We've read about them. We've watched movies about them. They've haunted our nightmares and tantalized our imaginations. They are the monsters of myth and legend.
You know them: vampires, Frankenstein's monster, zombies, ghosts, and all manner of mischievous creatures that cause inexplicable mayhem.
Welcome to my worlds, and may the magic of the myths never die.
I will never understand how I drew this shit detail. I'd been a loyal employee of M.N.I.--Magical Needs, Inc.--for more than a decade. I'd never faulted in my assigned duties. They said that was why I was chosen for this transport, that I was the only woman they felt sure would be able to follow through.
I don't buy it for a second. I'm certain I lost a bet I don't remember making...or that they were sure I was the only person who wouldn't quit when faced with this transport. Maybe they were even counting on my feminine sensibilities to keep me from killing my little charge.
If that was what they were counting on, they were wildly mistaken. Ten days into my toughest transport yet, I could have gleefully killed the little twerp. I could have smiled and whistled while I did it and roasted marshmallows on his pyre.
In fact, I was probably fantasizing about it in that musty, rotting old barn somewhere in Colorado. The mental image had made the last few days of that almost two-week transfer bearable.
Your typical transport detail is a simple affair. You carry the item in a dampening box that, to the uninitiated, looks to be a briefcase or backpack. A masking spell makes it scan on x-ray and other devices as being full of file folders or gym socks...or whatever the magical geeks come up with to amuse themselves. A third spell offers a mild compulsion to keep officials from opening it to check for themselves.
The spells aren't illegal. T.S.A. approved the base models decades ago. Not that they had much choice in the matter. M.E., Magical Enforcement, hadn't given them a choice in the matter. Between prejudice and avarice, keeping everyone but the transporter ignorant is always a good policy.
Even your average magical creature is intelligent and possessing of enough self-control to behave like a human when masked in human shape for a few hours or days. But not the one I was transporting. Damn the luck.
The crack of splitting wood and crash of it hitting the floor a dozen feet to my left rear wrung a sigh from me. After ten days, it had ceased to amaze or shock me.
"Gremlin has a name," the rusty, rasping voice came from behind me.
"Yes, Konrad. I know."
He pattered away, footsteps that would be unheard by anyone but me. In fact, though dampening and masking fields wouldn't work on Konrad, his nature made him imperceptible to anyone but the one holding his tether. For the trip to the buyer, that lucky individual was me.
Another beam creaked ominously, this one to the right rear, and I pushed to my feet. The mental checklist of things I couldn't do on this detail grew by one more. I couldn't seek shelter in an abandoned structure, unless I wanted to wake under the wreckage of it. Since that wasn't my first, second, or last choice of how to wake, it was off the menu.
Good thing it was summer, I guess. As long as the weather held a few more days, I'd survive it.
"Come on, Konrad. Let's go for a walk." Maybe we could make it to the next town and buy a sleeping bag and some fire blocks before nightfall.
Since gremlins attacked mechanical and electrical equipment, I knew that would be safe. I'd simply break the zipper before Konrad could do something to it. Broken things hold no appeal for gremlins. Fire blocks are chemical, and so are matches. It would be the perfect solution. I tried to convince myself of that, then gave up with a curse of disgust.
"Just one more, Allie," Konrad pleaded.
I looked over my shoulder, tracing the beam he was working on silently. It wasn't a main beam, and what it would drop was a section of roof opposite my position. "Sure. Knock yourself out." A bored gremlin was a bad thing. If dropping another beam would stave off the moment he decided he was "bored" again, it was worth a few minutes in the moldering barn.
The grinding metal that announced the bolts reaching their breaking points made me cringe. Konrad's leap from the beam to the ground behind me--a full ten-yard jump and twenty-foot drop--sent me backpedaling, and I tripped over him and landed on the floor. My skull cracked off the wood hard enough to make my head spin, but I knew Konrad would be fine. Gremlins are incredibly durable creatures.
Maybe killing him wouldn't have been as easy as I sometimes imagine it would have.
"Run, Allie. Run."
"Oh, shit." When a gremlin says to run, it's bad news. It had only taken me two days to learn that.
I scrambled to my feet and tore after him, stumbling when he reached the end of the tether and yanked my wrist out from my body mid-stride.
For probably the thousandth time since I met him, I wished I could shorten the tether. Usually, it was to keep him from getting into so much trouble. This time, it was to keep track of him in the dust clouds rising up.
Shifting overhead sent me into high gear. My mind numbly worked out that I'd been shortsighted in my decision to let him drop the beam. I hadn't been watching him, and with a gremlin, that was a bad idea. While I'd been focused on the single beam, I'd missed the fact that he'd loosened the bolts on them all. The entire barn was coming down around me.
Guess that's why I'm not an engineer.
The last thought to flit through my mind after the rafter cut into my forehead and sent me sprawling sideways onto the dust outside amounted to: Oh, but gremlins are.