Can I help you? Oh, Mr. Parsons, from the newspaper, is it? Yes, I have you on the schedule to speak to the mayor at 3:00. You’re quite a bit early; if you’d like to take a seat, the mayor’s currently in a meeting.


What is that, young man? Oh, my lamp? Yes, yes; an heirloom from the late 18th century. I had it refitted a while back so that it takes regular bulbs on the top, and a long-life LED in the lower part. Unfortunately the wiring for the bottom’s a bit off, which is why it just turned on like that. Still, I find the glow comforting.

While you’re waiting, perhaps there are some questions that I could answer for you. It’s been quite some time since His Honor has been interviewed by the press. Frankly, it seemed a bit odd. The relationship between your paper’s editor and the mayor has been quite close… How is Sandra these days, anyway?

Oh, I see. Not to worry, not to worry. What Sandra doesn’t know certainly won’t hurt her. I take it, then, that your visit is not to publicize Hickory Days? The mayor is so very excited about this year’s parade; the grand marshal’s car is going to be completely covered in hickory nuts! …No? Oh, a shame.

Forgive my boldness, Mr. Parsons, but may I ask as to the true nature of your visit then? It all seems so very mysterious… The “truth” about our town? Oh, my. My, my, my. Ha! It’s so exciting to see a young turk such as yourself, out to uncover mystery, truth, and danger to the world! Ha!

…Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Parsons. I did not mean to make light of your quest. It felt so “cloak and dagger” there, for a moment. …I gather you’re not native to Gloaming Gap, then? Most of our residents have long family histories here, and have grown somewhat accustomed to our…shall we say “eccentricities”? Just moved here from Pittsburgh, eh? Lovely town, lovely town, if a bit obsessed with iron and steel. People surrounded by all that metal, just not right, if you ask my opinion.

So, what has brought up this personal quest for information about our little hamlet? What sort of recent “incidents” do you mean? …

Oh, ho! I think you’ve been reading a bit too much of the supermarket tabloids, Mr. Parsons! Monsters under the bed, haunted apartments, nefarious cults, a mummy at a restaurant? Halloween’s over by now, I should think! Of course, I’m just a secretary, but I believe you’re putting far too much stock into these rumors and whispers. I’ve lived here my entire life, and I’ve certainly never seen or heard of anything that’s not easily explainable. I would think the parents of a nice young man such as yourself would know better than to allow their child… Oh, terribly sorry, Mr. Parsons. I meant no offense. May they rest in peace, dear.

The time? Ah, still a little before 3:00. His Honor prefers not to be interrupted during his meetings. One of the privileges of his office, I suppose. Of course, you realize that there’s not much that the mayor actually does do, yes? He’s responsible for addressing the town council once a year on the state of our financial district, and he’s the primary liaison between the council, the police chief and the fire chief. Not much else to do, except ride in the car for parades. Have you thought about doing an article on Hickory Days? …Ah, already mentioned that, have I?

Perhaps a change of topic is in order, eh? What brought you to our quaint little town? There are just so many places a smart man such as yourself could go, fresh out of college. A talent scout from Lamashtu, eh? How delightful! The owner’s a close personal friend of mine; Ms. Lilith and I go back quite a ways, let me tell you! Keep this strictly off-the-record, Mr. Parsons, but we had a reputation for being a bit on the “heck”-raising side in our younger days! We met because we were both fighting over the same boy, and we’ve been inseparable ever since.

…Miss Namath? Oh, you mean Karin? Yes, she’d been working for Lilith for quite some time, even longer than I’ve known her. It’s a shame she’s gone; once upon a time, she was one of Lilith’s best managers. No, no one has suggested that she’s “disappeared”. As far as I know, she just moved on to greener pastures. If you ask me, it was time; her work had been suffering of late. Too focused on herself and not enough on the needs of the organization, if you follow. Her “disappearance” as you call it is one of those things that are easily explained. Nothing mysterious or nefarious at work, here. You seem to have a bit of a one-track mind, but I won’t hold that against you!

Oh, silly me. Here I am, giving you the third degree, when most of my questions about you are probably answered in your profile. Oh, yes, Lilith often passes along information about prospective talents to the mayor’s office. Easier to build a strong community when you know who’s joining it, yes? Let me see, it should be over here in the filing cabinet… Parsons, Parsons… Oh, would you mind turning on my lamp for me? That’s a dear boy, thank you.

*BEEP*

Ah, one moment, dear, I should answer that. Yes, Mr. Eby? Yes, your 3:00 appointment, Mr. Parsons is here. No, sir, not parsnips, Parsons. Yes, sir, I agree, parsnips do tend to taste like carrots that have gone feral. (It’s best to agree with him on things like this, Parsons.) …Of course, sir, I’ll be sure to wake you shortly. Thank you, sir.

What’s that? Oh, the mayor’s a bit overtired at the moment. He’ll be with you shortly, of course. Oh, yes, he’s completely daft. If he misses his afternoon nap, he starts in on the most fascinating non-sequiturs. He once spent a half-hour over the intercom regaling me about the fundamental differences between Katherine Hepburn and a jar of mustard he is particularly fond of. Or perhaps it was Hepburn that he was fond of? Ah, regardless, the comparison was hardly fitting. Sit down, please, Mr. Parsons.

I said: Sit. Down. That’s better, thank you.

Now, where was I? Ah, yes, your profile. Let’s see… Graduated near top of class, so intelligent, good… Oh, cross country runner, eh? Very good. Endurance is key in these things, you see. Good genetic stock, excellent. Ah, that’s what I like to see. No reports of any significant relationships with the opposite sex. I suppose that naturally segues us into my next question for you, Mr. Parsons. Or at least as naturally as this question can be asked. There’s really no delicate way to put this, and at this point, tact is somewhat pointless, so: Are you a virgin?

Answer. Now.

Yes, thank you. That’s fine, fine. My lamp already indicated as much to me, when you walked in, but I like having verbal confirmation of that point. Makes it feel much more secure to hear it straight from your delightfully youthful mouth.

…Very astute, Mr. Parsons. I think it’s a bit grandiose put in those terms, but I do more-or-less “run this town”. You see, I was here when it was founded, and due to my own errors, I plan on being here through the end, whenever that may be. I dabbled with a number of ways of gaining immortality, and I’m afraid it’s my own fault that the barriers between our world and the realm of … well, shall we say “the other side”? It’s my fault that the walls broke down. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but Lilith showed me both what I had done, and the consequences of my choices. So, it’s been up to me to “correct” for my errors by serving our various mayors, however bereft of sanity they may be at any given time. Meanwhile, I allow Lilith a bit of a commercial foothold on this side. Naturally, the arrangement has been quite mutually beneficial.

Image by Melanie Hill

Now, part of protecting this town is to ensure that stories of strange events and bizarre activity do not get out. Sandra’s in my employ, and the police chief’s a former member of the conclave, here, so he’s just as interested in keeping things quiet as I am. I’ve managed, through generations of work (not to mention some choice additives to the local water supply), to subdue the population to a certain extent, but consequently, dear boy, I can’t be using them to maintain my own health and well-being. No sense pissing into the wind, eh?

Which brings us to you. Thank you, by the way, for turning on my lamp of your own volition. It makes things so much more pleasant than having to force someone to touch it. Oh, and I know how you young people think these days: Once the “bad guy” reveals her plans, then the hero gets away, right? Except I’m not a bad guy. And you’re hardly feeling like a hero right now, are you? No, I didn’t think so. Now, please remove your clothing. Yes, all of it, thank you.

My husband gave me this letter opener as a wedding gift. He was a blacksmith. Wonderful man. This has gotten significantly easier since him. Now, this may sting a bit, but only for a moment…