It started like any other birthday—well only in the sense that it was a thing that happened on a certain day. Other than that, though, this birthday was completely different than any other I’d had. For one, the celebration was at 3:00 in the morning. Two, I was fast asleep at the start of it, three, it wasn’t actually my birthday at all, and, four, there was a lot more blood than I tend to like in my celebrations.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PETER!” Randy shouted, judging by his volume, about three inches from my face. I sat up quickly and smacked my best friend right in the nose with my forehead.
“Aghh!” Randy exclaimed, clamping his bleeding nose with his hand.
“What the—” I responded.
“Oh crap!” my girlfriend, Jenny added, grabbing her wand from the nightstand to her left to mend Randy’s nose.
“May I come in?” Bob intoned from the ledge just on the other side of my window.
With all of these different verbs flying around (not to mention the pretty steady stream of blood flowing from Randy’s nose), I hadn’t immediately noticed that my bedroom wasn’t quite as I’d left it just a few hours before. As Jenny and Randy headed to the bathroom down the hall to mop up his face, I looked around for the first time. The heap of clothes near the foot of the bed was gone, and I could see them all neatly hanging in my closet, to which the door was slightly ajar. Of course the clothes had been dirty, and they’d been Jenny’s, but I still thought it was a nice gesture.
Randy was clearly responsible—my 41-year-old, ex-boy wizard turned detective best friend was not only one of the most talented spell-casters I knew, he was also one of the tidiest people in Fiction. Well, perhaps aside from Mary Poppins, who let’s face it, just seems to be showing off. Randy’s handiwork was evidenced all over the room. There was a vase with yellow flowers in it on my desk just to the right of the window, in front of them was a giant three-tiered cake with the words “Mazel tov, Joey!” in blue cursive frosting on top, and just next to this, a basket of sweets—snozberries, Wonka bars, everlasting gobstoppers, chocolate birds, and I think I even saw an elusive jelly beanstalk candy in there, which I’d have to be careful with. He must have had a field day at The Factory.
“Ahem,” Bob kindly reminded me from the other side of my windowsill. I’d been so distracted with description, I’d nearly forgotten about Bob. I hopped up to help my friend over the ledge and into my room.
“Thank you,” he said, swiveling his pot right to left, making his way further into the room.
Oh yeah, he’s a Ficus Tree.
“Happy birthday!” Randy said again as he and Jenny walked back in from the hallway. His face was completely clear of blood, his nose slightly straighter than I’d seen it in years, and a bright pink and glittery party hat was sitting atop his brown, slightly graying, and always neatly parted hair. Jenny next to him still looked half asleep—her light brown hair mussed and her green eyes rimmed with red—but she too wore a party hat. She muttered something that sounded like “Good tidings.”
“Randy, thanks. But it’s not my birthday,” I said feeling both a little sad to let him down and also a little peeved that my best friend and girlfriend seemed to have no idea when my birthday was.
“Of course it’s not your annual birthday, Peter. Today’s much more important than that!”
As though that settled things, he walked over to my desk, pulled a large knife from waistband—the very same knife, I noticed, that he’d used to cut a pie the first day we met over a year ago—and began dividing up the top tier of the cake. He turned to me with a fat piece—thick white chocolate icing on gooey, white cake—that said “Joey.”
I took a big bite of cake so that the piece just said “oey.” Even though Bob didn’t have eyes, or a mouth, or a nose, or a face at all really, he seemed to be watching forlornly as I stuffed my face with the delicious cake. Or maybe it was disgust. Either way, photosynthesis can’t be much fun.
“What’r you talking about?” I asked, spitting a fleck of cream right onto Bob. Jenny reached over and wiped it off with her finger.
Once everyone was settled with their cake—Jenny sitting on the bed beside me, Randy still standing up in front of the desk, and Bob blending in quite well with the room’s décor, Randy cleared his throat. This was clearly an Important Moment. I put my plate down on the bed. And then I picked it back up again and resumed eating, because it was really good, and dammit, it was my party.
“For a Boy Wizard, annual birthdays come along each year—”
“Actually, I think that’s pretty standard for birthdays. Or annual anythings, really.” Randy gave me A Look and continued.
“But the most important day of a Boy Wizard’s life happens, not on a regular birthday, but on his 19 ½ birthday, and Peter, exactly 19 ½ years ago at 3:00 in the morning, you were born. Seven pounds 14 ounces. 12 inches long. And my how you were crying!”
I thought it was a little weird that Randy knew all of this, and apparently I wasn’t the only one.
“What, were you at the hospital?” Jenny asked. She got up and made her way to the basket of sweets on the desk, which she plunked down on the bed before sitting back down and digging in. She gestured toward the basket, inviting me to help myself, to my own candy.
“No, no, I wasn’t at the hospital. It’s all in the backstory, which is probably why you don’t remember it all that well, Peter.”
“Actually,” Bob said, reminding me once again that he was not merely a part of the background. He tended to do that sometimes. “I hear that people in the Real World don’t remember the time of their own birth either. They don’t really start developing memories until several years later, and they don’t even have backstories to fill them in. Though of course here in Fiction, we don’t have access to our own backstories. That would imply a bridge between the Real World and ours. It would be ludicrous! Just think of the mayhem that would cause.”
As he spoke, Randy’s face underwent a really impressive change from its usual ruddy hue to something more similar to snozzcumber juice—gray and sort of sick-looking. He turned and put his plate down on the desk, and reached into his pants pocket for his thin-rimmed glasses which he placed on his nose. As he did, though, a small, crumpled piece of notebook paper fell from his pocket and flat onto the floor. From where I sat I could see that it was covered in small writing, which I couldn’t read, but even from where I was sitting I could tell there was something off about it. It looked sort of hyperreal… almost too paperlike. Randy didn’t seem to have noticed it fell.
“Yes, ludicrous! Insane! What a conundrum! Let’s have tea. Or—Monopoly? Jumanji? Make things really wild on your 19 ½ birthday? HAHAHA!”
“Randy, you seem to have dropped a piece of backstory here on the floor,” Bob said, leaning over the paper.
With that, Randy bent down, picked up the alien piece of paper, and jumped out the window.
“Randy, will you come back in yet?” I called after five minutes. He’d been sitting on the little ledge outside of my window with Dach-shund, the little dog who roams Fiction cleaning up any uttered inappropriate expletives. There’d been a string of them when he’d banged his knee on the windowsill.
Finally, he poked his hand into view and stepped back into the room, favoring his left leg. Dach hopped in behind him, probably rightly expecting more choice words.
“Sorry, Peter. I just… I wanted this to be a surprise. I mean, it’s your 19 ½ birthday! I thought it would be really good, but maybe it was a bad gift idea.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out several more sheets of paper, all covered in writing and what looked like diagrams and some pictures; all of them as painfully real as the first. “Oh well, guess the cat’s out of the bag now anyway.” Dach-shund looked around expectantly. Things in Fiction can get quite literal. “Happy birthday,” he said, handing me the wad of papers.
I took them hesitantly, tenderly, as though they were living, breathing things. Which in a way, they kind of were. In Fiction, getting a hold of someone’s backstory has the potential to change everything. One smudged letter and I could be less a Boy Wizard with brown hair, blue eyes, and freckles and more a boy wizard with brown hair, blue eyes, who was… freckled. Scary, right?
“Why do they feel so… real?” I asked to the room at large. They, in no way, felt right in my hands. It was weird, but something in me felt the sheer papery essence of the pages, as though I was sensing them with something more than just touch and sight. I gave them a sniff. Smelled like… paper. And something else, too, though. Something I’d never smelled before. I began reading.
Born: February 26. 27? 26. 3 AM. Born to Margaret and Walter Able—a happy couple, newly married. Hospital in small town on East Coast.
Sure enough, the page, in its fine, tiny lettering, went on to detail my birth, from the hospital room, to my mother alternately shouting at my dad and telling him how much she loved him. The detail he went into in the backstory—her sweat-matted light brown hair, clinging around her temples and pushed up in the back from the soaked pillow. Her red face, eyes red, too from crying. My dad’s hand holding hers so tight it hurt, but not nearly tight enough.
And then there I was. Like Randy said, seven pounds, 14 ounces. My real birth.
When most people in Fictional stories think of their “birth,” we think of when our authors thought us up; when our books began. For me, that was over six years ago, when I was thirteen and started at Payne Academy.
There I was at a new school, newly born at thirteen, surrounded by delinquents who treated bullying as a hobby, and I had no family or friends to turn to. So what did I do? Well, as such stories tend to go, I discovered my ability with magic!
I’d tell you all about how, over the course of the first book, I used my newfound powers to teach those bullies a lesson; how, in book two, I met a girl named Maggie and we became fast friends; and how, by the end of book three, I was the one who learned a lesson (about the magic of friendship). But you can read all about that in the series. It’s called Peter Able: Boy Wizard.
What, I’m not allowed to use my own quotes from the last book? It’s relevant stuff. Besides, we’ve got more pertinent things to talk about.
“Uh, Peter,” Randy said, drawing me back into the room. “You haven’t said anything for about three minutes. Are you okay?”
I nodded absently as I flicked through the rest of the pages. More than once I caught words like “death,” “suicide,” and toward the end, “murdered?” As you can see, my backstory wasn’t exactly a bright one—and for that matter, neither was my first series of books. The Peter Able: Boy Wizard books were, yes, filled with magic and adventures, but they also involved my little sister, Beth, being killed in the end. Which would explain the “murdered?”
When I looked up again, the room had grown a few degrees darker, as though someone was standing in front of the light. Okay, Randy was standing in front of the light. But he looked somber, Jenny looked worried, and Bob, well, you know.
“Jeez, talk about taking a dive in atmosphere!” I said, trying to hide my discomfort. But no, the little word buzzed about my head like a gnat, as words tend to do—especially when you really don’t want them to, here in Fiction. Going through puberty was a nightmare.
“Peter, I’m sorry. I can hold onto it for you, if you’d like. Keep it safe,” Randy said, holding out his hand for the backstory.
“No, that’s okay,” I got up and stuffed the pages into my top desk drawer. I felt immediately more comfortable when they were out of sight, and yet I kind of… missed them. Is that weird? Yes, it’s weird.
“I want to know. I mean, I know that my mom died and my dad killed himself in my backstory—they mentioned it enough in my series. But I want to know why. And I want to know more about… Beth.”
Jenny made to hold my hand, but ended up just punching me in the shoulder awkwardly. Her unease was apparent—
Awkward awkward awkward awkward awkward
I batted away the words. I hardly ever talked about my sister and I could see that I was really bringing down the mood on what was supposed to be a joyous occasion. So I just cut Jenny another piece of cake, put on my best fake smile, and decided to dwell on my morbid backstory later. I felt torn between gratitude for the chance to know more about myself, sadness that I was only now getting the chance, and a dangerous curiosity—if I had my backstory, could I change the outcome of my story? Could I re-write my—
“Peter, just don’t do anything stupid,” Randy interrupted. Damn, I thought I had my internal monologue under control! I would have to be more covert, more secretive about any plan…
“Peter, seriously. We can all hear you,” Jenny said. Bob made a movement that looked like a nod.
“Altering your backstory, Peter,” he said in that charming, professor-like voice which seemed to just emanate from somewhere around his leaves, “might just be the stupidest thing that you could possibly do.”
“If you so much as change the punctuation on that paper, you could go from asking your mother for a meal to having your mother for a meal. And I know,” he interrupted as I made to explain my stance, “I know you only want what is best for your family. But Peter, did you ever think that all of that had to happen for a reason?”
“Well, it did. If things hadn’t happened the way they did in your backstory, they wouldn’t have happened the way they did in your series, and if your series didn’t happen the way it did, you might not be sitting here right now at all.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, guys. Let’s not get into Philosophy territory here,” Randy said. Nonfiction always made him a little uncomfortable. Me, I loved it—give me a good memoir or dictionary entry and I’ll be all set! But not Randy. Even as he spoke, his face took on that gray, sludgy, snozzcumber goop color. (And seriously, if you ever have a chance to eat snozzcumbers—don’t. And if you don’t know what they are, just look it up on the Internets. Yeah, I know about Internets. I read Nonfiction.)
“Let’s just focus on today,” Randy continued, as though his face weren’t rapidly losing its color, “let’s just focus on Peter’s 19 ½ birthday! Now Peter, the reason the 19 ½ birthday is so important, as I’m sure you’ve all been wondering,” at this Randy did that weird thing he does sometimes as though looking out at an audience from a stage. Jenny, Bob, and I looked at each other uncomfortably waiting for him to go on, “is that when the first ever written about Boy Wizard turned 19 ½, he stumbled upon something outstanding! Now I am sure you’re all wondering what this was….” He said loudly, seeming to looking out at an audience we couldn’t see.
“Hold on, there, Randy,” Bob interrupted before he could go into full on monologue mode. “I want to back up a minute. Earlier you’d told Peter not to do anything stupid with his backstory, which I agree on. Peter should in no way change his backstory, as it might lead to all sorts of changes in the here and now. But when I said this you got all uncomfortable and looked as though you might be sick—ah yes, there you’re doing it again,” Bob pointed out unnecessarily, as Randy was attempting to step discreetly out the window.
“Which leads me to believe—”
“You’re HIDING something!” I shouted triumphantly.
Randy had this tendency to get gray in the face and attempt to jump from windows (or moving vehicles, doors, ledges, desks, whatever was handy, really) when he was trying to cover something up. Honestly, I don’t know how he’d recently been promoted to Lead Detective at work.
“Okay, okay,” Randy said, pulling his leg back into the room. He didn’t bother coming much further inside though, perhaps in case he needed to make another subtle escape. “The truth is, Peter, we’re having something of an issue down in Detective with some, ah, disappearances…”
I nodded impatiently. We’d been reading about the disappearances of characters throughout Fiction for weeks. First there was Bill the Banana Tree, then there were three fairies who worked in admissions at Fiction Academy, and most recently, and most startlingly, there was Gorndalf. Never heard of him? Yeah, well that’s why.
“We know all about the disappearances, Randy,” Jenny said.
“Yes, but maybe they didn’t,” he said with a nod toward my ceiling. “There have been more than the papers are letting on, actually. There was recently a couple from Romance who were out for a leisurely stroll, one minute they were holding hands, the next, they were both gone. Witnesses say they didn’t disappear or anything—it was as though they’d never been there.”
“Erased,” Bob sighed.
Randy nodded. “Exactly. We’ve been investigating these vanishings for quite some time—hence all the late nights at work,” Randy said. I nodded as though I’d noticed, but the truth was, ever since Jenny half moved in* and Randy had taken up the apartment across the hall, I hadn’t been much bothered about when Randy came home. I was busy.**
*We’ll get to that later
¹ Jenny had recently decided that we needed more hobbies to enjoy together. Apparently, we were going to like baking.
“So last week I was called in to tail these two mobsters, on what I thought was a completely unrelated case. See, we’d had a tip that they were making a drug pickup on the wrong side of Thriller—you know, near the old elementary school. So I followed them—Noodles Corleone and Spot.”
“Not Spot the Dog?” Jenny gasped.
“I’m afraid so, yes. He’s taken up a nasty Kibbles and Bits habit—the pure stuff, you can only get it straight from the Real World.”
I knew things sometimes seeped into Fiction from the Real World. There were the occasional details—Starbucks, of course, we had plenty, mostly in Romance and Realistic Fiction, which was further east toward Nonfiction. It’s packed with mini malls and big lot stores. Dreadful place. Some characters even popped into Fiction on holiday from Nonfiction—last year it was a big deal when the Queen decided to come to Fantasy for high tea. But the difference was these things had all been written about. They made their way into Fiction either through Nonfiction, as a sort of written version of their Real World self, or by simply being written into a fictitious story—hence all the Starbucks in Rom Com.
They all looked pretty “shiny,” which in Fiction is what we call things that are currently being written about. We’re just a little brighter, more vivid, more detailed than the rest of this world. I’ve been dull before, of course, when my series first ended and I was trapped in my room for two weeks because I wasn’t sure how to turn the doorknob, and then again last year after The Fantastic Fable of Peter Able, which surely, you know all about. But those are pretty much the only modes we have here in Fiction—written, or unwritten. Shiny, or dull.
To have something straight from the Real World, though… that was something else entirely. I’d heard rumors of such things—illegal things like Kibbles and Bits, weird products like something called “Febreze,” which wealthy people here collected, displayed in glass cases and the like, and if I wasn’t much mistaken, my backstory. There could be no other reason it had felt so out of place. I glanced over at the drawer, almost expecting it to be emitting an otherworldly glow from the cracks, but no, it was just my regular, old, dark wood desk.
“Are you done with the exposition?” Randy asked.
You see, in Fiction we know about the Real World, of course, as a sort of vague and indescribable place, from which we all come. I never thought I’d see something so… unedited, so unpublished—but there it was, in my drawer. I glanced over, almost expecting it to be emitting an otherworldly glow from the cracks…
“Peter, now you’re just repeating yourself. We don’t have time for this,” Randy said. He began to pace the aisle-like small space between my desk and bed. I’d seen this before. Randy was going into Detective Mode.
“So I tailed ‘em, Peter! I tailed those goons to the wrong side a Thriller, but they didn’t stop there, no! They were on a fast track to the east side, see? The flim-flammers high tailed it straight through RF, they were in a bent car, see? Gassed it to a dive all the way out East. Tried to dump the flivver and fade, but I was on em like—”
“Why are you talking like that?” Jenny asked.
He looked up, seemingly surprised to see us peering down at him—and to find himself crouched on the floor making a gun shape with his fingers.
“Sorry,” Jenny said. “Only it’s kind of hard to understand you when you’re rolling around on the ground and hiding under the desk…”
Randy stood up and smoothed out his pants.
“Right. So the drive ended up taking hours. Days. I’ve no idea how long I drove—the scene kind of … at one point. But they didn’t stop, so I didn’t stop. Toward the end, the road got pretty empty, so I put a clever Disillusionment Charm on the car so they wouldn’t see me.”
“Ah, Randy, I don’t think you can say that here.” Bob said, looking around the room furtively, as though there was a Taboo one the word—
“Or that, Peter. Sorry, copyrights you know.”
“Right then,” Randy said, swinging his arms awkwardly. Copyrights in Fiction. Always a touchy subject. “So I put a charm on the car so that they couldn’t see it and just kept on driving. I didn’t make it home for nearly two days—I’m sorry if I worried you, Peter.”
I told him it was okay, but never to do it again, while trying to figure out when this possibly could have been.
“We’d been driving through a patch of Nonfiction for about an hour—a rather boring area, honestly, mostly desert, the occasional clump of cacti. When out of nowhere, the desert just faded—it was like driving through thick mist, but there was no ground, no sky. Then just as suddenly, I found myself back on the road, but completely surrounded by a market! It was a good thing my reflexes are better than yours, Peter,” he added, shaking his head ruefully, “because the mobster’s car had stopped right in front of mine in the middle of the road. There was no going anywhere—the streets were crammed with people, open air stalls of every color, donkeys whose backs were piled high with hand-woven blankets, quilts, children running around shirtless trying to sell jewelry. It was all so… alive! So vivid! I tell you, Nonfiction keeps it real, Peter.
“So I parked my car behind Spot and Noodles and got out. It was so crowded, I didn’t worry about them noticing me—I was more worried about losing them in the crowd! I stayed close on their heels, but it was hard, people kept coming up to me, offering to sell me things, offering to buy things, and—”
“Sorry, what?” I asked. “Offering to buy things?”
“Oh yeah, characters from Fiction don’t often make it over to the market in Nonfiction. They wanted my jacket, my glasses—offered me top dollar for my hat,” he added, pointing proudly to the space above his head.
“Soon, though, the streets started to empty out a bit, and after a few minutes, I found myself following the two goons through an alleyway. Gone were the smells of spices and leather—this place smelled off. Just wrong. And it was getting darker, and darker—and I don’t just mean the sky above, which had suddenly changed to nighttime,”
“Like it does when you walk through Thriller?” Jenny asked.
“Yes, but here there weren’t even stars or the green moons from Sci Fi to brighten things up. Here it was just black.
“Before it was totally dark, though, I saw a street sign saying ‘Black Market.’”
Jenny gasped, Bob dropped about a dozen leaves, and I, well, I was trying to fit five gobstoppers into my mouth without choking.
“WharstheBlMMmmmhmmm?” I asked.
Randy, who was well accustomed to my eating habits having lived with me for a year, explained that the Black Market was a place that had been talked about for centuries—ever since the beginnings of books. It was the place where Out There met here; where Reality seeped into Nonfiction, which then spread into Fiction. (The more west you went, the more fictitious things got. Fantasy, of course, extends pretty far west, but even further, there were things like Fairy Tales, Mythology, and Celebrity Memoir.)
Of course nobody really knew much about the Black Market, and those who did know weren’t the sort of folks who were likely to talk about it. But it had long been suspected that the Black Market was where the illegal items from Out There seeped into our world, as to how exactly, no one knew. The problem was it tended to change locations every so often, so for centuries, it had been hard to nail down.
“I actually hadn’t expected the goons—sorry, Spot and Noodles—to guide me directly to the source of the stuff; I’d thought they just had a pickup in Thriller.”
“So what did you do?” Jenny asked.
“Well, I got the hell out of there! After all, I was alone, didn’t have any way to contact the precinct, and I couldn’t see a foot in front of me. But I traced my steps back into the market, the regular market, mind, and did some digging around. Nobody wanted to talk to me once they figured out I was a Detective from Fiction—which I probably shouldn’t have told them first thing, now that I think about it.
“But eventually I found a stand at the end of an alleyway selling these really peculiar-looking night vision goggles. Kind of like the ones that are so popular in Steampunk, you know?”
I rolled my eyes. A Steampunk neighborhood had sprung up on the outskirts of Sci Fi in the past few years and was just getting bigger and bigger every day. They’d never done anything to me, really; they all just seemed so impractical.
“After talking to the vendor, I learned that the goggles were used for the Black Market, one entrance to which was on the other side of the long, dark alley behind the stall. I bought some goggles and went down the alley.”
“By yourself!” Jenny gasped.
“Yes, by myself, Jenny. No one ever said the life of a Detective was an easy one…” Randy tried to raise one eyebrow suavely. He blinked hard a few times and gave up.
“Well, as I went down the alley, the noise from the market faded, it got all, kind of, I don’t know, odd, and then I came across this one stall—after some other ones, you know. It was busy in there, too. But dark. Smelled odd, did I say that already?”
“Hang on, Randy,” I said, sensing the Black Market might not be the kind of thing easily described in dialogue. “I have an idea.”
Randy walked down the alleyway, with each step, it got darker and darker. At the end of the narrow street, a sign: Black Market. It was written in crude, almost childlike writing. It was eerie.
He took a deep breath and stepped out into the larger area beyond. Through his night vision goggles he saw the world in glowing greens and blacks, making it all the more alien. But even without distorted vision, he would have felt it—the presence of all those items from Out There—it was rather like suddenly finding yourself on LSD without knowing you’d taken any. Or so Randy had heard.
“Peter, for the record, I want to say that heavy acronym use is not something I recommend,” he looked up and raised his voice a bit, “for anyone under the age of 25. 22 minimum.”
“Who’s he talking to…?” Jenny asked
“Never mind,” I said, having removed the gobstoppers from my mouth. “I want to see how this panned out.”
On either side, the street was lined with the backs of buildings, blocking it from the rest of the market. In front of these, stalls, tables, and booths were packed side by side—though unlike the colorful market beyond, there was no screaming advertising the products being sold. In fact, many of the products were not even on display. The people merely watched as patrons passed by, many of whom wore scarves, face masks, or full burkas to hide their features. All wore goggles.
Randy walked down the road, which turned out to be very long, at first merely observing the people milling about. There were fewer than in the other part of the market—most were walking by themselves silently, but some were less conspicuous. He spied a Gingerbread Man who moved from stall to stall, asking each vendor for something in a low voice. He was shaking violently and seemed despaired that no one had what he was looking for. There was a centaur moving dazedly through the market, slack jawed, bumping into people. No one said excuse me; no one spoke at all. And then, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted someone so vile, so villainous, that no one in Fiction dared speak his name. You Know Who we’re talking about.
Randy quickly averted his eyes from the tall figure and he kept walking, head bowed down. He dared not approach any of the vendors, lest he give himself away. But once he was far enough away from that guy we don’t name—so vile, and copyrighted is he—he lifted his head and watched as others did. A squat goblin that he recognized from Fiction Academy walked up to one of the stalls and muttered something to the vendor. She left and returned with a tightly wrapped cloth parcel. It could have been yellow or blue or red—in this light, it was just a slightly glowing green.
She looked around and then unwrapped a portion of the parcel, revealing some sort of brush—it was bristly, round, and attached to a long plastic stick. Randy moved a bit closer on the pretext of looking at some of her other products—the ones that were on display. They lay on the table in between her and the goblin. Randy edged toward the narrow end of it.
“Bed Bath and Beyond Toilet Brushes. Price Upon Request.”
He’d never heard of such a thing—clearly these were items largely skipped over in the World of Fiction. But he didn’t like them. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but they just felt wrong—it was almost as though he could feel their presence, rather than just see them. They smelled so… plastic.
He thought the woman was eyeing him suspiciously—though it was hard to tell with the night vision goggles, so he pointed at the products, gave her a thumbs up, and moved along.
He kept walking; the street seemed to go on and on. The booths that displayed their products were mostly odd household appliances—lots of bathroom cleaners and things too detailed to make their way into Fiction, like an Abe’s of Maine microwave, or an Acme Tools hammer. Nothing terribly harmful. Just out of place in this world.
Finally, after about half an hour, he spotted Spot and Noodles. They were nearly 100 meters in front of him, stopped in front of a booth on the left side of the street. Randy didn’t want