Scottie and Len shook off their illnesses that night. In less than an hour, each was back to normal health. The doctors were baffled by the whole ordeal.
Toddy went back to school and begged to be let back in. Principal Yarns allowed it, but only on the condition that he make up all the days he’d skipped with weekend work hours. Toddy pissed and moaned about it for the rest of the year, but he did it.
Lords and Lairs was never quite the same after that. Bad, uneasy feelings filled the room every time we sat down to play. We tried for a few weeks and then called it quits. It was like one of those really difficult breakups where you love each other but just can’t seem to find a way to make it work.
As for Olga at Tempest Gate Games — I rode my bike out to see her on the weekend after I kicked Toddy’s ass (which is how I remember it and how I reference it to him to this day).
The store was empty, and a “for lease” sign hung in the window. A note taped to the door crackled lightly in the breeze.
“Good job, kid,” it read. “You passed the first test. Celebrate while you can, because the second one’s going to be a real doozy. Until next time — Olga.”
I folded the letter and cupped my hands around the glass to look inside. The store wasn’t merely empty. The dust caking the floor looked like it hadn’t been disturbed in years.
I got on my bike and started home. The same mixed feeling that had hit me as I banged on Toddy’s door hit me all over again. Terror mingled with determination; trepidation coiled up with excitement.
This paradoxical intoxication is what it is like to feel truly alive, I told myself. This is how it’s supposed to be.
It was a hell of a thing to be sixteen years old, I decided. A wild, batshit crazy thing.
There was no way to know what test lay ahead of me, nor if I would be able to pass. There was no way to know what would be the price of failure, or of success. The whole thing was a complete mystery. But those things weren’t important.
All that mattered was that, if and when the trial finally did arrive, I jumped right in and hit it square in the mouth as hard as I could.