Toddy’s mother sat on the living room couch next to her boyfriend, Steelhead Rob, who sucked at the empty space where his tooth had been knocked out in a bar fight the week before.
Redness filled their heavily lidded eyes as they smiled absently at me in the smoky air. I was never particularly fond of being in Toddy’s trailer, but he hadn’t been in school all week, and I hadn’t seen him since the day he stole Sir Drexler.
I couldn’t call because their phone was down. This was nothing unusual. Toddy’s mother failed to pay their bills more often than not.
“How’s it going?” his mother asked. She always asked me to call her Sue, but it felt weird, so I never did.
“Why hasn’t Toddy been in school?”
She looked at me vacantly. “Is school going on this week?”
Steelhead Rob chuckled.
Toddy’s bedroom door opened at the end of the hall. He waved me down. I bid adieu to Toddy’s mom and Steelhead and hurried away.
Toddy closed the door behind me. Fast food wrappers, soda cans, garden gnomes, and dirty clothes covered every inch of his floor space except for a small, uncluttered circle in the middle of it all. Within that clearing were a legal pad, some dice, and the Sir Drexler Impaler module.
Toddy sat down in the circle. “I’ve been working on the campaign.” The blackout curtain in his window blotted out all traces of sunlight. Only a lone, dim lightbulb in the mouth of a dragon lamp lit the space.
“Is that new supplement any good?”
“It isn’t just a supplement,” he said disdainfully. A crazed light refracted through his eyes. “It’s more than that. It’s going to change everything.”
The way he said “everything” sounded as if he meant it literally. “You mean everything in the campaign, right?”
The mad illumination in his eyes retreated. I got the uncomfortable impression that it was hiding from me. “Yea, of course. Everything in the campaign.”
“What’s going on with you, man? Skipping school once in a while is one thing, but three days in a row? You’re going to get held back.”
He shrugged. “I’m dropping out anyway.”
I didn’t know what to say for a few moments, so I just stared. “Awesome, man,” I finally said. “Then you’ll be able to sit around all day and smoke pot with Steelhead Rob.”
Toddy’s face twisted in anger. Steelhead Rob wasn’t his father and was barely older than we were. Toddy hated him. He leapt to his feet. For a moment it seemed certain that he was going to hit me, but he stopped himself a few inches from my face, exhaling his terrible breath on me.
“You know I’m right,” I said.
His eyes screwed into mine. His jaw was clenched so tight he barely got the words out. “I need to get back to work. Scottie and Len will be here in a few minutes.”
Toddy’s mom and Steelhead Rob left to get drunk at the Pickled Cow and I went to the living room to wait. Len and Scottie got there shortly later, and we set things up for game night. The boys were in high spirits. We’d slayed our first dragon the week before and were entering realms of godlike power.
Toddy emerged from his bedroom. He ignored Scottie’s and Len’s greetings and set his Lords and Lairs stuff down on the kitchen table. Len and Scottie kept looking at me questioningly. I could only shrug.
On the previous week’s adventure, our party had abandoned the city of Aruah after annihilating a reptilian horde and the aforementioned dragon nesting in the tunnels underneath it.
Scottie looked around the table with an impish grin. “Know what we should do?”
Len cracked a can of soda with hands already trembling from sugar rush. “What?”
“Let’s cover our faces in reptilian skins and run around like Hannibal Lector from Silence of the Lambs.”
Len busted up laughing and sprayed soda all over his character sheet. “Ah, shit.” Scottie and I pelted him with a few pretzels.
“You hear a horse galloping towards town,” Toddy said.
We looked up, grinning.
“That man better hope he’s hiding an army inside that horse,” Scottie said.
“Har, har, har.” Len used his shirt to soak up the soda from his character sheet.
“A thick head of dirty blonde hair flows in the wind as he rides upon you with a vicious sneer on his face and a spear laced with blue fire in his hand.”
“Blue fire,” Len said. “Cool. We’ll roast marshmallows on it after we kick his ass.”
Toddy stared intently at his paper, jaw clenched so tight I could see the hinges working back and forth. “The rider announces, I am Sir Drexler Impaler, Beheader of all that is Good and Innocent.”
Scottie and Len’s faces screwed up in confusion. Toddy’s voice had changed when he spoke Sir Drexler’s words, becoming deeper and more masculine, so much so that it sounded like someone else.
“He rides straight for you, Scottie.”
The corners of Scottie’s lips danced nervously. “I cast lightning bolt,” he said. Sensing something was amiss, he added, “And I funnel the spell through my Wand of Rage for a three times multiplier.” He grinned with false bravado.
“Fine.” Toddy shrugged. “Roll d20.”
Scottie looked around the table uncertainly. “No initiative roll?”
“Sir Drexler lets you have the first strike.”
Scottie tried one last time to break Toddy’s icy demeanor. “Passes on initiative? He’s as crazy as you are.”
“Geez, man, fine.” Scottie rolled an eighteen. “Direct hit!” He leapt up out of his chair and pointed triumphantly to the heavens.
The scene made me jump a bit in my chair, too, but for a different reason. I could actually see the Lords and Lairs scene in my mind as Toddy described it. I could still see the table, too, but it was like being in a room with two windows looking out onto two different worlds. I tried to catch Len’s eyes to see if he was experiencing it as well, but he was staring straight ahead as if captivated by something in the air and there was no getting his attention.
Toddy scooped up his dice. “The lightning bolt fizzles on Sir Drexler’s armor. He rides on.”
“That’s impossible,” I said.
Toddy sneered at me. “Obviously, it’s not.”
“This is ridiculous, Toddy.”
“It’s official, bitch. Roll d20, Scottie. Sir Drexler gives you another shot.”
Scottie picked up his dice tentatively. “Fine. This time I cast Fog Wall. If I can’t hurt him, then I’ll blind him.” He fumbled and rolled a two.
“Doesn’t count,” Toddy said giddily. “Roll again.”
Scottie rolled a fifteen, high enough for spell success.
“Your wall of fog rolls in, but Sir Drexler’s Spear of Azure Flames instantly burns it all away.”
“You didn’t even roll!” Scottie’s voice quivered with fear and rage.
“Don’t need to. It’s an automatic effect.” Toddy rolled d20. “Sir Drexler throws his spear and hits.” He picked up the die again, but this time added two more.
“3d20 damage?” Len’s voice cracked in outrage.
Toddy ignored him and rolled. “Scottie is impaled by the spear of flames. He falls to the ground, face first in the dirt.”
“Am I in striking range?” Len asked.
“You will be next round, but Sir Drexler gets another attack. He magically retracts his spear and prepares for another throw.”
“Toddy, what are you doing?” I tried to get him to look at me, to snap him out of the trance that he seemed to have entered, but he stared down at the table with eyes full of rage.
He rolled a fourteen. “Sir Drexler leaps from his mount and lands on the back of Scottie’s head, crushing his skull and ending his life instantly.”
Silence fell over the table. Scottie and Len stared at each other in horror and confusion. Scottie had spent three years playing that character.
“Toddy,” I said. “What are you doing?”
Part 4 is HERE.
Copyright 2020 Jeff Suwak