Authors: Marie Bilodeau
Tags: #apocalypse, #fairy, #end of the world, #fairy tale adaptation, #apocalypse adventures, #fairy creatures, #endtime fiction, #fairy tale action adventure
“I can take care of myself, Gruff. Aren’t you the
one who always tells me that I’m a woman, not a maiden, so not to
get any distress ideas in mind?”
He chuckled a bit, but still looked somber when he
spoke. “I know, and I know you don’t need me to come protect you.
But you’re family, Al. Family should lean on each other during hard
Al nodded slowly and hesitated. Gruff spoke a good
game, but he certainly hadn’t leaned on her since his marriage had
started unraveling. An empty nest had proved too quiet for the
older couple. With the children long gone, the silence had only
highlighted their lack of common interests. She’d found him
sleeping in the shop quite a few times.
As if sensing her hesitation to ask him about it,
Gruff folded the paper and slowly stood up. “Well, we have less
than an hour before the shop opens. I’ll go work on the inventory.
You gonna play some more with that watch?”
“You mean study? Break apart and rebuild? Figure out
all of its deeply buried secrets?”
He snorted and passed by her. “You’re gonna play
with the watch, then.”
Alva grinned and headed to her workbench. She turned
the small lamp back on and reached for her grandmother’s watch in
her pocket. She ran her fingers over it, wishing she could better
feel the detail through the calluses on her fingers.
She looked down at the gears she’d perfectly
aligned. Her eyes grew wide and she mumbled a perfect string of
The thing was a mess. Parts were everywhere. Maybe
the rat was back and had tried to get into her box, making a mess
of the fine parts.
She took a deep breath and reined in her urge to
stomp the ground in case the rat was somewhere near. The little
bastard would meet its end this weekend at the hands of the
exterminator. In the meantime, she had work to do. No better way to
learn, she supposed. If she could figure this mess out, no watch
would be a match for her from now on.
Grabbing a small gear with the bandage proved a
challenge, so she pulled it off. The wound looked angry and red. It
didn’t hurt, at least, but the last thing she needed was some
vermin infection. Gruff would send her to the emergency if she told
him, so she threw some more peroxide on it and applied a new
bandage. She’d go to the clinic later to if it still needed it. No
point in waiting in a hospital emergency room to be stuck with a
bunch of sick people.
Nothing some more peroxide and alcohol couldn’t
handle. She hoped.
Since she didn’t dare take off the bandage again,
she used the tweezers to help her move the small parts, her mouth
parted in concentration. Then, as the minutes passed, her mouth was
parted by hisses. And finally by swear words.
“How the bloody blazes do people work with such
small parts?” She desperately wanted to turn back and fix a car,
any car. She’d personally take care of a basic oil change just to
deal with something she understood.
She stood up and stretched, knowing it was just
fatigue and the growing throb in her finger that were making her
impatient. She could figure this out – it was watch building, not
She sighed. It was already six, and time to get
started with her actual day.
She carefully closed the box and placed it in her
bench. Gruff had made it clear it was hers, for her tools, some of
which he’d helped her modify. There weren’t many female mechanics,
especially in her neck of the woods, and sometimes she just needed
a longer wrench.
She yawned and headed to the kitchen to get more
coffee as she planned her day. Pete was supposed to be back from
her trip this morning, so she’d need to pick her up at some point.
Wouldn’t serve anyone any good for Al to curl up with the rats
under her workbench.
Armed with a mug of Gruff’s thick as oil coffee, she
headed back to her workbench, grimacing as the thick liquid coated
her throat. She yawned again, surprised she wasn’t about to swallow
her own head, when she saw someone leaning over her bench.
It took her a moment to realize it wasn’t Gruff –
frame too slight, long dark trench coat, dark brown hair. It took
her another moment before she found her voice.
“Hey!” She screamed, startling the man. He reacted
almost immediately, grabbing her box and slipping out the
propped-open door. Alva dropped the coffee, swung by the wall and
grabbed Big Bertha with barely a pause, and took off after him.
“Al?” She heard Gruff shout as she leapt out of the
shop. No one seemed to have crossed the road to the cemetery right
in front of the shop. She ran to the right and around, but there
wasn’t a trace of the intruder. She slowed down and looked under
the cars parked in the back. The morning was growing thick with
fog, and the surrounding misty woods could hide any number of watch
“What’s going on, Al?” Gruff asked, panting as he
joined her. His face was completely red and Alva feared he might
just keel over. She clutched her wrench but tried to calm herself,
for Gruff’s sake.
“Some jackass in a trench coat just stole my watch!”
She didn’t sound nearly as calm as she’d been hoping for.
“Who the hell… ?” Gruff stormed back to the door.
Alva glanced one more time at the surroundings. A few cars were
lining the parking lot, and a fence to the right lead to a
backyard. The woods to her left were quiet, and the whole morning
smelled of burnt wood and something sweet, like baking cookies.
She turned to find Gruff. “If I find his skinny
little ass, I’m breaking him in two with Big Bertha.”
“I hope so. How did he get in? Did you leave the
Alva was sure she’d locked it. It was such a force
of habit by now. Customers loved expecting service, regardless of
whether they were actually open. She certainly tried to avoid
indulging them in that.
“You know I didn’t.”
“I know,” he said simply. “Didn’t you say your house
was broken into last night?”
Alva hand grew numb even as she clutched Big Bertha
more tightly. “Yup. By a ‘gentleman caller,’ or so Mrs. Gallaway
Gruff walked into the shop. “I’m calling the cops.
This guy is stalking you, Al. That ain’t good in my books.”
She sighed and followed him in. “That ain’t good in
anyone’s book, Gruff. But what are the cops going to do?”
“I don’t know, but we’ll let them tell us, how’s
that?” He walked to the phone, leaving no room for debate.
“How about after work, Gruff?” Alva tried her luck.
“We have a full slate this morning. And besides, Pete’s back today.
I’ll have to pick her up. Can’t exactly tell her I’m busy with the
He looked frustrated and placed the phone back down.
“All right, fine. I guess I can keep an eye on you here, anyway.
But I’m walking you to the cops myself after work, and I’m going
with you to pick up Pete. No arguing! Understood? ”
Al nodded, knowing the look in Gruff’s eyes well
enough to know that was as much leeway as she was getting. The
whole thing just sounded like stupid hassle. The thief probably had
what he’d wanted, so he wouldn’t even bother her anymore.
“Good,” Gruff nodded, acknowledging her own nod.
“You get the shop going – almost time to open.”
Al turned to clean the rest of her workbench. Her
hands were shaking a bit still from anger. She wished she could go
and punch something, preferably that jackass’ face.
Molly came running in, juggling her purse, lunch bag
and a gym bag, even though she never went to the gym as far as Al
knew. Molly shot her a grin as she tripped on her own dangling
scarf and dropped everything. At least she managed to catch herself
on the front desk.
It’s going to be an
day,” she said,
picking up her stuff and throwing it behind the desk. “You okay?”
Molly asked when she looked at Al’s stern face. Molly couldn’t be
much more different than Al, but they’d found a comfortable
friendship in their differences. Molly had been a blessing with
Pete, too, her bright personality helping to bridge the gap between
the two sisters.
“Some idiot just broke in and stole that watch I was
ripping up,” Al said. Molly knew everything about the watch. Heck,
Molly pretty much knew everything about Al.
Molly’s green eyes grew wider than usual. “Oh no!
Did you get him? Did you call the cops? The Avengers? Shit, did you
introduce him to Big Bertha?”
Al couldn’t help but laugh. Molly could work her
down in two seconds flat. “Thor was busy, but Iron Man might show
Molly nodded, her shoulder length tousled blonde
hair bouncing up and down. “And there’s no blood on Big Bertha, so
I’m assuming we’re not digging a hole out back just yet. Let me
know when, though. I’m awesome with a shovel.”
“Let’s hope we get that chance soon,” Al mumbled.
The rest of the crew came from the back rooms, exchanging greetings
“It’s gonna be busy today,” Steve, the floor
manager, said. “Everyone just remembered that fall is followed by
winter, and maybe winter tires are a good idea.” He winked at Al
and Molly. He was forty-something, kept his hair just a bit long to
annoy Gruff, and had an easy laugh. Jack, Carl and Louise were
setting up their tools, and it looked like everyone was ready to
“Showtime,” Al said. Molly gave her a thumbs up as
she booted the computer. She turned on the light, both garage doors
rolled up and the first customers rolled in.
The phone began ringing almost immediately, Molly
perching it on her shoulder as she helped a customer at the desk at
the same time. The second line lit up and the third.
“We’ve got three calls for towings already,” Molly
called from the desk, the phone still in her hands, all three lines
lit up like a disco ball. “And I’m guessing everyone on hold is
asking for the same. Fog and black ice. A mechanic’s magic
Al grinned at Molly, but her friend was already back
on the line. She was taking down another address when the line went
“Shit. That was another one. The phones are
“Someone might have hit a pole,” Steve said as he
walked up to Gruff. “I need all hands on deck. We’re getting reamed
Gruff nodded. “You handle the team here, I’ll take
Al and we’ll fix as many cars as we can find. We’ll bring Percival
and Molly with us. Redirect the lines to Molly’s cell when they’re
back up. She can handle it from there while making sure we get paid
for outside work.”
“Sounds good,” Steve said, already walking away and
Internet is down too,” Molly called
out from the desk. “This is going to be a
day. I told you.”
“Grab your coat, Molly. And whatever we need to take
payments on the go. Al, get Percival and let’s head off.”
Gruff headed to the back to grab his own coat. Molly
grinned at Al. “Road trip!” She threw on her coat and grabbed a
handful of slips for credit card payments.
Al looked outside. The mists were getting much
thicker. Not rare for this time of year, but rare for this part of
town. The cemetery facing the shop was almost completely covered,
only a few tombstones and angels glancing through the shifting
mists. Al stared for a moment, imagining every shadow as the watch
thief. She grabbed Big Bertha and her tool belt.
If the day was kind enough, it would give her the
chance to smack him good.
The mist licked Percival’s chassis, long tendrils
wrapping around the engine and uncoiling away to be immediately
replaced by others. The fog lights barely cut the dense mass. Al
concentrated on following Gruff, his tail lights frequently swept
away by the mists. She gripped the steering wheel tightly. The
radio was off so all her senses could focus on the road and not
smashing into anything. Or anyone.
Molly sat quietly beside her. Even the
chatty woman was silenced by the tension. She pulled her coat more
tightly and Al realized she was also getting chilly. The day was
cooling down quickly. She turned the heat on and, in the second it
took to reach the controls, almost slammed right into Gruff. She
slammed on the
brakes instead and skidded to a stop. The tow truck resumed
slowly. Al barely saw the traffic light overhead that had prompted
the stop. Good thing Gruff had spotted it. Then again, when you’re
the only one spotting something, chances of being smacked into are
still fairly high.
“This is fun,” Molly mumbled from the passenger
Al grinned. “Well, now we know why so many cars need
help this morning!”
“Smackdown on the roadside,” Molly said, though her
usual laughter was strained.
Al tried to think of something light to say but came
up blank, too focused on tracking Gruff and keeping a healthy
distance from him at the same time.
“We should be almost at the first site,” Al said.
She couldn’t see the road signs very clearly, but hers was a small
town and she knew the layout by heart.
“Great. Now I can...” Molly never finished. The tow
truck in front of them suddenly spun sideways and around, the
sounds of shattering windows and bent metal echoing across the
street. Al had barely registered the smash before she stopped
Percival and leapt out.
Molly scrambled behind her.
“Careful, there might be another car!” Al cried out
as she reached the cabin of the tow truck. Its passenger side was
badly dented, and Gruff looked about as dented. The airbags hadn’t
deployed from the side collision, and the left side of his face was
covered in blood.
“Gruff, are you okay?” Al asked as she threw the
“I’m fine,” Gruff insisted, waving her away.
“Gruff, stop being a stubborn ass and let me look
you over. How do you feel?”