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"He looked over at the Professor, who simply shrugged, leaned forward, then whispered, "Goblins....

"...The glow of the torchlight reflected off the fog and stained the air a ruddy pink roundabout the raft. Strange shadows undulated against the fog on all sides as if the torchlight were shining against a dim gray curtain. On deck were a dozen capering little men, tilting this way and that and howling and cackling and pounding away with their feet and fists against anything handy....

"...Because the three in the canoe were in the darkness and looking into the light, they could see the goblins clearly before the goblins could see them. But the stalwart looks were all for naught when they drew near enough to glimpse the hideous faces o f the goblins on board.

"Although each was smaller even than a dwarf and thin and bony like a skeleton with a skin of leather stretched over it, Jonathan found it hard to convince himself of the facts. The figures seemed to grow and shrink on the mist like their leaping shadows. One moment they looked like smiling, prancing elves and the next like grim shadows of death with sunken eyes and protruding teeth and ghastly, misshapen hands like the claws of crabs.

"There was no order to their leaping about nor rhythm to their gonging and pounding, and though no fires save the torches burning on the deck, were in evidence, their cauldron sent steam bubbling up into the fog. One great goblin, taller than the rest by a grisly head, howled and cursed as he stirred the contents of the pot, his eyes glowing like embers in a ruin of a face. His companions, seemingly without purpose, toppled past and dropped random objects into the bubbling cauldron: the sextant, a cheese, the keg of nails, a length of rope, and all manner of lunatic things. It was all done in a rout--all mayhem done for the ghastly pleasure of the thing...

"...Then one of the goblins yanked a torch from its fastenings and Jonathan was certain it was intent upon firing the ship. Instead, the creature set fire to its own hair and leaped blazing to and fro about the deck and the fire seemed to melt the skin from its face and it ran down and left only a grinning skull with flaming hair....

"...Then the goblins, each produced a long curvy-bladed knife and waved it about...."

"...It was a curious sort of rout altogether though. Howls of laughter rolled out over the water, and within the space of a moment, all the goblins were blazing like little upright bonfires. Ahab [the dog] leaped up behind the great pot-stirring goblin and, unmindful of his grim, melted face and flaming head, picked him up by the seat of his trousers and, with a shake and a bit of prancing, flung him overside and into the river.

"The thing shrieked as it fell, hissing and bubbling. When it finally sputtered to the surface, the goblin didn't appear half so terrifying as when it went in. Now it looked simply like a very wet, evil, sorry little man. Its companions on the raft, however, remained flaming and ranting and took to throwing things at the floating goblin....

"...It took an hour of puttering about for the crew to straighten the mess and tally the losses. The strangest thing was that the cauldron had entirely disappeared. Where it had been, or had appeared to be, was a heap of scrap and trash: several broken barrel staves, some rusted bits of metal, fragments of crockery, Dooly's troll chain, and the skeletal remains of a half dozen oddly shaped fish no doubt caught, from the river by the goblins..."

"...Jonathan swore he'd seen a cauldron and the Professor agreed. Dooly was too baffled even to know he was baffled until the Professor told him it was all an illusion."

from The Elfin Ship by James P. Blaylock © 1982