In their threadbare, fingerless gloves the two stories warmed their hands over the bin fire. The flames whipped about like those inflatable tube-men outside car dealerships and the stories were careful not to catch a swipe on their equally threadbare cuffs.
“How long’s it been for you, Fantasy Comedy?” asked one of the stories, blowing hot air on his knuckles.
“Six weeks,” the story answered, looking for a clean spot on his shirt to wipe his glasses. “I don’t know how much longer I can take it. The streets aren’t a kind place to a nerdy Pratchett type like me.”
“Are you kidding? Six weeks is nothing,” huffed the first story. “I’ve been homeless for six months! You know how hard it is to find a decent living as a Serial Killer Horror nowadays?”
“Well look at what you carry around. They’re probably intimidated by all the rusty scissors and handsaws you’ve got on you. Your cover letter alone alerts security.”
Horror grinned, looking proudly at his pack on the pile of newspapers that served as his bed. “There’s a severed doll’s head in there too.”
Fantasy Comedy laughed. “Oh now that’s just a cliché. Pass me that can of beans, will you?”
“You gonna make a fart joke?” Horror asked, picking the can off a cardboard box and handing it over.
“Excuse me! I’m Fantasy Comedy, not Fraternity Comedy. My jokes are witty and clever. Also my humor is usually centered around elves, and elves don’t fart.”
“You don’t know that. You didn’t invent elves, you know. That homebody Folklore did. For all you know elf farts are where pixie dust comes from.”
Fantasy rolled his eyes and was about to make a suitably British-style retort when footsteps distracted him. The duo turned to see a dour-faced Literary Fiction approaching with a stick over his shoulder and a sack tied to the end.
“This frigid night aches in my bones just as the frigidness of life aches in my heart,” Literary orated as soon as he had arrived at the bin. “Will we never find a place to rest our feet? Will no magazine ever house us? Or will our ceilings always be comprised of stars, these millions of reminders that we—”
“Cool it, Lit,” Horror snapped. “If you’re going to talk, you need to say something. That’s the deal.”
“I am saying something. You just don’t get it because what I’m saying is about the deeper human condition while you can’t say anything that doesn’t include the phrase blood-soaked.”
“You pretentious ass!”
“Such a plebeian response.”
Horror pushed up his sleeves. “Why I oughtta—”
“Hey hey hey,” interrupted Fantasy, pushing the two stories apart. “We’re friends here! Aren’t we all in this together?”
“I’m sorry,” Literary said, his shoulders slumping. “This stress has been wearing on me. It’s been almost a year and I still haven’t found a home.” He kneeled and untied his pack. A pile of words tumbled out. “Are they not good enough? Not original enough? Maybe I need more sunlight metaphors. Do you think I need more sunlight metaphors??”
“Definitely not,” Horror said, spitting a bad bean on the ground.
“I’m sure your sunlight metaphors are great,” Fantasy said, placing a comforting hand on Literary’s back. “In fact, I bet all the other sunlight metaphors get jealous of your sunlight metaphors.”
Literary sniffed. “You think so?”
“Yup. They pale in comparison.”
Literary looked at the heap of words and shrugged. “I mean, I think they’re good…”
“Anyone who disagrees is just dim.”
“You mean it?”
“Of course. I don’t hand out such glowing remarks easily.”
“Okay, Piers Anthony, settle down,” Horror said with a chuckle.
Literary re-packed his words, and the trio rubbed their palms over the fire for a while. Fantasy glanced around at his fellow vagrants, this oddball bunch with their different strengths, different styles, different subject matter, all trying so hard and getting nowhere, and an idea suddenly came to him.
“An idea has suddenly come to me!” he exclaimed.
The other two looked at their friend, whose glasses were shining orange with the fire’s reflection.
“What if we teamed up?” he suggested. “The three of us?”
Horror and Literary looked in puzzlement at Fantasy, then in suspicion at each other.
“I’m not sure about that,” Horror said. “Someone might get hurt.”
“We’re not really on the same page,” Literary added.
“But that’s just it! We all bring something unique to the table. Imagine—which I do very well, being Fantasy and all—a single masterpiece combining everything we have to offer. A humorous murder thriller set in a fantastical wonderland with intellectual subtext galore. It’s so weird it just might work!”
“Can the antagonist be a serial-killing wizard?” asked Horror. “He can use magic to get over the walls of the royal family’s castle, and then BLAMMO! Murder!”
“And can the whole thing be a thinly veiled satire of modern government and the fragility of our private lives?” asked Literary Fiction.
“All great ideas! I’ll supply the dragons and jokes, of course.”
“No fart jokes,” reminded Horror.
Fantasy Comedy picked up the can of beans, sighed and shook his head. “I’ll never think of pixie dust the same way again.”
The three stories shared a laugh, then got to work pooling together the contents of their packs. They didn’t feel the cold for the rest of the night.