Plugs

As we filed into the eighth floor conference room, I could feel our consensus as though it were bathtub water lapping at all our ankles. True, a phone interview wasn’t the same as an in-person interview, but we all felt Gary Horder was a shoo-in. The problems that had plagued our engineering department for most of the last decade would be over with a guy like Gary in charge. I dropped into my accustomed chair just as the door creaked open.
“Gary,” I said, standing up and extending my hand. “Glad to …”
He opened the door, and I stopped. Gary Horder was four feet high, with wide, pointy ears, green skin, and protruding eyes like an undersea fish. He wore a gray wool suit and a bright blue tie with a golf ball tie pin.
“Glad to see you could make it,” I managed, turning the extended hand into a vague wave toward the empty chair at the end of the table, which he ignored. I sat back down, crossing my legs and folding my arms over my chest.
Gary looked around at the lot of us. “Is something wrong?” he said. The little goblin bastard. He knew exactly what was wrong.
“I had no idea you were a …” blurted Denise, the engineering VP, but she caught herself. “… golfer.” Burt, my assistant, started singing one of those damned forest ditties under his breath, a nervous habit. I quelled him with a glare. Burt was supposed to have screened this guy, God damn it.
The problem was, I had already shown Horder’s work to the Big Guy, and he was expecting me to hire a genius engineer. He wouldn’t care about Horder’s … issue. He’d just hold me to the fire if I didn’t sign the little toad.
“So, no window office,” I said flatly.
“Something in the basement would be nice,” he said.
“We’ll be in touch,” I said. He bowed and left.
“In three hundred twenty years in the Personnel department …” I said “No, forget it. Burt, you’re fired. Go back to the fucking forest where you belong. ‘Never hire from the woods,’ my old man used to say. I should have listened.”
Burt shot me a poisonous look and skulked out, leaving nothing but High Elves in the conference room. I ignored the others and sat staring at the wall, thinking wistfully two hundred years ahead to my retirement.

It was the old, old story, he felt: handsome stranger comes to town, walks in on a feast complete with pretty (and pretty interested) girls, has a great time—and wakes up a night later about to be brutally sacrificed in order to save the village from a terrible drought.

“Seen it a thousand times,” he said out loud, trying to get more comfortable in his bonds.

“No you haven’t,” he answered himself. “Before this, you’d never walked more than three days from home.”

The priest came, carrying a horn. He sat down next to the stone.

“Sunrise soon,” he said, turning to look at the stranger.

“I’m aware of it,” agreed the stranger.

The priest lifted the horn. “We give the sacrifice a forgetting drink, if he wishes.”

“No, thank you,” said the stranger after a while.

The priest shrugged.

“I’ve had all night to wonder,” said the stranger. “What is the point? What is the point of killing a perfectly healthy young man who would be much more useful fathering strong children and fighting off wolves and catamounts?”

“Hopefully you’ve already done the first thing. Feast, remember?” Said the priest, raising the horn.

“Not much of it,” replied the stranger, smiling though he had begun to shake.

“Things are bad,” said the priest. “You saw.”

“I did,” said the stranger, remembering how thin the women had been, how easily tired.

“It’s how we’ve always done it,” said the priest. There was a sound like a gourd dropping. The priest sighed.

The sigh went on for too long; the priest folded over. A young woman stood over him, the butt of her hunting knife in her hand.

“Not anymore, not anymore,” she chanted while she cut the stranger’s bonds.

Two more women stepped from the edge of the grove. They looked at the priest, nodded at her.

“The sacrifice went well,” said one.

“No! Not a sacrifice!” snapped the young woman.

“Joke,” said the other, waving her hands.

“Time to go,” the young woman said, holding out his belt and kit.

He looked once over his shoulder, to see the two women gently lifting the priest; the woman tugged his hand over the hill. On the other side, the sun was rising.

“That is the most fine and beautiful sight I have ever seen,” he said to her. She smiled at him. “Like every one we get,” she agreed.

“Hassan, change your sister back right this minute. I mean it.”

“But Mama,–”

“Hassan Ibn Sina, change your sister back or I will make you sorry you ever came out of the womb, so help me Almighty. Don’t give me that look.”

“But Mama, she likes being a butterfly.”

“I don’t care whether she wants to be a butterfly for the rest of her life. You change her back this instant, do you hear? She can be a butterfly all she wants when she’s old enough to do it herself. For now, she has to be a little girl and eat her supper. And you, you will not get any supper at all if you do not do as I say. What, do you want me to change you too? Because I guarantee you, I’m angry enough right now, I’ll change you into a dog turd in the street.”

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