Mon, Feb
28
2005

When Goblins Attack

Mon, Feb 28, 2005

I’m pleased to say that I wrote another five pages of The Night Girl. That’s a pretty big thing for me, as this story has been simmering on the back burner for a while (possibly shoved there by Sealwife). Also, I’ve been struggling with the motivations.

So, I have this anti-social young woman named Perpetua, a Grand Bend resident who’s ekeing out a living in Toronto to stay away from her mother (who, after all, named her Perpetua), finding employment with a Goblin/Troll temporary employment agency. We have an assortment of weird people from the crazy places Perpetua works at, we have the twists and turns of the back rooms of Toronto’s Underground City). We have Perpetua alarmed by her new employers, but then settling in as she finds their common bond being on the outside of human society, looking in.

Problem: where’s the conflict?

I’ve been fighting hard against the temptation of bringing in an Elvish mafia, short Leprekhauns in suits trying to drag T.P. Earthenhouse into “the business”. Too cliche. I also thought about a Mel Lastman knockoff blackmailing the goblins into building the next generation of Toronto’s subways, but since I think I want the story to end with the goblins revealing themselves to humanity (the gargoyles climb down from the cornices), what’s Hal Goodguy’s threat if not exposure?

Talking with Erin and Cameron, I’ve come to the conclusion that if we can’t bring in a threat from outside, then it has to come from within. Earthenhouse can’t be as placcid as he seems to be.

If we revert to the folklore truth that goblins, like other faeries, have no sense of human morality, no sense of guilt, then maybe we have the start of a story.

Consider a scene where Perpetua and Wired Fergus have to hide out from Earthenhouse because, for some reason, he’s turned on them. I use a term first coined in print (so far as I know) by author Kate Orman. She kindly agreed.

“I don’t get it,” said Perpetua. “I worked with him. I knew him, or I thought I did. I never thought he’d turn on you like that.”

“He’s a goblin,” said Fergus. “Goblins aren’t human. They’re amoral. They’ve no sense of right or wrong and they’re incapable of guilt. They’re dangerous animals.” He glanced quickly at Howard (the troll). “No offence, big guy.”

“Offence,” said Howard, considering it. But that would take a while.

Fergus turned back to Perpetua. “Earthenhouse’s father would eat girls like you for breakfast.”

Perpetua frowned. “He’s not that bad—”

“I’m not speaking metaphorically.”

“Oh.” She looked up at Howard, who was engaged in a staring contest with her cat. “This doesn’t make sense. They must have changed their eating habits. I’ve only ever seen them eat vegan.”

“You think the human race would let goblins live if corpses started showing up with toothmarks attached?” said Fergus. “Earthenhouse as their leader is as pragmatic as all get-out, but he is still an intelligent tiger. Emphasis on intelligent. Emphasis on tiger. He knows practically everything about making a living in the human economy, but he doesn’t know the first thing about actually being human.”

What does Earthenhouse want by hiring Perpetua? What if he wants to learn about what human morality is? Why would he do that?

Maybe then we could return to Hal Goodguy, except renaming him and demoting him to some lowly official in the construction office of the Toronto Transit Commission. This man has enslaved some goblins and trolls into building the next set of subways cheap. Earthenhouse doesn’t like this. He doesn’t intend to tolerate it. But how far does he go to tell the humans to stop? Perhaps Perpetua is his barometer.

Which Perpetua learns the hard way by fingering Wired Fergus as a possible spy for the people acting against Earthenhouse.

The scene below probably comes in the middle of the story, when Perpetua realizes that there are people acting against Earthenhouse. Wired Fergus, a young man running an all-night espresso bar across from Earthenhouse’s office, is actually spying on the goblins, using his business as a duck blind. But his interest is far more innocent and academic than Perpetua realizes when she comes out to accuse him.

Previous to this scene, Perpetua has established an unlikely rapport with a seven foot troll named Howard, who helps around the office.

And other scenes:


Perpetua burst out the door and marched across the corridor into Fergus’ shop. The young man looked up as she entered. “Hey, Tua! What can I— hey!”

Perpetua leapt onto the counter, jumped onto the other side, and shoved Fergus against the espresso machine.

“It was you, wasn’t it?” Perpetua pressed on his collar with her forearm. “You’ve been watching this place all this time. You told me this shop is putting you through University. I’ll bet! Cataloguing a new species must be a good thesis. Heck, maybe even a Nobel Prize!”

Fergus goggled. “What? No, I—”

“Don’t patronize me!” She shoved him into the espresso machine so hard, a jet of steam went off. “This is some kind of study for you, a duck blind. Go ahead and deny it!”

Fergus coughed. “Tua, you’re choking me.”

“You sold us out to Melman!”

Fergus’ eyes went wide. He shook his head wildly. “No! Tua, I wouldn’t—”

She shoved him aside. In the corridor, she heard the patter of stone feet. She smiled sweetly. “If I were you, I’d close up shop and leave… while I still could.”

Fergus went pale. He set the coffee cup he was drying beside the sink, shoved open the counter gage, and ran into the corridor. The utility door smashed open. Perpetua dusted off her hands.

The corridor was alive with stone bodies and blinking eyes. Howard stood in the middle, like an island in a stone sea. Earthenhouse stood at the entrance to the shop, his eyebrows raised. “You threatened to kill that man.”

She did a double take. “No!” She grinned. “I simply said he might want to leave in order to preserve his health and safety.”

“So, you’re not going to kill him?”

Perpetua snorted. “Course not! But I had to put some fear into him.”

Earthenhouse looked at the stairwell door. Two dozen pairs of eyes followed him. “He is still a threat.”

“He won’t show his face down here,” said Perpetua. “Not much else we can do. We can’t report him or anything.”

“Indeed,” said Earthenhouse. The hall grew quiet.

“It’ll be okay.” Perpetua waded through the sea of goblins, brushing past Howard. “The duck blind’s gone. They’ll have to find some other way to spy on us.”

“But they will.” Earthenhouse’s voice echoed. “Unless we tell them not to. Unless we make that threat clear. I understand, now, Miss Collins. Thank you.”

Perpetua stopped at the office door, her hand on the handle. She turned. “What are you—”

Earthenhouse stood at the entrance to the coffeeshop. The corridor was empty. The stairwell door clicked shut.

Perpetua frowned. “Where did everybody go?”

Earthenhouse looked at her. His shark eyes blinked with a sound like glass sliding on stone. “To make clear our threat,” he said.

Perpetua swallowed. “Mr. Earthenhouse. They’re not going to kill him?”

His black eyes blinked. “How else can—”

“No!” Perpetua shot down the shopping corridor, cleared the short flight of steps in one leap, and smashed through the utility door.

“Miss Collins?” Earthenhouse’s voice followed her up the concrete stairs. “What have we done wrong?”

She burst through the vinyl blinds. Her heels echoed through the empty loading dock. She stumbled to a stop, staring. Then she heard a new sound over the ventilation and the hum of fluorescent lights. A low drone, like a swarm of bees at the end of a tunnel, rising in pitch. In the distance, she heard a cry for help. She ran up the loading ramp.

She came out onto another level, facing a concrete wall. She listened for the hum, and followed it, back around. Ahead of her, another utility door swung shut. She stumbled, threw off her high heels, and charged in her stocking feet. She burst through into an empty parking garage and saw a cloud of shapes in the distance.

“Stop!” she shouted. “Don’t hurt him!”

She crossed the garage at top speed. The shapes became clearer. A horde of goblins was chasing Fergus down, Howard bringing up the rear. Fergus, ahead by several paces, gripped a stitch in his side. He was nearing another stairwell door, reaching for it.

Then a small stone ball broke from the goblin crowd, like a bowling ball on legs. It put on a burst of speed and smashed into Fergus’ ankles. The young man cried out and went down.

Her own side stitching, Perpetua struggled to catch up.

The small goblin caught Fergus’ flailing legs and opened wide, revealing long, jagged stone teeth. It bit. Fergus yelled.

“Stop!” The little goblin let go and looked up just as Perpetua sent it flying with a kick.

A crack echoed through the garage. The goblin rolled into the wall, stood up and shook itself. Perpetua clutched her toe and howled.

She gathered herself, planted her feet, and faced the stunned crowd of goblins, straddling the fallen Fergus. “Back off!” she yelled. “Get out of here! Go!”

“But Earthenhouse told us—” a goblin began.

Chim and Chum bobbed, making hammering gestures with their fists. “Pound! Smash! Pound! Smash!”

“No!” She grit her teeth against the pain.

“Tua, careful!” Fergus gasped. “They’ll tear you to pieces!”

Perpetua kept her face to the goblins. “You’re not killing this man!”

The goblins looked at each other. They looked at her. “Why not?”

“Because I told you to!”

The goblins looked at each other again. “But Earthenhouse said—” “But she said—” “Who’s right?” “Let’s take them both to Earthenhouse and ask him.”

The crowd turned back. Perpetua braced herself. “Back off! I’m warning you! If you don’t leave right now, I’ll—” She faltered. What could she do against a crowd of stone?

A low rumble shook the air. Perpetua looked up. Howard, all seven feet of him, was shouldering through the crowd. Her cheeks went white. She took a step back, wincing as pain jabbed her from her toe.

But before he reached her, Howard turned on the crowd and roared. His jaw distended. The ground trembled. Perpetua and Fergus clamped hands over their ears. The goblisn fell back, clutching at the ground for purchase. Litter blew around them. Stone fingers slipped and bodies went flying. Those who could, ran.

Howard stopped roaring when they were all alone. The walls rang with the echoes.

He turned back to Perpetua. “Hmph.” He waited.

Perpetua stood motionless while her mind put the pieces together. She swallowed. “Thanks,” she said at last.

Howard grinned.

She turned and helped Fergus to his feet. Blood stained the torn cuffs of his jeans. “Can you walk?”

He gripped her shoulder and nodded at her bruised and swelling toes. “Can you?”

They heard stone feet scrabbling in the distance. A metal door smashed open and closed. Howard rumbled.

“I can if you can,” said Perpetua. Clutching each other, they stumbled to the stairwell door. Howard glanced behind, then followed.


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