So, about a month ago I took part in the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition. This involved writing a short story, no more than 2500 words, over the space of a week. In the competition, you are given a number of prompts, a character, a genre and a subject. Now, while I didn’t progress through to the second round of the competition, I did get an honourable mention. So I can’t be doing too badly.
Either way, this is that story.
The prompts were:
- Genre – Fantasy
- Character – A Cement Truck Driver
- Subject – A Blind Date
Now read on…
Terry, 33, Looking for Love
Not Really the Beginning, but it’s where I want to start
There are two truths I want to tell you.
Number one. All the stories, they’re based on real things. But most stories are better when they stay stories. Nobody wants to meet a Gorgon or a fire giant. Especially when you’ve been set up by your only mate in Fariador.
Number two. This one’s the important one. In Fariador, everything’s a quest. You want a pint of milk from the shop? That’s a quest reward for bringing the shopkeeper “fifteen Demilizard skins.”
Okay, I’ll give you three truths. Demilizards can run like the blazes. It’s a lot of effort for a cup of tea.
Well, maybe four truths. Nobody in Fariador can make a cup of tea to save their lives. They put milk in first, then add tea leaves, then do some mystic hand waving and mumbo-jumbo then eventually you come out with a cup of hot milk and leaves.
I miss the Earth methods of dating. Your mate sets you up, you go to the pub, you have a few drinks and you make your decision. Here, there’s lava, a dragon, witches, monkeys…
I think I’ve got lost here. I’ll start again.
My name is Terry Holliday. I’m from Dagenham and I drive a cement truck.
Last time I wrote those words was on my Match.com profile three years ago. Now I’m writing them while sitting outside the door of the highest room in the tallest tower in Fariador. It’s only taken three months of trekking through marshes, fighting witch-queens and collecting goddamn demilizard skins to get here.
A lot has changed in my life in those three years. Never thought I’d learn to use a sword, for starters.
Moranim’s just told me that I still can’t use a sword. I really hate him sometimes. Especially seeing as it’s his fault I’m on this quest in the first place.
Terry, thirty-three, human and looking for love
“Tez, mate, you can’t be down.” Moranim nudged me in the side and passed me a pint. “Look at everything you’ve done for the Palace?”
I looked up from my empty flagon, looked towards his cheery face, then back towards the lack of drink. “I drove a truck. Left some cement. Then drove away again. Not like you, gemstone boy.” I was slurring slightly, but managed to drag myself back to sobriety.
“Mora,” I said, blinking my bleary eyes, “it was awful.”
“What, you and Farigiana? But she’s hot!”
“Yes. Because she’s a fire giant.”
“Does that change the fact that she’s hot?”
“Only in the very literal sense that every time she went near me, my skin began to boil!” I lifted a blistered hand as evidence. “That was a tender moment.”
He snorted. “At least she liked you, eh?” He patted my hand and I flinched “A little too much, perhaps. But still, I know you’ve been down so I’ve got the best thing to cheer you up.”
“More booze?” I said, hopefully.
“Better.” Those tombstone teeth broke through the beard as Mora’s eyes glinted with mischief “I’ve got you another date.”
My heart fell as he spoke those words. He meant well, after all, but after two years in Fariador and only having managed to score with a succubus, it was a hard life. I’d practically resigned myself to the monastery to be honest. “I’ve only just got back from the last one.”
Mora ran his fingers through his grizzled beard. “Yeah, I know that, but I figured it might go a little bit off the rails. I still get chills when I remember poor Demura.”
“She was Medusa’s cousin. I got turned to stone.” I shuddered at the thought. Being trapped inside a statue is not a fun way to spend an evening, especially when your date doesn’t notice.
“A misunderstanding. Then of course, there was poor Leona.”
“She was literally covered in hair.”
“A fact you didn’t have to bring up by saying “Bugger me, are you under there somewhere or are you Cousin It?” which, by the way, is a reference that nobody understands. I asked the whole Twelfth Legion about it and got nothing.”
I shrugged, hoping he’d just drop the subject of my love life. He didn’t.
“So, I thought you might have some troubles. But fear not, because I’ve got something good for you.” He shimmied his hips as if trying to use an invisible hula-hoop, stupid nervous twitch. “She’s gorgeous and she’s available. She’s also partly Hume and a princess so, that’s got to be a win for you. I mean, you’re not exactly something to send a pigeon home for, Tez.”
“Thanks.” I paused for a moment. Did I really want to waste time on this blind date? For all I knew, I’d be going home tomorrow when the Circle had their power back. Just as I’d been saying for the past two years. “What’s her name?”
“Carlotta Francesca Riviera Del Fonte. Distant cousin of the Crown Prince. I knew you’d be interested!” He did his small shimmy again.
That’s how my most recent date started. Of course, I didn’t remember the second Truth Regretted that one for a while. It was like learning the rules of this place all over again.
Ergh, that was hard enough.
How did I even get here?
Have you ever had one of those days? You know the ones, where the small child of possibility is messing with the sliders of good and bad? One minute, everything’s great. You got an extra rasher of bacon with your breakfast because the girl at the café liked your smile. Your bus was on time, or your car started on the first try. Hell, perhaps the boss even bought doughnuts for everybody. It’s great, right? Life can’t get better than this.
You’re right. It can’t. Let’s face it, the next corner you turn, something’s going wrong. Your sausages are cold. There’s an accident that stops your bus. Your car blows a gasket halfway down the drive. Blue-grey sparks flicker along your arms and clothing as you and your truck are transported from the M40, just outside Oxford services, to a cobbled road in the middle of a wood in Fariador.
That’s never happened to you? Well, aren’t you a lucky one.
I wasn’t prepared for Fariador. I spent most of my first year closing my eyes and wishing Delilah and I were back home, to be honest.
Delilah is my truck. Problem?
I almost run over a Dwarf and he is not Happy
My cement truck, load included, weighs about twenty tons. On the M40, I was pootling along at fifty-six miles per hour, or ninety kilometres per hour. As such, my truck arrived in Fariador with a momentum of… Well, a lot. It must have seemed as if hell itself had just appeared before the poor bloke in the middle of the road. I was screaming, he was screaming, I’m fairly sure Delilah was screaming.
I thundered past him as he dived to the side. For a little guy, he had some mad leaping skills.
“Brasnovokia!” He yelled as Delilah came to stop. “What, you couldn’t see me?” He marched up to the cab where I was trying to get my breath back and hopped onto the step, wrenching the door open. “How about you use your eyes! Not like they were created for seeing or anything.” He punched me in the arm, then jumped back down onto the street. “I get it, we all want to get home but that was way too fast man! Some of us don’t want to end up in the Unterjord Pits anytime soon, ya know?”
I was catching about one word in three. Mora, who is of course the dwarf in question, keeps correcting me as I write down what he said. “I didn’t say that. I don’t sound like that.” His raspy accent is like nails on the chalkboard of my brain.
“Look, mate, what?” I looked blearily at the enormous red nose that seemed to be filling my vision. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
The nose retreated to reveal a face that was eighty percent beard. Coal black eyes stared out with a hungry glint as a short, stubby finger prodded me in the chest. “Irresponsible, that’s what you are. Driving like a lunatic when there’s people who’ve been yanked from the pub to this place. Goddamn Jarlnoim.”
“Do you even know where you are? What are you? Elf, Orc? You’re not a bloody Merman, are ya? Though it would explain the driving.” Moranim spoke as if he had a quota of words to reach within an extremely limited timeframe. “By Vodrun’s eye, you’re a Hume!” His mouth dropped open, revealing grey teeth like stone slabs.
“Is that bad?” I closed my eyes, thinking that I must have been involved in a terrible accident and this was all a dream. Only my imagination could conjure up angry little men waving pickaxes and shouting at me. I opened my eyes again, but his nose was still relentless in its occupation of my sight.
“Let’s get you and your machine to Ratcheton. I think you’ll want a beer for this. Wait, you can drink beer, right?”
I absolutely do want a beer for this
Moranim brought across two flagons of Dwarven Dark ale, along with intense glares from everyone in the tavern. It was as if they’d never seen a person before.
“They’ve never seen a Hume before. The last one here became famous within weeks. Amelia Something-Or-Other. Eyebrain. Handkidney.”
“That’s the one. Came crashing through the sky on her flying machine and went straight into the old Prince’s window. Now that was a shock for him, poor old coot. Still, paid off in the end.” Mora picked up his flagon and drained it in one, slamming it back down onto the table. “Barriers to your realm are… How did you get here?”
I began my answer, only just starting the “I” of “I have no idea” when an enormous man, almost as wide as he was tall, barged into the tavern.
“Citizens of Fariador,” the newcomer announced with a voice like thunder, “We have amongst us honoured guests! All those not native to Fariador should move to the Palace!” He quickly left after that proclamation, moving down the street to begin again at the next tavern.
“Well, Humy, that’s us. Come on, I’ll take you there. Let’s find out what’s going on.” He snatched the beer from my hand and drained that too. “Get the machine! We’ll be there in no time.”
Parking is an issue, but at least you can’t get a ticket
“I thought you said we’d be there in no time?” I asked as we went to visit a third wizard. Delilah was, once again, trapped in a tar pit.
“Well, I didn’t realise that you couldn’t work your own damn travelling machine!”
“I didn’t realise you were an asshole!”
This was a common theme. We’d had to stop five times already and Delilah was being unhelpful. Still, after three days (Mora had said one) we’d arrived at the palace.
It was a magnificent building, an open hand stretching towards the sky, shining and splendid in the early morning sunrise. It was a bit of a shame about the ruins, really. Large chunks of the building had fallen down or were on fire casting dancing shadows across the large crowd gathered in a courtyard. It was an odd gathering, a mix of every creature from any story ever told as far as I could tell. Moranim ran across to a large group of dwarfs, all ginger and armed with pickaxes.
“Bloody typical,” I whispered, “all these people ready to work and nobody doing a damn thing. Like being back home.” I looked around for a place to park, but upon finding nothing, decided to just drive onto the flagstones.
“People of all realms! I am Crown Prince Belafont!” A small, weedy man in a long purple cloak steps out onto a balcony. “My court wizards have used the powers of Vodrun to gather you, the greatest craftsmen and women that have ever existed, to my world.”
Mora had appeared by my elbow as I looked on, entranced. “Fat lot of good that was. He could have sent a pigeon.”
“I have called you here with one mission in mind. As you may know, my father, King Thrum, son of King Atla, son of…” The list of names went on for several minutes and I noticed several heads in the crowd nodding, “Did bring it upon himself to wage a long and bloody war with the Forlnoim. Three days ago, that war was ended upon this very spot!” A small pocket of people, presumably his supporters, launched into a half-hearted cheer.
“As such, I intend to build a monument to the occasion through you. You will help me raise a fitting memorial to those who lost their lives and a fitting tribute to those still standing! For food, lodging and all the wine you can drink.” That statement got a far better response, with whooping and yelling from all corners. So much so that I think I was the only one that heard the last part. “Unfortunately, the wizards inform me that you might not be able to go home for some time. Free wine!”
Building is easy. Dating is hard.
My part in the project was over pretty quickly. Terry from Dagenham, master of foundations. Which left me with a lot of free time. I figured I’d be home after a couple of weeks, but at least nobody would miss me.
So, Mora started setting me up. Delilah stayed parked outside the workers’ village and I’d head into town for one disastrous date after another. Which led to the last three months, after our talk about Carlotta. Three months in which I lost my pinkies to a witch-queen in a game of poker, fought a dragon, took a stone boat through a lake of lava and eventually got to here. The highest room in the tallest tower, outside the Moonlight Door.
The Full Moon Rises
It’s nearly time. All this, just because Moranim told me he’d set me up with somebody two years ago. I’ve never been one for blind dates, ever since Barry Daniel set me up with One-Eyed Sally back in college. She was alright, but she wasn’t right for me. Last I heard she was married to Barry, actually. If I ever get back to Earth, I’ll have to check them out.
I’ve just heard the lock click. I know I shouldn’t be worried, but what if she’s nothing like Moranim said? I’ll push the door open with my foot before he wakes up and see what she’s like.
Here goes nothing.
A gentle nudge with my foot and the door swings open with a loud creak.
The above is the story as it was sent to the competition. I intend to refine it, now that I can break out of the 2500 word limit, so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
The Idiot in Tin Foil