By J. L. Ender
I stumbled out of the beam of light, doing my best to keep my balance on the icy sidewalk.
The house seemed smaller than I’d been expecting. All the houses were smaller than I’d expected.
“Where am I?” I asked Mission Control.
“Human village.” Cheryl smacked her gum in my earpiece. “Duh, I told you that like three times, Geoff.” I turned the volume down on the combination earpiece and nanny cam, wishing I could turn it off.
“But I’m a—” My voice made snow shift on the house. I quieted to the best whisper I could manage. “But I’m a freakin’ giant! Wasn’t someone else available?”
“Yes, actually. I also told you that. You were too busy picking your nose.”
“I was not!” I hissed. Too loud. Snow slid from the rooftop to land amidst the hedges with a soft plop.
I am not my anger. “I don’t pick my nose. That’s a stereotype. Stereotypes are hurtful, Cheryl.”
“Just get in, retrieve the golden apple, and get out.”
“Fine, fine.” I rolled my eyes. I was the worst possible person for the job, but I was new to the Faerie Detective Agency. I had to do my best.
The front door was out of the question. From this side, at least. Doors tend to have all kinds of stupid magic humans aren’t even aware of. They won’t keep anything in, but they’ll bar entry to most supernatural creatures.
I crept around the side of the house, hoping for…
Bingo. A chimney. Thankfully, it wasn’t lit. When you’re about to break your entire body down to individual molecules, scythe through the air, fly down a chimney, and rebuild yourself in someone’s living room, you don’t want a bunch of fire and smoke getting in the way.
I pulled out my standard issue teleportation jellybean and popped it into my mouth. Buttered popcorn. Not my favorite flavor, but it was the only one I had. It would have to do. A few seconds later, I was on my knees in front of a cold, dark fireplace. A Christmas tree heavy with ornaments stood nearby, proudly crowned with a golden star gleaming in the low lighting.
My vision blurred briefly—an aftereffect of the jellybean—and then cleared. I smiled and stood up…
And banged my head into the ceiling. Into a light fixture, to be precise. A howl tried to burst from somewhere deep within at the sharp pain, but I bit my lip and kept my mouth clamped tight.
I rubbed the top of my head. “This is not a regulation-height ceiling!”
Cheryl laughed. “Of course it is.” I heard a keyboard clatter. “Oh, actually that whole house is smaller than normal. Narrow hallways, tiny doorframes…”
“Low ceilings?” I finished. Great.
“Quit picking your nose and go get the apple.”
“I’m not—” I am not my anger. My anger is not me.
I cast about for the stairs. When I found them, a shadow shifted—someone crept upstairs on silent feet. I’d been spotted!
I couldn’t run after them without shaking the house to pieces, so I forced myself to quickly tiptoe forward.
And then I banged my head on another low ceiling. “Why is the ceiling lower by the front door? Don’t make no frickin’ sense!”
I felt my stomach lurch. I hadn’t used my inside voice. I’d used my fee-fi-fo-fum bellow.
“What was that?” A woman murmured sleepily.
“Nothing, honey,” a man replied.
“Great, we’re going to get murdered by nothing in our sleep.”
“Fine, I’ll check it out.”
“No, Andrew. Allow me.”
“I said I’d look.”
“Quit digging for gold and move!” Cheryl cried.
I squeezed my way up the stairs, every plank groaning under my weight. I banged my head twice more on the sloped ceiling on my way up.
A slender hallway with three doors waited at the top. A small boy stared at me. He had the golden apple in his hand.
A man stepped into the hall. He wore striped blue and white pajamas. “Hey, sport, wha—Wait, is that Daddy’s apple?”
And then the man spotted me. “Let me guess: detective.”
How did he…?
The father turned into a small, human-sized dragon with iridescent blue scales.
“Okay,” Cheryl said. “I did not see that coming.”
I lunged forward and plucked the apple from the boy’s hand. The tiny fruit was dwarfed in my enormous palm, but I can be gentle when I need to be. Power hummed inside the Discordant Apple—a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands.
At almost the same time, the dragon leapt onto my face. I tumbled backward down the stairs. “Get me out of here!”
“You know you have to be outside!”
The dragon bit my bicep, then my stomach. He had sharp teeth, but giant skin is tough. I would be bruised for sure, but at least he wasn’t a fire-breather.
With a thud, we crashed to the bottom landing. The dragon rolled off me, then coiled up and sprang into my gut, knocking the wind out of me. I almost dropped the apple.
Wheezing desperately, I burst through the front door. In every sense of the word. The wood shattered to splinters, and I staggered into the snow.
The dragon opened his jaws. Blue flame gushed forward, melting the snow between us. Before it could reach me, a golden beam of light punched from the heavens and teleported me back to headquarters. I appeared on a large, brass dais in the middle of a broad workroom filled with computer terminals.
A pixie with green hair leaned around her monitor. She flashed me a thumbs up. “Well done, sir.”
I limped down from the dais. “I hate you, Cheryl. Everything hurts.”
“Fair enough. You got the apple?”
I opened my palm. Full of mush. At least it can’t harm anyone now.
Cheryl winced. “Well, should give your applesauce some zing.”