Short Story – Lunch with Clara
After last week’s story, which was super dark, I decided I wanted to write something funny this week. I also noticed that I’ve been writing a lot of science fiction and horror but not a lot of fantasy.
So I started with thinking about some of the creatures from my old Monster Manual and things grew from there. I’m not entirely sure at what point I decided to turn my characters into teenagers but when I made that decision, it changed the entire direction of the story.
This one is a lot more dialogue driven. Go figure – I’m a playwright.
And I can’t tell you how much it amuses me that this story features a ghoul named “Eugene.” The name Eugene always makes me laugh. I’m sorry to anyone named Eugene. I can’t help it.
As always, I really enjoy feedback on these stories and I appreciate anyone who takes the time to read them.
“Hey Paul, how’s it going?”
“I’m hungry, Frank.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Paul, the lurker above and Frank, the piercer, had been friends ever since they’d entered the dungeon of shattered dreams. They bonded over their shared need to drop on unsuspecting adventurers from above and their shared love of hobbits.
Early on, the food was plentiful. Unfortunately, their quarry had grown more and more accustomed to their tricks. Frank was one of the few piercers left on the roof of his cave. The rest had been killed off because they opted to attack a low level wizard and failed to see the half-orc fighter standing next to him.
A few tasty bites of wizard and then oblivion. That wasn’t for Frank. He liked to savor his dinner.
But even the relatively easy prey like Orcs and Kobolds had become less and less common. He was out of practice. And if his timing was off, he ended up with nothing more than a headache.
“Honestly, I’m thinking of moving.”
“Aw come on, Frank! This is a pretty good dungeon!”
“When’s the last time you had an elf, Paul?”
“Oh man. I don’t know. Maybe five or six months ago? A drow kid got separated from his parents. I felt bad for him but a guy’s gotta eat, ya know?
“I hear you. A cat got into the cave last week and I…”
“Frank! You didn’t!”
“Well what was I supposed to do, Paul? We haven’t had a decent meal since that dragon moved in!”
All the denizens of the dungeon of shattered dreams agreed that the dragon was the problem.
Beginning adventurers were completely willing to risk their lives when the most dangerous battle they would face might be an Orc horde. When there is an ancient white dragon to contend with, the quality of the opposition increases.
Frank and Paul were survivors because they knew when to hold on to the ceiling and when to let go. Kyle the trapper had made the mistake of trying to snack on a group of Dwarves a couple of weeks ago and nobody had seen him since.
Resisting temptation was difficult. As the dragon devoured more adventurers, her pile of treasure increased and that meant traffic through the dungeon was almost constant. With all that traffic, though, was much higher risk.
“We’ve got to do something about her, Frank.”
“Something about who?”
Clara the White Dragon didn’t often come to the dungeon lunchroom. She had more than enough to eat in her lair. Every now and again, though, she would crave a Bugbearburger and some fries.
“Oh – uh,” Paul stammered, “I was just saying we needed to do something about the vampire on the second floor. She keeps turning into a bat and leaving guano all over Frank’s cave.”
“Yeah,” Frank agreed,”it’s really hard to keep that place clean, you know?”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” Clara said, “say, what are you two having?”
“Um…fillet of giant spider.”
“Put ‘em on my tab,” Clara told the cashier, “you know how big my treasure hoard is.”
Frank and Paul looked at each other with surprise.
“Oh, call me Clara. All my friends do.
“I’m Paul, the lurker above, and this is Frank, the piercer.”
“Oh I know who you two are! Mind if I sit with you?”
Frank and Paul sat on one side of the table while Clara sat on the other as well as three adjacent tables. She took a bite of her Bugbearburger and chewed politely.
Paul and Frank exchanged nervous glances of the “you should say something no you should say something” variety.
“So…,” Paul began “…how do you like the dungeon?”
“Oh it’s great,” Clara smiled,”I mean everyone here seems so friendly. Last week, folks let a whole group of dwarves through and they were delicious. So was the hobbit they brought with them.”
“Aw man! There was a hobbit? I love Hobbits!”
Clara stopped chewing and looked at Frank with concern.
“Didn’t he come through your cave?”
“Oh yeah! Everyone has to come through my cave when they start their adventure. But the Dwarves were smart enough to avoid stalactites. It’s adventuring 101.”
“Oh gosh,” Clara exclaimed, “I’m so sorry! If I’d known, I totally would have shared the hobbit with you!”
“Excuse me? You just destroyed our table with your tail.”
A group of ghouls had been viciously rending the flesh of a low-level Cleric who had wandered too far from the monastery. They seemed a bit frustrated their lunch was now several feet away.
“Oh no,” Clara said apologetically, “I’m so sorry! Let me help you with that!”
One of them pushed her. “No way nerd! We can deal with our own mess.”
Clara looked shocked. “I’m not a nerd!”
“Then why are you hanging with the nerd ceiling dwellers? Nerd!”
“I-I can freeze you with my breath,” Clara started to cry.
“We’re undead, nerd! Freezing us doesn’t do a thing. Why don’t you go back to your pile of treasure and cry there?”
“Hey,” Paul said, “why don’t you leave her alone?”
“What are you ceiling dwellers gonna do about it? Climb a wall and wait for me to walk under you?”
The other ghouls laughed and gave each other high fives.
“Leave us alone!” Clara cried, swiping at the lead ghoul with her claw and sending him flying across the lunch room and into the wall, crushing his bones. He crashed to the ground in a dead heap.
“Hey,” one of the other ghouls said, “I think you just killed Percy!”
“Technically,” Frank said, “he was undead so she didn’t really kill him.”
“Shut up nerd! You know this dungeon has been ten times worse since your friend got here. Why are you sticking up for her?”
“What – what is he talking about?” Clara looked a Paul and Frank with tears in her eyes.
“Um…nothing,” Paul assured her.
“Nothing?” the ghoul challenged him, “the two of you were just talking about how she’s eating all the good food. We heard you in the line! She also takes everyone’s treasure so nobody can afford to eat in the lunch room!”
“Do I really do that?” Clara implored them.
“A little,” Frank shrugged, “not so much as we’d notice.”
“I’m so sorry! I didn’t know,” Clara wailed,”I’m just big and hungry and I’m a dragon! I’m supposed to hoard treasure. It’s what we do!”
Her ice tears were bouncing off the table and Frank felt like he should comfort her. He leaned over to caress her neck with his body, because he didn’t have any hands, but she pulled away.
“Don’t touch me,” she sobbed, “just leave me alone! I thought we were friends!”
Paul tried to make her feel better. “We want to be your friends. I swear. We just didn’t know you that well.”
The ghoul laughed. “Yeah. The ceiling dwelling nerds are your friends. I mean, they never talked to you before and they’re half starved because of you but…”
“BACK OFF EUGENE,” Paul blurted out.
“I never should have moved here from the frost giant caves,” Clara wailed and ran out of the room.
“Oh well done Eugene.”
“Whatever, nerd. You know she’s a nuisance. We’re gonna go finish our Cleric.”
“And Percy,” one of the others reminded him.
“Oh yeah. And Percy.”
Frank looked and Paul and let out a sigh. The ghouls went to a different table and began to loudly rend their lunch. Most everyone else in the room looked disgusted and decided to take their lunch back to their rooms.
“We’ve got to do something, Paul.”
“Yeah. But what?”
“We should try to talk to her.”
“I don’t know. She seemed pretty upset…”
“That’s why we’ve got to talk to her. She can’t let those ghouls get to her. They’ve been making fun of us for years. We’ve got a thick skin.”
“OK. You’re right. Let’s go.”
Clara had left a big mess in her wake. Doors and walls had been smashed, claw marks were on some of the floors, and most of the latter half of the dungeon was frozen solid. The water elementals were going to be pretty pissed when they thawed out.
Clara was lying on top of her treasure sobbing uncontrollably.
“Clara,” Frank called.
“Leave me alone,” she wailed “I don’t want to talk to you!”
“Clara, listen. We’re sorry.”
“Leave me alone!”
“Clara, it’s Paul”
“Ok. We will. But we just wanted you to know that we were wrong about you. We should have taken the time to talk to you but we didn’t. It’s just that ever since you got here…”
“Leave it, Paul.”
“What? Ever since I got here what?”
“No. Tell me. I want to know.”
“It’s just that things have gotten a little more challenging on our end of the dungeon, you know? The adventurers are better prepared and have encountered lurkers above and piercers before. We kind of blamed you for that.”
“But it isn’t my fault!”
“You’re right. I know. We should have talked to you. We didn’t know you..”
“…we didn’t know how nice you were,” Frank interrupted.
Clara sniffed. “Really? You think I’m nice?”
“Yeah,” Paul said, “those ghouls were being jerks.”
Clara turned to look at them and smiled a little “Yeah.”
“Jokes on them, though,” Frank laughed, “I’ve got a wand of turning and I’m gonna toss in into their room and lock the door.”
Clara laughed too and then looked a little concerned, “do you guys really want to be my friends?”
“I’d really like that. It’s hard to make friends when you move to a new place.”
“Stand ho, mighty dragon! I, Sir Hewnitcrampacker am here to send your soul to the pits of hell!”
The three of them looked at the knight clad in glowing magical armor wielding a sword dripping with Kobold blood.
Clara smiled at Frank and Paul. “You guys hungry?”