NOTE: My main character describes a short scene involving suicide and gore on his phone.
I was in my room on a late Friday morning (it was a Flex Day at Brennan’s Glenn High School, which meant school budget meetings and planning for the next school year—teachers get stuck in boring meetings all day and students get to stay home, except for the football team and cheer squad). I was listening to my music when the doorbell rang. I hit pause and removed my earphones to make sure it was the doorbell and not part of the music. After making sure that there really was someone at the door, I ran down the stairs to open it.
“Yes?” I said, cocking my eyebrow at the mailman.
“Delivery for Christopher Robinson?” the mailman said, dragging a long cardboard box onto our front porch. “Please sign here.”
I caught a glimpse of the label on the package. Amazon. That was weird.
“Hold up!” I said. “I didn’t order anything!”
“Says here you did,” the mailman said shortly.
“I certainly did not,” I denied. “There has to be a mistake.”
“Nope,” the mailman replied. “No mistake. Just…sign the thing.”
“Alright, fine,” I said with an exasperated sigh, taking the electronic pad from him. “But I am not happy about this. I’m returning this thing because there is no way in Hell that I ordered anything from Amazon.”
“Up to you,” the mailman said laconically with a shrug before walking back to his truck.
I shook my head and dragged the thing inside. Before I opened it, however, I went back upstairs to fire up my computer. The first thing I did was to check my bank account. See if there were any charges. Perhaps someone had gotten my card number and was using it to buy stuff. I had my card locked. The next thing I did was to contact Amazon—twice—once on the phone, and then by email, demanding to know what the Hell was going on. And then a thought occurred to me. What if this was a prank? So I called my best friend Antony, who was best known in the small town of Brennan’s Glenn as “Loki the Trickster God.” That kid has been pranking people since the day he learned how to walk!
“Alright, bro, you got me,” I said with a sigh as soon as he picked up. “That was a really good prank.”
“The Hell you talkin’ about, man?” he asked in confusion. “What prank? I haven’t planned any pranks in two years!”
“So you didn’t order anything off of Amazon and had it shipped to my address?” I asked incredulously.
“Heck no!” Antony protested. “Why would I waste my money on a prank?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “You tell me. You’re the Master Prankster.”
“I may be a prankster but I’m very careful with my money,” Antony answered. “I’m saving up for the future.”
“If you say so,” I said with a shrug. “Wanna come over and see what this thing is? Open it with me? Maybe we can figure this mystery out together, you and me.”
“Sure, why not?” Antony said. “I’ve got nothing better to do anyway.”
Within ten minutes, Antony was walking up the pathway leading to our front porch, his skateboard under his arm. I opened the door before he could ring the bell.
“Hey, Chris!” he greeted. “What you got?”
“Check this out,” I said, ushering him in. “It came with a note.”
“Whoso pulleth this sword out of this box and Styrofoam, is right
wise king born of all England,” Antony said. “Now I see why you’d think it was a joke. Maybe it is. This one isn’t mine though. Let’s open it, shall we?”
And open it we did. Or at least tried to. No matter how many times Antony hacked away at the tape with a kitchen knife, the thing wouldn’t budge. It was as if the tape was made of steel or something.
“Here,” I said, palm open. “Give it.”
Antony handed me the knife, and when I cut through the tape, the blade sailed through it like a hot knife on butter. I opened the package and pulled out the foam casing out of the box with ease. I removed the top layer, revealing the ornate sword within. I shot Antony a look and he nodded, attempting to take the sword out of the lower half of its Styrofoam prison. He failed miserably. He grunted and groaned, pulled and lifted. Nothing. The sword wouldn’t budge.
“Wanna have a go at it?” Antony asked, motioning for me to try.
“This is ridiculous,” I said, prying the gleaming weapon out of its foam prison. In one swift, fluid motion, I was able to do so and its grip fit right in my hand like a perfectly tailored glove. As soon as my right hand closed around the sword’s grip, I was transported to a time lost long ago and into the glorious fortress of Camelot. I found myself arrayed in royal robes of scarlet and gold with a solid gold circlet around my head. All around me were my knights. My dearest friends. Hidden enemies and secret traitors. Lancelot, Geraint, Gawain, Percival, Bors, Lamorak, Kay, Gareth, Bedivere, Gaheris, Galahad, Lucan, Dagonet, Mordred, Valiant, and Tristan. The bravest men—and women—I had ever known and ever had the privilege to fight alongside with.
“Holy Mother of Helga Hufflepuff!” Antony said, kneeling on the floor with one knee and bowing his head, snatching me up out of my reverie. I stared at him for five seconds too long and he felt the daggers I was throwing with my eyes. He looked up.
“What? What is it?” he asked in alarm.
“I was—am—King Arthur,” I said, trying very hard to swallow the bitter gall rising in my throat. I’m sure the sudden disgust was evident on my face. It all made sense now. His intense infatuation on Ellie made absolutely perfect sense in that moment. He has never stopped loving her. Not in 800 years. Or more. My Ellie. My Guinevere.
“Holy Hufflepuff!” he said in awe. “Does that mean—”
“Yes,” I said with a nod, immediately understanding his unfinished question.
“Holy crap!” he exclaimed. “So Ellie is—”
“Yes, she is,” I said with another nod.
“Oh, wow,” he whispered with a breathy exhale.
“Yep,” I said. “And my sister Caitlyn was…is Sir Kay.”
“Get outta here!” Antony said. “No freaking way! Shut the front door!”
“And you’ll never guess who Sir Bors is in this lifetime,” I added.
“Who?” Antony asked, his pitch rising, just how it rises every time he is curious or excited. “Who is Sir Bors?”
“Cody,” I said with a smile.
“Cody as in… Our neighbor Cody?” Antony guessed. “Cody as in Caitlyn’s boyfriend Cody?”
“One and the same,” I said with a nod.
“Interesting,” Antony thought out loud with the side of his curled index finger on his lips and his thumb on his cheek. “I did not see that one coming.”
“Neither did I,” I said, turning the sword and examining it. “That was an unexpected revelation. I never thought I’d say this, but… I kinda ship them.”
“Cody and Caitlyn?” Antony asked. “Or Sir Bors and Sir Kay?”
“Both,” I answered. “Here, check this out! There’s something written on both sides of the blade. It’s in runes though, so I can’t read it.”
“Take me up, cast me away,” a deep booming voice came from behind us and Antony and I both jumped a foot in the air, Excalibur at ready. I trained my sword at the old man suddenly standing before us.
“Who are you?” I asked. “Explain yourself! Where did you come from and how did you get in here? Start talking before I call the cops!”
“My name is Merlin,” the old man said. “And I have been with you since you were a boy.”
When he saw the confusion on my face, Merlin shifted forms, growing smaller and smaller, eventually turning into my cat, Mr. Spock.
“Spock?” I said in surprise.
“No,” he said, his little cat lips moving. “Merlin.”
It was super weird. I had never seen a talking cat before. I mean, I’ve seen Salem on TV, but that was fiction. I’ve never heard of or seen a talking cat in real life. And with that, the wizard morphed from his cat form to his true form—a tall old man with a flowing white beard that seemed to glow in the late morning sun, dressed in purple and silvery robes.
“The Awakening has begun,” the wizard said cryptically.
“The Awakening?” I asked. “What awakening?”
“Mordred has risen from the grave to seek his last revenge,” Merlin warned. “He brings with him his army of Sleepers.”
“Sleepers?” Antony asked.
“Dead rotting men who rise from the grave,” Merlin answered. “And whose sole purpose is to feed on the flesh of the living.”
“Really?” I said with a humorless laugh. “A zombie apocalypse? Get outta here!”
“If what you say is true, then it would have been big news,” Antony interjected. “Why isn’t it on the news? Why hasn’t anyone heard about it yet? Surely everyone would have known by now.”
“This realm’s present government is trying to suppress it,” the wizard answered. “So as not to create a panic. But a panic is inevitable. They cannot keep this hidden for long. The end of the world is also inevitable. Unless you stop it.”
“You’ve clearly got the wrong guy,” I protested. “I mean, why me? I’m not even British! I’m American! I’m just a regular small town guy from Brennan’s Glenn, Washington.”
“You have always been the Chosen One, Arthur,” Merlin said. “And the time of your return is at hand. Excalibur chose you once before because of your purity of heart. It chose you again for this very same reason. England’s need is greatest. The world’s need is greatest. You hold the key to stopping the extermination of all mankind in your very hands.”
“What’s my mission?” I asked.
“You must raise an army of your own to stave off Mordred’s undead horde,” Merlin answered.
“Well, you have me,” Antony said, kneeling before me again. “Say the word and I will fight for you—with you.”
“What about the rest of the Knights of the Round Table?” I asked. “I mean, there’s my sister and her boyfriend, but I’m not sure how I can convince them.”
“They shall know you by your sword,” Merlin said. “When you raise your sword, your men will fall at your feet.”
“What am I supposed to do?” I asked. “Run around like a madman with a sword? I’d be arrested!”
The old wizard smiled and turned Excalibur into a pen. Right… Because the pen is mightier than the sword. Of course. Perfect disguise. Also, Percy Jackson vibes right there!
“Once you have summoned the Knights, I want you to take Sir Lancelot, Sir Bors, and Sir Kay,” Merlin instructed. “A private ship awaits you in the harbour. You are to set sail for the Orkney Islands.”
“Orkney Islands?” Antony said. “Why? What’s there in Orkney?”
“Long ago, Arthur’s sister Morgan placed a strong sleeping curse on sixty-five thousand knights and men-at-arms,” Merlin explained. “There they lie in an enchanted cave in the Orkney Islands to this very day. The entrance to the cave is sealed with nearly unbreakable chains reinforced with the darkest of magic. Only a drop of blood from Arthur’s pricked finger can break the chains and wake the sleeping knights. You need to free them if you are to win against Mordred’s damned forces.”
“Alrighty then,” I said. “No pressure. Just another normal day for a high school senior.”
“Who did you see in your vision earlier?” Antony asked. “Maybe we can narrow it down, figure out who the rest of the Knights are. Then we can call or text them to meet up somewhere—the park?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “Too risky. What if Mordred has spies? We need to meet somewhere safe. Somewhere hidden.”
“The New Hope Lutheran basement!” Antony suddenly said. “I remember seeing a round table there once.”
“Perfect,” I said. “Text or call anyone you can to meet us there.”
“What time are we meeting?” Antony asked.
“7:45,” I said.
“How long do we have until this blows out into the open, Merlin?” Antony asked.
“You have two and twenty days,” Merlin answered. “Mordred’s army of Sleepers is growing by the minute.”
“Twenty-two days to raise an army?” I said. “Twenty-two days to whip them into shape? Are you serious right now?”
“You can do it,” Antony said, putting a firm hand on my shoulder. “We can do it. I believe in us.”
“Thank you, Antony,” I said.
“Call me Lancelot,” he said with a smile.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” I said with a laugh. “I haven’t knighted you yet.”
“You can knight me now,” Antony said, kneeling once more. “You have your sword.”
“Very well,” I said, clicking my pen twice to turn it into Excalibur. Then I placed the flat of its blade on Antony’s right shoulder and then his left. “Rise, Sir Lancelot… Knight of Camelot!”
That afternoon, we spent hours making a list and then contacting those on that list, telling them to meet us in the basement of New Hope Lutheran. When the hour had finally come, we all gathered in that dim church basement, seated around a circular wooden table with adjustable metal legs.
“What’s this all about?” my twin sister Caitlyn asked. “Why are we all here?”
“Yeah,” Cody said, “I had to leave football practice early tonight. Good thing Coach was in a good mood today.”
“Yeah, me too!” Cody’s friend and teammate Craig said. “I had to leave football practice early! Coach told us not to make a habit of it.”
“The world is in trouble,” I said, putting my phone in the middle of the table. I pressed play on a video that I had ready. It was the news. The clip was of a scene in New York City were three people—two men and one woman—were devouring a young man in the back of a car in front of a café. Up above, glass windows bodies were falling. People tried to escape the Sleepers the only way they knew how—killing themselves. “And only we can stop it—together.”
“We? Hold on a minute, George Washington!” Craig said. “What do you mean by ‘we’? Who’s we? What’s this got to do with us.”
“I hold the key to keeping the darkness at bay,” I said, clicking my pen twice, revealing its true form, the mighty Excalibur. At the sight of my sword held aloft, everyone present stood up from their seats and fell to the floor, kneeling.
“Long live the king!” Caitlyn said, and all the rest picked up the cry. “Long live the king!”
“Mordred is out for blood—my blood,” I said loudly, my voice echoing in that small basement room. “He is raising an army of the dead called Sleepers. They are moving fast. We have twenty-two days to raise an army and face Mordred and his evil horde of zombie knights—and the unfortunate regular people who have been turned into Sleepers. Who’s with me?”
“I am!” Craig shouted proudly. One by one, they shouted their allegiance. “I am! I am! We are!”
I went around the table, knighting everyone present except for Antony, who I had knighted earlier that day. Then I pulled Caitlyn and Cody aside, just as Merlin had instructed, and told them of our mission to the Orkney Islands.
“Who’s going to help train the others while we’re away on this mission?” Cody asked.
“Sir Tristan—Jeremy—is more than capable enough,” I said. “I trust him. He’ll have them ready in no time.”
“That’s good,” Cody said. “So! What time do we leave tomorrow and which port do we sail from?”
“Merlin said it was docked at the Bremerton marina,” I replied. “And we leave at the crack of dawn. The earlier, the better.”
That Caitlyn, Cody, Antony, and I packed our bags and caught a few hours of ample sleep. We drove to Bremerton very early in the morning, walked down the dock in search of the yacht, and found it in the very last berth.
“Is this it?” Caitlyn asked.
“Merlin said its name was the Prydwen II,” Antony responded. “So this must be it.”
“He said the captain would meet us here,” I said.
“Where is he then?” Antony asked.
“Patience, Mr. Ross,” the captain replied, coming down the gangway to meet us. “Morning, gents! Miss! Welcome aboard the Prydwen II!”
I didn’t recognize him at first without the long flowing beard, but it was Merlin in another one of his many disguises. He was dressed like an old sea captain with a short properly trimmed beard, complete with a wooden pipe and peacoat. Merlin helped us onto the yacht, starting with Antony, followed by Cody, and then Caitlyn. I was the last to board. I was suddenly having second thoughts about this whole thing. I briefly looked back before stepping aboard. That’s when I saw a Sleeper, its eyes fixed on its victim. Then came the woman’s scream.
“Go! Go!” I said, turning to the others. “I’ll catch up with you!”
“Chris! Don’t!” Antony shouted.
“There’s no time!” Cody said. “We have to hurry!”
Too late. I was running down the gangplank and down the dock, Excalibur drawn from its scabbard and held high above my head. I let out a beastly scream as I charged forward swished my sword in the air, lopping off the head of the offending Sleeper. But he wasn’t the only one. There was another, and then another, and then another. Soon, I was surrounded. But when things looked grimmest, Merlin and my knights stood bravely by my side.