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I like goblins. I hang out with goblins. Some of my best friends are goblins. Just keep them away from the cat.

Talkin' Picnic-Crashin' Goblin Blues


Nick Ozment


            The Blasted Heath is not a pleasant place.

            The grass is brown and stunted, bringing to mind rock stars on heroin. The very contours of its hills seem to speak of an unspeakable evil, despite the fact that hills can't speak, though they sometimes have eyes. Even the few scant trees are wrong, yet in too subtle a way to pinpoint.  They seem to be, rather than growing up into the sky, instead plunging into the ground to dig around in its dirty secrets. One could not sing here of a place “where the buffalo roam/ and the deer and the antelope play.” Indeed, if any natural hoofed beasts were to be found here, a more apt song would tell of “where the buffalo foam/ and the deer and the antelope flay.”

            I regretted choosing it as a spot for a picnic.

A friend of mine once said that if I resolved to go somewhere, between my chair and the door I would find a hundred-and-one things to distract me before I stepped a foot outside. Hence, some people have accused me of being “poky.” Perhaps on this day the description would have been not unjustified. I had gotten up bright and early that morning to go, by myself, on a picnic. When I spread my blanket and began to set out picnic paraphernalia, it was evening. I had packed a light lunch; I now realized, in an inexplicably melancholy state of mind, it would be my supper.

I sat there on my blanket, the dry grass beneath me prickling through the thin fabric, with a slight sense of unease. I could imagine the trees whispering back and forth to each other, and if I could understand tree language, I'm sure I would have wanted to wash their bark out with soap. Speaking of which, I know the saying “his bark is worse than his bite,” but it was one of the only times in my life when I felt that the trees, if they wanted to, really could bite. And perhaps just now they wanted to.

            I had taken a third bite of my second salami sandwich when I thought I heard something.  A rustling noise. I stopped chewing. The rustling stopped too. Cautiously, I began to chew again, and again heard the rustling. Each time I stopped, so did the sound. But each time my jaws resumed, the sound got louder, until I had masticated nearly all of that mouthful of salami sandwich and I was sure the noise was right behind me. When I swallowed the rest, in that same instant something grabbed me from behind. I nearly choked.

            The sun had sunk behind the hill, as if ashamed to watch what was transpiring, leaving only the perverse shadows of dusk. Whatever it was that had snuck up on me now hooked its claws into my shirt and began to drag me away. I struggled, but to no avail.

            It could be that I was feeling the effects of the three beers with which I had washed down my first sandwich, and the fourth beer that I'd started on with the second sandwich. But my assailant, though small, displayed unnatural strength. He clobbered me a couple of times over the head, and the world began to spin.

            Semi-conscious as I was, I recall only vaguely being dragged several yards across the ground, and down into a hole that had previously been concealed from my view. When my head cleared somewhat, and the walls of earth around me began to stop, I was able to get a better look at my captor.

            The ridiculously full moon had now risen up over the hill, and though I was in the bowels of the earth, we were not too far down -- perhaps the outer rectum -- and some moonlight still filtered in. Enough to tell that he was four feet tall at most, and scrawny. Pale, wrinkly skin hung in loose folds on his lanky, almost hairless frame. His eyes bulged like a frog. He was an albino, only more so.  He had long claws, and sharp pointy teeth. He was entirely naked -- I knew because I couldn't help but notice what looked like a withered maggot dangling between his chicken-bone legs. Would that I were spared the sight! He was altogether a visage of pure revulsion and terror, and for my dear reader’s sake I will not describe him.

            Cautiously I sat up, and managed to squeak out, “What do you want?”

            “Merely to haunt,” he replied in a voice that reminded me of sandpaper rubbed briskly on skin, a sound I have rarely heard.

            He bared his fangs in a grin that I frankly found to be a little disturbing. Then he squinted one bulging eye at me and hissed, “You don't want to be turned into rabbit stew, do you?”

            I decided not to point out that to be turned into that kind of stew, I'd have to belong to the family Leporidae, and instead acknowledged his intuitiveness.

            “No,” I said, “that's right. That's very true.”

            “Then rhyme with me!” he exclaimed, looking triumphant.

            “Pardon me?” I said politely, when he did not immediately say anything else.

            “I am challenging you to a rhyming duel.”

            “I'm, uh, afraid I'm unfamiliar with that particular form of duel.”

            “Eh?” my captor grunted.

            “I said I've never heard of that form of duel.”

            “Then perhaps you were born a fool!”

            He looked at me, as if waiting for a response. Finally he huffed, “You see? We start out sparring. One person says a line; the other parries with a rhyme. In the final clash, each combatant must recite a poem of not less than eight lines off the top of his skull.”

            I thought for a moment, then asked, “What does the winner get?”

            “You win your freedom. If I win, I get supper.” He licked his chops, and my stomach began to feel queasy, forming a sadistic trio with my fearfully racing heart and pounding head.

            Barely concealing the alarm in my voice, I asked, “But who will be the judge?!”

            Perhaps he attempted a good-natured smile, but his features were clearly incapable of such niceties. “This is a gentleman's sport. We must trust each other to express an unbiased opinion, on our word of honor.”

            “What if we disagree? Surely our tastes in versification are different.” In more ways than one, I thought.

            “In the event of a dispute, you will give an argument for your position, then I shall be the tie-breaker.”

            “How --” I began to sputter, but he merely raised a white palm and said, “Because I am the captor. And you are my prisoner. I have the final say.”

            Then he added, “But don't worry. I will be fair, and only  render a frank, honest decision.”

            When I said nothing more, he rubbed his long bony fingers together, some drool escaped his mouth, and he said, “Well then, I shall go first, if you have no objection... No?  Okay, we begin... ‘With this ring I thee wed.’ Now remember, there's a time limit. If I think you're taking too long, I will bite you.”

            This piece of information did not help me organize my thoughts. The first rhyme that came to mind was, “You must be crazy in the head,” but instead I said: “Be sure to never wet the bed.”

            He said nothing for a moment, his face unreadable. Then a hissing noise began to escape his swollen lips, and developed into a raspy cough. He was laughing. “ ‘With this ring I thee wed / Be sure to never wet the bed.’ I like it. Either a stroke of dumb luck, or a hint that I have taken up with a very clever opponent. One point for you. Now it's my turn. Give me a line.”

            I wondered how many rounds this infernal game had, and if it really mattered. In all likelihood, he planned to make a meal of me in the end, regardless the outcome. His honor, my ass.

            So I admitted, “I believe I'm in a bind.”

            He snapped back, “I suppose it's Ex-Lax time!”

            “Um, time and bind, that isn't a true rhyme,” I ventured.

            “Ahhh…” He stroked his chin thoughtfully.  “We have a stickler here, I see. Won't allow a little poetic license? All right then, I concede. One to zero, your favor. Now rhyme with this: ‘A peculiarly powerful monkey...’”

            When I did not quickly respond, he clapped his hands impatiently. Flustered, I blurted out: “Is really funky!”

            He looked at me askance.  “ ‘Is really funky?’ No, no, no. Is there something wrong with your brain?”

            “Was riding the back of a junkie!” I amended.

            “A-hah, you use ‘monkey’ in the metaphoric sense. Clever, but you are not allowed to change your answer. No point for you.”

            I boldly dared to ask, “I wonder how long this will be?”

            He sneered and said, "Because I really have to pee."

            “But that wasn't --”

            He held up a clammy hand for silence, declaring, “That is a point for me, unless you have a good objection to it. And now it is time for the final round. Since I am the defending champion, I shall go first...

Dig up snails with a garden hoe:

You’ll have yourself some escargot.


Asian food can be quite hasty:

Burmese cat is very tasty.


Irish lager goes down better

With a plate of Irish setter.


Midnight snack’s inside the hutch;

Girl won’t miss her rabbit much.


But tastier than rabbit stew

Would be a bowl of some o’ you!”

“I don't like that at all,” I croaked.

            “Bias!” he roared. “Just because you are a subject of the poem, you should not allow your judgment to be clouded.”

            “How do I know you made that poem up just now on the spot?” I demanded.

            He suddenly tensed up, barely concealing his outrage, like a molehill volcano about to blow.

            But he merely cleared his throat and said, “I will disregard that challenge to my sportsmanship...Compose your poem.”

            “Now see here --”

            “Compose your rhyme!  Or you forfeit, and I eat you now.”

            “Okay, okay, just give me a moment.”

Looking at him, fuming there like a miffed mutant midget, I felt that I could drop-kick him into the cave wall. But then I recalled the strength he had displayed which belied his puny size. Perhaps he would let me leave, after all. If not, well, then we'd see how his lower anatomy reconciled itself to my size nine loafer.

            Suddenly, I felt a new resolve take shape in my breast. Damned if I wasn't going to muster up a quatrain, with an a-b-a-b rhyme scheme! I'd put that pathetic little rhyming goblin to shame!

            Indeed, I got so carried away that I produced twice as many lines as the rules called for. I'll never forget those lines, as long as I live, especially now that I've written them down.

            Hesitantly, I began: “It moaned in the wall...”

            He nodded, folding his hands.

            “It shook the chandelier... It shrieked down the hall...”

            He grinned expectantly, and interrupted, “Let's see you keep that up!”

            Undaunted, I continued:

It moaned in the wall.

It shook the chandelier.

It shrieked down the hall.

It creaked on the stair.


It grinned from the glass

that Pauline peered at.

It pinched Angie's, uh, ass.

She blamed me for that!


It lewdly leered at Liz,

and licked her underwear.

Don't know what the hell It is,

or what It's doing there.


It's a horny little haunt,

and spoiling my chances.

Its perverted taunts

are ruining romances!


            “Ahhhh, it is clear!” he hissed. “Clever! The ‘I’' which you describe in veiled verse is, in fact, the female menstrual period.”

            My eyes widened. I said nothing, not wanting to contradict my captor's novel interpretation. In truth, the “It” I'd lamely rhymed about had only vaguely suggested itself in my mind, perhaps a shadowy ghost of my adversary.

            “I yield to you,” he raved. “I had no idea, when I snatched you, that I had sunk my claws into a real wit! Heh, heh, ‘licked her underwear’ indeed. Anthropomorphization of menstrual flow -- truly you are a master in this sport!”

            Then, with a nimble gesture he proffered something, but since he wore no clothing, I could not tell from whence he proffered it. He offered it to me.

            With faint unease, I accepted it. I squinted at the cold object in my palm. It was a ring.

            “You have won it, fair and square,” the creature said sadly. “Though it is my prize possession, I bestow it now to you.”

            “Thank you, really, but I'm not really into jewelry --”

            “Oh, but it is more than just an ordinary ring. Here, give it back and I will demonstrate what it can do.”

“No, that's quite all right. It's very pretty, isn't it? Thank you, thank you, thank you...”

Hoping to wrap up this impromptu kidnapping quickly and be on my way, I graciously bowed and slipped the diminutive trinket onto my pinkie.

            He immediately squealed, “No! Don't put it on!”

            Instinctively, I stepped back at this sudden outburst. Yet he continued to address the spot where I had just been standing. In a nasal whine he pleaded, “Take it off now. I was merely showing it to you, for you to admire. I can't part with it. It's MINE! My VALUABLE. Mucus. Mucus,” he croaked. Then he leapt at empty air.

            I quickly side-stepped as he flailed blindly around the foul den. I managed to back my way out the hole. When I reached open air, I could hear him still howling in impotent rage down below.  Then came scrambling, nails clicking on gravel -- he was coming up after me. I ran, not even bothering to stop for my picnic basket, back to my trusty old Corvair.

            As I drove home, trying to maintain a safe speed, the creature's true perversity dawned on me. Not satisfied with merely devouring his prey, he made me play his sick rhyming game. Perhaps he would present the magic ring, even let the hapless victim hold it, then ask for it back so he could “demonstrate” the ring's power. Immediately donning the ring, the now-invisible brute would pounce and make his meal. The victim would succumb knowing that for a moment he had unwittingly held the creature's secret weapon in his hand, while the creature was powerless. I could even imagine the beast taunting with this fact, between bites.

            Shuddering, I put the thought out of my head. Then I smirked. He had not reckoned on me. The little white rhyming sonuvabitch had met his match.


            Work the next day was the same old routine. Except I had a secret. When the monotony became too great, I would slip my hand into my pocket, and feel the reassuring presence of that burnished gold.

            After work, I decided to head down to the employee gym for a quick work-out. If something like this ever happened again, I wanted to be in a little better shape for it.

            As I walked in, a girl from human resources was just finishing. She picked up her duffel bag and headed for the showers.

            A naughty idea gripped me, and I couldn't pry its dirty fingers off my mind. I could get a better look at her, much better. All wet. Right now. I could actually enact almost every fellow's high school fantasy. Like that teen sex romp Porky's without bothering about a peephole.

I grinned like a schoolboy as I slipped my hand into my pocket, then pulled it back out with the ring on. Cautiously, so as not to make any noise, I did what I have rarely done in my life. I went into the ladies' locker room.


            The sound of water running...Steam wafting out...Fog on the mirrors...My heart pounding, racing faster and faster… I tiptoe to the showers. Then I peer around the wall, and there, in all her glory, is the woman from human resources. She's turned toward me, the perfect angle, but her eyes are shut to the hot spray on her face. Her boobs are pointing right at me, as if accusing: “She can't see you, but we can!”

            I start to pull off a loafer, but then I think, “No, if I set  those down, they'll not be touching me anymore and she'll be able to see them.” So, to get a closer look, I step into the shower fully clothed. So what if I get soaked?

            Drenched, I stand there, mere inches from her, soaking in the view. She starts fumbling around for the little shelf and the bar of soap -- wouldn't it be amusing if I picked it up and handed it to her? Giving up her blind search, she opens her eyes to look -- and screams! 

            I don't understand -- I glance at my hand to make sure the ring didn't slip off when it got wet, but it's still there! I look back at her, and she's trying to cover herself and screaming at the top of her lungs.

            Then I realize I've been taken for a fool. There really is no such thing as magic rings after all.