By Thomas Page
You find yourself locked in a dungeon with no idea how you got there. Covered with gossamer and dried stains (blood?) you look up at the door with light spilling out and think that whoever put you in here must want that door closed tight. You try to stand but find a rusty chain attached to the floor. The chain is attached to a brace around your ankle. “I must not be the first”, you think to yourself as you contemplate a way out. There seems to be only one door.
An egress catches your eye but not even a cat could wiggle its way out of there. You catch sight of a saw that is across the room. Looking back at the chain, you assume the chain is too short to get you to the saw.
Then you hear something.
“Why do I have to do it? You’re the one who captured it” a gravelly voice says.
It? You’re certainly not an it. You have a bachelor’s degree.
“Well,” huffs a smoky voice, “the only way for Xçhjrtml to be summoned is for you to deal with it.”
Xç-what? Are you really dealing with an elder thing. You were ready to deal with an onslaught of many things; just not an elder thing.
Smoky Voice continues, “You know the ritual. First, get a tribute. Second, prepare the tribute. Last, get Xçhjrtml and we get a new age.”
You really don’t like the sound of this. A new age means changes. Changes mean that the restaurant down the street might change its menu and you really hate when that happens.
But that’s not important right now.
You continue to listen.
Gravelly Voice says, “Woah, don’t bog me down with the nitty-gritty. You’re always mister details.”
“Don’t be a smartalec ,” says Smoky, “as soon as you’re done then we can have a conservation about it.”
“You always forget! Just like about dinner last night. You’re not supposed to forget about Waldorf Salad Wednesdays.”
Do ghouls have personal lives? You thought that all monsters did was either pledge unwavering loyalty to whatever devil king they served or scared children. Are ghouls in relationships? It seems that Gravelly and Smoky are. Where do they go vacation? A nicer part of Hell?
Then you remember that the last thing you were doing before you ending up in this dungeon. It was Tuesday. You had to get gas in the wee hours of the morning because that’s the type of person you are. You were putting your credit card into the machine when it all went dark. Do you still have your credit card?
You check your pocket. You don’t even have your wallet.
Great, now some monster is using it to buy something and you have absolutely no credit. Not only are you going to be sacrificed to Xçhjrtml , but your credit score is being ruined.
“The faster you do this, the sooner we can get home” says Smoky.
After a long silence, Gravelly replies, “O.K. we have our slicing knife”
Really not good
This is a bit overkill
A glitter pen? Why is that after disemboweling knife? What horrible thing could Gravelly do to you with a pen?
Smoky interrupts, “You can’t fill out the form with a glitter pen. It has to be red or black ink.”
“It’s a glittery red pen” Gravelly says.
There’s a silence followed by a loud bang.
“Fine, I won’t use the glitter pen. You’re no fun. Bone saw.”
So now we’ve upgraded to saws. You fade out as it lists more and more weapons. How could Gravelly use all of these on you? You’re just an average person with limited places to slice and dice. By this point, whatever it’s saying doesn’t faze you.
“You seem to have everything. Do it quickly then we can possibly catch, ‘Love Connection'” says Smoky.
The door flies open. A hooded figure descends the stairs quickly. It is rotund looking with scales all over its arms. You would call it an alligator except for the fact that its eyes are like a human’s. It nearly trips and stumbles most of way down. You didn’t really notice how many stairs there were in this dungeon.
When it finally lands on the ground you politely ask, “Are you O.K.?”
Gravelly stands up with a jolt saying, “I’m fine. Did you see where my bag went?”
“Beside the skeleton.”
It runs to the skeleton, chained to the side of the stairs, and picks up its weapons. It shuffles back to you and says, “As ambassador to Xçhjrtml, the lord of a new age, I announce that you have been randomly selected as a tribute. You will be offered in order to usher in the new age after I invoke Xçhjrtml with a prayer. Do you understand?”
“Do I have any choice in the matter?”
“Then I understand.”
Gravelly begins, “Sb Xçhjrtml qwn drn llnmx sdg k v tsch…”
You interrupt, “Is Xçhjrtml an elder thing?”
Gravelly stops, “No. it’s an entirely different breed. More like a Canaanite god.”
It clears it’s throat. “Sb Xçhjrtml qwn drn llnmx sdg k v tsch xvñ łw nnm…”
“Where does it come from? Is it a fallen angel?”
“No, it’s a god like in the Bible.”
“That would be a fallen angel.”
“No, we live in a polytheistic world where Yahweh and Xçhjrtml both exist.”
“So that’s not a Canaanite god. That would imply a fallen angel.”
“Well, what you have been told is incorrect” ,it clears its throat, “Sb Xçhjrtml qwn drn llnmx sdg k v tsch xvñ łw nnm mg whjr tddt ghmwñ…”
Gravelly hits you on the head.
“You’re clearly trying to mess me over.” it says, “The sooner I say the prayer, the sooner this will be over.” Glaring at you, Gravelly starts again. It speaks quickly this time, “Sb Xçhjrtml qwn drn llnmx sdg k v tsch xvñ łw nnm mg whjr tddt ghmwñ jwńmł rtrttć čćç k mñj. Hmn.”
It picks up a knife when a voice interrupts from upstairs. “You used a gerund instead of the jussive,” says Smoky.
Gravelly turns around and shouts, “No I didn’t, the jussive is offset by ‘k v.'”
“Not if it’s in the ltw declension. ‘K v’ makes those verbs into gerunds.”
“Does it really matter? Xçhjrtml knows the intention of my prayer. Can I just start the ritual?”
“Xçhjrtml can only be summoned with a jussive just like anyone else.”
“Does our god really make petty distinctions in a language older than time itself? A language with no speakers because it would destroy the mind of anyone who dares know it.”
“Clearly it’s destroyed your short term memory because any year 2 student would know this rule, Kdp are set off by ‘k v’ while ltw are set off by ‘g b'”
“Those are the same sounds in essence.”
“No, ‘k v’ are made when your tongue is near your teeth while ‘g b’ are closer to the pallet.”
You space out again. You’ve always found languages boring. You remember being in Spanish class when a fight broke out about the use of the future tense. You slowly roll your neck and notice a keychain around Smoky’s waist. It has its back to you while it has been berating Gravelly. You carefully reach out your hand when Smoky turns around.
“Oh, we forgot about the human. Just say the prayer again and then we can get on with the new age,” says Smoky.
“Then you say it, grammar expert,” replies Gravelly.
Smoky closes its eyes and chants, “Sb Xçhjrtml qwn drn llnmx sdg g b tsch xvñ łw nnm mg whjr tddt ghmwñ jwńmł rtrttć čćç k mñj. Hmn.”
The room starts to shake. A fissure opens up in the floor with purple light spilling out. A hand the size of a car ascends. It is covered with the same scales as the two creatures next to you. The giant hand opens its palm.
“Oh, goodie. We’ve summoned the Great Arm. We’re getting closer,” says Smoky.
A voice comes from the fissure, “K mh l hhmn!”
Gravelly picks up the knife and approaches you. You are running of our time. You think of your options. The key is still within reach but you can’t overpower those two. The saw in the bag is another option, but you don’t have time.
Gravelly reaches you before you can think of another option. It raises the knife above its head saying, “Tk tt hhmm d,” plunging it into your arm. The pain is agonizing. Gravelly takes the knife and drips your blood onto the hand. It sizzles into the purple mist. A voice replies, “Nvk.”
The two ghouls look confused. “Nvk?” asks Smoky.
“If I may ask,” you say, “what does ‘nvk’ mean?”
Smoky and Gravelly don’t seem to hear you. Both are scratching their heads. Smoky takes out a tome and hastily looks through it. It gets to a page in the middle. It turns to you and asks, “What is your blood type?”
“Excuse me?” you reply.
“Your blood type. Is it A, B, AB, or O?”
You can’t recall. You remember doing a Punnet Square. Your Mom has brown eyes. No, that’s not how blood works. Your Dad has A. That’s right. A is a choice. Your Mom has O so that means you either have A or O. Smoky starts to look impatient.
“Well, do you know? You look like the kind of person who doesn’t even know which way is up.”
To be fair, you have been locked in this dungeon for at least a day. You haven’t gotten your bearings all sorted out yet and you have to process a lot of information. Ghouls, sacrifice, Xçhjrtml, your credit rating, and many other terrors have fogged up your thinking.
“Uh,” you say, “It’s either A or O.”
Smoky picks up its tome again and reads. It looks up and says, “The Great Arm must receive a gift of either B or AB blood.”
“Does Xçhjrtml always require that blood type?” asks Gravelly.
“No,” says Smoky, “The limbs require some form of B, the core A, and the head O.”
“Did you check if the human has the right blood type?”
“First of all, Xçhjrtml spawns as it wishes. That’s why it has been so difficult to summon it. We’ve only been able to summon the Magnificent Foot and that was pure luck. Second of all, I don’t know how to test for blood type.”
“The humans have a system.”
They turn to you and ask in unison, “How does your species test for blood type?”
“I don’t know,” you say, “my education was in the humanities.”
Smoky hits its hand against the wall. “We’ve been trying to usher in a new age for years and we always get stuck on trivial details!” It slowly descends to the ground. Gravelly approaches it and gently pets its head, “It’ll be all right. We’ll eventually get it right.”
You watch the scene conflicted. These things did try to sacrifice you to their god but they experience failure and emotion just like humans. You then remember that your arm is still bleeding.
“I don’t mean to bother you but am I still being sacrificed?” you ask.
Gravelly gets up and says, “Well, it would a waste now.”
“Could I get a bandage for my arm?”
“Oh, yes of course. Make sure you compress the wound.”
Gravelly runs upstairs. You look at Smoky who is putting its head in its hands.
“Rough week?” you ask.
“More like a rough eternity,” it says. “We Ghjk have been trying to bring the age of Xçhjrtml for a long time. As you heard, the method to summon it is precise and we haven’t figured it out yet. Do you really not know humans test for blood type or is it a ruse?”
“You know I can’t tell you that.”
“Right of course. I’m sure you’re all pro-human and all.”
“How did you know how to speak English?”
It says mimicking your voice, “‘You know I can’t tell you that.’ We watched T.V.”
“Ah, you know there are other human languages?”
“The other one is Spanish, right?”
“Erm no, but most people can speak either English or Spanish.”
“Oh, good because there’s no way I could speak both English and Spanish.”
Gravelly opens the door to the dungeon. It makes it halfway down the steps before stumbling down the rest of the way down.
“We really need to put more light in here,” it says to Smoky.
“You don’t seem to get the point of a dungeon. It’s not a Club Med,” retorts Smoky.
They really do need a vacation from this whole bringing in a new age business. You imagine them walking around a Club Med trying not to stand out by wearing ridiculously big hats. The scales might be an issue, but you’re sure they have figured out some system.
“Are you the only ones trying to do this or is this like a field office?” you ask.
“In your terminology this is a field office,” says Smoky, “We have tried with little success on other planets in this universe.”
“Are you extraterrestrials?” you ask.
“No, were superterrestrials.” says Gravelly, “We come from another level of this universe.”
“The term you’re looking for is dimension not planet. Planets are other rocks in space.”
They both glare at you. You decide to stop talking.
Gravelly takes out a needle to sew up your arm. As it is doing this it asks you, “Am I doing this right? We haven’t really work with sewing skin back together.” You looks at your arm. It’s seems O.K. but it still stings like the devil.
“You’re doing fine,” you say.
Gravelly finishes dressing the wound without talking. Smoky reads his tome without comment. Your eyes start to adjust to your surroundings. The fissure is gone. It caused no damage in the floor. There is little furniture in the dungeon. There is a table with a broken chair near the base of the stairs. Across from that is another chair that is also in pieces. The ghoul wraps your arm in the bandage giving what it thinks to be gentle pat.
“Good as new” it says.
They both stand up waiting for you to do the same. Then they realize you’re still chained to the wall.
“Oh, yeah. You need to be unlocked,” says Smoky. It takes the key and unlocks the brace on your ankle. You try to stand up but your body stumbles.
“Humans need to walk around sometimes,” you say.
“Good to know,” says Gravelly.
They grab you by the arms lifting you slightly off the floor. You are brought up the stairs to the dungeon’s door. One of them opens it. You enter into a warehouse.
“If I may ask, where are we?” you say.
“The Base of Operations,” says Smoky.
“I mean in human terms.”
“Oh, then you would call this place Death Valley. ”
“Any particular reason you’re based in Death Valley?”
Gravelly says, “Xçhjrtml requires a lot of heat to be summoned and this place is very hot.”
“True,” you say.
The warehouse is unbearably hot. There isn’t much up here. Like the basement, there’s a table with some broken chairs. There’s a chest filled to the brim with supplies.
“You have a problem with chairs?” you ask.
“Ah, yes…”, says Smoky, “… our bodies aren’t quite acquainted to your furniture. We don’t mean to break them so often. We’re about to go to the store again.”
You picture them in disguise trying to get chairs from a big box store. They must appear covered from head to toe walking around nonchalant while people try to get a look at their face.
They walk you to the door and open it.
“I’m sorry,” you say, “but do you have my wallet and cell phone?”
They look at each other. After a moment Smoky goes to the trunk and rummages around. He produces a wallet.
“Is it this one?”
You look at it. It’s the same color as yours but it belongs to someone else named Haley.
“This isn’t my wall…”
Her face looks back at you. She must have a family somewhere who are looking for her. How could they are explain what happened. Someone just vanishing into air. Whatever they did to her, you know it wasn’t good. You notice the expiration date was a year ago.
“How many?” you ask.
“Pardon?” it asks.
“How many people have you offered to Xçhjrtml?”
Smoky looks at its partner. Gravelly shrugs back.
“Well, we’ve offered over a hundred people but Xçhjrtml has rejected them all.”
“What happened to the rest of them?”
“Like you, they eventually ask to be let go. We patch them up and send them on their way.”
“We’re not good at our job,” says Gravelly, “you’re sent to the Terra realm if you don’t do well on your Gxtstmnñ.”
It stares at you. Then it realizes its mistake.
“A Gxtstmnñ is a job exam. Every Ghjk takes it before they’re sent out. Those who fail it get sent to places like here.”
“Are there others like you who are sent here?” you ask.
“No, just two are sent per realm. Trying to manage offices on infinite realms requires a lot of manpower,” it says.
Smoky goes back to find your wallet and phone. You and Gravelly stand by the door. It becomes a little antsy. You look at it but when it turns to you, you turn your head back. Its eyes were the most striking tint of orange you have ever seen. Smoky returns with another wallet.
“Interestingly enough,” says Smoky, “you’re the only one to ask for his stuff back. I think most people are too disorientated to notice that they don’t have their stuff with them.”
You look at the wallet. This one belongs to a Russell. He looks like the kind of guy who gets taken by aliens all the time.
“This also isn’t mine,” you say.
Smoky lifts its hands into the air, “All you humans look so alike. What is your name?”
You tell it your name. After a minute or so it comes back with your wallet and your phone. You make sure that they are in your pockets. A sense of relief washes over you.
Smoky and Gravelly take you to the warehouse’s door. They open the door.
“Well, it time for humans to go,” says Smoky.
They both seize you and hurl you into the desert. You land face first and totally eat it. You decide to lay on the ground for a minute or so. You really deserve the rest.
When you muster up the will to stand up you find yourself in the middle of Death Valley. You can faintly see the highway leading to civilization. You turn around to find nothing there behind you. The warehouse and its inhabitants are gone like a mirage. You have a lot of conflicting thoughts about it. “Was I imagining it?, where am I really? Am I still dreaming?”
You head towards the road on the horizon when you remember your credit card. You open your wallet to find your credit card where it should be. Behind it is a piece of paper. You take the paper out and unfold it.
It says, “Sorry about the confusion. Have a great day!” written in glittery red ink.