Fantasy Speculative

The man was like every other man I'd ever seen.

He was old, with curly white hair that looked like clouds, and so many wrinkles on his face that made it seem that the wrinkles were wearing him. He had wise blue eyes, and you couldn't say anything else about them; they were just blue and wise. He had a weathered look on him, from his sunburnt skin to his faded smile, as if he'd been traveling for a long, long time. He was wearing a white cotton cloth wrapped around his frail body, and no more.

"Name, please." I took out an eagle quill - best quality, from Wickman Brothers - and dipped it in deep, dark blue-colored ink. He sighed. "Ah. A name for the placeless. Quite useless, don't you think?" I sighed too. I'd seen this sort before. At a young age, drawn by the thrill of mystery, adventure, and instant riches, they set off on dangerous journeys, roaming across realms, never having a place. Then, as they neared old age, finding out that the rush of life, the hurried call of nature had disappeared from their souls, and they set out to live a slow, timeless life.

The man smiled at my impatience. "I have many names," he said in his soft, melodious voice. "Which one do you want?" I didn't have time to reply, because at then, the intercom on my desk buzzed. "Agent Fletchley!" an energetic voice called out. "Trouble at the border - I repeat, trouble at the border!"

"It's Officer Fletchley," I said with a groan. "For heaven's sake, Justin, I'm a middle-aged woman, working in a registry office. Not James Bond." I put my quill down. "Well, sir," I said turning to the old man. "You'll have to come later."

"It's urgent," the old man said. Still, there was no sign of panic in his voice. His words sounded like a soothing lullaby. I closed my eyes and swept the memories away. There was no point in thinking of Sue and Brad now.

"I'm afraid that-"

The old man interrupted me, but it didn't feel like interrupting. "I'll come along, and maybe I can tell you all my names."

I sighed. I was not shaking this one-off. "Very well," I said curtly. "Come on." I stood up from my wooden stool and stepped out of the tent. The minute my shoes touched the coarse blue sand outside, there was a blinding light and the tent disappeared.

Of course, that bastard. He had to put a spell on my tent.

"Peter Louis James Von Steuben," the old man said. "A big name for a small baby."

I ignored him as I ran along, huffing and puffing. My job didn't get me much physical exercise. The old man uttered more names, every bit long and royal as the first. I didn't pay attention, but focused on my own feet, treading distance, and my breath, coming and going in short gasps. The old man, miraculously, kept a good distance ahead of me without even running.

Soon the sand under my feet melted away to grass that grew higher and higher. Soon it was up to my knees. "Willow Everdeen," he said and I looked up in surprise. "I was a female for a while," he said. "Natural, in the discovery of adventure."

I shot him a sharp look as I stepped through the grass. It tickled my legs, and I glanced at him, seeing how he'd take it. The grass in the Woodlands was doused with laughing gas, and as a Registry Officer, I'd taken my monthly vaccine two weeks back. He stepped through the grass without even a giggle.

I was growing cautious of this strange, old man. Finally, we came to the Far Forest. With knotty trees reaching to the sky, the canopy blocked out all the sunlight. It was dark, and it didn't help that gnarly roots stretched all across the forest floor. I tripped thrice and swore. The old man, however, didn't fall once.

I looked around. It was getting brighter, and brighter as we came close to the border. I closed my eyes and wished I was back in my office. It wasn't that I didn't want excitement, I wanted to be surprised that somebody would tell me their name quickly or that they were young. But somedays, I felt a thirst for adventure that I couldn't exactly place. Midlife crisis, they called it. I sighed. I didn't like crises. I didn't like problems without clear, obvious solutions that couldn't be fixed. Maybe that was what had made me a boring register clerk while all my friends from college were sorcerers and seekers, searching off somewhere.

"We're here," the old man said and I opened my eyes. I realized we'd be walking for a while and now we're no longer in a forest. Now we were at the border, and we'd crossed the fog. I looked at the long red line that stood two feet away. "Justin?" I called.

"Here, ag- sorry, ma'am!"

I sighed and walked towards his voice. Justin smiled back up at me, his afro stuck in a bunch of fog clouds. He stopped smiling at the sight of the old man. "Who's this?"

I closed my eyes. "Pete Everdeen," I tried.

The old man smiled but didn't say anything.

Justin shrugged. "I found three magic trinkets here," he said and added glumly, "they were confiscated by the Ministry."

"Good," I said, but secretly, I felt just as depressed. A magic trinket. I shook my head. What was wrong with me? Justin sighed. "Yeah, but we found a dude over here. We need to take him over to the office."

I looked where he was pointing, at an old man. He had puffy white hair, wise blue eyes, and a cotton cloth. I looked back in alarm at the man who'd come with me. He was smiling at the other man in greeting. They both looked exactly identical.

Then Pete Everdeen, or whoever he was, whipped out a long black stick that looked like a branch and pointed it at the other man. The other man did the same. "One of us is good, one of us is bad," they chorused in unison. "Choose."

"What?" I asked. "Justin, let's leave, the ministry can deal with this."

"NO!" Justin screamed. "Who knows if we'll get a chance like this again?" He has a point, a little voice in my head said. Who'd get the chance to witness a duel between two wizards but then leave from the place? Me, that's who. The ordinary plain Jane, the girl who got the most boring job ever and married a customer care representative. "It's dangerous," I said.

"I know!" Justin yelled. "I'm sure Sue will love this story." He stopped at the look on my face. "I mean, Brad too." I knew Justin and Sue'd been dating for a year by now, but I didn't like them mentioning it, especially during work.

"Choose quickly," the old men said, and I could see their bodies fading. Which one to pick? Wait, I told myself. You're not doing anything.

Justin, however, squealed with joy like a little kid on Christmas morning. "You! No, you! Wait, what are your names?" he asked like it'd only occurred to him now that it was wise to ask somebody's name before you talked to them. Maybe it had. I sighed. I couldn't wait for the day Sue broke up with him.

"Pete Everdeen," I said.

"Bill Oakley," the other man said.

Peter Everdeen didn't say anything. Because he was gone, having disappeared into the mist borders that ran across the Dragon Realm and the old ruins of Earth.

"Aaah," Bill Oakley said. "Now I can start killing everyone."

"Wake up, Jane!"

I woke up to find my best friend, Fara, nudging me in the rib with her elbow. "Ouch, what's that for?" I asked.

"You always fall asleep in science class," she said. "Get awake, we have P.E next."

"I'm not taking P.E," I said.

Fara sighed. "Didn't I tell you? You'll become a register clerk in a building in the middle of nowhere, and marry a customer care representative, and probably have two kids named Sue and Brad."

I smiled. "I know. I like being ordinary."

October 23, 2021 07:33

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