For Andrew Beck, who is a boss 🙂
I’m a boss…
No, that was too cocky, too obvious. He had to be confident, but subtle. Clip squared his shoulders, giving his suit another glance to make sure it was buttoned properly and the square of silk in the breast pocket folded. Clip needed this job, but he didn’t want to appear desperate. With one last deep breath, he opened the door and went into the hiring agency.
“I’m here to see Mr. Clander about the job,” he said firmly.
The receptionist looked taken aback, and Clip wondered if he had made a bad first impression.
“I’m sorry, Mr…”
“Domhall. Clip Domhall.”
“Mr. Domhall, but what position would that be?”
Clip pushed the ad he’d clipped out of the newspaper across the desk. The receptionist picked it up with a manicured hand and adjusted her stylish glasses to read the small print. Her eyes darted up to Clip more than once and he tried to smile confidently.
“Very well,” the woman said. “Just have a seat.”
Clip sat down and jiggled his feet. After an hour, he went back to the desk. The receptionist glanced up and frowned.
“Mr. Clander is a very busy man,” she said. “You’ll have to be patient.”
“Yes, but…” Clip began but the woman cut him off.
“If you’re in such a hurry, perhaps you’d better look elsewhere for a job.”
Clip closed his mouth and turned around. She made it sound so simple, but it wasn’t that simple for someone who had never had any formal training in any worthwhile trade, someone who had no Master to vouch for him. He still needed to eat and clothe himself, for gods’ sake! What was he going to do if…
“I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help overhearing,” a voice broke into his thoughts, making Clip look up.
It was a man in a dark robe, with a long beard, and a small, pointed hat perched at a jaunty angle on his very bald head. He beamed at Clip. “You wouldn’t be looking for work, would you?”
“Well, yes, actually,” Clip said.
“Excellent!” Clip found his hand was being pumped up and down in a very enthusiastic handshake. “My name is Worthelm, and I am looking for a Courier.”
“He has no qualifications to speak of, no official license and no Letters of Recommendation from a Master,” the secretary said from behind them, and Clip wanted to stuff her scarf down her throat.
“No matter, no matter,” Worthelm said. “He’ll do just fine.”
And that was how Clip ended up in the middle of nowhere, following a brown, sluggish river on its course while carrying the heaviest case known to man or other creature. The plains were hot and dry, and the sun was burning his face and forearms. No sign of a bend in the river or another sentient being was visible for miles. Clip set down the heavy case and wiped the sweat from his brow.
“Just past the Turning of the river,” he grumbled to himself. “Yeah right.”
He looked up at the sky and the sun that was just beginning its descent. He sat down on the case to rest his legs. Again he wondered what was inside it. After speaking with Worthelm the wizard, for only a wizard would dress like that in public, Clip had returned home to await the package Worthelm wanted delivered.
Clip had never even seen the people who dropped it at his door. It had not occurred to him to ask why those people couldn’t just take it the rest of the way until he had already started on his journey. The little voice in his head decided now was a good time to remind him that he was probably an idiot for taking this job.
On foot as a requirement was not a good sign. Clip’s fingers slid over the satiny wood of the case under him. No lock, no seam. I probably don’t want to know what’s inside, Clip told himself. He stood up, grabbed the handle and started hauling it along the very, very straight river.
“Where is the bend?” Clip wondered aloud. As he spoke, the river twisted in front of his eyes, and a door appeared on the bank, not ten feet from where he stood.
“No contest there. That is the weirdest thing that I have ever seen,” Clip said, frozen in shock as the door opened.
Then he saw what was on the other side of the door. His eyes widened and his heart sped up. The creature stood fully twice his height, with goat like legs covered in shaggy black fur, and two wicked horns curving from its head. When it smiled, sharp black teeth greeted a terrified Clip.
“I see you’ve brought me what I wanted,” it said in a voice like thunder. “Bring it here, please.”
Clip found his feet glued firmly to the ground. The devilish creature frowned, and a red fire sprang up in its eyes.
“Well? What are you waiting for?” it yelled.
“Co…coming,” Clip spluttered.
It hoofed the ground as he took one arduous step closer, the crossed its arms as he continued to inch closer.
“I don’t bite, for god’s sake,” it said.
“Ri…ri…right,” Clip managed to get out. “This case is just very, ve…veryvery heavy.”
“I don’t know why they had someone with such puny arms bring it all the way out here,” the creature continued. “I hope they’re paying you well.”
Clip nodded furiously. The pay was pretty good, though he probably would have asked them to double it a few times if he had known this was what he would be dealing with. Now he stood just out of arm’s reach of the door, with a few additional feet for good measure. The creature gestured impatiently.
“Come, come. I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
Though he didn’t want to see, Clip couldn’t help noticing the hot red glow and bubbling sulfur pools behind the creature. It saw him cringe, and sighed.
“If you’re worried about me pulling you through, it doesn’t work like that. I can’t get out, you can’t get in. It’s more or less perfectly safe, I assure you,” the creature said, then cocked its head and tugged at one horn. “You’re not very experienced with magic, are you?”
Before Clip could stop himself, he nodded.
“Funny, they usually send someone more experienced,” the creature said. “Perhaps they got tired of getting them back in pieces.”
Clip let out a squeak.
“Oh, don’t worry. Those Couriers were very stupid and did very stupid things, but you don’t look like you’re going to attempt anything even remotely stupid, are you?”
Clip was quick to shake his head.
“Good. So just hand over the good and then you can go.”
Thinking that sounded like a great idea, Clip edged forward, pushing the case forward with his feet to remain mostly out of reach. The creature snatched it up and tore it open, splinters of wood flying everywhere, and held up its prize with a fierce grin of delight.
“Chocolate?” Chip asked, dumbfounded.
“It’s impossible to get here on this plane of existence,” the demon explained, tearing off the paper and popping a large piece of the sweet into its mouth. “So I made a deal with that overly excitable wizard who summoned me by accident one time.”
“Oh,” Clip said.
“I like you,” it said. “A smart man of few words who doesn’t try anything stupid, though you could be a litter brawnier. Come back next time. I might even share some dark secrets of magic with you if you continue to be this personable.”
“Usually that sends them over the moon,” the creature said. “Not a big fan of magic?”
“I don’t know any,” Clip confessed.
“I’m liking you more and more,” the demon said. “Everyone else is forever trying to summon me, trap me, and then coerce me to use my powers. It’s very tiring and disheartening.”
“I can imagine,” Clip said, beginning to back away. “Well, enjoy your chocolate. I’ll give your good regards to Worthelm…”
“Oh, please don’t do that,” the demon pulled a horrible face. “If you do that, he’ll come visit in person, and I’d rather spend seven eternities in the worst hell than have to listen to him babble for an afternoon. Although he does conjure up the most delightful tea and scones.”
“Sure, no problem,” Clip said, still backing away. “Not a word.”
“And I mean it, come back again. It’s hard to get decent conversation where I’m at. Though I would suggest learning to conjure tea and scones. You can perform miracles winning people over with really good tea and scones.” The creature brightened. “Perhaps you can suggest that as payment for your next job!”
“Right,” Clip said, more desperate than ever to be gone.
The demon gave a cheerful wave and the door disappeared. The river straightened back up as Clip ran back, but he never even noticed. Worthelm was waiting for him when he got back home. The wizard was ecstatic to see him, and followed him though the front door, waving his hands and beaming.
“Oh, I’m sooo pleased you made it back. Thought I wasn’t worried for a second. I had every faith in you. I take it he liked you then?”
By this point Clip was too tired to do anything but nod, and notice that Worthelm did indeed like to hear himself talk.
“So you’ll be back next week?” the wizard leaned forward hopefully. “I know it can be a bit much the first time, but if he liked you, there are benefits and perks that no other job can offer you!”
“I’ll think about it,” Clip promised, pushing the wizard back out the door and closing it firmly.
“And there are other jobs I need done as well!” the wizard shouted through the door. “We can work out a deal, write out a contract. I could even write some Letters of Recommendation for you, if you’d like…Mr. Domhall? Mr. Domhall?!”
Clip leaned against the door, eyes closed, breathing deeply. Nothing had ever felt so good as getting home in one piece. He had money to cover food and rent for at least a month, and an interesting tale to tell his children, if he ever had any. This was the most secure Clip had felt since his mother held him against her breast and crooned lullabies to soothe him to sleep.
In seven eternities, Clip would never be able to explain what made him open the door and ask Worthelm if he would teach Clip to conjure tea and scones.