Late Fee (A chuck Wendig Challenge)

Posted: May 24, 2016 in Fantasy, Fiction
Tags: , , , , ,

My response to this week’s challenge over at terribleminds. A couple of odd old characters that I decided to dust off, along with a setting that probably doesn’t work well in this kind of short format, so apologizes in advance to the readers who are flat out lost.

Hell is when the pounding in your head is slightly off-sync with pounding on your bedroom door.

“Go ‘way,” I mutter into my pillow, pulling the blankets further up my body. “Is too early.”

“Wake up, Ashton. We need to go.” That’d be my partner Marcus. I glance at my alarm clock.

“It’s seven aye em, Marcus. Seven. Aye. Em. Fuck you.”

“Come on, I told Amalthea we’d help her out today.”

I would work spit into my mouth, but my tongue feels three sizes too big and dry as sandpaper. “Why would you do a thing like that?” I sit up and immediately regret it. The pounding in my head upgrades from sledgehammer to jackhammers. “We’ve just get back from a contract and you make promises of both of us. That isn’t fair.”

“You’re mad because Alanna isn’t around, that’s all. I have coffee.”

I throw the blankets off, snarling wordlessly. The previous night is mostly a blurred haze of too much to drink, wild laughter, and faces half-remembered.

I throw my shaodwcloak around my body, over the clothes I wore last night. I’m fairly certain the rest of my gear is still in Marcus’ Hummer. At least I hope so. Pulling the hood up on the cloak helps with the brightness of the world at least.

I crack the door open. Marcus doesn’t even have the good grace to look hungover.

“Whew! Here’s your coffee. Uhm, you might want a shower. You smell like a brewery.”

“And whose fault would that be? ‘It’ll only be a few drinks,’ you said. ‘See some old friends,’ you said. You didn’t tell me half of Market Town would be there.” I sip my coffee, wince slightly at the heat. “How much did I have to drink anyway?”

“It wasn’t the quantity, it was the quality.” I turn to see Amalthea walk up the steps to the balcony we’re standing on. “You’d think you’d know better than to drink Vertrad’s Bottled Badness, especially at the end of the night.”

I wince.

“It seemed a good idea at the time,” Marcus replies, attempting to look sheepish. Amalthea doesn’t look quite convinced.

“You guys don’t make good choices.”

I shrug and sip more of my coffee, start to feel more or less human. “She’s got us there. When was the last time we made a good choice?”

Marcus frowns at me. “Shut up and drink your coffee.”

“Truth hurts, don’t it?”

“I said, ‘Shut. Up.’”

I do, but only because I’m busy drinking my coffee. It isn’t making last night any less of a blur, but the headache has reduced to a dull pound.

“So what’s on the menu for today?” I follow Marcus and Amalthea down the stairs. We’re in her house, a small blessing that. More than once I’d fallen asleep in one of Market Town’s bars only to wake up with all sorts of filth on me. Marcus wasn’t even to blame all of those times.

Amalthea already has breakfast set out for us. Eggs. Bacon. Toast. Nothing like grease and starch to soak up the vileness a night of heavy drinking leaves behind.

I’m on my third cup of coffee when I ask again. “So. I’m awake at this abomination of an hour. I’m dressed. I’m fed. The hangover has been banished. What do you need us to do?”

Amalthea places a book on the table. Now, a book is not a weighty enough word for it. It’s a tome. Red leather binding. Gilt edged pages. Three locks holding it closed. D

I blink.

“It’s a book.”

“You are the smart one, aren’t you?”

I get low to the table, peer around the book from all sorts of angles without actually touching the thing. It doesn’t move. The air around it does hum though, which makes me cautious.

“All right. What do you want us to do with it? Throw it into a volcano? Find some steroid pumped bookworms to feed it to?”

“What? No!” Amalthea places herself between me and the book. I need you to take it back to the library for me.

I blink at her. “Excuse me?”

“Shee needs us to drop it off at the library where she got it.” Marcus uses the slow and steady approach, the one I sometimes adopt with him when I figure something out before him. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

“I’m fine.” I look at the book again. “Library, huh?” I narrow my eyes at her. “How late are you in returning it?”

She waves a hand dismissively. “Not that bad.”

“That implies a little bad.”

Marcus sweeps the book up from the table. I wince, waiting for an explosion or for the cover to grow a mouth and try to gnaw is hand off. “We’ll do it.”

“But-”

He raises an eyebrow at me and I shut up.

We head out of Amalthea’s house and pile into the Hummer parked out front.

“What are you upset about anyway?” Marcus starts the car up, and I feel the entire vehicle thrum with power.

“Look, how long have we been gone?”

Marcus shrugs. “A while?”

“Yeah, a while. And Alanna isn’t even here when I get back.”

“You don’t really expect her to keep waiting for you, right? She’s got her own thing going on.”

I nod. “Yeah, and I get that. But, well, Amalthea was here for you, wasn’t she?”

Marcus frowns as he shifts gears, taps the crystal bolted to the dashboard. The smoke in it swirls and changes from a bright blue to a deep pink. He thumps it again and it turns green. The landscape around us shifts and melts, running like a surrealist painting.

“Amalthea works out of Market Town. Alanna… well, she’s more like us, isn’t she? Isn’t that why you like her?”

I look out the window so Marcus can’t see me frown. Outside the window chaos dips and swirls as we slips between the threads of reality. “Yeah. Look, I didn’t do anything boneheaded last night, did I?”

“You did puke all over the bushes in front of the bar.”

I shake my head. “No, that’s pretty normal for me. Especially if I was drinking Vertrad’s. No I meant, stupid as in had sex with someone I shouldn’t have.”

Marcus snorts. “No, though I think a few people might have tried. I think you scared them off when you started growling. You aren’t exactly the happiest drunk out there.”

I smile at him, being sure to show lots of teeth. “All part of my charm.”

We drive in silence. I try to makes sense of the chaos out of the window, try and see if I can divine some small part of the future from it. All I get is a headache.

Marcus adjusts the globe on the dash, squints hard at it. “Yeah, I think right about now…”

He shifts gears again, jerks the wheel hard to the right, The wheels gain traction, kicking up gravel as we find ourselves on a winding driveway. It’s daylight, but we shrouded in gloom from the thick, overhanging branches of the wood we find ourselves in.

“This the place?”

Marcus nods. “Near as I could get us.”

I blink. “What kind of library is this anyway?”

Marcus shrugs at me.

“Are you sure we are in the right place?”

He gives me a long side-eye and I shut up.

We come around a corner, and there it is, squatting in the forest, a large manor house with creeping ivy crawling along the stonework. Lights are on in the windows, but somehow that fails to reassure.

Marcus parks in the drive and we clamber out. I grab the mace and the shotgun.

Marcus stares at me. “We’re dropping off a book.”

“Uh-huh.”

“And you’re going in armed.”

“Yep.”

Marcus shakes his head. “And they call me the Bringer of War.”

I smile at him and pull the hood of the cloak up. Making a first impression is important.

We enter the library, our footsteps echoing off the marble floor. The front desk is massive, twice as big as the truck we came in on and just as high. We have to walk up a short flight of stairs just to see the top.

A… creature looks at us. It’s wearing two pairs of glasses over its four eyes and somehow it manages to look disdainfully over both pairs simultaneously. Instead of arms, it waves a bundle of tentacles around. And yes, of course, it is wearing a cardigan.

“Can I help you?” it hisses around a mouth full of needle like teeth.

“We’re here to return a book,” Marcus offers, placing the tome on the desk between us and the librarian. The sound of it hitting booms throughout the structure.

“One moment.”

The creature opens a large ledger, its tentacles moving across the lines until it pauses. The words glow on the page, some of them lifting off the page.

“This book is late.”

Marcus winces. “Okay, okay. How much do we owe you?”

“Two services.”

I blink. “Wait, what?”

The creature points at a yellow sign on the desk, one I hadn’t been paying much attention to. I sighed. It clearly reads that the fine for bringing back a book late is one service to be performed by the person returning the book per cycle the book was late.

“I’m guessing the service doesn’t cover restocking the shelves does it?”

The creature chuckles darkly, made worse by the aforementioned mouth full of needle teeth.

I glare at Marcus.

He tries to look contrite.

“Fine. Where do we start?”

 

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Comments
  1. moteridgerider says:

    Has a kind of ‘American Gods’ vibe to this. The characters impress straight away. I’d certainly read more of them.

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