Avera rolled the super ball along the counter. With her head on the table, she rolled the ball towards the register and let it bounce back to hit her in the forehead. Not a single customer had come into her current post; Doormats and Land Mines. At the edge of the counter, she had set up two armed land mines as goal posts and pushed the rubber ball through them.
A group of guests peered through the entryway, consulted a map in their hands, checked the sign above the door. Avera gave them a friendly smile. As a group, they shivered and hurried on. She went to retrieve the ball off the floor and took her spot on the counter again.
The overhead PA system squawked to life with a disembodied voice, “Worker #56834, report to Grid 12, Section 4B, Sub-deck 9.”
Avera frowned as the ball almost hit one of the land mines as it passed through them.
The PA system started up again, “Worker #56834, report to Grid 12, Section 4B, Sub-deck 9.”
“I heard you the first time!” She threw the rubber ball at the speaker only to have it bounce off and roll towards the front of the store. Before leaving, she deactivated the mines and slipped them into one of the uniform’s pockets. She didn’t need another warning about leaving merchandise out. As Avera left the store, she scooped up the ball and added it to another pocket. The storefront automatically locked itself behind her. “This is the worst place to work,” she groused, running her hand along the safety railing along the balcony edge of the 5th floor.
Over an hour later, Avera kicked open the last door she hoped was Grid 12, Section 4B, Sub-deck 9. She had tried kicking in the other doors she had seen, but this was the only one that opened under the abuse. “Someone should make a map of this place, and maybe I wouldn’t get lost. And where am I?” she announced to the room.
The large storage room deigned to reply.
“Oooh, what’s that?”
In the center of the storage room floated a spherical burning portal. It had burned through one of the storage racks, which had dumped boxes, crates, and other items around. Some of the crates had fallen partially through the portal, only to be partially sliced open, and had dumped their now shattered contents all over the floor. The portal warped Avera’s vision just by looking at it as it bubbled and inverted itself. Her eyes burned, but she felt if she squinted hard enough, she could see the distorted far side. From deep within, it cast the entire room in a burnt rust red hue. All sound drained through the portal which left the room in an eerie silence. Even as she spoke, her voice drifted towards the center of the warehouse and vanished.
Avera noticed the eyes, five pairs that all glowed with the same burnt rust red light. She noted that they were all staring at her. Attached to those five sets of eyes stood five great four-legged creatures, almost dog-like in appearance. Flames of similar red ignited from behind their ears and spread down their spines to their tails.
Avera cleared her throat as the closest silently stalked up to her, “okay, I can see you are all busy right now with whatever it is you’re doing.” She inhaled sharply at the smell of cooking meat as the beast put its face to hers. “But, this is a restricted area, and I’m going to need you all to go back where you came from… please?”
The creature cocked its head to one side as though working through what she just said. Then it pounced.
Avera screamed as she went down, “Don’t eat me! I’m not tasty! I tried!” After a few moments, she opened her eyes to find herself staring up into the creature’s red eyes. “Uhm, hi?”
It licked her face with a hot, dry tongue.
“Ohh, aren’t you the cutest little creature of death!” Avera petted it behind the ears, the fire dancing cooly through her fingers. It kissed her face again. A second one came over and sniffed her hair. Avera picked herself up as they rubbed their smoldering necks into her and continued to lick. “Yes, yes! I like you, too.” The other three made their way over to her to bump their massive burning heads into hers. They made no sound to be whisked away as they approached. They held unnaturally still as she petted them in turn.
“What are you doing?” A scratchy otherworldly voice wafted out of the portal. A figure shifted and melted around the curvature of the gateway, never coming into complete view or focus. The creatures turned their heads as one back towards the portal. “That girl is a witness, kill her!”
Avera picked herself up off the floor with a smile on her face. The creatures flanked her in silence, and she ran her hands through their fire. She stepped up to the edge of the portal, blinking away tears as she tried to focus on the person’s shape through the distortion. “This is considered to be ‘breaking and entering,’ Mr. Portal Sir. The security forces have been notified.”
“They have not, for I, Fingal the Usurper, know for a fact that MacSweeny’s does not run as it should. I have claimed this store room as my new base of operations, and you will be disposed of,” the voice answered.
“Well, Mr. Usurper, under policies we do not allow squatters or residency in any of our storage lockers. Lucky for you I caught you in time before you made such an error.” Avera gave the room a quick scan, noting the boxes, broken crates and shipping containers and their labels. “But since you didn’t steal anything, I am willing to let you off with a warning and a bill for everything that has broken.”
“Enough of this, kill her! And bring me her body,” the voice commanded.
Avera twisted away from the portal with revulsion, “My body, dead or alive is off limits for your weird necromantic experiments!”
“What? No!” the voice replied immediately. “I can’t just leave a body on the floor in an empty storeroom, that just screams suspicious activity. You see how that is, right?”
Avera nodded, thinking it over, “yes, that makes sense. But I am against you killing me.”
“Will you come peacefully?”
“Then you must die. Beasts, kill the girl.” The creatures stood impassively between the portal and Avera.
“I won’t go down without a fight,” Avera grinned wickedly as trace amounts of yellow Thread flickered around her hands.
“You cannot harm me, little girl,” scoffed the voice.
“Maybe, but I’m still going to try.” The beasts looked up at her and then at the portal. Avera dropped her hands and the tainted Thread vanished. “I’m pretty sure they probably can.”
“Those are my creatures; they will not obey you.”
Avera pulled out the super ball and waved it around. The creatures fire flared and they followed her hand. “You are such good boys. I bet you want to play fetch. I need you to go back through this portal and maul Fingel for me.” The beasts wagged their skeletal tails once. “Now get him!” She tossed the ball through the portal while all five followed its trajectory.
“What is this? What are you doing?”
In a single powerful leap, the five creatures launched themselves back through the portal.
“No, you can’t do this! I am your master!” the scratchy voice shouted. The portal began to collapse on itself, twisting and curving into a singularity in the center of the room.
Avera turned to go, then stopped. She reached into her pocket and pulled out one of the land mines and armed it.
“This one is a free sample!” she called out and gave the mine a toss into the portal as it winked out of existence.