Friday, May 2, 2014


“At firs’ I thought it were gophers,” the farmer said and spat a thick spray of tobacco juice. I watched it glisten as it arced through the afternoon sun and wondered what exactly I’d done to deserve this fate. I’d stumbled through life from gig to gig, family-less, fortuneless, directionless until at eighteen, I settled on this.

Some people might call it an adventure.

I just call it work.

I’m an exterminator.

“’Course once the holes got bigger I knew it had t’be some-it else.”

“Right. Sure.” I glanced around at the farm. It was situated at the mouth of a narrow canyon. A dense wood of dark evergreens loomed over the crack in the earth. Wagons, crates, barrels and sacks filled with, as yet, undetermined excess choked the gully. No wonder this guy had pests. Anyone with half a brain knew that this much garbage would attract all sorts of unwanted attention.

“I tried settin’ out some traps but no luck.”

I shrugged. That didn’t mean much. Most amateurs couldn’t set a trap that would snare a mouse much less the larger pests that roamed the world. Even when a trap is properly placed, hidden and bated they’re only marginally successful.

“What type of bait did you use?” Roardan asked. He was there to observe me in action and compile a report for the guild master, but he never could keep his yap shut.

“Oh, I use th’ good stuff. Virgin,” the farmer said, hacking another blob of browned saliva onto the ground.

“Well, we’ll take a look in the canyon and figure out exactly what we’re dealing with. After that we can figure out a fee and—”

“Fee don’t matter,” the farmer growled. “They’re ruining my crops. Take care of ‘em. Y’er supposed to be the best. Git to it.”

Roardan could barely keep from soiling himself with excitement at the prospect of severely overcharging the ignorant farmer.

We headed into the canyon.

Immediately it became clear that we weren’t dealing with gophers. Caverns and tunnels, some a few feet across, others as big as doorways, pocked the walls of the gully. The rubbish that stood intact at the mouth of the canyon was demolished further back. Torn, broken and gnawed. Other spoor of the pests was evident. Tracks, some remarkably large, criss-crossed the sandy ground. A little ways ahead, leashed to a metal stake, sprawled the trashiest woman I had ever seen.

She was foremost filthy. Her bleached hair stood out in a tangled nest. Garish makeup smeared her gaunt face. One pale thigh was sun-burning brilliantly where her too short skirt had ridden up over her hip. The soles of her bare feet were black with grime. She clutched a rusty dagger in one fist and a brown bottle in the other. Swirly tattoos on her ankle, neck and the small of her back completed her look. For a moment I thought she might be dead but she grunted, belched and flopped over onto her stomach.

“I’ll be roasted alive if that’s virgin bait,” Roardan sniggered.

I nodded in agreement and cut the girl free. The only thing she was attracting was flies. She repaid me by vomiting up something that smelled like pure alcohol. We pushed on farther back into the ever-darkening canyon hoping for some solid proof of what we were facing. And then we got it. Outside an especially wide cave opening stood a row of heads, some human some bestial, all spiked along a sagging bit of split rail fence that stood before the cavern’s mouth. Animal pelts, wolf and fox tails, raven wings, scraps of tattered cloth had been nailed to the gray wood forming a grizzly and haunting collage.

Roardan swore.

I unslung my equipment bag and began strapping on my gear. I buckled on my white chainmail coverall, pulled on my tall black boots. Steel gauntlets covered my hands as I settled my helmet on my head and buckled by belt around my waist where vials of holy water, healing potions, mind enhancers, muscle strengtheners and half a dozen other buffs dangled from leather thongs. I synched the straps of my kite shield tight against my forearm and hefted my mace of Holy Vengeance.

“Maker be with us,” I prayed. “Looks like this farmer has a bad case of orcs.”

Roardan plucked a few notes on his small harp. The bard was as ready as I. Together we strode forward and entered the cavern. It would be hell, crawling through tunnels hunting down every last member of the orc clan that had moved onto the farmer’s land. But it was our job. Some people might call it an adventure. I just call it work. I’m an exterminator.


Image © Alyaksandr Stzhalkouski |