , so I stepped outside. The air this morning was cool, with a clear sky, and just traces of fog hanging out among the dark Douglas firs. Birds chirped in the trees as I walked up the hill toward the back of our property. This is my new fully immersive 360° of writing studio, think of it is having the treadmill desk with a fully immersive environment.

“Think of it is having the treadmill desk with a fully immersive environment”

Out here I can walk, and tell my stories and while getting exercise and enjoying fresh air. That’s it I’m trying to do now, is get out and walk around, and tell my stories in the mornings or at other times anywhere I go is potentially my new study. Forget setting wallpaper images on the computer.

This can be my office.
This can be my office.

Time Constraints

August was an interesting month. The day job began taking more of my time with an assignment that has meant much more time on the road, to help a more distant library, as well as just other demands that have cut into my time to get my writing and publishing tasks done the way I would like.

I decided that I needed to make some changes. The question was basically how can I make better use of my time?  Since doing the Spartan Race (I do plan to post a race report) at the beginning of August I wanted to get in shape,  workout more, and basically begin training for a possible future Spartan Race next year. That also takes time. We all have lots of demands on our time. How could I fit it all in?

I was well aware of Kevin J. Anderson’s practice of taking walks and dictating his books while he walks, having read his post before, and in the past I basically dismissed that as not something that would be particularly viable for me. There were a number of obstacles, I felt, to integrating that into my process.

For one, talking is just very different than typing.  I’m very comfortable with keyboards. I like typing. I’ve used a Dvorak layout for a long time for my writing, and then at the day job I type using the QWERTY layout. I carry a keyboard with me so that I can type using my iPad as a portable office, that has made it possible for me to write pretty much anywhere when I have a moment to spare. And it has worked pretty well.

Using the iPad, I’ve managed to get a lot written. In fact much of my writing has happened on the iPad during breaks, and other times when I had a moment to work on a story, and so I wasn’t eager to give that up. But at the same time, having a lot of time constraints raised the question. What could I do to fit it all in?

With that in mind I decided to revisit the idea of dictating my work and using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to transcribe what I’d written. I read other writers experiences, specifically those using the software-based transcription instead of a paid transcriptionist to do the work, and came away with the idea that this might actually be a viable approach. The other question I had was whether or not I would be able to get use to telling my stories aloud, on the spur of the moment. That seems to me to be a different sort of skill set, one that would take practice to develop. But the benefits definitely sounded significant. From what I’ve read people talked about getting up to 160 words per minute dictating which is an awful lot faster than I’ve been writing.

When I figure my words per minute I usually figure 1000 words in an hour was a good benchmark. Sometimes they run faster, sometimes slower, but that number usually worked out pretty well. And that is only in the ballpark of maybe 20 words per minute, sometimes less. So I figured, even with the difficulties of getting used to dictating, if I could do 50 words per minute then I would end up producing far more fiction than I am now — without taking any time than I was already spending. More than that it gave me an opportunity to seek a different sort of standing desk.

Standing Desk

Standing desks have their proponents, and probably those who think the whole notion is ridiculous. For myself, I’ve worked standing up at a frontline public service desk for the past couple decades. In my office at my day job I also work standing up. For me sitting down means I’m taking a break. And yet when it comes to my writing, that has been done almost entirely in a sit-down position. There are all sorts of makeshift ways in which you can raise your computer monitor and your keyboard to a standing position, but many of those aren’t easily adjustable. My desk at the day job is an adjustable desk that moves up and down with the touch of a button. That’s nice, but wasn’t something that I was going to immediately invest in for home use. Dictation offers a much better alternative to a traditional standing desk or treadmill desk. There are several reasons for this.

For one thing, I can do it when I’m out for a morning walk. I don’t need an expensive treadmill or an adjustable height workstation, I don’t need to try to be typing while at the same time walking. Instead I can simply walk and tell the story that I want to tell. The hardest thing to get use to is rethinking how I approach my writing, and to be open to the possibility of changing my process. I’ve been writing for decades and it’s all been fingers on the keyboard. Going out for a stroll and coming back with 3,000 words of new fiction was an entirely new experience!

There are other advantages to this method. I know some writers who keep a computer that isn’t connected to the Internet to do their writing, free from distractions (and potential hacking), and then have a separate computer that is connected to the net where they do email and everything else. And that’s certainly an option. Using the voice recorder to record what I want to write, on the other hand, can mean that I can be anywhere. No Internet connection needed, no cell connection needed. I could be climbing a mountain or simply hiking around the woods on the back of our property. There’s no carpal tunnel issues to worry about either,  just words flowing as I walk.

It has been a very compelling experience for me. I enjoy walking and find that it’s a good base-level sort of exercise to start my day. And talking and telling stories while I do it, though it feels a bit awkward initially, is a nice combination. And where as before when I got back I still had to find time to write, and to edit it, format, illustrate and do everything else involved in a modern writing career, having dictated while I walked meant that at least the raw first draft product was already in hand.

For those wondering, no, the transcription software isn’t perfect. But it does a damn good job. Most of what I dictate is transcribed just fine. It runs into problems with words that aren’t in its vocabulary, which you can train, and just in my own dictation skills. I fumble sentences. I stammer and stutter. I have to get used to saying punctuation. So the result with all of that is a transcribed product the definitely needs correction. And that takes time as well, however even just beginning with this, I’ve found that it takes much less time than I would’ve had to have spent writing, prior to dictating. For example if I go out and take a walk for an hour, and come back with 3,000+ words of new fiction, that is all new work that I wouldn’t of had before at that same point time. Before dictating, I would’ve had to have come back from the walk, and still would’ve been faced with finding time to write the first draft of my work, and then still would’ve had to go over it again and deal with all the problems that would be there anyways. So it does take some time to clean up what has been produced, but then again it doesn’t take all that much time. And I tend to cycle over my writing again anyways as I work.

 Down the Goblin Alley

The big news of August was the release of the new edition of Goblin Alley: The Bloodied Fang.

The Bloodied Fang

Originally published under my pen name “Michael Burges,” it’s great to get the book out in a new edition, available now in both print and e-book. I’m working now on finishing the next two books in the Goblin Alley series, and plan to have those out soon. They haven’t been released before, so it’ll be great to have them finally out.

New Worlds

Right at the start of August I launched into writing a new stand-alone novel. Given all of the impacts on my time, and the decision to back off on my word counts, I didn’t get quite as much written in August but I did continue the writing streak.

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Future

Write more, illustrate more, publish more. Basically, I’m going to continue doing what I can and have fun. I have a story coming out in Fiction River: Fantastic Detectives this month, and there’s the Fiction River Kickstarter subscription drive. It’s already getting great response and has exceeded the funding goal. Among the rewards available is Goblin Alley: The Bloodied Fang, plus my story “Death in Hathaway Tower” in Fantastic Detectives.

The Bloodied Fang

The Bloodied Fang

New Edition

Today marks the release of the new edition of The Bloodied Fang, first book of the Goblin Alley series. It was previously published under my pen name “Michael Burges.” This new edition also includes a preview of the soon to be released The Eleven Lords. 

I’ve wanted to get these books out for some time. Finding the time, though, that’s been the challenge. My dear editor has gone through all three books, including book 3, Trow Forge, so it’s just a matter of time to get them all done and released.

Plunge into Goblin Alley, a world wide web of magic, wealth and danger linking every city around the planet to the goblin city Goblinus.

Dalton Hicks, senior in high school and star cross country runner, dreamed of the President’s national championship in New York. How many guys from Olympia got to go to a race like this? Even perfect moments have a way of going wrong.

Trouble starts for Dalton when monsters chase him down a New York alley and out into the goblin city — where the Goblin King puts a price on his head.

Aided by Mingmei, a fox shape shifter, Dalton seeks his only chance at escape – steal a magical artifact back from the fairies for the Goblin King. Caught between powerful forces, Dalton finds himself in the race of his life across two worlds!