Ankle High and Mighty
First published in The Gray Sisters: A Modern Myth and Faerie Tale Online Literary Magazine on June 20th, 2020. It's audio version is available on the compainion podcast Short Stories From the Gray Sisters on December 5th, 2020. It is a modern faerie tale between 1000 and 3000 words.
Dusty gray smoke drifted out of the cavern’s mouth, dancing upwards as if to join its brothers in the overcast night sky. With his orange eyes, K’cos steadily watched the wind dissolve the smoke before it ever came close to reaching its lofty goal.
‘Even Kári’s slightest movements show his strength,’ K’cos noted silently. ‘Fornjót, must be proud to have sired such a worthy warrior of the sky.’
As if the thought had drawn the breeze’s attention, a gust of wind ruffled the blades of grass in which K’cos had hidden himself. If he was spotted now his task would end before it began. Although smaller than most other types of goblins, the trow still had to bend his knees to make sure to keep his head well below the two-week old growth.
He had been observing this location for days. The windows were reinforced, and the doors were impenetrable to one of his stature. Of course he could gather the cousins, but if he did so he would have to fight to claim the spoils. His partner had impressed upon him that the entire bounty would be essential for their plans to bear fruit.
He knew the cavern was the only accessible entrance. It was guarded only by the fire breather, and the hunters of his lineage had long ago discovered the fire breather’s weakness.
The fire breather had the strength of five hundred trows and its stamina was beyond remarkable. Even such a creature had its limits. Every evening as the electric suns within the fortress blinked their last light of the day, the fire breather let loose an alarming, ear-splitting roar to scare off all would-be challengers.
‘That clamor is naught but a bluff,’ K’cos remembered his father’s teachings as if they had been spoken merely a moon ago. ‘The roar clears the area of others so that the fire breather may rest, for it is a deep sleeper. While it slumbers, we may pass by it unmolested.’
K’cos was torn from this memory by the sounding of the fire breather’s roar. The last of the smoke drifted out of the cave’s entrance, and he knew that the death-dealing fire breather was dormant at last.
Pressing his neck totem to his chest, K’cos quickly recited his habitual prayer, “Nótt keep me hidden, Skrýmir keep me clever, and Karí...” He winked at the sky. “Keep me quick.”
With that invocation, he was off.
His feet briefly kissed the ground as he flew through the grass. Soon he was ducking under the hedges, and diving without the slightest hesitation into the mouth of the cave. Once inside, he was forced to slow his pace.
The cave was replete with the fire breather’s…residue. K’cos had learned through unpleasant experience that trudging through the thick, soft material took much longer than swimming across it. He deliberately meditated on his body’s inner functions rather than his environment, steadily stroking his way towards the back of the cave.
The residue began to thin, and the cave narrowed into a slit. K’cos took a deep breath and wedged himself into the tight space. His hand reached up, feeling for what he knew should be just before him. After three passes, his fingers hit the grate.
He ran the tips of his fingers along the grate until he felt the wrinkle where its edge met the wall. He pressed the tips of his fingers into the crease, then embraced his talisman to his chest again. This time he did not speak, he merely waited. Before his heart could beat five times, he felt his ancestor’s magic take hold. His fingertips glowed and the plastic grate exploded away from them.
Fingers still glowing, K’cos pulled himself up into the large, empty cavern located on the other side of the crevasse. The metal cavern walls shimmered, the artificial finish trying to escape his goblin magic. Despite his ancestral power the steel remembered being iron ore, and remained stationary.
The plastic grate tumbled away from him across the cluttered floor, until it hit the far wall of the cavern. Even though the heated clumps resting at the bottom of the cavern were motionless, K’cos still shuddered at the sight of them. When the fire breather awoke, the clumps would form maelstroms to overwhelm any in their path. More than one of his ancestors had perished in their tumbling avalanches.
He raised lit fingers to the cavern wall nearest to him and pushed. With a click the wall gave way, and K’cos hurriedly escaped the deadly cavern. Looking back reluctantly, K’cos made out the oddly curved lettering on the scratched metal sign at the top of his exit. “Maye Taag,” he pronounced slowly before jumping the distance to the floor below.
As soon as his feet hit the tiles, K’cos darted to the hamper in the corner, vanishing into the remaining clothes. No sooner had he wriggled his spiky toes beneath the surface than the laundry room door opened.
An adolescent human male, thinking nothing of the already opened dryer, put his hand into the cavern and felt the clumps. With a put-upon sigh, he slammed the dryer door and turned the knob to wake the fire breather.
A whispering female voice demanded, “Alec! What are you doing?” Not waiting for an answer, she immediately fired off her next rhetorical question, “Are you trying to wake your sister with all this racket? Your father just got her back down!”
“You told me to do my laundry!” Alec argued. “I’m just doing what you told me to!”
‘Baldr’, K’cos silently swore, ‘The boy has already laundered his coverings. My partner will be displeased.” He released his talisman and his fingers returned to their unlit state. Before they could extinguish completely, the goblin inhaled, catching a scent of his quarry. Recognizing the smell of sweat and body odor, his lips cracked into a triumphant grin, revealing his serrated teeth. ‘I shall not return empty handed.’
The humans continued to argue. Taking advantage of the distraction, K’cos searched through the hamper and managed to find three properly smelly socks in the bunch. It was more than he had hoped. He knew he could only carry two, and after some deliberation decided to leave the young girl’s behind in favor of the woman’s thick running sock, and the father’s worn work sock. While the child’s appeared to be the dirtier of the three, the smell emanating from the other two revealed them to be the sweatier.
“But mom, they’re still wet!” The boy’s cry interrupted K’cos’s thoughts, jarring him back to attention. “They’ll get that smell.”
“Well then you’ll have to rewash them,” the woman pointedly whispered, “ but I’m not risking the house burning down while we’re sleeping because you can’t do things when I ask you to do them. Now, shut it off!” She demanded before walking off.
“Fine!” The boy called after her. He wrenched the dryer door open in his temper, letting it bang into the wall, before storming out of the room.
K’cos waited in the hamper until he heard the fractious slamming of a door in the world above. K’cos exited his hiding place, dragging his prizes behind him with effort. He climbed up into the dryer’s mouth, dragging and pushing the socks one at a time until he had maneuvered them to fall into the space where the lint filter had once been.
He followed the fall of the last sock with a pencil dive into the abyss that even Krampus’s counterpart would envy. He landed next to the socks amidst the dryer lint he had previously swam across. Shimmying back through the narrow slit and into the duct, he wrapped the socks around him securely, and swam back towards the entrance.