My heart felt like a mallet beating against the bass drum of my chest as I banged on Toddy’s door. I had never been so frightened in my life, yet there was also a resolve within me that was greater than anything I’d experienced before.
This was real life, I told myself, not a role playing game. I, Sean Rosencrance, was about to kick some ass to save my friends. In that moment, it was easy to understand the romance of soldiers giving their lives for their brothers.
Toddy threw the door open, eyes blazing balefully. “Finally ready to face Sir Drexler?”
“No, Toddy,” I said. “I’m ready to face you.”
And, with that, I punched Toddy in the face.
He fell back into a sitting position on the floor. He looked more confused than anything else, gazing up at me in bewilderment as if looking for an answer to a perplexing question. It was so comical looking that I actually started laughing.
I left him sitting there and walked to his bedroom where the Sir Drexler module waited in the clear spot on the floor. As I bent to pick it up, something hit me in the back of the head. The force sent me tumbling forward into the junk.
I rolled to my back just in time to see Toddy standing over me with a garden gnome hoisted high in the air. I slipped out of the way just as the statue smashed onto the floor.
Without even slowing down he picked another gnome up over his head.
I reached to my side for something, anything, to defend myself with. My hand closed immediately over a twenty-sided die. I winged the icosahedron into Toddy’s eye. He shrieked and dropped the statue as he clutched reflexively at his face.
I scrambled to my feet and hit him in the mouth. This time he was laid out completely on his back.
I jumped on top of him and hit him twice more. The last shot seemed to knock some sense into him.
“You done, man?”
Toddy blinked through a rapidly swelling eye. “Yea,” he said. “Where’d you learn to hit like that?”
The voice was that of the Toddy I used to know, not Sir Drexler.
“You could have killed me with that gnome, man. And you put Scottie and Len in the hospital.”
His expression softened. “What’s wrong with Scottie and Len?”
The look in his eyes said he was telling the truth. He didn’t remember any of it.
“Toddy, we’ve got to destroy that book.”
I stood and picked up the module.
The otherness in Toddy’s eyes returned. Face twisted in rage, he lurched to his feet.
“Toddy,” I yelled, trying to get through to him. “This damn book is killing two of your friends.”
The alien light in his eyes faded, but not all the way, just enough to allow him to turn away.
“Go,” he said desperately. “Do it now.”
I ran from the room and out the front door, digging in my pocket for my lighter as I went. In the yard I flicked the flame and held it to the book. Just before the module took fire, the face of Sir Drexler on the cover twisted into an expression of seething, screaming rage.
I let out a weird barking sound of fear, the only time in my life I ever produced that particular noise, and dropped the burning tome to the grass.
Toddy burst out of the trailer door and vaulted over the side of the porch. Just before he reached the book, it exploded into a ball of blue fire. I diverted my eyes from the painful brightness.
When I looked back, Toddy was on his knees before it, reaching for the fire.
Toddy stopped, his finger just outside the reach of the flame. He looked at me at first in anger, but the look faded way into confusion. He was Toddy again. This time, he stayed.
“What’s gotten into you, Toddy?”
He stared into the dwindling flames.
“It was the book. It would talk to me at night, man.” His lower lip quivered slightly. Not much, but enough for a best friend to detect. “It talked about horrible things.”
“Something happened before that, though. Before we ever saw that store. You turned into a real asshole a long time ago, man.”
Toddy didn’t answer for a while.
I thought he hadn’t heard me and was ready to say it again when he turned slowly to look at me.
“You guys are going to leave me, just like my dad. You all act like we’ll always be friends, but we won’t be. You’re going to go off to college and I’m going to get a job at a gas station or something. It’s going to happen anyway, so I guess I figured I might as well accept it now.”
For the first time in my life, I saw Toddy for what he was — a kid, lost, scared, and wounded.
“You don’t have to pump gas. You act like it’s all a foregone conclusion, but it’s not.”
I paused, summoning the courage to say the afterschool special line that I knew needed to be said. “You can do whatever you want.”
Toddy scoffed. “Thanks, coach.”
“Be a smart ass all you want, man. You’re my best friend and I’m not going to let you down, anymore. Maybe you could design games or something. You’re the best Lair Guide ever.”
He smirked. The swelling had grown to completely block out his eye.
“What if I say no? You going to kick my ass again?”
We laughed nervously. Some part of me knew then that the tables in our friendship had changed forever. I’m guessing some part of him knew it, too.
Toddy stood up and kicked the smoldering Sir Drexler module. A black cloud of papery ashes blew away with the wind.
Part 8 is HERE.
Copyright 2020 Jeff Suwak