I regained my consciousness in quite an odd fashion. First, I wasn’t in the same place as when I passed out. The last time that happened to me was when I weighed less than a hundred pounds - probably when I was five or six. Second, my mouth felt very dry, as if I had been munching on cotton balls. Admittedly, I was hungry enough to eat some cotton balls at that moment, especially after losing all those hot pockets, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t eaten anything at all in the past six hours. Which coincidentally hasn’t happened since I was about five or six as well. I keep snacks by my bed just in case. Get your blanket, your pillow, and your snacks.
I reached into my mouth and found the culprit, Ugh, I knew I shouldn’t have let Goldrin up onto the bed.
I sat up and carefully removed all the tiny strands of dog hair from my mouth. Voices could be heard from the other room, arguing in hushed tones.
“You don’t even know what is going on here, so don’t pretend like you know what is best,” Lorelai cut, her tone sharp enough to scratch diamonds.
“I don’t need to know what is going on to know that that guy is going to slow us down and put us in danger,” Nikko boiled, doing his best to maintain his secretive whisper and failing, “I almost threw out my back dragging his fat ass to bed. On your request, mind you.”
“Cut him some slack man! He had to bury his Grandmother to survive the first wave of letters. Would it kill you to show some kindness?”
“YES!” Nikko yelled, entirely too loud, “That is what I have been trying to tell you! I’ve seen it happen tons of times on the street. It is bound to happen more now!”
“It’s not his fault! He is just having a hard time adapting. I am having a hard time adapting, as you are. For Christ sake, I broke down and cried while you were busy skinning the Scrounger and Milton completed avoided talking about the situation. He just needs a little more time to deal.”
“We don’t know if we have enough time,” Nikko warned, his voice returning to a frustrated whisper, “Who knows when the next rainbow letters will come.”
I don’t know if it was that fact that Nikko ruined the implied secretness of their conversation and everyone knew it or the fact that they were both right about me, but I felt the need to act for once. I opened the door and stepped into the Parlor. Nikko met my eyes with an unwavering indifference, and Lorelai’s face made it painfully clear that she felt bad for me.
I cleared my throat, “Thanks for sticking up for me Lorelai,” I said before glancing back into Nikko’s room, “I haven’t really adapted to the situation, and I will probably slow you down. It’s all true,” I looked to Nikko, “Thanks for carrying me to bed, sorry about your back.”
Lorelai cringed, clearly learning that I had heard the whole conversation, or at least the majority of it.
I turned back into Nikko’s room and picked up two, ten-pound dumbbells from the floor. I held them up, “Can I have these?”
“No…,” Nikko said, his eyes squinting and shoulders shrugging slightly, “...dude.”
I nodded as I set the dumbbells back down, that’s fair, I thought.
“C’mon Goldrin,” I said with a soft whistle. My loyal companion perked up from his nap and waddled to my feet. I grabbed my backpack, threw it over my shoulder, and walked out of the parlor. The only noise to signal my departure being the jingle of the bells around the front door.
I walked through the glowing blue shield around the parlor without issue and sighed relief. That was the first hurdle I knew I would have to surpass in my plan, and it meant that I was off to a good start. It would have been pretty embarrassing to walk out of the Parlor, only to have to turn back and ask Nikko to take down the shield and let me out.
I took in a breath of the heavy night air and let it out. It felt good to have a plan. It was refreshing, like chugging an ice-cold Mountain Dew after a twelve-hour dungeon raid. Something that I could focus on would do me good. Logical progression. Something I could see.
I heard an upbeat jingling sound and immediately whirled around, my Katana ready to strike.
“Why are you so dramatic,” Lorelai said as she burst from the parlor door, her arms crossing in an effort to cover he hardening nipples in the briskness of the eternal night.
I lowered my katana and shook my head, “I am not trying to be dramatic, I just have something I need to do, and it is clear that he won’t help me do it.”
“What could you possibly have to do?” Lorelai asked with a condescending smile.
“I have to find my Fedora,” I said plainly.
Lorelai gave a soft chuckle, as if to suggest I couldn’t be serious, “You can’t be serious,” she said.
“I am dead serious. You were right when you said I wasn’t processing the situation, but you were wrong when you said I just needed more time. I don’t. The world has gone to shit. I killed my Grandmother just to survive, and none of us know what we need to do next,” I said, “Except I do. I have a quest to find my Fedora, and I don’t think the rainbow letters would have given it to me unless it would help. So that is what I am going to do. I have to find my Fedora,” I repeated.
To Lorelai’s credit, she didn’t lower her head in contemplation, and she didn’t cup her chin in thought; instead, she immediately said, “let me come with you.”
“Now that is being dramatic,” I replied with a slight, unwanted satisfaction.
Lorelai shook her head, “If you are right about your fedora then it is a good idea, so it wouldn’t be smart to go alone.”
“I am not alone,” I replied, looking down to Goldrin. He borked proudly. “Besides, my house is just down the road. If I run into trouble I will whistle, there is no reason for you to leave the safety of the Parlor. I’ll even see if I can find us some food.”
“Us?” Lorelai asked.
“Yes,” I said, losing my patience, “I will get my Fedora, come back with some goodies, show Nikko that I am not just some weirdo that compartmentalizes tough life experiences and come back. If he still doesn’t want anything to do with me…” I paused, “well... My plan didn’t make it that far yet, but if that happens, then I will just come up with a new plan.”
Lorelai sighed and shook her head, “Fuck man… I don’t like this at all,” she looked at me, "can you whistle real loud?”
“The loudest,” I replied.
“Okay,” she whispered, before stepping closer and embracing me.
I blacked out for a second, and then Lorelai was gone, the only thing to signal her departure being the lingering jingle of the long-closed Parlor door.
I floated to the corner of the street like I weighed naught but five ounces, which is coincidentally the same weight as the average fairy, in a haze of clarity. I was aware that that didn’t make much sense, what is a haze of clarity anyway? But there was no other way to describe it. It was like stepping out of the room you hung up blackout curtains in so you can set up a LAN party with your friends and then stepping out outside of and discovering that it was sunny. Technically, you could see clearer than you could before, but it would take you some time to get used to all the sunlight after being without it for so long.
I practically skipped passed the mysterious house of Someone and Noone. I would have actually skipped if I thought my knees could handle it, but I was still happy that I, as a whole person, could handle something. I could manage my life, and that felt good.
Admittedly, I wasn’t that zealous, yet. I knew that this was a big step for me and that I could actually, probably, only maybe, handle the plan I came up with. It was perhaps Lorelai’s hug that was making me too sure of myself, but at least I was aware of it. Past Milton would have ridden the high, all the way to its inevitable downfall and wondered why life always shat on him when he scraped his knees on the way down. Not me though.
It also helped that as I walked down the street, I got a sobering reminder that my life wasn’t all pieced together just yet.
A loud crash sounded from inside the mysterious house, like a thousand lead ping-pong balls being dropped one by one onto the second floor until it caved under the weight and collapsed. I turned around slowly, in no rush to meet the people that lived in a house such as that one. I hoped that whoever was in there was the sort of person that was merely cooking up meth or running a cult, but no, that wouldn’t have been scary enough.
Goldrin whimpered and put a tail through his legs. I did the same, metaphorically.
Suddenly the peaked roof of the house broke at the middle, causing the two halves to fall into each other like a sinking ship. The front door opened abruptly, making way for a large leather boot. I could only assume the large boot was attached to a large leg, but it was still hidden behind the darkness of the entryway. The boot stepped forward, revealing a shin bone that crashed through the upper wooden frame on its way out. Then, all at once, the creature stepped out of the mysterious house that caged it. It collapsed as if the beast was the only thing holding it up all this time.
I stood there in awe and inspected the giant creature before me.
Avalanche- Level 8 - Increase your inspect skill to see more information.
What am I, level two? I thought as I slowly stepped backward, there is no way I can defeat that thing. It doesn’t even have any skin… I can barely kill the things that do have skin.
Agility Check Failed - You have fallen.
Shit, I thought as I scrambled to pick myself up from where I lay off the curb. Avalanche stretched his arm around as if he had never been in the open before, as he did so, the chains in his left hand jingled against the road. He tugged on them, and I began to understand how the creature got its name. The slowly settling remains of the mysterious house jerked and coughed up a mountain of large lead balls. Only these balls weren’t smooth like the tennis variety, instead, they all had roughly forged spikes. No doubt used for killing stupid people like me that always managed to trip over something when they tried to run from the bad guy. Avalanche gave his chains another jerk, and all of his spiked balls formed up in the road behind him. I couldn’t see through his blackened cowl, but I didn’t need to see the creature’s face to know that he intended to whip his chains at me and bury me in an avalanche of spiked lead. And I wasn’t going to wait for him to do it either.
I activated my self-styled, one-hand-on-your-knee-the-other-hand-grabbing-anything-that-will-support-you ability and shot to my feet. I recklessly ran up to the creature, curled my thick legs underneath me, leapt into the air as high as I could, and punched the creature in its balls - and not the lead ones. It wasn’t a technique I was very practiced in, I preferred to use my shoes when defending myself in such a manner, but to my surprise, it worked, and the enormous creature folded over in pain, just like all the other bullies that came before it.
“Bork!” Goldrin warned me.
“Good idea,” I said, turning around, “let’s get out of here.”
I ran like the wind… after the sun had gone down.
I ran like a raging river… just before it widened and wasn’t under as much pressure.
I ran like… a fat kid that had only ever run up a flight of stairs without taking a break one time in his life, total.
Endurance Check Failed - You have fallen.
“Pffffft,” was the sound my mouth made as I tried to whistle. My chest heaved in an attempt to catch up on the air I wasted and tried again, “Pfffft hhuuu huuu huuu huuu pfffft.”
I quickly realized that help was not going to come. Not only because I couldn’t whistle correctly without the very real chance of suffocating myself, but because I was only a minute walk from the parlor. Lorelai and Nikko would have certainly heard Goldrin bark, never mind hearing the house that had just collapsed. No, they had abandoned me entirely.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they went to find a new home base as soon as I left, I thought, just like when my father went to get a pack of smokes.
The lifelong anger I felt toward my father bubbled up inside me for the first time in a long time. I had mostly gotten over it and found new role-models. Tough men, men that saved damsels, fought with swords, and would never abandon their son. With all those role-models available, who really needed a father anyway? Not me.
As if my father had returned and gave me a big hug and told me he was sorry and that the only reason he left was because it was against his will, all my hard feelings disappeared. Not because my father was there, though, but because Avalanche hit me with a fuck ton of spiked balls and physical pain was the only thing that I could feel at that moment.
“Ahhhhhh,” I screamed in abject horror.
I felt my head smash into the asphalt. I wasn’t sure if it was because I fell or because I had already fallen and was busy breaking my head on the ground so that I would hopefully die and the pain would end. What a silly way to go that would be. Guy gets hit by a monster, but then robs the monster of the satisfaction of killing the guy when he just offs himself instead. What would they put on my gravestone, I pondered. Maybe something along the lines of, “Died from self-inflicted head trauma - thereby making Avalanche the laughing stock of the Skinless Monster Community. RIP Milton, master of katanas and male fashion.” I chuckled.
“BORK!” Goldrin yelled at me.
I looked at him, “No, I’m not losing it. And what are you still doing here! Run away!”
“BORK!” he argued stubbornly. I could see the love and compassion in his canine eyes. A love that could only occur by spending a lifetime together. It wasn’t the super intense, quickly fizzling out love that woman seemed to be after either. It was one that said, “If you die, I will die without you.” It said, “Do you remember that time I chewed up your shoes, but you told Grandma that you put them in the garbage disposal for some absurd reason because you thought she would get rid of me.”
“I am fine,” I told my companion, “Truly, I am. I know I have said it a lot in the past, but I really am now. I can’t explain it, but I am okay with this. Please leave,” I pleaded, doing my best to stifle a sob and failing, “because what I am not okay with is you dying too.”