Lost and Found
I had a problem losing my whole life the way that other people have bad luck losing bikes. Or house keys. What good was love if it made you a target? What good was trusting people if it took away your self-preservation? Questions I asked myself long after I should have known the answers.
The goblin king collected paparazzi like pokemon. Nobody broke through them with purpose. Nobody had so many hexes crackling in their belly they might as well have swallowed a bucket of pop rocks.
What was prophecy, really, but a provocation?
I actually didn’t remember anything before the service. I blamed the drugs.
Honor. Courage. Dishonorable discharge. I told myself that the Navy wasn’t right for me, but only after the Navy told me I wasn’t right for them. I found that out informally through systematic hazing and the erasure of my personhood, and formally through a fleet of paperwork I was incapable of routing. Hooyah.
I learned valuable lessons before the Navy kicked me out. How to leverage systematic power against an interloper. How to push my body to the limit and then some. And how to invoke the spirits of the north like a motherfucking sorcerer.
It wasn’t easy. I fucked up. I let them break me before I learned to break free.
Nobody spat tongues like bars. Security dropped left and right faster than upstart young bucks at an art school cypher. Uncanny agents made themselves scarce or Nobody stopped them in their tracks. The alarm sounded—they felt the klaxons pounding in their inner ear, psychic jackhammers slamming against everything.
When the pop rocks stopped sizzling, and the last door lined up in their sight like a bullseye, they grinned, nice and slow. It was just them and the king now.
“The coven has decided to let you go.”
Witches be snitches. I told one person in the all-queer circle that I don’t know, maybe I’m bi… Or pan? But turns out they only want certified homos. Next thing I know, I’m sacked via bogus corporate-speak instead of hanging out skyclad summoning naiads.
I thought the Navy was bad. But when you lose your coven, you don’t just lose your home and your coworkers and your fuck buddies. You lose the macrobiotic chef and the homebrew kombucha.
The goblin king waited. Nobody pranced in like a showhorse, ass up, head high. The king put his eyes on every inch of them. When you looked at Nobody, Nobody didn’t have to look back for you to know they’d noticed you. That they had your number. Attention was a currency for Nobody. It filled them with a paradoxical power.
Nobody locked and loaded; Nobody popped and dropped. Nobody’s sweat gleamed on their exposed skin like dew on the vine, like wine in the cup. And the king wanted nothing but to drink.
He leaned in, light refracting off and through the pale ivory of his horns, desire emanating from him like a wave.
Nobody rode him like a bull.
“This is the end of the line.” Fake posh had been epoxied to my manager’s accent.
I released my nametag into her palm. She still looked expectant. I unbuttoned my uniform shirt and peeled off the cheap rayon trousers. I dropped them on the floor. I stood there naked and defiant.
“Your key fob.” Her eyes had fixed themselves on a point over my right shoulder.
I squatted to fumble for it in my pockets. The frigid aircon kissed my asshole like a ghost.
“Your vacation will be issued with your last paycheck.”
I leaned against an untouched room service cart and watched her go, surrounded by aggressive wallpaper and the tattered remains of my latest life.
The overnight housekeeper, with his terrible hair and incongruously fuckable mouth, came around the corner and the second hand of every clock slowed to a crawl. I took him right there in the hallway. Rug burn, bitten lips, howling names that weren’t his. After, he asked me if I’d ever heard of the goblin king.
“I know you.” The goblin king breathed hot against Nobody’s cheek, still inside them. “Who are you?”
You hear things, cleaning rich folks’ houses. More so in kings’ houses. At breakfast, or during conference calls with his redcaps, or in the kitchen with his booty call asking for hot cocoa. “It’s the prophecy: Nobody can take me down. Nobody can have this crown.” He said it all the time, like a mantra. He said it while he put putted on the golf course, while the esthetician waxed his sack and crack, while the poolboy bent down to pluck a dead iguana from the filter.
Dusting, chloraxing surfaces, I found a strange room in the goblin king’s house. Paintings, polaroids and printed out Instas were molded and stuck together over paper mache masks, onto tables and chairs. Pretty boys and jacked daddies. And wasn’t that fucklips from the hotel? Wasn’t tha—wait.
I almost didn’t recognize myself under the goblin king’s arm. Skinnier than I should be, a cigarette dangling from my lip. Too sharp cheekbones. But that tattoo was mine, the bird on the shoulder. The eczema on the elbows, that was me too. Everything came back. Everything he’d taken from me.
“You found my trophy room,” the goblin king said. He didn’t know what else I’d found. He asked for a dark and stormy. I made it with ginger beer and jacuzzi water.
I didn’t wait to be fired this time.
Every time I started over, I did it with nothing. How much harder could it be if I were nobody?
“I’m Nobody,” they said.
“Nobody can take you down. Nobody can have your crown,” they mimicked. Nobody pulled out their phone, selfie camera on, and met the goblin king’s eyes on the screen.
“Smile, asshole. I wanna have something to remember you by.”
The crown cut into their forehead. But it felt good.
dave ring is the community chair of the OutWrite LGBTQ Book Festival in Washington, DC. He was a 2013 Lambda Literary Fellow and a 2018 resident of Futurescapes and Disquiet. He has recently placed stories with Mythic Magazine, Speculative City and The Disconnect. He is the editor of Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of a City That Never Was from Mason Jar Press. More info at www.dave-ring.com. Follow him on Twitter at @slickhop.