A few weeks ago, I was reading John Scalzi’s blog, and I saw a picture that changed my life. The very picture that now appears in this blog post. And, there was a challenge. He wanted readers to write a fanfic about the picture, in order to win a contest.
Here is my entry to that contest:
Mitzie sat on her aunt’s dock, a book in her lap. A trickle of sweat coursed down the back of her neck, causing her short hairs to rise. Still, the small patch of skin effected by the moisture combined with a weak breeze was no relief. Mitzie was outside in the heat. With the bugs.
She hated it.
This was her parents’ way of doing good by her. They thought a summer in Middle-of-Nowhere-Alabama was beneficial for the same reasons they limited her texting and internet time.
“We want you to experience a disconnected life,” was what her mother said before her banishment as they coasted along the interstate in their climate controlled tank of minivan. Mitzie had nodded, because at that point the full reality of the summer was an unknown.
When her parents pulled away from the summer cottage for their own Hawaiian vacation, Mitzie smiled brightly at her aunt Gloria.
“It’s almost 6:30, should I turn the news on for you?” Mitzie asked. She had long ago discovered the news as a gateway to the prime time programs she wanted to watch.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I get the newspaper. Why don’t you play outside for a while?”
“No, really, it would give me some time to unwind.”
“Well, so would sitting in the swing porch with a book. Plus, I don’t have a TV.”
Mitzie wasn’t phased. “Well, why don’t I check to see if there’s anything exciting going on in town. Does the local paper have a website?”
Gloria patted Mitzie on the head as she walked inside. “No internet, either. Why don’t you play with your kitten for a while. I’ll start dinner.”
Schlotsky. Her new Russian grey, only a few months old, was the most exciting thing about her summer so far. That and the books her aunt kept on shelves that hugged the walls inside. So far she’d read The Hobbit, Dune, and the Oz series. She would never admit it to her aunt or her parents, but once she got into the stories, she enjoyed the worlds they created in her mind.
With Schlotsky batting at her shorts and a cloud of mosquitoes humming lazily in the air, she pored over her newest acquisition, this time a large hardback from the dining room. It was part of a series but was the first on the shelf. She’d made the mistake of grabbing it without glancing at the title, thinking it was the first story in a long line of titles. Instead it was a manual, explaining creature after creature with lists and charts of numbers she did not understand. A monster’s manual.
Mitzie kept at the book, even though it bored her. She read the blurbs about the monsters. She reviewed the stats. She spent a good amount of time staring at the pictures, which were interesting but couldn’t be expected to keep her attention. She could either crack the meanings in the book in her lap or walk through the sweltering, bug-infested air of her aunt’s yard back to the house and the other books. Even Schlotsky was being stifled in the heat; it was almost two. Mitzie reached into her bag and pulled out her SPF 60, slathering the sun warmed lotion her arms and legs.
‘I just don’t get it,” she shouted at Schlotsky, who looked up at her with wide, yellow eyes. “Stupid book.” She kicked it with her toe, careful not to send it over the edge of the dock and into the creek.
“The book’s not stupid, you just don’t know how to use it yet,” boomed a vaguely familiar, masculine voice from a few feet away.
Mitzie looked up, surprised. At the end of the dock was a man, obscenely out of place, wearing a black tee and faded jeans. Canvas sneakers adorned his feet. When he smiled, Mitzie started to ease herself backward, prepared to run.
“Hello, I’m Wil Wheaton. You may recognize me from my work on Star Trek: The Next Generation or my starring role in Stand by Me.” He extended his hand, his smile never wavering.
Mitzie peered at the man from over the top of her glasses and frowned. He did look familiar. And, he did appear from nowhere onto a dock surrounded on three sides by water. He definitely wasn’t dripping from the creek. There was a possibility he wasn’t stranger danger.
“No, I think I know you from somewhere else. Like a sitcom.”
“Well, I have had a number of guest roles,” he said in a serious voice, finally pulling his hand back, unshook. “Perhaps The Big Bang Theory?”
“No, but I’ve got it. Weren’t you that asshole in The Guild?”
“Yes, I was! Wasn’t it awesome?” Wheaton asked, his serious facade slipping.
“I guess. Also, weren’t you in that one TV show with the cute guy with the long hair? Where they’re all Robin Hood type scheisters?”
“You mean Leverage? That part was also pretty awesome. You know, it’s one of my favorite shows.”
“Yeah,” Mitzie said, smiling. She decided to give the magic man the benefit of the doubt.
“Well, Mitzie, today is your lucky day. I am here to help with the problems you’ve been having interpreting your Monster Manual.”
“How do you know my name?”
“Well, you see, I am the intergalactic ambassador for Dungeons and Dragons relations. Whenever someone gets to the point where they might give up D&D forever, I’m sent to fix things. I am a very big fan of D&D. So, what exactly is the problem you’ve been having?”
“Well, I got this book from my aunt’s bookshelf, but I can’t make hide nor hair of it.”
“Oh. So, you’ve never played before?”
“Well, what you have there is a compendium of most of the monsters you can use in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. D&D is a role playing game. It’s sort of like a computer game, except you use your imagination to create the world you are playing in. I think it’s safe to say that D&D is awesometastic. The different editions vary in awesomeness, but we’ll get to that later.”
“Oh.” Mitzie pulled the book back towards her and placed it in her bag. “In that case, you came out for nothing. I guess I’ll head back to the house to find something else to do.”
Schlotsky looked from Mitzie to Wheaton with her huge cat eyes.
“Hey, wait. I think it’s great you haven’t played. Today is the perfect day to start a beginner’s campaign. Does your aunt have more books like this one?”
“Look, it’s okay, really,” Mitzie sighed. “The game look complicated. I don’t want to play a computer game using my imagination. If I was at home, I would just play the computer game on my computer.”
“But you’re not at home. You’re here. With a cool aunt. I bet she’d play.”
Mizie crossed her arms and scowled.
“Okay, how about this. In D&D, anything can happen. Literally.”
“Here, I’ll show you.”
Wheaton lifted his arm into the air, and a long spear fell from the sky. He caught it, and as Mitzie watched, began to shimmer. His black shirt began to grow pale and bulky, fluffy. His cargo shorts shrank until they fit his form in blue, shiny splendor. That would have been enough to shock Mitzie, but her eyes were drawn to the shirt. The newly formed sweater was made of a knit clown face, complete with red lips and orange hair.
Wheaton looked down and blushed. “Sorry, this is what all of my characters wear in my imagination.”
“Your characters don’t wear shoes?”
“Who needs shoes? My characters are all bad-asses.”
Wheaton stabbed at the air above his head, and Mitzie heard a low rumbling. The wooden slats of the dock began to tremble and clack together. The air lost some of it’s humid edge as black clouds filled the sky. The caustic smell of burning tar overpowered her senses. When Mitzie looked behind her, the forest had been replaced by a volcano dribbling out molten lava and belching black smoke. When she looked forward, she now saw a black, bubbling sea. The wood beneath her was the only physical remnant of her world.
Wheaton’s response was a wide and manic smile. When he thrust his spear point towards Schlotsky, Mitzie yelped in fear. It quickly turned to awe. She watched as her kitten began to grow and morph, sprouting feathery wings and a long, spiraled horn from the center of her forehead. Wheaton laughed as he jumped on the kitticornasus’s back and took flight.
“See? Anything can happen. Are you ready to generate a new character yet? I can help with that, too.”
“No, really, I think I’m good. Can you take me home now?”
Wheaton looked around, assessing their surroundings. “Hmmm. You know what we really need? Another player.”
Wheaton pointed his spear at the ground, and a battleaxe fell from the sky a few feet from Mitzie, rotating end over end until it hit the rock with a clang. The earth rumbled once again, and this time a green man appeared, stocky, dressed in leather, and grumbling.
“Again, Wheaton?” The creature asked. “I thought we’d cleared this kind of thing out of your system. You do understand I have a job, right? One in which I sit at my desk and write all day? And a wife who makes me clean the gutters and take out the garbage? I can’t just leave all that for whenever you get a gaming hair up your ass and need to shoot off to imagination land.”
“Mitzie here needs someone to help her see why role playing is the most fantastic past time there is. And, I think we are just the guys to show her. Mitzie, this is John Scalzi. A famous writer. You may have heard of some of his titles, like Old Man’s War.”
Mitzi shook her head.
Scalzi sighed. “Okay, what about Stargate Universe? I’ve worked on that TV show.”
“Maybe it sounds familiar. Look, I just want to go home. This is lame.”
“Lame? This is adventure! Look!” Wheaton shrieked from his mount.
Wheaton swooped down toward orc-Scalzi and stabbed his spear in the air around Scalzi’s head.
“Dude,” Scalzi yelled up at him, “Face it. She isn’t into it. Kids these days just aren’t. Now land that thing. Don’t make me bacon that cat. Cat thing. And, by bacon I mean knock out of the sky.”
“I don’t buy it. Mitzie is just as awesome and full of creativity as we were at that age.”
Wheaton cackled as he took another dive towards Scalzi’s head.
“If I agree to play this game of yours, will you set everything back to the way it was?” Mitzie asked as she eyed the volcano and approaching stream of lava.
“Oh.” Wheaton looked deflated as he pondered this for a moment. He reigned in Schlotsky and descended back to his original spot a few yards away from Mitzie. “Yeah, I guess. Maybe your aunt will DM for us.”
The air around them shimmered once again as the world returned to normal. Schlotsky ran and hid with her head buried in Mitzie’s lap. Wheaton was once again in his black tee, and Scalzi looked much like a normal guy a tee and jeans. Now the air only shimmered with heat and bugs.
“Come on, Scalzi,” Wheaton said as Mitzie picked up her bag and cat and started to trudge back up to the cottage. “Let’s get our game on.”
“Dude, I have to go home and get back to work. It’s not like I get paid to get zapped away to parts unknown to help some kid find her RPG groove.”
“Don’t be a dick,” was Wheaton’s reply.
Scalzi sighed once again as he joined the trek through the high grass and trees.
Say what you will about it, but I had a heck of a time writing it. And, I would just like to point out that these are the fellows I model my life after.
Except I don’t bacon cats.
(Or do I?)