It was late. Madoc Kingsley yawned heavily as he began pulling clothes out of the last dryer. The old laundromat, located just barely on the right side of the tracks, was always deserted at this time of night, despite the lure of half price after nine o’clock. He yawned again. Every three days, the same old drill: get home from the lab, load up the hamper, and make the slow, dreary drive through a gray city that was hectic but slow. Being an engineer, he sometimes wondered at what point the total cost of all his visits would equal the price of a washing machine. That point was probably years away; despite the skyrocketing costs of living, two things were holding steady: salaries and the price at this laundromat. No matter what happened outside, the price was always the same. Strange, that he had almost never seen anyone else there. It was as if the whole place was deserted. Not that he minded: he liked the solitude.
He reached into the dryer one more time for the last of the cargo shorts–valuable shorts now that the prices had quintupled since he had bought them–and froze. Something had touched his arm that was not the rough material he had reached for. It felt almost like a human hand, soft and yielding, yet firm.
Suddenly, and without warning, the hand–for hand he quickly realized it was–grabbed his arm and yanked him forward. He slithered over the open door and tumbled into the dryer. The door slammed shut. In the pitch black, the only thing Madoc could distinguish was the sound of his panicked breathing.
“It’s not that bad once you get used to it,” said a voice at his elbow.
Madoc jerked back, his pulse rising like a Saturn V rocket on its way to the moon.
“Really,” the voice went on. “Just give it a minute.”
It was a deep, slightly husky voice, with just a hint of a German accent. Madoc held perfectly still, not daring to reply, trying to hush his hoarse gasps.
“Well, if you insist,” the voice said, and a match flamed to life, closely followed by a tall, thin candle.
It was held by a tall, thin man–or at least, he would have been tall if he had not been sitting on the bottom of the dryer with his knees up by his ears. He seemed to have dark brown hair, green eyes, and inordinately large ears.
“Who… who are you?” Madoc finally sputtered.
“That’s funny. Most people ask about the abnormal proportions of the evaporatory apparatus first,” replied the man. “But anyway, I’m Egon Goudier, Defender of the Dryer.”
He stood up to his full height. It took Madoc a moment to realize that his man, who had to be at least six feet tall, was standing up straight inside a standard-sized dryer.
“Come along,” Egon said, and began walking down a tunnel–but that hadn’t been there a few second ago. had it?–at the back of the dryer. Madoc made no move. He was incapable of doing so even if he had wanted to. All the blood in his body seemed to be rushing toward his head, his legs felt like lead, his hands were numb, his sides about to burst…
Madoc jerked up with a start, breathing hard and sweating. He was lying on his back on the laundromat floor, cargo shorts in one hand. Slowly, he sat up. That had been an uncannily real dream.
He opened the door of the dryer. Nothing. Just an old, beat up, normally proportioned dryer.
He shook his head a couple of times, then picked up the hamper and slowly walked back out to his car. Still shaking his head, he drove away.
Behind him, in the lonely laundromat, a dryer door slowly creaked open.