Another of those silver discs crashed into the swamp today. I don’t bother about them as long as they crash clear of the castle, which they always do. Usually, Crusher McWreckage has his scrapyard truck revved up and on the way as soon as they hit, and the Ferals take care of the contents. By the time I managed to get to the crash site there wouldn’t be much left to see, other than a slowly-filling swamp hole and maybe a few alien bones with teeth marks in them.
Besides, it’s extremely cold out there now. Much earlier in the year than usual, so much earlier that I wondered if my calendar might be broken. It’s not, it really is cold early. This will make the Ferals especially hungry, so I doubt I’d even find a scrap of spacesuit anywhere near that crash. Instead I resumed my backlog of procrastination. I had four hours of blank-screen-staring to get through tonight. It’s tiring work, but someone has to do it. That new book won’t not-write itself.
I had taken a break to stare at the wall for a while, when there came a tapping at the door. Well, I thought, I am busy. Senga can answer it for once. The tapping became a knocking which built in intensity until it sounded as if a horde of woodpeckers had decided my door was the most fashionable place to peck wood for miles around. Then it stopped. I relaxed and aimed my eyes at the wall once more. It’s less tiring than the screen.
Then the screaming started. It was Senga, using that scream she normally reserves for the times when she opens Caligula’s room and finds he’s escaped again. It’s the scream that means I have to attend and deal with the problem. The odd thing was, it wasn’t coming from the direction of Caligula’s room and as soon as I entered the hallway, I could hear the little lad howling to himself, so he was still in his room.
The screaming was at the front door, where a little grey man-shaped thing cowered on the step while Feral shadows flitted among the snow-covered trees outside. Unfortunately I have not had time to go out and sharpen the icicles this year so there was little point in slamming the door. Instead I hauled the little man inside and closed the door gently. No point dislodging unsharpened icicles. That would be a waste.
“Is something the matter?” I said. Senga carried on screaming. I have positioned buckets around the house to deal with this, so I picked one up and put it over her head until the screaming stopped. While waiting, I addressed our diminutive visitor.
“Sorry about this. She can’t stop until she can no longer see the problem. I’m afraid she seems to consider you a problem although I can’t see why.” I couldn’t, really. He was no more than three feet tall, extraordinarily thin and wearing a one-piece suit. Okay, he did have a head shaped like an upside-down teardrop with a mouth at the pointy end that would have trouble with anything wider than a pencil, jet-black eyes that filled most of the upper part of his face and no visible ears. So yes, he was ugly, but there are worse in the village. Senga has cousins that would make this little grey man look like a movie star.
I thought, maybe that was it. Maybe he was one of Senga’s long-lost relatives she had thought dead. Everyone around here has long-lost relatives, and most have recently-lost ones too. The swamp accounts for most of those that don’t make it this far. Well, if he’s family, I can’t put him in the laboratory, nor can I add him to the menu. Not that it would be worthwhile. There wasn’t enough on him for more than a starter.
The little man blinked. Sideways. Which was unusual. Even the most deformed of the villagers have eyelids that go up and down. I haven’t even seen a Feral blink sideways. Well, that alone made him an interesting diversion so I decided to let him stay. For a while.
Once Senga had calmed down I lifted the bucket and enquired again what the problem was. She pointed at the little man.
“It came out of the swamp. It’s a goblin or something. Get rid of it.” She looked quite scared, which confused me. The swamp has much scarier things in it than this little imp. Hell, the local pub has scarier things in it. Yet this small grey man struck terror into her in a way no Feral has yet managed.
“Actually,” I said, “I was thinking of keeping it. I wondered if it was a relative of yours?”
“A relative?” Her voice was only just within the upper limit of my hearing range. “You think I have relatives that look like – like that?”
“Well, your cousin Bernie…” In hindsight, I should really have said ‘no’ at that point. It turned out okay because she decided to visit her mother with little Caligula again. This left me with the little grey visitor and plenty of time to work out what he was. He wasn’t any kind of goblin, at least not of any goblin species I’ve encountered and there was nothing about him in any of the Dume records of swamp things. Something new, evidently, but where could he have come from?
He doesn’t speak Village so he’s not one of theirs. He doesn’t speak Feral either, but since they were hunting him it was already clear he wasn’t one of theirs. Nor does he speak Dume. In fact, all he does is make clicking sounds. In the absence of any meaningful communication, I have named him Click. Not the word, the sound. It’s the only thing he responds to.
He’s smart enough. He has already fixed the long-broken nuclear generator in the basement so the place has heating again, he repaired my X-ray machine and he’s now working on Grandfather Dume’s black hole generator that never worked properly. It only ever produced lumps of gold and there are dungeons stacked with the wretched stuff as a result.
I think I’ll keep Click as an assistant. He doesn’t look like he eats much and the castle has enough spare rooms that Senga need not even notice him.
The only trouble is the clicking sounds. I’ll have to teach him to speak, even if it requires surgery.
Then he can tell me his origins. That will mean a new entry in the Dume book of the swamp. There hasn’t been a new one for many years.
I just hope he’s not one of those illegal immigrants.