We organized another get-together of Kathy Stinson’s writing students this past evening. If you will recall, between the December end of Kathy’s fall class and the April beginning of Kathy’s spring class, a group of us gathered at a downtown fruit bar to keep the spirit alive. It will be October before Kathy begins workshopping us again, so gatherings during the summer sound like a good idea. And it will still be light out, and warmer, when we arrive.
Things were organized on a bit of short notice, so only myself, Heather and Lydia showed up, but we shared our writing over tea and had a good time. Lydia discovered a whole new way to look at her picture book, and Heather showed once again that she’ll be the Roddy Doyle of Newfoundland young-adult literature. She has a great narrative voice and eye for character.
And I debuted The Night Girl, to confidence building acclaim. They liked the off-kilter feel of the whole chapter, and suggest that I try to drag out the descriptions to emphasize the freakish effect. I’m inclined to agree with them. I’m not sure I’ve quite captured Viqtoria’s character, but she seemed to be a hit. I just will have to keep fine tuning her, I guess.
We’ve resolved to meet every second week, and a regular schedule should help increase attendance. Most importantly, though, we had a good time, and (to mix my metaphors) our creative juices were stoked…
Enclosed is Viqtoria’s (thanks, Cameron for the suggestion regarding her name) job interview. As you can see, I think the character is starting to take form, but she’s still rough. Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated…
Viqtoria knew something was strange when she saw that the sign was painted the wrong way around.
She stood in the shopping corridor, stores silent around her, halogen lights washing over her pale face, and she stared at the glass door, reading the sign as though reading a mirror: T.P. Earthenhouse, and beneath it: Rare Coints, Bouncers and Art Installations.
The sign presented its rightful face to the inside of the office, rather than the deserted corridor outside. At least customers leaving would know where they’d been.
Viqtoria clicked her tongue and pulled a newspaper clipping from the pocket of her dress. She pushed up her cat’s eye glasses and brushed aside a strand of dyed-black hair to read it.
Need girl. Must type. Must mail. Must send and receive faxes. Must understand computers. Hours: 8 pm to 4 a.m. Must like night shift. $15/hr. No experience necessary.
If this sounds like the ideal opportunity for you, please come to an interview session at 10 pm on Monday, July 24 at:
T.P. Earthenhouse Rare Coins, Bouncers and Art Installations
SunLife Tower, Subbasement 3
King and University, Toronto Financial District
Bring your resume. We will be hiring immediately upon finding the suitable candidate.
No doubt about it. This was the place. Viqtoria tried the door.
It opened silently on well-oiled hinges and she stepped into a well-kept, carpeted office.
The reception area was empty, save for the furniture. The centrepiece was a circular desk of black plastic and inlaid wood, with the company’s name embossed on the front in gold. A table with a two-pot coffee maker and a microwave oven stood tucked in a corner, while plush chairs lined the walls.
Viqtoria shut the door behind her and looked around. She frowned at the emptiness, her long nose wrinkling. She stepped to the reception desk and found it empty. A green ergonomic chair was parked before a dormant IBM computer and an empty plastic in-and-out tray. The appointment book was closed. All in all, the place didn’t look like it was expecting visitors.
She pulled out the newspaper clipping again. “Come to an interview session at 10 pm”. “Hours: 8 pm to 4 am.” One typo in a classified ad was one thing, but two corresponding ones?
“Hello?” she called. Her soprano voice rang across the office. “Anybody here?”
There was movement in the next office, behind a door labelled properly for T.P. Earthenhouse. A deep voice slipped out from beneath it, smooth as a hundred dollar bill. “Is somebody there?”
“Yeah, me,” said Viqtoria. “I’m here about the Night Girl job?”
“Ah, yes! And right on time, I see. Is anybody else with you?”
Viqtoria took another look around the reception area. The office windows showed nobody wandering in the corridor outside. “No. Just me.”
“Hmm…” the voice rumbled. “Most disappointing. Well, grab a seat and come into my office. I’ll be with you presently.”
Viqtoria frowned at the instructions. Why had they been flipped? Was she really supposed to grab a seat, first? Or was it the same speech impediment that apparently got the front door sign painted on the wrong side? She stepped around the reception desk, silent in her sneakers, and peered into Earthenhouse’s office. She saw rich carpet, a rich mahogany desk, a rich leather chair behind it… and nothing else. Pictures of railroad tunnels lined the walls, highlighted by floodlights, but there was no other furniture.
She leaned back into the reception area. “Huh.” She shrugged and grabbed the reception desk chair. It squeaked like a nervous hamster being hit by a mallet.
Viqtoria stared at the chair, moved it; it squeaked again. But a quick look told her that this was the only chair in the reception area on wheels, so she pushed open Earthenhouse’s door and strode in, black skirt swishing, the chair squeaking behind her.
As she fumbled through her rucksack for her resume, she heard the sound of running water and splashing in an adjoining room. Light shone behind another oak door, and a shadow moved in the crack. It sounded like Earthenhouse was brushing his teeth. She shrugged, pulled out her resume in its manila folder and placed it on the desk. Then she sat down on the squeaky chair, and waited.
She realized she was still chewing gum when the sounds of water stopped and Earthenhouse batted at a towel. She spat it into her hand and palmed it as the bathroom door opened and footsteps whispered on the carpet.
“Ah yes,” came Earthenhouse’s deep voice. “I see you’ve brought in the chair from reception. Very good. Shows initiative. Most promising.”
Viqtoria stood up to greet Earthenhouse, and stopped dead, staring. She pushed her glasses frames further up on her nose, but it was no use. Her 20-20 vision plainly beheld a freak.
T.P. Earthenhouse was dressed in a white shirt, red tie, cuff-links, and long pinstripe trousers. He was three-quarters legs.
He stood, about Viqtoria’s height (five-foot-four), like a box on stilts. He was bald, and his skin was the colour of mossy stone. His nose jutted halfway to his chin and his smile flashed her a glimpse of several jagged and uneven teeth. His eyes were as black as a shark’s.
The freak’s grin widened. “T.P. Earthenhouse, at your service, madam.” A voice that deep had no business coming from a body that small. He reached out to shake Viqtoria’s dangling hand, and stared at the moist wad of chewing gum on his palm. “Why, thank you!” he said, and popped it in his mouth. “Most tasty, and soft too. Please, sit down.”
Viqtoria felt behind her for her chair and sat with a squeak. Earthenhouse loped around the desk and climbed into his leather chair, sitting on his haunches in the seat, his long-boned hands draped over his long-protruding knees. He spotted her resume, plucked it off his desk, and poured over it, muttering appreciatively.
Okay, get ahold of yourself, Viq. You promised yourself when you came to the big city that you’d accept the differences from your small town life. You’d embrace diversity and, most of all, you wouldn’t stare.
She took a deep breath, and squared herself in her seat. Then she had to stare at Earthenhouse’s misshapen form. She managed to plaster a smile across her mouth, and waited.
“Most intriguing,” said Earthenhouse. “Miss Viqtoria Baxter, is it?” He looked up at her. “What an odd way to spell your name.”
“It’s the way I like it,” said Viqtoria.
“Well, good for you. Everybody deserves something unique to call their own. I assume that you can type?”
She nodded curtly. “That’s what it says!”
“Yes, I see that it does.” Earthenhouse peered at the resume. “And you are familiar with the Microsoft Office suite of products?”
She leaned back in her chair, her hands folded on her lap. The chair let out a squeak as she moved, but she ignored it. “If it’s on the computer, I know it.”
“I see.” Earthenhouse set the resume aside and peered at her, his hands propping up his chin. “Your qualifications appear most suitable, Miss Baxter. Tell me, do you object to working these odd hours?”
Viqtoria shrugged. “I’m a night owl.”
“What is it about the night that intrigues you?”
Viqtoria shrugged again. She frowned at Earthenhouse’s penetrating stare, and plucked an answer from the air. “Less people around. I like the quiet.”
“It can be quiet here at times,” said Earthenhouse. “But at other times, it can be quite lively. Most of my clients prefer the night themselves. Can you handle that?”
“Sure,” said Victoria, with a third shrug.
“Well, Miss Baxter, tell me: do you know what it is we do here?”
She cocked her head at him, puzzled. A strand of hair fell across her face and tickled her nose. She brushed it aside. “Something about rare coins, bouncers and art installations, right?”
Earthenhouse chuckled like bricks sliding. “That is what the sign says, but there is more to it than that.”
Viqtoria’s frown deepened. There was something in Earthenhouse’s stare that she really didn’t like; he was testing her for something. But what? She decided to play along, for now. “Really?”
“My company is about providing employment.”
“Oh. For rare coin dealers, bouncers and art installers, I suppose?”
Earthenhouse chuckled louder. “You might say that. Actually, the rare coin division helps subsidize the rest of our business. You see, Miss Baxter, a lot of people depend on me. My company puts my people in contact with the right people, to ensure a decent standard of living for those would be destitute, otherwise.”
Viqtoria’s eyebrows shot up. She hadn’t expected to find work in social services. “Is there that much of an employment problem for bouncers and art installers?”
Again, there was a shift in Earthenhouse’s eyes, and Viqtoria began to debate whether or not she should be getting up and declaring the interview over. She wouldn’t work for an employer who was actively hiding something from her.
“It’s not the career that is the problem, Miss Baxter,” said Earthenhouse. “It’s the class of people I deal with — that I’m a part of, actually.”
“You see, Miss Baxter.” Earthenhouse cleared his throat, and drew himself up. “I am a goblin.”
Then again, thought Viqtoria, there was the special hell of working for an employer who was actively crazy. There was that six months she’d been a cashier in Taco Bell, and the night manager was sure that he’d been abducted by aliens. After his umpteenth time of freaking at the sight of lights pulling up to the drive-thru window and screaming about anal probes, she’d caked him in sour cream and melted cheese and stormed out of the restaurant. She never collected her final paycheque, either. Back then, she’d sworn: never again.
Why do the crazies always hire me?
Silence descended upon the room. Viqtoria and Earthenhouse stared at each other. Viqtoria could count the number of times she blinked. She was up to five when Earthenhouse spoke at last. “You seem to be taking this rather well, Miss Baxter.”
Right, he’s crazy, thought Viqtoria. “Better humour him.”
Did I just say that out loud? “I mean, you’re a what?”
“A goblin, Miss Baxter.”
“Oh,” said Viqtoria. And, then, for wont of anything else to say, she added, “Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” said Earthenhouse, and though his feet did not touch the floor, he tilted his chair forward just enough to lean close without falling over. “I must say that I am most pleased by your reaction, Miss Baxter. Doubtless you have heard the stories about my race, but you shouldn’t judge me by what you’ve heard.”
“Oh, judgement is very far from my mind, right now, Mr. Earthenhouse.”
“Good. But you can understand how this might not be the case for other humans. And yet, we live amongst you. And we need to play by human rules in order to make a decent living. And this is what my company provides.” Earthenhouse leaned his chair back. “My business connects my people with various economic opportunities in the human world; we’ve had most success in the security and art installation fields, so that has been our focus. We especially pride ourselves in maintaining humanity’s ignorance of our presence; the less our contacts can interact with humans, the better, so that has left me some challenges in reaching out to the human community to establish these economic opportunities. And this is where you come in.”
Viqtoria blinked the sound of Patsy Cline’s Crazy out of her head. “Really? How?”
“Well, Miss Baxter, we would like you to become our human face.”
“You don’t intend to cut it off and paste it over your own, do you?”
Earthenhouse laughed. “Why, Miss Baxter, of course not. That would be most messy and hardly an effective disguise. So, are you interested?”
All right. Fine, thought Viqtoria. I’m down the rabbit hole. I might as well swallow the bottle marked ‘drink me’. This is, after all, an expensive looking office. “Does this job come with vacation pay?”
Earthenhouse smiled. “Two weeks in the first year, with three the next.”
“What sort of benefits am I looking at?”
“Comprehensive life and extended health. We pay for a new pair of glasses every two years. I see yours have no lenses in them.”
Victoria pushed up her cats eye frames. “It’s just a style, thing. Anyway, the pay: twenty-five dollars per hour?”
Earthenhouse frowned, puzzled. “I was sure I advertised fifteen.”
“Many people lining up at the door, is there?”
Earthenhouse peered past her, into the empty reception area. “Hmm,” he rumbled. “You have a point. How does twenty-two sound?”
He really is crazy. “Done!”
“Excellent! Let me draw up the contract.” He pulled a long, thickly-written paper from a drawer, followed by a quill pen and an ink bottle. He muttered as he poured over the paper, making corrections: “Twenty-two dollars per hour… paid breaks, check, paid vacations, check. Spawning leave, check. All in order.” He turned the contract to her, but pulled back the pen as she reached for it. “I’m sure you have no objection to sealing the goblin contract the traditional way: with spit?”
Viqtoria stared at him. “With spit? Isn’t it usually blood?”
“That’s a myth,” said Earthenhouse.
“Fine.” Viqtoria picked up the contract and looked it over. All seemed in order. Twenty-two dollars a day for eight hours a day, including breaks. No references to blood sacrifice, job to start tomorrow. Perfect. “Here goes nothing,” she muttered, and she gathered herself and spat, planting a globule right on the line over her name.