* * *
He was scaling the building wall, effortlessly climbing to save the infant perched precariously on one of the highest sills of the high-rise building. It was enveloped in a raging inferno, menacing flames licking out from every window he passed, flames dead-bent on prying him from the wall and sending him hurtling twenty stories to the pavement below. But he was tenaciously undaunted.
He could hear Snoop whining somewhere far below. Poor Snoop was concerned for his master. But he needn't worry. Theodore Kelsey had learned from the best. Spiderman himself probably couldn't do any better. Then there came a low rumbling sound that confused him and he momentarily lost one hand hold. He was dangling dangerously by four fingertips because of that sound. Why was Snoop growling? He was performing a heroic feat, here. Scaling a twenty-story building took a great deal of concentration, not to mention skill. Snoop should be barking excitedly, spurring him on, not growling. It was wrong. All wrong.
Ted rolled and awoke with a jolt, catching himself as he was about to fall off the couch.
"What the. . . !"
He'd fallen asleep. How could he fall asleep? Was he nuts! The previous night's sleeplessness must have caught up with him.
Snoop growled and Ted sat up quickly. Snoop was pressing back against the couch, his hackles raised, the growl emanating from deep in his throat as he peered toward the bushes. Ted grabbed his flashlight and shook it. It was barely giving out a dull light, now. He shook it harder. There was a rustling in the bushes and Snoop stood up and growled with a bit more heart.
"Don't worry, Snoop. It's just our pal, Ricky, up to no good again," Ted whispered, giving Snoop a few pats of reassurance. "Come on out, Rick. You're not gonna get me twice, jerk off." Ted gave the flashlight a few good whacks on the palm of his hand and the waning light grew brighter for a few brief seconds. "Come on out or I'm sending killer out after ya."
The chirring of crickets was the only reply.
"All right then. Don't say I didn't warn ya. Go on Snoop, go get him. Get him, boy," he urged, giving him a gentle motivating shove.
With a bark, Snoop, who was about as much a killer as a monarch butterfly, vaulted into the bushes with an impressive growl and disappeared.
"That a boy, flush him out, boy! Show him who's boss," he shouted. "Show him what happens when you mess with the Tedster! Get ‘im good, boy. Bite ‘im in the ass. No, better yet, bite his balls off. Then we’ll see who needs that transplant, huh, Rickster? Then we’ll see who’s calling 911! I’ll be the one. . . . . "
There was a flurry of barking in the distance, this high and excited, and suddenly, Snoop was cut off in mid-bark with a yelp.
"What the . . ."
Teddy fumbled in his pocket for the pocket knife. He wasn't so sure it was Rick, anymore. Ricky could be a real jerk at times, but he would never hurt Snoop . . . would he?
"Snoop," he called meekly, a slight tremor shaking his voice. "Come here, boy."
Nothing. Only silence. Even the crickets had stopped their chirping. All that remained was a deafening silence. It chilled him to the bone.
"Snoop?" His voice rang out hollowly, temporarily breaking the stillness. "Come here, Snoop. Rick, that you?"
There was no reply.
Standing stock still, Ted strained his ears for any sign of movement as the seconds ticked by, seconds which slowly stretched into minutes.
Ted was in a terrible dilemma. He shone the dimming light to his Timex. Two o'clock! Could it possibly be two o'clock? That meant he’d been sleeping for hours! Should he sit tight and just wait for morning? Or should he venture out and find out what had befallen poor Snoop? Poor mangy Snoop, his ever faithful companion of three years. He’d never hurt a soul in his entire life.
He shifted anxiously from foot to foot. Suddenly he had to take a wicked whiz. He might just need that fresh change of skivvies Ricky seemed to delight so in teasing him about if he didn't remedy this situation right away. He unzipped and did his business right where he stood. To hell with Ricky. Ricky! No way was it Ricky out there! He wouldn't be caught dead traipsing about the woods at two A.M. No way.
But he had to go. He couldn't just sit here for hours. Snoop might be hurt, might need him.
Rezipping, he gathered his courage and, dropping to all fours, crawled through the bushes. Holding his quickly fading flashlight in one hand and tightly clutching his knife (which now seemed to offer about as much assurance of protection as a blue jay feather) in the other, he headed out on wobbly legs in the general direction from which he'd last heard Snoop.
Maybe he was wrong. It might be Rick. Yeah, probably was. Probably crouching out there somewhere, clamping Snoop's snout shut and quietly laughing his ass off. If it was him, he was going to throttle the bastard. Throttle him till he was blue in the face, the jerk. So he would have to regress a bit, he thought as he moved aside a clump of branches and moved deeper into the woods. Throw all his self-control training to the wind for this one special occasion. Of course, no good psychologist should allow his emotions to be so completely manipulated that he was reduced to violence, but this was the last straw. Enough was enough.
He swung the flashlight around to his right when he heard a rustling, and a large, hairy, long-legged spider appeared in the beam. It hung suspended in a web glistening with dew, one stretched impressively between two trees, a good six feet by his calculations.
Brushing aside a tangle of branches, he headed in that direction.
"If you're out here Ricky, you better run like hell! I swear I'm gonna kill you," he shouted, receiving utter and total silence as his only response.
Being careful to avoid the web, he brushed aside more tangled branches, heading deeper into the woods and away from the path.
"I mean it. You're dead! You're dead, you hear me?"
Movement to his left.
He swung the flashlight around. "Snoop?"
Nothing. A few branches swaying gently down low as if something had just passed through.
"Snoop?" That you, boy?"
Crouching down low, he brushed the branches aside with one arm and shone the light into some dense brush.
End of the line. Dead end. Wasn't going to be able to push his way through that tangled mess.
He was about to turn when a glint caught his eye.
He aimed the light at the ground.
A round piece of metal lay at the entrance to a large hole in the ground. For a few seconds, he stared at it, unable to make out its origin. But there was something about it that intrigued him. It was . . . familiar.
He almost reached for it and thought better. Who knew what lived in that hole. Probably some huge snake or something. Nah, too big. Probably a fox or a possum. He'd heard possums could be pretty nasty when cornered.
He reached to the side and snapped off a stick with a loud brittle pop and with the tip of it, carefully worked the object away from the hole. Only when he thought it had reached a safe distance, did he reach down to retrieve it.
He shone the now almost nonexistent light into his palm.
His heart stopped.
Of course it was familiar. He saw the thing every day. It was Snoop’s dog tag. There was something on it. Dark . . . wet. . . . slick. With his thumb, he smeared it aside. There it was. His address and phone number with two deep gouges running through it.
"Oh . . . , God."
It was Snoop’s. And Snoop’s blood! Whatever lived in that damned hole had killed Snoop!
Though his heart felt like it was about to pound its way right through his chest, he suddenly found he was more than a bit angry. Snoop had never hurt a flea. He didn't deserve this.
Propping the flashlight on the ground so it was aimed at the hole, he grasped his knife in one hand and jammed the stick firmly down the hole, ready to confront and kill the damn possum or whatever it was that had killed his Snoop.
He hit something and instantly the stick was snatched from his hand and it disappeared down the hole.
He snatched up the flashlight, but before he could move, something came flying out of the hole, hitting him squarely in the chest.
With a yelp, he batted it away and it fell to the ground and he found himself gaping in horror at Snoop’s mangled and torn leather collar, now black with blood.
His flashlight dimmed. . . . and went out.
He froze, listening. There was a noise coming from the hole. A creepy, clicking noise. It sounded like the windup chatter-teeth he’d won the last time he’d gone to the fair.
He strained his eyes in the darkness toward the hole, not daring to blink. Very little light was managing to filter its way past the thick canopy of branches overhead. But it was enough to faintly reveal the two eyes that were peering back at him from within the hole. Two human eyes.
At least they appeared to be human.
For one fleeting moment, Ted actually considered it might be Rick down there in that hole, playing some kind of bizarre joke. But that thought was quickly dispelled. It couldn't possibly be. No human could fit down a hole that size. It just wasn't possible. Couldn't be. No way. Though those eyes appeared human, Ted knew without a doubt they were not. Far from it. They were unblinking and they had a slight luminescent quality.
Ted knew he should run. Turn-tail and run as fast as he could. But his legs were locked. He couldn't remember ever being so terrified. He was afraid to look away. As soon as he looked away, the thing in that hole would shoot out at him, going for his throat, he was sure of it. It had ripped out poor Snoop’s throat and, like a piranha, devoured him in mere seconds. And now it wanted more. It wanted him!
All the horrors from the night before came flooding back. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, giant blood-sucking leeches, and even the devil himself, all seemed to pale in comparison to the thing leering at him from down in that hole.
The eyes bobbed as the strange clicking sounded again and Ted began to slowly back away.
One foot, two. . . .
The bushes fell in before him, obscuring his view. . . . .
He spun on his heels and began what he knew instinctively would be a sprint for his very life.
Branches whipped him in the face, stinging as he hurtled recklessly forward through the darkness, his breath coming in choked gasps. He didn't dare look back. He didn't have to. He knew what he would see - Two bobbing, glowing eyes scurrying after him.
The spider web he so carefully avoided just minutes earlier hit him square in the face and, without breaking stride, he clawed at it, ripping it away, not even bothering to give a second thought to the whereabouts of the spider. He had more important matters to deal with. Yes sireé, Bob. Some creature had just crawled up from the bowels of the earth and was now nipping at his heels. Wasn't that just a lovely picture? Some creature with Snoop’s flesh still stuck between its teeth. Apparently Snoop was just the appetizer. He would be the main entreé.
With legs pumping like pistons, he broke through the brush onto the path at full speed and almost went sprawling on his face.
That would have been a mistake. . . . . huge, gargantuan. . . . fatal. He was sure of it.
With arms pinwheeling, he caught his balance and went barreling down the path, with only one thought on his mind - Home.
He had to get home. If he could make it home, everything would be fine. Fine and dandy. He would be safe. The nightmare chasing him would scurry back into its hole, never to be seen or heard of again. This was his fault. All his fault. He had no business wandering around in the woods in the middle of the night in the first place. He'd been asking for trouble, begging for it, practically been screaming at the top of lungs. 'Here trouble, come and get me. Here trouble trouble trouble. Here I am. Just little Teddy wandering around in the woods. . . . at two in the morning. . . all by his little lonesome. . . . come and get me. Yes sireé, all alone. Crawling around on hands and knees, poking my nose into places I shouldn't. Poking sticks into holes like a moron.'
He had no business poking sticks into holes in the middle of the woods. . . . at night. . . . all by himself. He'd gone way too far this time. Pushed his luck one too many times, tempted fate. If he'd kept his big mouth shut in the first place, he wouldn't be running for his life like a maniac while some. . . . thing crashed through the bushes after him. He could hear it off to his right, keeping pace with him, zipping through the brush effortlessly, something not logically possible. But what was logical about being chased by some earth burrowing, eye-glowing creature in the first place? Nothing as far as he was concerned. Not one single. . . .
He tripped. This time, no amount of fancy foot-work or pinwheeling arms could save his balance and he went flying like an acrobat. Flying through the air with the greatest of ease and he wondered insanely if he should attempt a flip or two to make this picture complete.
He didn't know what he tripped on. It was too dark to see. A rock, a branch. But none of that seemed very important at the moment. His flashlight went flying, but that wasn't important either. As he went crashing to the ground with grace resembling absolutely nothing that of an acrobat, he tried to concentrate on holding onto his knife.
Recovering quickly, he rolled, knife in hand and gave a hard kick right between the two eyes pouncing upon him. In the darkness, he caught a glimpse of large triangular ears, a flat smashed pug nose, and a mouth full of needle sharp teeth that clamped down on his left sneaker.
With a shriek, he shook his foot wildly and watched in horror as the thing flipped and flopped, short stubby arms and legs flailing like a rag doll.
For a few heart-wrenching seconds, Ted was worried he wouldn't be able to shake it loose, that this was where he would fight his last valiant battle, where they would find the drying, sticky puddle of his blood swarming with flies, and maybe a few discarded gnawed bones. But finally, it lost its grip and went flying, spiraling through the air and crashing into the underbrush out of sight.
Immediately springing to his feet, Ted was running again, his heart hammering wildly, a high pathetic whine issuing from his throat.
Oh shit! Shit shit shit! A goblin! A two-foot friggin' hairy goblin. A thick-trunked, stubby-appendaged goblin had just tried to amputate his toes! Thank god for his sturdy, one hundred dollar Air-Jordans. Worth every friggin' penny as far as he was concerned. This was craziness. Absolute, total, unequivocal madness. Goblins didn't exist! Fables! Stupid, ludicrous kid’s stuff. Not real life!
Still clutching his pocket knife for dear life, he careened down the path, a frightened, bewildered, incredulous look on his face. Fleeing. Fleeing from a goblin in the middle of the dark woods. A burrowing, Snoop-eating goblin! How can this be, he wondered, his mind spinning as his arms pumped? How!
He heard a clicking-chattering noise behind him.
He couldn't look back. That would only manage to slow him down. And if he slowed down, he was dead meat. Literally! If he slowed down, he was goblin entreé. Oh man. . . .!
With a great deal of relief, he broke through the trees into the field which separated the woods from the trailer park. He could see the trailers in the distance. Sanctuary lay just up ahead. All he had to do now was make it across the field and he would be safe. That's all. He could do that. Couldn’t be more than sixty or seventy yards. He could make it. He was quick. Was always pretty much at the head of the pack in gym class whenever they ran the sixty-yard dash. But then of course, he didn't have a teeth-chattering goblin as a running companion either, nipping at his heels, making his legs want to buckle.
His breath was coming in ragged gasps and he thought his lungs might collapse at any second, but he didn't dare slacken his pace. No way José. Couldn't do that. Wouldn't recommend it. Not a good idea. Had to get home. Home sweet home. Just up ahead.
He thought he might collapse with relief when finally his feet hit pavement. And still, he didn't dare slacken his pace. As he approached his trailer, he realized his mom wasn't home yet. Skidding to a stop at his front doorstep, his breath coming in gasps, his sides heaving, he looked behind himself for the first time.
Reaching into the cinder blocks making up his front steps, he fished out the key with shaking hands, and after fumbling with the front lock for a few treacherously long seconds, he flung open his front door and then slammed it shut behind him again, locking it securely.
Leaning back on the door, he stood gasping for a few seconds while his eyes flew nervously around the dark room. Don't just stand here. Get to work. Get to work, Kelsey!
Gathering his wits about him, he then began the arduous task of goblin-proofing his home. Running through the trailer, he checked windows, making sure each was latched securely, and when this was complete, he rummaged through the kitchen drawers and pulled out the twelve-inch knife they used to carve the turkey every year. Something a little more substantial than his stupid pocket knife. What kind of goblin protection was that? Now this, this was more like it. Yes sir. He was in business now. This baby would slice right through goblin meat as well as turkey breast, he was sure of it. The sturdy, stainless steel knife felt heavy and solid in his hands and he shifted it from his left to his right a few times, reveling in his new found sense of power.
Although he knew he was being silly, he made the rounds through the trailer once again, his new weapon held out before him, checking in closets and behind doors, in the bathtub, under beds, and even in cabinets. It didn't hurt to play it safe, right? Who knew where a snub-nosed goblin might be hiding out? One could never be too careful.
For some reason, he didn't feel it would be wise to turn the lights on. Every other trailer in the park was dark. Light would draw the goblin to him like a beacon. And so he sat in the darkness on the couch, his back ramrod straight, knife in hand, and waited. . . and listened. His mother would be home any minute. Her shift ended at midnight. Probably went out with the girls or something. Out partying. Yep, partying while her defenseless terror-stricken son sat frozen on the couch in the dark, brandishing a twelve-inch turkey-carving knife, listening for goblin activity. Yep, on goblin duty tonight, Kelsey. Goblin patrol. Ted Kelsey at your service, armed and prepared for active goblin patrol, sir. Yes sir, won't find a better man for the job, sir. Oh man. What did a person on goblin patrol listen for anyway? Listen for. . . .
Clicking. . . . !
He strained his ears toward the back of the trailer. He could have sworn that he heard clicking from that direction. Faint, muffled, but clicking none-the-less. Somewhere near the vicinity of his mom's bedroom.
No, no. He was just being paranoid. That was understandable, right? He had, after all, just made a mad dash for his life from a teeth-gnashing, pointy-eared goblin. He had a right to be a little jumpy, didn't he? Come on. He had every right.
He heard something else. A scraping noise.
Oh man! This wasn't just his imagination. He heard something back there, he was sure of it. Something in the back room. Gonna have to go investigate. Couldn't just sit here and wait. He was, after all, the man appointed to goblin patrol tonight, wasn't he? Couldn't shirk his duties, could he? Had to take care of business. Protect his home, his castle, his fortress. If you couldn't be safe in your own home, where would you ever be safe, right?
Reluctantly, on legs akin to wet noodles, he stood and crept silently down the hall, the knife held out protectively in front of him.
Reaching the entrance to his mother's room, he paused in the doorway, his head cocked. What was that stench? It was a familiar odor. He'd smelled it before, he was sure of it. Like a mildewy smell. Like wet laundry. Oh yeah. Like the time he and Rick had gotten caught in the rain on the way home from school one day and had gotten into a major mud slinging contest. He'd thrown his wet muddy clothes into the washing machine and never turned it on. One week later, he'd lifted the lid to the most disgusting stench he'd ever encountered, one which sent him staggering backward on the verge of upchucking.
This was like that smell, only worse.
Something skittered along his neck to his cheek!
In one deft movement, he batted it to the floor, at the same time bringing the knife down swiftly, cleaving it neatly in half. He stood staring at the two halves of the large spider that twitched for a few seconds before falling still. Damn spider hitched a ride this whole way, he thought incredulously.
He felt bad for butchering it, but the stupid thing had scared the crap out of him. How was he supposed to react to a hairy spider crawling across. . . . .
There was a scraping sound on the other side of the bed. Almost sounded like. . . metal. .. Like . . . NO!
He leapt to the bed and crawled quickly across, wincing at the creaking of the bedsprings, and peeked over the edge.
There they were! Just as he'd feared. Two glowing eyes leering up at him from behind the slits of the floor heating vent. It had pried apart some of the vent fins and had slipped one stubby arm through. A frog-like hand with wide spoon-shaped suction-cupped fingertips had adhered itself to the cheap vinyl flooring and it was now struggling to squeeze itself through.
Droppng to his belly on the bed, he brought the knife down in a swift arc, slicing the arm clean off. There was a chorus of angry chattering-hissing-snarling and he watched in fascination as the severed arm flip-flopped and wriggled crazily like a severed lizard’s tail.
The thing down in the vent stuck its other arm through the separated fins and, snatching up its squirming appendage, yanked it down into the vent, and amidst a fresh barrage of angry clicking, the goblin thing disappeared from sight into the ducts.
Ted quickly leapt to the floor and slid his mothers night-stand over the vent (It was heavy. Solid wood. Cherry or Black Walnut, or something. Should hold), and then began running frantically from room to room, barricading floor vents with anything he could get his hands on. In the bathroom, he grabbed the toilet tank lid from the commode and threw it over the vent. In his room, he slid his dresser over it. Hurrying into the kitchen, he flipped the table over, sending salt and pepper shakers flying, and slid it over that vent, and in the living room, he did the same with the coffee table, sending magazines flying and an old can of soda spewing.
Once he'd completed this task, Ted went back through the trailer, carefully rechecking all his goblin barricades. For extra reassurance, he placed the heavy brass magazine holder, cram-packed with his mom’s Better Homes and Gardens magazines, on top of the tank lid in the bathroom. Lastly, he added a couple of kitchen chairs to the table in the kitchen and a couple to the coffee table in the living room as well and then stood back, chest heaving, as he contemplated his next move. Using the back of his hand, he absentmindedly wiped the cold perspiration from his brow.
Where was his mother? She would know how to handle this situation better than him. He was only a twelve-year-old kid. He wasn't supposed to handle goblin patrol alone. This was definitely a two-person job. Yes, ma'am. At least. Three or four would be even better. Hell, a whole army would be fine and dandy as far as he was concerned. Oh boy, he could just see it now. ‘Uh yes, operator . . . could you please send the United States National Guard right away please. They're needed immediately at Ted Kelsey's house for goblin patrol. Yes ma'am, that's right, goblin patrol. What? Goblin. G. O. B. L. I . N.’
Something wasn't right. He wasn't sure what, but there was something. . . something in the far recesses of his brain, nagging at him. What?
He made the rounds one more time to put his mind at ease. Everything A-Okay, sir. Job well done. The fortress is once again secured. The hatches are battened down. Everything's under control. Just thank ole Teddy, here. That's right sir. Tedinski Kelsey. Oh man. Wait till Ricky heard about this. He was going to crap his pants. He was gonna. . . .
What was that! Over behind his dad's old lounge chair. Why his mom hadn't thrown the stupid thing in the dumpster by now was beyond him. It was just one more lousy reminder of his good-for-nothing. . .
Suddenly, the thing eating at him came to him with surprising clarity. There were two vents in the living room, not one. What a moron! What a total space-cadet. Ten demerits, cadet Tedinski. No, twenty! A hundred, a thousand friggin' demerits, you brainless butthead. That's it, dishonorable discharge, Kelsey. No more goblin patrol for you. We'll just have to use. . . uh. . . .use . . . well, no one here to replace you, Kelsey. Looks like you lucked out, this time, space-cadet Kelsey.
Ted crept slowly around behind the chair, knife poised and ready for combat.
"Oh God," he whispered, his voice high and shaky.
The vent looked like it had been put through a wood chipper. Not just any wood chipper, either. An industrial size wood chipper. Heavy duty. It was bent and twisted beyond recognition and now lay a few inches from the hole it had once so diligently covered, a crumpled mangled version of its former self.
"Oh, man," he whimpered under his breath.
It was in the house! His fortress had been infiltrated. Invaded. The enemy was inside somewhere . . . watching!
He looked longingly toward the front door. His heroic battle was finished here. He'd fought valiantly to defend his home. Time to bail out. Fall back! Retreat! Run like hell, Kelsey!
Should he try to slowly sneak out, or make a mad dash? He couldn't make up his mind. This goblin patrol business was enough to try even the most stoic and steadfast of . . . .
He didn't get to do either.
It came hurtling at him from behind the chair, a mere streak of a shadow with large, pale eyes. Moving reflexively, he jumped aside, slashing with the knife, but the hideous thing seemed to have precalculated his move and it veered quickly, leaping at him with a maddening clicking-hissing, its mouth gaping wide as it went for his throat.
With a dexterity that surprised even himself, Ted swung back around and snatched it from the air in mid-leap, his left hand closing around a thick neck, one cold and scaly and pulsating as if with a life of its own. It was almost as if he could feel living things, like worms or something, moving under its thick skin. The sensation was thoroughly repulsive. Drawing back, he threw the atrocity as hard as he could, and watched with satisfaction as it collided solidly with the wall and then plopped down to the floor where it clambered clumsily to its short stubby legs, seeming to be somewhat dazed. Ted crouched low in a defense stance, prepared for its next attack. But it only stood glaring at him. Its one remaining hand went to its head where it rubbed pathetically in small circles. The gesture was almost comical, almost as if it were saying 'Ouch, you gave my head a booboo', and if he had been in any other circumstance other than the one he was, Ted would surely have fallen on the floor and laughed his ass off.
And then it did a strange thing. Its face crunched up strangely. At first Ted thought it was just grimacing at him, as any able-bodied goblin was likely to do. It was, after all, only natural for a goblin to grimace menacingly, wasn't it? But then the true nature of those thin drawn-back lips dawned on him and he felt something primordial stir deep down within himself. It was attempting to grin at him! A hideous grotesque grin that in no way belonged on that pug-nosed, wrinkled, malformed, bad excuse for a face. There was an arrogance about it that was infuriating.
It started to chuckle. A gravelly munchkin-sounding chuckle. Disgusting goblin chuckling that made his blood boil. This is my house, damn it, mine! It was one thing to terrorize a twelve-year-old kid in the dark woods. But to come into his house, to try to tear his throat out and then stand there laughing at him! And to top things off, it had gone and ruined a perfectly good pair of one hundred dollar Air-Jordans that had taken a whole summer's worth of grass mowing to buy! What kind of evil-minded, arrogant, little dog-eating, mildew-stinking, Spock-eared munchkin was this anyway? The nerve! The unmitigated gall! What did unmitigated mean, anyway? He didn't know. He didn't care. He was furious! Enraged! He couldn't let fungus-breath get away with this! No way, José!
With a snarl, Ted lifted the knife over his head with both hands and lunged at the arrogant S.O.B.
A strange expression flashed across its face. It may have even been surprise and, almost too late, it leapt from the path of the descending knife which consequently embe dded into the floor with a dull thunk.
With another snarl,Ted quickly pried it loose and continued his attack, stalking the thing into the kitchen where it had taken temporary refuge behind the garbage basket.
"COME ON!" Ted screamed, his adrenaline pumping. Drawing back one Air-Jordan clad foot, he kicked the garbage can with all his strength and watched as it seemed to sail through the air in slow motion, flying across the room, sending garbage spewing across the kitchen floor and tumbling clear down the hall. He quickly stalked down the hall after his target, kicking aside an empty milk carton and tin cans and any other garbage that dared to get into his path.
Up ahead, the evil-minded little munchkin slipped into the bathroom.
Might be an ambush. Careful! Careful, soldier! With the knife held up with both hands by his cheek, Ted kept his back pressed firmly to the wall and cautiously worked his way down the last few feet, peeking around the door jamb.
It was crouched down, struggling to push aside the tank lid, straining, shoving with its one arm, uttering little grunts commingled with angry teeth gnashing. The lid slid a couple of inches.
All right! "GO GO GO GO GO !"
Shouting at the top of his lungs, Ted sprang into the bathroom, crouched low, ready for battle and the goblin thing leapt up onto the sink counter, chattering at him loudly. He jabbed with the knife, almost catching it in the shoulder and it leapt with uncanny agility into the tub.
"Got him cornered, soldier! MOVE MOVE MOVE," he barked loudly, spurring himself onward and, slashing wildly, jumped in after him. In his enthusiasm to finish off the enemy, however, Teds knife became entangled in the shower curtain and his mark grasped the opportunity to jump out. With Ted close at its heels, it scurried into his mother’s room and under the bed.
Without hesitation, Ted flipped the mattress up and then the box spring and was caught off guard when, instead of scurrying away, the thing attached itself to his leg and began to munch out on his kneecap.
Not thinking he might cause injury to himself, Ted brought the knife down, stabbing the gnawing cling-on in the back, and with a high human-like shriek, it released his kneecap and went staggering down the hall, its one stubby arm twisted up behind its back, attempting to feel for its newest injury.
With a determined grimace, Ted limped after it.
He couldn't let it get away. No way, José. Had to kill it. Couldn't' let it escape. It might come back, sneak in and rip his throat out while he was sleeping. He would never get another good night’s sleep again. Never a moment's peace. Had to destroy it. Yes sir. Goblin patrol was back in action, sir. Cadet Kelsey was gonna clear his name in this matter. Yes sireé, Bob. Had the enemy on the run, now, sir. Everything back under control. No problemó, amigó.
It took a right turn into his bedroom.
"AHA, GOT YOU NOW, SUCKER," he screamed.
Now. . . . , this was his domain! He staggered to the doorway where the musky stench of mildew almost bowled him over. Damn thing must have glands like a skunk, he thought angrily, and it just sprayed my damn room.
He found it standing on his bed looking toward the window.
Thinking it was contemplating throwing itself through the glass, he lunged at it, swinging the knife wildly, not thinking his weight pouncing on the waterbed would propel it into the air. It flew to its back, where Ted stabbed at it with a howl of victory, but it rolled deftly and a huge slash opened up in his water bed instead, the water bubbling out.
He stabbed again and again and again as it rolled to avoid him, showing far too much agility for a one-armed, thick-bodied, pug-nosed, skunk-glanded goblin and, with each attempt, Ted put a fresh puncture into his waterbed, quickly reducing it to nothing more than a mangled, sloshing, gushing, bubbling, wet mess.
It jumped nimbly onto his dresser.
Realizing it was far to nimble to be pinpointed with the knife, (even a twelve inch turkey carver), Ted picked up the baseball bat leaning against the wall by the bed and swung, shattering his mirror as the lithe creature leapt to the floor and scurried out the door, clicking and hissing angrily all the way.
"COME ON, YOU SORRY EXCUSE FOR A GOBLIN! COME ON," he screamed as he leapt after it, knife in one hand, bat in the other.
Like a cat, it leapt up onto the sink and began to fumble frantically with the window latch, tugging and pulling, uttering guttural goblin grunts.
With a screech, Ted ran and brought the bat down, missing in his haste and instead shattering every breakable dish and glass in the drain-board. A plastic Tupperware bowl went spiraling up into the air and Ted never did hear it come down. Hell, it was probably just hovering there in mid air, he thought. Why not? Not any more far-fetched than the scenario that was playing out before him, was it? "COME ON! COME ON," he screamed. "MESS WITH ME!"
It scrambled to the edge of the counter and prepared to leap, it’s luminescent eyes riveted in the direction of the lounge chair and the open vent which lay beyond it. But Kelsey wasn't about to let it slip away again. As it leapt, he swung again, connecting with a loud, sickening pop and it went sailing across the room, landing in a heap on the living room floor.
"OH, MAN! HOME RUN," he screamed hysterically, totally beside himself. "HOME FUCKIN' RUN! IT'S OUTTA HERE, OUTTA HERE! HOME FUCKIN' RUN! SEE YA! SEE YA!"
He staggered over to it, giggling like a lunatic. He knew he was out of control, that he was displaying very unbecoming behavior for a future psychologist to be. He had every right, didn't he? He had, after all, just completed hand to hand combat with the neighborhood goblin. He had every right to this perfectly reasonable outlet. Giggling was good. It let off tension. A body might explode if he didn't let off of a little tension, now and then, right? Nothing wrong with that. Nervous laughter, wasn’t that what they called it? Perfectly sane reaction to intense pressure. Any good psychologist could tell you that.
Giggling giddily, he lifted the bat over his head and gave it one final blow over the head, just for good measure, and there was a sickening splat as goo sprayed out, splattering his Air-Jordans.
"TAKE THAT, YOU FRIGGIN' PUG-NOSED FROG-FINGERED FRIGGIN' POINTY-EARED HAIRY-ASSED SNOOP-EATIN' GOBLIN-FACED FRIGGIN'. . .
He could see one eye hanging by a few stringy strands halfway down its repulsive face. It was still glowing faintly. He swung again.
"EAT MY FRIGGIN' DOG AN' FRIGGIN' LAUGH AT ME YOU FRIGGIN'. . . . . "
He lifted the bat to swing again. . .
With a loud crash, his front door flew open and he spun, startled, the bat still poised over his head. . . .
* * *
The call came in at 2:45 A.M. from a concerned neighbor. Possible robbery in progress. She knew it was a robbery because Miss Kelsey's car wasn't there and her son was spending the night at a friends.
The officers responded promptly, arriving to the scene at exactly 2:51 to a dark house and the sound of shattering glass and shouting from within the premises.
They deemed it wise to wait for backup.
At 2:53, backup arrived and the four officers surrounded the trailer.
As officers Lewis and Riley approached the front door, there was more shattering of glass and more angry unintelligible screams.
Crouching down, they drew their guns.
Riley nodded. "Careful. Sounds like a damn war zone in there."
Lewis stood back and putting all of his solid two-hundred and thirty pounds behind it, kicked the front door open effortlessly.
The perpetrator stood just inside in the darkness. He spun toward them. Lewis saw an upraised bat, the glint of a knife. The perp. lunged toward them.
Lewis was well trained and his training kicked in. It was automatic. There was no indecision. No second thoughts.
* * *
As Liza Kelsey was pulling into the trailer park, an ambulance was pulling out.
Humph, wonder what happened, she thought. Probably poor old Mr. Zieman again. That bad ticker of his probably gave out for good this time. It was bound to happen, a man of his age taking a girlfriend almost forty years his junior. But, hey, at least his last years were good ones, right?
Yawning loudly, she rubbed her dry and weary eyes. It had been a rough night. Not only was she an hour late getting out of work, but then she ran out of gas and had to walk two miles to the nearest gas station and back. Quite a harrowing endeavor for a woman by herself at night. But she had managed. She was realizing now that she was capable of managing quite a few things she never would have dreamed. Jack had always made it a point to let her know how totally "useless" and "braindead" she was. But she was the breadwinner now and doing a pretty decent job of it, if she did say so herself. She and Ted were managing just fine. And she'd even remembered to pick up half a gallon of milk for Teds cereal. Yep. The two of them were doing just fine. She'd had her doubts as to whether she’d be capable of raising him as a single mom. She'd never really worked her entire life. Not unless you counted the few months here and there while she was still in high school. But that had been over twelve years ago before she'd gotten pregnant and married Jack.
But she wasn't worried anymore. She was working hard and loving every minute of it. Though she was totally beat, the weariness in her bones was so very different from the weariness she used to experience after a day of working around the house, cleaning and cooking and doing things she knew would go unappreciated. No, this weariness was coupled with a sense of accomplishment that was very gratifying. She was doing it on her own. She felt strong, self-sufficient, capable, content.
She turned onto her street.
Her heart stopped.
There were at least eight squad cars positioned around her trailer, blue lights flashing.
Someone broke in, was her first thought! Someone robbed me!
She drove up, slowly pulling to a halt.
Something wasn't right. She felt it.
A large policeman was hunched over in the backseat of one of the squad cars and she could see his shoulders heaving as he wept. Another officer knelt at the door beside him, his hand resting on his partner’s back as if to comfort him, and he looked toward her as she pulled in, his face haggard, his expression guarded. He stood slowly, way too slowly, and began to move in her direction. But it was strange. Like slow motion. Like they always did in the movies, one footstep taking an eternity to fall before another followed just as laggardly in it’s wake.
She put the car in park and sat, stunned, trying to swallow. But there was a huge lump in her throat, preventing such trivialities.
Something about the look on his face. Something was wrong! All the other officers who were milling around stopped their discussions and every face, glowing an eerie blue, turned to watch his approach.
Why was he moving in slow motion? That look on his face!
Liza felt the blood drain from her face and felt her bladder threatening to let loose. Mrs. Putney, her next door neighbor, stood next to one of the squad cars in her robe and slippers, a stunned, grief-stricken look on her blue-tinged face.
Something. . .
Slow motion. Way too slow.
* * *
Teds injuries had almost been fatal.
A bullet to the chest was nothing to scoff at. Everyone had been amazed at how quickly he pulled through. Everyone except for Liza. She knew Teddy. He was a tough kid. A real fighter.
She supposed they would never truly know what had transpired that fateful night. It seemed most of that night was erased from Teddy's memory. He remembered he was spending the night at the fort. And that Snoop had run off and he'd gone searching. Everything after that was a blank.
Why the trailer looked like a battle zone? Well, the police went over it with a fine-toothed comb and could find no evidence of anyone other than Teddy being there. It was difficult for her to accept, but it seemed Teddy, her well-mannered, never an ounce of trouble son, had committed all the destruction himself. He'd really done a fine job of it too, slashing beds, overturning furniture and smashing everything in sight. A regular rampage. The investigation uncovered no clues that would explain such bizarre behavior. His blood had been tested for drugs, but none had been found. Nothing out of ordinary on the premises that they could find.
So they said. But there were several things she found (all shrugged away by the investigators) which didn't sit well with her. Small things, like the huge, hairy spider the size of a baseball she'd found on the floor of her bedroom. True, it was just a common wood spider. No poisonous venom that might cause him to freak out. But what was it doing there, and why had it been neatly cleaved in two?
And then there was the musty smell in her room, even stronger in Teddy's room. The smell like someone had left dirty laundry sitting around for about ten years, the smell which no amount of room deodorant could mask. It had taken a good three weeks for it to disappear completely. Sometimes she could still smell it, like it was seeping in through the vents or something.
And speaking of vents, why had the living-room vent on the other side of the lounge chair looked like he'd stuck it down the garbage disposal?
And then there were those strange spots, that greenish goop (unidentifiable in all the police lab reports) smeared throughout the house, the largest of which had been located on the living room carpet. She didn't have to worry about that spot any longer, though. The first thing she did after coming home from the hospital was to rip that blood-soaked carpet up by the nails. Byherself too, with only her bare hands and a pair of shears while poor Mrs. Putney from next store stood there gaping.
But none of that really mattered, she supposed. What truly mattered was she still had her son and, considering the magnitude of his injuries, he was doing amazingly well. Two months after the accidental shooting, Teddy was almost totally back to normal. Oh, he had some cool scars to show off to his buddies. But other than that, he was the same smart, levelheaded kid he'd always been, joking around with Ricky and his new buddy Kenny, and doing well in school.
* * *
Two and a half months after the shooting, he got a few visitors. The police officer who'd shot him, along with his partner and four other officers there on that fateful night, came to check up on him, wearing embarrassed grins and bearing gifts, one of which was a tiny scroungy puppy who looked nothing like Snoop.
Officer Lewis gave Ted a big hug and Ted was embarrassed when the big oaf started to cry like a little baby, refusing to turn him loose.
His mom seemed to dig it, though. She made him a cup of coffee and soon the two were at the kitchen table chatting like the best of chums.
She liked him. Ted could tell. She wouldn't stop batting her lashes. It was so totally obvious. She might as well have thrown herself on the table moaning, 'Take me, take me, you big hunk of a man, you.' Man! It was embarrassing. Really disgusting.
A week later, they went on their first date.
Ted spent the night at Rickys.
* * *
Four months after the accidental shooting, Ted went goblin hunting.
It had taken quite a bit of mental preparation to work up the courage, but he knew it had to be done. And so, armed with the same knife and bat which had done such a superb job during the previous encounter, he went searching. Of course, he left the scroungy mut at home and it was broad daylight this time which swayed things a little more to his advantage. But even so, he was terrified beyond belief. But it all proved to be for naught. He found no trace of his little one-armed friend though he searched every square inch of the area he believed the whole incident to have started. No hole. No nothing.
He supposed it was just as well. Fungus breath had evidently come to the conclusion it messed with the wrong Tedinski this time and decided it was in its best interest to pack up and move on to friendlier territory.
That was fine with him. Yes sireé, Bob. Fine as silk. Let someone else draw goblin patrol from now on. He'd done his fair share, hadn't he? Put in his time? Let someone else take a whack at it for a while. It was pretty exhausting stuff, especially for a measly twelve-year-old kid. He needed a break. Deserved one.
Yep, hadn't slept good in months. Understandable, right? Anxiety mixed with fear and a touch of uncertainty thrown in sounded like a good recipe for insomnia. Any good psychologist could tell you that.
Tonight. He would sleep good tonight, he was sure of it. His fears had been laid to rest. It wasn't coming back in retaliation. It was gone. Took a hike. Hit the road, toad. Later alligator, after awhile crocodile. Adiós amigos. Bio con dias, El Goblino.
Yep, nothin' to worry about anymore.
The bat thrown over his shoulder, he traveled down the path for the first time since the incident, whisling a merry tune as he headed toward home.
Man! This time was a bit different from the last, he thought. Just a tad. He wasn't fleeing for his life this time. He walked with a confident bounce now. He felt strong. If he could take on a goblin and live to tell about it, then he could take on the world. Nothing to fear but fear itself, right? Well, okay. So maybe there were a few exceptions to that rule. Actually, that saying probably had no validity to it whatsoever. What a crock! Bunch of bologna! Who'd ever said that anyway? Whoever it was had never been on goblin patrol, that was for damn sure. There was plenty to fear. More things than most people even dreamed. All kinds of things hiding out in the shadows, in the woods, in holes, and God only knew where else. He'd found out the hard way. And you could just forget 'what you don't know won't hurt you.' That was a load of crap, too.
Yep, fear could be a good thing. Kept you on your toes. Kept your eyes wide open. Kept your mind wide open. Heck, any good psychologist could tell you that.