Here’s some free advice from someone who knows what he’s talking about: if a travelling merchant ever knocks on your door and offers you the choice of purchasing either central heating or a do-it-yourself dungeon kit, always choose the former. Unless you’re a yeti, or are incredibly hairy. If, like me, however, you’re just scrawny little Gary Goblin and your home happens to be a cave in the middle of the Black Forest, you’re better off taking the climate control.
My story begins on typical midwinter morning. It’s a cold morning. It’s an extremely bloody cold morning. The first thing to drift into my mind as I wake up is regret that I didn’t have the foresight to install central heating in my cave instead of that dungeon when I had the choice. In hindsight, it certainly seems that I made the wrong decision. I mean, locking up and terrorising the more unfortunate citizens of the kingdom of Camelot is a good way to while away the hours in between deliveries of Better Cave Homes and Gardens Monthly, but something’s to be said for climbing out of bed in the morning and getting violently harassed by an angry gust of winter air.
I really hate winter. I don’t know what makes me such an appealing target for the chilling tendrils of Jack Frost, but I certainly don’t like it. I suspect it’s these tight fitting trunks I’ve recently taken a liking to. They really do show off a young goblin’s figure, especially after I’ve spent a summer at the Ye Olde Gym. Nonetheless, a target I am, and so every morning is a battle of will to take those first dreaded steps out of bed into the figurative ice cap outside.
Right now I’m cowering under the covers, trying to build up the courage to brave the freezing cold long enough to extract a warm mug of coffee from the espresso machine on yonder wall. The empty dungeon sits across from my bed, mocking me cruelly. What a waste of money it was. Six whole months shovelling unicorn poo for chicken feed (literal chicken feed, mind you, though dried oats and assorted seeds do happen to be the standard accepted currency in this kingdom) and now I barely even get any use out of the thing, because ever since I locked that travelling minstrel in there last September, I can’t even get a few minutes to myself without some self-righteous knight barging down my front door and challenging me to mortal combat.
Take what happened three weeks ago as an example:
“I’ve arrived to rescue the fair maiden from your dishonourable propositions, you foul monstrosity!” he proclaims, just barely managing to stumble through the doorway without banging his head.
“What dishonourable propositions?” I ask innocently. I’m not one to be taken to baseless accusations. The “fair maiden” in question happens to be a young necromancer I met last night at speed dating who simply wouldn’t take no for an answer once she learned I had an honest-to-goodness dungeon in my house. So I tell him as much.
“Nonsense, goblin! Your evil mind tricks won’t work on me!” he shouts, suddenly unsheathing the biggest sword I’ve ever seen (and grunting under its weight). “I’m immune to your magic. I journeyed to the edge of the Earth to unseal the Legendary Sword of Legendary you see before you!”
“I can’t see anything else but that sword before me,” I say to him, taking a step backwards in case the weight of the monstrous thing proves too much for him and makes him fall over. His sword really is that big. The blade is as thick as a tree trunk and the hilt is studded with two huge jewels. In my long career of literary analysis (there’s not much to do in a cave except read books) it’s quite simply the most obvious phallic reference I’ve ever seen in a fantasy context.
“In any case, your sword must be enchanted with the magic of Pointless Bigotry,” I muse. “Just because I’m a goblin doesn’t mean I can’t get a girl in my house without a big knife and copious amounts of sleeping powder. We’re in love.”
“Silence!” he grunts, bent over double. “I won’t be taken in by your silver tongue. Now I shall end you with my magical sword and take the fair maiden and I shall ride off into the sunset on my noble steed. And maybe she’ll let me take her to dinner later.”
With that, he takes a step forward and tries to swing his sword at me. Or at least, that’s what I think happens at first. What’s really happened is that he’s lost control of the thing (seriously, it must weigh at least two tonnes) and instead of painful metallic death, I’m treated to an amusing display of him tumbling face-first to the floor.
When he eventually gets up, the fool’s crying about his reputation and how he’ll be the laughing stock of the kingdom if anyone learns he couldn’t even dispatch a lowly goblin and I end up paying my necromancer friend to go back to his village with him, just so he won’t look so shameful in front of his knight friends. At the promise of ten pounds of chicken feed and a Coke next time I see her, she leaves on the back of his horse, and nobody’s any the wiser. The things I do for a moment of peace.
Of course, I never did get to buy her that Coke. Being seen around Gary Goblin isn’t exactly a ticket into high society. It’s not that I’m a bad guy to be around, though. No, not at all. It’s just that in The Royal Camelot Repository of Words: a Ye Olde English Language Dictionary, “goblin” is a noun that is roughly defined as “a small, brutish toenail of a creature obsessed with shiny objects, biting the heads off babies, and copious amounts of raping and other inappropriate misdeeds.”
Okay, so I admit that I can’t walk past anything shiny without having to stop and stare at it, but aside from locking up the occasional traveller and stealing his chicken feed, I’m completely harmless. Honest! But nonetheless, to the people of Camelot, a goblin is a goblin and so when I head into the village these days to grab a copy of the Gazette and a strawberry iced donut, I go wearing a big cloak.
And if you think that’s unfortunate, wait until you hear about the one time when I actually managed to get some romantic bard locked in there for a few days in an attempt to perpetuate the goblin stereotype for the benefit of Camelot’s gossip column. That’s one for the history books:
“I am the famed Altaire!” he proclaims, stumbling into my cave holding a scroll and quill in one hand and a Learn-By-Numbers brand lute in his other. “The world-renowned philosopher, poet, and fighter! I have come to answer your want ad that was published in the Gazette!”
He steps in from the blizzard outside and lays down his lute on my dinner table. With his now-free hand, he brushes a lock of long, blond hair out of his eyes, then produces a shard of parchment from inside his cloak and thrusts it into my face.
Friendly goblin (29 years) seeking a partner willing to be locked in a dungeon and subjected to neglect and generally embarrassing misdeeds. Good pay. Accommodation provided. See Gary in the Cave on Black Forest Hill for details.
“Excellent!” I say, tearing the article in two and taking him by the hand. “Just trying to keep up appearances, you see. Easier to keep the local children out of my front garden if they think I’m a scary footpad who locks people up in his dungeon.”
“And what fortune your predicament is, for myself as well,” Altaire chirps in a sing-song voice. “For my latest song will be one of excitement, terror and tragedy, and there is nothing like a good life-threatening experience to get the creative juices flowing! A few days under your oppressive control and I shall be ready to write something that will have that cad William labelled as yesterday’s news.”
“Well, that’s great,” I say, leading him over to the dungeon. “I’ll just lock you up in here, and if you can’t find a way to escape by Saturday, I’ll just let you out to go and tell the village of the horrors I subjected you to. Just make sure you leave bank account details before you go or I won’t be able to pay you.”
“Hurrah!” Altaire crows, as I shackle him to the wall. “I will do my best. Thus begins a tale of horror, perversion, revulsion and, ultimately, a desperate struggle followed by a courageous escape.”
“Good luck,” I say kindly, shutting the dungeon door behind me, locking it, and retiring to the sofa to watch TV.
Altaire manages to escape a scant hour later. Turns out I didn’t assemble the bloody thing properly. That’s the problem with do-it-yourself dungeon kits: the instructions come printed in Orcish and the parts that aren’t are in broken English and come with diagrams that look more like arcane symbols out of a sorcerer’s spellbook than helpful visual aids. In this case, I messed up somewhere around Step 7, and Altaire’s able to, after wrenching the shackles from the wall in a display of superhuman strength, simply cross to the door, loosen a few bolts, pull up a catch, and walk out into the night, singing triumphant songs of bardic delight.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
I was the laughing stock of the town after that, and the only good thing that came out of it was Camelot Current Affairs running an overly dramatic story on the dangers of hastily assembled do-it-yourself home renovations (always use a licensed contractor, folks).
So after all that, you can clearly see why I’ve assessed the dungeon as a rather ill-advised financial investment. As soon as the gossips of Camelot learn that local Gary Goblin’s been seen in the hardware store buying tools for a harmless DIY project in his cave, every prospective hero in the kingdom suddenly wants to run him through with their sword, shoot an arrow into his knee, or seal him in some pocket dimension for a thousand years. My insurance company called last week to say that it’s too financially infeasible to sustain my health policy. That dungeon is by far the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life. Don’t do it, kids.
I’ve made bad decisions in my life. Asking Gwenivere to the senior prom back in high school, for one. After that, I had Prince Arthur sticking my head in the toilet every day for the next two weeks. Or the time when I decided to keep a pet chicken while conveniently forgetting that chicken feed is our kingdom’s currency and I had all my money eaten. Or even the time when I innocuously asked my old literary studies professor if he’d like to join me in a bout of sword fighting. But this seemingly simple choice of purchasing a dungeon over central heating takes the cake. My life will never be the same.
I can sit here reflecting on it more than a highly polished mirror, but it’s pointless. None of this changes the fact that I’m still sitting in bed, wishing I had a thermostat when I don’t have a thermostat. I figure that, like all bad decisions, I’m going to have to live with the consequences of this one. As soon as that pervert Jack Frost is gone for the year and I’m free to walk around in the buff without fear of being assaulted by his nasty tendrils, I’m going to take down that dungeon and sell it off at the Camelot Swap and Shop. I’ll get my chicken feed back and then I’ll hunt down that travelling merchant and demand he install climate control in my cave. Then, after all that, all should be well.
At least until the next stupid knight bursts through the door demanding to know what evil magic I use to control the weather. Just the thought of it makes me sigh. Good morning, Camelot.
D. Robert Grixti is a speculative and horror fiction writer from Melbourne, Australia. His influences include Stephen King, John Wyndham and H. P. Lovecraft. His greatest ambition is to bring about a real life zombie apocalypse, so that he can test if his knowledge of zombie films serves practical use.