Scrambling, Winter gave up a few more feet to the goblin’s slashing claws and used the precious seconds she bought to rummage frantically in her massive canvas bag, murmuring the charm to bring a small parchment envelope to her hand while watching carefully for its next move. She should have had it out before. She knew that, now.
She had started with a rake to defend herself, but then found out how well the nasty little thing could climb, as the continuous throbbing on the back of her right hand attested to. She had never actually been trained for this, unlike her cousins and two older sisters. She was supposed to be a teacher, a healer and a Potion Master. She should be home, tucked away in her family’s kitchen teaching a handful of little cousins to brew simple decoctions, not doing battle with a pseudo-demon the size of a throw pillow in Karen’s backyard.
“Blast!” It darted to one side, trying to get past Winter and out into the night. She had to keep it boxed in, just for a few more moments. If it got loose into the neighborhood, she would be days finding it again, and by then it might have graduated to attacking children. Only luck, a couple hours of stressful patience and a trail of about two pounds of fresh chopped beef had gotten it into the shed. She kicked out, taking it in what passed for a midsection, and it bounced against the back of the shed like a large hairy soccer ball. Tools popped from their perches, and a pot was knocked off its shelf, all raining down on the neatly swept concrete floor. A burning sensation flared up her right calf, and Winter knew the little monster had scored, too.
Keeping her eyes fixed on the ugly little hair ball, Winter tore the top off the envelope. The goblin crouched just out of reach, panting in a wheezy sort of way, slime dripping from its broken bottle teeth, all its eyes glittering back and forth desperately searching for a way past her. Fear seemed to roll off it like a dark fog. Wherever it came from, it probably had no idea where it was now. It may have even seen what happened to its little friend. Winter knew how it felt, trapped and desperate to find a way out, bloody images of her loved ones tearing at her memories. For just a moment, she felt sorry for the evil little thing. No one would be coming to rescue the goblin, either…
Then again, she wasn’t the one eating the neighborhood cats. She raised the envelope…
With blinding speed nearly twenty pounds of goblin impacted with her upper chest. Winter did not realize she was falling until the autumn-wet lawn struck her in the back, and she grabbed a fistful of greasy, matted fur with her left hand as it made to leap over her head to freedom.
It retaliated by sinking jagged teeth into her pale wrist, right through the sturdy fabric of her uncle’s old Army jacket.
Winter let out a yelp of startled pain, but did not release the frantically scratching beast. It flailed about, claws raking her chest, her neck, her face, digging bloody furrows into her skin wherever it could find purchase. She beat against its thick body in panic, the envelope almost forgotten in her clenched fist, and it worried at her wrist like a dog, the teeth digging deeper and deeper into flesh towards bone.
Rolling to her side, she released her grip on the envelope a little, half dumping, half pounding the goblin with red, glittering dust, drew the magic from within herself and through gritted teeth released it in a resonating word of command. “Bind!” It was not needed, the spell in the powder was already primed, but she was in pain and wanted to be sure it worked.
The creature froze in place, her wrist still clamped between its jaws. Discolored teeth remained imbedded in fabric and flesh, but at least it had stopped chewing at the wound. Winter tried in vain to breathe without smelling. Wherever the little goblin had come from, it stank, and fear mixed with exertion did not help with the odor. Her own pain and adrenaline were not helping, and she fought down a wave of nausea. Grunting with hurt at the jostling, Winter jerked her bag out from beneath her hip and with one hand and her teeth uncorked a small blue bottle. The acrid smell made her nostrils sting. The goblin apparently smelled it, too, because it began to drool heavily in fear on Winter’s hand and arm. She upended the bottle, the thick liquid soaking into the beast’s matted fur, and again produced a voice resonant with magical command. “Banish!” Again, the magic in the potion was already primed, but sometimes a little overkill did not hurt.
With a shrill keen and a cloud of noxious smoke the goblin vanished, the release of its weight and jaws painful in itself. Winter rolled carefully up onto her knees, ignoring with limited success the way her torn stockings neatly wicked up the freezing moisture from the plush lawn to chill her skin. Without teeth to block up the wound, blood welled up from the torn flesh, black in the suburban twilight, and began to run in rivulets down her hand.
She knelt there quietly, watching the first glittering drop fall silently onto the grass, and sluggishly fought back the roaring rush of exhaustion in her ears. Darkness crept along the edges of her vision, and she shrugged her injured arm carefully out of her coat sleeve and knelt in the chill in just her long dress and her sweater, which she slipped off to bind about her hurt wrist. It felt so good, just being still. Just for a few more minutes. She remained kneeling in the street-lit yard, watching the weave soak up blood and slime, and found herself fighting back sudden frustrated tears as the pain wound its way to her brain past the kinder adrenaline. Her older sisters Sorcha and Mirilyn – even her younger cousins – they were so much better at this than she was. They were stronger, faster, less scatterbrained… Her wrist throbbed with her pulse, still fast, and the smaller stinging scratches echoing across her face, chest, and arms made her wish she could kick the evil little thing just a few more times. Sorcha had once taken on an entire pack of hell-hounds that threatened her day-camp, for heaven’s sake. Granted, Grandfather and Mirilyn had had to rescue her, but they had all three come home in triumph. A single nasty little goblin would have been no match. What was she doing wrong?