From the other end of the line came the voice of a suave, sophisticated Yankee playboy.
“I say, Young Duffer. Any chance you might be headed home soon? We’ve eaten all your food and I dare say no one’s delivering a pizza what with all the creepy crawlies afoot.”
It was Sid Monroe, the protagonist of the 1920’s classic novel of fortune seeking, hard-partying ennui, The Incorrigible Monroe.
Or rather, a tiny version of him.
For those just tuning in, I’m the owner/caretaker of a magic bookshelf. Whenever I put a book on it, the book’s characters come to life in tiny versions of themselves who then proceed to take up residence on my bookshelf and battle one another over limited shelf space.
Rarely a night goes by when I’m not woken up by the sound of itty bitty literary protagonists going to war.
“Sorry Monroe,” I said. “I’ve been bogged down by the zompoc out here. I was stuck in a mall, then I had to try to find my Aunt, then I…”
“Yes, yes, that’s all well and good, Young Duffer,” Monroe interrupted. “But what about my needs? Anara hasn’t had anything to nibble on for quite some time now and unless she gets a snack I fear she won’t be nibbling on me anytime soon.”
If you’ve read the book, then you know that Monroe spent his life chasing money and throwing elaborate parties at his mansion for the sole purpose of winning the heart of his beloved Jenny, only for her to choose the conniving Gustavo instead.
F. Scott Fitzgerald? Never heard of the guy.
Anyway, after my quest for the meaning of life, Monroe took my advice that “there’s more fish in the sea” and began seeing Anara “Annie” Mistwake, one of the main characters of Joel L.L. Torrow’s A Dirge of Murder and Betrayal series.
I’ve always admired Torrow’s ability to kill off a dozen characters every morning before he polishes off his breakfast burrito.
George R.R. who? Stop asking dumb questions, 3.5. You people make no sense.
I was glad that Monroe had moved on, but it made what I had to say next that much harder.
“Monroe, you guys might have to go back into your books for awhile,” I said. “I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get back to the Bookshelf Battle Compound.”
“Well that’s a fine how do you do, isn’t it?” Monroe asked. “Hold on, Young Duffer, Tessa wants a word.”
It was a tiny version of Tessa Fireswarm, protagonist of the Young Adult series, Arrowblast. The series, and the resulting eight movies, were based on the adventures of a group of plucky teenagers who, with little to no battlefield experience, were still able to take down the cruel dictator who ruled their dystopian future with an iron fist.
“Hey Tessa,” I said. “Are you getting along with everyone?”
Tessa was the shelf’s problem child. The slightest insult made her reach for her bow. It was a bad habit. We’d been working on her anger management skills for awhile.
“Everyone except the guy from that new book you bought before you left,” Tessa said.
“You know. That guy from the sequel to that classic book that was a staple of high school English classes everywhere.”
“Oh that guy,” I said.
“He used to be so nice,” Tessa said. “But now all he does is sit in his rocking chair and spout racist gibberish all day. I really want to put an arrow in his ass.”
“No one’s putting an arrow in anyone’s ass,” I said.
“But BQB!” Tessa whined.
“Violence is never the answer.”
“Put on Bookshelf Q. Battledog,” I said.
“Hold on,” Tessa said.
I waited a minute before I heard a “woof.”
“Woof woof. Woof.”
“The Bookshelf Battle Compound is secure and my arch nemesis, the Yeti, remains imprisoned in my basement?”
“You’re a top notch security chief, Battledog.”
“What?” I asked. “No, I don’t have time to talk about philosophy.”
“Yes, I realize that Descartes, famous saying, ‘I think, therefore I am,’ or ‘Corgito ergo sum’ is trite insomuch as those who do not think continue to exist, but is there ever a time when anyone is not thinking? Open up the mind of the lowliest dullard and you’ll find even he is thinking about something, even if it is not anything meaningful.”
“You know very well that Descartes never qualified his saying with a mandate that thoughts must be substantive in order for existence to occur.”
“Really? Fine. I’m just going to hang up now if you’re going to be a dick about it.”
I swiped right on the space phone and cut my furry security chief off.
“Am I the only one to realize that we’ve had access to the fortress-like compound that is Bookshelf Battle Headquarters the entire time?” VGRF asked.
“No,” Alien Jones said. “I realized it October 1, but I wanted BQB’s stats to climb so the Mighty Potentate will see an improvement in the Chosen One’s writing career so I can avoid meeting the business end of a vaporizer.”
“That gives me an idea,” I said. “VGRF, tell Mario and Janet to call a survivor’s meeting tomorrow.”
“What are you going to do now?” my dear video game loving girlfriend asked.
“What I do best,” I replied. “Interview another zombie author.”
I was awake.
My head felt awful. My shoulder hurt like hell. But I was finally sitting up in bed.
“Oh thank goodness,” Alien Jones said. “The Mighty Potentate won’t vaporize me! Well, at least not for this, anyway. He’ll probably get me on something sooner or later.”
VGRF was holding onto me like I was going out of style. I should almost die more often.
There was a knock on the door.
In walked Mario, Janet, and a contingent of people wearing gas masks. Whoever they were, they were the same people who shot all the zombies dead (as in dead,dead not just undead) in the gym, saving me from filling their bellies with my flesh.
“Who are you people?” I asked.
One of them stepped forward and removed a mask to reveal the face of a kindly old woman.
“Don’t you even recognize your dear sweet auntie, bubalah?”
“Aunt Gertie?” I asked. “But how? We couldn’t find you at Decrepit Oaks! I assumed you were dead.”
“Of course you assumed I was dead, dearie,” Aunt Gertie said. “Everyone assumes that old people are weak and useless but that shows what you know. The old folks and I formed the East Randomtown Prepper’s Society years ago and we were completely prepared for a zombie apocalypse!”
“We all had bug out bags ready to go,” Aunt Gertie explained.
“Did you consult the sage advice of noted zombie fiction author and bug-out-bag expert Sarah Lyons Fleming too?” I asked.
“Nah,” Aunt Gertie said. “You know I don’t bother with your dumb blog anymore, BQB. I just grabbed some shit to eat, some shit to kill zombies with and stuffed it all in a bag.”
“Where’d you get the firepower?” I asked.
“I uh..” Gertie hesitated. “I know a guy. Let’s leave it at that, sweetheart.”
“Wait,” I said. “Who were those two bodies I found in your bathroom?”
“Hauser’s thugs,” Gertie said. “They tried to kidnap me and were going to hold me for ransom, demanding that you turn yourself into Hauser. I whipped out my bowie knife and made quick work of those sons of bitches, let me tell you. Too bad you were dumb enough to come here on your own anyway.”
“Wow Gert,” I said. “And here all this time I just thought you were all about knitting and bingo.”
“A gal can diversify.”
The remaining geezers removed their masks. One old dude with a sea of white hair shook my hand.
“Bob Northrup,” he said. “Sorry to give you the news this way, but I’ve been sticking it to your Aunt twice a week for awhile now. Nothing too serious, mind you. I’m only seventy-eight so I like to keep my options open.”
Gertie furrowed her brow.
“You could have just told him we were good friends, jackass!”
“At this point I don’t care,” I said.
Mario showed me a cell phone and clicked a button. Up popped a video of Hauser, George, and the DiStefanos loading boxes of supplies into the Compensator, the SUV my friends and I drove to the rec center.
“BQB,” Mario said. “Your aunt and her friends had been surveilling the area for a long time, devising a plan to rescue you. They shot this video that clears your good name. On behalf of the whole settlement, I want to apologize for ever doubting you.”
“Pretty lame, Mario. Pretty lame.”
“I know,” Mario said. “And I hope this makes up for it. We took a vote and the decision was unanimous. We’ve decided to change the name of this settlement from Fort Hauser to Fort Battler, and we’d like you to be our new Mayor.”
“Oh screw that,” was my instant response. I didn’t even take a second to think about it. “Like I want to lead a group of asshats who wanted to feed me to a bunch of zombies.”
VGRF, always the voice of morality, perked up.
“People make mistakes, BQB,” she said. “They need you now more than ever.”
Janet, who you might recall was a registered nurse as well as the settlement’s medical advisor, looked at me.
“BQB,” Janet said. “You created a WordPress site and promoted it to the point where it attracted an audience of 3.5 readers. No one could ever possibly repeat that amazing feat. Songs will surely be sung in your name for years to come. Please, you must take the wisdom you used to build a substandard blog that people only read when they click on it accidentally and use it to guide us.”
“Oh fine,” I said. “But on one condition.”
“Name it,” Janet replied.
“This place is not Fort Hauser. It’s East Randomtown. The thousand or so survivors on the property, they’re the last East Randomtownians left. No more cults of personality. No more dictatorships. We’re a town again. We’re a democracy. All important decisions are made through a vote and we’ll call for elections as soon as possible.”
Janet and Mario nodded.
“You’re a good man,” Mario said. “You really do deserve that statue.”
“I don’t want a statue,” I said. “Will you people let me rest now?”
Everyone poured out of the room except Alien Jones and VGRF.
“Congratulations, Mr. Mayor,” AJ said.
“This sucks,” I replied. “I hate politicians. Whoever they are, whatever party they’re in, they’re all out to pick your pocket, promise you the world and deliver you a bowl of hot steamy crap instead.”
“Maybe this is your chance to make a difference,” VGRF said.
“We’ll see about that.”
The space phone interrupted our conversation with a loud ring.