This is an excerpt of a work in progress…which means I have no idea where it goes, only that what I’ve written does not quite fit into the story where I planned to put it. I’d appreciate any thoughts about what might be done with it.
He knew it wasn’t Tulip behind the bar. Tulip had gone back to Faery, turned him down for a magic wand and a scrap of gossamer. But he didn’t blame her. He knew exactly how much magic he could make, and it wasn’t his wand that she had fallen for. But he still loved her, even though he let her go to work and support him and the little King. “Lazy bastard” was Jones’s other middle name.
But now he’d had enough beer that the barmaid made him pay on delivery, as he’d disappeared more than once leaving only his tab. Things were getting a blurry around the edges, just the way he liked them, and if he squinted only a little, Tulip’s face would appear under the barmaid’s big yellow hair and black eye liner. Jones felt that glow of desire flow through him, but he sucked on the beer from his mug to keep from calling out her name. The barmaid–Sally? Peggy? Maureen? would take his keys if he forgot again.
Then at the base of his spine he felt a peculiar tingle, odd, disquieting–not the kind of tingle that usually got him up dancing and lying to any woman he picked out to take him home that night. It crawled up his back like an army of brain eating ants, spreading across his back and down his arms and legs. Just as the sting of it hit the back of his head, he thought flashback, and shrugged it off, only to go into a full body rush. He leapt from his barstool to ride the waves of Deluge Ions as they surfed his brain. He fell to the floor, and through the floor, down and down and down through the layers of his subconscious.
The wave peaked, and he found himself bodysurfing his way back to Red, who was wide open and waiting, cackling with glee. Her dead white skin glowed in the blacklight darkness, her red hair writhing and her lips stretched black over her feral teeth.
“I’ll have you this time, Brewster Jones, and I’ve got a little surprise for you too!”
He had to move, to get out of this nightmare before she sucked him in. but lying there, he couldn’t jump to his feet to do his step to the left that brought him into Faery. He wiggled his left foot, holding it out behind him as he lay on his belly, hoping he’d be gone before the Ions noticed. He didn’t think of anything except to go to Faery, not to Tulip, not to the sprites, but anywhere as far away as a man could get from Red’s ghost.
* * *
Jones landed on his belly in a flower bed—petunias from the smell of it—never a good sign. But the Ions were gone, and his brain sparkles mere ash, which filled his mouth and made him dry. He made a few tentative moves to see if anything was broken, other than the flower stalks beneath him. In the dark, always a good sign, he could only see the flower bed edging a path to a small cottage where the candle light from inside might be welcoming.
A short, stout girl came out on the porch . “YOU there! What are you doing in my petunias? Get up!”
Jones found his knees and scrambled up, wiping the sticky, ruined flowers from his chest. “I’m very sorry. I…got lost….” He glanced at the cottage and the dark woods surrounding it. “I saw your light and….I must have tripped…” That was certainly true in one sense, but he didn’t want to explain that to this child.
He took a closer look at the girl, who though short, was not a girl at all, but a woman of substance, muscle, even menace. In her left hand was a lantern, but in the right was a dwarf sword half as long she was. Standing on the porch, four steps up, she was still below Jones’s eye level, though he was a few inches shy of a princely six feet tall. He looked into her eyes, but her ample bosom nestled snugly in her quilted bodice covered with chain mail.
“Why were you in the forest at this time of night?” She moved the lantern to see him better, keeping the sword pointed straight at his most tender spot. “Are you out of your mind?”
Jones didn’t have an answer. Standing up so quickly after drinking and shifing took its toll on his already stressed body. He smiled, gestured towards her to begin a plausible lie, and then passed out face first on the path.
* * *
When he woke up again, he was propped in a corner, sitting on the stone floor, wrapped in a rough wool blanket that had been used for a goat’s bed or something equally smelly, though not with the stench of recently spewed body fluids. He’d come to in worse places. His head hurt, and his stomach muttered to itself–background noise to be ignored until he could ascertain where he was and what to do about it.
In the foreground were noises of eating: clunking earthenware, scraping of metal, and slurping, munching noises of lips, more than one set of lips. He risked opening one eye. The short end of a heavy trestle table had him effectively pinned against a rough stone wall, which was made of rough stone. The beams of the table did not press against him, but blocked him from moving more than an inch in any direction.
Around this table sat half a dozen dwarf women, all eating with gusto a meal of vegetables and bread. They drank from wooden mugs and ate with iron forks. The food smelled good, which surprised him, considering the state of his stomach, and he had a mighty thirst. He opened another eye and turned his head to get a better look.
They were not paying him any attention, but as he shifted his back to get a bit more comfortable, a sharp boot heel pinned his leg to the stone floor. Until then, he hadn’t realized that he was not only wrapped in the blanket, but tied up as well, with the rope inconveniently outside the blanket and his hands by his sides. Given a few minutes, he could probably wriggle out, but not under the surveillance of that she dwarf.
“He’s awake, Toots!” said the owner of the boot on his shin. Between bites of dark bread and greens, she appraised him, found him wanting, and turned away.
From beyond his line of site, the eldest approached him, gnarled as a century-old grape vine with white hair and dark, splotchy skin. “Want some broth? You’re too dry to eat.”
He nodded, knowing he was dehydrated, though he didn’t care for the way she’d phrased it.
She held a bowl of greenish water, pot liquor from the greens the other women ate, and offered a spoonful. He didn’t spend energy on tasting it, but swallowed it down as fast as she would feed it to him. He could almost feel it soaking through his stomach and into his blood vessels.
“What’s your name, Sonny?” Toots licked the hem of her sweater and began to dab at some of the excess dirt on Jones’s face.
“Jones,” he managed to say despite her holding his jaw and turning it to get to his ear. “Silicon Jones.”
Toots turned his head the other way for a few more dabs. “Want to try a new story about how you got here? You weren’t walking in the deep woods, not with those shoes on.” She nodded towards the fireplace where his clogs perched on the hearth. She released his face with a sigh, and sat back on the bench beside the table, eye to eye with him.
Some people you can’t lie to, and Toots was one of them.
“I’m from the Other Side.” He waited for some reaction, but it didn’t come, though he was sure that the others had heard him. “I know how to move back and forth, at least sometimes.” He glanced around at the cottage. “I don’t always know where I am going to land.”
“That’s close enough to the truth. Why did you come here, then?” She grabbed a brown roll and buttered it, slowly and carefully.
Jones felt hungrier than he had in years. “I wasn’t so much coming here as leaving somewhere else.”
“You’re a wizard, then, appearing and disappearing about the forest?”
“That’s close enough to the truth.” Jones wriggled his shoulders and stretched his neck. “I appreciate that you don’t know me, but could you untie me enough that I could move a little?”
“Not until we’ve decided what’s to be done with you.” Toots looked over her shoulder to the end of the table. “Darlin, Sweetie, you’re up tonight.”
By this time, the meal was finished, and the dwarves at the far end of the table began to gather the tableware, except for the mugs. Another one fetched a pitcher of some amber liquid and filled the mugs around. A third brought Toots a pipe and some leaf, which she lit and drew a few puffs.
“Your being a wizard, we’ll have you keep you tied up lest you work your spell to get away before we have our way with you.”
If she had thought to scare him, she’d done well. He wasn’t against sex with miners, if that was their occupation, but he’d read too many tales of how the rooster who couldn’t service all the hens was fried for dinner on Sunday.
Now he did want to shuffle that step to the left, yet he could hardly move to take a deep breath. But they’d have to loosen him a little even for that, and he’d run with the joke as best as he could.
The dwarfs’ names are Honey, Sweetie, Darlin, Sugar, Dollbaby, Punkin and Toots.