Written by Alex Willging
Voiced by Greg Sais
Music and SFX by Greg Sais
James was 66 and only a week into retirement from the USPS. He’d promised his wife that he’d finally fix up the tile in the guest bathroom, which was how he found himself in the tile section of the local Home Depot. The only problem—well, besides finding the right glazed tile per Edith’s instructions—was that he was starving. But James had promised Edith that he’d not return until he found the perfect match for the bathtub.
But it wasn’t until he turned the corner that he first laid eyes on the Creature.
It wasn’t a child, but a tiny man. Only two feet tall, with pointed ears and an orange Home Depot employee’s vest. And, for some reason, the gnome was taking a long drag on a tiny cigarette. When he saw James staring, the gnome hissed.
“Look, pal,” he said, “I’m on break. Take it up with the Service Desk, okay? Okay…”
“Can…?” James couldn’t believe he was saying this. Or seeing this. “Can you help me, um… find the perfect tile?”
“No can do. On. My. Break.” The gnome blew out a puff of smoke in James’s face.
“The only one who can help is the Queen Beneath.” The gnome stamped his foot on the concrete floor. “If you cross the Lake of Bedlam, enter the Enchanted Grove, and make an offering, she’ll grant your wish.”
James blinked. “What kind of offering?”
“It’s Tuesday, so…” Scratching his head, the gnome glanced at the old man. “A bowl of soup oughta do it.”
“Soup?” James echoed.
“What can I say?” The gnome took another puff of smoke. “She likes soup on Tuesdays. Always did, always will.”
And so it was that James found himself following a gnome’s instructions. He discovered the magical entrance to Faerieland tucked behind the third stall of the men’s room. James screamed as he tumbled past dozens of gnomes, pixies, and lesser elves in the dense green woods hidden far below the parking lot. He haggled with another gnome in the Enchanted Bazaar, trading a shoelace and a nickel for a hot bowl of lentil soup.
Crossing the Lake of Bedlam proved more of a challenge. James bartered his other shoelace for passage on a tiny boat, with a gleaming gold fairy at the helm.
The lake was turbulent, waves rocking hard against the starboard side of the bat. James fought to row while keeping a scalding bowl of soup balanced on his knees. He didn’t even flinch when a slimy tentacle arose from the lake and tried to steal the bowl from his lap.
“Neither rain nor snow,” he muttered under his breath. With a mighty heave, he used his oar to knock the sea creature back. The pixie’s boat nearly capsized, but James regained his balance—and the soup as well.
He lost all sense of time out on the lake. James nearly forgot why he was down here in the first place. He wanted to be home on the couch, curled up with Edith…
But that was it. She deserved the perfect tile, and if the Queen Beneath could deliver it, then crossing this hideous green lake was worth all the trouble.
By the time he reached the other shore, James had found that his bowl of soup had grown cold. He continued to walk, following a trail of torches held by fairies in orange vests.
At long last, James carried his bowl of soup up a flight of granite stairs winding up the trunk of a massive tree. At the summit was a tiny treehouse, no bigger than the checkout stand at Home Depot. James squeezed himself inside, bowing his head against the low ceiling.
He stopped when he heard a cough and a raspy voice ask, “Is that my soup?”
Sitting on an ornate chair was the Fairy Queen, two and a half feet tall and covered in the finest mink. She wore a crown of berries over her delicate pointed ears.
James held up the now-lukewarm bowl of soup.
“Um,” he mumbled, “Sorry it’s cold—”
“Oh, perfect!” The little queen snatched the bowl from his hands and drank it down with an unladylike slurp.
James would’ve asked why, but he decided against it. After all, he’d given up on questions once he discovered a mythical lake far below the Home Depot parking lot. On a Tuesday, no less.
After finishing her soup and smacking her lips, the Queen looked James up and down. “So,” she asked, “you’ve come for your wish?”
“Um, yes?” James clasped his hands together. “I need the perfect glazed tile for our bathroom—”
“Done!” The Queen snapped his fingers, and there they were. Six boxes of beautiful bathroom tiles that Edith was sure to adore. James went to grab them, but the Queen stopped him. She reached beneath her mink coat and handed him, to his surprise, a receipt.
“Please remember that you may return all wishes within the next 30 days for a partial refund,” the Queen declared. She flashed James an evil grin. “Oh, and good luck finding help carrying all that tile back… mailman.”
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