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The Goblins of Bellwater
Author:Molly Ringle

The Goblins of Bellwater

Molly Ringle

Dedicated to my sisters, both the biological and the honorary.

“Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices

Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,

Goblin pulp and goblin dew.

Eat me, drink me, love me;

Laura, make much of me;

For your sake I have braved the glen

And had to do with goblin merchant men.”



WITH NOT QUITE ENOUGH GOLD IN HIS POCKET, KIT SYLVAIN TRUDGED THROUGH THE UNDERBRUSH, TRAMPLING SALAL and fern under his hiking boots. The sun had set, and the light was fading. Not that there had been much light to begin with. It was a Wednesday in early December, and here on the western side of Puget Sound, clouds generally socked everything in for the whole winter, and a good deal of fall and spring too. Tonight the sky hung pewter gray between the swaying fir branches high above, and on the forest floor the colors were washed out to a greenish black.

Kit couldn’t see the rising full moon what with the thick forest and all the clouds, but he knew it was there.

By now he didn’t even bother with a flashlight. He knew where to go. He wouldn’t recommend anyone else wander out here alone after dark, though.

He weaseled between close-growing trunks and stopped in a tiny clearing wedged in by six thick trees. Only dead fir needles lay under his feet here; no other plants could take the constant lack of sunlight. Except mushrooms, of course. Never any shortage of mushrooms.

Kit ran his hand through his hair and pulled the slim gold necklace from the pocket of his leather jacket. Another full moon, another offering.

He lifted his face toward the treetops and whistled a few notes of one of the tribe’s songs. None were tunes you’d hear on the radio, though Kit would have sworn one of them had stolen riffs from a Bowie song. No surprise. Goblins stole stuff every chance they got.

In answer to his whistle, a few notes on a pipe floated down from the trees. Then someone blew a raspberry from a hundred feet up, and someone else cackled.

Immature buttheads. God.

“Guys.” Kit held up the chain. Three little gold hearts dangled from it. “It’s me.”

“Kiiiit. Daaaarling.” The cooing voice sank closer to the ground.

At the base of the trees, something light caught his eye. Several puffy white mushrooms had arranged themselves into a row. The line trailed out between two of the trees, through a space that hadn’t been there a minute earlier.

He gritted his teeth and walked forward, following the mushroom trail. The goblins wouldn’t show their faces unless you accepted their invitation and followed their path. But he hated doing it, every time.

Soon he reached a spot where the mushrooms formed a circle. They glowed, casting a bluish-white light on the ferns and roots. Kit stood in the ring and waited. Within seconds, an arm shot out of the darkness, brown and gnarled like a twig, and grabbed the necklace away from him. In the same moment someone else tweaked a fingerful of his hair from behind and tugged it, then let go.

He grunted in pain, though not in surprise. “You’re welcome,” he muttered.

The creature who had taken the necklace coalesced into view, shifting into a larger shape as if borrowing material from the shadows and soil. Kit always found it fascinating, and somewhat wished he could see it in broad daylight so he could see how the transformation worked. But then, you weren’t ever going to meet these guys in broad daylight.

Redring stood in front of him, a few inches taller than Kit. Always had to make herself bigger than whoever she was menacing. In the glimpses he’d caught, she and the other goblins ordinarily looked like porcupine-sized gargoyles carved out of driftwood and decorated with shells and ugly jewelry. When they interacted with humans, though, they took on a human-ish form. Kit attached the “ish” in his mind because any human would see they weren’t quite right.

Redring, for example, looked like a chubby woman around fifty, with big fluffy hair in a bottled shade of orange. Every time he saw her take this form, she wore the same thing: a knee-length brown sweater or maybe bathrobe that tied around the waist, over what looked like pale pink pajamas and alligator-skin slippers. You’d glance twice at anyone standing around in the woods like that at night, and when you did glance again, you’d notice the weird smoothness to her skin and the sharp points on every one of her teeth.

The goblins rarely told him what he wanted to know, at least not in a straightforward fashion. Since inheriting this job seven years ago, at age seventeen, he had worked out a lot about them, like how they were named after the first item they’d stolen.

This tradition did mean that a lot of goblins these days should rightly be named “iPhone” or “Honda key.” But they generally found ways to make unique nicknames out of those, such as the goblin called “Slide,” named after the “slide to unlock” injunction on old iPhone screens.

On a filthy string around her neck, Redring wore a silver ring with a large, opaque red stone. She’d said it had belonged to a traveler a long time ago. From his ancestors’ records Kit knew Redring had been around for hundreds of years, and had worn the ring the whole time, so that theft had taken place before he was born; the victim was no one he knew. This didn’t make him feel better.

If the ring had been gold instead of silver, Kit knew she wouldn’t be wearing it as a keepsake. They’d have used it immediately, turned the gold into whatever new thing they coveted. Redring was already holding the new gold chain up to her eye and running it through her fingers to calculate its weight. Kit shifted uneasily.

“This is all?” Redring’s voice didn’t go with her matronly look. She sounded more like someone who had inhaled helium.

“For now. I’ll bring more later. I ordered some gold forks and stuff two weeks ago, but they’re not here yet. Give it a couple days, all right?”

“This won’t get us our milk steamer.” Lately they were into making espresso drinks, partly to lure people in with the scent, but also because they constantly lusted after new tastes and possessions for themselves.

“Or even our milk,” chimed in a voice from the darkness, behind Kit’s shoulder.

He glanced back, but saw no one. Still, someone licked his ear, then cackled. He shuddered and scrubbed at it with his palm.

“Get your own milk,” he said.