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Golden Apples of the Sun

by Gardner Dozois, Jack Dann,
and Michael Swanwick

Few of the folk in Faerie would have anything to do with the computer salesman. He worked himself up and down one narrow, twisting street after another, until his feet throbbed and his arms ached from lugging the sample cases, and it seemed like days had passed rather than hours, and still he had not made a single sale. Barry Levingston considered himself a first-class salesman, one of the best, and he wasn’t used to this kind of failure. It discouraged and frustrated him, and as the afternoon wore endlessly on—there was something funny about the way time passed here in Faerie; the hazy, bronze-colored Fairyland sun had hardly moved at all across the smoky amber sky since he’d arrived, although it should certainly be evening by now—he could feel himself beginning to lose that easy confidence and unshakable self-esteem that are the successful salesman’s most essential stock-in-trade. He tried to tell himself that it wasn’t really his fault. He was working under severe restrictions, after all. The product was new and unfamiliar to this particular market, and he was going “cold sell.” There had been no telephone solicitation programs to develop leads, no ad campaigns, not so much as a demographic study of the market potential. Still, his total lack of success was depressing.

The village that he’d been trudging through all day was built on and around three steep, hive-like hills, with one street rising from the roofs of the street below. The houses were piled chockablock atop each other, like clusters of grapes, making it almost impossible to even find—much less get to—many of the upper-story doorways. Sometimes the eaves grew out over the street, turning them into long, dark tunnels. And sometimes the streets ran up sloping housesides and across rooftops, only to come to a sudden and frightening stop at a sheer drop of five or six stories, the street beginning again as abruptly on the far side of the gap. From the highest streets and stairs you could see a vista of the surrounding countryside: a hazy golden-brown expanse of orchards and forests and fields, and, on the far horizon, blue with distance, the jagged, snow-capped peaks of a mighty mountain range—except that the mountains didn’t always seem to be in the same direction from one moment to the next; sometimes they were to the west, then to the north, or east, or south; sometimes they seemed much closer or farther away; sometimes they weren’t there at all.

Barry found all this unsettling. In fact, he found the whole place unsettling. Why go on with this, then? he asked himself. He certainly wasn’t making any headway. Maybe it was because he overtowered most of the fairyfolk—maybe they were sensitive about being so short, and so tall people annoyed them. Maybe they just didn’t like humans; humans smelled bad to them, or something. Whatever it was, he hadn’t gotten more than three words of his spiel out of his mouth all day. Some of them had even slammed doors in his face—something he had almost forgotten could happen to a salesman.

Throw in the towel, then, he thought. But . . . no, he couldn’t give up. Not yet. Barry sighed, and massaged his stomach, feeling the acid twinges in his gut that he knew presaged a savage attack of indigestion later on. This was virgin territory, a literally untouched route. Gold waiting to be mined. And the Fairy Queen had given this territory to him . . .

Doggedly, he plodded up to the next house, which looked something like a gigantic acorn, complete with a thatched cap and a crazily twisted chimney for the stem. He knocked on a round wooden door.

A plump, freckled fairy woman answered. She was about the size of an earthly two-year-old, but a transparent gown seemingly woven of spidersilk made it plain that she was no child. She hovered a few inches above the doorsill on rapidly beating hummingbird wings.

“Aye?” she said sweetly, smiling at him, and Barry immediately felt his old confidence return. But he didn’t permit himself to become excited. That was the quickest way to lose a sale.

“Hello,” he said smoothly. “I’m from Newtech Computer Systems, and we’ve been authorized by Queen Titania, the Fairy Queen herself to offer a free installation of our new home computer system—”

“That wot I not of,” the fairy said.

“Don’t you even know what a computer is?” Barry asked, dismayed, breaking off his spiel.

“Aye, I fear me, ‘tis even so,” she replied, frowning prettily. “In sooth, I know not. Belike you’ll tell me of ‘t, fair sir.”

Barry began talking feverishly, meanwhile unsnapping his sample case and letting it fall open to display the computer within. “—balance your household accounts,” he babbled. “Lets you organize your recipes, keep in touch with the stock market. You can generate full-color graphics, charts, graphs . . .”

The fairy frowned again, less sympathetically. She reached her hand toward the computer, but didn’t quite touch it. “Has the smell of metal on’t,” she murmured. “Most chill and adamant.” She shook her head. “Nay, sirrah, ‘twill not serve. ‘Tis a thing mechanical, a clockwork, meet for carillons and orreries. Those of us born within the Ring need not your engines philosophic, nor need we toil and swink as mortals do at such petty tasks an you have named. Then wherefore should I buy, who neither strive nor moil?”

“But you can play games on it!” Barry said desperately, knowing that he was losing her. “You can play Donkey Kong! You can play Pac-Man! Everybody likes to play PacMan—”

She smiled slowly at him sidelong. “I’d liefer more delightsome games,” she said.

Before he could think of anything to say, a long, long, long green-grey arm came slithering out across the floor from the hidden interior of the house. The arm ended in a knobby hand equipped with six grotesquely long, tapering fingers, now spreading wide as the hand reached out toward the fairy . . .

Barry opened his mouth to shout a warning, but before he could, the long arm had wrapped bonelessly around her ankle, not once but four times around, and the hand with its scrabbling spider fingers had closed over her thigh. The arm yanked back, and she tumbled forward in the air, laughing.

“Ah, loveling, can you not wait?” she said with mock severity. The arm tugged at her. She giggled. “Certes, meseems you cannot!”

As the arm pulled her, still floating, back into the house, the fairy woman seized the door to slam it shut. Her face was flushed and preoccupied now, but she still found a moment to smile at Barry. “Farewell, sweet mortal!” she cried, and winked. “Next time, mayhap?”

The door shut. There was a muffled burst of giggling within. Then silence.

The salesman glumly shook his head. This was a goddam tank town, was what it was, he thought. Here there were no knickknacks and bric-a-brac lining the windows, no cast-iron flamingoes and eave-climbing plaster kitty cats, no mailboxes with fake Olde English calligraphy on them—but in spite of that it was still a tank town. Just another goddamn middle-class neighborhood with money a little tight and the people running scared. Place like this, you couldn’t even give the stuff away, much less make a sale. He stepped back out into the street. A fairy knight was coming down the road toward him, dressed in green jade armor cunningly shaped like leaves, and riding an enormous frog. Well, why not? Barry thought. He wasn’t having a lot of luck door-to-door.

“Excuse me, sir!” Barry cried, stepping into the knight’s way. “May I have a moment of your—”

The knight glared at him, and pulled back suddenly on his reins. The enormous frog reared up, and leaped straight into the air. Gigantic, leathery, batlike wings spread, caught the thermals, carried mount and rider away.

Barry sighed and trudged doggedly up the cobblestone road toward the next house. No matter what happened, he wasn’t going to quit until he’d finished the street. That was a compulsion of his . . . and the reason he was one of the top cold-sell agents in the company. He remembered a night when he’d spent five hours knocking on doors without a single sale, or even so much as a kind word, and then suddenly he’d sold $30,000 worth of merchandise in an hour . . . suddenly he’d been golden, and they couldn’t say no to him. Maybe that would happen today, too. Maybe the next house would be the beginning of a run of good luck . . .

The next house was shaped like a gigantic ogre’s face, its dark wood forming a yawning mouth and heavy-lidded eyes. The face was made up of a host of smaller faces, and each of those contained other, even smaller faces. He looked away dizzily, then resolutely climbed to a glowering, thick-nosed door and knocked right between the eyes—eyes which, he noted uneasily, seemed to be studying him with interest.

A fairy woman opened the door—below where he was standing. Belatedly, he realized that he had been knocking on a dormer; the top of the door was a foot below him.

This fairy woman had stubby, ugly wings. She was lumpy and gnarled, and her skin was the texture of old bark. Her hair stood straight out on end all around her head, in a puffy nimbus, like the Bride of Frankenstein. She stared imperiously up at him, somehow managing to seem to be staring down her nose at him at the same time. It was quite a nose, too. It was longer than his hand, and sharply pointed.

“A great ugly lump of a mortal, an I mistake not!” she snapped. Her eyes were flinty and hard. “What’s toward?”

“I’m from Newtech Computer Systems,” Barry said, biting back his resentment at her initial slur, “and I’m selling home computers, by special commission of the Queen—”

“Go to!” she snarled. “Seek you to cozen me? I wot not what abnormous beast that be, but I have no need of mortal kine, nor aught else from your loathly world! Get you gone!” She slammed the door under his feet. Which somehow was every bit as bad as slamming it in his face.

“Sonofabitch!” Barry raged, making an obscene gesture at the door, losing his temper at last. “You goddamn flying fat pig.”

He didn’t realize that the fairy woman could hear him until a round crystal window above his head flew open, and she poked her head out of it, nose first, buzzing like a jarful of hornets. “Wittold!” she shrieked. “Caitiff rogue!”

“Screw off, lady,” Barry snarled. It had been a long, hard day, and he could feel the last shreds of self-control slipping away. “Get back in your goddamn hive, you goddamn pinocchio-nosed mosquito!”

The fairy woman spluttered incoherently with rage, then became dangerously silent. “So!” she said in cold passion. “Noses, is’t? Would vilify my nose, knave, whilst your own be uncommon squat and vile? A tweak or two will remedy that, I trow, and exchange the better for the worse!”

So saying, she came buzzing out of her house like an outraged wasp, streaking straight at the salesman.

Barry flinched back, but she seized hold of his nose with both hands and tweaked it savagely. Barry yelped in pain. She shrieked out a high-pitched syllable in some unknown language and began flying backward, her wings beating furiously, tugging at his nose.

He felt the pressure in his ears change with a sudden pop, and then, horrifyingly, he felt his face begin to move in a strangely fluid way, flowing like water, swelling out and out and out in front of him.

The fairy woman released his nose and darted away, cackling gleefully.

Dismayed, Barry clapped his hands to his face. He hadn’t realized that these little buggers could all cast spells—he’d thought that kind of magic stuff was reserved for the Queen and her court. Like cavorting in hot tubs with naked starlets and handfuls of cocaine, out in Hollywood—a prerogative reserved only for the Elite. But when his hands reached his nose, they almost couldn’t close around it. It was too large. His nose was now nearly two feet long, as big around as a Polish sausage, and covered with bumpy warts.

He screamed in rage. “Goddammit, lady, come back here and fix this!”

The fairy woman was perching half-in and half-out of the round window, lazily swinging one leg. She smiled mockingly at him. “There!” she said, with malicious satisfaction. “Art much improved, methinks! Nay, thank me not!” And, laughing joyously, she tumbled back into the house and slammed the crystal window closed behind her.

“Lady!” Barry shouted. Scrambling down the heavy wooden lips, he pounded wildly on the door. “Hey, look, a joke’s a joke, but I’ve got work to do! Lady! Look, lady, I’m sorry,” he whined. “I’m sorry I swore at you, honest! Just come out here and fix this and I won’t bother you anymore. Lady, please!” He heaved his shoulder experimentally against the door, but it was as solid as rock.

An eyelid-shaped shutter snapped open above him. He looked up eagerly, but it wasn’t the lady; it was a fat fairy man with snail’s horns growing out of his forehead. The horns were quivering with rage, and the fairy man’s face was mottled red. “Pox take you, boy, and your cursed brabble!” the fairy man shouted. “When I am foredone with weariness, must I be roused from honest slumber by your hurtle-burble?” Barry winced; evidently he had struck the Faerie equivalent of a night-shift worker. The fairy man shook a fist at him. “Out upon you, miscreant! By the Oak of Mughna, I demand SILENCE!” The window snapped shut again.

Barry looked nervously up at the eyelid-window, but somehow he had to get the lady to come out and fix this goddamn nose. “Lady?” he whispered. “Please, lady?” No answer. This wasn’t working at all. He’d have to change tactics, and take his chances with Snailface in the next apartment.


The eyelid flew open. “This passes bearing!” Snailface ranged. “Now Cernunnos shrivel me, an I chasten not this boisterous dotard!”

“Listen, mister, I’m sorry,” Barry said uneasily, “I don’t mean to wake you up, honest, but I’ve got to get that lady to come out, or my ass’ll really be grass!”

“Your Arse, say you?” the snail-horned man snarled. “Marry, since you would have it so, why, by Lugh, I’ll do it, straight!” He made a curious gesture, roared out a word that seemed to be all consonants, and then slammed the shutter closed.

Again, there was a popping noise in Barry’s ears, and a change of pressure that he could feel throughout his sinuses. Another spell had been cast on him.

Sure enough, there was a strange, prickly sensation at the base of his spine. “Oh, no!” he whispered. He didn’t really want to look—but at last he forced himself to. He groaned. He had sprouted a long green tail. It looked and smelled suspiciously like grass.

“Ha! Ha!” Barry muttered savagely to himself. “Very funny! Great sense of humor these little winged people’ve got!”

In a sudden spasm of rage, he began to rip out handfuls of grass, trying to tear the loathsome thing from his body. The grass ripped out easily, and he felt no pain, but it grew back many times faster than he could tear it free—so that by the time he decided that he was getting nowhere, the tail trailed out six or seven feet behind him.

What was he going to do now?

He stared up at the glowering house for a long, silent moment, but he couldn’t think of any plan of action that wouldn’t just get him in more trouble with someone.

Gloomily, he gathered up his sample cases, and trudged off down the street, his nose banging into his upper lip at every step, his tail dragging forlornly behind him in the dust. Be damned if this wasn’t even worse than cold-selling in Newark. He wouldn’t have believed it. But there he had only been mugged and had his car’s tires slashed. Here he had been hideously disfigured, maybe for life, and he wasn’t even making any sales.

He came to an intricately carved stone fountain, and sat wearily down on its lip. Nixies and water nymphs laughed and cavorted within the leaping waters of the fountain, swimming just as easily up the spout as down. They cupped their pretty little green breasts and called invitingly to him, and then mischievously spouted water at his tail when he didn’t answer, but Barry was in no mood for them, and resolutely ignored their blandishments. After a while they went back to their games and left him alone.

Barry sighed, and tried to put his head in his hands, but his enormous new nose kept getting in the way. His stomach was churning. He reached into his pocket and worried out a metal-foil packet of antacid tablets. He tore the packet open, and then found—to his disgust—that he had to lift his sagging nose out of the way with one hand in order to reach his mouth. While he chewed on the chalky-tasting pills, he stared glumly at the twin leatherette bags that held his demonstrator models. He was beaten. Finished. Destroyed. Ruined. Down and out in Faerie, at the ultimate rock bottom of his career. What a bummer! What a fiasco!

And he had had such high hopes for this expedition, too . . .

Barry never really understood why Titania, the Fairy Queen, spent so much of her time hanging out in a sleazy little roadside bar on the outskirts of a jerkwater South Jersey town—perhaps that was the kind of place that seemed exotic to her. Perhaps she liked the rotgut hooch, or the greasy hamburgers—just as likely to be “venison-burgers,” really, depending on whether somebody’s uncle or backwoods cousin had been out jacking deer with a flashlight and a 30.30 lately—or the footstomping honky-tonk music on the juke box. Perhaps she just had an odd sense of humor. Who knew? Not Barry.

Nor did Barry ever really understand what he was doing there—it wasn’t really his sort of place, but he’d been on the road with a long way to go to the next town, and a sudden whim had made him stop in for a drink. Nor did he understand why, having stopped in in the first place, he had then gone along with the gag when the beat-up old barfly on his left had leaned over to him, breathing out poisonous fumes, and confided, “I’m really the Queen of the Fairies, you know.” Ordinarily, he would have laughed, or ignored her, or said something like, “And I’m the Queen of the May, sleazeball.” But he had done none of these things. Instead, he had nodded gravely and courteously, and asked her if he could have the honor of lighting the cigarette that was wobbling about in loopy circles in her shaking hand.

Why did he do this? Certainly it hadn’t been from even the remotest desire to get into the Queen’s grease-stained pants—in her earthly incarnation, the Queen was a grimy, grey-haired, broken-down rummy, with a horse’s face, a dragon’s breath, cloudy agate eyes, and a bright-red rumblossom nose. No, there had been no ulterior motives. But he had been in an odd mood, restless, bored, and stale. So he had played up to her, on a spur-of-the-moment whim, going along with the gag, buying her drinks and lighting cigarettes for her, and listening to her endless stream of half-coherent talk, all the while solemnly calling her “Your Majesty” and “Highness,” getting a kind of role-playing let’s pretend kick out of it that he hadn’t known since he was a kid and he and his sister used to play “grown-up dress-up” with the trunk of castoff clothes in the attic.

So that when midnight came, and all the other patrons of the bar froze into freeze-frame rigidity, paralyzed in the middle of drinking or shouting or scratching or shoving, and Titania manifested herself in the radiant glory of her true form, nobody could have been more surprised than Barry.

“My God!” he’d cried. “You really are—

“The Queen of the Fairies,” Titania said smugly. “You bet your buns, sweetie. I told you so, didn’t I?” She smiled radiantly, and then gave a ladylike hiccup. The Queen in her new form was so dazzlingly beautiful as to almost hurt the eye, but there was still a trace of rotgut whiskey on her breath. “And because you’ve been a most true and courteous knight to one from whom you thought to see no earthly gain, I’m going to grant you a wish. How about that, kiddo?” She beamed at him, then hiccuped again; whatever catabolic effect her transformation had had on her blood-alcohol level, she was obviously still slightly tipsy.

Barry was flabbergasted. “I can’t believe it,” he muttered. “I come into a bar, on impulse, just by chance, and the very first person I sit down next to turns out to be—”

Titania shrugged. “That’s the way it goes, sweetheart. It’s the Hidden Hand of Oberon, what you mortals call ‘synchronicity.’ Who knows what’ll eventually come of this meeting—tragedy or comedy, events of little moment or of world-shaking weight and worth? Maybe even Oberon doesn’t know, the silly old fart. Now, about that wish—

Barry thought about it. What did he want? Well, he was a salesman, wasn’t he? New worlds to conquer . . .

Even Titania had been startled. She looked at him in surprise and then said, “Honey, I’ve been dealing with mortals for a lot of years now, but nobody ever asked for that before . . .”

Now he sat on cold stone in the heart of the Faerie town, and groaned, and cursed himself bitterly. If only he hadn’t been so ambitious! If only he’d asked for something safe, like a swimming pool or a Ferrari . . .

Afterward, Barry was never sure how long he sat there on the lip of the fountain in a daze of despair—perhaps literally for weeks; it felt that long. Slowly, the smoky bronze disk of the Fairyland sun sank beneath the horizon, and it became night, a warm and velvety night whose very darkness seemed somehow luminous. The nixies had long since departed, leaving him alone in the little square with the night and the plashing waters of the fountain. The strange stars of Faerie swam into the sky, witchfire crystals so thick against the velvet blackness of the night that they looked like phosphorescent plankton sparkling in some midnight tropic sea. Barry watched the night sky for a long time, but he could find none of the familiar constellations he knew, and he shivered to think how far away from home he must be. The stars moved much more rapidly here than they did in the sky of Earth, crawling perceptibly across the black bowl of the night even as you watched, swinging in stately procession across the sky, wheeling and reforming with a kind of solemn awful grandeur, eddying and whirling, swirling into strange patterns and shapes and forms, spiral pinwheels of light. Pastel lanterns appeared among the houses on the hillsides as the night deepened, seeming to reflect the wheeling, blazing stars above.

At last, urged by some restless tropism, he got slowly to his feet, instinctively picked up his sample cases, and set off aimlessly through the mysterious night streets of the Faerie town. Where was he going? Who knew? Did it matter anymore? He kept walking. Once or twice he heard faint, far snatches of fairy music—wild, sad, yearning melodies that pierced him like a knife, leaving him shaken and melancholy and strangely elated all at once—and saw lines of pastel lights bobbing away down the hillsides, but he stayed away from those streets, and did his best not to listen; he had been warned about the bewitching nature of fairy music, and had no desire to spend the next hundred or so years dancing in helpless enchantment within a fairy ring. Away from the street and squares filled with dancing pastel lights and ghostly will-o’-the-‘wisps—which he avoided—the town seemed dark and silent. Occasionally, winged shapes swooped and flittered overhead, silhouetted against the huge mellow silver moon of Faerie, sometimes seeming to fly behind it for several wingbeats before flashing into sight again. Once he met a fellow pedestrian, a monstrous one-legged creature with an underslung jaw full of snaggle teeth and one baleful eye in the middle of its forehead that blazed like a warning beacon, and stood unnoticed in the shadows, shivering, until the fearsome apparition had hopped by. Not paying any attention to where he was going, Barry wandered blindly downhill. He couldn’t think at all—it was as if his brain had turned to ash. His feet stumbled over the cobblestones, and only by bone-deep instinct did he keep hold of the sample cases. The street ended in a long curving set of wooden stairs. Mechanically, dazedly, he followed them down. At the bottom of the stairs, a narrow path led under the footing of one of the gossamer bridges that looped like slender grey cobwebs between the fairy hills. It was cool and dark here, and almost peaceful . . . “AAAARRRRGGHHHHH!”

Something enormous leaped out from the gloom, and enveloped him in a single, scaly green hand. The fingers were a good three feet long each, and their grip was as cold and hard as iron. The hand lifted him easily into the air, while he squirmed and kicked futilely.

Barry stared up into the creature’s face. “Yop!” he said. A double row of yellowing fangs lined a frog-mouth large enough to swallow him up in one gulp. The blazing eyes bulged ferociously, and the nose was a flat smear. The head was topped off by a fringe of hair like red worms, and a curving pair of ram’s horns.

“Pay up for the use a my bridge,” the creature roared, “or by Oberon’s dirty socks, I’ll crunch you whole!”

It never ends, Barry thought. Aloud, he demanded in frustration. “What bridge?”

“A wise guy!” the, monster sneered. “That bridge, whadda ya think?” He gestured upward scornfully. “The bridge over us, dummy! The Bridge a Morrig the Fearsome! My bridge. I got a royal commission says I gotta right to collect toll from every creature that sets foot on it, and you better believe that means you, buddy. I got you dead to rights. So cough up!” He shook Barry until the salesman’s teeth rattled. “Or else!”

“But I haven’t set foot on it!” Barry wailed. “I just walked under it!”

“Oh,” the monster said. He looked blank for a moment, scratching his knobby head with his free hand, and then his face sagged. “Oh,” he said again, disappointedly. “Yeah. I guess you’re right. Crap.” Morrig the Fearsome sighed, a vast noisome displacement of air. Then he released the salesman. “Jeez, buddy, I’m sorry,” Morrig said, crestfallen. “I shouldn’t’a’oughta have jerked ya around like that. I guess I got overanxious or sumpthin. Jeez, mac, you know how it is. Tryin’ to make a buck. The old grind. It gets me down.”

Morrig sat down, discouraged, and wrapped his immensely long and muscular arms around his knobby green knees. He brooded for a moment, then jerked his thumb up at the bridge. “That bridge’s my only source a income, see?” He sighed gloomily. “When I come down from Utgard and set up this scam, I think I’m gonna get rich. Got the royal commission, all nice an’ legal, everybody gotta pay me, right? Gonna clean up, right?” He shook his head glumly. “Wrong. I ain’t making a lousy dime. All the locals got wings. Don’t use the bridge at all.” He spat noisily. “They’re cheap little snots, these fairyfolk are.”

“Amen, brother,” Barry said, with feeling. “I know just what you mean.”

“Hey!” Morrig said, brightening: “You care for a snort? I got a jug a hooch right here.”

“Well, actually . . .” Barry said reluctantly. But the troll had already reached into the gloom with one long, triple-jointed arm, and pulled out a stone crock. He pried off the top and took a long swig. Several gallons of liquid gurgled down his throat. “Ahhhh!” He wiped his thin lips. “That hits the spot, all right.” He thrust the crock into Barry’s lap. “Have a belt.”

When Barry hesitated, the troll rumbled, “Ah, go ahead, pal. Good for what ails ya. You got troubles too, aintcha, just like me—I can tell. It’s the lot a the workin’ man, brother. Drink up. Put hair on your chest even if you ain’t got no dough in your pocket.” While Barry drank, Morrig studied him cannily. “You’re a mortal, aintcha, bud?”

Barry half-lowered the jug and nodded uneasily.

Morrig made an expansive gesture. “Don’t worry, pal. I don’t care. I figure all a us workin’ folks gotta stick together, regardless a race or creed, or the bastards’ll grind us all down. Right?” He leered, showing his huge, snaggly, yellowing fangs in what Barry assumed was supposed to be a reassuring grin. “But, say, buddy, if you’re a mortal, how come you got funny nose like that, and a tail?”

Voice shrill with outrage, Barry told his story, pausing only to hit the stone jug.

“Yeah, buddy,” Morrig said sympathetically. “They really worked you over, didn’t they?” He sneered angrily. “Them bums! Just like them little snots to gang up ona guy who’s just tryin’ ta make an honest buck. Whadda they care about the problems a the workin’ man? Buncha booshwa snobs! Screw ‘em all!”

They passed the seemingly bottomless stone jug back and forth again. “Too bad I can’t do none a that magic stuff,” Morrig said sadly, “or I’d fix ya right up. What a shame.” Wordlessly, they passed the jug again. Barry sighed. Morrig sighed too. They sat in gloomy silence for a couple of minutes, and then Morrig roused himself and said, “What kinda scam is it you’re tryin’ ta run? I ain’t never heard a it before. Lemme see the merchandise.”

“What’s the point—?”

“C’mon,” Morrig said impatiently. “I wantcha ta show me the goods. Maybe I can figure out a way ta move the stuff.”

Listlessly, Barry snapped open a case. Morrig leaned forward to study the console with interest. “Kinda pretty,” the troll said; he sniffed at it. “Don’t smell too bad, either. Maybe make a nice planter, or sumpthin.”

“Planter?” Barry cried; he could hear his voice cracking in outrage. “I’ll have you know this is a piece of high technology! Precision machinery!”

Morrig shrugged. “Okay, bub, make it march.”

“Ah,” Barry said. “I need someplace to plug it in . . .” Morrig picked up the plug and inserted it in his ear. The computer’s CRT screen lit up. “Okay,” Morrig said. “Gimme the pitch. What’s it do?”

“Well,” Barry said slowly, “let’s suppose that you had a bond portfolio worth $2,147 invested at 83/4 percent compounded daily, over eighteen months, and you wanted to calculate—”

“Two thousand four hundred forty-three dollars and sixty-eight and seven-tenths cents,” said the troll.


“That’s what it works out to, pal. Two hundred ninety-six dollars and change in compound interest.”

With a sinking sensation, Barry punched through the figures and let the system work. Alphanumerics flickered on the CRT: $296.687.

“Can everybody in Faerie do that kind of mental calculation?” Barry asked.

“Yeah,” the troll said. “But so what? No big deal. Who cares about crap like that anyway?” He stared incredulously at Barry. “Is that all that thing does?”

There was a heavy silence.

“Maybe you oughta reconsider that idea about the planters . . .” Morrig said.

Barry stood up again, a trifle unsteady from all the hooch he’d taken aboard. “Well, that’s really it, then,” he said. “I might just as well chuck my samples in the river—I’ll never sell in this territory. Nobody needs my product.”

Morrig shrugged. “What do you care how they use ‘em? You oughta sell ‘em first, and then let the customers find a use for ‘em afterward. That’s logic.”

Fairy logic, perhaps, Barry thought. “But how can you sell something without first convincing the customer that it’s useful?”

“Here.” Morrig tossed off a final drink, gave a bone-rattling belch, and then lurched ponderously to his feet, scooping up both sample cases in one hand. “Lemme show you. Ya just gotta be forceful.”

The troll started off at a brisk pace, Barry practically having to run to keep up with his enormous strides. They climbed back up the curving wooden steps, and then Morrig somehow retraced Barry’s wandering route through the streets of Faerie town, leading them unerringly back to the home of the short-tempered, pinocchio-nosed fairy who had cast the first spell on Barry—the Hag of Blackwater, according to Morrig.

Morrig pounded thunderously on the Hag’s door, making the whole house shake. The Hag snatched the door open angrily, snarling, “What’s to—GACK!” as Morrig suddenly grabbed her up in one enormous hand, yanked her out of the house, and lifted her up to face level.

“Good evenin’, ma’am,” Morrig said pleasantly.

“A murrain on you, lummox!” she shrieked. “Curst vile rogue! Release me at once! At once, you foul scoundrel! I’ll—BLURK.” Her voice was cut off abruptly as Morrig tightened his grip, squeezing the breath out of her. Her face turned blood-red, and her eyes bulged from her head until Barry was afraid that she was going to pop like an overripe grape.

“Now, now, lady,” Morrig said in a gently chiding tone. “Let’s keep the party polite, okay? You know your magic’s too weak to use on me. And you shouldn’t’a’oughta use no hard language. We’re just two workin’ stiffs tryin’ ta make a honest buck, see? You give us the bad mouth, and, say, it just might make me sore.” Morrig began shaking her, up and down, back and forth, his fist moving with blinding speed, shaking her in his enormous hand as if she were a pair of dice he was about to shoot in a crap game. “AND YOU WOULDN’T WANT TA MAKE ME SORE, NOW, WOULD YOU, LADY?” Morrig bellowed. “WOULD YOU?”

The Hag was being shaken so hard that all you could see of her was a blur of motion. “Givors!” she said in a faint little voice. “Givors, I pray you!”

Morrig stopped shaking her. She lay gasping and disheveled in his grasp, her eyes unfocused. “There!” Morrig said jovially, beaming down at her. “That’s better, ain’t it? Now I’m just gonna start all over again.” He paused for a second, and then said brightly, “‘Evenin’, ma’am! I’m sellin’ . . . uh . . . ” He scratched his head, looking baffled, then brightened. “. . . compukers!” He held up a sample case to show her; she stared dazedly at it. “Now I could go on and on about how swell these compukers are, but I can see you’re already anxious ta buy, so there ain’t no need ta waste yer valuable time like that. Ain’t that right?” When she didn’t answer, he frowned and gave her a little shake. “Ain’t that right?”

“A-aye,” she gibbered. “Aye!”

Morrig set her down, keeping only a light grip on her shoulder, and Barry broke out the sales forms. While she was scribbling frantically in the indicated blanks, Morrig rumbled, “And, say, now that we’re all gettin’ along so good, how’s about takin’ your spell offa my friend’s nose, just as a gesture a good will? You’ll do that little thing for me, won’tcha?”

With ill-grace, the Hag obliged. There was a pop, and Barry exulted as he felt his nose shrink down to its original size. Part of the way home, anyway! He collected the sales forms and returned the receipts. “You can let go of her now,” he told Morrig.

Sullenly, the Hag stalked back into her house, slamming the door behind her. The door vanished, leaving only an expanse of blank wood. With a freight-train rumble, the whole house sank into the ground and disappeared from sight. Grass sprang up on the spot where the house had been, and started growing furiously.

Morrig chuckled. Before they could move on, another fairy woman darted out from an adjacent door. “What bought the Hag of Blackwater, so precious that straight she hastens to hide herself away with it from prying eyes?” the other fairy asked. “Must indeed be something wondrous rare, to make her cloister herself with such dispatch, like a mouse to its hole, and then pull the very hole in after her! Aye, she knew I’d be watching, I doubt not, the selfish old bitch! Ever has she been jealous of my Art. Fain am I to know what the Hag would keep from my sight. Let me see your wares.”

It was then that Barry had his master-stroke. “I’m sorry,” he said in his snidest voice, “but I’m afraid that I can’t show it to you. We’re selling these computers by exclusive license of the Queen, and of course we can’t sell them to just anyone. I’m afraid that we certainly couldn’t sell you one, so—”

“What!” the fairy spluttered. “No one is better connected at Court than I! You must let me buy! And you do not, the Queen’s majesty shall hear of this!”

“Well,” said Barry doubtfully, “I don’t know . . .”

Barry and Morrig made a great team. They were soon surrounded by a swarm of customers. The demand became so great that they had no trouble talking Snailface into taking his spell off Barry as part of the price of purchase. In fact, Snailface became so enthusiastic about computers, that he bought six of them. Morrig had been right. Who cared what they used them for, so long as they bought them? That was their problem, wasn’t it?

In the end, they only quit because they had run out of sales forms. Morrig had a new profession, and Barry returned to Earth a happy man.

Soon Barry had (with a little help from Morrig, who was still hard at work, back in Faerie) broken all previous company sales records, many times over. Barry had convinced the company that the floodtide of new orders was really coming from heretofore untouched backwoods regions of West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, and everyone agreed that it was simply amazing how many hillbillies out there in the Ozarks had suddenly decided that they wanted home computer systems. Business was booming. So, when, months later, the company opened a new branch office with great pomp and ceremony, Barry was there, in a place of honor.

The sales staff stood respectfully watching as the company president himself sat down to try out one of the gleaming new terminals. The president had started the company out of his basement when home computers were new, and he was only a college dropout from Silicon Valley, and he was still proud of his programming skills.

But as the president punched figures into the keyboard, long, curling, purple moose antlers began to sprout from the top of his head.

The sales staff stood frozen in silent horror. Barry gasped; then, recovering swiftly, he reached over the president’s shoulder to hit the cancel key. The purple moose horns disappeared.

The Old Man looked up, puzzled. “Is anything wrong?”

“Only a glitch, sir,” Barry said smoothly. But his hand was trembling. He was afraid that there were going to be more such glitches.

The way sales were booming—a lot more.

Evidently, the fairyfolk had finally figured out what computers were really for. And Barry suddenly seemed to hear, far back in his head, the silvery peals of malicious elven laughter.

It was a two-way system, afterall . . .

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