Humphrey walked slowly down the dark street, head down, gobs of fat rolling gently from side to side. His weight wore him down even more than normal in this moment of sorrow.
He’d been turned down for the piloting position at Carpet Fliers. Again. The ticket to a good life, gone.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t qualified. He was experienced. He’d piloted carpets half his life, and had earned the best of marks. When it came to taking carpets in for landings—the trickiest part—none but the best could touch Humphrey. No, that wasn’t the problem. It was something else.
He was fat.
It wasn’t that the huge commercial carpets couldn’t take him up. But it took twice as much flying power to raise a four-hundred pound man as one who weighed two-hundred.
Humphrey had tried dieting, but it just hadn’t worked out. He’d stick to the diet for a few days, sometimes even a few weeks. But he could never keep it up. He’d given up on himself.
He was a bum.
Even in his funk, Humphrey detected a sudden motion from a block away. Someone was moving stealthily towards him. You just weren’t safe anymore, he thought, not with the legalization of laser stones. There just weren’t enough policemen to patrol the streets.
Humphrey didn’t wait to see what the man wanted. He ducked into the nearest doorway, barely fitting his huge frame through it, and slammed the door shut. He was safe.
“Can I help you?” Humphrey looked up, startled. It was the proprietor of the shop he’d entered. A tiny little man with snow white hair and waves upon waves of wrinkles. “You look rather troubled,” the old man continued.
“Someone was after me,” Humphrey replied, breathlessly.
“Well, while you are in here, perhaps I can interest you in a few stones?”
Humphrey looked around and noted the shelves and shelves of stones along the walls. Magic stones. There were undoubtedly some he could use, but most seemed outside his price range. Except for a few low-paying menial jobs, he’d been unemployed for years, since his weight had cost him his piloting job. Humphrey sighed.
“You might be interested in this reducing stone,” the man said, holding out a bright blue stone in his hand. Humphrey took it. “Guaranteed to take off up to a hundred pounds a week, with no side effects other than baggy clothing. What’d’ ya say?”
Humphrey was definitely interested in this one. But he’d never heard of this new item, and he read all the dieting magazines. “How come I never heard of one of these?” he asked.
“It’s a new item. Normally, it costs five hundred zewls, but I can let you have it for two hundred.” The storekeeper leaned closer, and whispered as if there was someone listening. “I got a special deal last month, but my source won’t give me more unless I prove I got a market. So I’m selling it at cost. What’d’ya say?”
“I’ll take it,” Humphrey decided. He put the stone on the counter and got out his wallet. The shopkeeper opened the cash register. Soon the deal was made. The shopkeeper wrapped the reducing stone in a bag and handed it to Humphrey. Humphrey reached for it hungrily.
But they missed the connection. The shopkeeper let go of the bag before Humphrey had it in his hand. The bag dropped. There was a sickening sound of something shattering. Both men stared. The shopkeeper knelt down and poured out the contents of the bag. The reducing stone was broken into a thousand shards.
“You dropped it, you fat oaf!” the shopkeeper cried, shaking his finger at him. “It was in your hand!”
“You let go too soon!” Humphrey cried in despair. He dropped to the floor and grabbed the shards. “You have another one, don’t you?”
“That was my only one! And there won’t be any more coming—I’m closing the store and retiring next month.”
Humphrey’s shoulders slumped as he slowly shuffled to the door, his mind in a daze. Nothing went right for him. If he had been a dog, his tail would have been between his legs. Being a human, he just stared at his feet.
“Hey, look, I’m sorry about what happened,” the shopkeeper called out to him. “And about what I called you. Look, I don’t have any more reducing stones, but how about if I give you something else in its place?”
When Humphrey didn’t answer, the shopkeeper came around the counter and ran after him. “Look, take this. I don’t want any unsatisfied customers. This is the least I can do.”
“What is it?” Humphrey asked.
“It’s a time stone. Guaranteed by the Wizard’s council! Guaranteed immunity to the user. It’s worth more than the reducing stone, but I got a good supply of these. I can let one go. What’d’ya say?”
It wasn’t what Humphrey wanted, but with the reducing stone destroyed, what could he do? Time stones could be useful. Besides, if he didn’t take it, the storekeeper would be insulted.
“I’ll -- [End of Preview.]