Frank fell asleep on the couch while watching an endless stream of repeated cartoons on television; the endless loop of superheroes and talking food carried on despite his tired eyes. As his eyes closed, he was sure that Jeremy walked into the room and picked up the remote control. While Jeremy switched the channel to a documentary about lions in Africa, Frank drifted into his dream, dismissing the cat that was sitting on the living room floor, purring contentedly while watching a lioness pounce on a gazelle.
“Do you always pass out like a pansy when you’re dismembered? When I was a kid, I was cut in half!” the goblin’s bulging right eye looked as though it was going to explode as the creature’s excitement swelled. “In half, mind you. None of this arm and leg malarkey.” The goblin drew in a deep breath and let it out as a sigh. “What did I do? Did I ask for help? No. I got up and put myself together. Whatever was missing, I just made a machine for.”
Frank studied the goblin closely. He was squat and misshapen as all goblins are, though he seemed particularly wide. His features were asymmetrical; his face looked like someone inflated half of the face of a stroke victim and painted the whole thing pea green. The goblin’s hands were gnarled and thick; his fingers contorted strangely as he adjusted Frank’s arm.
“Why are you helping me?” Frank asked.
“Because I like a challenge, and because I will be goblin stew if Aurora finds out I caused this mess.” the goblin pointed to a pile of discarded flesh and bone which once was part of Frank’s body. “So, I think that saving your life and de-crippling you should more than make up for startling you. So, I’d appreciate some quiet from you.”
“You caused this, you twisted thing!” accused Frank. “I won’t stay quiet. As a matter of fact, I… um?” Frank paused as he noticed the metal prosthetics started moving of their own accord.
“Surprising huh? They still haven’t accepted you yet, and they do love their daddy ever so much, so I’d watch my tongue for a while if I were in your feet. Well, foot really. The left one still belongs to me.” Frank stared at his body. His flesh was mangled and torn; a black iron hand clasped and unclasped threateningly where his right hand used to be. The same black iron was used to construct his left leg, right foot, and an unknown number of internal organs. Anguish filled him, mixed with anger; there was nothing he could do though; his new limbs wouldn’t work without some practice.
“I’m Tawdry McGuffin, not that you wanted to ask. And you’re welcome, not that you’d say thank you. I’m a master blacksmith, so don’t expect that you’ll find better anywhere else. If you want to downgrade back to the flesh, you should be able to find a healer somewhere. Enjoy.” Tawdry returned to his small forge, arranging his tools.
“Where am I?” asked Frank.
“You’re home. I’d suggest you go find a roof, ’cause if you ain’t gonna thank me, you ain’t gonna stay.” Frank weighed his options as he studied the surly creature. He knew Aurora, so he must not be evil. Perhaps this was the best the goblin could do under the circumstances and Frank would just have to live with it. He considered himself lucky to still have his left hand, but when he looked at it, he noticed that something was missing.
“The ring of runes! What did you do with it?”
“Oh, that’s for me to know boy. Maybe if you were kinder to old Tawdry, I’d have told you. But being a prick never got anyone anywhere in life. There’s a lesson for you. Not that you’ll thank me for that.”
“McGuffin! Where the ring? I need it.” demanded Frank as his iron limbs became rigid. Tawdry smiled, showing his sharp, double rows of teeth.
“I know.” he hissed.
“What are you doing down here?” asked Claudia, dressed in a long nightgown. “I’ve been waiting for over an hour. I thought I heard you come home, then I end up finding you asleep on the couch. Did you even think of coming upstairs? What if something happened to me?”
Frank shook the dreams out of his head, and looked disbelievingly at the television as a Lion roared while Jeremy stretched his body and left the room. He saw Claudia and she looked angry. She had apparently planned some kind of surprise and he had ignored all the signs.
“Rose petals on the stairs, soft music; a message on the dry erase board that says ’come up and see me’. How did you not see any of that?”
“I’m sorry, but it’s been kind of a weird day. I’ve just been really out of it, you know?”
“I don’t know, Frank. Why don’t you tell me? Most guys would love something like this.” said Claudia, almost stamping her feet.
“Claudia, I think I’m seeing things again.” Frank said, letting the words drop like thirty pounds of iron on the floor. The words pulled all the anger out of Claudia; instead, she looked afraid.
“I thought you were done with that.” she said, sounding like insanity was just some childish phase. She had met Frank when he had nearly completed his treatment, and she was in her glory; he loved her like a savior sent from above. In a secret part of her heart, she truly believed she saved him. She loved that he had been broken, and that she was the one who put him back together.
“I saw a little man sitting on the cashier’s shoulder. He was cheering her on. I think he was a gnome. Then, I thought I got in an accident. I woke up at the door, then I saw the cat walking on his hind legs and talking.” Frank’s words became muddled as he grew nervous. The blackout, the hallucinations; it was much worse than ever before. “There was an e-mail at work from the queen of my imaginary land.” When he said it, it sounded ludicrous. He saw that Claudia was holding back tears. He thought they were because she felt bad for him; he didn’t know they were because her mother always told her that he’d relapse. Claudia hated being wrong, and even more so, she hated having to live with her mistakes.