The Overnight Shift
Published in The Arcanist in November, 2017
I pulled up at the garbage dump at about ten-fifteen, plenty early for my shift. Puddles dotted the parking lot, remnants of an afternoon of sporadic rain showers. The clouds had moved on and now bright stars glittered in a darkling sky.
As I reached for the guard hut’s door handle, the door banged open and Apollonia stormed out. She gave me a snarl by way of greeting, and I took an involuntary step back. She put her cap on, then finessed her horns through the holes cut for them.
“What, no ‘Hi Robert, how are you tonight?’” I asked, mock-hurt.
“I’m busy.” She stomped off to do her last round, snorting curses in her dark demon tongue.
“I’ll just start the coffee, then, shall I?” I said to her retreating back. She flipped me an obscene hand gesture without turning around.
Inside the hut, I found the last of Apollonia’s coffee simmering in the pot. I poured the tarry sludge into the WORLD’S BEST AUNTIE mug on the table, rinsed the carafe — twice — then refilled it.
Apollonia returned just as the coffee finished gurgling. Her mood had improved, it seemed, so I handed her her mug, then poured myself a fresh one.
“Pansy,” she said with a snort. “Might as well drink water.”
“Anything I should know about?”
“A faun playing Pokémon or somethin’ over in the southwest corner.” Apparently, I winced, because she said, “Yeah, I warned him about the dragon eggs.”
“He take you seriously?”
“How can you tell with fauns?”
Fair enough. “Anything else?”
“Nothin’ comes to mind.”
I sipped my coffee. “Quick game of poker before you head off?”
She scrutinized me with depthless black eyes. “I don’t trust anyone with two first names, Robert Charles.”
She gave me a smile. It was terrifying. “Tell me I’m wrong,” she said.
I put on an innocent face. She laughed at it — also terrifying — then drained the last of her coffee, belched, and stood. “Well, I’m out.”
“See you tomorrow,” I said.
She touched talons to cap in a sardonic salute. I pulled out my phone as the door closed behind her.
Hamish trotted in at eleven PM precisely, just as I was finishing up. If the hut seemed small before, it shrank considerably with the addition of a centaur.
“Hamish,” I said.
“Robert,” he said. “What are you doing?”
I tapped SAVE. “Writing,” I said.
“On company time? Tsk.” He smiled his we’re-all-friends-here smile. “What are you writing?”
“Creative non-fiction.” I checked the clock on my phone. “Well, time for my rounds.” I’d have said that no matter what time it was. Hamish gets on my nerves. He’s entirely too by-the-book for my liking.
“Catch you later,” he said.
The faun was still alive, so he hadn’t stepped on a dragon egg. Good. It’s no easy thing quelling a dragon, and, even if you survive, there’s a literal ream of paperwork to do.
I said, “Catching anything?” He tilted his head at me. “Pokémon,” I said. “Right?”
He snorted. “Pokémon’s for babies. I’m on a quest.”
“A quest, eh?”
“I saw a rainbow touch down somewhere in this dump. I’m gonna find the gold.”
“You know that’s a myth, right?” I said.
He tossed his antlers. “Not everything’s a myth, you know.”
“I know. I mean, for Christ’s sake” — this drew a derisive snort from him — “here I am warning a faun about dragon eggs. I’ve gone wa-a-a-ay past myth.” He shrugged. “But leprechauns, man? They’re extinct.” I pulled out my phone and opened up Wikipedia. “Look.”
“My teacher says Wikipedia — “
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I said. “But the article’s well-sourced. Read.” I held onto the phone — fauns are notorious kleptomaniacs — and let him scroll with his long-nailed index finger. His eyes widened when he got to the part about leprechauns being hunted to extinction in the 19th century, and teared up when he read about the last mating couple dying childless in the Bronx Zoo in 1908.
I put my phone away.
“So…” He trailed off.
“Yeah,” I said. “No gold.” I felt a little bad. He was just a kid, and I’d gone and deflated his dream like a punctured balloon.
“Well, maybe it’s for the best.” He put on a brave face. “No offence, but this place stinks.”
“I can’t argue with you there,” I said.
“Damn. Well, thanks, I guess. Saved me a lot of time.” He brightened. “Maybe I can go steal a chocolate bar from 7‑Eleven…”
“Mind the dragon eggs,” I called as he headed for the fence.
He flipped me the same gesture Apollonia had used earlier. Kids these days.
When I returned to the hut, Hamish was drinking a syrup of half coffee, half sugar. “How’s the dump?” he said.
“Fine,” I said. “Smelly.”
“Anything of interest?”
“No.” I wasn’t about to tell him about the faun. We’d be busy all night, checking fences, verifying security spells, trying to work out how and where he’d got in. But fauns will just get in, like rats or roaches; trying to stop them is a fool’s errand.
Besides, I had other things to do tonight.
Hamish glanced at his smartwatch. “I’ll go out in an hour.”
“No,” I said, “I got it.”
He gave me a look that can only be properly described with the word askance.
I patted my belly. “Good for the ol’ weight-loss program.”
He smiled. “All right, then. Enjoy.”
First I went to my car to fetch my shovel.
I muttered a silent prayer to all the various gods and demons that the faun never thought to check the edit history of that Wikipedia article, and that no one had corrected my changes.
I saw that rainbow too. Somewhere out there there’s gold, lots of it, and I aim to find it before morning.
Apollonia’s right, you know. Never trust a man with two first names.