Monday, April 18, 2022


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


AFTER EVERYTHING DOMINICK HAD been made to go through today; the adventure, the excitement, and not to mention the hair curling terror, now he simply waited. Not that he minded. If there was one thing in life he was truly exceptional at, it was waiting. Most people today don’t have the patience for it, and frankly, can be downright rude if what they want isn’t placed in front of them at all possible speed. But not Dominick. No, Dominick understood that even in this fast-paced world, there were going to be times where you would still need to wait, and that if you didn’t condition yourself for such an eventuality, then you were going to be nothing if not miserable.

So, while Dominick was an old pro when it came to the waiting game, today’s opportunity to once again test his mettle on the field of battle was a bit different than what he was used to. Today he waited in a big chair in a small room.

The room was made entirely of stone—walls, floor, and ceiling—with no decoration other than the blue carpet beneath the high backed chair he occupied. A small window was set in the wall just above the chair, which let in plenty of light and fresh air, but was so high that Dominick wasn’t able to look out on the town.

The chair, as previously stated, and not to point too fine a point on it, was very very big. It was, in fact, the biggest chair Dominick had ever seen outside of a Jack and the Beanstalk movie. The chair, while not quite giant-sized, could have slept three in complete comfort with room to spare for Rover, the family dog.

Dominick, while trying to occupy such a vast expanse of plush, blue cushion, felt more than a little insignificant, like the chair was trying to tell him where his place was in the grand scheme of things. It was as if he were a mouse sitting among a great herd of elephants. A drop of water in the middle of a vast desert. A Barry Manilow fan in the mosh pit of a Metallica concert.

Frankly, the chair made Dominick feel more alone than he’d ever felt in his entire, ordinary, small little life. And yet, he surely had to admit to himself that he’d never before sat in such comfort.

After about an hour—he couldn’t be sure of the time as his watch had stopped working the moment he’d stepped through the portal and into this world—a man in a blue doublet and hose poked his head into the room.

The man’s face, preceded by the kind of nose one might want to peel, slice, and then serve over a bowl of cornflakes in milk, was a shade of red that would turn most beets green with envy.

“They are ready for you now, sir” the man said.

“Thank you, Herbert,” Dominick said, rising.

Herbert had been in and out of the small room four times since Dominick had been asked to wait. The first had been to take Dominick off to an even smaller room that contained nothing but a brass tub full of steaming water and a small table that held a plump towel, a rough-looking bar of soap, and what appeared to be a change of clothes.

Herbert had left him alone to bathe and Dominick had first gone to the clothes, which thankfully did not include hose. He was given a fresh woolen shirt: white, with long sleeves, and a pair of dark brown leather pants. Dominick had never worn leather pants before and he’d looked them over with a deep sense of trepidation. Along with the pants and shirt was a long surcoat of blue with the image of a trident over the right breast. There was no footwear so he’d assumed that whoever wanted him cleaned up approved of his boots.

The bath looked inviting so he’d stripped, soaked, scrubbed, and rinsed. He toweled off and tried on his new clothes. The pants, he was happy to find, were loose fitting and comfortable, as was the shirt. He pulled the surcoat over his head and belted the sword to his back, the hilt riding high just over his right shoulder. After his little trip out on the battlefield, Dominick had quickly realized that the sword was just too long to wear on his waist.

His old clothes he’d left atop the table, not at all sorry to see them go. They smelled of grease and he’d secretly hoped that whomever they sent to collect these remnants of a past best forgotten would burn them. As he’d thrown his old pants onto the table, some change had fallen out of the pockets and had scattered across the floor. He’d cursed, sighed, cursed again, and then bent to retrieve the loose coins which, all in all, had come out to seventy-three cents. He’d placed the small fortune next to the pants along with the other treasures he’d been carrying around all day: One packet of spearmint gum, his keys, and a cracked salt shaker. It was this last item he’d looked at curiously for a moment before he recalled how it had gotten there. It was the same shaker he’d contemplated dunking in the fryers back at the Happy Hamburger what seemed like weeks ago, but was only this morning. That must have been what he’d rolled over back on the battlefield, hence the crack in the plastic.

He was stuffing the contents, even the salt shaker, into the deep front pockets of his new pants just as Herbert had come to fetch him. Then it was back to the small room with the big chair, as escorted by the aforementioned Herbert.

The second time Herbert had come into the room it was to bring Dominick food. He bore a tray with a great wheel of cheese, a loaf of crusty bread, and a meaty gravy in a wooden bowl. Dominick, having grown up on processed and fast foods, had never tasted anything like the simple meal of meat, cheese, and bread, and he had to admit that the food made the waiting that much easier. At the same time, once he’d cleaned his plate, he’d found himself more than a little sad once the food was gone.

He’d been pushing the few remaining bread crumbs around on the tray when Herbert stopped in for the third time, bringing with him a shirt of chain mail. Dominick found wearing it more than a little awkward, but he figured that if he would be going to go into battle—he felt uneasy with how at ease he was with the thought—he would take the discomfort over the chance of being chopped in two.

Now, pop in number four, and it was time. Time for what exactly, Dominick did not know.

“Sir?” Herbert said.

It was only then that Dominick realized that he’d been standing as still as a statue, lost in his own thoughts.

“I’m sorry?” Dominick said.

“It’s time.”

“Ah, okay… Thanks, Herbert.” Dominick strapped on his sword. “And what is it time for, exactly?”

“To meet the Triumvirate.”

“Okay, yeah, right.” Dominick put a hand to his chin. “And who are they?”

“The Triumvirate?”


“You don’t know who the Triumvirate are?” The man’s face lost all color.

“No?” Dominick said. “I’m sorry. Should I?”

“You are The One, are you not?”

“That’s what they tell me.”

Herbert only looked at him, his mouth hanging open as the color crept back into his face.

“Look,” Dominick said, going to Herbert and placing a hand on his shoulder. “I don’t know what they told you about me, but I’m new here. I don’t know much about this place.”

“New? To the palace?”

“No, to your realm,” Dominick said. “I come from Earth.”

“Earth?” Herbert said, his expression changing to one of amused distrust. “What’s that?”

Dominick held up his left hand and showed Herbert the symbol of the microchip and the tree.

“Ah,” Herbert said. “You are from the Ancient World. We get visitors from the Ancient World now and again, though you are the first I have met personally.”

Dominick tried to respond, but Herbert continued.

“The Triumvirate are the five men and women who rule the lands of Gund. One from each nation. Each nation but one.”

“And Gund is the world we are in now?”

“That’s correct, sir.” Herbert pointed at the floor. “This world.”

“And Haven is what, the city we’re in?” Dominick said.

“Spot on. Haven is the seat of power for the Triumvirate. Each member of the Triumvirate rules their own nation. They come together in Haven once a year for the Conclave.”


“Where the Triumvirate discuss how each nation fares and to deal with legal matters.”

“So, your entire world is controlled by five people?”

“That is correct. Five nations, five races, coming together for the betterment of all.”

“Tell me about these races,” Dominick said.

“There are six races on Gund,” Herbert said. “There are humans, of course,” he placed a hand on his chest. “Our seat of power is in the east, the City of Riat. Though you can find us in most every nation.”

“Okay, I’m with you so far,” Dominick said.

“The elves,” Herbert said. “They tend to stick to the central plains. They live a nomadic life following the great herds.”

“Herds of what?”

“Cattle,” Herbert said. “The dwarves live in the mountains to the north. Inside the mountains, actually. They’ve have spent the last few centuries carving a kingdom out of the very earth. In the forests of the north and west live the trolls. They prefer the company of trees.”

“Trolls?” Dominick said, throwing his best concerned look at Herbert. “Are they friendly?”

“As friendly as the next guy, I suppose,” Herbert said.

“What does a troll look like?”

“Taller than a human, covered in fur.”

“Ah, okay,” Dominick said. “Bigfoot. I saw them out on the battlefield.”

“Yes, they do have rather large feet,” Herbert said, smiling.

“Okay, so that’s four,” Dominick said.

“Yes, there are also the Fae.”


“Fairy folk,” Herbert said. “Pixies, Brownies, Dryads and the like. They have no one nation or seat of power. They make their homes in the wild places.”

“You said six races, but only five are represented in the Triumvirate?”

“Yes, the sixth race on Gund are the ogres. They are vile and evil and dwell in the deserts of the west. They have sided with Lord Hob.”

“Ogres? Super big, not a lot of clothes, packed with muscles, and smell like death?”

“That’s them.”

“What about the lizard men?” Dominick asked.

“The lizard men are an unholy aberration of nature,” Herbert spit, actually spit. “Lord Hob will have much to answer for on that one when the time comes.”

“So, wait a minute,” Dominick said. “The Triumvirate? I’m not the most educated of men, but I believe that means three. You said it was five?”

“Well, yes,” Herbert said. “Originally the Triumvirate was made up of only three nations; human, elf, and dwarf. Then, a hundred years or so ago, the trolls and the Fae decided that they were being misrepresented. There was a war and everything.”


“Oh yes. Trolls can get quite huffy when they feel they’re being insulted, and the fairies? Well, a pixie can be downright scary.”

“Wow.” Dominick didn’t know what else to say.

The two stood there together in the room in an uncomfortable silence. Each one waiting for the other to speak. Neither did, so the silence stretched out between them like an ever expanding gulf.

Dominick coughed into his hand.

Herbert cleared his throat.

Dominick scrutinized the stonework on the ceiling.

Herbert stared at his boots and then began to whistle.

Dominick took that as a queue to get things moving. And he knew just the right way to do it.

“So…” Dominick said.

“Yes, the Triumvirate,” Herbert said, snapping to attention. “This way please.”

Herbert shuffled him from the room and the two made their way down a long, stone hallway. Torches crackled in brackets along the wall, spaced a few steps between each, lighting their way in a flickering, bobbing way that made their shadows dance along the stonework around them. Dominick quickly got lost as the two turned this way and that, each hallway looking just like the last apart from the occasional tapestry or statue.

“You will be made to stand before the Triumvirate,” Herbert said as they walked.

“Okay,” Dominick said, hurrying to keep up. “What else can I expect?”

It’s not that Herbert was walking fast, but Dominick had never been in a real castle before and he found himself stopping to inspect the odd statue or work of art.

“There may be a reading of the Prophecy,” Herbert said. “Other than that I will expect you will be asked to pledge your life in the protection of Gund for as long as you draw breath.”

“Wait,” Dominick stopped. “What?”

Herbert had gone half a dozen steps before he’d realized that Dominick was no longer following. He turned back.

“Why have you stopped?” Herbert asked. “We will be late, we must go.”

Dominick did not move. He looked at Herbert, his mouth hanging open.

“What?” Herbert said.

“No one said anything to me about this being a lifetime gig.”

“Well…” Herbert said, spreading his hands.

“I mean, I agreed to get rid of this Hob guy, but beyond that…”

“Beyond that is between you and the Triumvirate, I am only a simple clerk and I do what I am told, and what I’ve been told is to make you presentable and then take you before the Triumvirate. Once that is done I can go back to my small desk. Until then, you need to come with me.”

“Well,” Dominick said, his head thrown back in defiance. “I don’t know that I want to go with you now.”

Herbert crossed his arms and tapped his foot.

Dominick put a hand on the hilt of his sword.

Herbert did not look impressed.

Dominick threw the clerk his most stern of looks.

Herbert continued with his unapologetic arm crossing and foot tapping.

Dominick practically wilted.

“Done?” Herbert said. “Can we go now?”

“But, I’m The One. Shouldn’t you, like, be afraid of crossing me or something?”

Herbert cocked an eyebrow.

Dominick sighed.

“Yeah, okay,” Dominick said. “I’m coming.”

After more twists and turns—along with the odd staircase or three—the two stopped before a pair of arched, wooden, steel banded doors.

“Wait here, please,” Herbert said. “When the doors open, go on in.”

Then the red-faced man with the banana nose walked away down a side hall, leaving Dominick alone with his thoughts.

Naturally, the first thought that leaped immediately into Dominick’s rattled brain was the total and complete change his life had come to in such a short amount of time.

Just this morning the most pressing challenge Dominick had had to face was which gas station to use to top off his tank on the way home from work. There were two choices, both of them with their own separate issues.

First choice was the Gas Guzzler, which was normally three cents a gallon cheaper than everyone else in town. But it was on the left as he was heading home, meaning that Dominick would have to cross traffic, both ways, to get in and out, a thought that struck fear into his heart. Dominick always tried to avoid left turns if he could, especially if it meant crossing traffic.

Second choice was the Shop-n-Gas, which was on his right, so he’d have an easier time getting in and out, but they only had two pump islands, and all the pumps were normally in use.

Combine that with no real parking to wait for a vacant pump and they weren’t the best alternative.

Dominick had been wrestling with that particular dilemma all morning. Had he not been running late, he could have stopped at the Gas Guzzler on the way to work, all right turns. Now it didn’t really matter.

The thought of gas and his nearly empty tank meandered into that of the car itself. It was still sitting in the Happy Hamburger parking lot. What would happen to it? Would Raymond, the pixie who’d been standing in for him, take it back to his apartment? Could Raymond even drive?

And what about his apartment? Rent was due tomorrow. Who was going to pay his rent? Raymond?

Dominick was suddenly finding it difficult to breathe when the doors opened to a fanfare of trumpets.

To be continued...


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