© Suzanne McLeod 2013
Silver glinted in the corner of his eye. He clutched the bulging satchel under his arm, rushed through the forest of commuters’ legs, dodging a low slung backpack before it connected with his head, and slid to his knees by the bench. Thrusting his hand behind the human’s jeans-clad legs, his knobbly fingers plucked the silver foil from its resting place.
Satisfaction filled him of a job well done.
‘Fucking goblins,’ snarled a voice above him as a heavy boot landed in his ribs, sending him sprawling back into the commuter forest. One human tripped over him with an annoyed exclamation. Another stomped on his hand without a backward glance. And a third grabbed the strap of his satchel and hauled him up like he was a drowning kitten.
The human male – thick-set and muscled almost as much as a Beater goblin beneath his pinstriped suit – set him gently on his feet. ‘Well, little chap,’ he said, ‘any injuries?’
He shook his head, hiding his scorn. A few bruises were nothing, not when he was the last one standing of seventeen litter mates.
The human set his briefcase between his polished shoes and squatted, bringing his florid face down level. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Zedekiah,’ he replied dutifully.
It wasn’t his true name. Humans couldn’t pronounce that. They’d allocated him the name Zedekiah when they’d allocated him this job. Same as they’d allocated him the canvas satchel and the navy boilersuit he wore, both of which were embroidered with the goblin queen’s gold crest on the front, and also sported the distinctive red, white and blue badge on the back.
He puffed up with pride. As of three weeks ago he was a Gatherer goblin, collecting rubbish on the Underground for London Transport. The job meant more than just survival. Meant more than his increased capacity to contribute to the hive pot. It meant one day he might get his chance to be a breeding prince and birth his own litter.
All he had to do was gather more than his nightly quota of rubbish.
It should’ve been easy with the amount of trash the humans dropped but despite having his own patch – Sloane Square – he had competition. Gatherer goblins came cheap and, unlike in the hive, up here in the humans’ territory, killing each other and appropriating the spoils was forbidden.
In three weeks he’d only exceeded his rubbish quota once.
But now, with only ten minutes until the end of his shift, the discarded silver foil from a chocolate bar would make that twice.
He looked down at his clenched fist. Dismay hit him harder than the heavy boot had. The piece of foil he held was tiny, no bigger than a sequin. He must’ve lost the rest in the scuffle. He scanned the platform frantically. There. Near the edge. Bright silver fluttering in the hot wind rushing along the tracks.
Wind. A train was coming.
Its passing would lose him the foil.
He had to get it first.
Gaze fixed, he darted through the shifting humans, scenting success. A leap from that spot there. An outstretched hand to grab. A tuck and roll to land between the tracks. He was small enough, he knew, if he flattened out at just the right angle, the train would pass safely over him. And his prize.
The train roared out of the tunnel, fast and furious as a stampeding troll.