Late For His Shift
By Peter G. Reynolds
Ron felt strange as he passed through the doorway to - wherever this was. His heightened senses could measure temperature and air quality and he'd heard some of his kind could even tell you their exact location based on changes in atmospheric pressure and magnetic fields. Ron knew he couldn't do that, but he did know the difference between inside and outside and this place felt… wrong. Like he was inside AND outside at the same time.
He could feel a gentle breeze in the air, tickling the back of his neck. He could hear songbirds overhead, moving from unseen tree to unseen tree. Still, he also felt boundaries, like you would in any building; that slightly claustrophobic feeling his kind was particularly sensitive to.
"It takes a little getting used to," said Mary, Walking around to the other side of the treeble. Ron now noticed she was barefoot and that tiny white flowers were sprouting behind her, filling in each footprint. He steadied himself on a twisted branch that's seemed to be there just for that purpose and sat down heavily.
"Who are you?" Ron asked.
"I'm Muirenne, and this is my merry inn," Mary replied matter-of-factly. She sat lightly on treeble and swung her legs back and forth like a kindergartener on a swing.
There was then a long pause, and it became clear to Ron she wasn't going to provide any more details. So he tried again. His hands spread out in front of him.
"What is this place?"
"The Inn?" Mary asked.
"Yes," Ron replied, his voice now tinged with impatience. "What is it?"
"Not it," Mary corrected she.
Ron suddenly felt very uncomfortable. This was all a little much for a boy from Toronto. "I think we'd better find my brother."
Mary looked confused at Ron's sudden change in attitude. "Oh, of course," she said, "he should be back any moment."
As if on cue, Ron could see a shape swirling behind the mist, growing more substantial the closer it got. For a moment, it looked like two forms, but then the mist parted, and Carl emerged. Ron sniffed the air. Carl smelled agitated and not the typical agitated he was when Ron was around. This was different.
"Let's go." Carl half growled.
Given what Ron had just experienced, he was, in fact, ready to go. Yet this did seem abrupt. "Are you sure, Carl?" He asked. "We just got here."
Carl continued walking with purpose, but stopped before exiting.
"You should stay." He said without turning around. I'll report back to Gary, and we'll all see you here this evening.
"Bu…but…" stammered Ron.
"No butts. Just do something useful and make sure everything's ready when we return. We like our steaks rare."
"I know, I know," said Ron, feeling defeated.
"Rare." Echoed a voice from far down the hallway
Ron closed his eyes and swallowed hard. It tasted bitter. Caterer. That's my role, thought Ron, remembering back to when Gary first told him of the Prophecy.
"I need you to help me, Ron," he said. "This will be a glorious adventure," he said. "We each have a role to play," he said.
Blah, blah, blah.
Ron's thoughts swirled. You lied to me, Gary. You promised me glory and a chance to wipe the slate clean. Yes. We each have a role to play, but it seems mine will always be more culinary than council, more sous chef than soldier.
Ron cursed, "You make ONE cheese soufflé, and they never let you forget it!"
The scent of lilac and honey was suddenly close. "Ronnie?" Asked Mary. "Is everything ok?"
Ron opened his eyes. She was standing right next to him.
"I'm fine." He said, not meeting her gaze. "That's just Carl being Carl. I'd better check on those steaks."
"There's no need for that," Mary assured him. She then leaned in close, which he didn't mind in the slightest, and whispered, "Why don't we take a walk outside and I'll give you a tour of Waterford."