'A little bit about how I've done this in the past: I made up a story on the spot, without any prep,' Ptah says.
'Last year it turned out to be ten pages long,' Ptah says.
Ptah snickers softly.
'This year, I thought, OK, let's make it harder to do,' Ptah says.
Fairfax cringes in terror.
Ptah says, 'So what I'm going to try is ask you guys to come up with stuff that needs to be IN the story.'
'And I will improvise something that contains those elements,' Ptah says.
When Jack woke up in the morning the first thing he did was rub his eyes. He rubbed and he rubbed until the world was even blurrier than when he first opened them. It took a while, but eventually stuff came into focus. His eyes would travel around his dull little apartment bedroom. The cream walls, the waterstains on the ceiling from the bathroom upstairs (and did he hate his neighbors, but that's another story) and raggedy furniture... He could hear the New York traffic through the window, and the fire escape clung to the side of the building like a vine made of rusty metal. It always seemed that he woke up to the sound of sirens.
Today was no different. There was a siren, and everything was blurry, and the waterstain still had the shape of a giant fish, like usual. It looked like it was trying to eat the light fixture. Jack got up, washed up, and as usual put on the drab grey suit he wore every day, and tried to tie his tie while he shuffled his feet into his shoes. As usual, he did a pretty good job of choking himself instead, and had to go open the closet door with the tall mirror on the inside.
What he saw depressed him. An accountant, with pasty skin and thinning hair, short and with round glasses. Forty going on dead. Even his nice suit had obviously not been picked out by a lady friend, and somehow he looked lost in it, as if it had accidentally sort of grown up around him.
So he stood there on that day, and like many another day, he made his wishes. "I wish," he said under his breath, "I wish I were... uh rich."
"I wish I were strong and handsome and ladies loved me!"
Jack wasn't the sort of accountant to whom magical things happened. Not usually, anyway.
Today though, this made him angry, and he slammed the closet door shut, cursing himself for being such an idiot as to think that his regular old closet mirror might grant wishes. After all, he'd picked it up at Macy's three years ago. It was on sale. It didn't have a sticker on it saying Special Offer, Enchanted Talking Wish Granting Mirror of the Gods.
He kinda broke it when he slammed the closet door shut.
Off he stomped to work.
His boss at work was an overbearing Scotsman. This guy dressed in green tweed even on off days. He'd stand over Jack's desk and tut tut tut as he looked over the figures on Jack's monitor, and Jack never knew if "tut" meant something good or something bad. Sometimes his boss would go tut TUT tut tut TUT tut, and Jack used to daydream about what exactly this might mean in tuttese. But he didn't know anyone who spoke tuttese (not since his old grandmother had passed away).
It was after the tenth time that his boss came and stood over his shoulder, quietly tutting away, that Jack couldn't take it anymore. He just reached out and turned off his monitor.
"Whut're ye doin'?" asked his boss, all tutting stopped briefly.
And Jack didn't say anything, but just pushed his chair away from the desk, and wheeled it off to the elevator. He wheeled himself chair and all, because he knew it looked stupid, and he needed to do something STRANGE. He had to get up when the elevator door opened, though, because the wheels on the office chair wouldn't quite go inside the elevator. Everyone watched him try, too stunned to laugh.
So down he went, and out he went, storming across the city streets. Taxi cabs honked, but he ignored them, because taxi cabs honk in New York all the time. Finally, he had to go somewhere, so he turned into a doorway. His head was down, and he was kicking out at anything that he saw around.
The first thing he kicked inside was a bowling shoe.
That sort of made him look up, because you don't usually run into bright red bowling shoes just anywhere. But it turned out that he was in a rundown old bowling alley, so it all made sense.
So he went over to the cheesy snack bar and ordered food. It came: bad deep fried chicken fingers, with one of those silly not-quite-spoon-not-quite-fork utensils that bend every time you try to use them.
"Hey!" he called out to the counterman. "What the hell do you call this thing?"
The counterman ambled over. He was a thin man with a pinched face and a nose with a prominent bump on it.
"Chicken," he said.
"No, not the chicken. This!" Jack said, waving the weird utensil around.
"A spork," the counterman said, putting his elbows down on the counter across from Jack.
"A spork," Jack muttered. "Damn stupid name," he said. "It's useless. i can't even cut my chicken with it. Look!" And he jabbed it at his hand over and over again.
The counterman eyed Jack in a way Jack felt was sort of strange and intrusive. Hadn't he ever seen someone stab himself with a plastic wannabe fork before?
"You strike me as a man who's got problems," said the counterman.
"Who me?" Jack said bitterly. "Problems? Nah, not at all."
The counterman laughed. "Problems! You have a job you hate, and you're dressed in a badly tailored suit that makes you look like a warmed over corpse, you haven't had sex since 1983, and your boss says 'tut' all the time."
Jack got suspicious. Some of these things, it was possible for the counterman to know, he thought. And some, he shouldn't have guessed.
"Was not 1983!" he said indignantly.
"Yes it was," said the counterman, leaning closer. Jack could smell garlic on his breath. "Her name was Olivia, you met at an office party, and she transferred to Miami a week later."
"Who... who are you?" Jack said, his face even whiter than a sheet (white as a sheet was its normal condition).
The counterman shrugged. "The devil."
Jack couldn't help it, he burst out laughing. Wiping tears from his eyes, he said, "Oh, sure, the devil. The devil runs a bowling alley in Manhattan."
The counterman grinned. "Have you ever heard of ANY bowling alleys in Manhattan?"
"Well... no," Jack said.
"Then there you go," said the counterman, starting to polish the counter with a rag.
"That doesn't mean none exist!" Jack said, annoyed. "Why don't you prove to me you are the devil, if you're so smart."
The counterman said, "Sure."
It was right around then that Jack noticed he'd forgotten to stop jabbing at his hand with the spork. And that this time it had sort of hurt. When he looked at his hand, the spork was no longer white and soft plastic, but was instead shiny metal, covered with tiny red jewels of blood. From his hand.
"There," said the counterman. "I turned your spork into a decent utensil. Is that evidence enough?"
Jack dropped the spork on the counter, and grabbed at his napkins to stop the blood flow from his hand. Fortunately, the wounds were small. He whirled around on the stool, but suddenly stopped, brought up short by a realization. The bowling alley was echoingly empty. The lanes stood dark and lonely, and at the end of them, veritable armies of little pins stood at attention, waiting to be toppled. Rows of shoes sat in bright colors and dull, and piles of bowling balls like cannonballs were stacked in corners. Nobody was around.
"Gets kind of lonely in here," the counterman said. "Nobody wants to come to the devil's bowling alley."
Jack ran for the door, but found it locked. he yanked at it, shouldered it, kicked it, and all it did was shiver a little.
"Sorry," said the counterman. "We're closed. I don't open the doors for anyone after I've locked up."
"But I have to get back to work!" wailed Jack.
The counterman--the Devil, Jack figured--snorted. "You don't need to get back to work, Jack. Your boss has probably forgotten your name already."
"But I have to finish the October..."
"Well, you can call if you want," said the counterman lazily, pointing towards an old telephone on the wall.
Jack rushed over to it, and frantically dialed. It was an old black rotary, and he grew very impatient as it clicked its way through the numbers. When it rang, his mouth got dry and he listened for an answer.
"Hello, Jack," came a voice from the phone. "You know the reason you don't have a life?"
Jack stared at the receiver in his hand as if it were a snake. "Uh, no, why?" he asked it, unable to think of what else to do. All he got was "Look in the mirror!" then laughter and a dial tone. He hung up, and walked back to the counter and his cold chicken fingers. The counterman had set out a bowl of snacks--fat free Triscuits, goldfish, that sort of thing, and was munching happily on them.
"Might as well stay here," the counterman said.
"But I don't want to stay here," Jack said miserably. "My life is dull and boring and it lacks adventure, but I don't want to die and go to Hell."
The counterman got a sad look on his face. "Jack, I don't think you understand. You were already in Hell," the Devil said. "You can't find clothes that fit, you can't converse with another human being, you wake up to the sound of sirens, you live in a dump of an apartment, you hate your daily life and job..." The Devil shrugged. "I'd judge your quality of life at somewhere around the Eighth Circle."
Jack slumped on the stool. It seemed to him at that moment that what the Devil said was right. "So is it all over for me?" he said plantively.
"No," said the Devil. "There's always bowling."
Jack couldn't help but laugh. "What, join a neighborhood league, make friends?"
The counterman smiled a nasty smile. "Not hardly."
Jack got up and hefted a bowling ball. It was one of the swirly ones that he'd always been told were only for women and sissies--but they were the only ones he could lift. He got blood on it, of course. His hand throbbed when he fit his fingers into the holes, and the strain on his arms was pretty bad; his whole arm and shoulder trembled as he lifted it. "Too much work at a desk," he grunted, while hefting the ball.
As he stood in front of the lane, he looked down to the pins at the far end, and to his horror saw that they had faces. There was his fifth grade teacher, and there was his boss, a plump green tweed pin, and there was that woman who had kicked him in the shin at the subway gate the other day. If he closed his eyes, he could even hear a faint "tut tut tut" emanating from them, way down there. The ball was growing slippery with blood, and behind him he could hear the Devil, egging him on. "Bowl, Jack, and anyone your ball strikes will be gone. Car will hit them, or lightning, or something. I'll take care of it. Leave it in my hands... Just let the ball go..."
"And what's the price?" Jack gasped, trying to keep the slippery ball in his hands.
"I usually charge $5.95 for a game and the shoes," the Devil said. "But for you... a special price. A very special price."
Jack swung his arm back, and swung it forward, and this time his thumb stuck, and he swung it back...
Then he let the ball go, with a big old thundering thud as it slammed onto the lane and cracked the wood surface. It skittered and slipped and slid along, backspinning madly. It went straight for the lead pin, then it changed course, then it went straight again... Kind of like his life, now that he thought about it.
The lane seemed to stretch out forever, and the ball kept ponderously rolling. He began to wonder what would happen when the ball hit his boss. Would the pin go down with a green tweedy shriek, and let out a little Scottish death cry as it was rolled flat? Would his fifth grade teacher that had tormented him so when he didn't want to do his homework, would she cry when the bowling ball collided with her?
The bowling ball, slick with blood from his hand, rolled closer. It went right along the edge of the gutter, and teetered there....
Jack let out a big old exhalation of breath he didn't know he had been holding. From right behind him came a disgusted sigh.
"Jack, you can't even bowl," the Devil said.
Jack hung his head.
"I don't think your soul is WORTH having," the Devil continued. "Get the Hell out of my bowling alley!" And with that, the doors to the outside opened again with a metallic shriek. Jack walked out into the daylight again.
Back at his apartment, he sat on the bed and covered his face with his hands. His life was so dull and so terrible that even Hell wasn't as bad.
He stood up, unknotted his tie, and then took off his shirt. Then he took off his pants too, and then his underwear. Then he went out onto the fire escape. And he closed the window behind him.
And a little while later, there were sirens and stuff, just like he always woke up to.
But the force of his slamming the window shut did something. It knocked that broken mirror off its place on the inside of the closet door. And down it fell, and it fell flat, mirror down on the floor.
It was too late for Jack to see it, but there on the back, somewhat faded, in a wreath of flowers that almost seemed to smell of poppies in the sunshine, were these words: "Magical Wish-Granting Mirror, Special Edition". And under it, in very fine and tiny print:
"WARNING: as with all mirrors, what you get from this may be reversed..."
Ptah bows deeply. Calendros shows his approval by clapping his hands together. Zelda giggles.
Ptah thinks he hit all the required items... Fairfax shows his approval by clapping his hands together. Zelda cheers wildly! Parox cheers wildly! Mice cheers for Ptah - huzzah!
'Poor Jack...' Fairfax says.'He needs to get a PC and MUD a little..'
McDougan pulls out "Thee Boke of Stories fer Addled Scotsmen and thumbs through the pages, squinting.
McDougan says, 'Aulrigcht- haw aboot a bit o' It'sh a Wondeerful Shtrife? Shound gsh?'
'Sure,' Chimera says. Zelda nods solemnly.
McDougan hiccups. 'Well, thnnnn....'
Zelda holds a pint of guinness in her hands.
McDougan's slur leaves him, and begins to hover aound his hear. He still looks as drunk as ever. McDougan grumbles.
'Chapter seven: Th' monster awakens,' McDougan says....
"Haggis, ye scamp! Get ye oop! We canna be late for our duties again!"
Haggis peered sleepily about, then exclaimed, "What? ye tryin' t' kill me? Th' soon hesnae even begoon t' rise! let me sleep!"
"Th' soon hesnae arisen because t'day we be gettin' inspected, and ye hev moochh t' dae!"
"What's the matter with me?", replied Haggis, glowering at his brother.
"Weel, besides yer groomin', there be th' tear in th' hem o' yer kilt, th' stains upon every article o' clothin' ye own, and th' way ye dunna even hev a sword anymar, just a bit of roost. Sae get ye oop, and I'll attempt t' keep ye out of trauble."
Haggis replied, "Cauldnae ye infarm me yesteerday?"
"Where be th' lesson in that?"
And naw th' scene shifts, tae th' same area, but a few minutes later........
Haggis says: "Ye want me t' BATHE????"
"Whoot faul torture be this?"
"One ye moost gae through if ye want me tae mend yer kilt.... Wash yer clothes, sand get ye me spare sword!" Claymore continued, " I dunna be willin t' take all that troonble fer ye if ye mere personal appearance will iundo any good it may hev doon"
"Ye worm! Ye fiend!" replied Haggis. "Gae joomp in the loch!"
And naw, we jump aheed a few minutes, t' th' same scene.
Haggis distastefully returned from the loch, dressed in a kilt and tunic borrowed from Claymore.
"Ye canna tell me that be foolly washed!" said Claymore.
"Whut ye mean? Canna ye see me look o' disgoost?"
"Te hair and beard be brown."
"Aye... What that hev t' dae wi' it?"
"It yooshed t' be red..."
And naw, anoother gap, Ye'll hev t' just larn t' deal wi' it!
"Ugh! Why'd ye put soapy water in me quaich, ye foul tarturer?" inquired Haggis.
"It be far washin' ye hair and beard, ye fool!"
"But I drink me whishkey froom it!"
"Sae ye'll hev t' wash it oot aftarwards. Horror."
"Ach! Why d'ye hev t' dae this t' me!"
"Dunna take it sae hard! I happily dae this three times a week! and then shave, t' boot!"
"Aye... ye always hev been an embarrassment..."
"Whatever ye say," Claymore replied, grinning nastily. "Now doonk ye head in the water! See, I tauld ye that ye hev read hair! Change into th' freshly cleaned clothes I hav set out far ye, and then I'll luke ye o'er."
Haggis MacPhearsom merely grumbled in reply, then shoved Claymore out of the room, changed into the clean clothes, and sat down upon the edge of his bed, fidgeting uncomfortably. But Claymore soon crashed back intae the room.
"Ye luke quite handsome! I tauld ye- "
"I feel naked! I dunna be meant t' not hev a nice layer of dirt upon me body....."
'And wi' that, Chapter Seven draws tae an end,' McDougan says. 'Shall I continue?' McDougan grumbles. 'Yer nae listenin, are ye?' McDougan says.
Joachim's listening, just too timid to voice an opinion :)
'Weel, I'm gaein' t' finish then, boot....' McDougan says. McDougan grumbles.
McDougan says, 'Chateer 8: "Whut?!"'
McDougan peers at his slur, making sure it's daein' fine in it's place about his head.
Duncan MacPhearsom towered o'er his clansmen, as rugged as the castle wall upon which he stood, yet beneath the hardy exterior lay the heart of a mischevious rascal. There was nae physical trace of this in his imposing figure, though, except maybe an upturned corner of his mouth, practically hidden by his thick, brownish-red beard... Or perhaps a nasty little twinkle in his eye. But despite his endeavors to make make his clanmatees happy, towards those he didn't know...
Duncan says, "Sae Claymore, who be this fellow ye be trying to pass off far Haggis?"
Claymore practically beamed with pride. "It be haggis himdself! I fixed him oop!"
Haggis tried a little harder to sink out of sight...
"What was wrong wi' him?" asked Duncan gruffly, and slightly indignantly.
"Why... everythin! He tends toward degenerate slovenlyness!"
Haggis slumped half a foot lower, whimpering.
"Haggis canna be happy about this" said Duncan.
"Aye. He objected upoon every step, but I forced him t'!"
"Claymore, ye be the very likeness of ye mother- Wholesome, clean, and meddling, and that be good. However,"-Duncan slipped his arm comaradately about Haggis's shoulder-"Haggiss here takes aftere ME, and that be better, Ye may want t' learn from him."
Haggis looked up from his hunched over posistion at Duncan, gratitude beaming from his face. He straightened up, as Claymore frowned regrefully at the realization of the shattering of his hopes of straightening up Haggis...
"Take the rest of the day off, t' get yeself dirtied up again," offered Duncan to Haggis. "As far ye, Claymore, get t' patrolling the battlements!"
McDougan swallows his slur. McDougan says, 'Therre.. naw I doone.. shae neksht shtory teller nnd applaws.