Day 22. 64 pages, 30,109 words. Throw me some book reviews or blog comments, something to stop me from launching into a whole new story before I’m finished with any of the others.
Çrom took a single step across the establishment’s threshold and waited for the requisite three seconds to ascertain whether or not Jumpin’ Grag was feeling intruded upon. When Çrom was still alive at the end of the three seconds, he unclenched a few of the necessary muscles and stepped inside far enough to push the door closed.
“Lucky guess,” he said, “because of the sign.”
“Mph,” Jumpin’ Grag growled, deeply distrustful. “I ask for sign what says ‘Jumpin’ Grag’s’ but I never heard it say nuffin. Dunno why it only talks to littles but at least it talks right, yuh?”
Çrom blinked. Aside from the gaping chasm of misunderstanding surrounding the basic concept of a sign, this was one of the longer and more scholarly proclamations he’d ever heard from an Ogre. It may have been left up here in this lonely eyrie, he thought, because its intellect upset the others.
“It sure does,” he said positively. “Um, do you get many littles up here?”
Jumpin’ Grag, increasingly visible as Çrom’s eyes adjusted to the gloom, shuffled its feet again. It was standing, Çrom noted, behind a counter most likely made from the same fungus-bricks as the rest of the place, increasing the Ogre’s resemblance to a shopkeeper. The shelves lining the walls made it fairly clear this was exactly what Jumpin’ Grag was, of course … but what precisely the Ogre was selling, and why, remained a mystery.
“Ev’yone’s littles,” Jumpin’ Grag grumbled.
“Fair point,” Çrom conceded.
“What you want?” Jumpin’ Grag pitched, very professionally.
“Well, I just stopped over to charge my hopper,” Çrom started, and didn’t need to be able to see the Ogre’s eyes frost over to know he was providing way too much extraneous information. “You have littles’ food?” he asked. “Warm stuff?”
“Warm stuff,” Jumpin’ Grag ruminated in tones of dark reflection. “Down over there I fink,” a massive arm swung up and a frosty black claw pointed at a low shelf beside Çrom. He turned politely and crouched to look at the shopkeeper’s wares. They included several packages of self-heating chuda wraps in the tattered remains of preservative film. They were all frozen absolutely solid, but it was possible that they might still activate if opened.
Çrom poked at the crate containing the ‘unspecified meat’ flavoured variant. “What do you want for them?” he asked. Jumpin’ Grag didn’t reply, and Çrom realised he’d once again lost the Ogre in the heady technobabble of commerce. “I take these?” he poked the package again. “What I give you?”
“What you got?” Jumpin’ Grag asked.
“Not a lot,” Çrom admitted. He had several goodwill and sociocultural currency chits and markers, but most of them were fraudulent to some degree or another and he had absolutely no intention of cheating an Ogre, no matter how easy it might be at the outset. It just wasn’t worth bringing a grudge that indefatigable down on your own head. “I could make your sign talk to you,” he hazarded after a moment’s thought.
This, he told himself optimistically as he pieced together a little trickle-fed speaking and sensor circuit and attached it to the sign above the door, was not cheating. Jumpin’ Grag’s life would definitely be improved by it, and the components were worth almost as much as a crate of chuda wraps.
“It gonna work?” the Ogre rumbled from the doorway while Çrom, balanced on a teetering stack of boxes, finished installing the simple device.
He jumped down, backed up, and waved the shopkeeper forward. “Give it a try,” he said. “It’ll talk when you stand under it.”
“This Jumpin’ Grag’s place,” the sign declared as the Ogre shuffled hesitantly into the low fungal light. Jumpin’ Grag tensed briefly and its huge fist curled as if it was about to punch the sign into the next Dimension, but then it relaxed and gave a deep, furry woof of pure, massive-childish delight.
“It says ‘this Jumpin’ Grag’s place’!” Jumpin’ Grag confirmed happily. “An’ it even sound like you, so I ‘member you done it.”
“There you go,” Çrom said, and picked up the ‘unspecified meat’ crate. “Good deal.”
“Take ‘em all,” Jumpin’ Grag insisted.
“I couldn’t,” Çrom demurred, then when Jumpin’ Grag swelled indignantly he added quickly, “I take two box. Two. Alright?”
“How much is two?” the Ogre demanded suspiciously. Çrom lowered the crate and held up two fingers. “You already got fingies,” Jumpin’ Grag accused, its voice rising. “You take boxes!”
Sometimes, Çrom reflected as he loaded six crates of chuda wraps into The Happy Bumfuck’s hold under the watchful glower and threatening rumbles of Jumpin’ Grag, it wasn’t that it was easy to cheat an Ogre. It was actually not cheating them that was the trick.