Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


August 2009 Results




I Mention

Copyright © Ian Harrison 2009


I woke up, as from the pages of a ream.

I was missing a ‘d’. I on't know where it went, but that seemingly was the least of my worries.

“Davi.” Someone was calling, but, in all directions perpendicular to where I currently stood, infinity stretched on a knife-blade. I even tried leaning forward to get a better view, but I was squashed flat, pushing on that missing dimension like a mime, stuck inside his invisible glass box.

So, while my length and breadth seemed intact, I quickly realised I had no depth.

My ex-girlfriend would doubtless agree.

“Davi!” The strongly accented voice called again, more insistently this time, but craning my neck, I saw nothing but a coloured wedge coming through the void until he stood in my plane of existence.

Looking him up and down, he was the stereotypical Italian, wearing a clean, bright red cotton skivvy beneath his pair of blue King Gee overalls. He gestured expansively with his hands as he spoke, but that also involved waving a large monkey-wrench with each syllable, and it was disconcerting to not know if it was coming toward me or not – it seemed larger or smaller by a few pixels. It was a miracle he hadn’t caught his extravagant bushy brown moustache in it.

“Davi - you must help us rescue Princess Peach from Bowser. He’s captured her. Again. He’s the main Koopa around here.”

“Good luck with that...” I thought.

Then, realising I had nothing better to do, I tagged along, looking for his work ute. He gave me a funny look, opened the passenger door of a mushroom for me, and we both climbed in.

The roads through this weird land were treacherous. A large gorilla – probably escaped from a local zoo – rolled flaming barrels down the road, and I quickly realised that having no third dimension meant we could not dodge them. Helping this plumber bloke stop the coopers would mean no more barrels we’d have to leap over.

“Donkey Kong,” explained the man I now knew as Mario. “He’s kidnapped the princess himself once or twice, and even after I’ve dropped him off several buildings head-first, he doesn’t seem to have mellowed out very much. Still, he is a gorilla. There are worse things he could be throwing at us.”

I cringed and noted that the thought didn’t seem to phase him. Still, if you spend your life arm-deep in septic pipes, you probably don’t notice the Pong anymore.

The city was in turmoil.

Street Fighters, hurling unique special attacks at one another. Fists, feet, fireballs and bodies were flying everywhere. City skyscrapers looked like they’d been constructed top-down, formed as they were by shapes. Different coloured ‘T’, ‘L’, 2 x 2 blocks, straight pieces alternately standing up or lying down. Even where it didn’t make sense to include a fanciful shape, there it remained right where it had fallen, dropped from the sky, and holes gaped in the sides; with the occasional mutant dinosaur and gorilla punching through windows on a murderous Rampage.

A Spy Hunter was weaving through the traffic with abandon. We almost hit a massive jay-hopping frog as we passed by a local river and the sky seemed chock-a-block full of alien craft. They didn’t seem to be too hostile, just swept across from horizon to horizon, before approaching, a little at a time.

My plan for taking care of things was simple. Turn on the gas, and let this Bowser’s fire take care of the rest. Should be an easy task for a plumber. As it was, when we reached the front portcullis, my blue-overalled friend whispered to me “Davi, look. He's expecting us.”

It was true – the castle was better prepared than a Boy Scout preparatory school. On faculty planning day.

A slimmer plumber, wearing a forest green skivvy beneath his set of King Gees, arrived in a mushroom of his own as we were standing there. Great. I’d been picked up by the psychedelic blue-collar Wiggles. Wake me up before you go-go, Jeff.

There was a distinct family resemblance, and the green bloke rapped heavily on the gate with his monkey wrench.

“You're here... on time...” gasped the hybrid dragon-turtle king Koopa, as he opened the door. “Tradesmen...” his final word before fainting.

Flat, on his hard shell, with little stubby limbs unable to reach the cobbles to right himself.

“That was easy.” I said. “What happens next?”

“Don’t worry, Bowser will be back, Double the Dragon.”

“Oh. Do you mind if I go now?"

“Sure, Davi. Didn’t even have to resort to plan B,” replied Mario, swinging the wrench with abandon, slapping it heavily into the fleshy palm of his other hand.

“What’s Plan B?” I had to ask.

“Give him the invoice.” Mario was deadpan. “You sure we can't do anything for you?”

“I'm missing a ‘D’.” I explained to green shirt.

“Only gotta ‘G’ clamp on me,” said Luigi, finally introducing himself.

“Might try Singstar… They run from A, all the way through to G,” thought Mario, aloud.

“They’re a bit new-school for us though. But make sure you see-sharp, or you might be-flat.”

“I’ll act natural.”

“Good. Or you could always try Pacman,” ventured Luigi, after a pause. “Over that field – but watch out for the millipedes. They’re angry buggers.”

I thanked the plumbers and set off again, quite obviously through Monster Land. It felt like 1942 – or much earlier – as I met a man dressed only in his underwear. He was a knight, throwing heavy-barrelled metal lances at a thousand attacking undead zombies, ghouls, ghosts and goblins.

One zombie collapsed in flames with a shriek, leaving behind a small earthenware pot which contained a fresh set of armour, sized just right for the knight. As I helped him with the final Gauntlet, he told me of his life in another, single-dimensional universe, which, paradoxically, was full of D’s – d-4, d-8, even d-20.

“One must go back in order to go forward,” he explained, cryptically. “Dungeons and Dragons.

“Things are about to change,” warned the knight. “Monsters and ghosts will leave you alone, but you will also have new enemies. Mr Do will think you’re a ball, and try to catch you and launch you at monsters. Stay away from ravenous Pacman. He’s got real issues. Running around darkened rooms, listening to repetitive music. Got a bigger problem with power pills than the WWE.”

“He doesn’t have a D but he might be able to hook you up with an E or two. Good luck, Avid. Or should I now call you Avi?”

Avi. A movie file. I nodded.

As I relinquished my second dimension, I felt the weight of the world collapse in on me from all sides. Well, two sides at least. I’d lost my perspective on life.

I was a dot. A singularity at the end of a sentence, sitting in a book. Waiting for someone to read me and bring me to life. A virtual lifetime passed before I heard a nasally disembodied teenage voice, on the verge of breaking.

“Orcs are attacking. Orcs… Let me see… It says here that you’ve done 2-D worth of damage…”

And I was back, sprawled out on the floor, spat out. At home. Lying next to a copy of the Dungeon Masters’ manual for D&D. Someone was calling my name.

“David, where are you?”

Game over.