This unpublished snippet is a gift for newsletter subscribers. Enjoy!
Falling, as it turns out, is actually quite peaceful.
This isn’t to say that falling isn’t terrifying. It comes with the inherent certainty that eventually you will stop falling, by way of hitting the ground. Or the sea. Perhaps even a plane on the way down. Or, if you are near a circus, the presence of a ridiculously large trampoline is a faint possibility.
Admittedly, these weren’t issues that were troubling Edric Mercer as he plummeted earthwards. He was concerned with the rather more imminent threat of the fireball racing after him, and rapidly gaining on his descent.
It was now or never. Time to learn how to use the brakes.
* * *
Farmer Oldensen watched the crater bloom in the middle of his cornfields.
‘Son of a–’ he muttered, and backed up the tractor. The hole was still smoking when he arrived.
A man staggered out of the dust, flames licking at his heels. He offered the stunned Oldensen a weak grin. ‘Mind if I catch a ride?’
* * *
‘He stole the box?’ screeched Pandora. ‘Why is he still alive!’
Her minions shifted their feet guiltily. It was hard work, being a tool of evil.
‘He also took one of the chariots, mistress,’ one piped up, nervously. ‘The one belonging to Helios.’
‘He drove it all the way back to Earth,’ said another. ‘With the sun behind it an’ all.’
‘Not the whole sun,’ one of them corrected. ‘Just a little bit of it.’
‘It’ll still muck up the usual daylight routine, is what I’m sayin’.’
‘Silence!’ their creator screamed.
‘I think you’ve been foiled,’ observed Fate, without looking up from their chess game. ‘You lose.’
Pandora screamed again, sweeping the board to the floor with one clawed hand.
‘I will kill that man,’ she hissed.
* * *
Edric Mercer bowed and presented the client with his trophy.
‘The genuine article,’ he said, stroking the ornate little box. ‘Do make certain to follow my care instructions to the letter.’ He was still mildly scorched.
‘It’s a bit ugly.’ The client frowned, eyeing the box critically. ‘I suppose it’s what’s inside that counts.’
He reached out to lift the lid. Mercer’s hand darted forward and grabbed his wrist.
‘Good god, man,’ Mercer said, voice suddenly strained. ‘You don’t want to open it, surely?’
The client was perplexed. ‘I only want the bracelet inside. You can keep the box if you want.’
Mercer’s expression melted into a carefully blank stare. ‘Bracelet, you say?’
‘Yes, the Pandora Bracelet I asked for. It is in there, right?’
Mercer slowly shook his head. ‘No. No, it is not.’
The client left, disappointed, leaving a somewhat stunned Edric Mercer staring at the suddenly worthless – yet beyond utterly priceless – box in his hands.
The brief for his mission had seemed obvious at the time. He’d been told the client wanted ‘a Pandora’s treasure, or something? You know what that is, right? You’re good at getting hold of that kind of stuff.’
He was good at it. He’d used all his cunning and guile, outwitted demons and demi-gods, travelled through several planes of existence and survived a 10,000 foot fiery plummet just to get his hands on that box.
His shoulders sank under the weight of a heartfelt sigh.
Catering to the Black Market was a tough job.
For those not in the know, Pandora is an expensive brand of jewellery that seemed to be everywhere when I wrote this silly little short waaaay back in 2014. This punchline rather tickled me at the time.
Interesting trivia: the original version of this sketch featured Jack Hansard as the main character instead of Edric Mercer. It was one of my earliest proof-of-concepts, playing around with the idea of the Black Market and Hansard as a merchant of impossible goods. If you’ve read The Jack Hansard Series, you’ll see why I switched it over to Mercer – this is rather more his style.
Tell me in the comments if you want to see more from Mercer’s POV. He’s on a different level to Hansard, and it was fun to dip into his world for a change.
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