All Theodore needed was to research a way out of his job. There had to be something: a loophole, a legal technicality, anything that would give him the foothold to argue himself free of the royal appointment. There was no telling how long this would take, and that meant he needed to get the cottage into a half-way livable condition.
After clearing out the debris, mopping and sweeping, patching the roof, regrouting the kitchen tile, unpacking and organizing his books and wardrobe, sanitizing the kitchenware, re-alphabetizing the file system, and fixing all wobbling furniture legs, he supposed it would suffice. It bothered him that the plumbing still required maintenance, the vegetable garden needed weeding, and the wallpaper could stand to match the curtains. Sacrifices had to made.
Theodore sprang out of bed at first light to begin his quest. He brewed himself 340 milliliters of coffee and prepared a dish of 540 milliliters of porridge. After ironing his uniform, he settled onto the desk with a stack of law and government guideline manuals. His answer was buried somewhere among those pages, he just needed to find it.
Halfway through his coffee, his concentration was broken by a knock at the door. Dread washed over him. Did anyone know he was here? He sat still, wondering if whoever it was would leave if he stayed quiet.
There was another round of knocking. Theodore got up and crept toward the door. He unlatched the lock and opened the door just enough to peek through the gap.
The yard was crowded with a menagerie of wild creatures of every shape and size. Gnomes, werewolves, foxes, deer, trolls, nymphs, and goblins all locked eyes with him. He slammed the door shut and latched it again. He realized, in a moment of horror, that the cottage was surrounded.
He jumped as the window shutters burst open, a sparkling unicorn stuck its head through the window and craned its neck towards him.
“Greetings human! We of the Whirlwood have come to beseech you!!”
Theodore pressed himself up against the wall, praying he was beyond the creature’s reach. He stifled a shriek as a half dozen gnomes rolled off the unicorn’s neck to fall into a dog pile on the floor.
“Hey!” They sprung to their feet. Tiny hedgehog people, dressed in rags and mantles with sharp hair quills, grubby little hands, and long tails. “Why’d they take so long to hire you?!” Their voices were shrill and nasal. They clambered over one another to grab at Theodore’s pant legs. “It’s been months! You’re supposed to help us!”
Theodore shook the gnomes off and jumped over them. He stumbled when he saw foxes, badgers and field mice climbing into the office through the window. The office floor was flooding with wild animals. He fled into the kitchen.
“Where are you going?!” They gave chase.
There was a backdoor where he could make an escape. He threw the door open, and found a werewolf was standing on the other side. It was a massive beast with curls of coarse black hair, a slathering jaw of pointed teeth, a nice silk tie, and blood red eyes. Theodore backed away as it reached toward him with a long sinewy arm, fingers fanned with razor claws. It seized Theodore by the hand before he could react.
“Hello.” It shook his hand. “My name is Barghest. It’s very nice to meet you.”
Theodore pulled his hand free, screamed, and tripped over a dinette chair trying to run. His face pressed up against the linoleum, he wavered on the edge of consciousness, and decided it was an appropriate occasion to faint.