21 April 2013


Bad Page 5

Apparently, my subconscious mind has no idea that this month's theme is In Space, No One Can Hear You Blog. But how can I complain when I have a new Are You Afraid of the Dark? FF for you today?

It's linked to the classic Season 1 episode The Tale of the Pinball Wizard--which is, of course, one of Gary's stories. =P If you have about twenty-four minutes to spare, you can give it a watch now, too! And if you have only a minute and a half, that's still enough time for a classic Midnight Society intro . . .

Now, just how convenient is it that the Midnight Society members should be arguing over a video game right before Gary tells a story about an arcade game with a sinister secret? LOL! Now, I love this framing device to bits, but sometimes it is too obviously a framing device. We get a much better set up in Gary's first story, The Tale of the Super Specs, which tells us that everything he writes is inspired by his parents' magic store.

But as anyone who has ever written fiction can attest, it takes more than one thread to weave the tapestry of a single tale. (This is the part when I pause meaningfully and everyone else exchanges intrigued looks.) Submitted for the approval of Midnight Society fans, I call this story . . .

The RPG Wizard
An Are You Afraid of the Dark? Fan Fic

Sophie had had misgivings about Gary at first, but that was, she reminded herself, only natural. When you are a member of an international spy society, you are automatically suspicious of any new members--and occasionally wary of even the old guard. Loyalties were always shifting and you could never be 100% certain your own brother wasn't plotting to stab you in the back.

The ancient cobblestones and winding sidestreets of Rome, one of her least favourite cities for a mission, were only adding to her sense of paranoia. Ever since her mortal enemy Dr. Ross had set up headquarters in the Italian capital, it had become harder and harder to pull off the simplest assignments--and she hadn't relished having to train a complete newbie this time around.

So far, however, Gary had been worth his weight in gold. Sophie had tasked him with stalling enemy agents at crucial points in the game and he had been successful each time. Any agents he could not temporarily stall, he permanently put out of commission. After a mere two hours, Sophie had to admit that he was the best partner she had ever had. He was also, she realised, as she saw him waiting at the rendezvous point, not bad looking. As the streetlamps grew warmer in the slowly deepening dusk, she decided that she wouldn't mind having him as a companion on the long train ride to Turin. But it wouldn't do to stare now . . .

Not too fast, not too slow, keeping her eyes fixed straight ahead, Sophie passed him as if he were a total stranger. And she knew, without having to turn around, that he had recognised her and begun to follow. Everything had gone off without a hitch.

Right before they boarded the crowded bus to the train station, Sophie pretended to stumble . . . and perfectly on cue, Gary assumed the role of concerned stranger, letting her take his arm and fake a limp. And since there was now only room for standing passengers, any onlooker would have agreed that it made perfect sense for him to stay by her side, in case she needed more assistance. Sophie herself was happy to stay in character by leaning back against him at the sharp turns; and she had just done so again as the bus started down a steep incline, when the driver slammed on the brakes and made her lose her balance in earnest.

A few of the passengers in front screamed then, and when Sophie turned to look at the street, she couldn't believe her eyes.

The lower part of the road was completely flooded, the establishments at the foot of the slope already submerged. Stunned pedestrians splashed their way uphill as the water continued to rise, streaming around a flower vendor's cart that had floated up from the market and got stuck in the middle of the road.

"Come on!" Gary said, grabbing her by the hand and shoving a path to the back of the bus. The other passengers, intent on getting a better view of the flooding street, ignored them. Nobody seemed to notice when he used the emergency handle to open the back door and clamber out.

"What happened?" Sophie gasped, as he pushed her into a narrow alley, hiding her from view with his body while keeping an alert eye on the road.

"Ross must have blown the waterworks to flood the city," Gary said over his shoulder. "If he wanted to cut us off from the train station, then he succeeded."

"But we didn't hear a blast! How could he cause so much damage, so fast, without explosives?"

"Never mind that now. The point is to get to Turin."

"How? By swimming to the train station?"

"It's probably underwater by now, too."

In the street, the bus, still full of gaping passengers, had started backing up. The tide of bedraggled pedestrians was thinning, but the water was still rising. Sophie had always prided herself on being able to keep her head in the craziest of situations, but this was beyond anything she had ever known.

"Do you have any idea," she said, her voice growing shrill, "how important the codes in my pocket are?"

Gary smiled then. "More than you know . . . Wait here."

He stepped out into the street and sauntered over to the opposite sidewalk. There, he braced himself against a doorway and pulled a beeper from his pocket. As the truth started to dawn on Sophie, she clutched at the floppy disk in her coat . . . and finally realised it wasn't there.

"What do you think you're doing?" she screamed, stalking out of the alley--and nearly losing her footing as water suddenly swirled around her heels.

"Didn't you find it odd," Gary asked, "that a flower cart floated up from the market, when carts are made from iron these days?"

Sophie turned then--partly to look at the cart and partly to react to the roar of a rapidly approaching motor--and so the last thing she saw on earth was Dr. Ross speeding toward her on a jetski, ramping off the suspicious cart, and somersaulting off right before it slammed her squarely into oblivion.

* * *

"NO FAIR!" Sophie shrieked, tossing her cards at Ross's face. But her cries were drowned out by the cheers and hoots of the five other friends equally stunned by her surprise assassination.

"Best mission ever!" Ross crowed, leaning forward to high-five the boy by Sophie's side.

She turned to glare at her partner. "You were the double agent!"

Gary nodded, showing her the blue-and-orange card in his hand that had let him play the role of the game's sneakiest player.

"But you said that Olson was the double agent!" Sophie sputtered. "You lied to me!"

The girl next to Ross rolled her eyes. "Of course he did, Sophie. It's all part of the game. You've done it yourself."

Sophie glared at the other girl. "Shut up, Olson!" She turned back to her partner. "When did you plan this with Ross, Gary?"

"Remember when he caught me cutting the brakes on his car? He could have killed me with a lucky roll of the dice, so I showed him the Double Agent card . . . I guess you all thought it was an Escape card . . . With the secret out and Ross being the most powerful player in the game, I decided to trade my life for the codes."

"You traded my life for the codes!"

"Aw, come on, Soph," Ross said. "Be a good sport."

Still refusing to look at him, Sophie started stuffing her things into her backpack. Then, deaf to the protests of her friends, she stormed out of Ross's living room, slamming the front door behind her.

The victorious host sighed. "That's Sore Loser Sophie for you. One of the best roleplayers I know, but boy, does she take it badly when she loses."

Everyone chuckled, clearly used to their friend's outbursts, then started packing up themselves. It had been one of their longest games yet--with an unprecedented death toll--and it was way past the time they usually closed one of their meetings. But it had been Gary's first game with them, and he wanted to help Ross straighten up a little before leaving.

"That was a good one, man," Ross said as they were gathering the game pieces. "I'm glad you're part of the group now."

"Thanks again for inviting me! I'll have to get my parents to order this game for our stock."

"For the magic store?"

"It's not the kind of thing we usually sell, but I'm sure they'll make an exception. Then we could have a special gaming display in a few months! My dad has an vintage pinball machine we could take out of storage and use for it, too."

"Cool, man . . . Hey, you know, I think Sophie was really impressed by my strategy tonight. I think I might get lucky if I try asking her out again."

"Better wait until she cools off a bit. She was pretty mad tonight."

"She's always mad when her character dies. Olson once said that she acts as if anyone who dies playing the game dies for real."

Gary paused in the act of stuffing the game cards pack into the box. "That . . . That sounds like it would make a good story."

"Maybe . . . If you like scary stuff . . . So how do you think I should ask her out? At school? Or should I phone her?"

* * *

Later that night, before he finally went to bed, Gary had outlined the draft of a new story--one about another kind of gaming wizard . . . one who had to play for stakes higher than he had ever imagined . . . against opponents more sinister than he had ever dreamed of . . .

But it was very early in the writing process, and so Gary had not yet decided whether or not the gaming wizard would live or die--both in the game and for real.

The Ross, Sophie and Olson of this story may not bear exact resemblances to the Ross, Sophie and Mr. Olson from The Tale of the Pinball Wizard, but the creative process makes odd tweaks like that to the raw materials of our lives. I mean, you recognise the seeds of my story, right? (Right???)

I know my Midnight Society posts haven't been drawing many comments lately, but I hope I can request some feedback about this one, especially if you have any relevant experience with respect to the following . . .

1. I have obviously never been to Rome. =P For those who have: Is it a plausible enough setting for the flood, anyway? If not, can you suggest another city?
2. Nor have I ever been on a jetski. For those who have: Would it be able to make the jump that it does here?
3. Finally, I have also never played a Role Playing Game, which gives me three for three. (LOL!) For those who have: Are the mechanics of the (totally fictional) RPG in the second part clear and believable?

Of course, any other comments about pacing, dialogue, characterisation, the value of sticking to writing what you know, etc. are welcome, too! =D Thanks a lot!


Sullivan McPig said...

Very nice story :-)
I myself have never played a RPG using cards like you use in this story, but they sound totally plausible.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thank you, Sully! Not just for your feedback, but also for your help while I was writing this. Do my cryptic, random questions make more sense now? ;-)

Sullivan McPig said...

They made sense at the time as well, but it's fun to see why you wanted to know.