*** The following is the chapter that follows Chapter 1 from the unnamed novel. (note: this was originally written in 1993)
Festival of Samhain
Halloween originated as a festival to cast out evil spirits from the body, soul, and home. These days, parents send their children out to roam the neighborhoods. It seems some things never change. . .
-excerpt from Curtis Tyre’s journal [October 30th]
Plus ça change, plus c`est la même chose.
(The more things change, the more they remain the same.)
-Alphonse Karr from Les Guêpes [Janvier 1849]
The moment the clock in Greenwich shifted from :59 to :00, there was a loud clap of thunder, and the power went out. Only the candles on the tables lit the room. The entire bar shook and spilled many glasses to the floor, of which several broke.
The front door opened of its own accord, and a chill wind swept through the room. A thin veil of mist rolled in, and John hurried to close the door to prevent the candles from going out.
A minute later, the lights came back on, and the background music returned. The mist dispersed.
“What the hell was that?” John exclaimed.
James stood up and left the table. He moved to the door, opened it, and looked outside. Scanning outside, he asked, “Where are the circuit breakers?”
“Why?” John responded.
“It doesn’t matter; just tell me,” he demanded the answer as if time and lives depended on it.
“In the back, inside.”
“Show me and hurry.”
Meanwhile, back at the booth, the rest of the group looked around in confusion. The excitement was too much for Shaun, so he made Curt move, stretched out, and fell asleep. The others just wondered what James was up to.
Mike broke in, “Ken, what is he doing?”
“I’m not really sure. Just let him be. After all, what can he really be up to? He is too drunk to do any real harm. Don’t worry about it.”
Yeah, well I thought I was the paranoid one,” added Curtis.
“You are, Shaggy,” Alex stated as he tousled Cutis’ hair.
“I am not,” he protested.
“You are too.”
“Am not. . .” and that went on for a few minutes.
After checking the circuit box and finding it rusted shut with inactivity, James decided to leave it and returned to the table. When he sat down, the rest of the table was quiet, and nobody said a word to him. They stared at their drinks for a few minutes, occasionally taking sips. Now seated next to Alex, Curt sporadically dipped his finger in his drink and circled the glass’ rim, making it resonate with a high pitch squeal.
Eventually, Alex slammed his hands on the table. He clutched his right hand and bit his lip to hold back a cry. That shook Curt, and he almost spilled the glass.
Finally, Alex said, “I can’t take it anymore. Why did you spaz?”
“I wanted to check out a hunch. I was wrong. I don’t want to say anymore.”
He adjusted his hat, pushed himself away from the table, and leaned back into the booth. “All right, if you want to leave the impression that you’re nuts, that’s fine with me.”
Curt added, “Me too,” and to imitate Alex, he too pushed himself away from the table.
“Yeah, I don’t see anything wrong with that,” Michael said.
Ken replied, “I already knew you were touched. It doesn’t bother me.”
Alex shoved Shaun, “It’s your turn.”
“Huhnnm. . .”
James said, “Look, I’m not going to tell you. That’s that.” With that, Gloria sat down and started her story of horror and despair. Curt sat in the corner, half into her story, and scribbled another journal entry onto a napkin.
At three o’clock, they decided to head out, which was good because it was at that exact time that the bar was closing.
The lights of the club turned off as they left, and the alley was dark save for the iridescent glow of the city and the light of the full moon above. The latter source of light wasn’t permanent because there was a game of peek-a-boo between the stars and the moon, both momentarily covered by the fleeting clouds that swept past at a rapid rate.
“Well, we’ve got to go now. Would you like a ride home?” Alex asked Gloria.
Shaking the hair out of his face, Curt whispered to Alex, “There’s no room in the car.”
Alex responded by shoving Curt aside.
“No. That’s all right. I can drive.” She had not drunk anything, and she parked her car in back.
“Can I at least walk you to your car?”
He told the others, “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”
As he walked her to her car, a gray caravan rapidly pulled out in front of them from the parking garage across the street. Alex pulled Gloria out of the vehicle’s path, cursed the driver, and gave them a single-finger salute.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
She responded, “Fine, fine. Just a little rattled. I’m glad you were here to save me. . .my hero,” and she kissed him on the cheek to mock a damsel in distress.
* * * * *
The others waited and chatted among themselves when the gray caravan swerved around the corner past them. When James and Curt saw the van, they both recognized it as one they had seen before.
“Who are they?” Curt asked, noticing that James also recognized them.
“I don’t know. They just keep following me.”
“How many times–” Ken cleared his throat and continued, “have they done that?”
“Two or three.”
Mike broke in, “That was weird. The plate said, ‘You are domed.’”
Kenneth corrected him, “I think you mean, ‘You are doomed.’”
“I wish Alex’d hurry back; it’s gonna rain.” As Curt said that the breeze picked up speed, and a discarded tabloid sheet flew by. “Reading material!” and he ran down the alley to chase the paper.
After several attempts and misses to get the paper, Curt grabbed it and glanced over it. He stood in silence, reading it. When Mike noticed that he finally got a hold of it, he asked, “What does it say?”
“Get this. It says there’ve been a string of weird happenings.”
This aroused Shaun enough to wake him up. “Like what?” He pulled away from the wall and joined the others in the center of the alley.
“Like last week, there were several college students reported missing and several deaths in the area of Tim’s house.”
“Tim’s house?” Shaun asked.
“Yeah, doesn’t he live near the brook crossing?” James interrupted.
“I don’t remember any of that happening,” Mike said.
“I guess big news doesn’t get to little towns,” James interrupted again.
“I don’t remember any of that happening either, and we’re not in a little town. We’re there.” Shaun’s replies made sense to the others. If something this big occurred right where they were, wouldn’t they have heard about it?
By this time, all of them, sans Alex and Gloria, were gathered in a circle around Curt and the paper. Then Ken asked, “What exactly does it say?”
A Bizarre Incident at Deer Brook Crossing
|Staff Writer November 21, 19–|
Within the past week, we have reported several obscure incidents [see page 13 for more details]. Most recently, someone discovered two dead, mangled bodies. At this time, no one has identified the bodies.
All incidents seemed unrelated until several college students from the local university disappeared and did not return from a meeting held at the center of all the confusion (see map to the left). The local police questioned friends and relatives, who had not heard anything from these students in a week. “What we have here is one of them Bermuda Triangle things. That’s what it is,” replied Deputy Morris Blackmorre when questioned on the incident.
We asked one of the neighbors about the owner of the home where the students were last sighted. He responded, “I always thought that guy was weird, having his curtains drawn all the time and that green smoke that came from his chimney. He didn’t usually leave that place either. He’d stay inside for weeks at a time. I would see that nice, old car of his just sit in that driveway and col-
[Story continues on page 13, see STRANGE]
“Hey, did you see the date?” They tightened the circle and looked closer after James said that. “Boo!” and they all jumped. “You guys are suckers.”
Ken asked with purpose, “Did you read the date? It says the 21st of November.”
“Moon News? Huh, I don’t believe it anyway,” Mike said. “Those rags are full of lies and rumors. This is probably a joke.”
“You know, last week at the check-out counter, I read that Elvis was marrying the love-child of an alien and bigfoot,” Curt said to add to the chaos. “Those guys never lie. They’re better than U.S.A. Today. What do you think they’ll say next week? ‘Elvis’ daughter to wed Michael Jackson.’ I can’t wait.”
“Shut up, Curt!” they yelled in unison.
Just then, Alex charged into the group and slammed into Curt, knocking him to the ground. Alex extended his hand to help him up. He refused, preferring to stay rather than be knocked down again.
Directing his question to Alex and Curt, Ken asked, “Are you guys ready to leave?” The others were already leaving the alley towards the Beamer. Alex again offered his hand to Curt. This time, he accepted. Alex tugged with all his might, hurling Curt through the air. Curt landed on his feet, stumbling. After regaining his footing, Curt ran to catch up to the others. Grabbing the rim of his own hat, Alex lifted it off, rotated it around, and replaced it so that it was backward. Then, he followed Curt’s example by chasing the others.
* * * * *
The lonely piece of discarded paper lifted with the wind. When it hit the end of the alley, it pasted itself against the wall until it was flat. In plain view, an advertisement for Caravans Unlimited covered the complete left half of the paper.
The bottom right corner of the sheet suddenly ignited and emitted a blue-green flame. Thereafter, the left and then the two top corners sparked and heated up.
Slowly, the flaming newspaper inched away from the wall and levitated upward. In almost no time at all, the entire sheet turned into ashes. The ashes dispersed into the air and city until no part had the semblance of a whole unit.
* * * * *
At the car, the clique squeezed inside, sandwiching Curt and Alex. They rolled the windows down to let fresh air enter.
As they drove away from Downtown, they kept to themselves to reflect upon inner thoughts, what transpired that evening, or the white lines that passed by on the ground at a rapid rate to the point where it only became a hazy flash. As Michael was letting his hand undulate with the air outside of his window, he forced the passing air onto Shaun behind him. Shaun’s face became covered with small freckle-like specks of black that were beyond his notice.
Out of nowhere, Curt perked up and asked, “So, Ken, what’d Tim want to see you about?” Ken kept his eyes on the road and took no notice of the question.
He sat for a while to wait for a response. Curt saw that the question was ignored, or at least not responded to, and waved his hand in front of Kenneth’s eyes.
“I want to know why Tim wanted to talk with you.”
“Is it really any of your concern?”
“Uh, no. But I was the reason that you saw him. I mean, I did get this game together. I should at least know what’s going on. Right?”
“No, it really is no concern of yours.”
“Can you at least tell me if it was about your character?”
“I’ll say this much. He gave me an outline of my character, and he doesn’t want me discussing it with the rest of you!”
* * * * *
The tired group pulled up to the condominium and left the car. Curt shook his legs out and spoke to Shaun while the rest of the group moved towards the door. In the corner of his eye, Shaun thought he saw a shadow move but ignored it to appear in control.
“Are you okay?” Curt asked Shaun. “You seem rattled.”
The movement spooked him more than he thought it did. “Does it seem like something is wrong?”
“Yeeees. You’re edgy, and you keep staring in that direction,” he pointed at a spot behind him and scanned it. There were trees and other homes in that vicinity. Most of the way had lighting except for a few select areas. “Maybe you should try decaf.”
Shaun heard a slight rustle. “There it is again.” His eyes widened at the sight of the movement.
“There what is again?”
“You didn’t see it? I guess not. Let’s go.” He rushed towards the house, hair flying behind him.
“First Jim and now you, my reputation’s gonna be shot. It’s probably a cat, anyway.” Then the rustling grew much louder. “Hey, wait for me,” and he ran after Shaun at full speed.
The others had gathered under the light in front of the door. “Why’re we still out here?” he asked as he halted in front of the group, pulled the hair out of his face, and looked over his shoulder.
“Somebody forgot the keys,” Ken said as he stared at James.
“Do you keep a spare. . .” Michael lifted the GET LOST ! ! ! ! mat. Several families of insects scurried in all directions as if it were the first time they had seen light of any kind. “. . .under the rug. . .” His voice trailed off.
“Hey, no problem,” James said with a large grin. He produced a set of lock picks and worked on the door. By now, Shaun was hopping from foot to foot and started to stare over his shoulder.
“What is that? The pee-pee dance?” Alex asked Shaun.
“No. It’s the I-really-want-to-get-inside dance.”
“The pee-pee dance?” Mike asked.
“Yeah, you know, the pee-pee dance.” Alex demonstrated by hopping from foot to foot and bent his knees in tightly.
“Oh, that pee-pee dance,” Curt replied.
When James finished with the lock, he opened the door and invited the others in with a flourish. “See, no problem.”
Curt pushed past everyone followed by Shaun. When the last of the group entered, Shaun slammed the door behind them.
“Be quiet, the girls are asleep,” Michael whispered. Then they all went their separate ways and tiptoed around the house.
“You have something on your face,” James said to Shaun.
“What?” he asked, in reference to what was on his face.
“I’m not sure. Look in the mirror.”
Shaun headed to the bathroom and wiped his face on the way. When he investigated the reflection, he noticed that he had smeared whatever it was and created a mask. His face, now streaked with gray, made him look like a primitive on a National Geographic special before they went on a hunt.
He quickly washed his face and dried off to return to the others. “You look like a wet sheepdog after a rainstorm,” Mike said upon the sight of Shaun.
“We all picked where we’re going to sleep, leaving you with the floor,” Alex stated. “Kate is already asleep in Anne’s room; Curt wants the floor in there; Anne is in Ken’s room; James will get his room; Mike gets one couch; and I get the other. That leaves you with the floor down here. Is that all right?”
A few minutes later, James came out of his bedroom, tossed four blankets and a pillow into the center of the newly made, makeshift bedroom, and turned around. He walked out of the room as if still asleep and closed his door behind him. At the same time, the door closed downstairs, a door opened upstairs, and Curt descended. “I can’t sleep, and Kath’s unconscious. What’s on TV?”
“No cable,” Alex said as he tossed the program guide to him.
“That narrows it down to religious programming, news, or Hawaii Five-0.”
“We are trying to sleep here,” Mike said as he threw a cushion towards the two.
“I get the idea.”
* * * * *
Upstairs, Curt turned on the table lamp sitting on the nightstand. Trying not to disturb Kathryn, he pulled out a red backpack and opened it slowly. He shuffled around inside the bag, hoping to find something to read. A copy of the character sheet Timothy gave him grabbed his attention. On the back, someone wrote in pencil:Flipping it over, the character information lay before him. Kathryn stirred next to him and then turned over. He thought about his character for a while and what it would be like to play. He put his legs on the bed and relaxed. As he stared at the paper, his eyes started to close, and unconsciousness whisked him away.
* * * * *
The slight drizzle grew into a light rain as the group of people ran towards the small cluster of trees. “Stay away from the trees. You’re safer in the open,” he called out while drawing a hood overhead.
“We don’t want to get wet, Shonagar,” said a man covered by just a loin cloth. His body glistened as the rain poured down upon his bare skin. “Water is bad for the clothes. Makes it smell real bad. Then woman avoid me. No good, Bokno.”
Then, a full-maned head right in front of Shonagar turned and spoke. “Gwala has a point. Water makes me stink. It’s hard enough as it is trying to get respect looking like this.” Shonagar looked down and saw he was on the back of a lion that was one with a man at the torso.
“You are right, Tock, my friend. Let’s head for the forest. There are many high trees there, and it should offer more protection from the rain.” He slapped his companion on the shoulder and led the others toward the greater grouping of trees in the distance. Behind him, the other eight of his group trod in double formation.
An elfish maiden rode up to Shonagar on the back of a black, horned pegasus. “You let them tell you what to do again.”
“I did,” he said solemnly. “Pleasing the group keeps them together. I don’t want to create anarchy with everyone going their own way. If I can give in to their needs a little without harming the overall comfort of the group, I will.”
“You still gave in.” She moved away from him and toward another woman riding on a tan pegasus, both clad in heavy plate. They started to talk among themselves.
“Taré has become pretty good friends with Waelcyrige. She seems to be spending more time with her than you.”
“I think it is good that she has a friend. If she didn’t, she would feel pretty lonely. Besides, I would rather her be friends with Waelcyrige than any of you ruffians.” With that comment, the li-an growled.
As the rain increased in intensity, they doubled their speed and kicked dirt and mud into the air. “Thisss isss dirtying my clothesss, Bokno!” Shonagar looked over to the one who complained. As they headed towards their destination, the short one brushed the mud from his long purple cloak, which covered the entirety of his body, save his gloved hands.
“We’ll be there soon, Sssthien. I’ll clean your cloak for you.” He tapped Tock on the shoulder, “How much longer would you say?”
“Five minutes at full gallop.”
“Good. No offense, but I can’t wait to get back on my feet.”
“That’s all right. I can’t wait to get off of mine.”
Shonagar turned around again to see if anyone followed them. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Taré talk to a person, dressed in blue robes and a Phrygian cap, as they rode side by side. In an intensity that burnt with anger, he stared directly into Maomax’s ice, blue eyes that matched his robes.
“Hey, that’s my mane you’re grabbing,” cried Tock.
“What? Oh. . .” When he looked behind him again, the two were separated by three horses. Maomax spoke to the jester, Mirth Merriweather, while Taré rode next to Waelcyrige again. The rest of the ride was a quiet one, except for the sound of the downpour and the clop of hooves.
They reached the forest and set up camp. Shonagar left the others so he could clean Sssthien’s cloak as he promised. He left Tock in charge in his absence, entered another clearing to be by himself, and collected his thoughts. As he brushed the dirt off the cloak, he smeared the mud deeper into it. The raunger slung the garment across his back, walked to the nearest tree, ignored the warning that he gave the others earlier, and climbed it. When he got halfway to the top, he found a strong branch and secured his footing. Bokno acquired water from the wet needles above and cleaned the stains out of the fine embroidery of the purple, velvety cloth.
Having completed his promise, he reclined on the sturdy branch and started to fall asleep. As his eyes grew heavy, they started to close.
Lightning struck the limb on which he sat. As its rooting cracked, Shonagar reacted and tried to get a hold. The electrical shock and the wetness of the branch didn’t make it easy. He planted his arms onto the base of the offshoot. With one more crack, the branch fell to the ground and forced a cloud of dirt upward.
Shonagar tried to keep his grip, but his weight and that of his equipment were too heavy for him to secure. His gloves slipped on the sap that oozed from the disregarded appendage of the tree. Losing his handhold, the raunger tried to grab onto anything to prevent the inevitable fall. While falling, he attempted to slow his descent towards the ground 30 feet away and closing in on him. His heart raced as the sky drew further and further away.
“Boknooooo! Somebody, save him!” Taré screamed, and Bokno looked over. He saw the others run from the clearing. Maomax grabbed Taré and buried her face in his chest.
With a loud thud, Shonagar landed on his back, which knocked the wind out of him, “Oooof!” and darkness overwhelmed him.
* * * * *
“Aaaaah!” Curtis sprang forward for a moment and slammed back into the bed. His heart pounded so hard it shook the resting place. Kathryn turned over and knocked him off the bed. With a loud thud, he toppled furniture and landed on his back as she inadvertently woke him completely. As he got back to his feet, he looked around the room. He noticed that it wasn’t the forest in his dreams. “That was so vivid. I was there!”
“Huh?” Kathryn asked and turned over again.
He looked at the sheet of paper clutched in his hand. “Shonagar Bokno? It was only a dream,” he whispered to himself again and again. “It was only a dream.”
The wind increased in velocity outside to splatter the rain violently against the windowpane. He stood temporarily and listened to the soothing calm of the sound the storm produced. Its blare died momentarily as the pitter-patter of the shower came down, followed by the rush of sheets on the roof above as its severity intensified. As the fury increased, he remembered the rain on the man’s cloak in his dream.
Forgetting that for the moment, he looked at his watch. It read 7:26 a.m. “Damn! We’re running late.” He carefully slid into the bed next to Kathryn and gently caressed her shoulder. “Time to wake up.”
“Please, let me sleep,” she said sheepishly and pulled the covers over her head.
He knew what she was trying to pull. “Sorry, Luv, you have to get up. We’re running late and you’re. . . ah. . . never mind.”
She pushed the covers away and fastened her hazel eyes upon him with a piercing stare. “I’m what!?!”
“Ahh. You’re beautiful. Yeah,” he said as he shook the hair out of his face. “You look stunning, so you can take your time. . . You really don’t need to get ready, anyway. You look bee-you-tea-full, honey.”
She immediately got out of bed to look in the mirror. She ran into the bathroom, and that was the last he heard from her for a while.
Curtis went downstairs and saw that everyone was already up and making breakfast. He went back upstairs, gathered some clothes, and went to an unoccupied bathroom to take a shower.
* * * * *
Fifteen minutes later, Curt returned downstairs, dressed and ready to go. His hair was still wet, so he decided to shake it dry towards the others.
“Hey! We’re trying to eat here, Shaggy,” Alex said as he grabbed another plate of pancakes. “Where’s Kate?”
“She’s not down yet?”
Alex shoved another pancake in his mouth, said, “Mwrope,” and shook his head.
“Try that again without the food.”
“Have some eggs,” Michael offered as he lifted the plate and passed it towards Curt. He welcomed the invitation and took the plate away from James as it approached him.
Curt said, “A good meal to start the day. Eggs and bacon, a good full pipe, my garden at twilight. . . cakes.”
“So, what is this game about?” Michael asked.
No one answered the question and just looked at each other. Then they all stared at Curt, and he dropped his fork, “What? I don’t know what the game’s about. That is, other than having a Steampunk horror setting. ‘Sides, Ken spoke to Tim about his character too. He should know about the game.” Then the stares of the curious shifted from Curtis to Kenneth.
He did his best William Shatner imitation, placed his hands before him, and said, “I — don’t — know a thing about the game; just — my — character!”
“Spill your guts,” Alex said.
“Yeah, tell us what you know,” Curt insisted.
“What about your little girlie friend?” Ken reminded Curt.
“What about her?”
“She must know Timothy from somewhere. She must have told you something.”
“Actually, I never spoke to her about Tim other than when we were making her character.”
“So, why don’t we ask her?” James asked as he reclined into the easy chair across the room.
“Why do you guys have to have all the answers? Is there really a need for this witch hunt?” Anne questioned as she placed the last pan in the sink. “And why am I cleaning up your mess?”
“Because you’re soooo sweet,” James answered. Anne then pulled a plastic cup that dripped with suds from the sink and threw it at James.
Everyone stopped the questioning and continued to eat breakfast. When they had finished eating, they all cleaned their share of the dishes. Having an overabundance of guilt that wallowed in the pit of his stomach after Anne’s comments, Curt dried them, also.
As soon as all the dishes were put away, Curt went upstairs to check on Kathryn. As he approached the door, he heard muffled sobs from behind it. He opened the door and found Kathryn lying on the bed, crying into her hands. “Kath, are you OK?”
When he approached her, the sobs grew louder. “They want to know about Timothy.”
He placed his arms gently on her shoulders. “Uh. . . Yeah, so?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Oooo-kay.” He hugged her tightly and comforted her with a soothing whisper. She calmed down and composed herself. “If you want, I can get you some breakfast and bring it up here.”
“That is fine. I’m not hungry anyway.”
“Are you up to coming to Tim’s with us?”
“Yes, I’ll be fine.” The two sat on Anne’s bed for a few minutes. Kathryn embraced Curt as if he were her lifeline until interrupted by a knock on the door. She quickly released him and put her arms to her sides.
He looked into her reddened eyes, and she nodded. “Come in,” he shouted.
“Is everyone decent?” Alex joked as he opened the door. Curt stared at him intently with steel eyes that then darted toward Kathryn. “Is everything all right?” he asked as he stared back at Curt with muddy, brown-water-colored eyes.
“Everything is fine,” Kate said as she straightened her clothing and wiped her eyes. She got off the bed and gathered her items, leaving the two boys in the room. They just looked at each other dumbfoundedly as she walked out the door.
“What’s her deal?” Alex asked.
“A king, queen, knight, and knave of swords with an ace up her sleeve.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“She knows something but isn’t telling. I don’t want to force it out of her.” He lowered his head and said, “Al, I think I’m in l—”
Anne screamed, “Are you guys ready to go? Alex, we sent you up there to get Curt down. Come on!”
Alex grabbed Curt by the shoulders and demanded, “What did you say?”
He wiped his face and sniffled, “Nothing. Let’s go. We’re late.” Alex released his grip, and Curt went to gather his belongings. He threw them into his backpack and duffel bag, slung his pack over his shoulder, and grabbed the bag. They headed downstairs to load everything into the cars and headed to Timothy’s.
* * * * *
The drive to Timothy’s was a quiet and swift one. Those who woke early began to fall asleep again, and the ones who were awake didn’t have anything to say.
They arrived before nine and parked the cars in the driveway next to Tim’s. This time, the gray caravan was not there. When James stepped out of the vehicle, he looked up at the huge house that was before him. “Nice place. I wonder what its market value is.”
As they approached the door, each looked at another aspect the others missed and pointed it out. Curt grabbed the knocker and slammed it against the plate on the door. It made enough noise to wake the dragon from the knocker.
There was no answer. The others continued to comment on the different parts of the house, and Curt just looked at the dragon’s face. The eyes, composed of a ruddy stone that blended with the wood of the door, got redder the closer he looked at them until they glowed.
“Wha. . ?” He jumped as Kathryn tapped him on the shoulder.
“Miss me?” she asked.
“You were gone?” she slapped him on the arm.
He tried the knocker again. This time, he used more force. The light in the eyes flickered and went out.
At 8:58 a.m., David pulled up to the driveway in his second-hand Rabbit. The car was the off-gray of primer; except for the spots of yellow, red, and purple that were on the hood used as a test. Bumper stickers coated the back of the car with such death metal groups like Mortuary, Demise, and Karloff. Parked next to Curtis’ car, out stepped a tall, athletic, older teen who towered over the diminutive Rabbit. Everyone who knew him wondered how he could fit into a car that was half his size. It definitely was not the car thought to suit the “metal-head” that he was with his waist-length, straight, dirty blond hair, chains of varying lengths, and black Freud tee-shirt. Although his face appeared calm and gentle, he displayed no emotions as he slammed the door with his massive arms, and the rearview mirror and skeleton that hung from it fell.
At exactly nine o’clock, the double doors flew inward of their own power. Timothy was not at the entrance. Because he was right at the door as it opened, Curt peeked in. “Trick or treat?”
From the back of the hall, a voice emanated, “Enter freely of your own will.” They filed in at the request of the voice. Vinny had not arrived yet.
At the end of the hall, Timothy greeted them, “For those of you who I have not had the pleasure of meeting or speaking to until now, I am Timothy Molner, and I am at your service.” He walked to each of the players and shook their hands. When he came to Anne, he bowed before her, took her hand in his, and kissed the back of her palm. He repeated the action when he approached Kathryn. “I will be your game master for the campaign you are about to embark on. Would you care to bring your bags inside?”
David tapped Michael on the shoulder and asked, “Who does this guy think he is?”
“He kind of reminds me of Sting when he was a teacher,” said Curt as he stopped in the middle of the hall to let the others pass him. “Dave, have you heard from Vinny?”
“No. He’s usually late. I wouldn’t worry.”
Timothy answered Curtis’ question, “Actually, Curtis, he will not be arriving until later. I finished his character a few weeks ago, and he did not feel it necessary to be here while yours were created.” Timothy stood before the others, “Is there any preference on where you would like to stay?” No one responded because they didn’t know what to expect. He showed them where their respective rooms would be. They all went outside to gather their possessions for the night, and with the help of Tim, they put them into their assigned rooms.
David asked, “Why do I feel like I’m at Camp Pain?”
“Camp Pain?” Anne questioned.
“I think that’s an old Indian name for ‘geeks that gather for long periods of time,’” he said as he tossed his gear into the far side of his room.
They all gathered in the living room after situating themselves in their temporary domiciles. When everyone sat and calmed down, Timothy started to explain the characters. “I want everyone to review the choices available in the books furnished. Once you have an idea, tell me about it. I will work on your statistics based on the characters that you choose. Are there any questions?”
“Yeah. Can I be a knight?” David asked. “They have so many advantages.”
“Actually, the knight that is used in this game has far fewer advantages than you may be accustomed to. Here,” he handed David a sheet with the details of the knights and the different orders that he would allow.
“I don’t like this. I confess. . . I never wanted to be a knight anyway. I . . . I always wanted to be a . . . a jester. Bouncing from court to court while doing cartwheels and juggling. The dagger, the pin, the motley coat, and the impressive bauble.” He started humming to himself. “The ringing of bells! The flopping of eared hoods! With my best joke to be told. . . Oh, I’m a jester, and I’mmmm–”
Curt punched David in the arm. “Hey, that’s my line.”
Timothy said, “I will allow you to be a jester now that I have seen you in action. I do not think that you will have a problem playing one.”
“Two points to Hamilton.” He jumped up, “The crowd goes wild,” and bowed to an unseen audience. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
“I hope you are quite finished for now, David. If you would follow me. . .” Timothy led David into the den to complete his character.
Not having anything to do, Curt reclined in Kathryn’s lap and tried to go to sleep. She read a chapter on elves in a player’s manual while he dozed on her. Alex tapped Ken on the shoulder and pointed them out. He, in turn, tapped James and James, Michael. The room grew silent as they stared at the two. When Kathryn looked up after a few minutes, everyone stared at Curt on her lap. She looked down, saw that he was lying there, and propelled him off with a tilt of her pelvis to knock him to the ground. He stayed there until David returned rather than get thrown again.
* * * * *
When David returned, the others conferred with Timothy one at a time to decide what type of characters they would play. Timothy discussed their character’s motivations and what they felt towards the others. Then, they rolled their forte scores. All the deliberation about the characters took around an hour each. When the final person finished, it was after five.
Timothy excused everyone, asking to be left alone for two hours while he did last-minute calculations and computations. They went to the cars and sat while they conferred about where they would go to occupy their time.
After some argument, they decided to go to the Underground to eat, discuss their characters, and, for Alex, to see Gloria.
Upon entering the club, Alex asked if Gloria could serve them. John informed him, to Alex’s despondency, that she was not working again until Monday.
“So, do you guys want to stay here or go somewhere else?” Curt asked in reaction to Alex’s disappointment.
“We’re here already. Let sit down.” With Ken’s comment, the others walked over to their regular table, which soon became filled with more bodies than earlier that morning. On the way, Michael asked John who was playing tonight. He told him Wieland, a band that took their name from the book by Charles Brockden Brown. They ordered their meals, and the conversation began to flow like beer from the tap.
“Now that we’ve all created characters, isn’t anyone going to tell me what theirs is like?” Curt inquired.
Alex knew that the wait and lack of knowledge pained Curt. “No, we don’t think that it is fair that we discuss our character’s traits with each other because it takes the mystery out of the game.”
“What?” Curt’s eyebrows closed together over his nose. He looked determined, almost ready to kill. “Let me get this straight. You guys want to hold back information about your characters. You want to keep it all a secret, not only from me but from each other. You, Alex, the same one that brags about how strong all your characters are and how they can kick so-and-so’s ass left and right. You, Ken, the same person that always goes on about all the great spells that your characters can cast. You, Dave, the same person that. . . well, you never play the same thing, and you don’t brag about it either. But, Jim, you always play thieves, and you. . . well, you don’t ever mention a thing about your characters either. But, the point is. . .” He paused for a moment to come up with another person to dissect. The others just looked at him in amazement. The whole room grew quiet.
“The point is?” Alex asked to keep him going.
“The point is. . . Damn it, I don’t have a point. Okay, you guys caught me again with nothing to back myself up with. Alright? Is that what you wanted to hear?” No one said a word. “Well, is it?”
“Actually, we were just kidding. We were going to tell you everything.” Alex didn’t want to hurt Curt. To him, it was just a joke. He didn’t know that Curt would take it as far as he did.
“Would someone take the beer away from him?” Shaun asked. “I think he’s had too much.”
Curt shook from the adrenaline that coursed through him. Alex offered him water. “Hey, man. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get you rattled.”
“I’ll be fine; just leave me alone.”
“Oooo. Big man wants to be left alone,” James laughed.
“Hey, that’s my friend there, James. You want to make a deal about it?” Alex looked at him determinedly and cracked his knuckles.
“I didn’t think so.”
Kathryn tried to console Curt by inching closer to him. She placed her hand on his, and he, in turn, slapped it away. “Leave me alone. I don’t want your pity.”
Just then, the band quit for a break. Carwin, the lead singer, approached the table. Although a slender, attractive woman of twenty, she tended to wear too much blush, mascara, and leather while on stage. Consequently, it covered her natural beauty and made her look ten years old. Alex thought Carwin was going to comment on their commotion. Instead, she tapped Shaun on the shoulder and whispered in his ear. He nodded twice and left with her as she walked off.
“Where are you going?” David asked as if her invitation were his instead of wrongly given to Shaun.
Shaun waved David off with his left hand. “Later.”
Alex watched as the two went in back.
“What do you think she wanted with him?”
David answered, “Whatever it is, mine’s better.”
Anne suggested, “Maybe they want him to play.”
“Why would they want that?” mocked David.
“Don’t you remember when he played in high school?” Anne forgot that he did not know them at that point. “You wouldn’t. That was two years before you met us.”
“That means I wouldn’t know his work? His stuff’s too mellow anyway.”
“He is a good guitarist. That time he played for the graduation party was great,” Alex commented with great admiration. “Unfortunately, I found out that most of those songs were covers.”
“But the ones that were his, those were excellent.” Curt returned to the conversation momentarily, only to slump back into the corner again.
“He has the soul of a poet,” Anne said in awe.
“And the. . .the belly of a hippo,” David added.
After five minutes, Shaun returned on stage with members of Wieland, the guitarist and drummer from Zombie Sacrifice, and Childe Roland. They picked up their instruments. Shaun plucked a custom-made electric, blue Gibson SG and began. They started with a jazz interpretation of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. They moved through music history, reinterpreting and mixing styles. When they reached the modern era, they broke into a freestyle jam and played melodies. Shaun finished playing with a loud solo piece on the SG, and the small crowd applauded their approval.
As it turned out, the food showed up, ignored, and cooled while the band played.
The group quickly ate their meal and headed back to Timothy’s.
* * * * *
Arriving at Timothy’s house at the designated time, they entered and headed toward the “gaming room.”
Along the way, conversation started again.
David questioned in disbelief, “What’s the deal? He’s got a ‘game room.’”
“The proper name is ‘Gaming Room,’ David. I am sure that if you give it a chance, you might enjoy it.”
“Too weird,” commented Michael.
“The main difference between a game room and a gaming room is that a game room can have any type of game in it. Whereas, I have tailored this particular room to be fully functional for the purposes of role-playing only.” They came to the end of the long corridor and stopped at the double doors that were in front of them. “Before I open these doors,” Timothy stood with his back to the doors and held the golden handles tightly, “I want to know if there are any objections to what you are about to embark.”
They looked at each other for a few moments. “I see there are no objections.”
“Wait!” Curt exclaimed. “No one is objecting because nobody knows what they’re agreeing to.”
“Is this true?”
Most of them nodded in agreement. Kenneth’s head remained motionless, and Kathryn moved closer to Curtis.
“What is the game about? What are we doing? Why do we have to be so secretive?” Curtis’ barrage of questions poured forth as if a damn had broken. He wanted the answers for so long that it did not matter to him that this might present problems that he never considered.
“We are creating a mood, Curtis. This will help with the playability of your characters. I will explain all of this in the ‘Land Beyond this Door,’ but first, I must have the consent and agreement of each one of you. Although this is only a game. . . Sorry, David, so this does not confuse the issue. . . In a gaming experience, there are some situations that will feel quite real. So real, in fact, that you might even believe that you were experiencing these instances firsthand.
“I think I should point something out to you before we go any further so I can say that I did give you the choice. This will not be a Steampunk campaign. It will actually be a Victorian-based fantasy session. Now, are there any objections?” Again, the group stood in silence. “If that is the case. . .” Timothy unlatched the doors and pushed them open. A dim flicker of light crawled across the ceiling from the back of the room, almost forty feet away, towards the group to banish the darkness. As the light inched over the passing areas, more came on, lighting computers and tables all around the interior. This could have been a scene from the next world war, run by computers and not human beings, but instead, it was only a game. In the center was a sister table to the one in the den; only this one was five times the size. Ten chairs faced the back wall, five to a side, with a small stack of papers place-matting the area in front of them; several writing implements of varying sizes and uses; two pouches; four books; a partition of paper; a computer monitor; and a golden nameplate each. At the head of the table was a larger chair that faced the others. It, too, had all the weapons of gaming laid before it.
When the light finally reached the doors, a breeze blew outward to carry the smell of ozone and stagnation along the corridor. Timothy’s voice covered the sound of a low hum that emanated from the technological workings, “Let the gaming begin. . .” After his voice trailed, a low organ faintly played in the background that covered the sound of the hum from earlier. Timothy walked to the left side of the doors and, with a wave, invited the others into the room. “Before you enter, I need your consent. David?”
“Yeah, I guess,” he pronounced solemnly.
“If adventure awaits, lead me on,” and he bounded into the room.
He lifted his fist, “If you call me that—” Curt interrupted him with a loud slap to the back of his head, knocking the cap from his skull. “OK,” he bent down to get his hat and entered the room.
She asked, “Curt?”
“I’m following you.” They two walked in side by side and sat next to each other.
“I need the beak. I’m in.”
“I’ve never played before.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m sure that, if what I’ve been told is true, you will have no difficulties adjusting quickly to the environment.”
They all took their seats while Timothy closed the doors behind them with a resounding, hollow thud and a clearly audible clink.
* * * * *
The door closed behind them, and the lights dimmed slightly. The players fiddled with the tools in front of them, each playing and showing another piece to their neighbor.
“Look at this screen, James. It has my character’s name and picture on it. Isn’t that cool?”
“You think that’s cool, check this.” James pushed a switch on the side of the table. Soft grinding emanated from the spot in front of James. A formerly unseen panel slid away from the table, and a keyboard, set of gloves, and pair of glasses forced themselves from their rest.
“Put those away!” Timothy shouted. “You’ll need those later, but not at the moment. I will instruct you all about each of the items before you.”
“You will notice a small stack of papers place-matting the area before you. These are the character’s data sheets and scrap paper for whatever use you may need. You’ll also notice a few parchment sheets that have maps on them. These are from the knowledge base that your characters have.
“Next, you’ll notice several writing implements of varying sizes. The pens are for dealing with the permanent changes that will be in the computer itself. The pencils for tracking minor changes that will alter often. The others, makers and such, will be used later. That should be of no concern now.”
“This guy is a detail freak. He makes Curt look disorganized,” Alex whispered to James.
Timothy eyed Alex and the rest of the room with indifference and continued, “The two pouches are filled with dice and a representation of money. There may be gems, coins, or a mixture, depending upon what your characters will be using. This will increase and decrease as your character’s monetary supply does.
“The four books are character histories. One book is a detailed listing of all the characters’ opinions of each other from the perspective of your character. Another book is about the events that have molded your characters to act as they currently do. The third book is full of statistics, character reference information, and any other specifics that they might need to know that you would otherwise not know. Finally, the last book is blank, and you will be filling in that information as we proceed. You should map, take notes, and track the lives of your characters.
“The partition of paper in front of you is a condensed form of statistics that you might need for quick reference. They are, like all else before you, customized and should not be used by any other player.
“The computer monitor will show you scenes and information. This might be the same as that of the person next to you, or it might be specifically for you. You should pay attention to it because most of your knowledge will come from there.
“Finally, a golden nameplate, which will help alleviate confusion as to who sits where and when. It will also help each of you to recall who the characters are that you and your fellow players will be.
“As James discovered, there are also some experimental pieces of equipment. You might have heard of Enhanced Activated Sensory Thought (aka virtual reality). They’re experimenting with similar forms of equipment at the college, but these are amplified versions. I made some minor adjustments to them, and, thereby, they are more sensitive.
“The keyboard will assist with the input of information that you might want to feed the artificial intelligence. The system has a name that I will tell you in the future, but I would like to see how the first session fares before revealing that information. There really will not be much use for the keyboard because this system has the capability to process verbal commands. The only real reason I see for its use is to pass notes to myself or the other players without another players’ knowledge.
“Most of the commands will be input through, as I mentioned, the verbal commands, which will be accessed through the microphones located on the eyepieces before you. At the same time, your physical movements will be replicated and converted by way of the set of gloves. These will be forming fitting on our next session, and when we return from our break and start, the computer will calculate the information as you try them.”