The Choice of Three: Roll Your Initiative

Continued from Peregrine Arc’s writing prompt….

Although a heavy, musty dust chokes the corners and edges of every room in the derelict house; the silver pocket watch, gold candelabra, and string of pearls upon the dresser appear untouched. I read the note again:

You who so boldly enter this realm, lay down your tools and be away from this hell. 

But should you still keep Adam’s vain, stay awhile and forego your shame.

An object of three you see with your mortal eyes. Which one shall be your coveted prize?

My senses feel heightened as my anxiety levels rise. Who left this note? These objects? Most importantly, I wonder at who I chased. What I chased. Where did he go?

Was there a ‘someone’ at all?

Despite my worries, I can’t help but feel intrigued by the message and pristine items before me. I read the words for a third time and wonder what they mean. “Lay down (my) tools?” “This hell?” That sounds serious. What is “Adam’s vain?”

My imagination, though tickled, reverts back to teenage years spent tucked in Johnny Platt’s musty basement. The dim lamp we plugged into about three extension cords shone pewter figurine shadows across our wet-erase marker map.

“Roll your initiative,” Johnny’s friend, Dwight, said with glee. We all knew what that meant: we’d stirred up trouble, and we had to fight it.

After a terrible battle of 3,872 orcs; Paladin, Ranger, Fighter, and Thief emerged victorious. Our Mage, on the other hand, succumbed to a curse inflicted in the last encounter; Mike was busily rolling up another character as Dwight listed our prizes.

“There’re 4 healing potions, 500 gold, a jeweled dagger, and a ring.” The Dungeon Master’s eyes glittered as much as the dagger surely did.

“Are they magic?” Kevin, the thief, always wanted to know.

Dwight shrugged. “Run a check.”

Johnny gave him a look. “We can’t. Mike’s dead.”

“I know!” Kevin said. “I’ll try them out.” Addressing Dwight, he declared, “My character examines the dagger.”

As per usual, Dwight rolled a die behind his book. His face was impassive. “It looks expensive.”

“All right; I’ll keep it.” As I and the others in our group began protesting, Kevin waved a hand. “I’m gonna split the costs once I sell it!” We settled down, ever wary of the dodgy thief. “Now,” he continued, “I’m going to put on the ring.”

Another masked roll from the DM clattered on the table. He cleared his throat and we could hear the excited tone Dwight always had trouble hiding when something unexpected happened in the campaign. Something that was usually the result of a stupid decision. We were doomed. “You begin to feel rather strange… like the world has never made sense and now you see clearly. You eye each of your party members jealously; but, never fear -you’ll get what’s yours once they’re asleep….”

“Crap, man!” I said.

“What?” Kevin asked in a panic.

“Change your alignment on your sheet,” Dwight grinned. He stroked his Machiavellian chin. “You’re now Chaotic Evil…”

A small noise from a corner brings my attention back to the present. I turn but only see shadows. Perhaps a section of flooring gave way there, as well. Who knows how many panels I broke in my mad rush to this strange, spooky nursery?

As my eyes pass over the note and the items it references, my fingers twitch a bit.

Kevin ended up murdering everyone but the Paladin in our group. Johnny only survived by the divine influence of his deity, thus finishing off the little thief and his ring in the ensuing Blessing.

My fingers quiet. No, not worth it. If there’s one thing D&D taught me, it was to never take chances with a strange object.

I cast my gaze around the room as I back out of it, even stealing glances over my shoulders. I’ve seen enough scary movies to know that one ought to never not look a certain direction. That’s how you end up getting stuffed in a bathtub by a dark, long-haired ex-lover of your husband.

My return to the porch is less hasty than my leaving of it, particularly since I’d left random, haphazard holes in the hallways and had to dodge them. I look at one in passing but only see swirling, pitch-dark dust. I wonder how far I might have fallen if I’d broken through.

Not soon enough, I regain the porch and my lunch. The rain is still falling, though not in torrents. I won’t be able to finish mowing with wet grass. “Reschedule, it is,” I tell the vacant property. Stooping, I pack up my lunch and self and rise and head down the creaking porch steps. I pass the ancient lawn mower, still parked near the hawthorn bush. I push it into the bush; perhaps that will stave off some rust.

As I near my car the rain slackens and a waterlogged sun peeks out. I can’t help but look back. I see the old, old house; yellow, peeling paint muted in the recent showers. Just before I get into the driver’s seat, I catch a movement from an upstairs window.

I look back, heart racing a mile a minute, but there’s nothing. It’s only a gold candelabra, glinting in the new light.

rikki-austin-1146007-unsplash.jpg

Photo Credit:
Rikki Austin

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirty-Seven

Rob and Jakob pushed open the door in their usual chatty silence to find a truly noisy scene in their living room. Wil and her mother were trying to stop laughing, which also meant Cynthia was coughing in-between chuckles.

They both looked up and noticed the solemn men about the same time. Wil suppressed a rising giggle, her eyes still sparkling and her cheeks flushed. Cynthia finally calmed her breathing, but her happy features looked ready to burst in coughing chortles again.

Rob and Jakob looked between Wil and her mother. Their wintry seriousness melted into relaxed smiles. Happiness had not dawned in the Winters household for a long time.

“So?” Jakob asked, dropping his backpack on his chair. “What’s so funny?” He looked at them in his usual slumped stance, with raised eyebrows.

Rob clumped over to set his things down and wash his hands before coming to the couch.

“Well,” Cynthia began, as she sat up to make room for her husband to sit, “Wil was just telling me about her day.” She was good at keeping secrets, and caught Wil’s eye to be certain Wil wasn’t bothered by what she was saying.

Wil smiled gratefully at her mother. She didn’t mind them knowing, but guessed they wouldn’t be as amused as she and Cynthia had been.

“I got a secret note to solve, and we were trying all kinds of ideas to break the puzzle,” Wil said. She watched their expressions. Her mother looked at her encouragingly, her father looked mildly surprised, and Jakob kept his questioning face.

Wil smiled, then giggled a bit. “We realized the text was just backwards! Mom figured it out, then we read it in her makeup mirror.”

The men didn’t laugh.

“You see,” Cynthia explained, “We thought it was so much harder, then the solution was so simple!” She looked at Rob, who couldn’t help returning her beautiful smile.

He forced a believable chuckle. “Oh,” he said. “That is funny.” He looked over the couch at Jakob.

Jakob rolled his eyes, gave Wil a look and a sigh, then walked down the hall to his room.

Rob cleared his throat. “So,” he said. Wil and his wife turned to look at him. He cleared his throat again. “So, what did the note say?”

“Oh.” Wil said. She looked around her, located and grabbed the note and mirror, then gave them to her father.

“Special invitation to join our secret society,” he slowly read. He looked up at Wil, noting her excited expression. He sighed and smiled slightly at his favorite daughter’s moods, then continued reading, “If you accept, meet at the blue table at lunchtime tomorrow.”

 

Continued from Thirty-Six.
Keep reading to Thirty-Eight.

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirty-Six

The minivan arrived home to its oil-stained parking stall, despite the daily effort its owner made to prevent that. Various teenagers piled out gratefully. Wil stood for a minute after exiting, distractedly watching her neighbor’s backside following the rest of Mrs. Crandall’s ample body.

Reagan waved a bit at Wil, then headed to the street corner after Jorge. They lived in a townhouse cluster a block away. The movement thankfully broke Wil’s concentration, and she turned and rushed to her own building.

“Mom?!” She asked anxiously, the instant she pushed into their apartment after unlocking it. She shut the door, locked it, dropped her backpack, and headed to the couch.

“Hi, Wil,” her mother said sleepily. She looked up at Wil. Her mouth spoke the simple greeting; but Cynthia’s blue eyes spoke of love, happiness, long-suffering, and exhaustion. Wil remembered that her mother was often tired after not sleeping at the hospital.

Cynthia stretched carefully, yawning. The IV tube was drawn across the couch and back as it trailed behind her stretching arm. “I’m sorry, Wil.” Her eyes now added apologetic to their lexicon. “I kept my appointment for CPT today. It may have been a bit too much.”

“It’s okay, Mom.” Wil sat down by the couch on her knees and looked happily into her mother’s drained face. “I just wanted to see you, but I can let you rest.”

Cynthia yawned again, and coughed a bit. “No, Sweetheart. I’ve been waiting all day to hear you tell me about your day.” She smiled.

Wil waited an entire moment before eagerly bursting. “Yesterday, I got a secret note!”

Her mother’s eyebrows rose and she gasped in excitement. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, this brought on a coughing fit. Wil bit her lip and watched her mother with concern till it subsided.

“How neat,” Cynthia said faintly. She cleared her throat gently and said, more strongly, “What kind of note? From who?”

Trying not to startle her mother again, Wil told her about finding and solving each note. She excitedly described being a spy and a fighter pilot, but left off the part about falling asleep in class.

“And then, there was no one at the library. But, I was looking around, and a boy walked up and gave me this last note. He said his name was Derek.” She pulled the crumpled paper from her pocket and held it within her mother’s gaze.

Although Wil’s exuberance made her a hard-to-follow story-teller, Cynthia was a very appreciative audience. She loved Wil completely, and encouraged imaginative details.

“Do you want to show me the final message, or figure it out on your own?” She asked.

“Oh.” Wil said. She thought about it, then smiled. “I think it’s okay for you to help me,” she acquiesced.

She spread it on her legs to get the wrinkles out. Then, she brought over the nearby TV stand and laid the page out so they could both look at it.

Cynthia leaned over the note, her face next to Wil’s, mirroring her anxious curiosity.

 

Continued from Thirty-Five.
Keep reading to Thirty-Seven.

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirty-Four

The space around her undulated with excited preparations, but Wil sat on an island of stupor.

She felt completely indecisive in the face of probable conclusion. The X on the final fragment of a treasure map led right around the next clump of trees, and she was strangely unsure of unearthing what lay buried.

As people accidentally brushed past her desk or herself, a galvanizing thought finally sunk through: if she didn’t move, she’d be stuck alone with Mr. G.

So quickly that she actually finished before a few others; Wil gathered up her things, moved down the narrow aisle of desks, and edged open the heavy metal door into the chill afternoon outdoors.

Nature’s cool hand stroked Wil’s cheek, reminding some primal part of her what being alive truly felt like. Anxiety blew away. She felt strong, clear-minded, and brave.

She also remembered that she’d have to hurry, to meet her destiny and still have time to catch her ride.

Wil scarcely saw the stands of chattering or texting or zoning out teenagers. They were posts she had to walk around -as uninteresting and lifeless as the swimming salad utensil décor that occasionally interrupted the walls of the hallway she hurried down.

Wil made record time arriving at and emptying her locker. She headed toward the library, squinting ahead to see who might be waiting.

She saw no one standing.

Wil reached the doors, which were closed and locked. Their librarian strongly believed her day ended when the teenagers’ did. In practice, she left as soon as she could without the principal noticing.

Wil looked around for another paper scrap or a hidden agent. Nothing and no one presented themselves.

Looking agitatedly at the exiting masses, Wil’s eyes were drawn to one body heading across the crowds to her position. She felt her heart rate increase and anxiety return.

He was a boy. Wil thought she’d seen him in two of her classes. Had Mrs. T. been right?

He reached her. He smiled.

“Hi, I’m Derek,” he supplied in a voice-still-changing tone. “This is for you.” He held out a note with an edge that showed it had been torn from a notebook.

“Don’t worry,” he assured Wil. Her agitation of more clues conveyed itself as a panic on her face. “I’ll see you later.” He gave her another simple smile, then turned and walked away. He was swept with the crowds down the hall and out the doors.

This time, Wil was marooned for a shorter time. She pocketed the paper and ran to carpool.

 

Continued from Thirty-Three.
Keep reading to Thirty-Five.

Wilhelmina Winters: Twenty-Eight

Wilhelmina Winters, of Classroom 4, Central Junior High School, was first to say she was hardly unique; who would think that? She was least likely to be part of something unusual or secret, since her peers ignored her and others with sense.

Wil was a student at the school, which attempted to educate young teens. She was a small, slight youth with regular proportions, but rather large hazel eyes. Her father was not a tall man, but his eyes matched his only daughter’s and his build gave others a steady, dependable impression. They shared their family with Wil’s step-brother, Jakob, and mother, Cynthia -whom many thought the kindest woman around.

Wil and her family had the basic necessities, but they also had Goodbye, a time that stalked and shadowed their every move and interaction with others. They had other secrets too; what family doesn’t? Wil’s father’s second-greatest fear was that someone from the past might appear and take away the life he’d scrabbled together over the last fourteen years.

When Wil arrived at school that chill, nondescript day, she’d only had three scraps of paper to tell her that today might be different. Wil tried now to look inconspicuous as she kicked at the ugly carpet carefully under her desk. Dr. L. gestured and lectured as usual, while his class feigned attention.

No one seemed to see the fragment Wil was moving with her foot.

Halfway through the hour, Dr. L. put down his covalent bond model, picked up a stack of worksheets, and attempted to walk around the first row of desks without bumping into them but did, as he was distracted by his attempts to simultaneously pass out their assignment.

“Whoops!” Annoying Carl Hurn said to his neighbors, as they guffawed appreciatively.

When Wil turned an icy look at the immature group, she saw the first odd thing since the lunch area yesterday -another teenager in her class watching her closely. Wil was busy channeling irritation toward Carl and didn’t register the attention -then, her cheeks flushed and she tried to slyly look again. There were rows of disinterested, distracted youths looking bored or passing papers to each other but no one facing her way. Maybe she imagined it? Wil was obviously too tired to function normally. She rubbed at her eyes and yawned. A random student in another area caught her infectious action and stifled his own yawn. She scanned faces again as her own turn to hand papers down the row came. Everyone appeared normal -no, Carl was abnormal; he hadn’t even noticed his rudeness nor her reproach. Wil tried to rid herself of the itchy feeling of being watched. She picked up her chemistry assignment, most of her focus on trying to extract the answers from a brain that had failed to absorb the morning’s lecture.

At the end of class and between periods, science was forgotten and replaced by thoughts of a new secret note. As she wandered with the masses down the hall, Wil was absorbed in reading its contents. The message was a puzzle again. Wil was getting tired of these games -a straightforward attempt at meeting would be better. She guessed the sender found this method preferable. She scanned the paper and recognized its pattern to be a crossword of sorts. There were clues at the bottom. Wil was relieved to read that she knew some of the answers; why, everyone knew the popular song that clue took a line of lyrics from! It had played on the radio yesterday at carpool! Maybe the type of unique this person meant did not refer to seeking really intelligent persons -yes, he or she didn’t want geniuses. Feeling hopefully adequate, Wil looked forward to filling in the spaces as she headed to her next class.

 

Continued from Twenty-Seven.
Keep reading to Twenty-Nine.