I’m excited to have fellow author Shea Zellweger guest posting for me today with an unusual short story. I hope you enjoy it, and when you’re done, be sure to check out his published work. You can also follow him on Twitter.
Nidfrit Spittlegarb was, as should be obvious from his last name, a goblin. Not a particularly clever or useful goblin, but a goblin nonetheless. We do not wish to exaggerate just how dull Nidfrit was, but on the day he filled out the form for a human identification card, he actually selected the name ‘e.g. John Doe.’ It is said that in the 500 years that the storied Spittlegarb dynasty had been bedeviling humanity, there had never been a member of their family half as inept as Nidfrit. This is probably not true, but in simpler times it was not unheard of for disgraceful family members to have unfortunate accidents and to be subsequently forgotten by the rest of the clan. Unfortunately for the Spittlegarb legacy (but fortunately for Nidfrit), these sorts of arranged accidents had been frowned upon ever since the Ferdinands had inadvertently started the First World War. So Nidfrit was able to go on living his pathetic life, mostly at the expense of the family fortune, to which he would most likely never contribute.
That might be the end of this particular story, except that Nidfrit had another personality characteristic in addition to his complete and total incompetency. You see, Nidfrit was also an dullard of the first degree and, like many dullards, had an overwhelming sense of self-confidence due to the fact that he had no idea just how useless he truly was. And, like most people who are horrible at everything but don’t know it, Nidfrit was in the habit of coming up with elaborate, convoluted, and ultimately unsuccessful schemes. However, unlike most others like him, Nidfrit had the unlimited finances and political power of a storied goblin clan at his disposal. And no matter how many times Mrs. Spittlegarb begged her son to retire from his ‘business ventures’ and enjoy a life of leisure, he insisted that it was his duty to advance the family name. And so he went on promoting his harebrained schemes and half-baked ideas for being a pox on humanity; ideas like slightly larger cockroaches, foul-smelling deodorant, and mucus-activated exploding tissues. It was only through the considerable power and influence of Nidfrit’s father, Shechem Spittlegarb, that the fool managed to avoid getting into real trouble for as long as he did.
The day before Nidfrit’s 30th birthday, he accidentally invented something that worked. As he was attempting to come up with an incantation that would provide him with an unlimited supply of new socks, he happened to produce a substantial quantity of a mysterious golden powder. Knowing nothing about this powder except that it was shiny, he did what any dullard would do, and used it as glitter for his party cannons. If you are not familiar with party cannons, count yourself lucky. They are horrid little contraptions which shoot guests in the face as they enter. Their creator, Amadeus Wielk, used to stuff them with black makeup and have guests over for what he called “surprise masquerades.” After the 3rd such party, Wielk was invited to a private soiree at a neighbor’s home where the party cannons had been packed with gunpowder and rocks. Still, despite their creator’s timely and well-deserved death, party cannons became popular in some circles, and continue to be used to this day.
When the time for the party came, a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of the goblin world was in attendance, dressed in their finest attire and with their faces a lovely golden color thanks to Nidfrit’s powder. Several people even complimented him on its aesthetic qualities. The merriment did not last very long, though. It was soon discovered that the powder he had mistakenly invented was actually a very powerful sneezing power, which was triggered by the word ‘dear.’ Before Nidfrit’s guests could finish singing the customary Birthday song, a fit of sneezing overtook them all and sent them scrambling for the tissues. A few seconds and several explosions later, Mrs. Spittlegarb entered the room to find Nidfrit happily munching away at a piece of cake, surrounded by bodies. The recently widowed matriarch threw up her hands in frustration. She had little choice but to send Nidfrit to his room as punishment, forbidding him from joining her and the servants as they looted their deceased friends’ homes.
After the death of his father Nidfrit’s situation did not improve. Sure, he had successfully executed the greatest power play in history and, thanks to goblin law regarding spoils of war, he had increased his family’s massive holdings tenfold. And yes, it is true that if he did nothing for the rest of his life, he would be forever remembered as one of the greatest and craftiest warlords of all time. But Nidfrit was not the type to do nothing and his recent victory had given him the one thing he did not need; increased confidence in his abilities.
With unlimited faith in himself and immeasurable quantities of wealth at his disposal, the self-proclaimed Goblin King began to foray into the sort of activity which everyone else had long thought to be the stuff of myth and legend. He trained in the ancient art of the blood-curdling smile, but couldn’t seem to get beyond milk. He studied the writings of Toggo in an effort to learn how to create lightning, but only yielded a pile of rocks (and not particularly attractive rocks, at that). He tried to recover the secret of goblin invisibility, and declared it a success when he achieved mild translucence.
Having, in his estimation, mastered all of the secrets of his ancestors, Nidfrit Spittlegarb decided there was only one feat left for him to accomplish. For the first time in two centuries, a goblin was going to steal a baby and leave a changeling in its place. It probably goes without saying that this is precisely the sort of activity that Nidfrit’s father would have put a stop to immediately, but he wasn’t around to do so and Mrs. Spittlegarb was not very good at telling her son no, so the plan proceeded unhindered.
Changelings, as you are no doubt aware, are bits of wood or rock or other useless material, which are enchanted to look like human babies. Especially daring leavers of changelings would sometimes mask their own excess offspring in order to provide for them. A goblin or other creature will steal a human baby as a slave, leaving the changeling in its place. Generally, these enchanted lumps of matter lose their enchantment after a few days, and give the appearance of having died. However, there are sometimes complications, and it was one such complication which had ceased the practice altogether. When last a goblin had left a changeling, it had been the youngest of Elizabeth and Benjamin Harrison V’s seven children. Instead of dying after a few days, that particular changeling lived for 68 years, 23 days. Not only did it live, but it managed to grow up and become William Henry Harrison, 9th President of the United States. It was not until Harrison’s inaugural speech that the enchantment finally began to wear off. Lucky for the goblins, that very long speech coincided with horrible weather, and the very non-magical White House doctors blamed the President’s death on Pneumonia. Still, they all felt as though they had dodged a bullet with that particular saga, and it became an unwritten rule from that time on that goblins do not make changelings. If only they had thought to write it down!
With a spring in his step and a song in his armpits, Nidfrit sashayed his way down to Storcke’s infant dispensary. Magic folk had long since done away with the notion of requiring physical intimacy in order to produce offspring when several studies concluded excellence at the former in no way indicated competence as a parent. The conductors of the study had not, however, managed to dissociate wealth from parenting abilities. When Nidfrit presented himself at the front desk for examination of parental fitness, his massive net worth exempted him from any further examination and he was free to customize a child of his choice. Naturally, he ordered a top flight goblin baby enchanted to appear human until it was thirteen years old, which was the goblin age of majority. He paid extra for all of the optional features such as non-dulling teeth and bright yellow toenails—not than any of this would matter in the short term, as the glamour would hide it, but Nidfrit wanted his child to be a success with the ladies when the time came.
Two weeks later, the Storcke’s delivery van arrived at Spittlegarb manor with the new bundle of joy. In order to guarantee customer satisfaction, the delivery gnome informed him, the glamour would not take effect until the following evening. This would give Nidfrit and his family time to inspect the child to be certain it met with their rigorous specifications. The gnome bowed with a flourish and an outstretched palm as he completed his spiel. Nidfrit thanked him, gave him an awkward high five, and carried his new baby into the house never noticing the glares the gnome shot his way. Tipping the Storcke’s delivery people was a tradition nearly as sacrosanct as wiping your feet before entering one of the old mansions.
Nidfrit bounded through the foyer of his family mansion, not stopping to wipe his feet as he flailed about in a way that nobody, not even he, would dare call dancing. “It’s here! It’s here!” he shouted.
Mrs. Spittlegarb charged out of her drawing room as fast as her dignity would permit to see what all the ruckus was about. “Nidfrit!” she said, “Manners, please!”
“But Mom, it came!” his words were accompanied by a flinging of his arms in his mother’s direction. The baby slipped from his grasp and sailed toward the bosom of his mother, who had the good sense to dispense with her manners for a moment and catch the poor child even if it did mean ruffling her skirts.
Mrs. Spittlegarb looked at the bundle of joy which had been thrust upon her. Her eyes opened with horror as the reality of what she was seeing dawned on her. “Nidfrit! You cannot be a father before you are a groom! It’s simply not done!”
Nidfrit laughed, “Aw ma, I’m not gonna be a dad. I’m gonna be a master!” And with that, he explained his dastardly plan. He would sneak into a human hospital in the morning and exchange this baby for a human one. The child he stole would become his personal slave while the perfect specimen of goblinhood which she held in her arms would terrorize his human parents. Then, when the glamour wore off, Nidfrit would invite his offspring to take his rightful place at Spittlegarb Manor, bringing the parents along to serve Mrs. Spittlegarb in what would then be her old age.
When he had finished, Mrs. Spittlegarb could only return to her drawing room in shock. She was understandably conflicted. Surely Shechem would never have allowed such a thing to happen. And yet this plan of her son’s was the most goblinlike scheme he had ever hatched, even if it did involve a changeling. Not wishing to talk her son into making the wrong choice, she instead elected to say nothing; an effective parenting strategy if ever there were one.
The next morning, Nidfrit’s plan went off without a hitch. Except when he tripped the nursery alarm when removing the human child’s security anklet. And when he tripped the same alarm when attaching the security anklet to the goblin child. And when the nurses saw him leaving with a baby, called the police, and had him jailed for 24 hours while he waited for his “partner” (the Storcke’s delivery gnome, who took the maximum time the company allowed in such situations) to bring the birth certificate proving he was his unnamed child’s father. By Nidfrit’s standards, it was an unmitigated success.
He went straight to work turning the human child into his slave. It did not work. He followed every step in the human training book he had purchased, but not one of them made any difference. The insolent child did not respond to his orders, stand when he entered the room, or follow its set schedule. It spoke when it had not been spoken to, slept whenever it chose, and slobbered liberally on Nidfrit. Exasperated, the hapless goblin turned to his mother.
“It won’t be my slave, ma!” he yelled by way of greeting.
“Nidfrit! Is that any way to start a conversation?”
“Sorry. Hello, mother. It won’t be my slave!”
“That’s better. Now, when you say it, do you mean the human child?”
“Does it not have a name?”
“No, haven’t thought of one.”
“Perhaps I can help. Is the human child a boy or a girl child?”
“I dunno. It gots no hair on its back, so it ain’t a girl, but its teeth isn’t sharp enough to be no boy.”
Goblins are rarely taught the differences between their species’ genders before marriage, so Mrs. Spittlegarb was understandably taken aback at her son’s intimate knowledge of the differences between boy goblins and girl goblins, but she did not let her surprise show. “That’s not the way you tell with humans, Nidfrit. Bring the human child to me.”
When he had brought the child to her, Mrs. Spittlegarb, to Nidfrit’s confusion, looked inside its strange plastic breeches before declaring it to be a boy. “Clarence is a nice name for a boy slave,” she suggested.
“Okay, ma! Clarence, make me a sandwich!”
Clarence did not make Nidfrit a sandwich. Instead, he made a mess in his plastic breeches. Then he made spit bubbles. Then he made a face. Nidfrit’s rage was evident from the yellow hue his face took. “See, ma? He won’t do nothin’!”
“Why, Nidfrit, of course he won’t. Clarence is just a baby. Humans do not make good slaves until they are at least three years old. Even human parents know that their children are useless before then. That’s why so many of them are kept in wooden cages.”
It had not occurred to Nidfrit that the human baby would need to grow older before it was suitable for hard labor. Suddenly his brilliant plan was sounding like hard work. Nidfrit hated hard work. So he did what any wealthy person does when faced with a problem they do not wish to solve; he decided to pay someone else to solve it.
One call to Storcke’s later, all of the arrangements were made; one of the company’s delivery gnomes had volunteered to care for the child and teach him his place in the world. At age five, the child would be returned to Nidfrit for enslavement. Because the raising of human slaves was not a part of the Storcke’s business model they could not offer their famous satisfaction guarantee, but they promised to do their best, and to charge Nidfrit a great deal of money. The promise and the price tag were enough for him.
* * *
Five years and fourteen seconds later, the doorbell at Spittlegarb Manor rang. Nidfrit, who had been waiting all day for that ring, flew down the stairs and tore open the door. He was crestfallen when he realized it was not the ice cream delivery elf, but soon cheered up when he realized his slave was finally being delivered. To be quite frank, he had completely forgotten about Clarence a week after entrusting him to the care of the delivery gnome, so this was a wonderful and entirely unexpected surprise, surpassed only by the arrival of the ice cream delivery elf a moment later. He was so excited he tried to tip both of the delivery people. The elf accepted her payment without question, but the gnome adamantly refused, insisting that seeing Clarence with Nidfrit was all the payment he needed.
Ice cream consumed and ice cream headache abated, Nidfrit turned once more to the task of training his slave. “Clarence, make me a sandwich!” he ordered, stamping his foot as a display of dominance.
“Make your own sandwich! And make me one, too!” responded Clarence, stamping both his feet and grimacing. Cowed into submission, Nidfrit made them both a sandwich.
So it went for the next several weeks. Nidfrit used every training technique he could find, and Clarence responded in kind. In less than a month the slave training was a complete success. For Clarence. He was a ruthless master, not letting his slave rest for more than a few minutes at a time. He even scheduled orders for Nidfrit to carry out at specific times through the night. The poor goblin was so tired by this unceasing regimen, it took him three years to remember that he was supposed to be in charge. When the thought finally occurred to him, he did what any young goblin aristocrat with half a brain would do; he went and tattled to his mother.
“Hello, mother. Ma! My slave made me his slave and I don’t like it!”
“Then return him to his parents, dear.”
Of course! Clarence’s parents had spent the past eight years being terrorized by the goblin child and would no doubt be happy to have their true offspring returned to them. He sprinted down the hall, ignoring his mother’s protestations, and demanded his young charge get in the car immediately.
As Nidfrit drove by himself to the home of Clarence’s parents, relief washed over him. He would finally be free of the curse he had wrought on himself. If things went half as well as he expected, he might even get to sleep tonight. All he had to do was convince two frightened and vulnerable humans they would rather have their own child than the goblin who had been genetically engineered to make their lives awful. Nothing could be easier.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Anne Baxter, for that was Clarence’s mother’s name, “You must have the wrong house. Sarah and I couldn’t be happier with the way Nicky has turned out. Isn’t that right, dear?”
“It sure is,” her wife responded, “I know all the parents say this, but he really is the perfect child.”
Nidfrit was dumbstruck. The tracking device had led him here. The birthday had matched up. The glamour detector told him the boy in front of him was really a goblin. Still, there he sat between his parents, holding their hands and on his best behavior. The Goblin King hung his head and excused himself from the Baxter home. Too afraid to return to his young taskmaster, Nidfrit Spittlegarb drove his car to no place in particular and was never heard from again.
* * *
The next morning, the Storcke’s delivery gnome was making his rounds as usual, carrying bundles of joy to their expectant parents. His rounds brought him to Snotzenhaus Manor, where a happy young goblin couple opened the door before he had a chance to ring the bell. As one of them (he could never tell goblin genders) took the child, the other pressed a roll of paper money into his hand. As was his custom, the gnome secured his tip before pretending to have forgotten something.
“Oh!” he said, slapping his forehead, “You’ll be needing this.” He handed the couple a pamphlet and went on his way.
“Honey,” said Blerphyll Snotzenhaus, “Look what the delivery gnome gave us. How to Activate Your Storcke’s Brand Goblin Baby’s Evil Nature. Wasn’t that nice of him?”