Derek Whim smiled and waved at Lee Johnson as he walked to his cubicle. Lee was a good man, if an odd little one. Some kind of foreigner, he was overly polite, short enough to have to look up to make eye contact with Derek , nerdy as the day was long and didn’t talk much. Still, Derek had been the outsider in too many small towns not to go out of his way to be friendly to wallflowers and quiet types. No reason for anyone ever to feel left out.
He made a mental note to be sure and drop by Lee’s office before heading out; and added an addendum to wear his jacket. Lee liked to keep his window office cold like a freezer. Poor guy must hate it here in the south Derek thought not for the first time. Well, time to get started on the day’s work orders.
“Hey Lee, about to go home, just figured I’d see how your project was going.” Derek waited politely at the doorway to Lee’s office. That was another perk of Lee’s, he wanted people to be invited in before they entered.
“Come in Derek friend and thank you. The project goes well. How are your childs? Errm children?”
“The kids? Oh they are doing grand. Susan just started playing U10 soccer and Silvia just read her first book yesterday!”
“That is good. Very good. Children are a blessing and a treat. I am glad for you. Tell your wife hi for me, Melinda wanted her to know that we really appreciated you inviting us over the other night and we were most saddened to be unable to come. Your family has welcomed us here like no one else has.”
“Will do and don’t worry about it. I’ve been the new guy before so I know what it is like to be in your shoes. We’ll just have to make it work some other time.”
“Yes. Some other time. Walk well Derek.”
“Will do. Have a good weekend.”
Derek stepped out of the office with a wave and hurried to his car. Susan would need to be picked up very soon.
When he arrived at the soccer fields, the team had already stopped practice and most of the kids were on their way to their parent’s cars. He looked around for Susan.
“Mr. Whim! Mr. Whim!” A shrill ten year old shouted at him worry in her voice..
“Yes Julie what is it?” He yelled back running towards her.
“Two little kids were fighting in between the buildings and Susan went to stop them and they grabbed her!”
Derek flushed with anger and sprinted towards the building. He rounded the corner just in time to see a couple of small shapes duck behind a dumpster. Anger spiking he grabbed an iron pipe that lay nearby and ran for the dumpster… and when he rounded the corner his world fell apart.
A dark purple hole lay glowing in the wall. Between him and it were three small children. Except children didn’t have grimaces like this and didn’t carry foot long knives.
“Another one! Frink! Mister you interrupted the wrong people and you're gonna pay!” said the nearest midget as he started towards Derek.
Derek raised the pipe threateningly and a second midget grabbed the first whispering something into his ear.
The first one snapped something back but stopped his advance.
“You’d better just go on and forget what you saw.” He shook his blade at Derek. “Go on git!”
“You bastards have my little girl. There isn’t a way in hell I’m going to let you just walk away.”
The gremlin or goblin or dwarf or whatever backwards monster it must be paused. And then grinned. “Your child huh? What would you do to get her back? And don’t be threatening us or she’ll suffer. Oh yes she will.”
Derek swore. Furious and suddenly scared. “Look just don’t hurt her and give her back and we can all just walk away from this. I won’t call the cops or anything.”
His opponent spat derisively. “You’d better not even think about that again. Call the authorities and you will never see your child again. Interfere and we’ll make your whole family disappear.”
Now real fear coursed through Derek. “You can’t. You wouldn’t. You don’t even know who they are!”
“You think your little girl won’t tell us everything? Fool human. Here are our terms and you’d better follow them to the letter. Go to this address. Someone there will tell you what to do. If you break even one step from a straight path to that address you will suffer.” The gremlin passed him a small dirty piece of paper. “You are going to do everything we say and if you do it well enough… we’ll see about your child getting back to you.” He laughed.
Derek paled and shakily took the letter. The midgets hopped into the glowing circle and it vanished leaving a frightened broken man in shadow.
Remembering what the stranger had said Derek stumbled straight away to his car. Fortunately for him all the coaches and parents had already left and the soccer complex was empty so there were no curious questions about his shaken state. Getting to the car he punched the address into his GPS system and started towards it. Praying furiously that he could find a way out of this. Any path.
When he arrived at the address he found an abandoned old warehouse. A small door led inside and beside the door were five large men. Remembering how the iron pipe had given the midget pause Derek made sure to grab it as he stepped out of the car. Steeling himself he approached the door.
“Hey you. Go away we don’t want your kind here.” One of the lounging men shouted when he was about fifty yards away from the building.
Derek paused and looked down at his paper to verify the address. Yes this was correct. When he raised his eyes again he was surrounded. All five men were standing shoulder to shoulder preventing him from moving.
“What have we here?” The one who had shouted snatched the paper from Derek’s hand. “Ah a fetchling, sent to do our bidding. Gimme that-“ He also tore the iron pipe form Derek’s grasp.
“Fetchling? What is-“ Derek started to ask the question when a rock hard fist smashed into his gut.
“Shut up. We have your family you will do what we say without asking questions. If you don’t…” The speaker slid his fingers along the pipe. Claws that Derek had not noticed before sliced the iron like it was butter.
Derek blanched and threw up.
“Now little man, here is what we want you to do. Go home. Think on what you’ve seen. DO NOT TELL ANYONE.” The speaker’s voice ratcheted up to a roar before settling back down. “And when we have suitable fetch work we will call you and you will come here.”
A cowed Derek got into his car and did as he was told. His wife Amy was out of town with Silvia visiting her mother so when he got home he just fell onto the ground shaking with rage, fear, terror and nausea. What the hell happened today? Who and what? He passed out before any more thoughts could crowd their way past his shattered emotions.
The next day at work he tried to shuffle to his cubicle as fast and as quietly as possible to avoid anyone noticing the frazzled state he was in and avoid having to answer any curious friends.
No luck there. Lee stepped out of his office and bumped into him. The wiry frail accountant was nearly bowled over before Derek noticed he was there.
“Hi Derek friend how are your children?”
Derek paused unable to think and then shook his head while hurriedly answering “They…. They are fine. Hey I’ve got to get to work on an urgent work order right away I’ll catch you later maybe….”
He tried to slide around Lee before the other could answer. Lee however suddenly looked worried and stepped in front of him.
“Derek friend. You do not look well. Is something wrong? Can I help? Should I call someone?”
Remembering the dire threats from the previous day; the very thought of inquisitive Lee getting involved made Derek’s blood freeze.
He violently shook his head. “No Lee everything is fine. Please I need to get to work now.”
He briskly shouldered past Lee and sped walked the rest of the way to his cubicle. For a moment he just sat there shaking. After trying to calm himself and failing he jotted off a quick email to his boss saying he didn’t feel good and asking for the day off. A short moment later the reply came back wishing him luck at feeling better soon and telling him to take as much time as he needed. Grateful he rushed back to his car and left for home.
Twelve hours later the call finally came. “Human come back to the warehouse. We have desire for you.”
Derek frantically jumped into his car and driving as fast as he dared sped to the warehouse.
The same five men were lounging at the door. Derek shut off his car and hopped out. As his door shut he heard a familiar voice cry out.
“Derek friend! “ Startled he looked up to see Lee bustling over from across the street.
“LEE?” Derek croaked. “Why are you here?”
He was completely stunned and unable to think of what to do. From the corner of his eye he could see the men straightening up from their lounging positions. Any second they would begin making their way over to him.
“I come here for fish. It is fish market on the other side of that wall. But why are you here? This is not a good place and those are not good men. You should come with me we should leave.” Lee grabbed Derek’s arm and started as if to pull him towards the fish market.
Derek squirmed free. “Lee I’ve got to talk to these men I don’t have time to chat. I’m sorry but I’ll have to leave you to your fish.”
Derek started to turn. Lee frowned at him and replied. “Derek friend these are NOT good men. You must leave here now with me.”
Derek snapped angry at the little man’s persistence in interfering. “Look Lee, I was nice to you and all but this is really none of your business. I need you to just leave me alone.”
Lee’s face fell. “Oh. I see. I leave you then Derek to your … business.” He turned and walked purposefully away.
“Human you brought someone. This will not go well. I think you will not see your child again.” The man who did all the talking yesterday grabbed Derek’s jacket and spun him around. Derek started to try and stammer out a begging explanation when he heard Lee’s voice again.
“What was that? His child?”
Turning his head as best he could he was horrified to see Lee walking rapidly back toward him and the men.
“You took his child?” Lee repeated his question; his thin reedy voice almost cracking.
“Get lost human or we’ll have you for dinner.” The men grinned and Derek saw savage jagged teeth glitter wetly.
“LITTLE ONE. ANSWER ME BEFORE I UNMAKE YOUR BEING. DID YOU TAKE HIS CHILD?”
A voice erupted around them. Echoes bounced off the wall and the ground reverberated. The air was suddenly crisp and Derek could see his own panicked breath. He jerked his eyes back to Lee and nearly passed out. The little man’s eyes were glowing a soft yellow and the ground beneath him was a roiling shadow. Runes from some arcane language hung in the air around him and snow gently fell into his shadow.
The creatures holding Derek let go dropping him into the gravel and fell to the ground hissing.
“Great one we did not know. We did not take his child it was the red hat holders. We thought it was just a game. Great one we did not know he was yours.”
“GAMES ARE PLAYED WHEN NO ONE KNOWS AND NO ONE HURTS. YOU KNOW AND HAVE HURT. THERE WILL BE NO MORE GAMES. YOU ANSWERED TRUE AND WILL BE BECAUSE OF IT. BUT YOU WILL NOT BE THIS ANYMORE.”
The ground trembled and grew still. The men were gone and where they stood were five quivering mice. As soon as the echoes of the voice finished the mice were scampering for cover. Derek picked himself off the ground and turned jaw hanging to stare at his friend.
But the creature was gone and little accountant Lee was all that was standing there. In the distance Derek could hear the honking of horns and the loud voices of the fish market.
“Lee….what? Who….?” Derek couldn’t even think of the questions to ask.
“Why didn’t you tell me Derek? I could have helped you sooner.” Lee’s voice was his own reedy tenor again.
“They said if I told anyone they would hurt her they said I’d never see her gain… OMG SUSAN how am I going to get her back? Can you find her?”
“DO NOT USE HIS NAME LIKE THAT” Derek’s face snapped as Lee slapped him. “You will watch your mouth. Yes, Derek friend I can help you. Come to my car and we will go get your child wealth.”
Derek wordlessly and humbly followed Lee to his car and then laughed when he saw it. A beat up tan Ford Colt. “You drive this? You can do that crazy stuff back there and you drive this?”
Lee blinked at him before getting in the car. “Hmm? Oh, well Melinda wanted the new nice car and said since I only needed to get to work I should just keep this one.”
The banality of the comment in light of his predicament made Derek want to laugh. That is until he remembered his missing daughter and then the frustration and fear started to build back up again.
“Where are we going?” He asked as Lee started the car.
“In circles and then sideways.” Lee replied matter of factly. And then proceeded to drive around the building once and park the car in the same spot except pointed the opposite direction.
“Come on we are here.” He got out.
Derek started to yell at the little man before the image of him glowing flittered through his mind. He got out. “I don’t know what to do next.”
“Well now we go knock and ask for Susan back.”
“And they will just give her to us?”
The pair walked towards the Warehouse door.
“Go ahead. Knock”
Derek lifted his hand up to knock and then Lee grabbed his jacket.
“Wait a second Derek friend. I have a thought.” Lee turned Derek around. “Your daughter should see you rescue her. She should know you will come for her. Here take this. They are small and you will find it more than adequate. I will wait here for you.”
Lee handed Derek a solid four foot long iron pipe with golden letters inscribed in it in an unknown script. On one end silver letters stood in stark relief and clearly stated in English: “Monster Smiter”
Derek grinned and hugged Lee before turning back to the door. He knocked loudly and waited.
An angry scowling midget jerked the door open. “What do you---“ The pipe smashed his face and left it smoldering into dust. Derek stormed into the building.
Inside he found a crowded market place of sorts filled with the scowling goblins that had taken his daughter. They were selling everything. Old junk. Lost pets. And there at a very prominent booth was an oversized birdcage holding his precious child. He roared her name like a battle cry and started wading through the junk towards her. Any goblin that got in reach tasted burning iron and turned into a pile of reeking dust. The goblins shrieked and tried to scatter but were too tangled up in their goods for many of them to get away. Most met their end at the end of Derek’s pipe.
When he finally reached the cage he jabbed the pipe through the bars and jerked it sideways. The bars melted like wax in a hot oven and Susan jumped out crying.
He swept her up and hugged her. “I never gave up honey. I came for you.”
She wordlessly sobbed and hugged him back even tighter.
Back at the car he thanked Lee again and hugged him again.
“Lee I don’t know how I will ever make this up to you. There is no way I would be alive right now if you hadn’t been there.”
“Derek friend do not worry about it. How was it you said… ‘I know what it is like to be where you are and no one should have to.’… yes? I am only glad to be able to help. Maybe we have dinner sometime yes?”
Derek laughed. “Lee any time any day. You will have everything I have to offer. She is our everything and you saved her. Thank you.”
Lee grinned back. “No Derek friend, I let you save her. You do not owe me anything. Now go home and rest. Your child will not forget your heroics but her trauma will fade I promise. I will see you at work tomorrow I am thinking. Sleep well and walk well, Derek friend.”
And with that Lee drove off.
The next morning Derek woke up cheerful. The events of yesterday had worn him out but he’d gotten amazing sleep. His phone rang brightly just as he was sitting up.
“Oh hey Amy! How you doin’ love? Yeah I’m doing great too. You’ll never believe what happened yesterday. No seriously listen. Susan fell into this grate… no no she’s fine no one got hurt…. So anyways she fell into this grate and was trapped there in the dark. I looked everywhere for her but couldn’t find her. I was starting to give up and was about to call the cops when Lee shows up. Yeah Lee from work. Anyways he suggests we search the grates nearby and whatya know there she was. Yeah I was freaking out. So Lee also finds this pipe that someone had left nearby and we used it to pry her out. Yes babe she is fine. Yes I checked for cuts and bruises. Yeah they’ve fixed it now so it won’t happen again. Anyways, I kept the pipe and we took her home and she’s slept and is playing out in the yard happily. Yes she is fine. Heck she has even made this gigantic story out of it involving goblins and orcs and me busting in all light shining and saving her. Yeah it is sweet. So for her I etched the words “Monster Smiter” into the pipe and I’ve mounted it in her bedroom. No babe not above her bed where it could fall and maybe hurt her… give me some credit. It is over her closet door. Yeah I thought that would help solve the monsters in the closet issue. Yeah. Well I can’t wait to see you when you get home. Love you too babe. Bye.”