The following comes from Then A Penguin Walked In and Other Tall Tales, currently on sale digitally and in paperback.


THE PROBLEM WITH TALKING in public to a pair of pop superstars, two of the most recognizable people on the planet, was almost as obvious as talking openly to a pair of bandicoots. You run the risk of being mobbed by thousands of screaming fans, all vying to touch one of your companions, maybe even take a piece of them home: scrap of shirt, lock of hair, whatever.

Then there was the threat of paparazzi. The less said about them the better, and that’s probably saying too much as it is.

“We should really take this someplace a little more private,” Dominick said, ushering the two celebrity doppelgangers back into the dumpster pen.

Once safe from prying eyes inside the wooden privacy fence, he continued.

“Now, how about you both drop the disguises. You’re horrible at it anyway.”

Vivian and Harold shared a look.

“I can’t say that I quite agree with the use of the word ‘horrible’, but I suppose you’re probably right,” Vivian said, and soon the two pixie’s were glowing once again.

As before, the glow intensified to the point that Dominick had to shield his eyes. When he could see again, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift were gone.

At first Dominick though that the two pixies had disappeared as nothing took the places of the two teen sensations.

“Vivian?” Dominick said, looking this way and that. “Harold?”

“Down here,” said a high, piping voice.

Dominick looked down and found two tiny people, the size toys. He crouched to get a better view.

The two pixies, a male and a female, dressed in simple tunics colored in earthen tones of brown and green belted at the waist over pants of the same shade and hue. Small, tri-corner hats adorned their heads and thigh high boots rounded out the ensemble. Each had a tiny sword at their hip and thin gossamer wings, like those of a dragonfly, on their backs.

“Please Dominick Hanrahan,” Harold said, and his wings buzzed as they lifted him gently from the ground to float inches from Dominick’s face. “If you would but permit me. I would like for you take a peek into our world before you make your decision. Just a look. See our people and our homes. See how we live. If then, you still choose to stay, Vivian and I will respect your decision and leave you be.”

Dominick had to admit to himself that seeing into another world, even a peek, had his curiosity centers running on overdrive.

“Okay, sure,” Dominick said. “I’ll give the place a look. How, uh… how do I do that?

But Harold ignored him as he descended, and the using a piece of chalk the size of pencil lead, drew a circle on the side of the dumpster. Vivian joined him and the two made a few intricate hand gestures and chanted softly in unison.

He wasn’t sure how long he stood there waiting because soon he was lost in the rhythm of their voices. His eyes were drawn to the circle on the dumpster as it began to glow. The rusted green metal inside the circle faded and was replaced by the blue of a clear sky.

Dominick drew closer.

The bright blue shifted and Dominick found himself looking down upon a walled city with cobblestone streets. The buildings were packed together in a grid that defied the drab uniformity of such a formation and exuded comfort. He wasn’t sure why, but Dominick knew the people who dwelled within that walled city were happy.

The city grew closer and he could see the people walking the stone streets. His time playing role playing games helped him to identify the various races: Humans, elves, pixies flying here and there, dwarves, and tall creatures covered in fur that made him think of Bigfoot. He could see the smiles on their faces, the purpose in the way they walked. Something inside him wanted to be a part of it, regardless of the colored hose he could see most of the men wearing under their tunics. He wouldn’t have to wear hose, would he?

Suddenly, a shadow fell over the scene. Dominick backed away from the dumpster and looked up into the sky. But the shadow was not there with him and the pixies, the shadow had covered the city in the magic circle. Dread crept into Dominick’s heart and he found sweat forming on his brow.

The scene shifted like a jump cut in a movie, and now the city was on fire. Great plumes of greasy smoke rose into the sky. He could almost hear the screams as the people ran about in chaos. Few were organized, running buckets up and down lines of concerned citizens as they attempted to quench the blaze. But it was useless. More managed to escape from the walls out into the plains of grass beyond, only to be met by hordes of lizard men and large, hairless, dark-skinned creatures with protruding brows and small, black eyes.

But the people of the burning city were not alone on the plains of grass, there they joined the ranks of the army that was already engaged in furious battle with the invading mass. The army of the burning city held their own and threw the invaders back.

Then the scene shifted once again and Dominick found the invaders in full retreat. A surge of hope stabbed into Dominick’s heart. The city was saved. He almost cheered.

That was, until the dragon arrived.

The dragon was white, its wingspan like that of a jumbo jet. It flew over the two armies, and the people of the burning city broke, fleeing in terror as the dragon engulfed them in flames from its unholy maw.

“No!” Dominick found himself shouting. He backed away from the dumpster as the people fell to the flames.

The images in the chalk circle went black and soon there was nothing more than the dumpster.

“What was that?” Dominick said, breathing heavily. “Why would you show me that?”

“That was the city of Haven,” Harold said.

“More specifically,” Vivian said. “That is what will happen to Haven and our people without your help.”

“Why?” Dominick backed away another step, his hands gripping the hair on the top of his head like he was clinging to the side of a cliff. “Why me? I’m just a cook at a crappy fast food place,” Dominick said.

“You are the One,” Vivian said.

“It has been foretold,” Harold said.

“‘And so the hammer shall mark him as the One,’” Vivian said, sounding as if she were reading from a book. “‘And in our hour of most desperate need, when shadow and flame feed upon the land, when fire rains from the sky, the One will come from the old and into the new. With hammer and blade, with thunder and lightning, the One will bring light to the shadow and quench the fires of doom.’”

“So our prophecies speak,” Harold said.

Dominick looked down at the pale birthmark on his hand.

“Look,” Dominick said. “I’m sorry, but I have a life here, pathetic as it may be, it’s still a life, and I can’t just leave it.”

Harold and Vivian only smiled.

“We understand, Dominick Hanrahan,” Vivian said.

“Yes, we will go and trouble you no further,” Harold said.

“When you change your mind, you will need this.” Vivian produced something tiny from a pouch at her side. She held it up for Dominick to see.

He had to squint. It was a ring. A ring made for pixie fingers.

“I don’t understand,” Dominick said.

“The ring will allow you to step between the two realms. To move between your home and ours,” Vivian said.

“Okay,” said Dominick, unsure how he was to use something so small. “But I won’t change my mind.”

Regardless of how he felt, however, something made him hold out his hand.

Vivian, ignoring his rejection, dropped the ring into his open palm. As the ring connected with his skin, it grew to what, for Dominick, would be normal size with an almost audible pop, and he nearly let it fall from his hand in surprise.

He studied the ring for a moment. It reminded him of the class ring his parents were unwilling to buy him when he’d been in high school, except the gem in the center of the ring was dark, almost black. Engraved on either side of the ring were a pair of symbols. He peered intently at each of them, but couldn’t quite make out what either one was supposed to be. It was almost as if the engraver had blurred them in some fashion.

“Place the ring on the middle finger of your right hand,” Vivian said.

“I won’t change my mind,” Dominick repeated. “I’m sorry.”

“Yes, of course,” Vivian said, dismissing his statement entirely. “Picture the place you want to travel to in your mind, the exact place. Since you have yet to travel to Gund, think upon the city you have seen in the circle. Turn the ring so that the gem faces inward, then, place the gem to your heart and you will travel.”

“Alright, thanks,” Dominick said, rubbing his head. “I, ah, I’ll think about it, okay? That’s all I can promise.”

“Of course,” Vivian said.

“Of course,” Harold said.

“Look, I’m sorry. But I really have to get back,” Dominick said, pocketing the ring and backing away. “I want to help, but,” he turned to look back at the Happy Hamburger.

“But you will, Dominick Hanrahan,” Harold said. “You will help us.”

“Yes, Dominick Hanrahan,” Vivian said, gliding into his field of vision. “Our prophecies say you will help us, so you will help us, we have no doubt of that fact. There is no need for either of us to try and continue to convince you.”

“Your heart knows what you must do,” Harold said. “Once your head sees that your heart is right, then you will come.”

“You have the ring, Dominick Hanrahan. You know how to use it. You will come. There is nothing more to say,” Vivian said. “Pleasant day.”

Dominick only frowned and scratched his head.

“Okay then,” he said, breaking the silence. “Um, I guess I’ll see ya or something.”

The pixies did not respond. They hovered before him, smiling.

“Bye,” Dominick said, throwing a wave their way as he turned, left the dumpster pen, and ambled toward the Happy Hamburger.

“Wait!” Vivian called out. “The sword!”

Dominick froze. Not a good idea when walking through the lot of a drive-in. He was nearly run over by a minivan. Once he was safely out of the way, Dominick turned back to the dumpster pen. Harold had asked Vivian earlier if she’d given him, Dominick, the sword. He’d nearly forgotten all about that.

Dominick had always wanted to own a sword, ever since he’d been ten years old and his Uncle Stan had rented a movie called The Beastmaster. A classic. From that day forward, at least until he started to notice girls, Dominick had turned most anything he could get his hands on into a sword to play with.

But, for all his desire, he could never get his parent’s to actually buy him a toy sword, something made out of plastic or wood, so he’d made do with what he could. Sticks, Tinker Toys, cardboard, whatever.

“You’re still going to give me a sword?” he asked as he stepped back into the dumpster pen. “Arkonus?”

“Arakis,” Vivian said.

“What?” Dominick scratched his head.

“Arakis,” said Vivian. “The name of the sword is Arakis.”

“You will need it when you come to our aid,” Harold said.

“Because you will come to our aid,” Vivian said.

“You certainly will,” Harold said. “It is written.”

“Sure,” Dominick said. “I mean, I probably won’t. Sorry.” He looked down and kicked at an imaginary rock.

“Hold out your hand, Dominick Hanrahan,” Vivian said.

Dominick exhaled slowly, managed to hold in his excitement, and held out his hand. Vivian unbelted the sword at her waist and held it out before her.

“Behold,” she said. “Arakis, the Black Sword of Power.”

She dropped the sword into Dominick’s open hand.

Like with the ring, Dominick nearly dropped the sword as it fell into his hand. He’d expected the sword to grow just as the ring had. The sword, however, had remained pixie size.

“This is the Black Sword of Power?” Dominick asked.

“Well,” Vivian said, looking from him to the sword and back. “Yes.”

“It’s a like a toy,” Dominick said, feeling some slight guilt over the sound of disappointment in his voice. “What am I supposed to do with it, give it to one of my old action figures?”

“Once you have crossed over into our realm you will then be able to access the sword’s power,” Harold said.

“Ah,” said Dominick. “And what sort of power is that?”

“We must return, Dominick Hanrahan,” Vivian said. “Time moves faster in our realm, we have been away too long already.”

“Wait,” Dominick said. “The power of the sword.”

“No time for explanations,” Vivian said. “We must away.”

“Farewell, Dominick Hanrahan,” said Harold. “We shall await your coming.”

Dominick noticed for the first time that Harold wore a ring like the one that currently sat in the bottom of his pocket. Harold turned the ring so that the gem was facing inward, then touched the ring to his heart. A rip appeared in the air behind him, opening with a sound like torn fabric.

A glow emanated from within the tear, seeping out like too much glue between sheets of paper. The pixies waved one last time and stepped through the rip in reality. Dominick stood slack-jawed as it closed up behind them. He remained that way for several moments. Long enough that no less than four cars had come onto the lot and ordered burgers and fries.

He could hear the customers as they each took turns shouting their orders at the menu board. They always shouted. If they didn’t shout, the customers spoke at such a low level that a rabbit standing with its ears pressed firmly against the speaker's mouth would have to strain to pick up more than one word. But for Dominick, it all seemed to be happening in some far away world as he looked down at the sword that rested in his palm.

First a lizard man. Then a penguin. Then another penguin. Was he going insane? The two penguins had become teen idols. That wasn’t normal. None of this was anywhere in the neighborhood of normal. And him, the One? The One what?

The questions poured through his mind like water through a hose.

Why me? Was, of course, the granddaddy of them all.

Well, Dominick thought, because you’re the One, obviously.

The One? What the crap does that even mean?

It would mean, I expect, that you have been chosen for something greater. Something more than plunging frozen food into boiling fat.

Okay, but I ask again. Why me?

Why not?

Because it’s me, isn’t it? Who am I? Just some friendless loser with a dead end job.

You aren’t a loser.

Of course I’m a loser. Look at me. Look at where I am. Look at what I’ve done with my life.

Well, then here’s a chance to do something about that. Here’s your chance to be more than just a fast food cook.

But why me?

Look, you can ask that question all you want. The fact of the matter is that you’re probably never going to get an answer that will satisfy you in any possible way. You just have to have faith, dude.

Faith? Faith in what?

Faith that you’re meant for more. And if the two pixies are right, then you certainly are. You need to embrace that, dude, not question it.

But they want me to leave this world and go to theirs. I mean, let’s explore that for just a moment. It’s another world we’re talking about here. They aren’t asking me to move to another state or anything. They want me to leave Earth. Earth! You can’t tell me that that’s not all kinds of insane.

Yeah, okay, that is pretty insane. But maybe we need a little insanity in our lives. What else have we got?

But Dominick had no answer to that.

Instead, he pocketed the tiny sword, turned, and strode back into the Happy Hamburger, his heart heavy and sad.

The cook aisle was as he left it, a buzzing hive of activity. Dominick nearly screamed when he saw himself over at the french fry station, scooping fries into a box. But then he, that is the Dominick doppelganger that stood in the cook aisle, turned to him and winked.

Then he understood. It wasn’t him; he wasn’t having an out of body experience. The Dominick working the fryers was Raymond; the pixie that Vivian had explained was taking his place so as not to arouse the suspicions of his coworkers.

Raymond went back to work. Dominick watched as his twin grabbed a fryer basket of onion rings from the fryer and shook it gently to get rid of any excess oil. This guy was good.


It was Mr. Finkleton. He stepped up to Raymond, standing so close that one would think the two were about to dance the Lambada. Mr. Finkleton had never been one to believe in the concept of personal space.

“I need you to stay an extra four hours tonight,” said Mr. Finkleton, looming above Raymond. “Brenda called in sick and I need someone on the fryers until the dinner rush is over.”

“But, I’ve worked two hours late each night this week,” Raymond said, his voice carrying just the right amount of whine. This guy was really good.

“Look,” Mr. Finkleton said, placing a sweaty hand on Raymond’s shoulder. “We all have our responsibilities and priorities in life. You just need to decide where yours lie.”

Dominick watched Raymond shrug and then get back to work as Mr. Finkleton walked away. He thought over what his boss had said as Raymond plunged a basket full of frozen fries into the hot grease. They sizzled and popped. He looked briefly at the hammer on his hand, and then reached into his pocket to pull out the tiny sword and the ring.

He decided that in the end, he didn’t really have to think on it too much. He knew, deep down, what he had to do.

He turned and stepped back outside. There he placed the ring on the middle finger of his right hand and thought about the city that Harold and Vivian had shown him. He looked down at the ring and the symbol to the right of the gem began to glow, then it shifted and moved to appear beneath the gem. The symbol was of a tree with round, stylized leaves. He turned the ring on his finger so that the gem faced inward. Then, taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and placed his right hand over his heart.

He heard the sound of tearing fabric and opened his eyes to find a rip in the air before him, the same glow flowing out as before.

He turned one last time to the Happy Hamburger, took another deep breath, gave a small wave, then turned and stepped through the tear.

He’d expected some sort of change to come over him as he walked through the rip; a magical feeling, a tingling sensation, maybe even a roaring in his head. But in the end it was as pedestrian as stepping through a doorway in his own home. But instead of moving from one room to another, Dominick moved from his world to a world of screams, violence, and chaos.

To be continued...


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