To Slay a Goblin

I didn’t expect it to be like this. I walked, no, strutted into town—and I’d be lying if I told you I remembered the name of the town—with my new sword on my hip and a smile hung crooked on my cheeks. This is what you do if you are an adventurer. You strut into town, and you fix their problems. That’s what I did. A withered woman, a village elder maybe, or maybe she was just old, told me what needed doing. Everyone else kept hidden in their muddy huts with thatched roofs. When I asked her why, she said, “Because they aren’t used to people strutting into town with swords on their hips.”

They’ve never seen an adventurer: no wonder this place is always plagued with goblins or a troll or rats the size of dogs. It’s always one of those, it’s supposed to be. I asked her if anything needed slaying. Or outsmarting, but mostly slaying.

She shrugged and said, “Yeah, could do that. This little bastard goblin keeps stealing food from our pantries. Took a whole wheel of cheese from me just yesterday.”

Good. A goblin, only one, was small game, but it was better than nothing. A good adventurous start. I would have it dead and slap its head on the old woman’s kitchen counter within the hour.

The old woman pointed to the river and I went. I offered her my map, to draw where the goblin lived, or at least to circle an area where it might be. She shrugged her infuriating shrug and waved me away.

“It’s a big old cave,” she said and hobbled back to her hut.

It took me two hours to find the big old cave. When I did find it, it was on the other side of the river. Well, it was more of a creek, so I waded across and instantly regretted it. With squelching boots, cold feet, and no torch—I forgot it at home—I slipped into the cave. It was only one goblin, but I thought it would be good goblin-slaying etiquette to ambush it anyway. I crouched down as low as I could and squelched through the dark, sword drawn, wit sharpened.

The goblin looked up from his desk and stared straight at me. He was decidedly un-goblin-like.

“Oh,” he said, putting his pen down and lowering his glasses.

“Oh,” I said. “Was it the boots?” I waddled in place to demonstrate for him. Squish, squash.

“No, you’re very big and you’re just crouching. You aren’t even wearing black, not that it would matter. You are very big.”

None of this was right. Goblins didn’t wear glasses and write poetry with pens. I was here to kill an animal, not an artist. Poet or not, the goblin had to be slain, I had to be an adventurer.

I stretched my sword arm, gave him a nod, and he understood. Time to assume our roles. He placed his glasses carefully on the desk, removed his sweater—making sure to fold it and place it neatly on his bed—grabbed a jagged, goblin-sized dagger from his bedside table and crouched. There it was! That’s what a goblin looks like. Small, violent, green, sharp teeth, red eyes, knife which may be poisoned. Although, it seems a hazard to keep a poisoned blade on one’s bedside table, so it was probably sans poison at the moment.

Now that we were ready to perform, he sighed and said, “Well, let’s get to it.”

“I’ll count,” I said, hoping to delay the slaying. “Three, two, one.” And before I finished, he ran. Down one tunnel then another, but my legs were long enough. I tackled him, which turned out to be a bad idea. As we rolled, he sliced my arm from armpit to chelidon. It hurt. I had always been told that daggers did minimal damage, and I suppose this cut was minimal, relatively speaking. But it hurt.

I scrambled back and the green thing followed, clinging to my chest. How had he gotten on top? This time, he stabbed me. A jerk at the last moment put the blade in my left side. Whoever said daggers didn’t do much damage had never been stabbed with one. In fact, I’d wager they’d never been stabbed at all.

Was I going to die? Goblins didn’t slay adventurers, it simply wasn’t done. I dropped my sword and grabbed him by his overalls. I shoved him against the cave wall, scrambled for my sword and turned. I wish I could say that I didn’t do the stabbing. That I turned as he ran forward and the momentum of his little green body did the rest. But that’s not what happened. He hadn’t made it to his feet yet, and I shoved my sword into his chest. It wasn’t easy. It took force and I felt the vibrations run up my arm. I felt the tip of my sword stop against his flesh, and then I felt it give. No one told me how horrible it would feel to take a life. I thought of adventurers slaying entire caves full of goblins and felt nauseous. But this is what adventurers do.

He didn’t die right away, he just lay there glaring at me with his red eyes. I couldn’t bear watching the life drain from them, so I left the cave and cried for a while, hardly the behavior of a goblin slayer. I thought about carrying his body back to town, but I couldn’t bring myself to drag him through the rough underbrush. Instead, I took his glasses and gave them to the old woman. She offered me gold like she was supposed to, but I turned it down.

If this is what adventurers do, I don’t want to be an adventurer.


FFO: What’s the most difficult part of writing a flash story?

DC: I recently saw a talk by Stephen Graham Jones in which he said, “I love how flash fiction is ending from the moment it starts. I like that kind of pressure on the page.” The pressure of writing a beginning and an end all at once is the trickiest part for me. And in flash fiction, the beginning and ending are so important. You have to nail it!

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