Mindy Unsworth: Rock Goblin
I'm sitting there at my desk, by the window, writing my essay.
More or less. My attention gets caught between an oversized book, a blank pad of paper, between a chat post from 'AttackerInTwilight', and a text message from Tracey about Johnny Shorewood: is there any chance I think he noticed her in class today? Add to that: I can hear a rat or mouse, scratching behind the wall in the corner beneath my bed.
I try to focus. Really. Drag my attention back to the written word: what changes did the bubonic plague bring about in the 14th of Century?
I have a feeling fucked if I know, would not be a well-received response.
Made it a shitload smaller for one thing. Hm, I chew on my pen for a moment: I could actually use that, albeit a little bit rephrased.
In the meantime Attacker posts: You girls are all the same. You see the world through angst-coloured glasses. Everything is about something, and you don't know that the rest of us – that's us, the other half, the dangly half: you don't know that we just want to ROAR.
And Tracey sends another text, the gist of which is: she likes Johnny. How much she likes him depends at least in part on how much he likes her. She's pretty sure she got his attention with her quip in geography this afternoon; and her swish, finely polished answer to that question about the icecaps. Only question though: was it the right kind of attention? Too nerdy? Not nerdy enough?
I could scream silently sometimes, all fingers bent and tensed, mouth wide open – almost do. But I have to remind myself: the truth of life is stitched together out of moments such as this, texts like Tracey's, silly crushes like Tracey has on Johnny. And she knows it's silly. She wears the whole thing lightly – doesn't care all that much. Let it come to something. Let it come to nothing. At least she won't come bawling to me later if Johnny Shorewood doesn't return her interest after all.
Downstairs, Dad's got the TV up louder than he needs to. So Mum, in the kitchen, has the radio up to compensate.
Losing battle, all in all.
And my book tells me:
The bubonic plague is estimated to have caused the deaths of about half of Western Europes's population in only a few decades. This death toll was not evenly spread, with the poor and working classes losing a little more than half, while the nobility perhaps saw their numbers dwindle by approximately 30%. Some villages were untouched. Others wiped out.
But what should strike us as modern observers is not the chaos and horror depicted in unreliable monastic journals, but the calm and strange dignity with which people weathered a storm that would cause panic and rioting – revolution maybe – in our own era.
I try to imagine it and can't. Almost can't. My imagination can just make out the scenes of mourning: mass graves, but orderly, rows and coffins, men and women in strange, dark clothes, preachers, prayers for the dead. Imaginations like my one: always a two-edged, over-sharpened sword. So I have to suppress the images that follow on: zombies rising out of those well-ordered graves, townsfolk hissing in feral challenge....
And: scratch, scree, scree – like gravel grinding together – from the mouse.
Losing battle indeed.
I text Tracey back: Imagine living through the Black Death? What would that have been like?
The Black Death. Bubonic plague. It must have been surreal, it must have felt the whole time as if it couldn't really be happening. Everything that had to come together to put you in that place and time, when the world seems teetering on ending... My imagination: cutting me again whenever I'm not vigilant; conjuring images in my head of plague-dead turned suddenly monstrous
Reply: Are you doing your homework!?
Reply: It's not due until next week.
Next week, after the weekend. So: Monday.
Reply: Yeah. So about Johnny. On a scale of one to ten, be honest.
Honest: six. Six and a half.
Reply: You are so hard on guys, Min. Seriously. You 'd probably give Johnny Depp about a seven, and Brad Pitt would be lucky....
The text goes on, but I've stopped reading. Scratch, scree, scree.... I stop everything to listen to it. I'm walking a fine line here between imagination and true-sense, fabrication and reality. In my head? Or in my room? Scratch, scree, scree.... No, it's not my imagination: the noise that mouse is making is all wrong.
BRB: to Tracey. She might or might not know what it means. I put my book and phone aside, slide out of my chair, approach the bed with cautious, muted steps. I can still hear it under there, the stone-on-stone chewing; that faint whirring sound that wafts up as I get closer.
I fold down on my knees, keeping just a safe distance, lift the quilt very carefully, peering into the dark. There: it's a grey lump, no shape and no edges. But that's before my eyes adjust: then I can see it clearly; and I know it sees me at the same moment. Its eyes flash.
Well, mine flash back. Brighter than yours. Petty? Okay – maybe.
That's a rock goblin. I know one of those when I see it. And yes, it's a baby, and it's probably not really doing any harm. But you see, they grow, and then they get all territorial –even if its in the middle of your territory – say, your bed for example – and then they start showing you their vicious side.
I drop my head to the floor. “Hey, little fella. Watcha doin' under there?”
Eyes flash again. Watching and judging. Looking for where to run.
“How'd you end up in this world on your own?” The portal still warm beneath its feet.
Behind me, the phone chimes: Tracey texting back.
Be right with you, babe. It's low to the ground, this old bed, only just high enough for me to shimmy underneath. I brush things aside like a swimmer – all this junk that I'm going to want sometime, for something. The goblin staying just out of reach....
Mum's calling: “Dinner!”
“Mindy, where are you?”
“Just.... looking... for something.... under my bed....”
“It's getting cold, love.”
“Be.... right there... Shit!” It bites. Probably just scared. Sorry about the language, Mum. I try to reach my hand in there again, a little bit slower this time. “Hey, little guy, I know you don't mean any harm. But you really can't stay here. We're just going to go for... ow!” Sharp little teeth. Leave tiny, deep indents like a mouthful of needles.
The phone chimes again. Gets the goblin's attention. It's focussing its eyes on the blinking red battery-charging light.
Goblin see. Goblin want.
I follow the trajectory of those flickering, hot-coal eyes. I'm ready. I pounce – if you can call it that, not graceful even before I hit my shoulder blades on the underside of the bed. But I snare the little beastie between my palm and opposing wrist.
Its head swivels, looking for a place to put its teeth.
Well, I've dealt with bigger and uglier ones. I catch it under the mouth with one thumb, catch the back of its neck with my opposite fingers. A perfect fey-fire knot. Gotcha!
It squirms. It feels rough – feels like alligator (yeah, I know what that feels like) – like snakeskin – but it slides around in my hands like they're greased. I can only just hold it – definitely can't hold it without hitting my head on the edge of the bed trying to crawl back out.
A flash on screen. Attacker posting.
I wrestle the rock goblin into a duffle-bag, stuff that into another bag, tie the cord around it six times and tight. My mind totally blanks on a cantrip. Just stay there, all right?
“Mum, can you save mine? I've gotta go out.”
How many portals are there in South Wellstead? I could list them off for you – the ones I know about anyway. They don't all go to the same place. The nearest one that takes a rock goblin home, hangs just above a disused rubbish dump on the east side of town. On Grove Street, if you want to get precise. Opposite number 144: how's that for bad luck twice? Opposite a rubbish tip; opposite a connection point, linking this world to theirs. I'll bet he's not the first to come through.
The sun has set and the sky's turned black by the time I get there: so yeah, there'll be some hell to pay once I get home.
Most girls sneak out the window to go meet a boy or something. Me, I have a rock goblin to throw down a hole.
“Sorry, little guy, this isn't the world for you. You need to stay on that side.” It's hard – they can make their own portals - hard to keep them out – and this world's so bright and shiny to them. Hard to figure out why we don't have an infestation.
I pull him out and throw him. It's not as cruel as it sounds – they're hard little things, they don't break easy, and he won't hit the ground anyway, he'll go through the portal – landing on air – like flowing through a whirlpool – a warm, clinging river... I can see that pink flash above a rotting sofa as the portal swallows him up.
Him... when did I give that thing a gender?
I stand there, watching the spot. Watching where he left this world. There's probably more evil in people than there is in goblins. Goblins have sharp teeth and claws, they defend the nest, they ever-expand their concept of what counts as the nest – vicious, sure, but in a straight-forward, here-are-my-claws sort of a way. And they're as close as Siamese twins when they're amongst their own kind. So, I find myself hoping he'll be okay, wishing him well in the shadow-world, thinking about him as I start walking home.
I run into Lachlan Reddington on the way home. He's walking a path set to intersect with mine, but he hasn't seen me yet. And I can smell his fish and chips from here – the bundle zipped up inside his jacket, the top ripped open just enough so he can eat as he walks.
I drop myself behind him, at his shoulder. “Hey, can I?” I'm already reaching for a chip.
“You shouldn't be out here alone at night should you?”
“Evening. Not night. I'm ninja-chick anyway.”
His dinner smells great. “May I?” I reach for a handful.
When I aren't I? “Had to skip dinner.”
“Yeah, listen, on a scale of one to ten, if you run out on dinner when your Mum's calling you, how much trouble are you in by the time you get back?”
“I'm thinking: heaps.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“Nine or ten, shall we say?”
“Yeah. So: what would be a good excuse?”
Rock goblin emergency? No, that's not going to fly. “What sort?”
“Um. Pass. A friend in crisis?”
“Huh. Might work.” Or might not. I think I've used that one before.
“A cat caught up a tree?”
“Surrounded by yapping, slavering hell-hounds?”
What's not to like about Lachlan? He's the best. I drop my head onto his shoulder. I take a few more chips. “I don't think they're gonna keep my dinner for me.” Or maybe. But me, when I get hungry....
“Gotta go,” he points towards his driveway.
“Me too. Later, all right?”
I go home and down to dinner via the bedroom window.
Tracey: Mindy? Are you there or what?
Tracey: All right, then, I know you're reading this. Brendan Capwell, on a scale of one to ten. What's your answer to that one?
I stop to text her back. The confrontation's going to keep. Be Right Back.
Reply: Be.... Oh: BRB. Is that some sort of ROFL thing?
And ten: on a scale of one to ten.
Ten: I think. Ten: for now. I'm not sure if I'm even really dating Brendan. I toss my coat on the bed and go down to face the music.