Before the sun even went down I was awoken by voices from a nearby clearing. I told Dru to be still while I checked it out.
“OK girls, this is where we make camp!” said a female Updweller. I crept as close as I could without fear of being seen. It was a small hunting band. One full grown and five young’ns, all female. They must have been out on their first hunt just like I was not so long ago. I listened in.
“Red, Miri, Kerry, put up the tent. Belle and Abigail come with me to gather firewood.” said the mama as she took two of the young and marched off down a slim trail. Two of the others laid a tarp on the ground while the third was picking up stones.
“Ker,” said one of them, “you’re supposed to be helping us. Get the poles!”
The one called Ker responded, “I’m gathering more pebbles for my collection. You wouldn’t understand.”
“It’s ok, Red,” said the one who I reckon is called Miri, “We got this.” the two small Updwellers stuck some thin rods into the tarp and like magic it popped up into a shape like a small version of an Updweller cave. It was thin and light like spider silk. My eyes grew wide at the sight of it.
I was so enthralled I almost didn’t notice that Drucilla had scuttled around to the other side of the clearing. She must have thought I was stalking the young’ns and was fixing to help me flank them. Such a clever and dutiful spider she is, but that wasn’t my plan at all.
“Did you hear something?” said the one called Red. All three of them turned on their heels toward the forest and Miri shouted.
“Look there!” she said, “There’s a giant bug!”
I admit I was a might offended. Dru ain’t no bug. She’s an arachnid. But Updwellers can’t see much in the dark so I forgave her.
All three girls screamed and ran into their silk cave. They sealed it shut with some sort of magic from the inside. It looked like a wide mouth with tiny teeth closing in on one another. I don’t know what kind of protection that small cave was supposed to provide, but it didn’t seem to do much.
Branches cracked and fell as Drucilla pounced on them from the trees and the silk structure collapsed to the ground. The young ones hollered in fear. Maybe they weren’t hunters at all. Or maybe “Oh God he’s gonna eat us!” is an Updweller war cry. I whistled harsh and Dru looked up at me. I beckoned her back into the forest and she left the girls alone. I led her off into the woods quite a ways before I stopped. I fastened the spider to a tree real good and tight. Then I carefully sneaked back to the campsite. The mama Updweller was back.
“I swear it was real.” said Red, “Miri saw it too.”
“I didn’t see anything.” said Ker, “I just ran into the tent because that’s what you both did.”
“Well,” said the grown one, “It was probably just an odd-shaped tree branch. Look, there’s a bunch of them on the ground here. They were probably rotten and ready to fall when we got here. A few fell on the tent and knocked it down. No big deal. Nothing to be scared of.”
“No, Miss Sharry, it was a giant spider. I saw it for real.” said Miri, but Miss Sharry refused to buy it. I guess riding spiders like Dru are pretty rare in the Upworld.
“Anyway girls,” said Miss Sharry, “it’s getting dark so let’s get this fire started.” They must have set up a fire pit while I tied up Drucilla, but they hadn’t gotten it burning yet.
The big one walked over to the pit and pulled something out of her pack. I expected a bow drill or maybe some flint and steel, but no. She held in her hand a tiny tube, sort of like the one I’d gotten from the pig master except she held it in one hand and the end of it was very thin. With a flick of her thumb a tiny flame shot out the end of it. My eyes bugged out at the sight. First the toothy door on their silk cave and now fire in the palms of their hands. Updwellers were full of surprises. In a hot minute the kindling was burning and it didn’t take long before a proper cook fire was up in front of the young’ns.
“Where are the marshmallows?” said Red.
“You should eat a hot dog first.” said Miss Sharry.
The six of them pulled little tubes of meat- was everything tubes to the Updwellers? I don’t know what kind of animal is shaped like that, but it didn’t have any bones or anything. It smelled delicious when they cooked it over the fire. My stomach grumbled and I figured I should get back to Dru and rustle up some grub for us both.
“Let me tell you all the story of the goblin of the woods!” said Miri and I was transfixed. I never heard of a goblin living in the woods. We live in caverns. Everybody knows that. Still, maybe there were other goblinkind here in the Upworld. How could I know? I’d love to meet them if they exist.
I tiptoed just a little bit closer to hear.
Miri unfolded a tale of a bunch of...girls...that’s what they’re called. It was a bunch just like this one and they were out in the woods just like these girls. The girls in her story were sitting around a campfire eating...marshmallows...and telling stories. They laughed and played and screamed at all the scary bits, but one by one the girls in Miri’s story disappeared. Each time one was gone the laughter and the playing got less and less. But somehow the screams got louder. The remaining girls in the story suspected that he others were just wandering off to do their business or maybe playing tricks on them, until finally there was only one girl left. She looked around into the darkness and said, “Is anyone there.”
“Only me!” said the story goblin and she leapt on the girl and ate her face right off!
Ker screamed for real when Miri got to that part of the story. The other girls gasped.
I said, “WHAT?”
I didn’t mean to talk. It was an accident, but I was so angry at the way the goblin was described in the story. Attacking Updweller kids and eating their faces? Come on, that ain’t true.
Red must have heard me because she looked right up at my face and said, “What is that in the woods?”Ker looked up too and shouted, “Oh my God! It’s the GOBLIN!” and the entire hunting party turned to face me.