My name is Mortimer Icarus Kowalski, but my friends would probably call me Mik or Morty. I have a sleeping problem which I can only fix by taking pills four hours before my capitalistically appropriate sleeping time. It was an ordinary night, I took my pills as usual and crawled into my bed. I was eating day old chips and watching a movie about a guy’s drama with a super computer. The movie was boring and the chips were soft and I was itchy because there were crumbs on my bed, but it didn’t matter because the pills were kicking in. It makes you somewhat stupid and incompetent. You get all bored out, tired, and almost suicidal. So I turned off the TV and snuggled up with one of my pillows. I was just about to fall asleep when I heard a loud noise downstairs. Naturally, I tried to go back to sleep, but the noise continued. I had to find out whatever was making that noise and end it once and for all. I got up and dragged myself down the stair. Turned right into the living room and saw a giant owl-headed bear with a horn. Ending it once and for all was out of question. It was chewing, pulling and pushing my table. Next to the bear thing, there was an oval shaped bright blueish white hole, seemingly floating. Like one of those big old mirrors that you only find in old people’s places. I figured that it is probably a portal and that furry thing probably came through it. I had to close it so that no more of these creatures could come through and ruin my sleep. I walked to the shiny thing, held it from the sides and tried to close it. Didn’t work. I tried to pull it down to break it. Didn’t work. I tried to push the bear to plug it close. Didn’t work either. So I decided to walk through and find a way to close it from the other side.
The trip to the other side was itchy and nauseous. In a few seconds, I stepped into a semi-dark room. The walls and the floor were stone and there were tables, full of books. In the centre, there was an old man, frantically walking around. He had a purple robe and a pointy hat with yellow stars on it. He walked up to me as soon as he saw me and asked:
“Have you seen my friend?!”
“Who is your friend?”
“I haven’t seen anyone horny, but there was a bear in my living room.”
“Could it be Horny?” the old man asked himself while stroking his grey beard and looking up with one eye.
“It was chewing my table.”
“He must be Horny!”
I was so confused
“Look, old man, I need to close this portal so that I can go back to sleep. Can you help me?”
He looked past me, his eyes widened as he saw the portal, which was in the middle of his room for the past twenty minutes.
“By my dangling stars!” one star fell off of his hat, “That is a portal!”
“Can you close it?”
“No, Arch-age. He is very old.”
“Where can I find him?”
“In the Arch-temple.”
“And where is it?”
“In the Arch-forest.”
“What’s with all these arches?”
“Can you lead me to the Arch-age?”
“Sure, why not.”
So we left the stone building and walked into the forest. It was dense and full of weird, glowing mushrooms. I touched one of them and it started screaming and running away. The old man said that it was not just a mushroom. We walked on and on for about half an hour, and I was getting very tired.
“Hey old man, can we camp here a little? I’m exhausted.”
“We can! Can you light a fire?”
“No. I thought you could. Aren’t you a wizard or something?”
“What gave you that idea?”
“I don’t know. Purple robe, yellow starts on a pointy hat, portal in the middle of your room.”
“Wizards don’t look like that mah boy.”
“What about all those books? They looked magical.”
“They are stories from different timelines.”
“What kind of stories?”
“Hmm… There is this one book about a love story. The couple breaks up at a rainy night and the guy walks off. The girl stands behind and cries. Then, she decides to run after him to fix everything so that they can live happily ever after, but alas! She gets stuck in time and space loop! Frozen in time, she watches her lover walking off into the rain and he disappears. They never see each other again. The End.” The old man wiped off a tear from his one working eye.
“Was that the whole book?”
“Yes. It is from a timeline where they don’t like stories longer than five pages.”
“Less is more.” I whispered to myself.
“Less is bore? But I liked those story.” The old man had a sad posture.
“No, I said—never mind. What about the camp?”
“Oh right. Forget the camp, we are close to a tavern, let’s rest there.”
We started walking again, and soon enough we reached a rather shady looking wooden building. It had a couple of smoking barrels outside and some sort of instrumental gibberish was emanating from the building. We took the steps to the front porch and I pushed the door open. It screamed and ran inside. The old man gave me a disapproving look and said: “tck, you should stop touching things that you don’t understand.” We walked inside. It was cramped, low lit, and smelled very much like a gym. There were chairs everywhere but no tables. Everyone was holding their drinks in their hands. I whispered to the old man “Why are there no tables? Where do people put their drinks?” He whispered back, “You are supposed to drink them, why do you need a table for that?” It actually made sense for a whole second. There was a bartender behind a long counter, who was barely fitting in there. A very bulky man with very dirty clothes and very unreformed facial hair and a very big nose. He was a man of exaggeration and he was doing the generic bartender move with a glass and a piece of dirty cloth. We walked up to him.
Old man: We want a room.
Bartender: Sorry gents, it is musicians’ night. We are booked out.
Old man: Ay come on! There has to be a room for us!
Bartender: Look, old fella, if you want a room, go and talk to one of those musicians. They are the ones that rented all of them.
Me: Two rooms. We want two rooms.
Old man: Alrighty!
I looked around to see the musicians. There was a stage full of people just making loud instrumental noises. Upon closer inspection, I realised that their heads were all different instruments, but they were not “playing” anything. They looked like they were having a very angry conversation. Like Germans.
Old man: You gotta admit, they are good. Bartender! Give us two cups of potato juice.
Said the old man, tapping his oversized feet to some sort of rhythm that I couldn’t hear.
Me: Do you have any coffee?
The bartender gave me the most uninterested look.
Bartender: I don’t know what that is, and I don’t care. Here is your juice.
He pushed two tankards over the counter towards us.
I watched the old man chug half his cup. Instinctually, I felt fear for an old man’s life but he seemed fine. Such a scene made me think that if this old man could do it, so could I. I took a hefty sip from my cup, expecting some sort of disgusting potato soup. It was vodka. “This is vodka!” I said, with a bitter face. I gave my cup to the old man and started walking towards the stage in hopes of getting us two rooms just to lie down for half an hour to get my energy back. After a few steps, I heard the old man shouting at me. “Hey, ye kiddo! Aren’t ya gonna pay fer thees drinnnks?” He was drunk already and I didn’t have any fantasy money on me. I walked back up to the bartender while the old man tried to flirt with a stool.
“Hey, do you have anything that can sober him up?”
“I do, but it’ll cost you.”
“Hmm… With the drinks, it’s a total of twelve mushrooms.”
“I’m not even gonna question that.”
I was already irritated.
I turned to the old man, held him on the shoulders and started shaking him. Since his robe had no pockets, whatever he had in his possession must have been under it, and I was not in the mood of scaring myself for life. Just as I predicted, stuff began to fall on the ground. I didn’t even know half of the things but I found four small mushrooms. I collected them while the old man barfed on a headless lady, then I turned to the bartender.
“I have four.”
“That only pays for the drinks, kid” And he immediately snatched them off my hand.
“Do you know a free way to sober him up?”
The old man continued barfing on the same lady. She was enjoying it.
“Well, you can use the barrels outside, at your own risk.”
“What are they?”
“For free sobering up, and exotic massage.”
I grabbed the old man, dragged him off of the now half-naked and sweaty lady and out the door. I opened one of the barrels and was greeted by a dark green fluid with meaty chunks. Dipped the old man’s cup inside it and forced him to drink the whole cup, then I waited for a minute to see if it worked. Nothing changed, so I gave him another dose and waited for another minute. I thought the old man was too drunk for that thing to work, so I walked back inside to ask the bartender what to do.
“Hey, uh, the grimthing didn’t work. You got anything else for free?”
“That’s not possible. I have never seen anyone stay drunk after dipping their toes in that stuff. That old man must be high on something.”
“Yeah, didn’t I tell you? What else are you gonna do with Grimdog vomit anyways? Man, I would pay to see someone drink that stuff. It’s so strong, it can melt your internal organs.”
I rushed back out to stuff the old man’s body in one of the barrels before anyone sees it. He was lying on the ground, motionless. I kneeled down to carry him but he grabbed my shirt. I screamed like a little kid on a rollercoaster accompanied by her dead parents. He faintly whispered.
“What happened to me?”
“You, uh, got too drunk and drank Grimdog vomit to prove that you are the strongest man alive.”
“Did I win?”
“Well, you are alive.”
“I don’t feel like it. It hurts so much.”
“Don’t worry. It’ll all be over soon.”
I started dragging him to the barrel I previously opened. I had to end his suffering.
“Where are you dragging me?”
“Oh the pain! I can’t take it anymore!”
“Calm down! I’ll help.”
“Mama! I’m sorry. I didn’t take the dog out and it died.”
As I was about to put him in the barrel he took a deep breath and burped the loudest and smelliest burp I had ever heard and smelled. I dropped him on the ground to save myself from the inevitable death. He got up quickly as I hid behind a barrel. He looked alive, more than ever.
“Woohee kid! I feel alive! Hey, where did you go?”
I crawled out of my hiding spot.
“Hey, you are alive! I mean… of course you are! You are the strongest man alive after all!”
“Why of course mah boy! Now, where are those peasants who said I was weak?”
“They ran away.”
“Curse them! But you witnessed my might, didn’t cha?”
I witnessed terrible things.
“Yes, I did.”
“What about our room?”
“Rooms. Well, I was about to go and talk to one of those musicians but…”
“Let’s go see if they are interested in giving the strongest man alive a room.”
We walked back inside and sat on some chairs near the stage. The “music” was terrible and loud, but the old man was somehow enjoying it. We sat there for about an hour, and the music was disturbing enough to neglect the pill’s effect for a while. Meanwhile, people in the tavern began to leave one by one as it was getting late. After that, the band got off the stage and started walking towards the stair, probably to their rooms. One of them, the drum guy, was left behind to gather his pieces. His hands, feet, belly, and breasts? We got up and walked up to him. I cleared my throat.
“Hello, very talented musical instrument person.” Even though he had none, I felt an eyebrow raising. “May I have a moment of your time?”
“Uh, do you understand me?”
“We want to have a room. TWO ROOMS! Two rooms, so that we can rest for just half an hour. Can you help us?”
“*Drum noises. Drum noises?*”
“You don’t understand me, do you?”
“*Angry drum noises!*”
And before I could say anything else, the old man lost his patience and hit the drum guy with a bottle of potato juice in the back of his… drum head. It made a “dum” sound, and to our surprise, he was not affected by a hard object hitting his drum. “We should have known better,” said the old man, right before screaming “Run!” I followed the old man outside the tavern. We could hear running footsteps and a drum solo getting closer. The old man took off into the forest, so I followed him. We continued running and before we knew, the drum solo turned into an orchestra. Turns out the drum guy called his friends. It was a beautiful symphony. We hid behind a bush and waited for the music to stop. It was pitch black, and the only light source was the glowing mushroom things. The music began to fade away and eventually stopped. We were deep inside the forest with no light or a place to sleep. The old man looked around and said:
“We must light a fire. It’ll fend off evil.”
“This is the forest of Karghardah Lamaha…”
I thought he was choking for a second but he continued talking.
“…Monsters will run away from the light.”
“I don’t have anything to light a fire.”
“I have something but it is a dangerous otherworldly item.”
“Worth a shot.”
He put his hand through his robe and fiddled inside a bit.
“Behold! The mighty Firestarter!”
He took out a lighter.
“That’s a lighter.”
I took the lighter, gathered some twigs and lit them on fire. It quickly became a flaming camp fire. Warm and cosy, we sat around it. After all that panic, I was not sleepy anymore, but the tiredness was still there. We sat there in silence for a while, then I asked the old man:
“So, who are you anyways? What is your name?”
“Oh we are bonding now, aren’t we?”
“My name is Bill Bow.”
“Is that it? I was expecting something crazy.”
“What is yours?”
“Eh, Mortimer Icarus Kowalski.”
“Talkin’ about crazy.”
“Yeah, my parent hated me, I guess. I don’t see them anymore. They kicked me out because I didn’t turn out to be their dream son. I was into writing, drawing, and playing the guitar. They said I can’t make money with those professions. I had to start working after they had kicked me out. After a while, I lost my passion for following my childhood dreams.”
“For such unimaginative parents, you have one hell of an imaginative name. I never knew my parents. The earliest memory I have is that I was eating my toes as a baby in that house. Alone. That’s where I lived my whole life.”
“You don’t have anybody? Any relatives? Friends?”
“I have one friend and he is Horny. He is an Owlbear with a horn. They are not supposed to have horns, so his mama left him. That’s where he got his name.”
“Oh… So that’s his name. Now it makes sense.” I paused for a moment before realising what I had just said. “Wait, no. Nothing makes sense in here.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
“How did you even survive drinking that Grimdog vomit?”
“Not sure. As I said, I grew up alone. I ate whatever I found. Maybe I developed some sort of immunity to weird food.”
“You have been drinking it for years, haven’t you?”
As we were talking, I heard a rustle behind the bushes. I turned around to see what it was, and all of a sudden, a ghostly figure appeared. It was a transparent figure of a lumberjack. His legs were curling up on each other and mixing into a pointy end. He looked at us and with a deep echoing voice, he spoke.
Ghost: You have no right to be here! Before me, tremble and fear!
Me: Did he just rhyme?
Old man: He deeed!
Ghost: For all your sins you will pay, with your death comes today!
I had to clap, old man joined me.
Me: You are pretty good. But you could be less… aggressive.
Old man: You should sing.
Ghost: Why? Why do you not fear? They usually break down in tear.
Me: I have seen enough weirdness today. Besides, you are a ghost without any physical form. You can’t harm anyone. So, yeah, buzz off, I guess.
Ghost took a dramatic posture with his wrist on his forehead.
Ghost: I have been defeated by ignorance! I shall leave this instance! But I will return when the time is right, rip your chest and eat your heart!
And the ghost disappeared into a mist with a very dramatic “nyaaaaagh!”
Me: That’s the Shakespearean tragedy for you.
Old man: Who is Shakespearean? Is he a wizard?
Me: We will never know.
We decided to continue walking since it was not possible to sleep and we were quite energetic after all we had been through. I grabbed a flaming branch from the camp fire and the old man led the way through the dark forest. Along the way, I heard terrible screams coming through the forest. The old man chuckled and said:
“Heh, someone must be touching all the mushroom people. Those pervs.”
“What’s with all the mushroom related stuff? Why do you use mushrooms for currency?”
“There are many types of mushrooms out there but some of them can be extremely powerful. Simple as that. Why do you think mushroom people run when you get close? They still haven’t figured out we can’t use them as money.”
“What about the door that ran away from me?”
“You touched her lady part.”
We kept on walking for another hour and eventually reached an opening in the forest. There was a shack in the centre. It had neon lights and a big old sign that said “Arch-age Old Trinkets and Artefacts.” I thought it was pretty lame but the old man looked at it as if he accomplished something.
“And here we are, kid. Arch-age’s shack.”
“What about the Arch-forest and the Arch-temple you talked about?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. We will never know.”
“I remember fondly.”
“Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. I’ll never know.”
“I’m telling you. You said the Arch-age lives in the Arch-temple inside the Arch-forest.”
“Baah! You and your young brain! Fine! I was just trying to intimidate you.”
“What’s the logic behind it?”
“I thought you would be scared to go and just stay for a while. I’m lonely.”
“I was having an emotional moment.”
“No, you were not.”
“Nu yu wur nut!”
“Seriously? You are like, hundred years old.”
“Thank you for the compliment.”
“So who is this Arch-age?”
“He sells weird stuff. Some of them are magical, and some of them smell nice.”
“What made you think he will help me?”
“He is the only person that owes me a favour. He has to help.”
“How did he manage to owe you a favour?”
“Long story. You have a favour to collect, that’s all.”
“Well, thanks, I guess.”
We started walking towards the shack. I walked up the stairs but let the old man open the door. He pushed it open just like I did. It opened without making a scene. I was beginning to think that all these things that scream and run when I touch them might be a metaphor for my love life. It was dark and humid, and had a mossy smell. We walked on slowly and every step made creaking noises. Everything inside looked like a bunch of junk. Just as I was losing hope, a figure appeared through the darkness. A pale skinned male with long golden hair and a pair of pointy ears. He approached us with grace. His robe and hair were waving as if some sort of magical wind wanted to make him look even cooler.
Old man: Ay ye salty dog! How have ye been?
Me: You had to ruin the scene.
Arch-age: Ah, Bill, my friend, I am very good, and exhilarated to see you. Who is this young man you brought me?
Me: Hi! I’m Mortimer Icarus Kowalski, but you can call me Mik or Morty!
Old man: Yes, he is Mortimicakowhatever.
Arch-age: Nice to meet you, Mortimer. I am Arch-age. I am very old.
Me: Yeah, the old man told me.
Old man: Did I?
Arch-age: Did you come here to have a quick chat? Perhaps I can offer you some tea? Or are you looking for magical trinkets?
Old man: Well, this fella here want to close a portal in my house. He lives on the other side. I figured you might help.
Arch-age: I would be more than happy to supply what you need.
Me: Really? That easy? I thought we would have to go on an impossible quest or have a boss fight or something.
Arch-age: I do not understand what you mean.
Me: It’s nothing. How can I close this portal?
Arch-age: Wait here.
Arch-age took off into a room and out of our sight.
Old man: Isn’t he cute?
Me: Is he your friend or lover?
Old man: You will never know.
Shortly after, the Arch-age appeared through the same door. He had a glowing glass ball in his hand.
Arch-age: This is a gate stone. It absorbs the magical energy around it. Portals have extremely weak and unstable magical links to them. If you throw this into the portal, it will close.
Me: Okay, that sounds cool.
Arch-age: It can also cause explosive diarrhea if you hold it near yourself for too long.
Me: Yep. Not a surprise, at all.
Arch-age: When you get to the portal, go through it and then throw the gate stone inside. It will come out from Bill’s side, and he will bring it back to me.
Old man: I never agreed to that!
Me: Well, if that’s all, I think we should go.
Arch-age: Are you sure you don’t want any magical trinket? Or a cup of tea?
Me: Yeah, I’m sure. I have to sleep as soon as possible, but thanks for the offer. And thanks for the stone.
Arch-age: My pleasure. Be careful with it. Do not keep it close to yourself.
Old man: I can carry it, if you want.
Me: No, you already have enough chaos happening in your stomach. I don’t want you to poop out your organs.
Old man: Fair point.
Me: Let’s go then.
We bid our goodbye with the Arch-age and hit the road for the old man’s house. It was a fairly calm trip back to where it all began. The old man looked sad whole time. I knew he was lonely, I knew he wanted me to stay, but I was too tired and had to sleep. We reached the stone building. It was a crumbling old building with a bunch of dried plant fibre on top of it as a roof. I didn’t realise that when I first arrived. We walked inside, and to the portal. I didn’t have much to say.
“So, this is a goodbye, I guess.”
“Yep. I wish you could stay a little longer. We could read a short book.”
“I really need to go.”
“Goodbye Bill, thanks for everything.”
I turned around and jumped through the portal, and landed in my living room. Took out the gate stone, looked at it for a moment, and threw it into the portal. It made a thunderous sound and flashed a few times. Then disappeared. Everything was back to normal. I walked upstairs, to my bedroom. Checked the clock to see how much time I had left to sleep. It was four minutes less than the time I left. A small guilt took place in me, but in the silence and emptiness of my house, I began to feel the pills kicking in again. I crawled into my bed and hugged my pillow. A minute passed and the only thing on my mind was:
“What the hell happened to that bear?”