While I rewrite the stories that appeared in my 2014 book, The Green Crystal Stories, I’m offering the original stories here in chapter-by-chapter installments. In this chapter of “III” (the third short story in the book), Lenny Stevens reappears.
Lenny is the POV (point of view) character in this chapter. He likes Vree and she likes him. She emerges enough from her possession to speak to him, but she is still a distant character.
I said yesterday that “III” is a possession story and poses to Vree the question: “How do I get unpossessed?” In Chapter 2, she chooses not to seek help from others but to be her own savior. Since she’s an only child in this version, I thought it proper that she act this way. Lenny, of course, would rather be her savior. He’s the “Hero in the background” waiting for his chance to pick up the Joseph Campbell (no relation) sword and take action.
Beware the gates guarded by dragons.
December 20, 2012
His last class was study hall in the cafeteria and he had ten minutes to give Vree Erickson the gift he had bought her before school closed for Christmas vacation. Surrounded by tripping hazards of plastic and aluminum chairs and long Formica tables, Lenny Stevens zigzagged his way to Vree, sat opposite her and said, “Merry Christmas.” He slid the gift-wrapped box of chocolate covered cherries to her.
“I would have done this at the beginning of class but I had a humongous algebra assignment to finish,” he continued. “Plus, I wasn’t sure if you’d be here. You missed school yesterday and I tried calling last night but your phone kept going to voice mail, so I called your house and your mom said you weren’t feeling well. Then my dad’s car died before we got halfway up Russell Road—”
“You came out to see me?”
“Of course.” He lowered his voice below the whispered excitement from the room of students awaiting the last bell. “I love you.”
Vree slid a gift-wrapped box to him after taking it from her oversized book bag that occupied the empty seat on her right.
Lenny grinned and tore away the gold wrapping paper.
“You shouldn’t have,” he said when he took the gift out of its box. His long fingers slid over the sleek, black iPad. “I mean it. These things are expensive and all I got you was—”
“Never mind that and turn it on. It has everything, including some games.” Vree lowered her voice. “I added one of my favorites. I know you’ll do well at it.”
Lenny’s grin widened when the screen came on and Vree’s youthful face filled the space. “I love the wallpaper,” he said.
“It works both horizontally and vertically. Now take it for a spin.” Vree rose from the table and fetched her chocolates and book bag. “I left one of my workbooks in the library. I’ll be back in a few.” Before she went to Mr. Baretti and interrupted him from his paperback for a hall pass, she whispered to Lenny, “Definitely try out the game I put on there. It’s called Dragon Slayer, my favorite game of all.”
Lenny went through the menu of games until he found Dragon Slayer and opened it.
CHOOSE YOUR SKILL LEVEL, the computer screen said.
He chose BEGINNER from the options offered.
The screen came to life as a red, fire-breathing dragon swooped down from a velvet star-filled sky and laid to waste in a fiery breath the Tolkien-esque village below. Elflike people ran screaming from wooden houses and stone buildings into the cobbled streets.
Lenny marveled the lifelike graphics while, within seconds, the dragon destroyed the living. Red words filled the screen as the dragon and village disappeared into blackness. GAME OVER — 0 POINTS.
He touched the pad and brought the dragon’s fury to life again. This time he brought a centaur from out of the shadows. The mythical creature shot gold arrows from a gold bow at the dragon. Every shot missed and the dragon destroyed the village again.
GAME OVER — 0 POINTS.
He tried again and the centaur sent an arrow into the dragon’s tail. It screeched and banked away into the yellow glow of a full moon. Then it veered back. Little people ran. The centaur shouted orders to unseen comrades. A maiden stepped from an armament shop and gave the centaur a blue arrow.
“Shoot at its heart,” the fair-haired maiden said.
Lenny was pleasantly surprised to hear Vree’s voice come from the computer. He relished the moment until
“Whatcha got there, Stevens?”
Lenny leaned away from the short, round teenager who had advanced like a starving bear to honey as he took residence in the seat at Lenny’s right. Frank Bunce’s arm candy, Kathy Montefusco, just as short and round but nicer smelling, followed and sat next him, scooching her chair close to his.
“Gimme some air,” Frank said to her.
Kathy hopped her chair a few inches away.
Give me some air, Lenny thought. Not many students were able to overwhelm the cafeteria’s never-ending foul odor of its international menu. But Frank usually did.
“If you have to know, it’s a Christmas present,” Lenny said when the commotion settled. He turned his nose away from Frank’s acrid body odor and concentrated on playing the game.
“Who from?” Frank asked, leaning closer.
Lenny held his breath for a moment. Then, “Vree,” he answered.
“Little Miss Erickson,” Kathy said, sounding as though she disapproved. “I heard you two were dating.”
“She ain’t so little,” Frank said to her. Then he clapped Lenny on the back. “You dawg! Good for you. No more lonely nights on the Internet.”
Kathy’s face soured. “Jesus, Frank, must you be so juvenile?”
“Gimme some air, Kath. Okay?” He leaned closer to the iPad’s screen. “Is that a game? What is that?”
“It’s called Dragon Slayer,” Lenny answered.
Frank touched the screen. “What’s it do?” Then he pulled the iPad from Lenny’s hands. “I’ll give it right back,” he said when Lenny protested.
Kathy scowled and stiffened, looking annoyed that she had lost Frank’s attention.
“Move over,” Frank said to her as he placed the iPad in front of him and hovered over it like a student preventing prying eyes from seeing his test paper. “Check out the dragon and these characters. The graphics are awesome.” He attacked the iPad screen with his fingers and made explosion sounds with his mouth. “Take that, you stupid dragon. And that … and that.”
He leaned toward Lenny and said, “You can get game controllers for these.” Then, hovering over the game, bombing noises from his flatulent lips and cheeks drowned the sounds of the game. Spittle showered the computer and tabletop. The dragon sounded angry.
“Time you give it back,” Lenny said.
“In a minute.” Frank bounced in his seat and made more bombing noises. Then, “Crap, I’m dead … I mean, you’re dead Stevens.” He thumped his fingers at the screen. “You were playing at the beginner level. Everyone knows you don’t get anywhere unless you go top speed. Let me show you what a master can do.”
He returned to attacking the computer screen with his hands and spittle. Lenny winced.
“Damn it,” Frank cried out a moment later, “I’m out of arrows.” Then, “Hey, this maiden bringing me arrows looks like Vree.” He sounded delighted. “Awesome.”
“Shoot at its heart,” the computer said in Vree’s voice. Frank looked over at Lenny and grinned. “Totally awesome, dude.” Then he looked at Kathy. “Why don’t you do something like that for me?”
Kathy frowned and glowered at Lenny for a moment before she flipped a lock of hair from her eyes.
“Shoot at its heart,” Vree’s voice repeated. “Hurry, before it kills you.”
“I’m trying,” Frank said.
“Hurry. The dragon is coming for another attack. Shoot!”
“Shut up. I’m hurrying.”
“It’s coming. Save the village.”
A terrible roar sounded from the iPad. Kathy turned away from Frank as the bell rang to end the school day. “You guys and your stupid toys,” she said, watching Mr. Baretti and the students leave the cafeteria.
“It’s not a toy,” Frank said, panting now.
“Kill the dragon,” the computer demanded. “Strike its heart with the blue arrow before it kills you.”
“I’m trying, damn it, I’m trying.” Frank panted and pounded the screen with his fingers.
“Not so hard,” Lenny said.
The screen emitted a green glow that grew and wafted around Frank’s upper body like a sudden fog and enveloped him.
Lenny stood as the glow enveloped Kathy, as well. She spun in her seat, noticed the green glow and shouted at Frank, but no sound came from inside the glow.
Lenny scrambled away when a flash of white light filled the spots where Frank and Kathy sat. When the light vanished, the green glow, Frank Bunce, and Kathy Montefusco were gone.
“Game over,” the computer said. “You lose, Frank.” Lenny thought he heard Vree’s voice snicker.
He stared at his gift, uncertain of whether to go near it.
Vree stepped inside the cafeteria then and smiled at him as she went to him and took one of his hands into hers. “Come, I’ll walk you to your locker.”
“But something just happened,” he said. “I-I … Frank was playing the game and there was a green glow and he … and then Kathy—”
“It’s okay.” Vree picked up the iPad. “They’re busy fighting dragons.” She pointed at the screen. “See?”
The game had started again. Frank busily shot arrows at the red dragon that flew above the town and clutched a screaming Kathy in its talons.
“Don’t worry,” Vree said. “I’ll let them out in a moment. They’ll wake at their lockers and won’t remember a thing that happened. And every time Frank or Kathy pisses me off by doing something ignorant like disrespecting you, they’ll go back in with the dragons.” She reached out for Lenny. He flinched but did not pull from her. She grasped one of his arms and ran her fingers over the cloth of his shirtsleeve. “You’re a good person, Leonard Stevens,” she said, peering at his face. “Good people have nothing to fear from the likes of me.”
“What does that mean?” Lenny pulled from her and fell to his seat. “How is this possible, Vree? Tell me.”
“Something happened to me a few months ago.” Vree sat next to him, put her book bag on her lap, and opened one of the three compartments and told him to look inside it. The chunk of green crystal that she had found in the sinkhole behind her house glowed brightly.
“What is it?” Lenny stared at the crystal. It looked like one of the chemiluminescent sticks his dad kept in his car’s trunk for emergencies. But the crystal was a lot bigger, which he estimated to be over a foot long and nearly six inches in diameter. He reached out to put his hand inside the book bag.
“Don’t touch it.” Vree covered the bag with her arms and she cradled it in her lap.
“I thought it was a good thing … once. But—”
Another bell sounded and Lenny looked past the door, out at the hall still emptying of students going home. “Is it magical?” he asked.
“That’s how you were able to send Frank and Kathy into the game.”
Lenny slid the iPad until it was in front of Vree. Her teary gaze left him as she looked at it. Then, “I have to go,” she said, standing. “There’s so much to do and—” She hurried away. Lenny almost called her back before she ran out the door.
He glanced at the iPad’s game screen. Frank and Kathy were gone. The screen blinked twice and the following message appeared in red letters:
GAME OVER — 0 POINTS — YOU LOSE.
Lenny shut down the iPad and returned the computer to its box. Then he watched the door, wishing Vree back.