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  • Writer's pictureJabe Stafford

???: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

"On Earth,” I told the frost giant, “water guns are toys we give our kids to play with in the summer.”

A neon green plastic water gun sat on my palm. A twenty-foot pasty male giant gave off chilly air in front of me. Grass froze and crickled under my bare feet. The kids had to be seeing this, but they were staying inside where it was less un-safe. I stammered, “You know, the kids pretend they’re soldiers or spies and shoot each other. All that happens is they get a little wet. They’re made of plastic. The guns, not the kids. I’m Pat. Pat Grady. Are you sure you’re not here to tell me fairy tales are real?”

“You can see me,” he rumbled. He squatted down on his ice-pale haunches and scratched his frosty goatee. “What does that tell you?”

I squinted up at the jagged boulder of a head still nine feet up. At least he wore a toga thing with markings on it. “That you came from far away?”

“I emerged from the lake four miles to the east."

"You must have gills. Can you breathe underwater?"

He shook his slab of a head. "They call me Ralth. I see the people in this realm are armed. Where is the artificer who built these? What is his mark?”

I held up the water gun. An icon of summer days spent scampering shoeless in the grass, hiding behind planters, pew-pew-ing at my sisters. Our yard then looked nothing like this foreclosed fixer-upper in the north. Up here, we were lucky to have two summer days a year that were this bright, this blue-skied, and this breezy. You had to buy tornado insurance in Indiana.

Did they sell frost giant insurance up here?

“You hesitate,” Ralth growled. “I am not a giant who carries grudges. I do not slay unless there is need. And there is great need.”

“For what?” I babbled. “Mixed messages?”

“Runes and rounds are easy evidence to find. Valkyries are hard to outwit. Flash-frozen water shot would leave no trace when combined with the correct magic. These are magnificent.”

“I-I’ve got more in the garage. They were the kids’ Fourth of July gifts.” I pointed to the open garage and the toys visible in the old red-painted wood wagons.

“Aaagh,” Ralth purred, satisfied. “Pat Grady. Are you the only arms dealer on the block?”

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