Joe stood on the corner of Fair Oaks and Main fretting over the crumpled Christmas list in his hand. It was 8 p.m. Christmas Eve and his last hope of finding the Lego set his son so desperately wanted, the 841-piece Goblin King Battle Set, had just disappeared. He’d been looking for weeks.
No, that wasn’t right. His wife had been looking, but couldn’t find it. When he asked Maria if she had checked online, she launched into a diatribe about online shopping nightmares and then slapped Timmy’s list on the arm of Joe’s recliner and stormed off into the kitchen.
You do it your way, I’ll do it my way, he thought. He searched the local retailers’ inventory on his iPhone. She was right, no one had it. He was about to admit defeat when, like a Christmas miracle, he received a text stating there was one left at the local Target.
“See, honey, all you had to do was a web search and you would’ve found it two blocks away.”
“Go get it then.”
Feeling pretty smug, he put on his Wolverine work boots and Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt and jogged down to the store. But fifteen minutes later, he found himself standing on a street corner with only Timmy’s list in his hand. The tired-eyed salesclerk with big Mayan-plug earrings had said that they had sold their last set a week ago and that Target doesn’t text their customers inventory updates.
Now what? He didn’t want to go home empty-handed and get that I-told-you-so look from his wife. He stared at the list in his hand.
“It’s about time,” said a deep guttural whisper.
Joe snapped his head up. Normally, four-lane Main Street was choked full of cars and pedestrians, but now, nothing. “Who said that?”
“Down here,” the whisperer said.
Joe looked past the list at the sidewalk beneath his feet. Only it wasn’t concrete, but a steel sewer grate. The darkness within shifted.
“Jesus!” Joe jumped off the grate, iPhone in hand, ready to throw it at whatever or whoever it was.
“I’ve got what you need.”
Joe turned to run, but stopped when it said, “I’m the one who sent you the message.”
“You? But how?”
“Data mining is our specialty,” it hissed. “Now come to the curb.”
Joe felt the thing move away from him and towards the street. He looked left and right; still no one. The stoplight changed from green to red.
Joe’s curiosity about what was in the sewer, guardian angel or devious devil, and not wanting to go home empty-handed overwhelmed his desire to get the hell out of there. He took a deep breath, clenched his phone and followed.
A three-foot-wide strip of concrete between the curb and the grate effectively covered whatever lurked below. Just when Joe could see into the gutter, the end of a box popped out. It was the Lego set he had been looking for. A picture of the goblin king wielding an enormous war hammer stood on the front of the box ready to smite a dwarf.
“Take it,” the creature said. “Timmy will be so surprised. It’s a special edition.”
Sweat caked Joe’s body. How could it possibly know? Maybe it was an angel. Joe looked around again. The streets were still empty.
“Just take it,” the creature growled, dispelling any notion of it being an angel. It shook the box from side to side.
For Timmy, he thought, then reached down and snatched up the box, pretending not to notice the green leathery hand and long black nails that released it. He protectively squeezed the Lego set against his chest and backed away from the curb.
The creature gave a slobbery laugh and then said, “Merry Christmas.” Joe’s breath didn’t return to his lungs until he felt the weight of the creature’s presence disappear back down into the sewers.
And then the world returned to normal. Cars zipped by. Pedestrians appeared. One of South Pasadena’s green parrots even cried out a solitary caw above him.
With trembling hands, Joe inspected the Lego set. The box was intact, but was heavier than expected. It also felt a little moist. Probably from being in the sewer, Joe thought. It should be dry tomorrow if I put it by the heater. With a sigh of relief and gift in hand, he walked quickly home.
“You got it for me!” Timmy exclaimed as he tore off the Grinch wrapping paper Christmas morning. “The Goblin King Lego set.”
Joe sat in his recliner with a satisfied smile. Maria squeezed his hand. When he had returned with the gift last night, her “I-told-you-so face” had changed to one of relief.
“Funny, Dad”, Timmy said, bringing Joe back from his moment of triumph.
“What’s that son?”
“The tag.” Timmy held up the box.
That’s when Joe noticed a green tag on the front of the box. With a sinking feeling, he knew that tag was not there yesterday. It read, “To: Timmy, From: The Goblin King,” and in bold red letters beneath the salutation, “DWARVES INCLUDED.”
Timmy opened the end of the box and turned it over to dump its contents on the floor.
Joe jumped out of his recliner. “Timmy, don’t — ”
But it was too late: out rolled the corpses of thirteen six-inch dwarves, bound, gagged — and cooked from being placed beside the heater overnight.
Amidst his family’s screams, Joe realized they had just become another online-shopping-horror story.
John Peters II has completed UCLA’s Certificate Program in Creative Writing and is a top contributor at Trip Advisor as happytravel14. His primary literary interests are historical and military fiction.