This one has a fantasy theme – which would normally be right up my street as I love medieval settings, flowery language and sword fights. However, this particular challenge asks for the fantasy to be set somewhere else, so I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone and tried my hand at urban fantasy instead.
Sasha stared at the email in front of her: “Your training will be complete,” it read, “once you have successfully carried out the night duty assigned to you by your commanding officer.”
She sighed as she read the words. It seemed that policing was less about using her considerable intelligence to solve crimes and more about pounding the streets, keeping an eye open for any would-be hooligans. Still, if it was a requirement …
“What you got planned for tonight?” Dev’s voice intruded on her thoughts. “Only, I was thinking of popping by ‘The Stag’ later, if you’re interested?”
She was interested: Dev was probably one of the best-looking guys she knew and he actually had a sense of humour – something that was in short supply at her local police station. Tonight was not the night for such an assignation, though. “Sorry.” She tried to put as much regret as she could into her voice. “I’d like to, but I already have plans.”
Immediately the words left her mouth, she could have kicked herself. Why hadn’t she said she had police work to do? Now Dev would think she had a date with someone else. Okay, so the email had been marked ‘Highly Confidential’ and it had stated, most explicitly, that she was to tell no one (bold font, heavily underlined) where she was going or what she was doing, but surely that didn’t include Dev? He might be a slightly newer recruit than she was, but he’d already impressed half her work buddies with his ability to remain calm in a crisis and his uncanny knack of rooting out bad guys, almost as if he could smell the guilt dripping off them.
“Some other time, then.” Dev flashed her a brilliant smile that showcased his gleaming white teeth perfectly.
“Yeh,” she replied automatically, her mind already moving on to wondering who would walk the dog if she was stuck here all night on secret police business. (If only she’d known beforehand, she could have brought Benji to work with her and walked him as she patrolled.) “Let’s definitely do it some other time.”
“Okay.” Julie led Sasha through a door marked ‘No Entry’ and into a room she’d never visited before. “This is where we kit you out. You’ll need a pair of these.”
“Night vision goggles?” said Sasha with surprise. “Why on earth would I need those?”
Julie lowered her voice. “What you’re about to embark on is Special Ops patrol. You’ve read Harry Potter, haven’t you?”
“Well, yes,” admitted Sasha, “but…”
“And you know that there’s a hidden wizarding world that Muggles can’t see?”
“Well, JK Rowling didn’t make any of that up!” hissed Julie. “At least, she did – but she got the idea from the Undercover Crime Department. When we patrol at night, we’re keeping an eye on the hidden world of magic – the one most people think doesn’t really exist.”
“But it doesn’t exist!” Sasha wanted to say. She was beginning to wonder whether Julie was fit to hold such a superior position within the station. Perhaps she should request a psychiatric evaluation?
But there was no time to worry about any of this now. Julie was pushing her towards a gigantic guy in uniform who wouldn’t have looked out of place at a Giants’ Convention – if giants existed, of course. “Merv, Sasha’s your partner for this evening. It’s her first time out, so break her in gently.”
“Hi.” Sasha held out her hand but Merv ignored it. “So,” she continued, beginning to babble nervously, “Merv – is that short for Mervyn, then?”
“Mervatroyd,” grunted the Neanderthal.
Was that even a real name? wondered Sasha.
“You’re gonna need ter put ‘em on,” he said next, pointing at the goggles. “Yer won’t see nuffin’ wivout ‘em. All the magic stuff that’s hidden, that’s why you wear ‘em.”
“But you’re not wearing any!” she pointed out, not unreasonably.
Merv sighed. “Don’ need ‘em, do I?” He glanced at Julie. “Boss, tell ‘er ‘ow it works.”
“Merv’s a half-breed,” Julia mouthed at her. “He can see the hidden world because he’s part of it himself.”
“I don’t think we’re supposed to say ‘half-breed’ anymore,” Sasha began sanctimoniously. “It’s ‘persons or entities with some magical ability’.”
“So you admit magic exists then?”
Damn! She hadn’t thought of that. “What exactly are you then, Merv?” she said at last. “Half-man and half-what?”
“Put the goggles on!” Julie said sharply. “It’s a lot easier than explanations.”
Sasha pulled the device over her eyes and gasped. In Merv’s place stood – or rather lurched – a hulking great beast that was vaguely human in shape but far uglier than anything Sasha had ever seen. Its limbs were like twisted tree trunks and its skin was a horrible greenish-grey, offset by a bulbous nose and disconcertingly red eyes.
“What is it?” Sasha gasped in horror.
“Merv,” Julie emphasised his name, “is part-man, part-Troll – and one of our finest officers. And you will be keeping him company this evening.”
Sasha thought longingly of ‘The Stag’ and Dev, then looked at the slime dripping from Merv’s nose. “Okay,” she said at last, “but I hope you’ve got a good supply of tissues because I refuse to look at snot when I’m on duty.”
As they began to walk down the street, Sasha knew she had to ask Merv the question that was burning a hole in her brain.
“Merv,” she began hesitantly.
“Yeh? Wha’ choo want?”
“Well, Julie said you’re half and half…” She paused delicately. “Which of your parents was human?” she said at last.
“That was my dad,” Merv said reflectively. “He wasn’t much to look at, but ‘e ‘ad a good ‘eart. ‘Sno wonder me muvver fell fer ‘im, even though she could’ve ‘ad anyone she wanted. Now, she was a real beauty…”
Sasha gave an almost imperceptible snort of disbelief.
“Troll women are known fer their pulchritude,” Merv said sternly. “Once me dad saw ‘er, there was never anyone else – not as far as ‘e was concerned. She always said she was glad I took after ‘er and not ‘im.”
Sasha listened with only half an ear. Her goggles were really most uncomfortable. She took them off, wondering if she could adjust the straps.
She was still fiddling with them when Merv let out a roar. “Clear off, yer dirty creature!”
Looking up, she realised that he was running towards a beautiful unicorn. Its white coat glistened in the moonlight and its golden horn shone. A mini-skirted woman – presumably on her way home from some nightclub – was stroking the creature’s nose and babbling something about how she’d always known it was true. It seemed unfair of Merv to chase her away, but Sasha supposed he knew what he was doing.
Or did he? She watched in horror as Merv pulled out a nasty looking knife and plunged it into the unicorn’s pure, white throat.
“What are you doing?” she screamed in horror, already mentally filing the report that said the Troll had gone berserk and slaughtered an innocent magical creature before she could stop him.
“Put them goggles back on!” thundered Merv.
Sasha did as she was told and felt her stomach turn over. In place of the unicorn stood a maggot-infested corpse of a horse. Patches of its black hair still clung to its emaciated frame and flaming eyes rolled in their sockets.
“What is it?” she whispered, askance.
“It’s a Nightmare, innit?” Merv seemed matter of fact. “Come out to prey on anyone oo’s stupid enuff ter fall fer that unicorn malarkey. S’all a glamour, innit? The white coat … the golden horn … load of old bol…”
“Yes, yes,” Sasha said hastily, “I can see that now. But how did you know it wasn’t a real unicorn?”
Merv looked at her pityingly.
“There’s no such fing as a ‘real unicorn’. ‘S all just a disguise that Nightmares wear.”
“But there must be!” she said in surprise. “I mean, there are books and paintings and … and some children’s parties have unicorn rides…” Her voice tailed off uncertainly.
“Unicorn rides!” Merv echoed bitterly. “They’d be better off letting their kiddies swim in a shark tank!”
“And you’re telling me that Nightmares are creatures, not just bad dreams?”
Merv nodded slowly. “Now you’re getting’ it,” he said as if he thought she was very stupid. “Nightmares and Gremlins – they’re bad; Pixies are just annoying; and Fairies …”
“Don’t tell me,” Sasha interrupted. “Fairies are evil and nothing like the pretty creatures you see in children’s storybooks.”
“Well,” Merv considered, “it depends, don’ it? Graffiti Fairies – yer wanna stay clear of them. But Washing Up Fairies – they’re a different matter entirely.” His voice became wistful. “Everyone would love a Washing Up Fairy, or a Cleaning Sprite – but yer hardly see any of ‘em around these days. I blame it all on Brexit.”
“Sorry?” What on earth had politics got to do with magical creatures?
“Can’t get the visas these days,” Merv explained sadly. “They’re all French Polish, yer see. An as fer the Gnome Anaesthetists … Well, all them cuts to the National Elf Service were bound to ‘ave an effect on the otherworld staff. Is it any wonder the country’s in such a state?”
It was just her luck to be lumbered with a woke troll! Sasha thought. Still, at least he wasn’t trying to get rid of her. Keeping her goggles firmly in place, she trotted beside him, eyes constantly roving for Graffiti Fairies or Leprechauns.
“Erm, we arrest Leprechauns, don’t we?” she asked, checking for clarification.
“Only when they’re drunk and disorderly,” Merv told her. “It’s Boggarts that are the worst when it comes to closing time – they drink far too much and start rampaging through the streets, knocking everyone’s bins over.”
For the next hour or so, they made a systematic sweep of the surrounding streets, breaking up a fight between a Kobold and a Kelpie, and arresting a dozen singing mice who insisted on disturbing the peace. Sasha found she was getting used to the goggles – in fact, after a while, she almost forgot she was wearing them; and when Merv suggested stopping off for a kebab, her excitement knew no bounds.
Despite the lateness of the hour, there was quite a crowd at the counter. Merv motioned to Sasha. “Why doncha take a seat? Yer’ve been on yer feet a while now.”
It was not until he said it that she realised how weary she felt. She sank down gratefully onto the red plastic bench. “Garlic mayo and chilli sauce on mine,” she murmured before leaning back and closing her eyes.
She let the gentle hum of customer conversation drift over her while she thought about the evening. Although she would have enjoyed an evening in Dev’s company, with perhaps a glass or three of prosecco to help her unwind, she couldn’t pretend she hadn’t had fun with Merv, learning about the hidden world she’d never realised existed. She should really have taken off her night vision goggles, but she was so tired and it seemed like such an effort to remove them…
Suddenly, the room fell quiet. Sasha swivelled in her seat to see what had caused the drop in the noise and felt her heart clench as a huge, ugly looking – thing – almost as large as Merv pushed his way into the kebab shop. By her side, Merv froze with the kebabs still in his hand. “You don’t wanna get on the wrong side o’ one o’ them,” he breathed. “It’s an ‘Obgoblin, that is.”
“Can everyone else see him?” Sasha felt puzzled. “Only, I was wondering why they’ve all gone quiet.”
“I ‘spect that’ll be the gun ‘e’s wavin’ around,” Merv said matter of factly. “No one else in ’ere can see what ‘e really looks like – to them, ‘e’s just a guy with a weapon.”
“So, are we going to arrest him?”
“I fink that might be a good idea,” Merv said gravely. Dropping the kebabs on the table, he whirled round. “P’lice! Put yer ‘ands up now!”
The Hobgoblin shot Merv a filthy look and made a run for the door. Without pausing to take off her goggles, Sasha reacted instinctively, extending her arm and tasering the lumbering creature as it moved past her. It sank to the ground instantly and lay there twitching.
As Merv struggled to get a pair of handcuffs around the Hobgoblin’s hairy wrists, Sasha became aware of how quickly her heart was beating. Adrenalin coursed through her as she became aware that she had tackled something several times her own size on her own. So this was what policing was all about!
“Yer might wanna take yer goggles off an’ see what ‘e really looks like,” Merv instructed. There was a pause before he added poignantly, “You can remove yer filter – I can’t.”
Pulling off the equipment, Sasha found herself staring into handsome features she recognised. Who would have thought that Dev Patak was a Hobgoblin?
“He’s one of ours,” she said tersely. “One of the police recruits, I mean.”
Merv nodded sadly. “Happens every year – there’s always one or other ‘oo tries ter infiltrate us. ‘Ow do yer fink I ended up becomin’ a p’lice officer meself? Only, I saw the error of me ways an’ decided it was a job worf doin’ properly.”
Dev was slowly coming to. “Sasha?” he said a little uncertainly. “What you doing here, Babe?”
Once more, he flashed those brilliant teeth, but this time Sasha wasn’t fooled. “I know what you really are,” she hissed at him. “And I don’t like being lied to.”
“Did I ever tell you I wasn’t a Hobgoblin?” he asked.
Sasha turned to Merv. “Let’s get him back to the station.
There would be other good-looking police officers who invited her out – and in future, she would look at everyone with her night vision goggles before she let her heart get involved.