Written by: Joseph D. Stirling
Once upon a time, Tom stood in the airlock watching the single red light that hung from the ceiling. As he moved, checking that his mask was sealed tight, the thick plastic suit crinkled noisily. He checked the gauge fixed to the back of his gloved hand, oxygen levels were green, he had four hours. He rolled his shoulders beneath the weight of the air tanks, double-checked the strapping, and raised a hand signaling he was ready.
The red light above him flashed in unison with an alarm. A green bulb next to it flickered on. He felt the rush of air around him as the heavy steel door opened with a loud clicking of gears.
Tom leaned down and took up the tool box, stepping out into the haze of the blight. The pale mist swirled around his plastic wrapped hooves. A blue glow buzzed above his head in the plastic sphere between his horns, a thin air hose connecting it to his suit. It was Thistle, his watcher. He was a foul little sprite, but he was Tom’s friend. The two had worked together since the Great Witches’ War that had shattered the once peaceful kingdom.
“Lights out Thistle,” whispered Tom. “You trying to let every boogie man know where the hell we are?”
Thistle stilled his buzzing wings and the glow faded, “Pussy. Nothing comes this close to the dome.”
“Glow all the way home if you want, let’s just get the damn job done first.”
Tom followed along the wall stepping over the glittering pile of magic warped fungus. The caps were known to rupture with the slightest touch splashing their acidic spores. Many a careless worker had suffered burns and the slow death from exposure to the blight. As he stepped over another fresh sprouting of sparkling mushrooms Thistle squeaked above him. Tom froze.
“Something’s moving out there.” Thistle’s shaky voice was so quiet Tom almost couldn’t hear it. “It’s a boogie man, a fucking warp mutant!”
Tom slowly turned his head, cringing at the sound of the plastic suit, but could see nothing.
“If you’re crying wolf, it’s not fucking funny,” whispered Tom.
Then Tom saw a shadow ripple through the blasted husks of trees. Tom squinted into the haze, was something there? No, it had to be a trick of light and mist. He turned looking at the markers on the wall, another hundred feet to go for his repairs.
“It’s nothing, I’m sure of it,” he whispered.
“Fee. Fie. Foe. Fum.”
“Shut up,” said Tom.
Thistle was laughing, a high pitched shrill. “Man I wish I could’ve seen your face!” Then, mockingly, “It’s nothing I’m sure of it.”
“Stuff it Thistle.”
Tom stopped in front of the marked pipe and dropped his tool box. A thin crack ran along its surface from the pipe seam. He opened the box and took out a gnarled branch and with a quick snap the end flared up like a torch. He grabbed at a coil of solder and got to work welding the crack shut. He nearly dropped the torch and coil when the ground shook.
“Tom that shit’s not funny,” said Thistle.
“It’s not me,” said Tom standing.
The ground shuddered again. And again. Footsteps coming closer. Tom turned, Thistle only whimpered above him.
“Screw your ‘foe, fum,’ Thistle. You called a damn giant out of the wasteland,” whispered Tom.
“Make with the huff and puff, Tom, run!”
Tom started to run, dropping the fire brand and leaving the tool box where it sat. The ground thudded behind him, heavy steps booming closer. Thistle was screaming for Tom to run faster but the thick plastic stopped him from breaking into a full gallop. He could feel his heart beating in his chest, a sad mockery of the giants thundering.
Tom stumbled, nearly stepping onto a glittering mushroom patch. He caught his balance with help from the dome wall and chanced a look over his shoulder. The goggles in his mask were beginning to fog with each frantic breath, but he could see the shadow of the giant nearly on top of him. With each pounding footfall he heard the pops and splashes from the mushrooms. Just as he envisioned his suit and flesh melting away from the spores, he felt a tight grip wrap him up. His stomach dropped as he lifted into the air.
The giant’s voice boomed, “Is that you Tom?”
Tom wriggled an arm free and tried to rub the fog from his goggles, but it was no use. He could hear Thistle laughing through gulps of breath. Tom craned his neck around, trying to look through the tiny clear space in his mask. He got small glimpses of a thick plastic shine, large goggles fitted into a breather mask, a large clear dome atop the massive head with what looked like a playing card looking down on him.
“What had you so scared Tom,” came the deep voice.
“I thought you were-”
“He thought you were a boogie man Hank,” laughed Thistle. “A fucking boogie man!”
Hank lowered his hand a bit and his shoulders sagged, “That’s rather mean of you, Tom. Didn’t your mum ever tell you not to judge a book by it’s cover?”
“No it’s not like that Hank. There were shadows in the trees and-”
“I suppose you’d just as soon shuffle Jack here into a deck of playing cards,” said Hank motioning to his watcher.
“We’re sorry Hank.”
“Forgiven and forgotten,” said Hank setting Tom back by his tool box. “Just remember to really look next time. Things aren’t the same as they once were, we all have to live together, Tom.”
Tom waved as Hank left. He turned back to his welding.
“Wish I could’ve seen your face,” laughed Thistle.
“Up yours pal.”