In ancient times, magical creatures inhabited the earth. They lived on mountaintops, in fields, at the bottom of lakes and rivers. But that was long ago, before the human race declared war on the creatures they feared and hated. Now the enchanted peoples are all but gone. The only place they can hide from the ever increasing number of satellites and smart phones is in the World Below.
Mitch Hardy is going through a hard time in his life. In his early twenties, he was working his way through college when he suffered an accident that left him flat broke and physically deformed. When Mitch decides to make a fresh start in a new town, things start looking up. He finds a place to live, a decent job, good friends. He even meets a nice girl. Unknown to Mitch, his new girlfriend is one of the Elder Race, what some call the Faerie Folk. Mitch doesn’t know that Elizabeth is looking for a father she never knew. The key to finding him is somehow tied up with the mysterious Blade of Caro. Desperate, she steals the Blade from its protector, the despotic ruler of the World Below, the Dragon of Worms, Baron Finkbeiner. When Elizabeth is kidnapped by the Baron, Mitch is pulled into a world or magic and monsters he never imagined.
“Poor thing, you’re soaked to the bone,” Mitch said, entering his apartment. “Let me dry you off and we’ll get something to eat.”
Finding a dishtowel in the kitchen that was really just a small hand towel, Mitch rubbed the cat down. The creature endured the treatment well, even when its paws were dried. He expected to be scratched half to death, but it hadn’t turned out that way.
“Good kitty, not much more,” he soothed, holding the cat’s body close to his own. “Just the head left. That’s the worst and then we’re done.”
For its part, the cat meowed weekly and let itself be manhandled, shaking to fluff out its fur when released. Taking a few tentative steps across the kitchen counter, it explored its new environment, delicately sniffing as it went.
“There you go. We’re safe in a basement.”
To himself, Mitch said, “Those sirens haven’t stopped, and I think I heard the cops or an ambulance. It must be getting pretty bad out there.”
“Hey, you like meatloaf? I’m not a great cook but it’s edible.”
The cat looked over its shoulder.
“Meatloaf it is, then.”
Mitch went about his work, going to the refrigerator and finding the meatloaf. When he returned to the counter, the cat was staring intently at a magazine he had left on the counter. A pretty girl with hardly a stitch of clothing was on the cover. The cat’s paw was poised as if to turn the page.
“So, you must be a guy, eh? Little devil,” Mitch said, but his face flushed in embarrassment. He explained, “Lars brought that.”
Putting down the meatloaf, he prized the magazine from under the cat. The thing looked up at him and meowed.
“You are the strangest cat I’ve ever met.” Mitch looked at the magazine, not so embarrassed now. Flipping through the pages, he went on, “But you have good taste. She’s a hotty.”
Finding a knife that was still relatively clean, Mitch cut a slice of meatloaf and put it in a bowl, mashing it down so it would be easier to eat. The cat went after the meal like it was half starved.
“Want a beer?” Mitch asked, going to the fridge. The cat meowed and he turned around. “Coming right up.”
The cat liked the beer even more than the meatloaf. “You must live at a frat house. Otherwise some bar owner likes to keep you around so you’ll kill mice.”
The cat let out a loud belch.
Mitch laughed. “Whoa partner, slow down.”
He tipped his bottle in a toast, touching the side of the cat’s bowl. “I’m cutting you off, buddy.”
Finishing the beer, the cat looked up at Mitch and meowed.
“Nope, better if we both take it easy tonight.”
The cat hopped down onto the floor with an easy grace and padded over to the futon. It sniffed some dirty laundry, then it hopped up onto the couch facing the television.
“You’re definitely a frat-house cat.”
Picking up the remote, he said, “Okay kitty, let’s see what’s happening in the world. I only got three channels, but we should be able to find some local weather.”
Mitch couldn’t afford cable or satellite, so with a box a friend had wired up for him when the digital signal law passed, he watched what he could pull in from the ether. The picture on the old set was snowy even under good conditions. Now it was lousy. Adjusting the antennae, he was just getting something to come in when the room went dark. The power had gone out.
The silence was eerie. Without modern technology, it seemed like he was suddenly thrust into another world. Lightning flashed in the tiny window, followed by its constant companion.
“Sorry kitty, that’s it.”
A brief search turned up a flashlight. Mitch cranked and cranked, but the thing couldn’t hold a charge much longer than few moments. Soon he grew tired of trying, resolved to sitting out the storm in the dark.
Mike Phillips is author of Hazard of Shadows, The World Below, Dawn of Ages, and Reign of the Nightmare Prince. His short stories have appeared in ParAbnormal Digest, Cemetery Moon, Sinister Tales, Beyond Centauri, the World of Myth, Mystic Signals and many others. Online, his work has appeared in Lorelei Signal, Kzine, Bewildering Stories, Midnight Times, and Fringe. He is best known for his Crow Witch and Patrick Donegal series. Please visit Mike at mikephillipsfantasy.com.