Noon at the Clock Tower

This is a story based on my adventures with a couple friends at GVSU, with some fantasy and some alchemical journey symbolism added. I hope they find this an interesting interpretation of our time together, and I hope the rest of you enjoy this as well! Next week, I’ll be posting the second part of my Werewolf Septology and then, due to college orientation, I may or may not have a post on Friday. Anyway, without further ado…

Zach and Phil chatted amiably as they walked toward the great clock tower, built as the focal point to the large park it resided in. The two friends had not seen each other in some time, and were anxious to catch up on things. When they reached the clock tower, they saw another friend, Laura, who stood at the tower’s base, glaring at them.

“About time you showed up.”

“Hey, we were talking,” said Zach.

Laura rolled her eyes. “You’re an hour late!”

Before they could argue further, they were startled when, above them, the clock rang out that it was noon – the familiar Winchester quarters song. As the main tune finished, and the twelve bongs started, Phil noticed a blue light emanating from the side of the tower.

“What’s that?” he asked. The others followed his gaze, and saw a door in the center of the tower..

“I don’t know.” Zach walked forward, toward it.

“Don’t open it!” Laura grabbed his shoulder, pulling him away.

“Was it here when you got here?” Phil asked her.

“No.”

“Then we should check it out.”

“Yeah. For science, or whatever,” added Zach.

Phil made another go for the door, breaking loose from Laura’s grip. His hand closed around the door handle, turned it, and thrust it open, blue light blinding the trio. Laura managed to glimpse through the light, and saw Zach following Phil through the door.

“Shoot. Well, here I go.” She ran in, just as the last note echoed through the park from the clock, and the door vanished.

 * * *

Some time later, after an existential journey floating through psychedelic images and odd colors, they found themselves at the end of a long, stone corridor. Laura looked behind her, and found, to her astonishment, that the door had vanished.

“Uh oh.”

“What?” asked Zach.

“The door’s gone.”

“That might be problematic,” said Phil, before turning toward the passageway. “Let’s see where this leads.”

He began down the corridor, the other two quickly following behind him. The passage led to another door, though this one was much less ominous and magical than the last one. It was just a plain, wooden door. Phil opened it.

“Welcome, heroes!” said a man on the far side of the hall the trio now entered. “You’ve come just in time!”

“Who are you?” asked Zach.

“I am the king of a powerful realm, but we have been struck by a terrible curse. My daughter, the Princess Shu, has been kidnapped, and I need you to rescue her.”

“Um, we’re not heroes.”

“We’re just kids,” added Laura.

“Then why are you here?” asked the king. “You would not have been able to make it here if you were not meant to help. Now go, there it your path.”

He snapped his fingers, and, at the end of the hall, a door sprang open. The three looked out, to see a dark tunnel, lit dimly by torches. Phil took the other two by the shoulder, leading them slowly down the hall and out into the tunnel. As the last of them stepped out, the door behind them closed. Zach looked back, but the hall had vanished, with the tunnel leading behind them into the blackness.

“Guess we keep going,” he said.

They followed the tunnel for some time. After almost half an hour, they entered a small room.

In the center lay a large, black funnel. A door stood across from them. As they came into the room, there was a sudden snap, and they jumped, turning around, only to see a door close behind them. It was a stone door, and, attached to it, was an old man, with a long grey beard.

“What is this place?” asked Laura.

“This is the first test,” said the old man. “Many have tried to pass, but none have yet succeeded.”

“Succeeded at what?” inquired Phil.

“Once a coin touches the funnel, it must travel for ten seconds before it can enter the hole in the center. Only then can I be released and give you the key to the way forward, or the way back.”

Laura glanced at the old man. His body was covered in rock, trapping his legs and his left arm. Now he held out his right hand, which held a gold coin. Phil reached out and took the coin, turning toward the funnel. Zach knelt down and looked at the hole, which was filled with the same stone that covered the old man.

“This is tricky,” muttered Phil.

“And totally impossible,” added Laura. “I mean, sliding down this, the coin’ll only take a couple seconds.”

Phil tapped the ground with the coin, pondering for a solution to the puzzle.

“Wait,” said Zach. “What if this is one of those Gravitron things?”

“Those whats?” replied Laura.

“You know, those things at science museums, where you launch the penny down the vortex and it spins around and around.”

“Huh,” said Phil thoughtfully. “Let’s try that.”

He launched the coin on its edge, and they watched it revolve around the funnel, Zach counting down quietly to himself. Ten seconds passed, and the hole suddenly opened, the disturbance shaking the funnel enough that the coin promptly left its route and fell right in.

The room shook, and they looked behind them to see the old man now free. He stumbled forward, and presented the key to them.

“Now go forth and save the kingdom!” he said as the door behind him collapsed and he walked into the tunnel.

The trio turned toward the forward door. Walking to it, Phil slid in the key and unlocked it, pushing it open. Outside was starkly different from the tunnel they had passed through. Instead, they now entered a bright mountainside, following the course of a road that winded around it, toward the other mountains. The mountains were largely devoid of life, only populated by white rocks. Below them, a river ran between the mountains, and that seemed to have a concentration of trees around it.

Soon, they came to a rope bridge, wide and narrow, spanning over the river from one mountain to the next. However, in the center of the bridge stood a man, robed, leaning on a staff. The trio approached him.

“Welcome!” he said. “If you wish to pass, you must pass my test.”

“Alright,” replied Phil.

“You must take that key you possess, and you must touch it to me.”

Phil pursed his lips. “So that’s why you have the staff.”

He took out the key, but it had changed form. Now it was a dagger, and was growing into a sword. The man stepped back, wielding his staff in two hands. Phil attempted a few slashes and thrusts, but the man easily repulsed them all. It was only when he accidentally nicked the rope handle of the bridge.

“Guys, hold on!” he exclaimed to his friends behind him.

He swung down on the rope, severing it. Instantly, the bridge collapsed, the two halves plummeting toward the cliff faces. The man with the staff flew over the trio’s heads. The trio held on with all their might as the bridge rebounded off the cliff face. But instead of settling, it continued, moving all the way back up. The cut sealed.

“Congratulations,” said a voice behind them. It was the man with the staff. “You have passed.”

They stood up and crossed the bridge, returning to the road, now on the opposite side, following it through the mountains. And then they came to a huge cavern, lit red by some mysterious internal fire.

The trio walked inside, Phil still holding the sword at the ready. After some time, the red light becoming deeper the entire time, they found a glitter. Approaching this shimmer, they found a large pile of gold. And, upon this gold, a girl.

“Oh, thank goodness!” she cried. “At last I can escape this beast!”

Laura looked at her, shocked. “What beast?”

There was a low hiss, and over the gold came a terrible beast. It was red and reptilian, long, walking like a lizard, but built like a snake. Smoke issued from its nostrils, and fire from its breath.

“Leave,” it hissed. “And I won’t kill you too.”

“Ha!” laughed Phil, though he was feeling terrified.

“My armor is totally impervious to magic, and I don’t expect you could even beat a page with that sword. What other weapons has that foolish warlock sent against me?”

It continued talking about how powerful it was, and how weak the king was, while Laura suddenly turned to Phil.

“Give me the sword.”

“Why?”

“I have an idea.”

She took the sword from Phil, and hurled it at the dragon. The sword spun, moving with far more force than what Laura had used to throw it. The dragon glanced at it, mid-sentence, just before it planted itself in the dragon’s mouth. And then the dragon lay down, dead.

“Oh, thank you!” exclaimed the princess.

“You’re welcome,” replied Zach, who hadn’t really taken his eyes off her the entire time.

“Come on,” said Phil. “Let’s go.”

They left the cavern. Upon coming out, they met the king, waiting, smiling, for them.

“Thank you for rescuing my daughter,” he said.

“Sure,” replied Phil.

“Do not feel disappointed. Some quests are meant to let us grow, others are to test what we’ve learned. And perhaps you will return here, and grow. In the mean time, I shall send you back to your own world.”

He clapped his hands, and the trio felt as though they were falling back, back through the existentialism of trans-dimensional travel, until they came to a halt beside the clock tower.

“I do hope we go back,” said Zach. “That princess was cute.”

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Beach Volleyball

In honor of the 2012 Summer Olympics, I’d like to add a little fictional humor to that Trojan struggle between mighty nations and powerful people. I hope you enjoy!

Caleb slumped into the couch, carrying a soda, beside his friend Dave, who was looking at the screen across the room from them.

“Olympics, huh?” he asked.

“Yeah. It’s getting pretty intense.”

Caleb glanced at the screen. A volleyball game – America, and what appeared to be Korea. The game was indoors, with eight or so members per team.

“Weren’t they doing this, like, last week or something?” Caleb asked. “But outside, with only two team members?”

“Yeah. Beach volleyball.”

“It’s called beach volleyball? I didn’t know that it was that competitive. How on earth did that ever become an Olympic event?”

“It’s a very long story, and I’m not sure you’d want to hear it all.”

“Try me.”

Dave picked up the remote and muted the television, turning to face his friend.

“Long ago, in 1990, there was a group of friends living in California. They decided to go to the beach one day, since it was a beautiful summer day and it would be fun. There were, let’s see…Nancy, May, Jake, Matt, Jerry, Ron, and Tim. Arriving on the beach, they proceeded to partake in the usual beach activities: splashing through the tides, sunbathing, swimming, Frisbee, and, of course, volleyball.

“Now, Nancy and May were lying on their towels, sunbathing, while the guys played volleyball – Matt and Jerry on one team, and Jake, Ron, and Tim on the other. Naturally, Matt and Jerry were being trounced. For every point they managed to strangle out, their opponents would get three. It was like the Battle of Cannae – Matt and Jerry were just in the palm of Hannibal’s hand.

“At their victory, the achievement of the whole twenty-one points needed to win, the trio cheered in triumph. May looked up, her attention caught by this noise. She frowned, and spoke to the them.

“’Why are you cheering so much? It’s three against two! Of course you won, even though you boys can’t play worth beans.’

“’Right, like you could play better,’ scoffed Jake.

“’Oh, we could definitely,’ said May, the argument catching her attention. ‘We could beat all three of you.’

“’Try us!’ Tim challenged.

“So Nancy and May stood and came to the net, facing their opponents with cold, piercing eyes of steel and death. Ron served the ball, and it was begun. I honestly wish they had recorded those games on video, since they must have been exhilarating. When Ron hit the ball, it was no less the force of Jove’s thunderbolts. But May bumped it, Nancy set it, and then May, like Artemis drawing back her silver bow, brought back her hand, unleashing the ball like a Cynthian arrow, which strikes dead-on, and slays its victim.

“In this case, though, it merely scored the two girls a point for their game. Nancy stood like proud Hera, triumphant over the damnation of the product of her husband’s waywardness, his expression mirrored in the trio of boys. May now took the volleyball, sending it quick over the net. The boys fled from it like the head of the Gorgon, and the ball landed in the sand, marking another point for the girls.

“However, that is not to say that the girls dominated the game. On the next serve, Tim bumped the ball, before Ron set it slowly, like the long-tempered smithery of Hephaestus in his volcano, producing a javelin of perfect size and power, which, handed to Ares, strikes death to all who come near it. Thus was Jake’s spike, which struck the sand with all the power of the great meteor that extinguished the dinosaurs.

“The game went back and forth for some time, before, at long last, the girls emerged victorious over the trio, who stood in shock, as if gazing on the face of Medusa, completely at a loss to explain their failure. Beside them, Jerry and Matt applauded the game, congratulating the girls on their Herculean attainment.

“’I can’t believe you won!’ said Jake. ‘Best two out of three?’

“’Only if you wish to lose again!’ replied Nancy.

“And they played again. By now, though, others had noticed their amazing play, and gathered around to watch, cheering and applauding with each hard-won point gained by each side. And the girls won again, and thus spoke Jake again.

“’Best three out of five?’

“It goes without saying that the girls won this last game. But it was even more harder than the first game, as the boys played like the incarnations of Hercules, Achilles, and Theseus, all gathered together in one ultimate trio. Nancy fought like Athena and May shot like Artemis, and, alas, there was no Orion to oppose her.

“As they traveled back home that evening, only one thought consumed the minds of Jake and Tim, who had suffered the losses the most: how to beat those girls. So they trained, and they trained. The next time they all went to the beach, these two played volleyball against Nancy and May once more, barely winning three games to two. Now it was the girls’ turn to train to beat the boys.

“In addition, the sparring of these two pairs inspired dozens of their spectators. Within a year, scores of other two-person teams popped up all over California and, soon, the country. It became so popular that it was featured in the 1992 Olympics, with Nancy herself being part of the team that achieved first place. And after that, it was inducted as an official Olympic game, with two person teams to commemorate Nancy and May’s valiant efforts, and scoring best out of five games to remember how many were played that glorious summer afternoon on the beach.”

Dave leaned back, having finished his story, watching for his friend’s reaction. Caleb at first said nothing, just staring at Dave, eyebrows raised.

“That’s BS, and you know it,” he said finally.

“Come on! It was a fun story, at least,” replied Dave.

“Yeah, but totally fake. ‘Cynthian arrow’, honestly!”

“Well, it was the best explanation I could think of in thirty seconds. Why didn’t you just look it up on Wikipedia? You have your phone with you!”

“My phone ‘tempered by the Cyclopes and given the wings of Mercury’? It was a hypothetical question anyway. I didn’t expect you to try to answer it!”

“Well, it was a good challenge.” Dave turned back toward the television, unmuting it. “Oh, look! US won!”

Enigme, a short story

This is for you, Deb.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave her a challenge: I’ll give you five words, and you have to fit them in the first sentence of a short story. Needless to say, I still don’t know if she ever started it. I know I tried it. In a moment, you’ll be reading what I came up with from those five words. This is technically a steampunk piece, except I call anything with zeppelins in it steampunk, so I’m probably missing a lot of elements. The important part, though, is that the characters are French. So ah hope you eenjoy zees story, weef all eets reedeeculus dayalog.

Jean remained absolutely still in his tentative position on the piping, hoping the worst didn’t come to worst and his grip give way, as the thirty-something policeman looked through the alley-way, led by his large hound, who continued to sniff at the trail of scent Jean had left when he had ran into the alley and climbed up the side of the wall to his current position. He just hoped that neither the dog, nor the man holding its leash would figure out to look up – one casual shot from the policeman’s pistol would easily finish him off.

Unfortunately, the hound was following his scent, and his scent led straight up the wall. Finding itself unable to continue pursuit, or else realizing how recent Jean’s scent was, the dog opened its jaws in a series of fierce barks and growls, directed toward the wall. And then it wasn’t long before the policeman turned up his head, and his eyes lit up in surprise at finding Jean.

“Zere you are!” He exclaimed, pointing up at the fugitive. “Come down, monsieur, or ah shoot!”

Jean had no options. So he did the only thing he could do: he came down. Swinging a little on the piping, he launched himself, knocking into the policeman in his fall. The policeman collapsed to the ground, staring up in fear at Jean as he attempted to draw his gun, the hound barking angrily at his feet. Jean slammed his foot down on the policeman’s hand, the pain causing the gun to slip to the ground. Jean leaned down and picked it up, the policeman continuing to view him in terror.

“Ah’m not going to keell you,” Jean said. “Just don’t try folloween’ me.”

Jean turned and hurried down the alleyway, away from the fallen officer and his loquacious dog, heading for anywhere that didn’t have police. As he ran, he pocketed the pilfered pistol, knowing he’d find plenty of use for it later.

It wasn’t his fault, though, that he was on the run like this. He had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But none of the policemen would accept the fact that he had just happened upon the body, and that he hadn’t noticed the gun by his foot. But now not only did he need to evade the police, but he also needed to find out who the real killer was.

Jean made his way through the city, hurrying through the alleys and shadows, trying to keep an inconspicuous face when he was forced onto the main streets, amidst pedestrians and steam cars and mechanical carriages. What he really needed was someplace private, where he could gather his thoughts and figure out what he would do next, without fear of the police.

An airship! It was perfect – a quiet place to think, no policemen, and it had the additional quality of a destination, specifically away from the city. The only problem was getting on one without being caught.

Jean turned, walking toward the airship field. Beyond the rows of buildings he could see one of the great balloons descending, falling below the horizon of the rooftops. Moving through the streets between, he came to the city airport, where hundreds milled around, either leaving or entering the large facility. Jean, being one of the latter, opened the glass entrance door, striding in with false confidence, hoping that the security guards placed sporadically around the building did nothing to stop his progress.

However, he made his way through unopposed. Briefly checking the out-bound flights, he chose a destination rather far away, but not so far away as it might cause suspicion. Finding the correct terminal, he walked up to the desk, where a lady sat selling tickets for the flight.

“Hello, mademoiselle,” he said cordially. “I would like to purchase a teeckit for Lasera.”

“Okee, monsieur,” she replied, not looking up. “Do you have identeefeecation?”

“Do I…what?”

“Identeefeecation.” Now she looked up at him, her face perturbed.

“Oh, yes!” Jean did not have identification with him, nor would he really want to show it if he did. He hadn’t planned on this. Now how was he going to get out of the city? Or this situation, for that matter.

“Excuse me, mademoiselle,” said a voice to Jean’s left. “I believe I may be of asseestance here.”

Jean turned, to see an older gentleman beside him, a thick handlebar mustache over grinning lips. The man’s smile was directed toward the woman, who did not seem to share his good mood.

“I would like two teeckeets for Lasera,” he said, handing the woman an ID, along with what looked like several pieces of cash.

The woman eyed the ID and the cash. “Teeckeets are 500 each.”

“But of course.” The man pulled out a wallet from the inside of his coat, counting out ten hundreds.

“The rest is for you,” he whispered.

The woman frowned, before handing a pair of tickets, one to the man, and one to Jean. “Eenjoy Lasera.”

“Zank you,” said the gentleman, nodding his head at her. He then took Jean by the shoulder and pushed him along.

“What ees zees about?” Jean asked the man.

“Leet’s just say I am returneeng a favor.”

Jean wanted to ask what favor, but he knew this was not the right time. Besides, this favor might have just saved his life.

The two of them walked through the terminal, out onto the vast lawn where the airships lay in wait. They joined a large group of others gathered around one, which had a sign displaying the word “Lasera.” Within minutes, they were sitting comfortably at a table within the ship, facing each other.

“So, may I ask who eet ees who ees helpeeng me so much?”

“My name ees Roy Dawkeens Voltaire. Ah em an offeecer of the governmeent.”

“But the governmeent is traing to keell me. Wha would you geeve me aid?”

Voltaire paused. “Do you know who eet was you found deed?”

“Yees,” replied Jean, surprised at how much Voltaire knew. “Frances Lafayette. Wasn’t he an eemportant meeneester?”

“Very. Too eemportant. We had to geet reed of heem.”

Jean stared in shock. “You mean, you assasseenated heem?”

“Ah did,” Voltaire admitted. “Now, here’s ze deal.”

He leaned forward, his arms resting on the table between Jean and himself.

“Eet was clever, how you were able to evade ze poleece, and we theenk you would be a good asseet to us. Eef you join us, we weell make sure ze poleece understand you had nozing to do wif ze keelling of meeneester Lafayette.”

“So, you want to make me an assasseen?”

“Yes.”

“And what eef ah say no?”

“Weell, ah’m not going to preeson for Lafayette’s murder.”

Jean thought hard. He didn’t particularly want to go to prison, and perhaps life as an assassin would suit him. But he doubted it. He hadn’t killed anyone in his life. The only reason he was good at avoiding people was because he had been one of the youngest children in a large extended family. The idea of working for another unrepentant killer seemed downright unpatriotic. Anyway, wouldn’t someone cut out for being an assassin have killed the policeman pursing him?

Well, Jean hadn’t. And suddenly he remembered the gun he had taken from that officer. Quickly checking his pocket, he realized it was still there. He grinned. Perhaps this situation would resolve itself after all…