It was dark when Gargleshank approached the clearing. The light of several campfires cast long shadows across the ground, forcing the wiry goblin to choose his steps carefully. He sauntered towards the closest flame, staring intently at those huddled around it. Two dimly lit figures stared back, their beady eyes watching his approach. Lips curled back to reveal jagged teeth. Hands moved to sheathed daggers, then dropped as the light illuminated Gargleshank’s face.
‘Far out mate, you took your bloody time,’ said the smaller one.
Gargleshank waved him off. ‘Come off it John, traffic was awful.’
‘Unbelievable, gone for two months and the very first thing he says to us is an excuse,’ said the taller one, crossing her arms.
‘Oh my apologies your ladyship! Truly, I am so fucking sorry for forgetting my manners. What ever should I have said instead?’ Gargleshank attempted a curtsy, nearly tripping over his tattered loincloth.
‘Well, a “hello” wouldn’t have gone astray.’
‘Bugger off Sal.’
The three stared at each other for a moment before bursting into laughter. Gargleshank walked carefully around the fire, embracing John and Sal in a tight hug. ‘It’s good to see you guys.’
‘Likewise mate, good to have you back,’ said John.
Gargleshank took a step back, casting his gaze towards a large, bubbling cauldron sitting beside a wooden cart. Even in the dim light of the campfire he could see the green fumes rising into the air. Sal took a deep whiff, her long nose pointed skyward. ‘Shall we get a drink then?’ she said.
Gargleshank smacked his lips, ‘Well I’m not here to fuck spiders.’
‘Oh but Garg, you love to fuck spiders,’ said John, reaching upwards to smack Gargleshank’s back.
‘Piss off mate, that was one time.’
‘I’m just having a laugh. First round’s on me, alright?’
A tall, wide, wart-ridden goblin stood over the pot, slowly stirring the turbulent liquid. His ears twitched as the three approached, head cocking slightly. He didn’t meet their gaze, instead staring deeply into the mesmerising swirl of the cauldron.
‘G’day folks,’ he said, belching loudly, ‘what’ll it be?’
‘Three pints of swamp slime please,’ said John. He waved a small, rectangular piece of wood. ‘Do you guys take AMEX?’
The large goblin shook his head. John sighed, stowing the card and pulling six silver coins from his pocket.
‘Actually… could you make that two pints of swamp slime and one pint of toxic pollution?’ Gargleshank met the puzzled stares of his compatriots with a sheepish grin. The bartender reached into the cart beside him, pulling out a glass beaker filled with black liquid. He handed the beaker to Gargleshank, popping the cork stopper with his thumb. With his other hand, he dipped two wooden tankards into the cauldron’s whirling gunk.
John reached into his pockets again, adding two more coins to his tally. The bartender unhinged his jaw, opening freakishly wide. John tossed the coins upwards into his imposing maw, each one audibly clinking as they reached his belly.
‘Fucking hell Garg, I had no idea you’d become so sophisticated on your trip,’ said John as they returned to the fire. ‘Bloody fancy man with his fancy mug o’ pollution.’
‘What can I say mate? I’ve become cultured. You ought to try it sometime.’ Gargleshank chuckled as John spat a thick glob of phlegm onto the ground.
Sal mockingly placed a hand to her forehead. ‘I told you didn’t I John? Two months in The Big Smoke and he’s already too good for us.’
‘Maybe it should be you guys calling me “your lordship”.’
‘Garg, it will be a very, very cold day in hell when I call you “your lordship”,’ said Sal, taking a deep pull from her tankard.
‘Well don’t you worry Mr High n’ Mighty,’ said John, ‘now that you’re back home we’ll wring all that fancy “culture” out of you. You’ll be back to normal in no time.’
‘I’ll drink to that.’ Sal leant forward as John swivelled around, their mugs clunking together loudly.
Gargleshank winced, sighing into his chest. ‘Yeah, about that guys.’ John and Sal looked at him. Gargleshank continued, refusing to meet their eyes. ‘My boss at the internship actually really liked my work. She’s offered me a job down in The Big Smoke, like a proper one. Great salary, full-time, benefits the whole nine yards. I’m… I’m actually only back home for a week before I head down again.’
Gargleshank fidgeted in his seat, trying and failing to sit comfortably. He wiped away a fat bead of sweat from his forehead, waiting for someone to break the nauseating silence. John skulled the last of his drink, dropping his mug to the dirt.
‘Yeah that sounds about right,’ he said.
‘I’m sorry mate, I really am, but-’ Gargleshank stopped as Sal placed a hand on his back.
‘Don’t be Garg, we’re really happy for you. Aren’t we John?’
‘Yeah, we’re happy for you mate. It’s just… I don’t fucking get it.’
‘What’s there to get John? This is Garg’s big break, he’s finally getting-’
‘No I get that. Look, I’m pissed Garg, but I am happy for you. I know that stuff’s what you want to be doing and I know you’ll ace it but, like, why can’t any of you guys do that stuff here?’
‘Because it’s The Big Smoke John, everyone who’s anyone is there,’ said Gargleshank.
John cocked his head, glaring daggers at his friend. ‘Oh, so we’re not anyone then? Just a couple of nobodies who don’t mean shit anymore?’
Gargleshank moved off his seat, sitting cross-legged on the ground and inching towards John. ‘It’s not like that mate, it’s all the business-y types. If you want to work in any of those fancy factories or pollution breweries you gotta move to The Big Smoke.’
‘Yeah but, I mean there’s hardly any of us left anymore. Tony’s already living down there, Jessica’s moving back into her dad’s place, Dan and Albert are gone too and-’
Gargleshank held both hands in the air. ‘Wait where did Albert go?’
‘Oh he got eaten by a troll last week,’ said Sal. ‘Which, to be fair John, is hardly his fault.’
‘Yeah I guess, but, why can’t you stay here? With us?’
‘I’m not gone forever John. I’ll promise you that right now,’ Gargleshank had managed to wriggle his way next to John, placing an arm around him. ‘I’ll try and make it back up here every weekend or two. We can go camping in the Spider Forests like when we were kids.’
‘You’re only saying that because you want to fuck em.’ John grinned as Gargleshank pulled away. The remark earned him a light punch in the arm as the three chuckled.
Sal joined them in the dirt, shuffling closer to her friends. ‘You promise Garg?’
Gargleshank held out his pinkie finger. John and Sal did the same, trying to wrap theirs around Gargleshank’s simultaneously.
‘Now seriously guys, you’ve gotta try pollution okay? My treat.’
Author: Jamie Stevens is a second year creative writing student from Brisbane. With a healthy love of all things abject and absurd, Jamie endeavours to inject his own sense of humour into everything he writes. Check out his Instagram @jamie.c.stevens to find links and news for his other publications and projects.
Artist: Anastasia Notaras is an emerging artist based in Brisbane. She is currently in her third year of BFA in Drama at QUT. Her work has been published in ScratchThat Magazine and can be found on her Instagram @anastasianotaras. Her creative work is multidisciplinary as she delves into painting, collage, script writing and performance.