Perpetua at the Bus Terminal

Toronto Coach Terminal

The picture above is entitled Lineup in Toronto Bus Terminal by Peter Beens. It is used in accordance with its Creative Commons license.

One of the things I’ve struggled with on The Night Girl is the structure of the world I’ve placed Perpetua in. The reader my agent commissioned to look over my story noted that I needed to work harder on building this world. How did the goblins and the trolls avoid the attention of the human race? How did they survive on the fringes? Dr. Dawg also touched upon this during his comments: how do these goblins open a chequing account? How are they paid?

Part of the problem is that the threat to this world is underdeveloped. I fell in love with the initial structure of the story, which featured Perpetua encountering this strange new world and growing comfortable in it. For this reason, the first chapters of this story read well, but this particular plotline ends too quickly (and can’t be extended without feeling artificial), and the question of how the goblins and trolls survive and the stakes of having their world disrupted, was shoehorned in afterward, and not entirely comfortably.

So now I’m working at fleshing out the stakes, explaining the problems, and making the threat clearer. And some of that task seems to be falling to the previously (and still) unnamed character of “the shopping cart goblin”, who I think is Earthenhouse’s friend, business partner and financial adviser. Such is his respect for Earthenhouse that, when he believes the situation is spiralling out of Earthenhouse’s control, he can’t tell Perpetua directly, so has to be more circumspect so that Perpetua figures it out for herself.

This scene below is one of a number I’m writing to establish this. It takes place about the middle of the book, when Perpetua is starting to get some sense that Earthenhouse knows more than he is telling her. Feel free to comment, but be aware that this is close to a first draft.

A light drizzle fell, but it was warm enough to ignore. The sidewalk and pavement glistened, reflecting the streetlights. The lonely cars hissed past.

They walked along Bloor Street, then turned south past the museum, a massive stone building that looked like a metal crystal had exploded out of it. Even here, Perpetua spotted small movements among the eaves. They slipped south past Queen’s Park, where the gargoyles of the provincial legislature stared studiously down, and then they were in among the institutional stone slabs of hospital row.

Finally, they came to a block of parking lots, where the air was tinged with the exhaust of diesel engines. Here, the shopping cart goblin stopped, and nodded at the building across the street.

Perpetua looked at a concrete shell of a building, with huge openings cut into the side. Intercity buses poked their heads out like cautious turtles. Frowning, she turned back to the shopping cart goblin. “You brought me to the bus station. Why?”

He nodded across the street. “Look,” he said.

Perpetua looked. A bus was pulling in. The PA system crackled on, and the announcer’s automated words warbled across the street. “Now Arriving, Voyageur express service from Montreal, at platform 1.”

The bus stopped with a chuff of breaks, and the driver opened the door. People filed out. Some grabbed their luggage and hobbled away. Others fell into the arms of loved ones. Others glanced about then, tucking their heads down behind the collar of their coats, stepped onto the street and stormed off to nowhere, impatient to get there. The platform emptied out. The driver leaned against the front of his bus and sipped his coffee.

Perpetua glanced back at the shopping cart goblin. “Well?”

He pointed. “Look, darn it!”

Perpetua looked. Then, frowning, she looked harder. She’d thought the bus was empty, but as she stared, she could see movement within. A tall, bulky figure detached itself from the back and squeezed his way up the aisle. Then he squeezed his way off the bus, and stood on the platform, looking about. The driver took no notice of him.

Perpetua’s breath caught. It was a troll, seven feet tall and about that around. How did he even get a bus ticket?

Then, looking around to make sure he wasn’t observed, the troll ambled over to the stack of unclaimed luggage that sat beside the bus. Selecting a large suitcase, he pulled it from the pile and set it down on an open patch of sidewalk. Then he tapped the side sharply, twice.

The suitcase unzipped itself and flopped open. Five little goblins stood up and stretched, working out the kinks of their joints with audible clicks.

Perpetua blinked. “What the hell?”

“Immigration,” said the shopping cart goblin. “Although, from Montreal, there’s no legal reason for the government to take notice, but these are your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, come to the big city where, if the streets aren’t paved with gold, at least the grass is always greener.”

“They’ve left home and come here,” said Perpetua. She worked her jaw around this concept. Then her frown deepened. “Some of them had to be smuggled here.” She looked hard at the shopping cart goblin. “They need work, don’t they? They’re practically homeless.” She stepped onto the street and raised her arm at the departing group. “Hey!”

The shopping cart goblin caught her arm. “What are you going to do for them tonight? Buy them a pizza?”

“I have to do something!” Perpetua snapped.

The shopping cart goblin coughed. It may have been a laugh. “Listen, girl: tonight? Don’t bother. They have enough money for pizza, at least. And they know where to stay. More like than not, you’ll meet one or two of them tomorrow.”

“So, why are you showing me this if not to help them?” Perpetua put her hands to her hips.

“To see the big picture, not get stuck on the little details,” the shopping cart goblin snapped. And as she stared at him, he continued. “C’mon! This was one bus that just happened to arrive when we did; I didn’t know who was on it, but still you saw the newcomers arrive. You humans aren’t immune to this sort of thing. We goblins are perennially out of work and down on our luck, and then suddenly one city opens up with the promise of new jobs. You’ve seen it before in your history. Remember the Klondike?”

Perpetua looked across the street, then looked back. Then the pieces clicked into place. “Earthenhouse has started a gold rush?”

“That’s one name for it.”

She looked back at troll and five goblins as they turned a corner and disappeared from sight. She shook her head. “What am I supposed to do with this? How else am I supposed to help them?”

The shopping cart goblin didn’t answer, and she turned to face him, only to find herself staring at empty space. The looked around, and heard the squeak and rattle of a wobbly wheel as a cart was pushed up Bay Street.

She stood a moment in the middle of the sleeping city. Then she shivered. The drizzle felt suddenly colder. Wrapping her arms around herself, she turned and walked quickly home.

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