Chapter 1

*** The following is the chapter that follows Prologue.

The Meeting

Fate plays little tricks on us.  You might think you have free will, but try as you might, you can’t prevent things from occurring if they are meant to. . .
-excerpt from Curtis Tyre’s journal [September 5th]
Iacta alea est.
(The die is cast.)
-Julius Caesar:  from Plutarch, Lives, Romulus, section 32

After he gained the information acquired a day before, Curt made a phone call that would start a new chapter in his life.

“Hi. Is Timothy home?”

“I am he,” Timothy stated in a booming monotone backed by a snide holier-than-thou attitude.

“My name’s Curt. We met at the convention last week.”

“Yes, I remember you.”

“Well, I was wondering if you wanted to GM a campaign. There’re already a few of us interested in playing, and I can gather some more. I don’t really know how large a group you’d be comfortable with.”

“If you can get ten people, that will be fine.”

“I can do that, but don’t you think that’s rather large?”

“I already have a campaign set up. It requires ten people and a game master. You did want a Steampunk horror setting, correct?”

“Yes…Steampunk horror,” Curt wondered how he knew that. “Anyway, ten’s such a large number. With that many players, won’t the game get confusing or, at least, nobody will be able to get their fair say,” he paused for a response. Since Timothy supplied none, Curtis continued, “Is there anything else you need to know?”

“Not right now. When you are able, get me a list of all the players. We will start on the 31st, Halloween night.”

“Alright, sounds good to me. I guess I’ll speak to you. . .before Halloween, then. Later.”

“Goodbye,” and the line disconnected.

* * * * *

Curt and Alex sat around as they watched cartoons, which is what they would usually do on a Saturday morning after staying out all night. Typically they would stay up too late for either of them to want to leave wherever they were, and, therefore, they would just stay there until morning. They would then tend to waste hours trying to figure out what they were going to do later that night. Alex’s house was the perfect place to do this because his father and stepmother were never home. Curt never complained because he would do almost anything to get out of his house. At that moment, they both looked rather scruffy; Curt’s waist-long, dark hair strewn about and Alex’s light brown hair tucked in a sport’s cap. Alex never went anywhere without his hat.

“Okay, Al. I got three people, you got three, Shaun said he’d play, and then there’s us,” Curt pointed out.

“You said Mike won’t be able to play all the time; maybe every-other weekend. And even if he can play, that still makes us short one player.”

“Let me call Tim and see what he says. It really shouldn’t be that big a deal if we’re aware of the complications beforehand. Anyway, everyone else said they’d definitely be able to play every weekend. Although, he did seem unduly intent,” he added in a grandiose voice characteristic of Timothy’s, “on having ten people.”

“Call Tim now,” Alex demanded.

“You know, you make it sound like I’m his friend. You know him just as well as I do.” Within the past week, the three of them had met to discuss the terms of the game. Curt’s parents had been home at that time, and, for him, it was another excuse for avoiding them further.

“True, but you make friends easily, and he will probably confide in you some time, so this not-so-good news shouldn’t be a problem for you to tell him.” Curt grinned as he agreed that his trusting nature, for some reason, allowed most people to confide in him.

RIN–

Curt grabbed the phone on three-fourths of a ring.

“Hello, Curtis, this is Timothy.”

“You’re slowing down, bud. Used to be able to pick up in half a ring,” Alex taunted.

“Shhh,” Curt hushed Alex and waved him away. “How interesting, we were just talkin’ ’bout you. Sorta golden thread, eh?”

“Yes, rather interesting, but whatever is this golden thread?”

“Of all people, I thought that you would know what the golden thread is. Seeing how you don’t, though, I’ll explain. Ya know, the golden thread’s what links everything together. It’s similar to the thread that the Fates in Greek and Roman mythology, and the Norns in Norse mythology, used to stitch lives together. The golden thread’s a more modern interpretation of that same idea. See, there is no such thing as coincidence, or synchronicity, because everything’s stitched together with a golden thread. The golden thread of fate.” Curt took much enjoyment in explaining what he knew to a person he thought knew it all.

“I see. Well, please tell Alexander that I said, ‘Hello.’ “

Curt placed the receiver on his shoulder and told Alex, “He said to. . .” He paused, lifted his arms, fisted his hands, and then raised and bent his index and middle fingers several times, as he repeated, “Tell Alexander, ‘Hello.’” The only reason he directly quoted Timothy was to pester Alex. Curt knew that he hated being called anything other than his given name: Alex. The only exception was when Curt would call him Al.

“Why does he call me that? I told him several times; my name is Alex. Grrr—” He then lifted his muscular arm above his head and slammed his fist into the table. “My bad hand, damn it!”

Curt just shrugged and continued to talk. “. . .only eight and a possible ninth.”

“I really need ten people,” Timothy insisted.

“Can’t you just run one of the characters yourself?”

“No!” He hesitated, “I mean. . .the campaign will be too complex for me to have to watch out for one of your party members. If you cannot find anyone within a week. . .I will find someone myself! Now, give me the names of the players.”

“Dave, Shaun, Vin–”

“Full names!” Timothy demanded.

“Oooo-kay. David Hamilton; Shaun Steinburg; Vincent Gilletto; Anne Cash; Kenneth Mighty; James Pipkin; Alex Vanderhaus, whom you know; myself, Curtis Tyre; and finally, Michael Baldwin, who can only play every other week. He lives out of town.”

“If you can guarantee that Michael will be there for the first two sessions, I will allow him to play. If you cannot, find someone else to replace him. I can only get one person. You will make characters on the day of the first session. Yes, one more thing. I would like to talk to Kenneth before we gather for that first session.”

“Uh. . . Tim, wait. Before you go, I want to point out that Shaun doesn’t really know how to play, and Anne does but doesn’t have playing experience.”

“That will not be a problem, seeing that some of you are experienced players. You do have experience playing?”

“Thirteen years”

“We will deal with the other two when that time arrives. You will hear from me two more times. Then, I will see all of you on the 31st at 9:00 a.m. Sharp!”

“I’ll tell everyone 8:30. They’ll be there on time. Later.”

“Goodbye.” Click.

“Al, did you give Tim your number?”

“Nooo. Why?”

“Like, man, he just gives me the creeps. Let’s leave it at that.” He stopped with that question after realizing that Alex thought it was pointless, and further inquires would only result in more confusion.

“Jinkies, Shaggy.” Alex liked to tease Curt by calling him Shaggy. He often mocked Curt’s wretched attempt at facial hair, much to his chagrin. The fact that he looked as skinny as the teen in green and brown didn’t help either.

“Go to hell.”

* * * * *

One week passed without a word from Tim. Curt was starting to worry. “When’re we going to hear from him, and what’d he want with Ken?”

“I don’t know. Do I look psychic to you?” His face started to bunch up, and his mouth straightened out. He clenched his fists, and Curt immediately realized that was the wrong thing to ask.

Curt knew that everyone hated to hear his constant whining, but by ignoring Alex’s requests to call Tim back, he realized that he might have taken one step too far in the direction of getting a rise out of Alex.

RI–

Curt leapt across the room and grabbed the phone on the first half of a ring. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. . .” Curt whispered.

“Hello, Curtis, this is Timothy.”

“Hi, Tim. Just talkin’ ’bout you.” Curt was happy that the wait was over.

“Have you gotten a tenth player?”

“Oops. I totally forgot.” This wasn’t wholly true because his memory was like the proverbial elephant’s. Curt didn’t like being the bearer of foul news, so he lied to avoid saying that nobody else wanted to play with a game master they had never met or feared. After all, he thought, white lies never hurt anybody.

“Well, did you get Michael to commit to the game?”

“Done deal. He’ll be here the night before we play till the end of the weekend for two consecutive weeks, so far. After that, though, it’s up in the air.”

“Good. I would like you to meet here tomorrow to give me Vincent’s phone number.”

“Wouldn’t it just be easier to give you the number now? I mean, why should I have to travel to your house to give you seven, maybe ten, numbers that I can tell you right now? It would’ve taken less time to do than telling you what I just did.”

“Okay. You have a very valid point. . .but I would also like to discuss your character with you in person.”

“If you really want—Is it bad?” Curt always anticipated terrible news.

“No, nothing like that. Just meet here tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.”

“OK.” As he said that, he stressed the letters by signing them with hand gestures.

“Goodbye,” and the line went dead.

“Yeah, see you to– Never mind,” and he placed the receiver down. “Al, maybe it’s just me, but. . .the more I talk to him, the stranger he seems.”

“You’re just paranoid.”

“I am not!”

* * * * *

The next day around 10:00 a.m., Curt decided to go over to Timothy’s house. He really wasn’t sure what time he should have been there and was apprehensive about calling. Usually, before he went to anybody’s house, he would call first. This was an exception.

“Maybe I can surprise him,” he said to himself. “Nah, that would never happen.”

Twenty minutes later, Curt pulled up to a large two-story house. All of the windows were obstructed, concealing the view of the interior. It reminded him of a mansion in an old movie he once saw late at night when sleep had eluded him. He suffered from insomnia and often spent the night flipping through the channels looking for something that would make him forget why he was awake. There were two vehicles in front of the garage, an ashen gray caravan and a beige, 1920’s leisure car of some sort. He decided to park in the circular driveway to avoid hitting either, just in case. “Can never be too careful,” he whispered.

He got out of the car and walked towards the house. The bagginess of his T-shirt flapped with the wind as he lifted his hands to clear the hair out of his face so he could get a closer look at the residence. As he approached the double doors at the front of the house, he noticed the intricate detail of the craftsmanship. It was of fine cherry cedar, approximately fourteen feet tall. There was an ornate trim around the edges. In the center, the head of a dragon sneered. As his hand reached for the platinum knocker, the door became slightly ajar. A tall, bookish man answered the door. His short, blond hair reflected the sun, momentarily blinding Curt. Timothy directly stated, “You’re late!”

Curt lifted his hand to cover his eyes and replied sardonically, “Hello to you too.”

“Come in.” At the invitation, he entered slowly. Walking through the foyer, he admired the many pieces of ageless-looking art. “There is someone I would like you to meet.”

They entered the living room, and somebody was already seated on the couch. From the angle they entered, visibility remained reduced to the back of a head only. Curt noted her lengthy, black hair and the large fuchsia bow that was in it. As they got closer, he scanned her slim body, and this new angle immediately drew him to the sharp ears that pierced her hair, having been obscured previously. He also noticed that she was reading a book.

“Hi, whatcha readin’?” he asked deridingly.

Without looking up, she flatly stated, “None of your business,” with a slight British accent.

“Curtis Tyre, this is Kathryn Welles. Kathryn, this is Curtis.” Timothy introduced the two and then excused himself from the room to get drinks.

Curt moved to the other side of the couch and eyed the coffee table with several books neatly arranged. He sat down next to Kathryn to get a closer look at the book she was reading. He inched closer to her and realized that it was a player’s manual. Since he could read it, she pulled it closer to herself.

He gave up on that venture and looked around the room. There were large bookshelves all around. Many of them held volumes that were leather-bound and faded. A few gaps centered around one area in particular. Again eyeing the content of the table, he picked up one of the many books on gaming.

“So, what are you going to be?” he said to break the silence.

“I’m not really sure. I was thinking of being a quaver-thief. Why?”

“I think you would be more suited as an elf.” As he said that, he grabbed his hair and tugged at it.

Again there was a pause.

He tried to break the silence once more. “How long have you been playing?”

“This will be my first game. That is why you are here, unfortunately.” She didn’t seem all that impressed by his presence.

“What!?!” he said, shocked. “I was told I was going to discuss my character with Tim.”

“I don’t know. Don’t get upset with me, Curtis. I was told that you knew what you were doing, although I doubt it, and would help me with my character,” she then huffed a sigh of disdain.

Curt mentioned to Timothy that he had role-played for 13 years, a substantial amount of time for one his age. To most, but the uninitiated or hard to impress, that was a remarkable amount of time to occupy with a game. “I’m not upset, just surprised. Anyway, you can call me Curt, Kath.”

“My friends call me Kate, but you can call me Kathryn, Cur.”

Just then, Timothy walked in. “Sprite™ for Curtis and herbal tea for Kathryn.” He placed coasters and then the drinks down away from the books in the center of the table.

“Tim, Kath here says that I’m going to help her with her character. What’s the deal?” and his left eyebrow quirked slightly.

“That is correct. I want you to help her with the basics of character creation. You mentioned that your experience playing before, and I gather you can help her.”

“No prob. I can handle it,” and a vast grimace washed over his face.

“Right now, she is looking over possible choices and not creating a character. You will help her with that,” Timothy said matter-of-factly. “As for your character, we will deal with that now. I have an idea, and I hope that you will not object.”

“Speak, and we’ll see.”

They left Kathryn in the living room and went down the hall. Darkened by an ominous curtain that shrouded the light of the sun outside, the space they entered reminded Curt of the Sherlock Holmes movies his father used to watch. The den, so he assumed, had more leather tomes than the living room. He wondered if this was the branch of the library where they kept all the missing books. The center of the room had an immense, heavy oak table, which overwhelmed it. The table, like everything else in the house, appeared to be ancient. If not for the fact that it was square, Curtis could imagine Arthur’s Court sitting around this wooden, ageless piece. On it, several piles of paper seemed to Curt, uncharacteristically, left in mid-progress, yet neatly arranged, and a solitary globe of glass in the center. Leather chairs placed on two sides of the table were opposite each other. There were no electrical lights to find.

Timothy pressed an area of the wall, and the globe on the table illuminated with a burst of methane, irradiating the entire room with a flickering presence.

“Neeeeaaaat trrrick!” Curt exclaimed.

“Please, be seated,” Timothy invited.

Curt pulled one of the oversized chairs away from the table and slumped into it. “Very comfy. I like it. Now about my character. . .”

As Curt said that, Timothy took the top sheet off the pile closest to him, sat down, looked it over, and handed it to Curt. “Read this.”

The top of the sheet read: Li-an— A Li-an is similar to a centaur found in classical mythology, but instead of having partial horse anatomy, they are part lion and part human.

Curt skimmed over it and placed it down. “This is an interesting concept. Why should I care at this point?” Then it dawned on him. “Wait. Oh no. I don’t wanna be one of them.”

“I want one in the campaign, and I figured your experience would allow you to play one effectively,” he said to flatter.

“I’m gonna be straight with you. I might’ve played for a long time, but I’m not that good. Besides, that thing has to have an enormous stigma attached to it.”

“That is why I want you to play one. Think of it as a challenge.”

“Playing anything that’s not remotely like me is a challenge.”

“That character is nothing like you, and therefore, it should present a great challenge.”

“But I don’t want a challenge!” Curt just sat cross-armed and stared right through him.

“I guess I overestimated you,” he faintly said as he frowned and lowered his head.

“I guess so. Sorry,” and he was genuinely sorry. Curt didn’t like to disappoint people. “Don’t you have something else? Something. . . more my style?”

“If that is what you really want, I have just the character.” Timothy handed him another sheet.

After reading the sheet, he looked up with a smirk. He felt pleased with the choice. “Yeah, I like this guy. Sign me up.”

After going over the minor details, they left to check on Kathryn.

Curt was first to speak. “How ya doin’?”

“I’m rather stuck,” she responded passively. “I cannot decide what to be. Each character has an equal number of advantages as they have disadvantages.”

Curt quirked his left eyebrow and wondered why the change in attitude, but figured the choices just confused her and let it go as his eyebrow returned to its regular position. “Why don’t we look it over?”

Timothy looked at his watch and announced, “It is almost twelve o’clock. I have another engagement I have to attend to. If you do not mind, I have to leave.”

“Oh. I guess I can come by tomorrow,” Curt said, somewhat disappointed.

Kathryn stood up next to Curt and added, “Well, I must be off too.” She looked up into his eyes, “but you can help me with my character later today. Around three?”

“Three sounds good,” and he started to bounce up and down. Calming himself down, he added, “I mean . . . I’m not . . . I don’t have any plans till much later.”

She blurted, “Good, give me your number, and I will call for directions. I’m late as it is.” He quickly scribbled his name on a sheet of paper he pulled from his pocket. He passed it to her with a shaky hand. When she accepted, her fingers brushed his, and he jumped away from her, dropping the sheet. She bent down, hastily grabbed it, and darted out the door.

“I guess I’ll see you on Halloween, then. Oh, I almost forgot. Here.” Curt pulled out a slip of paper and handed it to Timothy. “It’s Vinny’s phone number.”

“Thank you very much. I will see you then.” With that, Timothy showed Curt out.

* * * * *

For the next few minutes, Curt just sat in his car in the empty driveway and reflected on what had just transpired. He thought to himself: I just met a girl; an obnoxious one, but a girl nonetheless. He thought about his past luck with women that, to be honest, was rather unlucky; a date here, a date there, and an occasional set up by friends. None of them worked out, though.

It then dawned on him. That paper had the information about his character on it.

After sitting in the driveway for ten minutes, he started the car and headed home. Like most drives, he just went on his way, not entirely paying attention to where he was going. Then, in the rearview mirror, he noticed a familiar-looking gray caravan two cars back while waiting at a stoplight. Coincidence, he thought, merely coincidence.

After being followed further, he tested his suspicions. He went down a back road, sped around a corner, and waited. About a minute later, the caravan passed by. “Maybe paranoia isn’t all that bad.”

As he drove back to the main road, he didn’t notice the caravan following him again.

* * * * *

At three o’clock, Kathryn pulled up to Curt’s house in a white caravan with wood paneling. She glimpsed the silhouette of his body behind the blinds as she approached the door. As she proceeded closer, she heard a loud crash and a slam. Then Curt yanked the door open so hard he lost his balance and fell to the ground.

He jumped to his feet, ignoring the incident, “Hi! ‘She’s Right on Time.’ Great title for a song.”

“Hiya. What was that all about?” she said and smiled with curiosity.

“That. . .that was nothing. The floor’s a little slippery, that’s all. Come in. . .and watch your step.” He invited her in as if nothing had happened.

She looked down and saw that the floor had carpeting, and he was wearing socks, slightly worn at the heels.

They moved into the living room, where there was an impressive collection of books on role-playing arranged about the coffee table. However, this was nothing compared to Timothy’s.

“So, you wanted to be a quaver-thief. What changed your mind?” He seemed genuinely interested.

“It is all so confusing. I’m not sure what I want to be,” Curt appeared to hang on each of her words.

“Well, your forte scores’ll have to be reviewed by Tim. Everyone else’ll be making their characters the Saturday that we play, so let’s deal with the fundamental traits because he’ll probably explain everything to you then with everybody else.” She, aware that many people would falsify their character’s scores, figured that he avoided dealing with that instead of taking chances. He would probably leave that for Timothy to worry about. “For starters, what race do you want to be?”

“What can I be?” She asked, even though all along she knew what her choices were. She wanted to make Curt go over as much information as possible to test his knowledge of the game. Having lied earlier about not playing before, she actually knew about the game; but felt he might show off and “instruct” her at the same time.

“As far as I can tell, there are no restrictions, especially after seeing what he has in mind.” Timothy didn’t give that many details to Curt, so she assumed that he would go with the average characters that are in every game. “Well, there’re the standard races and then the obscure.”

“I would like to be something standard, please?” Why should she make things complicated?

“Alright. Standard character races include elves, dwarves, quavers, drudgies, and, of course, humans. Elves are magical creatures of the forest. Dwarves are basically miners incarnate. Quavers are like small humans that’re very nimble and musically inclined. Drudgies are like those little green creatures in that puppet show. The ones that built the sugar houses for the larger puppets to eat, except drudgies, are taller. Humans. . . well they’re. . . humans.”

“You mentioned I should be an elf earlier. Why?” Kathryn questioned playfully. Since this was all common knowledge to her, she decided to put him on the spot and find out what was on his mind.

“Well, they’re. . .” He turned a light shade of purple the same color as Kathryn’s bow “. . .they’re attractive, and I thought that would suit you.”

She blushed, “I’d like to be an elf then.” She found the whole idea quite sweet of him and smiled.

“An elf it is. Now we have to figure out what type of elf.”

She got upset at all of the elements he was mentioning for a basic aspect of her character, “How many different types are there?” From her experiences, character creation wasn’t this time-consuming and detailed. She realized that Curt was a stickler for particulars, though.

When she said that, he pushed away, “We’ll make you a high elf. You’ll like that. Now we have to pick your class.”

“I want lots of class.” Knowing what he meant, she figured she could add a joke at his expense.

“Well, it’s not like that.” She was afraid that he would continue, unaware of the joke. “Class is the occupation that the adventurers have. They usually belong to a guild composed of other members of the same occupation. These can be classified into four basic groups, and then it gets more specific from there. There’re warriors, spell-casters, clergymen, and thieves. All are basically self-explanatory, although the spell-caster and clergyman, or clergywoman, characters are more complicated and might be a little difficult for a novice.”

“I don’t seem like the warrior-type, so that is out. Tell me about the different options available for a thief.” She had that in mind all along.

“Man, there’re so many. Tell me what you want to be, and we can work something into it.”

She decided that she would stop playing around and actually create her character because she was starting to get hungry. “I want to be a cat burglar. Sneaking into people’s houses in the dead of night to steal their valuables for my own. Of course, I will give some to the poor.”

“That shouldn’t be too hard to do. Now all you need is a name, and we’re done.”

“How about Charlithra Hune?”

“No. It doesn’t sound right.”

She liked the first name but decided on another. “How about Taré Melaena?”

“Yeah, I like the sound of that one. It has a rather musical, elfish quality to it. Now that that’s done, I was wondering if you were hungry.”

“Famished.”

“Would you. . .I mean. . .do you. . .well, wouldyouliketogoout!” he blurted out in a bombastic configuration.

“What did you say?” She thought she heard him, but its distortion made it so hard to understand that she wasn’t really sure.

“I was wondering if you. . .um. . .wanted to go out. I mean to dinner, that is.”

She thought: He asked me out. “Yes, I would like that.” She had to remain calm and not sound overexcited. He really asked me out.

* * * * *

Curt wanted to see Michael before they played the game. They haven’t seen each other since school started again. He also wanted to get away from home for a weekend. Earlier in his life, Curt used to move every two to four years, but he stopped moving around within the last few years. He had grown tired of the place where he lived and often needed somewhere to escape. Luckily, he was able to visit Michael when he felt that desire to flee.

He decided to ask Kathryn if she wanted to go with him to keep him company on the two-and-a-half-hour drive, as well as meet his friends. She agreed, and they left that Friday.

Michael and his girlfriend, Kelly, were in the middle of studying for exams when they arrived. They were both serious about their studies, and ever since high school, Michael wanted to be a veterinarian and Kelly a speech pathologist. They were constantly studying from what Curt saw of them, and it was good for them to get together because they would forget their problems for a while. They were Curt’s tie to reality, and he was their push over the edge. That is why Curt wanted Michael in the game. It would give him a chance to get away from his studies once in a while and enjoy some pure escapism.

* * * * *

It was the 27th of October, and Halloween was getting closer. By now, everyone involved was looking forward to the opportunity to role-play. It was all Alex would talk to them about. Curt, on the other hand, had something else to tell the others.

“. . . man, she’s so great. You know, today will be one month that we’ve been seeing each other. One month of bliss. Ahhh. . .” He spoke as if he were, mentally, miles away.

Pulling the phone away, Shaun sighed, “Oh Shit!” He then pushed his light wavy hair out of the way and placed the phone back to his mouth, “That’s all you ever talk about these days. I’m sure she is great, but get a grip,” he added in an annoyed tone. Alex might have been excessive about mentioning the game, but that didn’t get on Shaun’s nerves like Curt’s rambling about Kathryn. “Look, it’s Tuesday night, and I don’t have to work tomorrow. We can’t do anything this weekend because of the game. Let’s do something tonight. Alex is over, and we want to go out.”

“Sorry, guys; already have plans. We’re going out tonight. Can’t we do something tomorrow?” Shaun knew that the “we” referred to included Kathryn.

“I have to work Thursday morning; can’t.” Shaun really wanted to do something. When Alex was over, that usually meant going drinking. It was evident that this was Shaun’s favorite pastime since, as of late, he was developing a beer gut. He kept reminding himself to start exercising but didn’t have the patience for it. “I guess I’ll see you on Saturday.”

“What about Friday?” Curt asked.

“What about Friday? Oh! I don’t know.” He never thought that far in advance. The fact that he remembered his schedule for that week was a feat in itself.

“Mike’s coming into town, and we’re gonna do something. We can all go out.”

“Does that include Kate?” He wanted to know because that usually meant that Curt would only be there physically.

“No. I told her that it was going to be a guys’ night out. Anyway, she’ll be with Mike’s girlfriend, Kelly.”

“That’s cool.” He positioned his hand on the receiver, “Alex, you want to do something with Mike and Curt Friday?”

“That’s cool! Can we bring James and Ken?” Alex responded.

“Alex said it’s cool and wants to know if James and Ken can come too.”

“I don’t see why not. Call ’em and see.”

To Alex, “He wants you to call them.”

“They’ll come,” Alex answered for them.

“He said they’ll be there,” to Curt.

“Cool. I’ll see you guys Friday then.”

“Then I’ll talk to you later. Bye.”

“Later.” Curt hung up the line.

Shaun hung up the phone and thought: What am I doing tonight?

“So now what?” Alex asked, echoing Shaun’s thoughts.

“You want to go Downtown?” he suggested the usual.

“Okay.” With that, they went Downtown and hit the bars.

* * * * *

Friday had arrived. Whenever these guys thought of that day, the following ideas came to mind: Friday, a day to be out with friends, the more, the merrier, and what are we doing tomorrow?

The clique of friends had gathered at Ken, Anne, and James’ house. Anne left earlier to go out with Kelly and Kathryn. The men had the place to themselves. This meant they could be as offensive as they wanted to be without regard to the women, not that that mattered or ever stopped them before. Now all that mattered was what they were going to do.

“. . .Yeah, Jim, she’s English. Isn’t that cool?”

“Thrilling.” He had heard the story before and wasn’t interested in hearing it again.

“I mean, she has a different perspective on life. She just moved here this year,” Curt added enthusiastically.

“Uh-huh,” he nodded to keep himself awake. James turned and faced Alex, redirected his conversation, and said, “Soooo, where are we going?”

In an impression of a student from the Columbia School of Broadcasting, Alex explained, “Well, James. You just won an all-expenses-paid trip to the social event of the evening. Yes, that’s right. You and five of your closest friends. . .” as if to an unseen audience, “or whoever you can get a hold of.” He spoke to James again, “. . .are going to partake in the night of your dreams. You will be whisked away to beautiful Saint Street. Yes, that’s right, Saint Street. Where you and your friends will have the opportunity to drink cheap domestic beer till you can’t see straight. But that’s not all. When you think it can’t get better, you will be able to flirt with the ugliest girls there and drive through the obstacle course of life while in a drunken stupor.” He added in a soft tone, “Prize package does not include transportation, price of beer, or any tickets received.”

“Actually, we’re going to the Underground,” Mike interjected before Alex could continue with his poor impersonation of Don Pardo.

They procrastinated for about an hour before they left, discussing who would be the designated driver. They decided Kenneth would be the best candidate because he would not drink alcohol. When they finally did leave, the gathering squeezed into Kenneth’s ’83 Beamer and headed for their destination.

They tossed a few eggs at selected houses and cars during their drive Downtown. It was Hell Night, after all.

Downtown was an eclectic mix of old and new. On the same block, one can find a new building being assembled and an old storefront under renovation. Construction was constantly taking place. To view the old stores was like looking into a history book. It was the past unearthed like an archaeological dig.

The Underground was the club that they always went to first. If they really didn’t have any other plans, they usually stayed there for the duration of the evening. Shaun found it originally. One day they had been bar-hopping and drank a little too much. Shaun suggested they go down a dark alley where he heard some music playing. The only reason the others went was to keep him out of trouble.

Walking further, they saw the light around the corner leading to a stairway underground. The Underground was a showcase for the out-of-the-ordinary, hosting alternative bands and playing that type of music, live and recorded. Readings were also common. There weren’t that many outsiders, mainly regulars. The people that found it was usually the same type that would come back. Art covered the walls. Every week there was a display by a local artist. They would range anywhere from modern to post-modern, airbrush to abstract, reliefs to art deco.

Tonight, Curt led the others to the club. He approached the small walkway and opened the door. Inside, John, the bouncer, let them pass without question.

“Curt!” the patrons announced. He thought it was a comfort to find a place where being a regular brought recognition and pseudo-fame.

As they went to their regular seats, Shaun asked for a round of the usual. The booth was in the back corner, and, unlike most bars, this one was roomy. A total of eight people could sit comfortably in the booth, and since there were only six, Curt stretched his legs out on the extra cushion. The lighting in the entire establishment was dim, but their corner had more light than the rest of the bar. They wanted the opportunity to read the menus instead of squinting like all the other patrons.

A few minutes after they positioned themselves in the booth Gloria, their waitress, came with their drinks. “Alright, who’s driving?”

Alex announced, “Ken is.” Then acting real smooth, he asked her to join them. She had to refuse because she had to work, but her shift would be over in a few hours.

Zombie Sacrifice headlined that night. They were a band that didn’t represent their namesake, playing mellow and revival music instead of the death metal that typically followed a group with that name. Considering it was close to Halloween, they were a welcome act in the club — for atmosphere sake at least. They ended their set around 11:00, when the background music returned.

The group told ghost stories while they waited for Gloria’s shift to be over. By the time it was over, the fright and intoxication overtook them; and it was midnight. . .

 

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