“Whatcha reading, Jackson?”
Ben’s annoying habit of interrupting, intruding on my implied cone of silence that descends whenever I pick up a book, invokes thoughts of slow, painful, murderous actions. Books are my shield, my defense against the social media crap, and other societal noises if only for a small time-slice. It’s partially effective when it comes to my roommate—actually, not effective at all, until his ADD kicks in. Here Ben, look at this sparkly thing.
“It’s Reginald’s Revenge, book twelve of Reginald’s Quests.” While I hoped that would be the end, from experience, I knew it wouldn’t.
“So, what’s it about?”
“This book or the series?” As the last rising inflection escaped my lips, I regretted it.
“Umm … Well, the series, I guess.”
Crap! He does this to me as if it’s a needful reaction to seeing pulp paper in his sightline. Why, I have no idea. I’ve never seen him read anything more complicated than a box of cereal while he goose-chews his morning slurry. To make this quick, I gathered my thoughts, preparing my verbal Cliff Notes.
“Reginald is a warrior and seeker. He’s assigned dangerous quests, usually involving dragons, flaming swords, warlords and sorcerers … That sort of thing.”
“Yes, there are female characters.”
“I bet they’re all young, hot, and horny. Like a video game. Am I right? I bet I’m right.”
“NO! Nothing like video games. The stories have depth, organic structure, emotive characters, literary beats.”
Ben’s eyes glazed over, then looked away. Ha! My last sentence has slain the dragon, punctured the mist—he’s lost interest. Closing out the noise of his morning routine, I returned to my own quest in search of a few hours reading—it was my work-at-home day. I waited another thirty minutes before quiet resumes when Ben left. I’m a bit fuzzy on what employs him. He changes jobs as often as … well, you get it. I returned to my reading.
At forest’s edge, Reginald cast a wary eye across the glade, searching for the strange, light sounds of hammering—steel on steel. The clearing was empty, yet the sound persisted. Be there magic here, he wondered? This quest had taken him further north than he’d ever traveled. By experience, he was reluctant to discount the bane warnings the barkeeper at the last tavern had pressed upon him. Reaching back, Reginald made to soothe and steady Fortnight, his steed.
Knock, knock, knock.
What now? I bet Ben forgot something … like his keys. His brain had been left elsewhere long ago. If I wasn’t so new in my post-college profession, I wouldn’t need to share living expenses—talk about a wishful fantasy.
Opening the door, expecting Ben, a neighbor, or an early Amazon delivery, I was instead confronted by some nut. A cosplayer dressed like Reginald or at least dressed similarly to the book cover artwork, complete with jerkin, shoulder brace, buckler, and thong-laced journey boots. Not that I swing that way, but he did have a handsome, roguish look about him, though his hair and beard would much improve by a good shampooing. And he STANK. A by-god barnyard smell wafted through the doorway.
“Listen, I don’t know who you are, but I don’t want you or whatever you’re selling darkening my door. Goodbye.”
“Dear gentle soul. I am Reginald and have been sent here at great speed to complete my quest.” Removing a small, filthy slip of paper from his tunic, limp from the dampness of his sweat, reading, he asked, “Is this not the domain of Jackson, noted wizard, 1574 G, Webster Road, Clarion, Ohio?”
“Okay, buddy. You got the right address, but I’m no wizard, and you are certainly not Reginald. I know the difference between reality and fiction, so—”
“Question me! Bind me an opportunity to prove myself is all I ask, sir.”
This was both irritating and a challenge. Okay, I’ll put this usurper, this imposter in his place with some trivia.
“How many friends accompanied you in Reginald’s River Quest?”
“Ha! A trick question. I had no friends on that quest, but was accompanied by the Prisoner of Xandor, a snarly varlet.”
“What’s Princes Denuda’s middle name?
“The fairies’ tree?”
On it went. This guy was well-rehearsed … Too well. Nobody I know has the wherewithal or imagination to construct this, my personal episode of Punk’d. Accountants don’t generate that much enthusiasm. It became MY personal quest to trip him up. Against all good judgment, I let him in the apartment.
Eyes darting, Reginald exclaimed, “My Lord! You must be a rich and powerful potentate to afford such opulence. How many maidens do you employ to keep your fief so clean? Your stables must be downwind; I neither hear nor smell your covey of steeds. And your kitchens must be well away too, as I sense no heat nor noise from those.”
Okay, I’ll play. “My steed is parked in the garage, and uh … umm … yeah, maidens pass through here quite regularly.” At least Ben’s maidens did, though I never understood the attraction he had. His being such a slob, I suspect at least one aspect was the availability of recreational drugs.
Pointing, Reginald proclaimed, “Fruit! You have fruit from the four corners, imported and fresh. Oh, what an expense it must be!”
I’ve never seen anyone get so excited about a bowl of fruit from Publix before. Ben uses it on his cereal. Personally, I don’t touch the stuff.
“Help yourself, have an apple.”
He palmed a shiny, red-ripe MacIntosh, exposing his perfect teeth from incisors to premolars—no fillings. As I prepared for the attendant crisp-crunch, he hesitated, lowering the apple, raising his other hand. Oh, crap. I knew that meant trouble. The gold ring circumscribing his left index finger glowed a pale blue. Oh, god. I hope it doesn’t turn red, please don’t turn red. I don’t have a sword to fend off any of the several types of goblins which will undoubtedly issue forth. Pointing to a closet, he bellowed, “They are HERE!” My ring senses them!”
The closet? He was going to be sorely disappointed. There’s nothing in that closet but coats and forgotten junk. “Just what is it you, ah … seek?” I almost called him Great Seeker, but that would have been too over the top. I hadn’t been sucked in that deep yet—only up to my elbows.
“I seek the Orb of Answers and the Plank of Prophecy!”
Since I was his host and closest, it was my duty to open the closet. Standing back, I watched his face as the door swung open, startled by his look of amazement. That expression made me slightly afraid to look inside, though I did. Nope, nothing that didn’t belong, nothing missing. I’ve got to get rid of this guy.
Reginald strode purposefully to the collection of junk, old shoes, umbrellas, and raincoats, reaching upward to the shelf, retrieving his treasures: a Magic 8 Ball and a Ouija board. Those must be Ben’s. Maybe he uses them as seducing inducements during his romantic interludes. If he does, I’ll bet the 8 Ball is rigged to give the answers he wants—he never brings any Ph.D. candidates home.
“You’re welcome to them. And here, take these, they’re the, uh, Dice of Damocles.” I included the shaker cup with the faceted dice from Ben’s Dungeons and Dragons game set. He shouldn’t leave them lying about. I surely wasn’t going to give him my dice from Magic the Gathering. Now that is a thinking man’s game.
Stashing his new-found keepsakes, Reginald moved in closer, conspiring, whispering, “You have proved to be a great conjurer. Please consider, dear sir, accompanying me further. Adventures abound, and glory awaits!”
Of course, I declined; I’m not stupid. A guy like me would be impaled before the first chapter was through. I’d rather wrestle with spreadsheets.