Mom must still be at work. At least I don’t have to lie about the dirt covering my clothes.
Carl and his band of jerks beat me up again.
I unlock the door and step inside.
The bruises are tender, Carl is good at inflicting wounds where they don’t show. He learned it firsthand from his dad. At least that’s the school rumor.
Walking by the kitchen, I notice a package addressed to me.
Removing the brown paper wrapper reveals a book, a really old one from the looks of it, along with a note in my grandmother’s handwriting.
Hoping your school year is going well.
I was helping my friend Lilly clean out her attic the other day and we found this book. It was in a trunk her late husband had. She didn’t remember where he got it, but she forgets a lot these days. Anyway, the pictures reminded me of those games you used to play.
Hope you enjoy it!
Ps. We so loved camping with you last summer, can't wait to roasted marshmallows with you again!’
I take the book out of the packaging. This thing is heavy.
The cover is thick, aged leather with the corners bound in black metal and studs. There is a latch on one side, but thankfully no lock.
I open the cover and slide my finger over the yellowed pages, some of them frayed, the words look handwritten like a diary. As I thumb through, the illustrations are striking, beautifully detailed in pen and ink. The text style is ancient, kind of like a religious text, but older.
This is crazy, I could almost forget about my throbbing ribs, I was so excited. Where did this come from?
I grab a slice of cold pizza and take the book upstairs to my room. Story after story, it reads like a J R Tolkien novel, kingdoms of creatures and humans. The stories center on a warrior named Kreed. This guy is a force to be reckoned with.
Finally, drowsiness overtakes me.
“I wish I was a badass like this guy,” I mutter and fall asleep.
I wake to streams of sunshine pushing through an open window; birds are singing ... chest hair?
What the heck?
I get off the bed, much taller and apparently naked.
This is not my room, the walls are adorned with antlers and other trophies from some skilled hunter. I look into the only reflective surface I can find and see a beast of a man, with a beard, muscles, and well, I can’t really say what else.
This is crazy. I am having a complex psychotic fantasy my mind has fabricated to compensate for my horrible life. That has to be it, this is a coping mechanism.
Knock, knock, knock.
“Kreed? Are you well? You have slept like the dead,” a woman’s voice calls from outside the door, “Breakfast is on the table, the men are waiting,”
“I, I will be out momentarily,” I say frantically, looking for some pants or anything to cover myself.
Lying over the chair is a pair of leather pants, and a rough-cut burlap shirt, stitched with leather thread. Is everything here made of leather?”
Stepping outside the room onto a balcony, a great banquet hall spreads out before me, the smell of sweat and cooked meat hits me like a wall.
“Kreed!” a group of large, bearded men raise their cups to me. The table is covered with trays of roasted pig and casks of some kind of liquid.
This is breakfast?
Walking down to the main floor, the only chair available is at the head of the table; I guess that must be mine.
“Kreed, what is our plan today?” a red-haired man asks as I sit down.
“Plan?” I ask
“Mead and women have your bollocks rattled?” the man says with a giant grin.
The hall fills with the roar of laughter.
“Our plan to storm Stoneroot Castle,” the man continues, shoving meat into his bearded mouth.
“I, I am still forming that plan,” I have no clue what they are talking about, but that seems to satisfy them as they merrily devour more pork than I have ever seen a human consume.
I too eat a surprising amount of meat before feeling satisfied and then return to the room, not sure what I am going to do next.
Who are these people, and what is Stoneroot Castle?
I open the door to find a woman standing inside. She is stunning, with raven hair, steel-blue eyes, wearing a purple velvet dress. This is the first person here not in leather.
“U-Um, hello?” I stutter.
“Who are you?” she asks point-blank.
“What do you mean? I’m Kreed.” I'm a terrible liar.
“Did you read the book?” the woman asks, walking towards me, sliding her finger up my arm.
“I, well, OK, yes I did.” I reply, “I’m really Mason Spindle from New Jersey. but honestly, I don’t know how I got here.”
“It is the Orelia stone. It has unimaginable power, a real wizard would already rule the nine kingdoms," Her eyes light up like a kid with candy "but King Tremont is a minor wizard at best and uses it simply to trap his enemies in hell dimensions."
“Wait, are you saying Kreed took my place in Jersey?”
“Yes, and If I know Kreed, he has already conquered your land.” the woman says.
That’s not good. Right now my body is occupied by some crazed warrior, probably sitting in jail yelling for meat and mead. They are going to lock me away forever.
“Can you fix this?” I ask.
“I am Moria, the wizard of Torndale,” the woman replies “but even this is beyond my reach. The only way you can break the spell and return to your land is to do some selfless and heroic or …”
“Or what?” I ask.
"Or die trying,” the woman responds “both you and Kreed will perish.”
“Of course, nothing is ever easy.”
I sit with Moria, discussing the current state of things, Stoneroot Castle, King Tremont, the men at the breakfast table, I keep mental notes of all of this, like chess it is all about keeping track of the details, about looking forward to the next move, but I’ll admit, I am freaking out inside.
“Ok, so King Tremont has been forcefully taking land from the villagers, increasing his territories, Kreed, and the nomads have been conducting raids, but having little success. So the next plan is to just attack Stoneroot Castle head-on? That is lunacy, the walls are 50 feet high and lined with archers.”
"I agree, I told Kreed that trying to storm Stoneroot would lead to great loss and utter defeat, but he is a stubborn man,” Moria replies.
“There has to be a better way.” I say, “Has anyone tried to find a weak point in the wall?” there has to be a crack, water duct, or a hole somewhere."
"The spies speak of a servants entrance." she replies
"I’ll find it.”
Who knew years of game strategy would actually come in handy.
Moria takes a small blue stone out of a satchel on her wrist.
“Take this, it will provide you with the armor of your choosing, hold the stone, conjure your protection, and try not to die Mason of New Jersey” then she kisses me on my cheek and leaves.
I could get used to this if it didn’t have the dying part.
This is a good plan, there is always a weakness in any defense, no wall is impenetrable, I will find it and be back before breakfast.
As the sun sets I stay low in the long grass around the castle, then I see it, a door just big enough for a servant to pass through. There is one guard. I easily knock him out. It feels good to be Kreed.
I slip in and make my way up into the castle. First through the dungeon, then we follow the servant’s stairwell up to the kitchen. Nobody even pays attention to me, I guess their loyalty isn’t ironclad, either that or ...
This is an ambush.
I turn to find my face connecting with an iron skillet.
Waking, I find my arms chained. Iron bars separate me from freedom. Even in Kreed’s body, that still hurt.
I desperately reach for the stone Moria gave me but it is tucked in my pocket just out of reach.
“Moria, I hope you can hear me.”
“Who is Moria?”
I look up to see a young woman in a flowing dress; her hair tied up behind a jewel-encrusted crown.
“What do you want?” I ask, having no clue who she is.
“Kreed, why do you treat me with so much disdain? Do I mean nothing to you?” the woman opens the cell door, stepping inside, she kisses me passionately.
Just as quickly, she steps back. Her expression is pure horror.
“Who are you?” she asks.
“How does every woman here know I’m not Kreed?” I ask.
“My name is Mason. I read a cursed book and ended up here.” I reply.
“So Kreed is in Hell?” her face turns white, placing her hand over her mouth.
“Well, New Jersey technically, but yeah. I’m here trying to set things right.”
“I'm so distraught.” she says ”Tomorrow I am to wed King Anders of the North, I was sure you came to rescue me from this dreadful union.”
“I promise I will do whatever it takes to fix all of this, I just need to be released from these chains.”
“I will come by later when the guards are drunk.” the woman says, and she leaves quietly.
My mind drifts to home. Mom must think I’m crazy, I’m probably expelled or in jail by now.
“Mason of New Jersey?” a slight voice wakes me from my thoughts, it is the woman from earlier, she unlocks my shackles.
“Come with me.” I say taking her hand “We can slip out through the servants' entrance and be beyond the castle walls tonight.“
“I cannot. I made a promise to my father to marry King Anders, I must fulfill my pledge.”
“Unless someone challenges King Anders for my hand. I secretly hoped it would be you.”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” I mutter.
OK, Plan B.
Wedding day. The city gathers in the cathedral for the ceremony.
From my hiding spot, I see King Anders; he is a slight man with long white hair and very fancy clothes.
My plan is to roll up on the wedding party, challenge the king, knock him out, marry the princess, and return to my body in New Jersey. Kreed can live out his days as a happily married man.
The music begins as the princess walks down the long aisle to meet King Anders at the podium.
The ceremony proceeds until that magical moment.
“Doth any man protest to the union of these two, speak now or forever hold your peace.” the priest says with no actual intention to wait.
It’s hero time!
“I do,” I yell, stepping out of the shadows. The crowd reels in shock, King Stoneroot stands and his knights advance until I utter
“I challenge King Anders for the hand of the fair princess Gwendolyn”.
King Stoneroot raises his hand, and the knights step back.
“I see, and King Anders, do you accept this challenge?”
King Anders turns and grins at me. It reminds me of Carl.
“Gladly,” he responds
Standing at one end of the courtyard, Anders stands at the other. This is it, I’m going home a hero.
I rush him, one punch and he will break. Suddenly his eyes glow and then crackle with energy, he raises his hands, whispers something and lightning strikes me sending me back 20 feet.
God, that hurt. Someone could have told me he was a wizard, that might have helped.
King Stoneroot stands, visibly angered.
“King Anders, you hide your true self?”
“King Stoneroot,” I call out, “Anders doesn’t want your daughter he wants the Orelia stone.”
Ander’s eyes light up and I am pounded by lightning again, I can barely stand my body is smoldering. Sorry Kreed for the damage.
“I am done with pretense,” King Anders says and lighting drops on the knights in the courtyard, they don’t recover so well.
The townsfolk run screaming.
Anders grabs Gwendolyn and moves towards her father, demanding the stone.
I need to do something; I have one last chance.
I grab the Moria stone and try to think of something bad-ass, something I can use to protect me from Anders assaults, something that can defeat him …
Keep your thoughts pure mason, what is your best defense.
Wait, what? Why would you let your mind go there? You are an idiot!
I try to grab the stone again but I am already too bloated and beyond my clothes’ ability to stretch, several moments later I’m a 20 foot, marshmallow man.
Anders turns looking very surprised, but still more lightning hits me, toasting my sweet marshmallow exterior, maybe this wasn’t a bad choice, I am a bad-ass squishy marshmallow warrior!
I grab Anders and slam him to the ground, he is tougher than I expected; he stands up, this time his eyes glow orange and he lights up like the human torch.
That’s not good, if I’m not careful this could be the biggest campfire roast anyone has ever seen, I back up. If I light up, I’ll burn, that wasn’t part of the plan.
Wait maybe it is!
“Hey Anders,” I tear off a chunk of marshmallow and throw it his way, hitting him, knocking him over.
This is awesome!
I keep throwing chunks until he has had enough, he throws flame at me like napalm my outside begins to burn. I advance towards him the flames get hotter and hotter as my exterior turns black and my insides melting. Thank god I can’t feel any of this for real.
I get closer and closer as the fire starts to form on my exterior, it hadn’t really occurred to me what would happen if I burn up in this form, but I am on a mission. I finally reach him, I’m starting to get really loose inside.
My legs are losing their strength, but I manage to grab him and at that moment, I swallow him, flames and all. I can feel him squirming around in my stomach, his flame can’t maintain inside my gooey center and he eventually stops fighting.
I tear a hole in my belly and all melted goo squishes out, along with an unconscious and very sticky Anders.
King Stoneroot, is holding a large green emerald affixed on a staff, he says an incantation, and Anders disappears, I hope he didn’t end up in New Jersey.
My legs give out and the rest of me starts to flow into the courtyard. This is it, this is the end of everything.
King Stoneroot mutters another incantation.
I open my eyes to the familiar surroundings of my room, the place is a mess, there are piles of pizza boxes everywhere. My body feels weird. I haven’t been this short in weeks, I hope there is some breakfast, I’m starved.
I make my way into the kitchen, on the table is a mound of bacon and probably a dozen eggs.
“Hi Mom” my voice even sounds odd to me.
She stops cooking and turns around, her expression is anxious.
“Mason?” she says “Is that you?”
“It’s me, Mom. I am back to my old self” I reply.
She runs to me and gives me a hug, holding on like I was going to slip away again.
“Everything OK?” I ask, “What’s all this? Are we expecting company for breakfast?”
“Oh, honey it has been chaos, I don't know which personality it was but you called yourself Kreed the Mighty and you would eat all of this yourself. The doctor said it was a psychotic episode, he gave me meds for you but I just couldn’t sedate you like that.”
“Thanks, mom, I appreciate that.” I reply “I apologize if I did anything crazy, honestly I don’t really remember anything. What’s with all the pizza boxes in my room?”
“You, I mean Kreed, really liked pizza. I don’t know where you got the money but you ate it a lot.”
“Also, you’ve been suspended for bullying that Carl Bower boy. They found him, tied to the goalpost, numerous times, once he was even naked. He blamed you.”
"Some senior named Roxy has been texting you, she was sending wildly inappropriate pictures, I deleted them all and told her she needs to focus on her education and less on boys."
“Sorry I disappeared for a little while there, Mom. Carl was bullying me almost every day, I guess it stress was too much and I flipped out. It won’t happen again.”
“Monday I am calling the principal, he needs to know this was self-defense,” She says with more furor than I’ve heard in a long time.
She hugs me for a few more moments, then sits down at the table.
“I love you, Mom, it's good to be back,” I say sitting next to her.
“But, I really don’t think I can eat all this.”