Miles and the Magic Flute
When unemployed Miles Larson retreats to rural Minnesota to lick his wounds, his dissatisfaction turns him into prey for a powerful, ancient being. With an enchanted silver flute in his hand, Miles enters an erotic fairyland where the sorrows weighing on his heart don’t exist at all. The catch to his newfound paradise: three different magical beings have their eye on his soul.
To escape the dreamworld, Miles must battle against the Lord of Dreams who wants a new slave, escape the mysterious beast who craves a bridegroom, and resist the sensual lures of the fairy Terris’s charms. First, though, Miles has to overcome the bitterness in his heart that led him here in the first place. He must acknowledge that sometimes to find happiness, we must face our pain and sorrows—and for Miles, that’s the most difficult challenge of all.
Miles Larson huddled at his work table behind Patty’s Pawn Plus, scraping black, horrid gunk off the tray of a toaster oven. He shoved the razor blade hard against the flimsy metal, swore, shoved again, and when the razor blade clattered from his frozen fingers, Miles gripped the appliance with all his humiliation, his rage, and his sorrow and thought, I deserve so much better than this.
An unseasonably bitter October wind whipped leaves around him, kicking a few into his face. Miles sighed and put the toaster oven down again.
The appliance was one Patty had salvaged from someone’s trash, and she’d brought it to Miles at noon while he still lay in his bed. One minute, he’d been tucked beneath three layers of clothes and four layers of covers cursing Minnesota, cursing winter, cursing Fellerman Financial for laying him off and every other business in Atlanta for not hiring him, hating Jeff and his floozy, hating his friends who forgot about him the second he left town and didn’t even bother to respond to any of his posts on Facebook—and then suddenly he had a lap full of toaster oven.
“Get up,” Patty declared, “and fix this.”
Patty’s not even slightly passive aggressiveness drove Miles crazy. She didn’t drop hints or even fight with you. She just told you what to do with enough butch power to make Diana Prince acquiesce. In contrast, Julie had knocked on his door, nudged him gently, suggesting maybe he could get up. She promised she’d have some breakfast for him, that she even had cow milk instead of soy milk, just like he liked. Julie had been in every half-hour since nine, cooing and coddling, trying to get Miles out of bed, into a shower, and back into his life.
Patty didn’t roll that way. Patty hurled toaster ovens at you and shouted at you until you stopped moping and started working.
Miles now stood behind the shop, dressed in his long underwear and sweat pants and Patty’s too-big parka, fumbling with frozen fingers as he tried to scrape the baked-on gunk away. He could go inside, and probably he should, but he couldn’t bring himself to do so. For starters, there really wasn’t room, and more to the point, he went crazy in there. He didn’t know why exactly, but it probably had something to do with being surrounded by the detritus of other people’s lives: the HDTVs and stereos and computers and MP3 players that people had purchased when times were better, goods that had ultimately been hocked, one at a time, to buy groceries and gas the car so the previous owners could go cash another unemployment check. It all hit a bit too close to the bone. So Miles worked outside, where his ego had space to explode, and where, when the cold dictated he had to stop and stuff his hands into his pockets to get feeling back into his fingers, he could stare off into the forest.
Miles loved this forest. If he were honest, it was the only part of Minnesota he’d missed while he’d been gone. When he’d grown up here, he’d lived on the other side of these woods on his parents’ farm, and he’d cut through the narrow lip of the trees to Patty’s dad’s trailer to watch satellite TV pretty much every chance he could. His parents had moved to Minneapolis, and Patty’s dad had gone to jail, but the woods had remained, and every now and again, Miles still snuck inside to reminisce. He wished he dared to do that now.
He fiddled with his phone instead, checking his mail and his messages on Facebook. There were none in either place. He scanned through page after page of people who had welcomed him at the bar, who had bought him a round and accepted his, of men he’d slept with and women he’d shopped with. He scrolled through the lives of his coworkers and his acquaintances, saw them laughing and kissing and teasing each other about the previous night out. They’d give him a quick note if he nudged them, but not once in six months had any of them instigated contact with him—not even the ones who were unemployed like himself.
Scrolling down a little farther in the feed, Miles saw a name highlighted at the beginning of a notification, and old habits made his heart flutter. Then he saw what the notification was, and his heart turned cold.
Jeff English is in a relationship.
Miles stared at the screen for a few seconds more. Then he tucked the phone back into his pocket, shoved his hands under his armpits, and walked up to the edge of the forest.
All the leaves had turned, and over half had fallen, leaving the place barren and still. Occasionally the wind would whip through, making the branches quiver and leaves rustle around in little eddies, but mostly the place was still and quiet and inviting. It was surely his fancy, but he felt as if the trees were beckoning to him, urging him to let go, to come inside. He couldn’t do that, but he did give voice to a few metaphorical scrapings of the black sludge caked against his own heart.
“I hate this,” he whispered to the forest. “I hate my life. I hate what I’ve become. I hate what I lost.” He let the fury and the sorrow rise to the top of his throat. “I hate realizing that I never really had it.”
The wind whipped up again as if in answer, and Miles shut his eyes, letting it embrace him. For a moment, it seemed warm instead of cold, and when it pulled at him, drawing him forward, he didn’t think—he simply stepped out, closing the distance between himself and the barrier of the trees.
If I keep walking, if I go into the forest, things will be better, a voice whispered in his mind. A feeling of peace stole over him, and Miles embraced it. I can keep going and never come back. In that moment, that was exactly what Miles wanted.
He took a step forward.
The back door to the shop opened, and the spell was broken.
“You about done?” Patty called. “I need you to watch the till until closing. Julie wants me to run into town for something for her soup.”
Miles startled. He felt empty, as if something important had been taken away from him, and it made him angry.
“No, I am not about done.” Miles stalked over to the toaster oven and picked up the razor blade, waving it angrily. “This shit won’t come off no matter what I do to it.” He gave the grime a particularly vicious swipe, but all it did was nearly cost him his thumb as the blade jumped the gunk and aimed itself at his other hand.
“Careful, now!” Patty scolded. “Nobody’s going to buy that if you scrape the hell out of it.”
It would have been so satisfying to throw the toaster oven against the wall, to watch the damn thing shatter into cheap metal and plastic bits. Instead, Miles settled for letting the tray clatter loudly onto the bench before tossing the blade after it, watching it skitter across the table.
“Fine,” he said. “I’ll do this later.”
There was absolutely no satisfaction in receiving the glare that Patty gave him before ducking back inside the shop, and as Miles followed her through the towering shelves full of junk, he grudgingly admitted he deserved that, at least in theory. Whatever had gone on in his head at the edge of the forest had rattled him, but he had to push that aside now. He should be more gracious to Patty. She and Julie had taken him in when he had nowhere else to go, when he was bankrupt and sullen and friendless. She had given him a job and a roof over his head and a modicum of his self-respect back.
But Jesus H. Christ, did it have to be this job? This place?
I hate my life, Miles thought again, his hands clenching at his sides. I hate my life, and I would do anything and give anything to change it.
This time when the wind whipped up hard around him, it was so sharp that Miles paused, and on an impulse he couldn’t name, he turned around and looked out at the forest. The pull of it was so strong that he swayed on his feet, and when the wind picked up again, it seemed to turn him and aim him at it, and Miles went, not interested in fighting.
“Miles!” Patty shouted. “What are you doing?”
Blinking, Miles turned back around. “I—” He frowned, then shook his head to clear it. “I’m right behind you,” he said, and followed Patty inside.