Blue frowned at the scrape marks on the underside of Nancy’s table. He’d had suspicions that something was wrong with her for weeks but here, at last, was his proof.
Blue Boogie, a solo agent on special assignment for the Naughty Goblin Brigade, had been a resident in the illusionist’s house for a year. She’d proven to be a delightfully difficult case. According to her record at Naughty Goblin Headquarters, she was listed as a level 8 risk for unpredictability and overall naughtiworthiness. It was the kind of assignment that defined a goblin’s career.
What Blue knew, and headquarters didn’t, was that the illusionist was well aware of naughty goblins and embraced the good work that Blue performed in her home. His collection of hardened blue globules stuck to the underside of her table, for instance, had been embellished with wads of gum. Over time it had taken on the qualities of a work of art, as if looking onto a colorful mountainous world. Pages of books were constantly popping up tucked into other volumes; a game she had learned from Blue and perfected into some new form of communication. She rearranged the purpose of her kitchen drawers almost daily, leaving Blue little to accomplish there. He had to work diligently in order to surprise her at all.
Recently, though, her drawers had arranged themselves into orderly collections. When something was out of place she put it back or bought a replacement without giving much effort to the hunt. The books in her library that were missing pages had been stacked into an ominous tower near the library door and now this. The marred bare wood under her table glared at Blue like a wound.
Outrage washed over Blue. He vowed to find every blue booger she’d scraped away, every crumbled bit of gum, and attach them to the ceiling over her bed while she slept. Maybe he’d let some of them dangle precariously over her head so that she couldn’t miss them. Fuming, he went to the kitchen trash and peered inside. Empty. Disturbingly fresh smelling.
For a second he wondered whether he was in the wrong house. No, that was ridiculous.
Something was terribly wrong. Maybe she was in trouble and sending out a signal that only a naughty goblin might pick up! Blue Boogie sighed. That was ridiculous.
He climbed the stairs and found Nancy’s bedroom, where she heaved the heavy breaths of medicine induced sleep. A mask covered her eyes and little orange bits of foam poked out from her ears. These were also new habits. With barely any passion for his work, Blue rearranged the shoes in her closet so that no pair contained a match. It wasn’t much, but that would have to do for his night’s work. He was exhausted from all of his worrying. He climbed into his favorite hat box and curled up for a nap.
Normally a nocturnal creature, Blue was surprised to find himself awake while the obvious sounds of day roared around the illusionist’s house. Cars made their noisy voices heard on the streets of the neighborhood, airplanes roared far overhead and Nancy bustled around in the kitchen downstairs. There was also a voice. A low, monotonous voice only barely audible.
Blue lifted the lid and peered around her bright bedroom. The cat slept in a round puddle on her bed. It’s ears twitched as Blue crept from his box but the little twitches of its paws and whiskers made it clear that its dream was far more interesting than the sounds of a naughty goblin. Blue tiptoed to the top of the stairs. The voice was a little clearer from here and Blue strained to make out what it was saying.
“Why even bother?” he heard, but the rest faded away as if the speaker had shifted away from him.
He slipped down the stairs, aware that he ought not take such a dangerous risk. It was strictly forbidden, and harshly punishable to be discovered by humans. Blue was mostly sure that Nancy wouldn’t raise any alarms that would catch the attention of headquarters. She’d seen him before after all, and headquarters still had no idea, but the way she’d been recently… nothing was guaranteed anymore.
“I know,” Nancy said, “music will cheer me up.”
Her radio blared to life, pleasingly on the static between channels just as Blue had set it the week before. Wait, that couldn’t be right. Nancy loved music. She would have changed the channel as soon as she discovered it. Unless… unless she hadn’t listened for a whole week! For some reason this made Blue feel cold inside. He was losing everything about Nancy that made him think of her as a friend.
The channel adjusted several times before the radio clicked off and Blue heard Nancy sigh. He heard it clearly then, the droning voice. Only snippets of words stood out, but they were enough.
“Music is trivial. Must focus. Be responsible.”
“I know what’s happening!” Blue gasped.
Blue had only ever heard of suck goblins through bedtime tales and crude jokes around the academy but what little he knew gave him reason enough to call in reinforcements. He waited that evening by the cat door while Sniffnot Thisway and Snarffle Rumblecough navigated their way inside.
“Are you certain?” Sniffnot demanded the moment her feet were firmly on the kitchen floor. “Sucks can be hard to verify.”
“They drain your will to search for them,” Snarffle added, breaking off for a long coughing spell.
“I’m sure Ma’am,” Blue said. “It was talking to her during the day.”
“Symptoms in your subject?”
“Loss of creativity, abnormal levels of worry over trivialities such as organization and bills.”
Sniffnot nodded and pulled a deflated balloon from her backpack.
“Let’s go,” she said grimly. “It’ll be hidden in the bedroom.”
“I was in the bedroom last night,” Blue protested. “I would have heard it.”
“You did, kid,” Snarffle wheezed as they climbed the stairs. “Or do you fall asleep on the job on a regular basis?”
“That explains a lot,” Blue realized. “And she sleeps with ear plugs.”
“Probably saved her sanity,” Snarffle said. “The suck’s only getting to her during the day. Good. That means it’s only feeding half of the time. It won’t be at full strength. There’s hope.”
They paused at the end of the hall as the cat strolled past.
“Clog your ears,” Sniffnot ordered once it was around the corner.
Blue provided them each with a sizable wad of nose goo and they proceeded forward, ears plugged. The bedroom was the same as the night before. Nancy slept soundly with her mask and ear plugs. Sniffnot held up her hand and Blue smelled her anxiety. She was on to something. Her finger hovered for a moment and then tilted toward the bed.
Snarffle coughed a cloud under the bed and Sniffnot held up her deflated balloon. Nothing happened at first. Then, slowly, Blue noticed the balloon turning itself inside out. Sniffnot nodded and Snarffle pulled thin netting from his backpack. He handed one end to Blue and they stretched the net along the length of the bed while Sniffnot rounded to the other side.
An odor unlike anything that Blue had ever smelled seeped across the floor. He couldn’t convince his lungs to take in air. Snarffle was turning a worrying shade of green. Stars appeared at the corners of Blue’s vision. The room was going dim. Suddenly, the net went taut.
“Hold tight!” Snarffle called but Blue’s knees were already buckling from the lack of breathing.
The next thing Blue knew he was bumping along the hallway floor. The net was caught around his wrist. The glob in his left ear had fallen away and he could hear the suck goblin snarling as it ran. He heard Snarffle’s uneven footsteps pounding down the hall behind them.
“Gotcha!” Snarffle cried as his hand gripped onto Blue’s ankle.
Snarffle’s weight didn’t slow the suck goblin, however, and Blue and Snarffle went thudding down the stairs in the suck’s grumbling wake. Across the kitchen floor they slid. Over the rough tiles of the dining room. Along the splinter-ridden wooden boards of the living room. Suddenly their progress stopped. Blue looked up in a daze to find Sniffnot standing with a full balloon.
“That went well,” she said, tying the opening in a neat knot. “I’ll file the report.”
The next night Blue stood admiring a beautiful sight. A single glob of gum sat in the center of the table’s underside like an invitation. It was good to be home.
Written by W. C. McClure. This may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or events depicted are meant to represent anyone or anything this side of dreams. Comments are welcome! Also, please help support this indie author by telling your friends about the excellent short story blog at
http://www.farsideofdreams.com and buying W. C. McClure’s books at http://www.wcmcclure.com. Thanks for reading!