Heather brushed a few errant strands of straight, brown hair out of her eyes. “You know there’s a goblin living in the woods…”
I raised one eyebrow. “Which woods?”
“That little chunk of woods between Willow and Vine.” She pointed in the direction of the woods with her right hand, but then lowered her arm.
Ben fingered the hole in his pant leg with his thumb. “That’s like four trees and two shrubs.”
She shook her head.
The wind drifted through our playground kicking up little dust storms of dried leaves and dirt. I looked in the direction of Willow and Vine.
I was distracted when Angie punched me on the arm and then bounced back a step with her fists up. “Chicken!” She stood thin as a rail and had pale skin stretched over bony arms and hands. She wore tan pants and a white, button up shirt. The hitting started last year, and I didn’t know, if a sign of affection or abuse.
“What?” I asked.
Angie still held up her fists. “You’re afraid of the goblin.”
Ben laughed. “There isn’t any goblin.”
“I’ve seen it.” Heather nodded. “It said, ‘Good morning, my lady,’ to me.”
Angie poked me in the chest.
Ben stopped picking at the hole in his pants. “They want you to go check it out, Jeff.”
My brow furrowed into knots, and my eyes squinted.
Angie moved in close to me and put a fist within an inch of my face. “The woods, Willow and Vine, after school.”
Why I let her boss me around, I don’t know. I could just clobber her. With my luck I’d fracture bones in her face or do serious damage, end up in juvenile hall. If I’m murdering somebody, I want to get away with it like the neighbor’s cat.
The bell rang, and we raced back to our classrooms. Math, after lunch, then art, then history, then the four of us were walking towards our homes. Towards Willow and Vine. We stood on the edge of the vacant lot, and I looked from one friend to the other. The lot was overgrown with weeds taller than me, a few shrubs here and there, and this dense little cluster of trees in the center that could easily be hiding an elephant.
Angie kicked me on the shin. “You’re it!”
I seriously considered just breaking every bone in her body, let the ensuing small blood clots finish her. “Why can’t we go check out this goblin together?”
Heather threw her hands into the air. “I’ve seen it.”
I looked at Angie and Ben.
“You think Angie hits hard…” Ben said.
“Come on, guys. This isn’t right,” I said. “We’re supposed to be friends.”
Angie pointed at my face with a rigid index finger. “Into the woods! Make the goblin come out!”
I started walking towards the center of the woods. The real reason I complied was I hoped to find marijuana plants. Harvest season in this climate, and you never know.
I pushed past weeds and shrubs on a sort of trail that wound and twisted its way through the property. I walked and walked. Then I stopped. I should have made it to the other end of the lot by now. I turned to look back at my friends. Forest surrounded me and nothing more.
A flock of birds took off from one of the trees. I started to retrace my steps. I walked and walked. Hunger and thirst started to get to me. I came across a stream and smiled. I took a drink of the water. I had to!
“Aren’t you worried about pollution?” A voice asked from behind me.
I turned to look. A short creature with dense brown hair all over its body looked at me. He seemed humanoid, I guess, but only a foot tall. He held a wooden pipe in his right hand and wore brown pants and a green shirt. His ears were big and pointy, and his eyeballs were huge for the size of his skull. He only had three fingers and a thumb on each hand, and each finger was adorned with a sharp claw. He had a distinct chin and a short nose with flaring nostrils.
A backpack was slung over one shoulder, a belt pouch on his waist, and a tiny dagger maybe three inches. “I said, aren’t you worried about pollution?”
I shook my head. “You haven’t had the tap water around here, have you? Are you a goblin?”
“I’m James Fourtooth,” the tiny creature said. “I’ve been called many things.”
“But some people call you goblin…”
James shook his little head. Then he turned to leave.
“Wait! I need to get out of the forest,” I said.
“Why did you come here?”
“My name is Jeff. My friends sent me to find you. They want to meet you.”
I knelt down to be level with the goblin, and he sort of backed away a bit. “At least, show me the way out of the forest.”
“No, see, your friends knew the forest is enchanted, and they just wanted to get rid of you. You’ll find you can survive off nuts and berries and fruits. As you grow older, you’ll learn to hunt and trap for meat. It’ll take months, but you’ll learn how to make your own fire.”
My eyes opened wide. “Help me!”
“You must do me a favor. I will show you the way out of the forest, but you must bring me something in return.”
“Wait, bring you what?”
“I need two 3 lbs. bags of fresh apples.”
The little creature’s eyes narrowed into slits. “There isn’t a single apple tree in this forest!”
“I don’t have any money for apples.”
“Then I guess you’re doomed,” James said.
The goblin winked at me. “You could steal the apples. Just walk into the grocery store, pick out two nice looking bags, and walk out with them.”
I looked from the goblin around to make sure no one overheard.
“Come on…” The goblin said.
“I’ll do it!”
The goblin pointed to his left. “Walk straight that way, and you’ll reach the edge of my domain. If you don’t return within 3 days, I’ll come looking for you.”
I started walking in the direction the goblin pointed in. Within a few steps, I turned to go around a bush, and my friends were standing there pointing at me and laughing. I walked up to them.
“Did you see the goblin?” Ben asked.
“You were in there for like an hour,” Heather said.
Angie stomped on my toes. “I bet he was in there wanking.”
“Oww! I was not! If you hurt me again, I swear I’ll spill your guts on the pavement.”
“Jesus Christ, Jeff,” Ben said. “We better go home.”
We all went our separate ways. I went directly into my garage, and hopped on my bike. I pedaled like mad for the corner grocery store. I leaned my bike against a post and walked inside the store. The Granny Smith apples were closest, and I grabbed two bags. I started walking out the door. I made it to my bike. Somebody shouted, “Did you pay for those?”
I threw the bags in my oversized basket on the bike and took off. I raced all the way to Willow and Vine. My heart thumped in my chest, and my legs burned. I climbed off the bike and walked into the woods with the apples. Within a bit, I found myself at the stream again.
“Granny Smith?” The goblin asked.
I smiled. “They’re the best apples.”
“They’re disgusting. I specifically asked for Red Delicious!”
“You did not! You said apples. Granny Smith are my favorite!”
The goblin fingered the dagger on his belt. “Red Delicious!”
I glared. “Tell me how to get out of the woods.”
“You’ll bring me proper apples!” The goblin said.
“Tell me how to get out of the forest.”
The goblin pointed in a different direction than last time. “If you don’t return within three days, with the right apples, I’ll come looking for you.”
And I thought to myself, yes, if you come looking for me, I’ll punt you across town…
I started walking in the direction the goblin pointed. Soon enough, the familiar sight of my bike greeted me. I pedaled home. My mom was sitting on the porch waiting for me with a scowl. I sighed.
“Where have you been?” she asked.
“That’s not good enough, Jeffrey. I was this close to calling the authorities.”
I looked her in the eyes and whimpered. “Would you prefer the truth or a lie?”
Her left eye squinted. “Would I believe the truth?”
She waved at the front door. “Get inside. I’ll cook us some dinner.”
We ate canned corn, dinner rolls, and black beans & rice. I went to sleep early.
The next morning on the walk to school, Heather joined me. I mean, she came running up to me. She grabbed my arm and made me stop.
“What?” I asked.
She grinned wide. “I slept through the night!”
“Well, lately I’ve been having these nightmares…”
I nodded. She kissed me on the cheek and took off in a run towards school. I shook my head. School passed quickly. In fact, the next couple of days seemed to just fly by. On the third day, I lay down to sleep.
My mind started to drift as I slipped into my slumber. Then I saw the goblin. He showed me his teeth and drew his tiny blade. Forest surrounded me. The goblin came at me, and I kicked at him. He jumped up real high and cut me on the arm. It hurt bad! I opened my eyes, and I was in bed, safe and sound. I curled up with my pillow, and drifted off. Soon enough, I was in the forest again.
The goblin came at me, and I ran. He chased after me and stabbed me in the calf. He must have hit a nerve because the pain was worse than last time. I woke up. I stared at the wall. I paced my room. I crawled back into bed. Soon enough, I was in those damn woods, and there was the goblin with his little dagger drawn.
“What do you want?” I shouted.
He charged me and jumped up slicing into my face with his knife. The pain woke me. I took a hot shower and waited for dawn. It was Friday, but I didn’t even head to school. I pedaled my bike to the grocery store. I went in, and found two nice bags of Red Delicious apples. I looked around, and the coast was clear. I casually walked towards the entrance. A manager stepped in front me. “Are you going to pay for those apples?”
I moved fast. “I’m hungry, my mom lost her job, and we don’t have anything to eat.”
The manager sighed.
I did my best to look pitiful. I pretended Angie just hit me. I wanted to throat punch this guy so hard, juvenile hall echoed in the recesses of my mind.
The man grabbed for one of the bags. “You can have one but don’t come back without money!”
“I need two!”
The man glared at me. “Put both bags back where you found them.”
I gauged my odds. I kicked the man in the shin and ran. He didn’t give chase. He was kind of pudgy to be honest.
I put the bags in the basket on the bike. I raced to Willow and Vine. I walked into the woods, and soon enough I made my way to the stream. I shouted, “Where are you?”
The goblin did a tiny dance. “Give me the apples.”
I handed over the apples. He sampled one.
“Which way is out of the forest?” I asked.
The goblin ignored me and kept on eating the apple.
“Which way?” I asked.
“Do you know what whiskey is? Cause I happen to need some,” the goblin said.
I shook my head. “I only seen whiskey in old John Wayne movies.”
“Well, you need to find me some, at least a liter. Bourbon whiskey.”
The goblin laughed. “No, I’m in charge.”
“I want out!”
The goblin shook his head. “The only way out is for you to send somebody into these woods in your stead. That’s how Heather got away from me.”
“Get me the whiskey. Maybe I’ll let you go forever then.”
“I don’t even know what whiskey looks like!”
“It comes in bottles. Adults keep it around the house just search for it. The label on the bottle needs to say BOURBON.”
I shivered just a bit.
The goblin pointed. “That way will get you out of the forest.”
I started walking. I biked home. Then I remembered, school day. I ran all the way to school. On arriving, I was quickly escorted to the principal’s office. “It’s past lunch, and you’re just now getting here? We tried to reach your mother at work, but we couldn’t.”
The principal rubbed on his chin. “Where have you been?”
I did it. I started to cry. The best solution I could come up with.
“Oh dear Lord, not another one!” The principal exclaimed.
I cocked my head to the side.
“Where were you!” He asked.
“I didn’t sleep last night, and I was on my way to school, and I fell and ripped my pants, so I had to go home. I just lay down on the couch for a moment, but I slept and slept.”
The principal nodded and nodded. I stopped crying.
“Get to class!” He said.
I ran to class.
Heather, Ben, and Angie caught up to me on my walk home. Angie punched me on the arm, but not hard enough to justify slicing her into pieces. “How’s Jeff today? Late for school much?”
I turned to face Heather.
“I had no choice!” She said.
I shook my head and started walking. Ben and Angie chased after me. Heather went the other direction.
“What’s going on?” Ben asked.
I paused. “Oh, nothing.”
“Something’s going on,” Angie said.
I looked at Angie and smiled. “You haven’t seen the goblin yet…”
“There’s no goblin,” Ben said.
I pointed at Ben’s chest. “You haven’t seen him either. He’s pretty cool.”
Ben shook his head. Angie punched me in the kidney. She was hot, clearly insane, but besides just flat out decking her, what could I do?
I started walking. Ben and Angie walked alongside me. Ben turned to go to his house. Angie walked next to me.
“You want to meet the goblin,” I said. “He’s so cool.”
Angie smiled. “I’ll go into the woods, if you go with me.”
We walked to Willow and Vine. We pushed our way past shrubs and bushes. Soon enough, we were in a dense forest. The stream babbled, and I took a little drink.
“Two for the price of one!” The goblin howled.
Angie and I turned. The goblin stood there with a massive grin.
“Which way is out, goblin!” I said.
The goblin shook his head. He pointed at me. “You’re in charge of the Bourbon.” He pointed at Angie. “You’re in charge of the cigarettes.”
“What?” Angie asked.
My eyes narrowed into tiny beads. “You said if I got somebody else, you’d release me!”
The goblin started to dance and then stopped. “If she had come in alone, I would have, but now, the rules have changed.”
“What rules? What’s going on?” Angie asked.
I didn’t want to answer.
The goblin pointed at Angie’s chest. “You have essentially two choices. Stay in this forest forever, surviving off nuts and berries, or you can bring me a pack of cigarettes. You have three days to return, if you don’t return by then I come looking for you.”
“I don’t know anybody who smokes!” Angie said.
“How do we get out of the forest?” I asked.
“I’ll give you three days too, to bring the whiskey.” He pointed off in a direction, and I started walking.
“Wait!” Angie yelled.
I stopped walking.
She pointed at the goblin. “You did this to Heather already. We suckered Jeff into coming in here. If we send in somebody else, you’ll release both of us?”
The goblin nodded.
I started walking again. Angie hurried to catch up to me. We made it out of the forest. She stopped walking, and I stopped. She tried to hit me with a right cross hard enough to knock me on my ass. I grabbed her write and tried to contain my rage enough to not break her bones.
“Angie!” I shouted.
“What happens in three days!”
“The goblin will invade your dreams.”
“Ha! I’m not afraid of a dream!”
I spent the next three days doing my best to find a bottle of bourbon, to no avail. The goblin haunted my dreams, and I simply stayed up. At school the next day, Angie looked like she hadn’t slept a wink. Heather, Ben, Angie, and I were eating lunch. Angie gave Ben a curt little smile. “You haven’t met the goblin yet.”
“You’re both trapped now?” Heather asked.
“Hush,” Angie whispered.
Ben stuck his finger in his macaroni and cheese. “I wish they gave us more macaroni and cheese when they served it, and it’s not even hot.”
“You want to meet the goblin,” I said.
Ben nodded. “No.”
Angie picked up her tray and stood up. “I’ve got to go.”
Heather followed her. “See you, guys.”
I gave Ben my best friendly face. “You need to meet the goblin.”
He poked me in the chest. “No, you need to kill the goblin.”
“Get yourself a good-sized rock. Bash his skull in. Heather told me everything. It’s up to you.”
“But… I’ll be trapped in the forest forever.”
Ben shook his head and whispered, “The goblin is the source of the magic. Finish him, and the forest will return to normal.”
“You don’t know that!”
“Better you than me.”
The school day passed away uneventfully. The four of us were walking home.
“I’m going to kill the goblin,” I said. “Come with me and wait for me to come out of the forest.”
“Yes,” Ben said.
We made it to the edge of the vacant lot, and I found a nice rock just bigger than the palm of my hand. A plan formed in my mind, and I carried the rock behind me as I walked into the forest. After a while of wandering, I came up on the stream where I always met the goblin.
The goblin stepped out from behind a shrub.
“I’ve got something for you, but it’s a secret,” I said.
“Yes, let me whisper in your ear what it is.”
The goblin pranced about a bit and then cupped his hand over his ear. “What is it?”
I leaned in close. I swung that rock on his head as hard as I could. Blood flowed.
“You’ll be trapped forever!” The goblin howled.
I hit over and over. The goblin lay still. I put my hand on his heart. No beat. I tossed the rock aside and started walking back the way I came. Walking and walking, I came upon the stream and the goblin’s body. I tried again. I got nowhere.
Ben’s words echoed in my mind. “The goblin is the source of the magic.”
I took the goblin’s knife off his belt and hacked off his head. I held the head in my hand and started walking. I stepped past a tree, and Heather, Angie, and Ben all laughed and clapped. I smiled and tossed the head at their feet. “One dead goblin.”
Ben picked up the head and lifted it as if to test its weight. “This is just enough to make soup.”
Heather went, “Ewww…”