Dungeons and Dreadlocks
“So you’re in?”
Bill’s question hung in the air of the apartment around them. Sally looked at the four men staring back at her, all of them with an expression of disbelief muddled with excitement.
“Yeah, sure,” Sally said, an eye-roll and a sigh later. “I’m all in.”
Ed, Tom, Dave, and Bill looked at each other briefly and then scanned the room for cameras, as if they were on some kind of prank show. To imagine that Sally could ever be cajoled into attending this kind of nerdy event was unheard of, let alone to volunteer? INSANE!
“What’s your deal, Sally?” Ed said, arms crossed and waiting for the real story to come out. “We’re all going because there’s a sweet D&D tournament at this festival. Why the hell are you all of a sudden interested in our nerd-dom?”
“I just am,” Sally responded curtly. She slowly walked towards Ed with a look of heat and want in her eye, “and if you have a problem with that,” she bent down, pinching his cheek ever-so-subtly, “you just let me know, k?” She punctuated her statement with a playful double-tap of his cheek. Ed couldn’t help but blush, clearly turned on by Sally’s vampiric-ly hypnotic way of making even the most demeaning things sexy. Bill rolled his eyes, while Tom – donning a “Keep on Truckin” T-shirt, with Optimus Prime proudly on the front – slowly finished a seven-layer burrito.
“Well, then, I guess it’s settled,” Bill Ryder, legendary Freewill and fighter of all things evil, declared. “Team Freewill is going to Ren Fest.”
That following day, the Renaissance festival met Bill and his team with all things medieval and mystical – fairies, trolls, and knights gathered in a holy realm of fantasy and, much to the befuddlement of Bill, sunlight.
“Remind me again why we’re able to walk around right now in the daylight?” Bill asked.
Ed, sporting a pair of neon blue plastic sunglasses, which anachronously clashed with his grey wizard cloak and scepter, couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He shot a skeptical eye at his long-time best friend, Bill, who was draped in typical Ren Fest apparel, as well. Bill had chosen to wear his traditional custom-made chainmail, with a black tank top undershirt and loose-fitting jeans. He had owned the chain mail for several years, but because of the past trials with Alexander the Great, his chest, arms, and torso filled it out in a way that – unbeknownst to him - was becoming much more pleasing to those of the female persuasion at the festival.
Ed ignored an obvious wink from a beautiful-looking girl at his friend, stopped in his tracks and stared Bill straight in the eye. “For the last time, Christy is able to cast a spell one day each year over a specific one-mile radius where all vampires and creatures of the night are able to walk in the daylight safely…obviously.”
He pointed up to the sky with exasperation, where a shimmer of a veil gave only a slight hint of its existence to those who really looked for it. “Bill, her spell is protecting you and Sally right now so that you can walk around until the D & D tournament. We’ve talked about this multiple times.”
Bill thought to himself that this sounded vaguely familiar – what was it? Oh yeah! BAD TV SHOWS! For the second time in the past few months alone, his real life paralleled bad TV show plot lines. In this case, TV was always throwing in explainers to allow characters to do something traditionally out of character for the sole reason of forwarding the plot.
“Riiiight,” Bill said. He quickly dismissed the brief moment of clarity, and went on to discuss the pertinent matter at hand. “So, when does the D&D tournament start again?”
“Not till eight,” Dave interjected, a half-eaten turkey leg in his hand. “We should kill some time until then.”
“Agreed,” Ed said. He lowered his blue sunglasses in the direction of a solitary tent, which seemed to stand apart from the rest of the knick-knack booths and vendors of the typical Ren Fest crowd. “And I know exactly where to kill it.”
Bill’s eyes locked onto what Ed was seeing. The tent itself seemed rather plain – a wooden pergola of sorts, draped in cheap-looking pink and purple fabric, but the woman it contained was the spotlight. She was calm in her demeanor - long black hair, pale skin, and a trace of Asian decent with a far-away look within her eyes. A chalkboard hung above the entrance to her tent, with the words haphazardly sketched into it, Julie the Jewel-Maven, Palm Reader and Life-Seer. Enter if you dar.
“Dar?” Bill said, eye-brow upturned. “I think Julie should dare to run a spell check.” He raised his hand as if to high five his friends around him, but soon realized that Tom, Christy, and Dave, were running off to test their skills at the knife throw. Sadly, his high-five was left-hanging. Sally, in the meantime, also appeared distracted, her short, blond frame stood on tip-toe as if constantly scanning the crowd for something important.
“And then there were three,” Bill muttered under his breath.
“Make that two,” Ed corrected, noticing that Sally had become mesmerized by a glass-blowing demonstration.
“Alright, well,” Bill stated, “Well, Julie the Jewel-Maven looks fuckin’ hot….Let’s do this.”
Ed puffed his chest out, raised his head high, and placed a strong hand on Bill’s shoulder. With a dramatic show of theatrics, he brushed his wizard’s cloak aside, brought his scepter in front of him, and said in a booming voice, “When it comes to hot psychic chicks, WE SHALL TOTALLY PASS!!!”
The tent’s curtains opened, seemingly on their own, to welcome Ed and Bill. The confusing smell of incense and barbecue wafted in the air. The usual sounds of the festival – laughter, heralds, knights jousting, and the like – were muffled by the enclosed intimate space of the psychic’s lair.
Ed took the lead.
“I heard you read palms?” he said, a half-smile cocked at the ready.
Julie the psychic recognized his question with a slight-movement of her head. Her eyes closed, she said in a deep voice, “Enter, sir. You are welcome in my home.” Her voice had an air of deep, ancient gravitas, the kind you only hear in high-budget movies. She breathed in heavily through her nose, exhaling through her mouth, hands opening and closing with each breath, as if taking in the universe with each second.
Bill noticed that each breath in and out also punctuated her chest quite beautifully as she did so. Bigger, smaller. Bigger, smaller.
Nice, he thought.
“Should we begin?’ Julie said, locking eyes in Bill’s direction.
Bill’s undead heart skipped a beat. The sudden confrontation, as slight as it was, wasn’t something he was ready for, and something deep inside him felt an odd need to retaliate. Something dark, something hidden, that didn’t want to be discovered.
“I’d like to get my palm read,” Ed interrupted the silent confrontation. He sensed it from the start.
Julie’s eyes remained fixated on Bill for a moment. She broke loose after what felt like an eternity. “That is fine. Come.” She motioned to the chair next to her. “Sit.”
Ed quickly took a seat next to the psychic, eager to touch hands with someone that wouldn’t feast on his blood the second he looked away. Something inside of him was excited about the chance to do something cheesy, ordinary, and as corny as a palm-reading at a renaissance festival.
Bill’s eyes never left Julie’s hands. He felt something was wrong. He knew it inside, but he couldn’t pinpoint it.
Julie pulled Ed’s hand into hers. “Give me this,” she stated solemnly, squeezing even tighter and pulling hands dangerously close to her chest.
She took a deep breath. She traced lines in his palm, nodding her head back and forth. Each movement, Bill noticed, was accented by a look up to Ed….then to him. A look to Ed.
Then a glance to Bill.
The back and forth between her eyes to Ed and to Bill was odd. At last, Ed said, “What the hell is going on? Are you reading me or him?” He jutted a finger out to Bill, who sat with a shrug and honest-to-goodness look of I have no fucking clue on his face.
Julie then dropped Ed’s hand in a sudden movement. As if guided by some other force, Julie turned to Bill and gripped his hand in her palm. She stared straight into his eyes. Bill realized, for the first time, her eyes were strange – one eye blue and one eye green.
“What the hell is up with your eyes- “ Bill began.
“You are the one….this can’t be right,” Julie interrupted. Her left hand began clutching his forearm tightly, the right hand prying his fingers open to reveal the vision. Her pulse raced, and she was afraid. “The thing inside you…I can’t…don’t let it come out.”
She was more than afraid, Bill realized. By the sound of her heartbeat, the look of perspiration on her forehead, and the sound of her breathing, she was terrified.
Bill’s instincts to the confined space and aggression started to kick in. He felt the black seep into his eyes. The fangs grew, quietly and softly in response to the need to attack what was now an easy target – a prey. However, the human side of him fought the urges back. Some still human part of Bill told him to breathe.
To calm down.
That this was wrong.
Through his will, Bill suppressed the instinct to fight and he felt his body return to normal.
Julie stood up. She pointed a finger in Bill’s direction. Suddenly, her entire demeanor changed. From terrified, she turned into a woman of anger and importance. She screamed, “A dark one is coming for you!” and pointed a finger at Bill. A wave of wind surrounded her body, lifting the hair and fabric around her. “He seeks your blood. Beware, Freewill, BEWARE!”
Bill looked to Ed for answers and this sudden climactic turn of events, while his friend simply sat there, eyes wide and jaw open.
A few seconds of awkward silence passed until a sarcastic voice interrupted the pivotal session.
“A psychic, really?”
The two men looked to the tent’s entrance, where a now beautifully coiffed Sally stood, eyes rolling and hand clutching a roasted turkey leg.
“Holy shit, what happened to your hair?” Bill blurted.
Sally’s hair, usually as stylish and golden as the next bombshell’s, now glistened in the sun and moved in exaggerated waves, as if she had just stepped out of a Pantene commercial.
“How did your hair get so shiny?” Bill continued.
“I KNEW IT!” Ed shouted, now out of Julie’s mesmerizing proclamation. “You only came with us to Ren Fest because you were looking for that ‘magic’ hair elixir you kept telling me about.” He said the word magic in finger air quotes.
Sally winked at Ed. She had forgotten that she had told him about that little piece of vanity.
“Just call me L’Oreal, baby,” Sally cooed, tossing her newly rejuvenated locks into the wind. “’Cause you know I’m worth it------oh, Shiiit”
Before anyone in the tent could blink, Sally had crouched into a predatory stance and leaped five feet into the air. While she would appear at lightning speed to the human eye, Bill’s vampire eyes followed her movements as if they were in slow-motion.
Sally soared in the air, fangs lengthening as her eyes dilated. Her right hand reached back behind her in a tight fist position, while the left extended in a position of defense. One left leg jut out and cut one of Julie’s four chair legs, and while the psychic sank, another leg came up on her back, holding Julie in place against the table’s edge. Sally’s right hand expertly came down in one swift motion to pin Julie’s head against the table, right-cheek smashed into the cheap, plastic cloth, allowing only an inch of mouth available for the psychic to utter a single word.
“DaFuckIsWrongWithYou?” Julie squeezed out.
Before the psychic could sputter out anything else, Sally reached down into Julie’s forehead and clenched a tight fist around her skin. Her fingernails clawed deep into Julie’s flesh, digging for something right above the psychic’s eyes.
“Sally, I agree…what the hell are you doing?!” Bill said, mesmerized by the situation and torn by the need to either tear his friend of this stranger or watch in horror.
Without responding, Sally gave a facial expression of I got this in Bill and Ed’s direction, and flung the remnants of tattered, leathery skin on the table in front of them.
“Look for yourself,” she said, heaving Julie’s head up, and showcasing the most disturbing thing they’d seen in a long time.
Where Sally had savagely removed Julie’s forehead skin, in its place was revealed a glowing sphere, slightly smaller than a baseball, lodged directly within her skull.
“She’s called an Orisy,” Sally stated, matter-of-factly. “They’re pretty much the lowest of the low on the totem pole of this world’s seers,” she continued.
Bill stood slowly, his body alert at the idea of another group of seers entering his realm. After the last batch of eye-burning self-mutilators, he wasn’t sure he was ready for another round of future-seeing crazies.
“And you know how you can tell who one of these nasty creatures is?” Julie strained to lift her head and eyes up to see Sally. “By the giant freakin’ crystal ball in their head,” she continued, disgusted, slamming Julie’s frame back into the tabletop.
“We don’t have time for this,” Julie spat. “The dark one…he comes for your blood.”
She shot a now bloodied eye in Bill’s direction. “He is close, Freewill.”
Sally pushed her knee deeper into Julie’s spine, exuding a hiss.
“He is right outside. Exit if you dare.”
Suddenly, Ren Fest’s only soundtrack was a shrill scream.
Bill, Sally, and Ed escaped the pink pergola’s hypnotic embrace and raced into the daylight. What they witnessed was pure chaos. Men and women abandoned their medieval props, toppling tents, and racing towards the exits. Children were swept up into the arms of those who knew better than to ogle at the fires before them. Once care-free, skipping minstrels now dropped their instruments and pummeled fairies in the search of refuge.
Other Renfest attendees, though few, watched in confused ignorance, believing this all still to be part of the show.
The smell of sulphur wafted thick in the air. Women cried. A distant ambulance rung out its siren song.
“Come closer, Freewill,” a voice waded through the abyss. It was a man, calm and steady.
“I know you are near.”
Bill stepped out from the smoke, a wave of human bedlam around him. With all the madness he and his friends had been through – witches, ancient vampires, and not to mention let alone ONE but MULTIPLE bigfeet - one evil-sounding Ren Fest nerd would be easy enough to handle.
Or so he thought.
“I’m right here, douche-nozzle,” Bill shouted. “Who wants some?”
The voice laughed, and brought with it a shadow of a man. “I am he,” the figure roared, his hands lifting slowly up to reveal his presence. “The name is Wizard Delonius Marcooth, but you,” he breathed in, “may call me Dreadlocks.”
All of a sudden, the figure was surrounded by a halo of fire. The red and yellow lights illustrated a black cloak, tied at the center with what looked like flexible human bone. The hood hung low against his back. The shadows of flame revealed a sinister smile, razor sharp teeth, and ice-blue eyes. His hair, surprisingly enough, lay thick and long in the style of dreadlocks.
“Seriously?” Ed whispered. “The guy calls himself Dreadlocks and he freakin’ HAS dreadlocks?”
“SILENCE!” the voice boomed.
The wizard sunk his right foot back into the ground in a defensive posture, his hands closing in as if to capture the essence of the air around him, and he muttered an incantation under his breath.
“If I had to guess,” Dave said, stumbling into the fray, “that’s a standard Ryu Hadoken pose if I’ve ever seen one.”
Bill, Ed, and Sally looked with the same surprised expression at their friend’s sudden arrival within the middle of the climactic scene. Christy and Tom were not far behind him to back up their team.
“We heard someone was calling out the Freewill?” Christy said, putting her two fists up in a boxing style ready stance.
Tom clutched his shirt with an image of Optimus Prime and looked solemnly in the group’s direction, “Transform and roll out?”
Bill looked at the rag-tag team of heroes surrounding him. Then, he took in the sounds and sights of everything else – fire, chaos, and an evil wizard trying to demolish a piece of this world, his world. He closed his eyes. Taking in a final breath, he raised his head to the sky, exhaling a slow, controlled sigh into the darkening setting around him, and he said without a single question in his voice….
“Who wants some.”
The wizard Dreadlocks’s eyes glowed white with power. He held his hands in front of him, and they trembled as they contained the power of the elements around him.
“Well, I think he’s about to shoot a fireball blast at us,” Dave said.
Without thinking, Christy stepped forward from the group of five and brought two hands – palm out – in front of her. A thin, blue shield of light suddenly arose from the ground in a semisphere around them.
“I got this,” she said, awaiting the inevitable fireball.
Dreadlocks pushed his arms forward, and the earth shook around his feet. The rocks and dirt shivered, and the swords, jewelry, and crafts from now empty vendor renaissance booths clanged together in a nervous cacophony. Deep cracks suddenly formed in the dirt around Bill’s team, and a few of the members had to jump to escape falling into the crevices that formed. Where the earth fractured, a small hiss seeped into the air. First beginning as a sigh, it grew into a growl, a moan, and then – without warning – the sounds of a thousand screams bellowed into the night sky.
“Well, damn,” Sally called.
The noise escalated – the screams near deafening.
“What is this?” Bill shouted, covering his ears.
“Fucking zombies,” Sally replied, and she marched towards an opening crater. Crouching down and plunging a hand into the gap, she tightened her grip on an unseen monster and let out an exasperated yell to whoever would listen, “First, Orisies, and now this?!” She brought an undead corpse to her eye-level, allowing Bill and the others to see the first of what they were dealing with.
The creature looked human but with muscles and ligaments much larger than average, and they were exposed to the naked eye. Each sinew and cartilage stretched, exposed to the air around it. Its fingers had grown at least five inches in length and each was tipped with a rancid-looking claw. Its rib cage jutted from its lean torso, and instead of eyes, skull sockets glowed green with a fire that only ancient magic could conjure. This particular zombie chopped at the air around it, trying in vain to get a taste of Sally’s torso. Fortunately, Sally still had a solid amount of vampire strength to keep the zombie from getting its wish.
Dreadlocks, as they all soon realized, hadn’t blasted a fireball, after all. Instead, he had sent a spell into the ground to grow zombie minions who, apparently, were intent on eating their flesh.
Because….why the fuck not.
Christy’s shield held strong, keeping at bay a dozen or more flesh-challenged creatures from entering the team’s area. Unfortunately, it wasn’t formatted to hold back zombies that arose within its perimeters.
“Bill, we got a problem here,” Christy said, her palms still up while sweat formed on her brow.
“I’m on it!” Tom barked, seeing that two zombies were approaching dangerously fast to his girlfriend. Grabbing an authentic Scottish Cutlass sword from an abandoned vendor booth, Tom grounded himself between Christy and the approaching monsters and resumed a warrior’s stance. Gripping the sword with two hands, low and controlled, he kept his left foot back and planted, ready for a spring attack from either side. Fortunately, each creature adopted the 1950’s style of zombie fighting, in that what they lacked in speed, they made up for in persistence. As such, he began by spearing the first monster in its heart, bringing the sword down through its torso, and then finishing it off with a gentle slice of its scalp. The second zombie, in typical uncaring fashion, continued its course to attempt to eat his flesh and was met with a kick to its face and impalement by the Cutlass.
“These things aren’t so damn tough,” Tom said to Christy, who didn’t hear him from the concentration she continued to put into her spell.
Bill noticed that Ed and Dave had also picked out their chosen medieval tools for battle. Ed was busy holding back a zombie with mace, bludgeoning their heads in with its spiked edges, while Dave had discovered the power of a battle axe. Sally also seemed to have herself neck deep in the majority of the zombies, as they somehow sensed she was one of the few to pose actual danger upon their master.
Dreadlocks brought his hands up to the sky, readying himself for another spell. If the first spell was about setting up zombie defense, Bill was sure that the second spell was all about offense.
He wasn’t about to let that happen. It was time for him to take Dreadlocks down.
“Christy!” Bill yelled. “If you see Dreadlocks over there shooting any actual fireballs at me, you could do me a big favor by…you know…stopping them from burning me to death!”
Christy nodded without looking at Bill, the power of the spell too much for her to manage even looking anywhere else at this point. But, that was all he needed.
As Bill ran towards Dreadlocks, he felt his own instincts take over. The world, with his heart, slowed. Suddenly, the images around him were becoming very crisp. He could sense how Christy’s muscles tensed with the pressure and exertion she put into the shielding spell. Her breaths became quick and she exhaled small cries with each one. He smelled faintly how Ed’s leg now boasted three gashes, a trail of blood grew from him knee to his ankle. Sally, in all her beautifully coiffed glory, was leaping in a perfectly executed cartwheel above a zombie and snapping its neck mid-air and searching for a landing spot where she could do the same thing to the surrounding monsters around her twice-over. Somewhere, a few miles away, a newborn vampire was enjoying his first meal on a human – its flesh soft, ready, and willing to be taken.
It was so easy to just take what he wanted.
Bill’s eyes dilated and his fangs came first.
But Dreadlocks was too fast for him. Plunging his hand quickly into the dirt, the wizard murmured an incantation and carved a symbol into the ground. He sealed it quickly with a slap of his palm, and brought a hand full of dust into the air. He opened it, blew into his hand and said, “Minuere.” The dust swirled around Bill’s head, and he was suddenly filled with the sensation of a hundred pound weight on his shoulders.
“A weakening spell,” Christy moaned, more to herself than anyone around her. “How can he---Too strong---“
Bill fell to the floor. His muscles giving way to the spell around him. Dreadlocks walked calmly towards the falling vampire. From his pocket, he drew a small syringe, and whispered a spell over it. To Bill’s horror, the syringe grew in Dreadlocks’ withered old hands into something grotesque and living. The plastic syringe grew to have veins, and the needle snaked in and out into the air. Part machine and part organic, the syringe became a being in itself, writhing and living in the wizard’s arms, like another minion and much like a pet that wanted to be satisfied.
While Dreadlocks walked, distracted, Sally saw this as her opening and, in less than a heartbeat, she raced towards him – fangs at the ready. However, Dreadlocks smelled the unknown vampire blood and shot a spell – blue, burning, and bright - in her direction. Bill watched in disgust as Sally, the warrior, got thrown into a tree 30 feet beside him. The wood splintered, but Sally’s body could take the beating. Ed fought off one of the last zombies around him and ran to Sally’s aid.
“She’ll be fine, Bill,” Ed said, in a whisper, knowing he would hear. “Just get this bastard.”
Bill was down on one knee. He clutched at his heart, as the spell that Dreadlocks had put on him not only weighed on his surrounding body, but also on his internal organs, as well. He watched as his best friends fell before him – a zombie crushed Tom’s hand here, another bit Dave’s leg there. It was all too fast. All too easy. Had this all been what they had fought for? To die at the hands of a wizard and some low-level zombies? Had they gone through all this shit just to die? Is this how the world ends? Was this how he would let his friends down?
That’s when Bill felt it. The darkness. It came quietly. Gradually. Something in the pit of his stomach that clawed from the depths, a desire to escape. He felt his hands grow and clutch the ground.
The syringe’s needle poked at his skin and, from a distance, a scream pierced the air.
“Eat this, Dread-SUCK!”
Out of nowhere, a spinning blue crystal ball came flying through the air and crashed into the mutated syringe. Dreadlocks wrenched back in horror as his creation jerked in his hands, becoming slowly engulfed by a wave of energy and light. The needle shattered into glass pieces on the ground, and the rest of the machine disintegrated as the orb’s power ate into its very being as the wizard held it until it was only emptiness.
Dreadlocks stood in horror. His face white, matched the bones around his cloak. He staggered back, his hands drawing up to his face in a way that seemed to question his own purpose. How could this be? Could he be defeated? Dreadlocks felt the tendrils of borrowed magic seep from his body, dissipating back into the world around him. He grasped at the air, hungrily, attempting to steal it back to carve the magic into his own dark desires. Unfortunately, the world had had enough of his games for the night.
And so had Bill.
Bill stood up, restored by the spell’s unraveling.
His friends watched – shared fascination and horror at what was to come.
Bill felt the injuries healing themselves in his body. His muscles tightening, cuts closing. Fangs sharpening. Claws lengthening. Something dark was rising.
This bastard was going down..
“The Tome of Bill is copyright Rick Gualtieri. This story is licensed under the Creative Commons as derivative, noncommercial fiction.”
This one snuck in just at the deadline. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to post it until now.
Nice to see the core cast in action in an interesting little tale. I think the ending is to leave things to our imagination, but I have a feeling Bill and his friends pulled through just fine. Thank you, PandoraTHExplora.
And that is it. The contest is over. Voting will commence shortly. A big thanks to all the entrants.