A cock ring is a funny thing – particularly when it’s not being used according to package instructions. He found the brightly-colored silicone appropriate in a macabre way as they stretched across tiny necks and crushed tiny tracheas. The fairies fell to either side of him, but he only had two hands. And the multipack he’d grabbed from the stock room was still finite. But they really were the perfect size.
Miniature teeth came for his extremities if he lost himself in thought for too long. The absurdity of the situation kept him moving. He swatted those he could and subdued the rest with neon bands, making his way to the security entrance.
“Just a few more steps,” he muttered to himself, kicking a pixie away from his ankles. He hoped none of them had given him anything nasty. His fingers found the cold metal of the door, and then his palm. He pushed the silver bar and it opened. He stumbled out into ethereal white light.
Sunlight streamed through the skylights and a woman in high heels that cost more than his car wrinkled her nose as she sidestepped him. He tugged the door behind him and looked around. None of them had followed him.
“Hey, buddy, you okay?” a security guard had stopped to look him over. “You get jumped in the back hall? We been having trouble with that lately.”
“Yeah, something like that,” he said.
“You work here… Nate?” the guard said, indicating the name tag that had half-ripped from the faded blue polo he was wearing.
He looked down. Nate, the plastic rectangle said. “Oh… yeah,” he replied.
“Well, Nate, you should be more careful,” the guard said. “You need first aid?”
“I got it covered.”
He did. He walked, ignoring the stinging in his legs and arms, and eventually found home. Gauze. Band-aids. Iodine. And a special preparation that made him very proud indeed: a solution of iron in nitric acid diluted with enough water that it barely even stung. Guaranteed to flush out any remaining fairy nastiness. Unless one of the little assholes had been over here long enough to pick up tetanus or something.
Spackled with gauze and Band-aids, he curled up in the backseat and stared at the ceiling of the old Civic hatchback. It was supposed to be a few pixies in a back service corridor. He tossed the leftover packaging from the cock rings aside. But those were soldiers; there was a leader here somewhere. Next time he would be prepared. This was a routine infestation.
Despite the bright lights, shopping malls made excellent dwellings for the darker elements of the unknown. They just didn’t come out into the fake plastic exteriors; they stuck to the shadowy back areas, the pipeline of hallways that supplied the shoppers with their vital merchandise like veins running through a body.
Didn’t mean he liked eating soft pretzels and slushies. Maybe the next one would be in a nice small town. With a diner. He sighed and heaved himself up. It was dark by now.
With the shoppers gone, the mall becomes a different place. Thin beams of moonlight trickled through the skylights, casting eerie shadows on the polished marble. The creeping shapes of ethereal intruders cast eerier shapes. He nocked an arrow in a crossbow. He would be prepared this time.
An ondine screeched out of the decorative fountain in the center as he passed by. A bolt through the neck downed it, its skin hissing and crackling where the iron pierced it. He went on, picking off those foolish enough to get near him. They were up and active, and hungry. They wouldn’t hide themselves in service corridors and stockrooms now.
It didn’t take long to get to the department store. The metal grate over its entrance gleamed with some residue. He touched it and it stuck to his finger, pulling away in a gooey string. They had encapsulated the steel to pass around it. This was the place. He lifted the gate and ducked inside. He explored, running his hands along the display cases.
“You’ve come to play,” a voice purred. The fairy queen slinked around a perfume counter, her amethyst eyes sparkling in the emergency lighting.
“I’ve come to make a deal,” he said.
“Don’t you know any better than to make deals with the Fae?” she asked, tracing a finger across the surface of a display case. It looked lovely and manicured in the dim light, but he could see where the claw was cutting glass.
“I guess not,” he said. “You leave here, and I’ll let you live.”
There was silence. It stretched out and filled the corners of the empty department store, snaking around the two of them. It butted in and dominated the conversation. It hung there. And then she laughed, bubbling and gleeful.
“You’re all the same,” she said. “Arrogant. And taciturn.”
He shrugged his shoulders and nocked another arrow. He wasn’t surprised when the crossbow flew from his grasp. She was a queen, after all.
“You boys and your little toys.”
“Yeah,” he said, reaching into his pocket. He didn’t do her the courtesy of showing her the detonator. The pack of nails and iron dust burst from the display behind her, showering her in spikes and powder. She screamed and clawed at her face as it sizzled.
He walked over the spot where his crossbow had come to rest, and picked it up. He walked back over to her and fired a single bolt into her heart. She mewled and stared up at him with wide, scared eyes, and then went still and began to dissolve. He turned to see the spectators, their glamors falling away.
“I’ll offer you the same deal,” he said. “Leave here, find somewhere uninhabited, and you can live.”
He stayed on for one more week, stocking shelves by day and prowling the moonlit shopping mall by night, and then moved on to the next one.
Opening line by Laura Roberts, originally posted here.