Author note: This is an older story that I dug up because I was sick last week. This is technically Chapter Four but stands on its own.
Tales of JOBCo
Vikki and the Dwarves Job
“Thank you and have a good night,” Vikki said handing the last customer of the night her bag of cookies. She turned off the lights in the display cases at Jolly Ole Biscuit Company and put up the closed sign. Everyone in the mall called it “the cookie store” but it was really just a counter with glass display cases and a baking area in the back.
Jesse, her co-worker for the night, was already putting away the unsold cookies. Tonight had been Vikki’s first time working with her. She was just few inches taller than her own 5′ 6″, with brown hair, and a slim build that hid how strong she was. She had been standoffish at first but over the evening she had seemed to warm up to Vikki.
“You’re not what I thought you would be,” Jesse said wiping the counters while Vikki cleaned the soda fountain.
“What did you expect?” Vikki asked.
“Well, I thought you’d be more intimidating.”
“Intimidating? Why would you think that?” Vikki asked.
“Well, I mean, I just thought being what you are… I just assumed that you’d be more… grrr,” Jesse made a snarling face and held her hands up like claws, “You know?”
Did Jesse know she was a…? She couldn’t know. Could she? Vikki faked a smile, “Is this about that mob on Monday?”
“No, well kind of, but you know what forget I said that. I should know better than than to buy into stereotypes.”
Jesse stopped cleaning and walked over to Vikki. She folded and unfolded the towel in her hands as she spoke. “So, I know we just met today and we don’t really know each other very well but,” Jesse took a breath and the sound of rustling leaves, creaking branches and whistling wind came from her mouth.
Vikki stared for a second and then said, “What?”
Jesse once again spoke but this time Vikki heard, “Will you [rustling leaves] through the [snapping twigs] with me and [birds chirping] from harm?”
“I don’t understand what you’re say.”
“Will you walk through the forest with me and keep me from harm?” Jesse said plainly.
Forest? Did she mean the park? Vikki lived on the other side of the park bordering the mall so it wouldn’t be out of her way. “Um, you mean tonight after work?” she asked.
“Uh, sure,” Vikki said.
After work, Jesse led her in a winding path along the the park trails. Every time they approached the edge of the park, Jesse took the trail back into the park.
“Um, hey, do you know where you’re going?” Vikki asked.
“Yes, it’s just a little bit farther,” Jesse said over her shoulder.
“Ok, it’s just that we’ve been walking around in the park for half an hour and-”
“Here it is,” Jesse said stepping off the paved path onto a dirt one that led into a small grove of trees.
“Wait, where are you going?” Vikki asked Jesse’s rapidly retreating back.
Jesse stopped, turned, and said, “I’m going to the forest. You said you would walk with me.”
“Ok I said that but I thought you just wanted to walk home. Is this going to take long?”
“No time at all,” Jesse said with a smile, “Come on.” She turned around and began walking. Vikki hesitated but she had said she would walk with her, so she followed.
The trees began to grow closer around the path and the underbrush wildly thick. They walked for several minutes, much longer than Vikki thought it would take to walk through the grove she had seen from the paved path.
The path widened, opening up into a small clearing around the gnarliest tree Vikki had seen. The trunk was several feet across, covered in knots and twisted like a rung out rag. Its bare branches were like snakes bursting out and over the clearing. The tree’s bark was dull lifeless gray.
Jesse walked up to the tree and placed her hand on it, “Stand behind me and place your hand over mine. And do not remove it until I tell you to.” Vikki looked at her puzzled. “Come on we don’t have all night,” Jesse said.
“Ok sure,” Vikki mumbled before doing so.
Jesse slowly began to walk around the tree, stepping over protruding roots, sliding her hand along the bark. Vikki followed her. As they walked, she noticed the park grow dark and felt the air constrict around her. She felt something holding her back and walking forward became harder as if she was walking up a steep incline. Her hand began to slide off of Jesse’s. For a second she thought Jesse would pull ahead of her. She pressed harder forward, step by step, leaning against the solid air. Then Jesse stopped walking. The light returned and she stumbled forward a step almost bumping into Jesse’s back.
“You can let go now,” Jesse said while pulling her hand off the tree. The tree that was still gnarly and twisted but now clearly alive. The bark was now dark brown and the branches covered with lush green leaves.
Vikki stepped away from the tree, “What was that?”
“What was what?”
“That, that walking and the air and the darkness and I could barely keep up with you and,” Vikki pointed, “the tree is alive now. It was dead and now… and now…”
“Whoa calm down, we just took a shortcut using Der Tree. I take it you’ve never done that before?” Jesse said.
“No I’ve never done that before. Shortcut to where?”
“To Der Forest, of course. I asked you to walk with me through Der Forest,” Jesse swept her arm out gesturing to the surrounding trees, which were much larger and older than those in the park.
“Are you saying ‘the’ or ‘der’?” Vikki asked.
“I’m saying ‘Der’.”
“Why are you saying ‘der forest’ and not ‘the forest’?”
“Because this is Der Forest.”
“What is der forest?”
Jesse stared at her, “How do you not know what Der Forest is? You’re a wolf, aren’t you?”
Vikki began babbling, “What.. How.. Who..?” She knows! How does she… Wait, does she know? “What does that mean?” Vikki asked.
“Come on, I know you’re playing this close to your coat and you’ve got everyone else fooled but I’m from here too. You can’t fool another child of Der Forest,” Jesse said.
“I’m not from here. I’m from Ohio.”
“I’m from Ohio.”
“You’re not from Der Forest?”
“You have no idea what Der Forest is?”
“But you’re a wolf. I can SEE it on and around you,” Jesse said waving her arms around Vikki’s body.
“I’m.. It’s.. um.. I guess I kind of am a wolf in a way but I’m not from here.”
“What are you exactly?”
Vikki took a deep calming breath and said, “I’m a werewolf.”
Jesse seemed to freeze in place as her mind turned over this revelation. Moonlight filtered through the trees leaves was sufficient for Vikki to see the surrounding area. She looked back the way they had walked from the sidewalk and saw a clear trail leading away from the tree. Vikki took a step toward the trail but was stopped by someone grabbing her arm. She spun, raised her free hand, fingers curled ready to claw at her attacker but stopped when she saw Jesse holding on to her.
“Ok, I can work with this but if we’re going to get through this there are going to be a few rules. Rule one, don’t leave my side. Rule two do exactly what I say. Rule three don’t let anyone know you’re not from Der Forest.”
“What is going on?”
“When I asked you to walk with me through Der Forest and keep me from harm I was asking you to be my bodyguard for the night.”
“Bodyguard? Why ask me?”
“Cause you’re a Wolf. Around here one of the scariest most dangerous creatures you can face is a Wolf.”
“But I’m not really a Wolf.”
“No, but you have the presence of one.”
“But I’m not..”
“Werewolf, to me and the people from around here, you look like a very dangerous person.”
“Where is here anyway?” Vikki asked.
“This is Der Forest.”
“You said that but what does that mean and why do you keep saying ‘der’? Are we in Germany?”
“We’re not in Germany. I’m not saying ‘der’. I’m saying ‘Der’. In the language of the forest, it means the true one of a thing, like this is the true one forest.”
“This forest is not just one forest. It is all forests everywhere combined into a super forest that is the source of all other forests but it only exists so long as every other forest does.”
“You know the story of Snow White and Cinderella and Hansel and Gretta and Little Red Riding Hood all take place in “the forest”? This is that forest. This is The Forest that has ever appeared in any story. Welcome to the land of your stories.”
“Ok let me get this straight. We’re in fairy tale land?” Vikki asked. They had walked down the path from the tree to find a well worn dirt road. Jesse had stared at the stars for a second before taking off in one direction.
“Kind of. Things here aren’t exactly like the fairy tales you heard growing up.”
“Like what?” Vikki asked.
The stories you know are like history here. They really happened here in the past.”
“So I can’t meet any fairy tale characters?”
“It’s complicated. The stories sometimes repeat, with variations. Sometimes the prince doesn’t find the right foot.”
“No one notices?”
“No they don’t. Shhh, we’re here.” Ahead the road passed by a squat log building, with flickering light coming through the windows. A sign hanging from a post read, “House of Twigs Tavern”
“House of Twigs? The bartender isn’t a pig is he?” Vikki jokingly asked.
“He’s a boar and don’t ask about his brothers. If he asks about other wolves, say you’re an orphan. Got it?” Jesse said.
“In fact don’t talk at all. Anyone talks to you just stare them in the eye until they go away.”
“What if they don’t go away?”
“Trust me they’ll go away. No one wants to make a Wolf mad.”
“But I’m not really a Wolf,” Vikki said.
“No one will be able to tell the difference. Just stick with the plan. Stick close, don’t talk, and look scary.”
“Ok, what are you going to be doing?”
“I’m going to be getting drunk.”
Vikki scanned the tavern. Most of the patrons were human, at least they looked human. The bartender was indeed a boar, kind of. His head was unmistakable that of a boar but it topped a slightly more human body with gray skin and covered by coarse hair. Three thick stubby fingers ending in thick wide nails handled mugs, glasses, and bottles with an ease Vikki was impressed by. Vikki had planted herself at a small table to one side of the tavern, near the bar, where she could see most of the room. The bartender had given her a perplexed look when she asked for something without alcohol but had served her without any comment.
Several beer glasses, a pyramid of shot glasses, a few mead mugs, and one hour later, Jesse had indeed gotten drunk. Ten minutes ago she had started leading the tavern in singing sea chanteys and dancing among the tables. Acting as Jesse’s bodyguard had come fairly easy, since most everyone seemed terrified of upsetting her. The one time she had actually had to do something was when Jesse bumped into a man and started an argument. The two had almost come to blows but he had backed off quickly when Vikki had approached.
At a nearby table a group of short bearded muscular men sat drinking. They talked amongst themselves, sometimes breaking out in a roar of laughter. Jesse stumbled mid song and violently bumped their table. Most of men were holding their beers or at least had a hand on it. The leader however was too busy grabbing at a barmaid, who was pushing him away, to steady his stein and it spilled on his beard and lap. He yelled and stood up. The barmaid briskly walked away.
“Hey, watch where the hell you’re going!” he yelled at Jesse.
“Hey! Why don’t you pipe down. I’m singing here,” she yelled back before continuing her chantey.
The man turned red in the face, knocked his chair over and began stalking around the table toward Jesse. Vikki sprang from her chair and moved to block the man from getting to Jesse. He started to reach for her but stopped as she caught his gaze. He froze caught between anger and self preservation. The two stared at each other for a minute while the tavern went silent, except for Jesse still singing.
Jesse stumbled over to the two, “Hey what are you two doing? You’re killing the mood.”
“You owe me a beer,” the man said through clenched teeth.
“Bullshit!” Jesse spit at the man, “You just can’t hold your alcohol.” She laughed and stumbled into Vikki who she grabbed onto to keep from falling. A few other people chuckled.
He turned away from Vikki survey the crowd, “I’ll out drink any man or woman who wants to challenge me!”
“I’ll take that challenge,” Jesse said still hanging onto Vikki.
Once the challenge had been accepted, two tables had been cleared, pushed together, and couple dozen full beer glasses placed on each. Jesse sat at one table and the man at the other. The bartender stood nearby to officiate.
“Ok, you will drink one beer at a time. If you finish your beer first you must wait for the other person to finish their last beer before starting your next. First one to pass out or be unable to finish their beer loses. Got it?” the bartender asked.
“Ready start!” he yelled. Jesse and the man picked up their first beers and began chugging them down. They slammed their glasses down at nearly the same time and grabbed their next beer.
Eight beers later, the man was starting to slow down. “Not giving up now, are you?” Jesse taunted.
“No,” the man answered tersely before downing the rest of his beer.
As they reached for their next beers, Jesse said, “Why don’t we make this really interesting?”
“What have you got in mind?”
“How about a side bet? You win you get something, I win I get something.”
“Like what?” he asked cautiously.
“What do you want?” she asked.
The man grinned, “How about you spend a week with me and my brothers.”
“And if I win?”
“A bag of jewels from my mine.”
“Just a bag? Pffft. Why not the whole mine?”
“You think you’re worth a whole jewel mine?!” the man yelled.
“What if I throw in my bodyguard?”
The man carefully eyed Vikki, “I don’t know…”
“What are you scared you’re gonna lose,” Jesse said.
The man got red in the face and said, “Fine! My mine if you win but when I win, I and my brothers get the two of you for a week!”
“How do I know you aren’t going to cheat me out of the mine if I win?”
“Paper! Bring me paper and ink!” A barmaid brought a sheet of paper and ink and quill to the tables. The man began scribbling on the paper covering it from top to bottom with a description of the mine’s location and a note promising the mine to the holder of the paper. He gave Jesse a chance to look it over before taking it back signing it and having a the bartender sign it as well. “There if you win you get this paper and the mine.”
“Fair enough,” Jesse said with a smile.
The man downed his sixteenth beer and reached for his seventeenth. His hand grabbed at air as his body swayed.
“You giving up yet?” Jesse asked half way through her seventeenth beer.
Two of the man’s bothers steadied him. “Never!” he shouted, grabbing his next beer, and tilting it back down his throat. He slammed it down, burped, and fell face first into the table top before collapsing to the ground. The tavern watched in silence as Jesse finished her beer, picked up her eighteenth beer, and chugged it in one go.
“I guess I win,” she said. She stumbled over to the prone man being shaken and slapped across the face by his brothers. “Hey I won that means I get the mine.”
“You’ll get the mine over my dead body,” one of the brothers said.
“Hey, hey, barkeep! They’re trying to welch on the bet!” Jesse yelled over her shoulder at the boarheaded bartender. The bartender snorted at the brothers and pointed at them.
“Fine,” one brother said reaching into his snoring brothers pocket and pulling out the note, “Here have our mine but watch your back.” Jesse took the note. She turned to walk away and would have fallen if Vikki hadn’t been there to catch her.
“I think we should go now,” Vikki whispered in Jesse’s ear.
“Come on, one more round for the house on me!” Jesse shouted. The tavern cheered.
“I really don’t like the way they’re looking at us,” Vikki said nodding at the brothers who had propped their passed out brother in a chair and were still trying to rouse him.
“Ok, ok, barkeep, one more round for the tavern and I’ll be back tomorrow to settle my tab,” Jesse said while letting Vikki guide her out of the tavern. Someone began to sing again as they exited the door.
Vikki began walking toward the road still supporting Jesse. Now what do I do? I’m stuck in fairy tale land with a drunk woman who is my only way home. “Are we in the clear?” Jesse whispered.
“Is there anyone around?” she asked.
Vikki looked around and saw no one, “No, everyone’s inside.”
“Good.” Jesse straightened up and stood by herself. She started walking away from tavern steady as a rock.
“Wait, what?” Vikki asked, “I thought you were drunk?”
“I can’t get drunk. Little gift from my fairy godmother. I do need to go to the bathroom like a racehorse, though,” Jesse said smiling.
Behind them, from the bushes around the tavern, someone shouted, “Cheater! You cheated us out of the mine!” One of the brothers emerged from the brush pulling up his pants, “Cheater!” he yelled one more time before running into the tavern.
“Oh crap,” Jesse said.
“Run for the tree.”
Jesse grabbed Vikki’s hand tight in her own. “We’re going fast. Don’t fall behind. Don’t let go.” She placed her hand against the tree and began walking around it. Darkness pressed in on Vikki again. She forced herself forward against a gale of blackness. Jesse began to pull ahead but she kept hold of Vikki’s hand and pulled her along. She wanted to scream but the air in her lungs wouldn’t move.
Then they were out, back in the forest. Vikki stumbled, wheezing in the fresh air.
“Come on, we have to hurry,” Jesse said pulling Vikki along.
They ran down the path away from the tree to a well worn dirt path. Following the dirt path they came to what Vikki first thought was a hole in the side of a cliff. As they got closer she saw wooden beams bracing the entrance and further down the mine shaft.
A robed hooded figure stepped out of the shadows brandishing a sword. “Hold there!” a woman’s voice said.
“Calm down princess. It’s just me and my bodyguard,” Jesse said.
The woman slipped her hood back revealing a mass of curly black hair and dark brown skin. She sheathed her sword and rushed forward to grab Jesse in a hug. “I’m so glad you made it. Did you get it?”
“Yep,” Jesse pulled out the note and handed it to her, “One jewel mine and it’s all yours.”
“Hello, excuse me, can some one tell me what is going on?” Vikki asked.
The woman stopped and glared at Vikki before speaking to Jesse, “It your bodyguard always so rude? Not that I should expect much from one of her kind.”
“Hold up princess. She’s not a wolf. She’s complicated but she’s not from around here. She’s from Ohio.”
The woman’s face softened, “I’m sorry, the wolves of the forest are a menace even with the current peace.”
“Snow is an exiled princess like me,” Jesse said.
“Wait, you’re a fairy tale princess?” Vikki asked.
“Yeah, that’s a long story, um, ok, short version: I got stuck in a tower, escaped, and walked through the worlds to your world. I occasionally help out people using the skills I picked up on my travels. Snow contracted me to get the deed for this mine.”
“And who is she?” Vikki asked.
“May I present Princess Juanita Everdale rightful heir to the Everdale kingdom also known as Snow White,” Jesse said.
“You’re Snow White?” Vikki asked shocked.
“Not the original but, yes, people call me that. I prefer Juanita. You know about the magic mirror? It’s from an old tale but tales sometimes repeat here. My stepmother inherited the magic mirror among other things from a distant relative. It’s cursed and fueled her vanity until… until… You know the line, ‘Skin white as snow, lips red as blood, and hair black as ebony.’ When I was ten, she said it was a pity only one applied to me and I would never be the fairest of the land. Of course fairest has more than one meaning.”
“There they are!!” a man shouted. The three at the mine’s entrance turned to see seven bearded men running up the path.
Juanita pulled her sword out and shouted, “Stop right there! This mine belongs to the holder of this note,” she pulled out the note and held it up.
“She cheated!! She didn’t get drunk!!”
“The bet was who could drink the most and I won!” Jesse yelled back.
“You can’t get drunk! That’s not a fair drinking contest!” one call out.
“Hey you didn’t ask and it wasn’t part of the rules!” Vikki yelled back while stepping forward.
“It violates the spirit of the contest!” another yelled.
“Well you guys are sexist pigs and we’re the good guys!” Vikki turned back to her compatriots and whispered, “Wait, why did we steal their mine? We are the good guys right? ”
“I’m going to fund a foundation to help runaway and exiled princess like Jesse and myself as well as other women in unfortunate situations in Der Forest,” Juanita said.
“Okay. Yeah, we are the good guys and the good guys can bend the rules for a good cause. And I think this qualifies.”
The brothers looked at each other and nodded. “We’re not leaving without that note.” They spread out in a line and began to stalk toward the trio.
“I’m warning you. Back off!” As the men began to surround her, Vikki felt her fear turn to anger. The bones in her body crackled as they reformed. Claws sprouted from her fingertips. The bones in her face pushed out and her ears peaked upwards. Fur roiled under the surface of her skin but that she held back.
Then she felt the wolf speak more clearly to her than ever before. You could rule the forest, it said. No one will dare challenge you. You could run under the moon every night. A twig snapped; Vikki snarled and growled at the dwarf that had taken a step. You could kill him, snap his bones, and lick his marrow. You could… but I won’t, she thought.
“I said get out of here!” Vikki roared at the dwarves. The dwarves glanced at each other and quickly backed away. She watched them until they disappeared from sight.
“Hey Vikki? Um, Vikki?” Jesse cautiously asked.
Vikki looked up at the shining moon feeling it’s draw and looked away. She breathed in and out slowly, calming herself, pushing the wolf back down inside herself. Her bones popped and cracked back to human shape and her claws retracted. After a couple of minutes she was back to normal. She turned to face Jesse and Juanita.
“Are you all right?” Jesse asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Vikki said.
“Ok cool,” Jesse said.
“Ok, cool? I started turning into a werewolf and that’s all you’re going to say?”
“Hey girls,” Juanita said, “I don’t know about you but I could use a drink.” She hefted a fist sized ruby, “My treat?”
“Sure, you might might want to bring two of those. I left the tab open at the tavern,” Jesse said.