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.”

Hey!”

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.