This is the first story I wrote for The First Line. August 2012, 3393 words.
A light snow was falling as Charlie Reardon left the diner and made his way down Madison Street.
“Ugh, more snow,” he grumbled to himself as he looked around in disgust and burrowed further into his heavy winter coat. Already they’d had three feet of snow and it was only October. Shivering into his coat, he trudged on down the street.
It was Friday night and Charlie was heading home. It had been a long week and he was looking forward to spending the weekend alone. If the weather was any indication, he’d be spending the weekend inside, which suited him to a tee. His new video game had arrived Wednesday and he was eager to play. He’d held off playing it, knowing he’d stay up all night and end up tired and irritable at work, only ensuring an even longer week. He began to strategize and imagine how he’d begin, becoming completely oblivious to all around him.
Video games were his life, sometimes he and his friends would have marathon gaming sessions. His dream in life was to create his own game with him as the star.
Reaching his apartment, he quickly divested himself of his coat, scarf, hat and boots. He walked into the kitchen and started to brew some coffee. While that was cooking, he booted up his computer. Rubbing his hands together, an excited gleam entered his eyes. Walking back to the kitchen to retrieve his coffee, he hurried back to his desk and sat down.
Glancing around to ensure he had everything he might need for the foreseeable future, he started the game. As it loaded, it told a story of a woman kidnapped from her one true love. Sent to rot in a castle far away from everything she knows and everyone she loves, her one true love begins a campaign to find her. Leaving no stone unturned and no villain alive, he will rescue his love – come death or hell.
Leaning back in his chair Charlie looked around for the game box and groaned. “What is this crap?” Not able to find the box, he ejected the disc from his computer. “It says ‘Massacre in Oblivion’, but this is not the right game.”
Knowing all the stores were closed for the night and not having anything better to do, Charlie decided to play the game anyway. He put the disc back in his computer and restarted the game.
He skipped over the story, and created his avatar. Then he entered the game. Just as he was about to start his first mission, a fly landed on his computer screen. “Shoo!” Charlie waved his hand in front of the screen, but the fly wouldn’t move. Annoyed, Charlie flicked at the screen, trying to get the fly off his very expensive game monitor. Instead of flicking the fly, Charlie flicked his screen. A tremor rolled through his finger, up his hand to his arm and then exploded through his body. The pain was more than his brain could take and he passed out.
The sound of footsteps woke and confused him. He lived alone. Who could be in his apartment? Slowly, as his senses came back, he realized that he wasn’t sleeping on his bed. He could smell grass – fresh, spring grass. He could smell dirt, the pungent smell reminiscent of spring showers. He reached up and rubbed a hand on his face, feeling facial hair that definitely wasn’t there before. He slowly opened his eyes, afraid of what he’d see.
“What the hell?!” he roared as he jumped to his feet. “Where the hell am I?”
“Oh hello, kind sir. Did you need directions to your mission?”
Charlie turned his head and stared at an impossibly short, round man. He looked like a short version of Santa. He had white hair, a white moustache and beard and kindly blue eyes. The man barely reached Charlie’s stomach. “Who are you?”
“My name is Lancelot. How can I help you, sir?”
“I must be dreaming. It’s been a long week, I must have passed out playing the game. I have to be dreaming,” Charlie muttered as he gave himself a shake.
“Um, sir. I think you should sit down. To go home, you must complete the mission. You must save your true love – and do so without dying. If you die in the game, you die in real life. Only once you’ve rescued her, can you return to your world.”
“True love? I don’t have a true love. I barely have friends. Are you out of your mind? How did I get here? Let me out!” Charlie looked about frantically, trying to find the door out.
“I’m so sorry, sir.” Lancelot sighed, was he going to go through this with everyone? “You do have a true love, and she is in a castle. You must complete the missions and rescue her if you want to go home. Come, follow me. I can help you to get started, but it’ll be up to you to complete the missions and rescue her.”
“Rescue her? I don’t even know who “her” is! What’s her name? What is she to me? I don’t date, I’m not married. The last girl I spoke to seriously was in 10th grade. She ditched me at our school dance for a cuter boy. I swore off women after that. She’s nothing to me. I want OUT! NOW!” Charlie raged.
“It’s not to be, sir. She may have been your love in a past life, or she is the one you’re destined to be with. It matters not. You must complete the missions and rescue her if you want to go home.”
Charlie stared daggers at the little man. Racking his brain, he tried to remember the events from the night. But other than starting the game, he couldn’t remember a thing. Until he could figure a way out of this, it looked like he was going to have to play along.
“Fine. Show me what to do. But I’m warning you, if I find a way out of this – I’m leaving. She’s nothing to me and I could care less if she’s stuck in that castle for the rest of her life.”
Nodding his head, Lancelot turned and led Charlie to the first mission. “After you complete each mission, you will receive a new one. You’ll only ever have one mission at a time. As you complete each mission, they’ll gradually get harder and harder. Your final mission will, of course, be to save Gwendolyn.”
“Gwendolyn? That’s her name?”
“Am I the first person to go through this?”
Sighing again, Lancelot shook his head. “No sir. You are the fifth to come. All others have perished. I do not wish you the same fate, so please listen to me. You must be fast, smart. You must think ahead and you must ask questions. You must be alert. And most importantly, you must be her absolute true love in order to rescue her.”
“How? I’ve never met her, never laid eyes on her, never spoken to her! It’s over before it’s even begun! Kill me now, because there’s no way I’m getting out of here.”
“Not so fast, sir. As I said, she may have been your true love in a past life. And if that’s the case, this is your chance to make it right and be with her forever.”
“Seriously, a past life? Who believes in that anymore?” Charlie shook his head and paced away from Lancelot. “I’m not the man you seek. I want to go back to my crappy apartment and start playing the game I bought earlier this week. I’m not your guy.”
“As you go through the game, you come upon memories of your life together before the tragedy. By the end, you should remember who she is and why she’s your true love.”
“So one minute you tell me I AM her true love and the next minute you tell me I must BE her true love. Which is it?”
“You ARE her true love, but it’s apparent you don’t remember that. So by the end of the game, you must BE her true love in order to rescue her.” Lancelot placed his hand on Charlie’s arm. “Come,” he urged. “We must get started.”
It occurred to Charlie as he followed Lancelot that he was essentially the star of this game. This was like his dream come true. All of a sudden he was excited to continue. He would win this battle if it was the last thing he did. No way would he let the game, or himself, down!
Lancelot handed Charlie his first mission and he immediately opened it to read: Mission One – Find Gwendolyn’s locket.
“Really, Lance? Find her locket? There are no clues, no..”
“This is where I come in, sir,” Lancelot interrupted. “Follow me.” As Lancelot led Charlie down the path, he explained. “All missions have clues. Either there’ll be a picture on the mission, or the way the words are written, or even who delivers the mission – these will all assist you in completing the mission. Once you complete a mission successfully, you’ll be rewarded with a memory of Gwendolyn.”
“So the pictures, wording or person will be the clue to help me solve the mission?”
“Yes. Look at the mission again and tell me what you see.”
Charlie took the mission from Lancelot’s hand and he looked it over. All he could see was a very faded picture behind the words. If you weren’t looking close enough, you would miss it. He had when he’d first read the mission. The picture was of a small cabin by a lake. It showed a glittering gold color partially hidden in the sand of the lake. That must be the locket. But where to find the cabin?
Charlie told Lancelot what he saw and then asked how he was to find the cabin when he’d never been in this land before.
“I am taking you to the cabin. Once you have the locket in your possession, I’ll be able to give you a map.”
After an hour, Lancelot veered off the path and continued through some trees. Charlie could make out the lake. The sun was shining down and the sparkling water was hard to miss through the trees.
“Go,” Lancelot urged. “Find the locket, quick.”
Charlie didn’t need to be told twice. He jogged through the trees all the way to the water. He walked up and down the shoreline. He took the mission out of his pocket and tried to position himself where he thought the locket was. He went all the way down to the water’s edge and then into the water. He was about ankle deep when he saw it wrapped around a rock. Reaching down, he untangled the locket from the rock.
He unclasped the locket and looked down into the stunning face of a woman he could only assume was Gwendolyn. Her eyes were a piercing blue. Her skin a pale alabaster and flawless. Her hair, the deepest brown he’d ever seen. This was Gwendolyn? He was a lucky man if this all turned out to be true!
Closing the locket, he put the necklace around his own neck to keep it safe. He walked back up the shore to find Lancelot watching him.
“Like what you saw?”
“Indeed, I did. It will make this journey a lot more pleasurable in the end.”
“Yes, I suppose it does. But do not get hung up on her beauty. She is an intelligent woman. Clever and quick thinking – otherwise she would not still be alive,” Lancelot paused to let the sink in. “Come into the cabin, I will show you the map before I leave.”
As soon as Charlie crossed the threshold, a vision came to him of Gwendolyn looking down at him. She was laughing, the twinkle in her eyes so beautiful he could not look away.
“Why must you laugh at me?” he heard himself ask.
“Aw, darling – I could do naught else but laugh. You are my own love and I laugh because of that love.”
“I lie here on the ground, wounded for trying to keep you from falling…and you laugh at me?”
“Only because I love that you tried to save me from falling. You are not wounded, except in your pride. Stand darling and let’s continue our walk in the garden. I have missed you so.”
“And I you, my love.” He rose and took her hand. He discretely placed a loving kiss on her neck and watched as the blush rose steadily up her face. “Ah, I love when you do that for me,” he whispered.
The vision left as quickly as it came and Charlie stumbled into the cabin. “Whoa,” he said as he shook his head.
Lancelot grabbed his arm and led him to a chair. “Are you all right, sir?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I had one of those visions you spoke of,” he said. He described the vision, ending with her saying she missed him. “I wonder where I had been.”
Lancelot cast a startled look at Charlie. “That was the vision you received?”
“Yes, what’s the matter?”
“That isn’t the vision any of the others received. They all received the same vision – her being tied up in the castle.”
“Mine was different. What could it mean?”
“I think it’s apparent. You are the one. You will not fail.”
Charlie stared at Lancelot. He was the one? He had planned to make the best of this situation and win if possible. But now, it took on greater meaning. Charlie jumped up from the chair. “Where’s the map? Let’s get moving!”
“I’m afraid I must leave once I give you the map. If you succeed, I will see you at the end. God speed, my friend.” He took the map from his pocket and passed it to Charlie. Resting his hand on Charlie’s shoulder, he looked him straight in the eye. “Rescue her, sir. I will be waiting for you.”
Charlie nodded. “Thank you for your help so far. I will see you soon.”
He watched as Lancelot walked out of the cabin. Once he was alone, he read the map. He found the cabin he was in – in the lower right hand corner of the map. And he could see the castle – in the upper left hand of the map. Missions be damned. He was going straight to the castle. He’d take care of whatever came his way, but he wasn’t going to take his time getting there. Gwendolyn needed saving, and he was going to save her. There was no way he was giving up on the love he saw in her eyes – love she held for him and him alone.
Charlie raced out of the cabin and took a path through the forest. He had no idea how far the castle was. There was no legend on the map to indicate distance, so he went with the assumption the castle was far away.
Time seemed to stand still as he raced through the forest. He was out of the forest in no time, racing across a meadow. On the other side of the meadow he could see rocks and dirt. He stopped for a second to consult the map. He could see both the meadow and the rocky area. He was going in the right direction.
In no time at all, he reached the castle. Unsure what he would find inside, he carefully open the door and entered. It was dark and quiet. He was expecting hell, and there appeared to be nothing amiss. He walked through the rooms downstairs. Finding them all empty, he rushed up the stairs to the second floor. He continued his search and found nothing. He climbed a third set of stairs. Only one door was on this floor, and he walked to it. He knew he’d find her on the other side. He just hoped he wasn’t too late.
He opened the door and slowly went through the door. Hugging the wall, he climbed the stairs. When he got to the top, he crouched low to take in the scene.
Gwendolyn was tied to the wall. Her arms were in shackles above her head and a gag was placed over her mouth. She caught sight of Charlie crouched at the top of the stairs and her eyes widened. She frantically looked to the other side of the room and then back to Charlie.
And he understood, her captor was there. He belly crawled around the staircase and took in his surroundings. He was without a weapon, but he could see several near the captor. There was no way he’d be able to retrieve one without being noticed…or stopped.
“I see you have found us, Dark Knight. Come to retrieve your woman? I have kept her alive so you can watch her die, as I watched my own die at your hands.”
And it was then it all came back. The dark war years. The king from another land he was sent to protect. The demon who possessed the king’s wife and made her go mad. She picked up a sword from a fallen soldier and ran fully toward the king. She would have killed him had he not stopped her.
Charlie bowed low to the king. “Your majesty, I but did what I could to keep you alive.”
“I don’t want to be alive!” The king shouted. “She was my whole world and I don’t want to be a part of it without her. You took her from me and now I will repay the favor.”
“Sir, she was mad with the demon possession. Please, don’t do this. Take my life instead, please,” Charlie begged as he dropped to his knees in front of the king. “Please, I am sorry.” Charlie shook his head sadly. “But Gwendolyn, sir she has nothing to do with this. Her only mistake is loving me. Please, spare her.”
“You did not spare my queen. I must avenge her murder.” The king sighed. “Very well, I will fight you. Pick from the weapons on the floor. We shall duel to the death.”
Charlie stood slowly and perused the weapons offered. Picking up a sword, he immediately dropped to a defensive stance. He would see what the king had to offer. He didn’t wish to kill the king, but he would if it meant saving Gwendolyn. The king was mad himself, mad with grief and Charlie understood it only too well. He’d be in the same predicament if anything ever happened to Gwendolyn.
The king came at him low, aiming for a belly wound. Charlie neatly sidestepped, and marked the king’s upper arm. The king grunted and came at Charlie again. Charlie allowed the king to draw blood on his arm, hoping the king would become overly confident. The king smiled and came at Charlie again. Charlie sidestepped and marked the king’s lower arm.
They continued in this vein until the King collapsed on the floor. He’d lost a lot of blood, and that combined with his grief and the toll of waiting for Charlie to finally arrive – had worn the king out.
“Kill me now, you win.”
“I won’t kill you king. I cannot murder you as your are avenging your wife. I will release Gwendolyn and send for a doctor. This will make us even. Your life for your wife’s.”
Charlie stood and walked over to Gwendolyn. “My love, are you unhurt?”
Gwendolyn nodded her head as Charlie released her hands and untied her gag. “Charles! Charles!” She wrapped her arms around his neck and placed kisses all over his face.
Charlie held her tightly to his chest and briefly closed his eyes. She was safe. All was right in his world.
Picking her up in his arms, he crossed the room and went down the stairs. “Will you please marry me, now?” He begged.
Gwendolyn smiled up at him. “As soon as you procure a license and a vicar!”
“I love you, Gwendolyn. Welcome to your happy ever after.”
“There’s no place I’d rather be, than in your arms forever.” “You’ll never be anywhere else again,” he promised as he placed a kiss on her lips.