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


DOMINICK STEPPED INTO THE pixie’s world and found himself slammed headlong into a wall of sound. All around him figures in armor clashed with sword and ax. There were bodies everywhere, and as he stepped through the rip, Dominick slipped on something unspeakable and fell to the grass.

He wasn’t alone there on the ground. Surrounding him were others, but they were all a little too still for his comfort. He tried to scream but found the sound lodged in the back of his throat as he attempted to come to grips with this hack and slash world he suddenly found himself in.

Dominick rose but was immediately thrown back to the ground when a lizard man in leather armor fell atop him. Up until this very moment, he thought he had fully understood just exactly what fear was. In fact, he was pretty sure he’d learned that lesson not but twenty minutes ago in the Happy Hamburger basement.

But as he lay there underneath that heavy, stinking, unmoving creature, the only thing that kept him a hair’s breadth away from a full grown panic attack was a deep seeded depression once he'd realized that cooking french fries for a living wasn’t all that terrible of a career path. Sure, he didn’t make much money, but he didn’t need much, really. Just enough to pay the bills, eat, and pay for his comic book habit. What more was there?


Did he really need to be respected?

He needed to live, that was for sure. He’d throw respect out the door just to continue breathing.

Doing his best to ignore the din of battle that waged around him, Dominick thought of the Happy Hamburger. The worst he’d ever had to encounter on the job was the threat of Mr. Finkleton and his never ending sweat glands. When you combine that with the man’s predilection for ignoring one’s personal space, what you had yourself there was a hostile working environment. Yet, in light of recent circumstances, the idea of dealing with Mr. Finkleton’s sweat in such close proximity was like a little slice of heaven pie that he suddenly missed with every inch of his heart.

And then there were the perks for working for a company like the Happy Hamburger. For example, he had access to food all day long, and at a discounted price. As an employee of the Happy Hamburger, Dominick was privileged enough to enjoy ten percent off of any purchase, whether he was on the clock or not. You can’t beat a perk like that.

And he had given it all up. Just walked away.

He had a life of ease and comfort in the palm of his hand and he scraped it into the grease trap like a vat of day old cooking oil.

And for what? To die under the carcass of some mutant lizard thing that smelled like old feet?

No. He deserved better than that. He was no hero. He needed to get out of this place and go back home where everything made sense. He had given this Gund place a shot and it threw a corpse at him.

Dominick pushed against the body atop him but it wouldn’t budge. So he tried again, straining to the point of nearly passing out. But again, nothing. He tried to slide out from under the thing but wasn’t able to find a grip on the dirt and grass around him.

So, doing what anyone might do when finding themselves in a similar situation, Dominick had himself a good cry.

He was not embarrassed by it. No, he embraced it. He sobbed and he wept, he bawled and he howled, he sniveled and he whimpered and he squalled and he mewled. He even bleated for a time. Eventually however, after it was all out of his system, he felt prepared to work at the task at hand.

How would he get himself out from under a dead lizard that weighed more than he did?

It seemed an impossible task, but he would not give up. Instead, Dominick rocked from side to side. It was small, at first, just slight movements to the left and to the right, but soon the body was moving along with him.

Then, with a scream of effort, as Dominick rocked to the right, he was able to push at the dead weight so that it rolled off of him. Dominick laughed and pulled himself to his feet.

He did his best to ignore the tumult all around and tried to clear his mind of any thoughts but those of home. He glanced down at the ring on his left hand and smiled as the symbols spun around the band, the one for his world coming to rest within the gem. It was the same tree as this world, but set before it was a microchip.

He turned the ring inward and was about the place it over his heart when something hammered into him and he was on the ground once again.

Dominick looked up to find something standing over him that was even more monstrous that one of the lizard men, if that was even possible. It was dark, hairless, and covered in muscles. It wore no armor, only a tiny fur loincloth that covered its midsection. Its brow protruded over its small, dark eyes and two yellowed tusks jutted up from its lower lip.

Then there was the smell.

The stench that rolled off the thing brought back memories of the day he’d been trapped on the back of a charter bus full of his fellow high school band-mates, trekking through the Midwest, heading north to a band festival in Canada. The toilet on the bus, better yet the compartment in which the toilet emptied into, had been filled to capacity after a short stop in Nebraska where most everyone on the bus bought, and consumed, enchiladas sold from off the back of a truck. It was hours before they were able to transfer the waste into a proper disposal unit, but those few hours had been the most malodorous of his entire life.

Until now.

The creature held an ax so large that a family of yak could have slept comfortably on the blade. Yet the monster held the weapon, almost casually, in one hand. The thing smiled as it raised the ax above its head, showing yellowed, blunt teeth.

The smile alone was enough to make Dominick yearn for his time spent trapped beneath the dead lizard man, and the fear inspired him to scramble backwards as the blade fell.

The ax split the earth between Dominick’s legs as he crab walked away as fast and as far and his four limbs would take him. In the end they took him only a few steps before he backed into another lifeless form. The creature smiled again and raised the ax for a second time.

As the ax fell, Dominick rolled to his right, screaming like a scared child as the blade sliced through the back of his shirt. The stark raving terror the ax had inspired from deep within Dominick drove him to keep moving, and as he did he rolled over something the size of a shot glass in his left pocket.

His mind was momentarily distracted by the pain of said object pressing forcefully into the tender meat of his upper thigh. He couldn’t imagine what it was that he had in that pocket, but the small part of his brain that tried to work its way through the mystery was summarily beat down by a much larger part of his brain that was designed to pull the smaller part away from trivial nonsense when the rest of the brain is doing what it could to keep the body out of mortal danger.

He then amazed himself by turning the roll into a somersault, which then ended with Dominick standing in a slight crouch before the towering, ax-wielding, obsessed-with-seeing-him-die, mass of muscle. Now that he was standing, he could see that the creature was at least eight feet tall.

Dominick threw his hands out before him.

“Whoa now, big boy,” Dominick said. “Let’s think about this, okay? I just got here and I have no idea what the crap is going on.”

“I kill you, little squirrel,” the thing said, its speech somewhat impeded by the tusks protruding from its lower jaw.

It was then—as his blood froze, his heart raced, and his bowels threatened to relax and release—that Dominick remembered the sword. He stuck a hand in his right pocket as the creature swung the massive ax once again. It came at him this time from the side and Dominick jumped backward over a fallen soldier and avoided being split in half by a hair.

He pulled the tiny sword from his pocket.

“Can’t we talk about this?” Dominick said, clutching the miniature sword before him in his sweaty fist.

“Can talk after dead, squirrel.”

The creature raised the ax and made ready to bring it down upon Dominick’s head. But then it paused, its eyes narrowing as it took in the sight of Dominick and his tiny sword. It began to laugh, the sound rising above the roar of the battle.

Dominick looked down at the sword in his hand and was soon laughing along with the creature who was about to end his life. It all seemed so silly to die in such a fashion. To know that after years of a life spent in perpetual blandness that he had to travel to another world entirely just to die in what had to be one of the most exciting ways possible: split down the middle by a giant, poop-inducing, ax. And all he had to defend himself was a sword made for a toy soldier.

Soon, the laughter died away and the two were left with nothing more than the space between them and the one moment they had shared in insane amusement. The moment broken only when the creature, shrugging its shoulders, brought the ax down.

At the same time, Dominick, knowing full well the futility of the act, pulled the tiny sword from the tiny scabbard. The moment the blade cleared, the sword and scabbard both popped to normal size and for a moment hope tweaked him on his cheek. Followed—rather dramatically—by a clap of thunder in the sky above them.

The blade of the sword was black, and nearly four feet long. The grip was made for two hands, but Dominick held on to it with just the one as if the blade weighed nothing at all.

Dominick gaped. And as he held the naked blade before him, the ax fell. Dominick raised the sword, putting the blade between him and the ax, knowing that he wasn’t going to be strong enough to hold back the force of the blow. But then, as ax and sword met, a sound pulsated forward from the impact of the two blades: The sonorous tone of a massive bell that echoed out around them as the blade of the ax shattered into thousands of tiny pieces.

Dominick and the creature stared at each other, the lingering sound of the bell hanging in the air between them. Dominick still gaped; the creature looked shocked as he held tightly to the shaft of his broken ax.

“Sword of Power,” the creature said, its voice a whisper.

That was the moment Dominick realized that the fighting around him had stopped. The combatants had all turned to look in his direction and he felt uncomfortable under such voluminous scrutiny.

“Sword of Power,” the creature said again, and then the shaft of the broken ax fell from its fingers.

“Look, um,” Dominick said, his eyes darting from the creature to the crowd around him. He’d never been good in front of an audience.

“The One,” the creature said, pointing a trembling finger at him.

“What?” Dominick said.

“The One,” the creature repeated, and then, with very little in the way of ceremony, fled.

A large portion of the crowd around Dominick followed the creature’s lead and ran away in terror. Lizard men, more of the dark skinned creatures, and other humans. They ran from the field as if a giant, mutated goat had entered the field, devouring all within its path.

What warriors remained had gathered around Dominick, their collective faces beaming with a weary joy. He could see mostly human faces throughout the gathering. Others were elven based on the long, pointed ears and large, almond-shaped eyes. He could also identify what had to be dwarves. Mixed in among them were creatures that Dominick could only categorize as Bigfoot. They were tall, about seven feet, and covered in coarse fur of varying shades.

The humans, elves, and dwarves wore leather and chain mail, the Bigfoot creatures wore loose fitting dark pants with a green surcoat belted at the waist. All had an insignia bearing a regal bird of prey on their right breast.

Pixies floated among them all, fluttering here and there like large bees.

Then, as one, the warriors dropped to one knee and bowed their heads.

“The One,” a thousand voices said together.

“Uh,” Dominick said.

The warriors, again as one, rose to their feet. All faces looked to Dominick with expectation.

“Uh,” Dominick repeated. “Hi, guys.” He smiled, waved, and prayed that they wouldn’t notice his trembling hands, his knocking knees, and the way in which his stomach was attempting to crawl out of his throat.

The warriors did not move, nor did they speak. Though he did see one a few rows back return his wave.

“So, yeah,” Dominick said in a squeak. He cleared his throat. “I’m uh… I guess I’m this One person and stuff.”

He continued to smile.

The warriors continued to stare.

“And uh, this would be, um, Arkonus?” Dominick said.

He raised the sword, blade pointing to the heavens. Thunder boomed and a bolt of lightning struck the blade, connecting the steel momentarily to the sky.

The crowd stepped back, a collective “Ah!” rolling from them as if to say: “Oh, wow. We are all really quite impressed by what has just happed but can’t articulate it in a way that such a display truly deserves.”

“Um,” was the only response Dominick could come up with considering the circumstances.

“Dominick Hanrahan,” someone spoke behind him. “We knew you would come.”

He turned to find Vivian hovering at eye level. She’d replaced her tri-corner hat with a round metal helmet.

“Oh, yeah,” Dominick said. “Hey, Vivian.”

“You’re arrival is fortuitous. We were near to losing the day.”

“You didn’t tell me you were in the middle of a pitched battle,” Dominick said.

“We were not when we had traveled to your realm, Dominick Hanrahan. It has been three days since we left you.”

“Three days? But, it was only a few minutes ago.”

“As I said before we left you, Dominick Hanrahan, time moves faster in our realm.”

He scratched his head.

“So, I guess I saved you and stuff, right?” He said.

“You certainly arrived at the right time. Lord Hob’s vile army is in retreat.”

“Well,” Dominick said, looking at the sword in his hand. “I guess I’m done then. That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”

“Done?” Vivian cocked her head.

“Yeah, you said I’d save your world, right? That I was destined to do it and stuff? And I did drive away those bad guys, right? Not sure how I did it, frankly. I mean, it was cool and all, I almost had an accident in my pants, but I guess it was pretty dope.”

“No, I’m sorry, Dominick Hanrahan, but your job is not yet complete. Yes, today’s battle is won, but there is still the war. Lord Hob and his minions will return, and when they do, you must be prepared to face him in furious combat.”

“Oh,” Dominick said. He slid the sword into its scabbard and then belted it around his waist.

He couldn’t quite place his finger on it, but there was something comfortable about standing there on the field of battle with a weary army all around him, the Sword of Power on his hip. It felt right somehow. Natural. As if it was just something he did because he was just that kind of guy.

“Okay,” he said, doing his best to look Vivian in the eyes, not an easy task with eyes that small. “I’m here, I guess I’ll fight. What’s next?”

“We must go to the palace and prepare.”

“Lead the way,” he said.

Vivian floated away and as Dominick made to follow the long scabbard became tangled between his legs and he fell on his face in front of the very people he’d come to save.

To be continued...


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