by Trevor Hopkins

It's not a coincidence that, these days, most entrances to the Goblin world are in human cities in cool northern climes. Left to chance, of course, most entry points would be in prairies or jungles or farmlands. We'd hate that: the profusion of vegetation in these places would confuse and overwhelm most Goblins used to being surrounded by damp stonework. Tropical locations or, still worse, deserts are far too hot - Goblins really can't stand the heat in these places. So, long ago it was decided that we had the best chance of handling the transition was if our first entry point was a damp dark human city, where the smog and noise would both conceal and reassure.

So of course Goblins go AWOL from time to time, trying to hide from angry debtors or aggrieved spouses in the teeming upper world. Sure, we have enough contacts in the usual places - the police, the hospitals, the morgues - that the authorities can usually spirit away any vagrant Goblin accidentally discovered by human society. But they prefer not to take the risk, which is why the bounties offered to recover those who skip to the surface are so generous. For me, it's a profitable little sideline, a real money-spinner for the underpaid and overqualified PI from the Lower Realms. As a bonus feature, this policy also means that there is a pool of experienced star-siders - as Goblins who frequently visit the surface are called - who can generally be relied upon to carry out the occasional stealthy commission from wealthy patron or government agency.


I woke up in a damp field at dawn, surrounded by a herd of vast creatures with luminous eyes and steaming mouths and bucolic natures that I belatedly recognised as cows. I was lying on my back on the dewy grass, the early sunrise beginning to warm the trees and rouse the birds to their noisy chorus. The presence of the cows had led to a strong stench that I do not want to describe, one that would probably affront many humans but, to the sensitive noses of a Goblin, reeked with such utter offensiveness that I jerked awake instinctively.

Feeling my skull, I found I had a lump the size and hardness of a snooker ball on the back of my head. Someone skilled with a sap had knocked me out cold for a couple of hours, long enough to get me out of the way for a while without actually killing me. As I sat up, I realised that my body ached in several places, bruised as if I had been unceremoniously dumped in the back of a van.

I picked up my hat which some thoughtful soul had deposited nearby, very nearly missing the closest cowpat. I brushed it off as best I could, stuck it on my head and pulled it low over my eyes. It was rapidly getting to be what humans would call daylight - to me, a dazzling brilliance which was already hurting my eyes. I fumbled for my sunglasses in my pocket, pulled them out. They were crushed and broken, probably where I had fallen on them. They were utterly useless, so I stuffed them back in my coat, then turned up my collar for the minuscule amount of extra shade it provided.

There was a five-bar gate a few yards away, filling the only gap that I could see in the overgrown hedgerows that surrounded me. I staggered towards it, dodging the beefsteaks inexpertly, head throbbing. I clambered over the gate inelegantly, then stood in the road looking left and then right. There was nothing to advise me which way to go, which direction would take me to something resembling civilisation, to somewhere I could get to a phone.

At random, I chose left and set off walking. There seemed to be no motorised transport at this early hour and I wondered just what kind of a backwater I had been dumped in. Twenty minutes later, I was still walking. It was already getting warm and dazzlingly bright. I was beginning to think I would have to take shelter somewhere cool and dark, and wait until nightfall.

Part 28 Part 30