Chapter 4

Andy thought of Nick as a brother and hoped he always would. The two of them, along with Deb, had grown up together on the River Road. But he knew Nick was struggling with their friendship lately.

He had always known Nick would be successful in the way society measure success. Nick Morrison was handsome, athletic, smart, and disciplined. The girls loved him. The coaches loved him. The teachers loved him. That their fork in the road would appear on the horizon had been as certain as the return of a Canadian winter.

Andy recalled the time they raided Mr. Morrison’s liquor cabinet and he had told Nick how much he was enjoying Michael Moorcock. Nick had cried blasphemy against Tolkien — a betrayal of their sacred brotherhood. The alcohol escalated things to the edge of a drunken brawl. The whole matter — especially considering what he’d seen booze do to his father — had unsettled Andy so much, he hadn’t drunk since.

High school seemed to be accelerating the inevitable, and Andy had been meditating on this frequently. There was no point in grasping. Attachments were the bars of the prison that kept us from truth.

If you have a problem that has a solution, what is achieved by worrying about it? If you have a problem that has no solution, what is achieved by worrying about it?

Besides. It was game night.

 

“Total bullshit!” Dave O’Finnegan slammed the palms of both his hands down onto the flimsy, green card table. His freckled face was as red as his hair. “I sneak in, AGAIN; set off a trap, AGAIN; barely make a saving throw AGAIN” — he lunged for the Marvel superheroes thermos on the floor by his chair and took a gulp from it. Then he winced and bellowed, “Then it’s all big people treasure. ALL THE GODDAMN TIME!”

Every one recoiled from the spray of rye whiskey and ginger ale that delivered his angry words. For a moment, the musty, teenage boy smell of the Grayson brothers’ rec room took on a tinge of gingery rocket fuel.

“Say it! Don’t spray it, asshole!” Jason Baker yelled. “And slow down!” O’Finnegan was notoriously obnoxious on an average day — exponentially so when he was drinking.

“Treasure is not everything, halfling.” A calm suddenly came over everyone at the table and they turned to revere the words of the Aether Lord. “For Brudo Thornshrike of Moonsmoor has learned much in the grey arts of stealth and lockpicking. And despite his incorrigible demeanour and frequent pettiness, he has more than shown his worth to his companions of late,” Andy paused for dramatic effect.

“Brudo Thornshrike’s small stature may limit his access to the spoils of war, but experience is a treasure in-and-of-itself — and so our halfling operative has acquired fifteen Aether points and must roll for ascension.”

Dave’s expression went blank and everyone at the table braced for what they new came next. Jay and Dave Grayson (there always seemed to be more than one Dave) seized the opportunity the pause presented to reach for their drinks on the floor, and in so doing, avoid getting sprayed again.

“Seriously?” he asked. His disbelief was genuine. “Ascension already?”

Ian Grayson hoisted a beer over the center of the table. “To Brudo Thornshrike!” he hollered and the party cheered.

“Weasel, snake, creeper, swine and drunkard!” Ian embellished. Another roar went up from the group. Brudo’s was the most enthusiastic of all. He drained his thermos and slammed it upside down on the table. Polyhedral dice and lead miniatures of an operative, a knight, a monk, a courtesan, a sorcerer, and three warriors were sent every which way.

Andy was happiest in these moments. He looked at the dice scattered across the hexagonal map — a four-sided, six-sided, eight-sided, twelve-sided, and twenty-sided.

Though few knew it, these dice were modeled on The Platonic Solids, the fundamental forms of reality. Andy wondered if, when used in the manner he used them every Friday night, they were generating new realities on planes within the mind. He wondered if, at the very least, they functioned to dissolve — even to a minuscule degree — the constructed everyday identities of his friends around this table as they shifted their energies into other selves experiencing the inner planes.

Was he a missionary of mysticism? Were his friend’s unwitting disciples toeing the thinnest edge of a wedge into the realm of the only true faith possible: the Eden of belief in no belief where transcendence of dogma and delineation alike bestowed ultimate grace. A realm of peace and a joy beyond the relative confinement of this realm’s nonsensical conceptualizations: countries and races, political affiliations and religions, letters and numbers — self and other?

His dice were his witch’s wand, his wizard’s staff — the veritable keys to — call it Nirvana, call it Valhalla, call it the Kingdom of God, found just the other side of the putting away of childish things.

Then, suddenly, his mind exploded. Something was wrong with Deb. The terror she felt assailed his wits. And in flash, through her eyes, he saw what it was that had frightened her.

Frantically, he gathered his dice and dropped them into the purple Crown Royal bag at his hip.

“Nick, you should stay.” He said it like a command and Nick’s face darkened.

“See you guys,” he managed as he bolted for the door.

They’d seen it all before.

Rolling his eyes, Nick drained another bottle of Black Label. With Andy gone this would be the perfect opportunity to pitch the guys on changing game night from Fridays so they could go to the dances held at Club Cedars just down the road. He knew Andy wouldn’t like it, but in that very instant, like a dam that had restrained more river than was possible for far too long, he let go. For the first time in his life, he felt the relief of not considering what Andy Crowley thought.

He liked it.

They’ll see it my way, he thought.

Then, with a confidence and deftness that amazed everyone there, Nick Morrison, slammed the cap off another beer with the edge of the rickety card table.

To Chapter 5