An expanse of drivel
Chuck’s challenge of the week: Build a story around one simple sentence.
I was inescapably drawn to the quirky and goofy sentence penned by Ryanjamesblack: “Merlin leaned against the bathroom sink, stroking his smoky beard self-consciously, studying the instructions on the “JUST FOR MEN” box with the surly frown he usually reserved for translating incantations scribed in a dead tongues.”
Here, then, is Merlin in Midtown.
Merlin in Midtown
“I’ve got a care package prepared for you when you arrive,” the man in black said. His name was Smith — obviously a fake — and Merlin much preferred the more ominous-sounding “man in black”.
“Clothes, shoes, letters of writ?” Merlin asked.
“We call them passports, but yes.”
“Hat?” The man in black held up a baseball cap before the mirror. Merlin passed an unimpressed eye over it. “Not pointy enough.”
“No pointy hats here.”
Merlin huffed through his prodigious mustache, blowing its points out toward the mirror. As likely, Smith would say “no beards” next.
“And about your beard…”
“Not a chance! I’ll not shear my face for some little upstart. Maybe in your time the men go around with their faces as smooth as the women’s, but –“
“Relax. You don’t have to cut it.” Smith reached into his devilish little contraption and pulled out a hand-sized box with a smiling, grizzled man on it.
“What in the name of Excalibur is that?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll help you.”
He had delayed long enough. Worlds needed saving. Again. The man in black had contacted him using all the appropriate passwords; he was a member of the Order, even if his appearance suggested nothing arcane in the least. Still, Merlin had seen stranger things in his time. “Stand back.” He hiked up the hem of his robe, stood up on the washbasin, and stepped through the mirror. Smith stood a respectable distance away as Merlin emerged from the bathroom mirror in his twenty-first century apartment. Now in the flesh, Merlin finally got a good look at the man in his sharp but nondescript black suit.
Of course, Merlin didn’t know what a suit was, but it looked sensible enough.
“Is that how you’re dressing me, then?”
Merlin leaned against the bathroom sink, stroking his smoky beard self-consciously, studying the instructions on the “JUST FOR MEN” box with the surly frown he usually reserved for translating incantations scribed in a dead tongues. After massaging the foul-smelling goop into his beard and a good, healthy rinse, a less grey Merlin looked back at him from the mirror. “What sorcery is this?” he demanded.
“Less sorcery, more chemistry. Your wardrobe is in the other room.”
Smith exited the building in his black suit, got into a waiting black car with black windows, and drove off into a black tunnel. Merlin followed a few minutes after, wearing leather chaps and biker boots and a jacket studded with enough metal, he figured, to defend himself against a knight’s broadsword, not that he expected to encounter any such weapon in this time. At the curb, next to the lumbering steel beasts that glided past in puffs of faint fading smoke, stood a wheeled contraption that looked like some blacksmith’s nightmarish invention, a two-wheeled tangle of pipes and plastic and leather that the man in black had told him to ride to the destination. He tossed one leather-clad leg across its seat, cast a few protection spells about himself, and forgot to breathe as the thing roared to life and spirited him through the streets at ludicrous speeds. Tingles of excitement zinged through parts of him he’d forgotten about.
He dismounted the iron horse and pushed his way through the swinging doors of a tavern that felt a bit more like home than the rest of this world. It was dark and seedy and smelled of ale and smoke. Smith had given him a magical imprint of the man he was here to find, a lifelike image on a piece of glossy parchment which he held at the tip of his long nose as he cast his sparkling eyes around the room. There, bent over a green table in the back, was the very same boy, the likeness impossibly undeniable. In his hand, a quarterstaff, tapered to a fine point, with which he propelled a series of balls around the table. Merlin lowered the brim of his disappointingly un-pointy hat and strode over to the boy. “Arthur?” he used the voice he saved for royal decrees and portents, a deep, rumbling and ominous affair designed to awe and mystify.
“Scram, old man,” said the boy, in complete disregard of Merlin’s melodramatic tones.
Merlin tapped a finger on the table and the billiard balls exploded in a cloud of rainbow-colored dust. Arthur drew a tiny flashing blade and pointed it at Merlin’s nose. Merlin squinted his caterpillar-thick eyebrows and the dagger flung itself into the edge of the table, yanking Arthur’s hand down with it. The boy pulled and wrenched at the blade but it was stuck fast.
Merlin chuckled to himself. In his time, a child of destiny would reveal himself through a feat of strength or a demonstration of wit; this lad seemed capable of neither.
“What are you laughing at?”
“Enough, Arthur. I’m here to help you.”
“My name’s not Arthur, you psycho.”
Beneath his copious mustache, Merlin’s lips creased into a terse line. He left the youth bewildered and shouting obscenities at his back as he stomped out of the bar, the ridiculous garments of leather and steel disappearing in puffs of purple smoke and being replaced with his comfortable, grey robes. Outside, Smith, the “man in black” leaned against his black sedan, smiling a cheshire-cat grin. Merlin waved a hand and the slick facade dissolved, revealing a pale woman in a cascading, swirling dress of green and purple. She held a tiny blinking device in her hand, which she aimed at him with a series of maddening clicks. “Damn you, Morgan!” In her own wisp of grey-green smoke, she vanished.
By the time he arrived back in his own time, all the stained glass in the castle had been replaced with images of Merlin in his ridiculous leather outfit astride that horrendous metal horse intimidating a poor, helpless twenty-first century kid; his latest indignity immortalized in multicolored mosaic.
4 Comments | tags: 1000 words, chuck wendig, fantasy, Flash Fiction, merlin, short story, weird, wizardry | posted in Flash Fiction
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