Art by Melissa Mead
by K.G. Jewell
"No, sir, I don't think your problem is with the fridge elf." I watched the technician bend his thin frame behind the refrigerator as he spoke, flashing his light through the cooling fan into the inner recess of the unit. "He looks pretty happy. He's got himself satellite TV and a case of Fritos. If the writer's strike isn't over when football season wraps up, you might have a problem, but you should be fine in the meantime. He doesn't have a clue about anything going on around here."
I recalled the nametag on the technician's blue coveralls had read "Ed." Ed shifted to his stomach, peering into the inch between the linoleum flooring and the bottom of the refrigerator. "Ah ha! Just as I suspected," he said triumphantly.
"What's that?" I don't know much about supernatural thermodynamics, but his excitement sounded expensive.
"Hand me the eye of newt, will you, Mr. Jones?" Still on his stomach, Ed waved towards his cooler.
I opened the cooler and wrinkled my nose at the contents. The packages in the cooler were all neatly bottled or vacuum-packed, but the labels revealed gruesome contents. Dragon spleen and claw of were-hound sat alongside squirrel-brain and tongue of parrot. One Ziploc was unlabeled, containing what looked to be a ham sandwich I selected the bottle labeled "Eye of Newt" and handed it to Ed.
"And that Ziploc bag, please?"
I watched, intrigued, as Ed opened the sandwich and spread the eye of newt like marmalade across the bread with his pocketknife. He then closed the sandwich, cut off the crusts, and slid it under the fridge.
He stood up, folded the knife, and put the crusts in the garbage can next to the dishwasher. "That should take care of it," he said, wiping his hands on my dishtowel as he spoke.
"What was the problem?"
"The garage ghoul had the munchies, and was angry and hot as all hell at the lack of supernatural sustenance in the house. His heat was overpowering the fridge elf's natural cool."
"But we leave offerings to the ghoul every week!" The directions on the garage opener box recommended such feedings, and I'd followed the directions to a T.
"Well, your son probably should stop stashing his pot in the garage, because it's messing with the ghoul's appetite."
I shook my head. "The kid's never going to learn. When he was twelve he was getting nightmares because they were attracted to the cookies hidden under his bed." Not that I totally understood how exactly this newfangled magic worked, but even I could see the analogy between the present problem and that one.
I took out my checkbook. "What do I owe you?" Maybe I could dock Mark's allowance to cover this.
"With tax the total comes to $1,535." Then again, maybe not. Mark would be in college before he earned that much mowing lawns. I looked at Ed to see if he was joking, but he wasn't. "For a ham sandwich with jelly?"
"That was organic eye of newt from Uzbekistan, and that wasn't ham." He didn't offer further comment on what it actually was, and I decided I probably didn't really want to know.
Ed continued, "If it makes you feel any better, I got here just in time. If the ghoul had gone unattended much longer, more than your fridge would have been on the fritz. The nymph in your cactus tells me the ghoul was talking about heading back to the garage to hit up your car sprite for a ride to the Kwicky Mart. In his state he probably would have totaled your car, too." He waved at the sad-looking pencil cactus in the corner of the kitchen as he spoke. I hadn't even realized it had a nymph.
I sighed and wrote out the check to Coven Incorporated. I remembered the days when a cactus was just a cactus.
As I handed the check to Ed, I asked, "Can you speak to my son Mark about this before you leave? Maybe you can explain how this all works so that it doesn't happen again. He's pretty smart, but he doesn't know much about this stuff."
"Sure, although I'm pretty sure he does know what's going on. You can see the distortion in the force lines from a block away. He's pretty advanced. Thirteenth-, fourteenth-level warlock, I'd say. He'd cloaked his stash with a wiper-snake blanket, but these Chinese ghouls look right past that stuff. He knows it's gone, though, because the spell has been recently recast."
"All right then. Never mind."
I waved Ed out before I knocked on Mark's door. The crash of what I assumed was the latest roche-roca-rock album competed with my fist, so I ended up pounding on the door a little harder than I'd planned.
"Hang on! Just a minute!" The music continued. As my patience wore thin, I considered banging on the door again or raising my voice, but just before I did either, the music stopped and the door opened.
"Hi Dad! What's up?" Mark stood in the doorway, dressed in jeans and the pre-faded t-shirt of some band I didn't recognize. Tanned and mildly athletic, he didn't look at all like the teenage warlocks that were always on the evening news: the cloaked kids with black fingernails and pale skin that had the mayor all upset. The mayor was always launching another taskforce or curfew or something to deal with "those troublemakers."
I tried to put on my serious face. Sixteen years of parenting and I was still in danger of laughing whenever I played the serious parent, but I had gotten better at it. I held up the receipt from the repairman. "Does the phrase 'wiper-snake blanket' mean anything to you, Mark?"