by VJ Miller, Sr.
CHOICES? Remain in this world and know you’ll earn a slow, unrewarding, tormented fate. Or, roll the dice on a reality of adventure and possible early death – if that life truly exists.
Weeks have passed and Barney is home to convalesce. His days and nights are filled with trips to and from the Dreamworld. Ronal is learning how to converse in the barbaric world and relearns the use of his sword. Barney is getting stronger with each passing day.
Jenny has come for her regular visits after work and on weekends. She goes happily about doing the cleaning and washing.
“Are you sure you’re ready to go back to work tomorrow?”
I’ve been out nearly two months. Disability payment only go so far y’know.”
“You know I’ll help- any way I can.”
“I’m aware of that and we’ve been over this many times. I’ve got to get back to work and concentrate on other things. The boredom gets old.”
She sits next to him and places a hand on his knee. “The dreams still bothering you?”
“They’re so damn vivid. I could swear I was actually there.”
“It’s that overactive imagination of yours. You should stop reading those adventure books.”
He toys with the amulet in his fingers. “I haven’t read any other thing than the newspaper since I came home.”
“Maybe you do need to get back to work and get your mind off this make-believe world of yours.”
He scoffs. “Make believe. I’m, not so sure.”
“Oh Barney. Let’s not start that again.”
She gets up from the sofa and he grabs her arm to stop her.”
“You just can’t understand how vivid these dreams are, can you?”
She pulls away. “I understand you’re going to drive yourself nuts if you carry on this way.”
“You can’t know what it’s like. When I’m there I’m somebody. Feared and respected by everyone. Here I’m nothing and nobody. I’ve got nothing.’
“You’ve got me. Isn’t that enough for you?”
“I don’t know. If there was just some way to stay there?”
Seconds pass in utter silence. Barney realizes he’s said the wrong thing then Jenny erupts.
“Get your head together and come down to earth for Christ’s sake. This is the real world. There is no other.” He sits in stunned silence while she grabs her coat then heads for the door where she pauses. “I’ll see you at work tomorrow. That is if you still want me for a friend.” She slams the door as she leaves. Barney jumps up and goes to the door but stops. He’s contemplative.
“Aw, Jen. I wonder what Ur Soola would think of all this? She’d likely call me daft for wanting to be here.”
The long boring day drifts slowly into late evening and night. Barney changes to his PJs and prepares for bed. He downs a couple of sleeping pills and waits for them to take effect then climbs into bed. Rolls over and is instantly asleep.
Ronal wakes with a start. It is morning already. The Demi Seer has just entered and tells Ur Soola that he wishes to speak with Ronal, alone. She opens her moth to speak but is waved off before she can say a word. Frowning and muttering as she goes. Ronal stretches and flexes to warm up his muscles.
“You are progressing well my son,” says the Demi Seer. “But you sleep much more than you should because you spend more time awake in your other life.”
“Explain, old man. How can such a thing be?”
“It is believed by the Majik’s that reality has many facets as does a polished gem; each one separate and known only to itself. Somehow your amulet has allowed you to merge across the planes.”
Ronal touches the amulet and rubs it gently with his big hand. “But why would such a melding happen?”
Somehow the witch woman knew Ronal would perish before he could fulfill his destiny. The amulets were insurance to allow Ronal to cheat death.”
“But… why does part of me remain in the other realm?”
“The Majik’s, or doctors as you call them, fought a valiant fight to retain it there and now you are trapped in-between, linked only through your dreams.”
“But how did the shop keeper in my world know to get the other amulet to me?”
“Chance perhaps, but I cannot believe that when there is so much, we are not allowed to know about Majiks. She may be a sorceress who can easily travel between realms and can manipulate fate.”
“But I wish to remain here in this realm. Barney is a loser in my world.”
“Do not speak harshly of Barney,” he chastised. “The sorceress saw fit to believe he was worthy.”
“There must be some way for me to remain here.”
The old man gives a gesture of futility. “Alas, I know no way to sever the tie.”
This day begins the retraining of Ronal in the martial arts disguised as simply training. The Demi Seer gives him lessons in day-to-day trappings of society. Ur Soola spars with him with weapons and hand to hand combat. They revel in each other’s companionship.
Once again alone in the cave while Ur Soola prepares food for dinner.
“Your training proceeds most swiftly,” says the Demi Seer.
“I am as amazed as much as you are, old man. This body seems to have memories of its own. I am performing moves without thinking.”
“Perhaps a left-over remnant of Ronal?”
The days end meal complete Ronal is drowsy and goes to lay on the bed.
Awakening with a start, bathed in sweat, heart ponding, Barney sat bolt upright. His muscles ached as if he’d run a marathon.
“If that was only a dream it was awfully intense. If one of these realities is a dream which one, is it.” He throws off the blankets and heads for the shower. An hour later he is entering his office building.
Walking into the main area of his job he is greeted by other co-workers who welcome him back, patting him on the back and wishing him well. Jenny walks up to greet him. He is happy to see her.
“You, okay?” she says.
“I’m fine, just fine.”
“I’m sorry about yesterday.”
“Forget about it. It’s okay.”
It was then that one of his tormenters, Franks, spots him from across the room. He shouts so everyone will hear. “Hey look. Look everyone. It’s our hero, Barney Fitzer. A legend in his own mind.” The office breaks up in raucous laughter.
‘What’s he talking about,” Barney says to Jenny.
Guilt displays upon her face. “I’m sorry, Barney. He overheard me talking to Madge about your dreams last week. I’m afraid it’s spread like wildfire around the office.”
“Oh just, great. Not only do I have to put up with Callahan and Franks, now everyone else will be taking a shot at me.”
“Not everyone,” says Jenny.
The first Day back to work did have if’s ups and downs. Most were pleased to see that Barney had returned and was feeling well, as did his boss, while Callahan and Franks could not hold back their taunting any time, they saw him. He spent the better part of the day just trying to catch up and assimilate all the changes. His tormenters didn’t make it easy. Not soon enough, it was time to call it a day.
“You want to come over to my place tonight?” said Jenny.
“I can’t. I’m just worn out after this long day. I just want to go home and relax.”
“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
The seemingly long day, longer than it truly was, Barney was more tired than he knew; more brain tired than anything. He had a can of soup for dinner and was ready for bed. While he changed, he could only mutter to himself how he wished he could get even with Callahan and Franks, somehow. He was sound asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
Ronal blinked his eyes and was immediately aware of the Demi Seer looking down at him.
“I see you are awake now,” said the Demi Seer.
He sat up then stood in front of the old man. “How long have I been out?”
“Too long I should think.”
“What can be done to keep me here longer?”
“I have not the—”
Abruptly, the sounds of numerous hoofbeats and the howling’s of a ravenous horde reach their ears. They run outside to see a pack an angry horde riding through and around the village, disrupting cook fires and knocking over anyone in their path.
“Raiders,” said the Demi Seer.
Without thinking, Ronal runs back into the cave to shortly reappear with his massive sword. He dashes past the old man, down to the village to face the horde.
“Ronal,” says the Demi Seer. “Be careful my son.”
Ronal anchors himself in the middle of the road while the raiders race around the village to make a second pass. His massive sword twirled easily in his fingertips while he waited. Ducking under the initial charge of a spear carrying raider, Ronal swung his deadly weapon up under the armpit of the Hun, severing the arm at the shoulder. His follow-through caught the next raider behind the ear leaving his head dangling from a few threads of flesh.
Shouting, Ronal cursed at the horde. “Come and die at the hands of, Ronal you filthy dogs.”
Hands arms and other body parts fell like leaves from a tree in Autumn. Blood running hot, he relished each swing of his deadly sword. No movement was lost in vain while he stood spattered in blood, body parts at his feet. Laughing all the while, eyes flashing in brilliant revelry.
Ur Soola is bathing in the water of a nearby oasis when the sounds of furious battle reach her ears. Eyes wide as saucers. “Ronal.” She runs from the water, grabs her clothes and hurries to the village.
Horses becoming a liability, the raiders dismount in favor of new tactics. They will surround Ronal and take him down.
Ur Soola, tossing her clothes aside, she grabs a scimitar that has fallen from a raider and races naked to stand with Ronal. The Demi Seer watches in rapture, seeing their unholy intent. Standing back-to-back they hold off the advance of the rabid horde, neither seeking not giving quarter.
“Must I always come to your rescue?” she chides him.
“Must you always remind me of it?”
Bravado giving way to discretion, those that were not dead or fatally wounded ran for their horses and escaped into the desert.
Chests heaving, covered in raiders blood, the two warriors faced each other, encircled each other in weary arms, kissing each other fiercely. Arms around each other they hurried off to the oasis. Once there they ran into the waters to wash the blood off each other then partake of each other’s flesh.
Picking up their clothes where they’d been tossed aside, they dressed hurriedly and returned to the cave to continue their revelry. Food, Meade and wine were brought to the cave in gratitude for thrashing the horde. The celebration continued long after the sun had set before everyone went back to their huts. Exhausted, Ronal and Ur Soola fell on the bed to rest.
The next few days when Ronal was awake were spent in teachings from the Demi Seer and sparing with Ur-Soola to add to his strength and endurance.
It is evening when Jenny and Barney enter her darkened apartment. Barney switches on a lamp, throwing off his coat he flops on the couch.
“I’m glad this week is over,” he said.
“They been tough on you, huh,” said Jenny.
“Most everyone has given up the jokes except Callahan and Franks.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“Oh, let it go willya. If they weren’t riding me about my dreams it’d be something else.”
“Look, Jenny. I know you asked me over to have dinner but I’m gonna have to take a raincheck.”
“But why? You’ve been such a social hermit since you got out of the hospital. I was hoping we could spend more time together.”
“And we will. Just not tonight.”
“Say… Why don’t we go to your place, and I’ll make dinner there?”
“I’d really rather be alone for now.”
“You sure I can’t change your mind?”
“Look. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
She turns her back on him, eyes misting. “So just go then, will you.”
He attempts to say something then just grabs his coat. He pauses at the door. “I’ll call you.” She is silently crying as he leaves.
Barney fumbles with his keys then enters his house, drops his coat on a chair then heads for the bathroom. Opening the medicine cabinet, he takes out a bottle of sleeping pills, tosses back a few before heading to the bedroom. Undressing he tosses his clothes haphazardly on a chair then climbs into bed. He stares at the ceiling while his eyes slowly blur and close.
It is early morning and Ronal awakes to find himself soundly chained to a cross, staring at the rising sun. Realizing his peril, he thrashed wildly in a vain attempt to extricate himself. A deep voice comes to him from the direction of the sun.
“You sleep too soundly for a warrior.” The voice coming from a huge black shadowy figure standing between Ronal and the blinding sun. Several other men and horses stand about in silence. “It has proven your downfall.”
Ronal squints at the light. “Come out of the glare, filth of a dog, so I can see who I will soon disembowel.”
“You are still the impudent one. I thought you must surely have perished as you thought I had.” The huge looming figure comes in close. Ronal’s eye rises sharply.
“Impossible. You are dead.”
“Fool. The Agga Seer can never die. My magic will always resurrect me in time. But you are a magician yourself. My venom should have ended your worthless life.”
“Perhaps the Agga Seer is not as mighty as he believes.”
In a fit of rage, the Agga Seer thrusts his huge palm out firmly across the face of Ronal. “Remember thy place, filth. You are the chained-up dog and I am the master.”
“I know no master as long as I breathe.”
“Which will not be much longer. You are much too dangerous to live till another sunset.”
“Gee, Thanks,” he says rattling his chains.
While Ronal strains at his bonds the Agga Seer unsheathes his razor-sharp scimitar. From a pocket a clay bottle. Uncorking it he then dips the tip of his scimitar in it. “I’ve prepared a much more potent potion for you this time.”
The Agga seer placed the point of his weapon on the throat of Ronal. Slowly, he allowed the point of the blade to trace a gash down Ronal’s chest, laying open the flesh.
Gritting his teeth, evoking a sneer the scimitar traced lava down Ronal’s chest. He would show no pain for his enemy to exploit.
“There infidel. You are dead.”
“So, you thought the last time.”
“Only the magic of the omnipotent could save you this time.”
“Till I breathe my last you will not be safe from my retribution.”
A demonic laugh erupts from the Agga Seer throwing his head back in amusement. Turning his back on Ronal, the Agga Seer strides majestically to his ebony steed held by two of his guardsmen and mounts the beast.
“Ponder this warrior while your profitless life drains from you. I have your woman.” Ur Soola is bound tightly and gagged upon another horse. Her eyes plead. “Upon my return I shall give her my seed and she will bear me many strong sons.”
While the Agga Seer and his horde depart Ronal strains at his bonds. He feels the murderous venom inflame his chest and the murderously intense sun rapidly rise in the morning sky.
“Aaaaaaah. If the venom doesn’t kill me first the sun will suck the rest of my life from me. Was the first Ronal so arrogant he did not feel this for what it was?” He takes a deep breath and exhales completely. “If this were truly a dream, what would it matter?”
Gritting his teeth, he strains at his fetters then relents. “Fool. Tis no dream, tis real. But not for much longer if I cannot release myself.” Deep seeded rage begins to well up withing him. He floods his memories with all the innate hate, the frustration, and disillusionment from his other life stored there. Herculean muscles are put to the task
“These chains are going to break or I will.”
Seconds upon minutes drain away as he continues his onslaught. His brain swims in the heady nectar of the Agga Seer’s venom. Sweat, heat, internal and without claw at his stamina. Determined, he will neither rest nor slacken his pressure. Then. A slight pop, a weakness in the chains. Hearing this he is flushed with renewed intensity, a new resolve. With a guttural roar he puts every last ounce of energy into a last mighty attempt. The land swirls crimson, beyond the lash of pain. He feels nothing.
Abruptly the sound of thunder and a roar from his throat, the chains explode apart; shards of twisted metal fly in all directions. He drops to his knees, exhausted, sucking in huge amounts of intensely hot air.
“I warned you, as long as I had breath, I’d end your putrid life.” He clutches at his swollen, red, oozing chest. “But you will have to wait while I go for help. I’m not that stupid.” Agonizingly slow he drags himself to his feet. Eyes in a blur and swimming to and fro, he staggers off to the west and the village of Xan. It’s all he can do to remain on his feet. His out of focus bloodshot eyes are met by slain and dismembered bodies lying as litter everywhere. Those not slain are nowhere to be found.
Finding the home of the Demi Seer, Ronal staggers to the open door and leans in the opening. “Where are you, old man— You can’t be dead— I need you.”
Ronal stumbles against shelves and tables, knocking their contents to the earthen floor, breaking many clay bottles. His eyes blur and swirl then he crashes to the floor.
Barney sat bolt upright at dawn in a cold sweat. “Oh Christ! Ronal can’t be dead.” Barney rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. Tossing and turning, it was futile. He sat up. “Damn, it’s no use, I can’t get back there.” All he can do is get out of bed and get dressed.
In the kitchen, it’s all he can do to make breakfast, but after a fork full he isn’t hungry and tosses it into the trash. The morning paper is no distraction this morning. Later, in the Livingroom the TV is no more a distraction than the paper was. The news is just too depressing.
The phone draws attention to itself. He’s in no mood to talk but he lifts the receiver to his ear. “Hello… Oh hi, Jenny… I know I was supposed to call but I’ve been preoccupied… Yes, I had another dream, but this one was different… I think Ronal is dead…” The phone goes dead replaced by the dial tone. “Hello?… hello? Jenny. Are you there?” He gives a what the fuck look at the receiver then shaking his head he drops it into the cradle. “Hmpf. That’s what I like about you. You’re so understanding.”
The rest of the day was spent in cleaning up, vacuuming and general make busy work. The phone rang a couple of different times but he ignored it. At about sunset he took a shower, took some sleeping pills and went to bed.
A shaft of sunlight shone brightly across Barney’s bed causing him to stir at 7AM. He’d been sweating and his pillow was soaked. “No dream. He must be dead, or is he? All the smells and the heat were so vivid.” Disgusted, he tosses off the blankets and gets out of bed.
Having gotten dressed he is in the kitchen pouring coffee into his mug. The toaster pops up and he removes the bagel from it. The heat instantly scalds his fingers and he drops it quickly onto a plate. “Shit.” The heat burns his fingertips as he spreads cream cheese on it. As he takes a bite the doorbell chimes.
Barney opens his front door and is greeted by Jenny. She is a little sheepish.
Not surprised to see her he says, “C’mon in.” He steps aside to let her in then closes the door behind her.
She turns to face him. “You didn’t answer your phone yesterday.”
“What’d you expect after you hung up on me. Anyway, I was kinda busy around the house and had a lot on my mind.”
“And I’m not going to ask what it was. So, I was thinking — it’s going to be a warm day. Why don’t we go somewhere?”
“I… don’t know. I’ve got a lot—”
“Aw c’mon Barney. We haven’t had the car out in months. Let’s go for a drive and get some air.”
Barney ponders for a few seconds while he looks around the house and not a Jenny. “All right. It’ll be a good way to pass the time.”
“Sure, it will and we’ll have a great time.”
The low angle sun is bright against the house when they emerge and walk to the attached garage. He opens the door to reveal a car under a cloth cover. Jenny helps to remove the cover on a 57 Chevy. The car has been little used except to run it once a week for a few minutes or trips to the grocery store. They get in the car and barney puts the key in the ignition.
“I haven’t tried to start it since I was in the hospital,” he says. “Cross your fingers.”
The first attempt to turn it over ends in defeat. “Rats.”
“Give it another try,” she encourages. “It’ll work.”
The engine grinds for a few seconds then catches, belching out a cloud of black smoke from the exhaust pipe. The air clears quickly in the light, early morning breeze. Barney backs the car out of the garage stopping to close the garage door, he returns to back the car out onto the street and drive away.
They spend the day driving along highways and country roads, stopping at and Inn for lunch then back to the road again.
The last rays of a setting sun leave a soft red glow on the horizon. Barney pulls the car to the curb in front of Jenny’s apartment. She gets out then leans back into the window. “You sure you don’t want to come up for a while?”
“I had a great time. We need to do this more often.”
“Maybe we will.”
She stands at the curb watching him drive away into the night for several seconds then turns to enter her building.
It’s totally dark when Barney pulls off the street into his driveway. He gets out to open the garage then parks the car inside. Closing the garage door, he heads to his front door.
It’s a gloomy morning when Barney arrives at work. Getting off the elevator he is met by Jenny.
“Yeah, I know. I couldn’t get to sleep last night.”
“You all right?”
“Fine, just a little tired. I called out but the Boss jumped all over me about how I’d lost enough time as it is. So here I am.”
“Well, take care of yourself and I’ll see you later.”
Barney sat at his desk in his office and was not in a good mood, mostly distracted. He was in no condition to tolerate Callahan and Franks when they went into their insipid routine.
“How’s our hero this morning,” Franks said from the open door.
“Why don’t you two go bother someone else for a change?”
Callahan and Franks surround Barney’s desk.
“Why Barney boy,” said Callahan. “You’re so much more fun than anyone else.”
“You mean I’m the only one who takes your crap.”
“Tell us,” said Franks. “Has the mighty warrior slayed any new dragons lately?”
“You’re not funny.” Barney said while getting up to place some papers in the file cabinet, Callahan close on his heels.
“NO but you sure are,” said Callahan. “C’mon, tell us about all the damsels in distress you’ve saved this week.”
Barney begins to breathe heavily as his blood is starting to boil.
“Yeah,” said Franks. “Hey. Did they let you get into their pants?” And his tormenters both burst into laughter.
That was the straw that did it and Barney erupts.
“Stay thy spurious tongue, infidel. Lest I cut it out for you,” said Barney, and his tormenters are surprised at what has come out of his mouth.
“C’mon, Conan,” said Franks. “Thrash me within an inch of my life,” while he shadowboxed around Barney.
A sudden knee jerk to Franks groin brought the jokester to his knees, sucking in his breath between squeals. Callahan, as he discovered made the blunder of grabbing Barney by the collar and jerking him around was met by four boney knuckles impacting with the bridge of his nose. Yelping in pain, bloody snot spurting from his nose, Callahan reached for his aching snout while backing away in utter shock.
Pumped up now, Barney shoves Callahan over his desk to land once more on his aching nose. “Be warned, filthy curs. Next time I shall end your worthless existence.”
The office staff was quickly drawn to the commotion as Barney stomps out of his office but not before taking the opportunity to slap Franks upside the head who is still down on his knees. The rest of the office workers are frozen in shocked silence. They’d just witnessed what they thought, an impossibility to see Callahan and Franks get a huge dose of karma.
Twenty minutes later they’d been ushered into the boss’s office. A burly, balding man in his fifties, a loudmouth when aroused. A stump of a cigar clamped tight in his mouth he is yelling at Barney, Callahan and Franks.
Returned to his senses, Barney sits in a subdued state. Callahan and Franks are beside themselves and crying foul.
“Shut up you two,” says the boss. “Ya been raggin’ on the guy for years. Now he’s shown some backbone and cleaned yer clocks. I’m ashamed of ya.”
Head down, sitting meekly, Barney smiles slightly and snickers.
“And you, Fitzer. I don’t know what’s gotten into you. Ever since you got out of the hospital ya ain’t been the same.” The boss is animated now, flailing arms and pointing at Barney. “You come in here late two or three times a week, you wanna leave early, I can’t get you on the phone when I need ya, Ya look like somethin’ the cat dragged in most o’ the time.” The boss leans on his knuckles on his desk. Barney is starting to get annoyed with the tirade aimed at him. “You goin’ loco or somethin’. Ya better see a shrink before you really go nuts.”
Enough was enough and Barney gave it back with both barrels.
“Swine,” he says as he stands up. “You are not fir to wipe cattle dung off my sandals.”
Callahan and Franks are dumbfounded at the turn of events. The boss is about to have a stroke.
“What the hell are you talkin’ about?”
“Silence infidels,” says Barney. “I will have no more of this.”
Barney takes the chair he was sitting in and flings it into the boss’s chest driving him back onto his own chair. Callahan and Franks want no part of this and shrink back even farther. The boss bellows as he struggles to get up.
“That’s it. I’ve had enough of this crap. You’re fired, Fitzer. Get your shit and get out of here before I call Security to toss your ass out in the street
A seething Barney stood his ground as he came back to reality. “Forget it I QUIT. And as far as I’m concerned you can shove this place where the sun don’t shine. SIDEWAYS.”
Barney stalks out slamming the door behind him shattering the glass, leaving the three men to scratch their heads in confusion.
Not wanting to go home right away, barney stopped off to the bar on Broad St. in an attempt to drown his sorrows. A few hours later he still could not get a buzz, the adrenaline still coursing through his system. Seeing the futility of it he left the bar for the bus home.
He sat on the sofa in his living room in the dark. The phone rang several times but he refused to answer, letting the answering machine screen all calls, one from Jenny.
“Barney, please answer the phone… What happened today? People said you went nuts… C’mon, pick up. I know you’re there… All right, I’ll talk to you later. Good night.”
Barney just sat in the dark shaking his head. This day had been a real cluster fuck from start to finish. Even Morpheus would not help him as he tossed and turned but could not fall asleep. He pops more sleeping pills and downs some whiskey but still could not fall asleep. The night slowly dissolves into day. He has nodded off for brief seconds but wakes with a start. He sits up groaning and moaning and cradling his head in his hands. He’s a mess. There is persistent knocking at his front door.
Having slept, or trying to sleep he is still in his clothes from the previous day. Through the glass, over the curtains at a front window he can see Jenny knocking on the door several times.
“Barney. Barney, answer the door.” He stands watching but does not answer the door. “All right. Be that way. But I’m coming back after work and you have some explaining to do.”
It’s nearly noon when Barney lays down on the sofa to watch the noon news. During the reporting of a senseless murder downtown his eyes flutter shut.
Ronal lies on a bed of furs in the Demi-Seers hut. Burning with fever his tongue is swollen and dry. Fire pots crackle around him with burning incense and other herbs. An ancient, bedraggled man approaches Ronal and gazes into his catatonic eyes. His gnarly hands cradle Ronal’s head and pours purple liquid into his mouth The old man wavered and swirled in Ronal’s shimmering glazed over vision.
“Thank The Deity you are still with us. I know you cannot speak. Just listen, my son. I found you after you had fallen. The accursed Agga-Seer’s men could not find me where I lay hidden behind the veil of invisibility. The old man reaches for a compress in a bowl of water, wrings it out and places it on Ronal’s forehead. “Your body resists the Agga-Seer’s venom but I cannot stay the assault. I have done all that I am able but this will not be adequate to the task. Ronal must be kept in this reality. His spirit is the only force with which the body may stay alive.”
Ronal erupts in a fit of coughing then lays back staring blankly into the old man’s eyes.
“Barney, there is but one hope… and this may not be assured. It will require the ultimate sacrifice.” The Demi-Seer’s words trail off as if down a dark hallway.
Barney’s eyes snap open; he’s slept only 15 minutes according to his watch. He sits up sharply and puts his feet on the floor. “He’s still alive. But for how long?”
There is a persistent rapping on his front door. It’s Jenny.
“Open up, Barney. I know you’re in there.”
Disgusted, he hurries to the door. “All right, all right already. I’m coming. You don’t have to break it down.”
He jerks open the door and she steps inside.
“Why aren’t you at work?”
“Well, you aren’t answering your phone so I had to take a long lunch so I could speak to you.”
“Can’t we do this later I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
She gives him an annoyed look. “You’re not talking about your dream hero are you?”
“And if I am?”
“Aw c’mon, Barney You’re letting this get out of hand.”
“Ronal needs me. He’s dying.”
She gets directly into his face. “How can someone who doesn’t exist, die?”
“You don’t know that,” while he turns away from her glare.
She is animated now. “Neither do you. These are just figments of your imagination brought on by excessive need fostered by all the adventure books you read.”
“Thank you, Sigmund Freud. You think it’s all in my imagination.”
“Callahan and Franks got a hefty dose of my imagination, yesterday.”
“I’m glad you stood up to them but did you have to take out your anger on your boss as well?”
“The illiterate asshole had it coming to him for a long time.”
She’s a little more subdued now. “Fair enough. But I’ve been talking to him.”
“About me I suppose?”
“Yes. I’ve convinced him you weren’t thinking straight and he’s ready to give you your job back.
Barney strokes his chin slowly. “I’m not so sure I want it back.”
“You’ve got to be practical. Good paying jobs are scarce these days.”
He turns away from her, with fist to chin and she comes around to face him.
“Now look. He’s going to call you after his meeting this afternoon. All you have to do is apologize to him and everything will be back to normal.”
“Yeah, well. Maybe I don’t want to go back to normal. I’ll have to think about it.”
“That’s all I ask,” crossing to the front door. “Now I gotta get back to work.” Opening the door she stops halfway out. “You will speak to him when he calls?”
He’s only able to foster an indignant reply. “Yes. I’ll talk to the fat jerk.”
She steps back to give him a kiss. “Good. I’ll call you tonight.”
Barney closes the door. “If I’m still here.” He returns to the couch and flops down on it pondering. “What’s there to return to? Just ridicule and indifference, crowded subways, foul people, disease, radiation. Better to die with a sword in your hand fighting to protect what was yours.”
The afternoon dissolves away while Barney paces the room, sits down then gets up, looks out the window trying to make up his mind what he wants to do.
The Demi-Seer’s last words echo in his mind. “It will require the ultimate sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice.” And trails off. Barney’s fist softly raps the window sash.
“But — what if it IS only a dream. It’d all be for nothing. How can I be sure?”
Abruptly he makes up his mind and walks briskly to the front door. When his hand grasps the knob, the phone rings. He halts then opens the door. The phone is incessant. He closes the door and crosses to pick up the phone.
He is testy. “Yes?”
“Fitzer,” says his boss. “I don’t normally do this but Jenny convinced me that maybe you was not yourself.” Barney stands impatiently. “She tells me you are ready to apologize, so I’ll bend the rules and take you back. ‘Sides, no one actually understands your job as good as you do. Whatta you say?”
Barney waits just long enough to make his boss wonder if he has been talking to himself. “Stuff it.”
“You heard me. I said stuff it. Sideways.”
The boss goes ballistic on the other end of the phone as Barney drops the receiver in its cradle. “Thanks. You pompous ass. If I had any doubts about what I gotta do you just decided for me.” He strides firmly to the front door, exits the house and closes the door gently behind him. All is quiet now, but a storm is brewing.
This story adapted from my anthology
If you have any thoughts on this series if you liked or didn’t please feel free to comment
©2023 VJ Miller, Sr. Fair use rights with attributes are implied