They walked off down the path for a few minutes until they arrived at a little glade with a rushing river cutting through it. The path led to a stone bridge spanning the river.
Colleen saw three goats grazing contentedly over on the opposite shore. Ells led them up to the bridge and stopped. He bowed and gestured chivalrously for Colleen to go first.
She took a couple more steps, again making a clattering sound disproportionate to her tentative footfalls. She noticed the three goats had raised their heads at the sound of her progress and were staring at the bridge. Suddenly the situation fell into place in her mind and she knew what was coming...
by Janice Dreamer
* * * *
Colleen shook her head. Just when she thought she couldn’t be surprised any more Ells had sprung a new one on her.
“So where do I find an MBA?”
“Ah, that’s easy, lass. Follow me,” Ells replied with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
He set off across the cleared area behind the office and wound his way in between several of the long buildings turning left then right. The buildings weren’t laid out at right angles as a human would have done it, instead they were at all sorts of haphazard angles. Finally at the end of one path between two buildings they arrived at a cluster of spindly trees growing along the fence line that surrounded the facility.
Ells pulled a branch aside and gestured for Colleen to proceed. She hesitated, certain that the only thing beyond the foliage was a chain link fence at the edge of a 7-Eleven parking lot.
“Go on with ye’,” Ells said in a mocking tone. “Isn’t like I’ve all day to be lollygagging about with you.”
“Okay.” She kicked off her heels and stooped to pass under the branch Ells was holding for her. She took two steps then a couple more, looking downward to pick her steps carefully, and was a bit surprised she hadn’t bumped up against the fence yet. Sensing the greenery above her had thinned out, she straightened up and raised her gaze. In front of her was a hard beaten dirt path that led off into old growth forest.
She turned to look back where she’d come from and saw more ancient forest as far as she could see. A rustle among the overhanging branches and Ells appeared, stepping around the trunk of an old oak that must have been at least ten feet around. No way had that tree been there a second ago.
“Ah, there you are, lassie. Let’s be off, but mind to stay on the path,” he said blandly. He winked and added, “Ye’ don’t want to get lost in these woods.”
They walked off down the path for a few minutes until they arrived at a little glade with a rushing river cutting through it. The path led to a stone bridge spanning the river. It was an impressive structure, an eight foot wide roadbed with low stone side walls supported by arches anchored in stone footings, two of which sat in the middle of the river, parting the current with a pleasant burbling sound.
Colleen saw three goats grazing contentedly over on the opposite shore. Ells led them up to the bridge and stopped. He bowed and gestured chivalrously for Colleen to go first. She slipped into her shoes and stepped out on the paving stones and heard the clatter of her heels even above the gurgling of the river below. Huh. Something about this was familiar... She directed a questioning glance over her shoulder at Ells.
“Go on, Colleen, I’ll be right behind ye’, lassie,” Ells said with a wide grin. He made little shooing gestures with his hands.
She took a couple more steps, again making a clattering sound disproportionate to her tentative footfalls. She noticed the three goats had raised their heads at the sound of her progress and were staring at the bridge. Suddenly the situation fell into place in her mind and she knew what was coming. Colleen decided to trust Ells’ motives were merely puckish, not outright malevolent. She squared her shoulders and walked boldly up the gentle stone paved slope to the middle of the bridge.
As she reached the center of the span a guttural roar filled the air and a great burly form leaped out from under the bridge and landed squarely in her path. It was perhaps 7 feet tall but looked even bigger, topped with a huge cone of flame red hair standing straight up that added fully 3 feet to its apparent height. Colleen screamed and jumped backwards in spite of the fact she was expecting something like this.
“Who dares cross my bridge? I shall eat you up for my supper!” the enormous apparition boomed at her, baring its sharply pointed teeth. It raised its long arms and reached claw tipped hands for her. One of the huge paws could easily encircle her entire body.
“Okay Sid, ye’ve had yer fun. Now leave off. ‘Tis new trade I be bringin’ yer way,” Ells said from just to her right side.
The troll’s hair wilted, falling down his back in a smooth cascade. His feral snarl relaxed into an avaricious smile. “What kind of trade, Ells?”
“This sweet lass here,” Ells said with his hand companionably on Colleen’s upper arm. “Colleen O’Brien, meet Sid, Agent to the stars.”
“Well, well. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Buhbuhlah. But sadly it’s agent to the star - singular. Ursa Minor didn’t sign with me, she’s such a bear if she thinks her Polaris isn’t getting enough credit. And Sirius dropped me after that shmendrik Morty threw him a bone and got the poor dim bulb upgraded to the brightest star in the sky.”
He shook his head ruefully and muttered, “That Morty, what a schmuck. Any agent who steals another agent’s clients are despicable, I say.” He paused a moment in self righteous outrage then rubbed his hands together in unabashed glee. “Just wait till he finds out I’m signing the farmer, the fox and the geese right out from under him - that’ll teach the mamzer!”
“So anyway, that just leaves me with one single star, Twinkle, and she’s such a little thing you almost wonder what she is. But enough about that. Let’s step into my office.”
He gestured to the side of the bridge then executed a one handed vault over the low stone wall and swung down under the bridge, landing on the footing rooted in midstream. He smacked the inner face of the arch and an opening appeared with steps leading down which Sid disappeared into.
Colleen and Ells followed, although not as athletically. Ells had to lower her over the side until she was ready to drop onto the foundation below. He leaped lightly down after her and they descended the stairs together. It was a dank passage with water dripping from the ceiling, spider webs hanging in the corners and moss growing on the walls.
Colleen recognized a mezuzah fixed to the doorpost at the bottom of the stairs. Huh. Once inside the troll’s lair she saw it was a comfortable apartment furnished with a retro 1950’s “I Love Lucy” vibe. There was a beige couch sporting white coverlets adorned with needlepoint flowers draped over each of the three seat cushions. Spindly Early American end tables bookended the couch, their tops protected by lace doilies, held crystal bud vases, each containing a silk rose, and crystal lamps with chintz shades. An overstuffed red and brown plaid chair sat to one side of the couch and a brown leather wingback chair on the opposite. A burgundy, blue and green rag rug sat under a coffee table which was a match for the end tables down to its own doily and a larger crystal vase with a dozen silk roses. Lace doilies draped over the arms and at each headrest of the chairs and couch. The room’s centerpiece was a large brick fireplace opposite the couch with a menorah prominently displayed on the mantel.
“Nice digs,” Ells called out. Colleen wasn’t sure it was wise to bait a monstrous troll in his own den.
Sid’s voice answered from down the hall. “It’s Ma’s place, you know perfectly well. I’m four hundred twenty seven next February and she won’t let me move out until I find a nice girl who knows how to make a knish and’s a suitable baleboste by her standards. But then if I did settle down she’d be nagging me to give her grandchildren.” He sighed dramatically. “What’s a loyal son to do?”
“Where is the estimable Momma Gertrude anyway? We should pay our respects.”
“She and her MahJong pals took a bus trip to the Indian reservation. She’ll be gone for days; she just loves the nickel slots. Which is why the place is such a mess.” A note of panic crept into his voice and he continued in a rush, “I forgot to ask you to take off your shoes, wouldju mind? I’m going to be in enough trouble when she gets back as it is.”
Colleen kicked her shoes off while trying to imagine a mother so fierce that she’d make Sid the walking horror show cringe in fear at her wrath.
As he spoke, Sid returned to the living room. He had somehow shrunk down from his fearsome 7 foot height to just under 4 feet tall. His formerly concave midsection had swollen to a little round potbelly and his ferocious mouth was now fixed in a friendly toothless smile below a broad upturned nose. In this form Sid was the live model for the troll dolls that were a toy fad in the 60’s and had resurged at various times over the ensuing years. It hit Colleen all at once -- of course! -- and she had to stifle a giggle.
“Ahhh. Feels good to get outa my workin’ outfit.” Sid scratched his belly and gestured to the couch. “Ells, you’re a mensch to bring me a new client. Siddown, siddown. Wouldju like something to drink, maybe a nosh?” He said effusively. “And you, my dear shayner maidel, may I bring you a cup of tea? Some cake? A cookie perhaps?”
They both declined and took seats on the couch. Sid went to the leather wingback and bounded up into the seat. His legs dangled over the edge nearly a foot from the floor.
“So, nu? You mentioned something about needing my services. How may I help you, dear girl?”
Colleen cleared her throat nervously. She hadn’t actually formulated a plan at this stage; she’d only meant to ask Ells in theory how to set up a Faerie based business and he’d just run with it.
“Well... I... um... See, I’m thinking of starting a business. But I’m not sure where to begin. I’ve always been interested in clothes and fashion but until recently I’ve never been at liberty to pursue it. So I was thinking of perhaps opening a little boutique but I don’t have enough seed money to stock it with merchandise. That’s where the Fey come in...”
“Ah! Say no more, I see where you’re headed, my dear,” Sid interrupted gently. He settled into deep thought, muttering to himself about Pixies, Sprites, Elves, and other mythical creatures, along with references to tailoring, cutting, buttons, hems, zippers and the like. His murmurs grew more and more agitated until finally he smacked his palm down on the arm of his chair and exclaimed, “Oy! Brownies. It’s gotta be Brownies; no way around it.”
“Is that a problem?” Colleen leaned forward, concerned her unformed idea was already getting shot down.
“Eh?” Sid broke out of his reverie and glanced over at the disappointment writ large on her face. “No, no problem, dear child. At least not for you. But those persistent little things will be inundating me come January with their big button eyes and their schmaltzy little spiels to make one more cookie sale.”
“What’re you complaining about, you great big fraud? I’d say you’ve bought a cookie or two in your time.”
“it’s true.” Sid paused to pat his protuberant belly and sighed. “I just can’t resist those thin mints. And the Do-si-dos haunt my dreams.” He sighed again. “But I’ve always said the client’s happiness is my mission so I’ll just have to take one for the team.”
“Like that’s a sacrifice,” Ells snickered.
“So, anyway,” Colleen interjected, hoping to get the discussion back on the rails. “Does that sound like something that’s do-able?”
“For you, Buhbuhlah, anything is do-able.”
* * * *
“Well Marshal our favorite test subject’s finally bowed to the inevitable.”
Dina and Marshal were sitting cozily on the couch in her office. She had her feet in his lap and he was absentmindedly giving her a foot massage. Their relationship had evolved in unexpected ways as they worked more closely together on their secret project.
“And how is that working out?”
“You really should see her! She’s just so precious! She’s changed her name to Colleen and wears the sexiest things. It’s like she’s a teenager who’s just been visited by the booby fairy and wanting to show them off.”
“I can hardly wait. I’ve read the reports of course, but the raw data doesn’t do her justice, I’m sure. I’ll make a point to be there in person when she comes in for her next appointment. So you say she’s self-identifying as completely female? I’ll be interested to see how far that plays out.”
“Have you heard the latest from our two practical jokers?” Dina changed the subject.
“No, not since they sent the email from the President’s account giving everyone a long weekend just before the big FDA walkthrough.”
“Well don’t mention ex-Lax up on the 5th floor if you value your life,” Dina said.
“Oh no! They didn’t... did they?”
Dina simply nodded.
“Those two sure have a warped sense of humor. But their playfulness if worth it as long as they keep doing their magic.”
“Speaking of play...” Dina began in a leading tone.
“And magic...” Dr Arts stopped his foot massage to lean over and kiss his boss on her inner thigh.
* * * *
To be continued...
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