Cleanup in Aisle 28
“Did that gnome just move?” The young woman pointed at a shelf about halfway down the aisle.
Her co-worker wiped her long dark hair out of her eyes and looked at the woman. “Seriously, Kel. What did you drop in the bathroom?” Concern flashed through her eyes. “You know they do random drug tests, right?”
The target of concern looked back at her friend. Her eyes absently took in the worn and dirty apron covering a purple t-shirt and jeans. “You know me better than that. I haven’t touched anything since I found out. I can’t have shit wrecking my baby.” She looked down at the orange apron covering her slight baby bump. She looked back up at Maria, “I swear that I saw something moving down around the gnome display.”
Maria looked past her friend at the large display of garden statues. “I don’t see anything moving, might be a mouse or bird. I saw the spider that Bill killed in potting soil. Must’ve been the size of a mouse. God, I hope we don’t get too many of those things around here.”
Kelly nodded and returned to straightening up the rows of garden tools in front of her. The sale over the weekend had been just in time for a warm break in the weather, and the store was trashed. She and Maria had been two of the ten employees that the manager had “volunteered” for an extra couple hours of cleanup. They had almost finished with their section, and then the two could leave. Her mind wandered as she thought about their plans for dinner. She could almost taste the burger.
When they reached the garden statue display, the girls had already forgotten about their prior conversation. As they straightened up the display, Maria stopped, causing Kelly to stop and look at her. She took a few seconds to realize what was wrong. There were two new gnome statues. Maria didn’t remember the store carrying those two models. She would know, she had helped unload this shipment and set up the display. She knew each and every statue in this display, and those two were not supposed to be there.
Where the other gnome statues had the traditional pointed hats and white beards topping off the stiff pose, these were in a slightly different pose. All the other gnomes had matching caps and vests, a sea of reds and blues on the shelf. The gnome on the left had a brown tricorne hat and a green vest, with a clean-shaven face. On the right, the gnome was balding and had a brown waistcoat with gold gilding at the cuffs and collar. The balding gnome had a full white mustache and a pair of spectacles perched on its bulbous nose.
The question was forming on Kelly’s lips as Maria reached into the shelf, pushing aside the statues in front to reach the two new ones. As she grasped the first statue, her fingers did not touch cold plaster. The cloth rustled and bunched under her fingertips, and she felt a thin, boney arm under the sleeve of the jacket.
Maria screamed and fell backwards, landing on her backside on the hard concrete floor. Kelly shrieked and stumbled back as a high-pitched snarling sounded from the shelf of statues. If she hadn’t just seen the gnomes move, she would have thought there was a chihuahua loose on the shelf.
Maria barely registered the confused shouts from other coworkers across the store. She looked up and was staring into the black beady eyes of a… gnome? Her gaze locked with the creature as its lips curled into a snarl. The young retailer was paralyzed with fear as the creature spoke.
“How dare you touch me, you filthy human?” The creature’s voice was high pitched and dripping with an acid tone. The young woman could feel the vehemence in the creature’s voice. “You are not fit to touch the fae-folk, and my vengeance will be swift.”
The small creature crouched to leap. Maria noticed that its hat was slightly askew. The creature reached down and drew a small dagger from the sheath on its belt that Maria had not noticed earlier. As it started to leap, it was caught on the side by a blue, blinding light. The light knocked it aside, scattering several statues, two of them falling to the floor and shattering.
The gnome spit out a string of curses and cries as it struggled with the blue light that seemed to sit on the creature’s chest. Maria had just enough time to see that the blue light was actually a small, winged figure wielding a blue glowing sword, before the winged figure was struck by the other gnome and thrown into the still standing statues at the other end of the shelf.
The small pixie crashed through three statues and knocked four more to the floor in a vain attempt to stop its tumble. Maria saw the small pixie stir and looked back in time to see the gnome with the mustache help the other gnome to its feet. She was still trying to process the fight when the gnomes realized she was still sitting there and they both prepared to leap at her.
Three more blue streaks of light battered into the gnomes, sending them flying and emptying the shelf of statues. When the creatures stopped moving, the gnomes were both flat on their backs. Two of the three new pixies had their glowing swords pointed at the throats of the gnomes, and the third was moving over to check on their fallen comrade.
The fallen pixie was slowly getting up, limping from one of its legs. Maria finally got a close look and realized that the pixie-creature looked like a beautiful young man, with dragonfly-like wings. Clad in what could only be described as armor, the pixie would not have looked out of place in a Disney movie. The pixie who helped the wounded one to his feet was more…feminine. That was the word her mind tried to recall. Something told her that this woman-pixie was the leader of this small group that had saved her from attack.
It was at this moment that the two pixies not watching the gnomes looked at Maria and Kelly. Both girls were still as if barely daring to breathe. Kelly was quietly whimpering, and Maria was holding back the tears. The pixies looked at the shattered statues around them and then noticed the sounds of the women’s coworkers running to find them. They looked at each other and nodded. As one, they both turned to face the girls and waved their hands in a complex gesture. Their high-pitched voices sang a melody.
Maria stared at the shattered statues on the floor and shelves in front of her. Kelly was standing beside her, helping her stand up. Their manager came around the corner at a dead run. He crashed to a halt, stopping in front of the young women and the carnage surrounding them. As other employees rounded the corners at both ends of the aisle, the manager asked, “What happened, ladies? Are you ok?”
Maria looked at Kelly, then back at her manager. “I… I’m not sure, Mr. Granger. I guess I fell into the shelf. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened.”
Granger looked up at pointed at another employee, “Zach, will you please go get a couple brooms and a dustpan.” He turned his attention back to the young woman, “Are you okay, Maria? Do you need the first aid kit?”
“No thanks, Mr. Granger. I think I’m okay.” “Ok, then. Listen, the others will clean this up for you. I need to fill out a report. Why don’t you come to the office to help me.”
As Maria walked with her boss to the office, she wracked her memories for what had happened. There was something about the gnomes. Some weird statues, maybe? She shook her head. Hopefully she didn’t lose her job for this one.
The pixie watched the woman and the man walk toward the office. Otera She’al, Marshall of the Azure Guard, hoped things worked out for the young woman. She looked up as her second-in-command floated down from the camera over that aisle. She knew that he had hexed the camera to make the footage of the fight unusable.
Sloppy of the gnome prince to get seen by mortals. Even sloppier to get spotted by her patrol. Luckily, she was able to get here before he had harmed either young woman. After receiving the nod from her second, she waved her arms and quietly sang a short melody. A small doorway of darkness opened in the air in front of them. Her second floated thru in front of her, and she followed, closing the portal behind her.