Word Count: 888
I was reading the book in my dream when the whole of it starting to shake, an unsteady back-and-forth like something violent and without a real pattern to it. Then, I came awake, and there was that man from before, his strong arms outstretched on my shoulders, tugging at me.
“Oy, what do you want?”
“Old man!” he called out over his shoulder, “Kid’s up!”
“Good, we have much to do and to discus. Lead him round to the room I showed you earlier!” That was Merlin, and a deluge of memories flooded back into my head.
“Come on, Arthur,” said the man. Hector. His name was Hector.
“Right, right,” I replied getting up and following him to a dingy room with a small circular table. Oh, Christ.
“Let me guess,” I said poignantly to Merlin, who was sitting at the far end of it, “The round table, right?”
“Indeed,” the old man replied. I went to sit down when he cried out sharply, “No! Arthur! Stop!” I halted.
“What, I thought you wanted me to sit down?”
“Yeah, what’s wrong now?” Hector chimed in.
Merlin looked sternly from Hector to me. “What’s wrong is, even when the table is in this form, a seat is reserved for the Siege Perilous.”
“What are you talking about, Merl,” Hector said.
“Merlin. And what I’m talking about is that if, since you only seem to understand the most pugnacious and rudimentary of explanations, is that seat will kill anyone who isn’t meant to sit in it.”
“Then why is it in here?” I asked.
“Why don’t we put it somewhere else?” I said.
“I won’t even dignify that with a response, boy.”
Hector just looked blankly.
“Now, the first order of business is for you to add but one more knight to this table. Next, we shall have to begin transforming Camelot.”
“One more knight?” I asked.
“Yes, one more knight. Follow me please,” Merlin said, and then waddled out of a back door.
We followed him into what seemed like a nursing room from a hospital. There was a man on the bed plugged into a respirator. I had no idea what the hell he wanted me to do.
“On the table there are books connected to destiny. Pick one up.”
Hector held back at the door, clearly nervous.
“Because you will need them, boy, now pick one.”
“But I can’t see anything!”
“It doesn’t matter, pick one!”
So I choose, feeling around the side-table in the dark.
“Now,” Merlin continued, “touch the sleeper’s hand.”
“I don’t understand, and I won’t do anything until I do.”
“This man is the shell of a destined soul, with the soul ripped out.” I had no idea what that meant. Hector spoke up then.
“So you want to put another soul into him in order to increase our numbers?” I whirled.
“How the fuck does he know what’s going on, and I don’t!”
Merlin replied, “You were sleeping.” Dammit, whatever. I touched his wrist.
Curls of light riled across his wrists, as had mine when I absorbed excalibur. Then my tattoos, the ones on my wrists - which sadly I had forgotten about - also began to glow until my whole chest was lit up.
Then I felt the world tear apart as emblazoned on the arms of the the man in the bed formed into art and words and glowed.
It read: The Royal Tactician, Sir Moriarty Holmes.
“Oh…well then, can’t say I saw that coming,” cursed Merlin.
“What just happened?” I yelled, still feeling the world passing through me into the sleeping man.
“It appears that you picked up the wrong book.”
“How could I pick up the wrong fucking book?” I yelled.
“I was reading the works of Arthur Doyle…and,” Merlin was stammering.
“And, well, this can only work with a book that is in some way prophetic. I had no idea Doyle was sensing the future.”
Then, weirdly, Hector spoke, “Maybe it’s prophetic only by the virtue of this mistake. Maybe it was just a book until you idiots fucked up and made it real.”
“That would appear to be the case, my new comrades.” I looked around the room. I didn’t recognize the voice.
I turned back to the bed. Sitting up there was a man that looked nothing like the one who had been there before.
Evil glints caught in his eyes while a true goodness played across his features and in the kind set of his features. He was at once tall with dark hair and an aquiline nose.
He looked nothing like the man who had been there a moment ago.
“Gregory, is that you,” Merlin spoke, in a tone I’d never heard him use before. Then again, we hadn’t met until this evening.
“In a sense, my friend,” a fiendish lightheartedness played across his face. “In a very broad sense.” Something about the way he said that sent chills up my spine, just as it made me trust him implicitly.
“Well, fuck me,” Hector said.
Those eyes turned on me. “I see by your features that you are twenty-two, blond, a virgin, and the rightful king of England.”
“Oh god,” said Merlin.
“Quite,” said the tactician, Moriarty Holmes. “Call me Greg.”
END OF CHAPTER 2
Drinking too much Jane Austin is what did me in. There is a certain kind of haunting that only recollection can bring. That’s what happened to me. Fate dogged me until I couldn’t give a damn what happened, like when a chum is trying to do something you don’t like, you say so, and they keep rephrasing it until you can’t get yourself to care anymore. That’s what happened to me, and I knew what was going on. I’d say I have some kind of reverse Alzheimer’s, the insinuation of true memories of things that never happened cropping up all over my thoughts.
I worked at a grocery because I was old -no, that’s not it. It was because my age made me tired; I was just too tired to justify and tell myself that in my retirement I should keep on working. I needed something that would pass the time, and the chump money they promised at the end of every week was enough to make me feel like I had done something.
I was standing there lost in my own thoughts, scanning the bar code of item after item when I first realized that I was reminiscing about something that hadn’t happened. I remembered being part of a book club. It was called Dynasty or League or some other shitty words used to trick guys with too much time into thinking they could be a part of something.
I remembered reading classical stuff, stuff I don’t even like, looking bored at every meeting, telling myself every week that I should read the book and contribute to the conversation, feeling guilty after, and then getting kicked out. It was me and this other guy, he’s going to be important in a bit, and without talking we had developed this weird contest where every time he took a drink I had to lean over to the table and take a drink. I can’t really remember how it started, but after a while we were both really drunk. They asked us to leave; then they told us to go.
Then the arrogant bastards threw us out and told me never to come back. I can’t remember what they said to the other guy because I didn’t care at the time. You see, that’s how thorough these facades were. I specifically remember trying and failing to remember specific things.
So me and the other fellow are standing there when he says, “Hello, would you like to get a drink?” I gave him a look, because he was older, older than me, and I didn’t swing that way. He seemed to understand, said, “To commiserate our loss, nothing more,” and laughed.
He seemed a friendly enough chap, and I’ve always been of the opinion that if you are drunk, you might as well go the whole bleeding way. That’s how we did it in the war.
So, there I was, standing at this counter, and shook myself. I’d heard of similar collapses of the brain happen to my friends, those that were still alive, and must have gone very pale because a manager came over and let me off the hook for the day. I went home, a ramshackle house off Brixton, called my doctor, and saw him the very next day.
He’s a cheery old thing, and after a week of testing told me cheerily that nothing was wrong. I was fit as a fiddle, he said. Can you believe someone actually said that? So, back to my home with the shabby carpets, old pictures, uniforms, and untidy mess of things.
I sat down to watch some Football in a couch so familiar to me that it was popping springs and standing, quite literally, on its last legs. I reached over for the remote and realized I was doing it again.
The fellow from the book club and me got real chummy and introduced ourselves while we sat on musty benches in a booth and slowly disappeared a couple of pints. He said, “My name is Merlin. Your name?” I thought that was pretty funny, so I snorted and said…
“Ulfius.” He smiled wide, and his beard hair stretched across his face like some kind of beast of prickly pray. Now, I had meant to say ‘Victoria,’ which would have been funny given the context of anybody introducing themselves as Merlin. My name is Gregory Phillips. I blushed, which is hard for an old man to do and realize he is doing. “Sorry,” I tried, “Gregory, call me Greg.”
After a bit of a silence I asked, “Is your name really Merlin?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Spelled M-E-R-L-I-N,” I pressed.
“Prove it, mate, and drinks are on me.” I didn’t expect him to prove it. I noticed that the prices of his drinks went up from that point onward and, despite that, we got along famously.
We started spending time with one another. Sometimes I would go over his place and he and - I snapped out of it for a second and looked at the remote. I decided to keep digging. A girl he called his apprentice - can you believe that, the old coot - used to drink and talk.
The memories at that point came in a flood.
After a few months of regularly meeting up to chew the fat (these meetings occurring when the book club used to be scheduled) he pulled me aside one day at his place. He asked me to sit, which was oddly serious for him, and also asked his apprentice to go out for a bit. I’d never seen her out of the house before, and that’s when the fact that something was really up came crashing down.
“What’s wrong, Merly?” I had taken to calling him Merly, which he constantly objected to.
“Don’t call me that,” he said.
“But seriously, what’s wrong? You taken by the gloom?”
“In a sense, depending on what you make of gloom, that happened a long, long time ago.” His expression seemed old, even to me, who judged the world constantly as young, new, and frivolous.
This is when things became off, a little. As I sat on my couch, the memories became more a of a dream, a cinema of events, with Merlin and the ambient sounds of his flat happening in my head and me speaking and talking to him from the couch. It was as if I was participating in a memory, making something that already existed.
“What’s all this, you’re not dying are you? Oh, is this about the bet on Madrid because-” I stopped speaking. I was saying these things there, where I was sitting, in my home. My own voice had startled me.
I learned to be brave in my past, and with a harder heart I went back in.
“No, it’s not about the bet, Greg,” Merlin said.
“What is it then?” I handled it better this time, intentionally trying to stay calm and keep with the rhythm of the moment.
“It’s time I told you who you are.”
“Who am I then? Because I hope it’s not Merly, ugly guy.” He gave a soft grin that offset those ancient features so strangely that I couldn’t help but study his face with dancing, darting glances as we spoke.
“You are destined, Greg. I’m sorry.”
“Destined to do my laundry sometime,” I joked.
“No Greg, destined.”
“Alright then, what’s destined mean exactly?” I decided he was addled or had drank too much before I came over - you could never tell if Merly had been drinking. “I’ll humour you on this one.”
“There are, as far as you are concerned, two types of people in this world,” he began. “Some have normal souls. They are not meant to do anything in particular, free to swim about in the current of a stream, but bound not to walk on the land. They can do what they want, but cannot alter the course of the stream.” He sniffed and drank some tea.
“Other people are destined. They are the current of the stream, not only bound to the water but crucial to its progression.” He looked at me with a powerful gaze that held mine, “You are from the latter group, Greg.”
“That’s very nice of you,” I said.
“It’s not a compliment,” he snapped, “It’s a bloody fact.” He took a second to calm down. His tone had become pious and heated. “It’s a fact,” he repeated. “Now, some people, usually writers, actually prophetic, sense the way the currents move, write down stories that equate, not necessarily to the time and the place or the person, but to the general story. Therein lies the problem, Greg.”
“And the problem is?” Something about his tone had me hanging on his words, and I just wanted him to keep speaking.
“Let’s say that your counterpart in one of these prophecies kills someone or leads to their death. If someone knew that they were meant to be your victim and had a copy of these writings, what do you suppose they’d do?” he said in a lecturer’s tone.
“They would look at the prophecy and try to find out who I am.”
“Exactly,” he seemed pleased and sad almost at once. “They would try to eliminate you, to shift the currents of destiny in a direction that would favor them or their interests.”
“Are you saying I kill someone?” I asked. I don’t know why, but I believed him, even wanted to believe him.
“You kill a lot of people, but it’s the one you accidentally lead to death that is important.”
“You introduce them to me, leading them to conceive a child whose future rise to power necessitates their demise.”
“One action cannot proceed without the previous action in the chain?” I was beginning to understand.
“Not quite. Sometimes exactly that, sometimes things shift, the story changes a little, but the current moves on. Do you remember the name you gave me when we first met?”
I was a little confused, but I remembered that name. It felt righter than my own somehow. “Ulfius.”
“Yes, Ulfius. You do something rather terrible to someone rather powerful,” he said.
“You introduce someone to me.” His tone had the finality of death in it that reminded me of the tones that doctors use for patients that aren’t going to be okay.
“Can you help me, old friend?” Merly had become my best friend in life. After we had met, the pointless trot of my existence had gained meaning, and I wasn’t ready for it to just end. I had a friend, a real one like I hadn’t had a since the last of my squad was shot down by Germans.
“In a way,” he looked away.
“Are you crying?”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“Because no one’s dying!” I said. He looked at me again, then looked away, studying the carpet.
“No, you can’t mean that!”
“He’s found you, Greg. The man you introduce me to has found you and is going to come for you and end you.”
“I’ll end him first then!”
“Why not?” I demanded. “I’ll go and I’ll hide.”
“Because you are destined. If left alive, you will eventually fulfill that destiny. They will never stop searching you out, my friend.” He leaned over and put a hand on my shoulder, and for no other reason than that I trusted Merly with my life, I believed him.
My heart sank deep down and into my couch, like a led brick. I blotted out my feelings; I didn’t want to have them right now.
“I want the man who will do this to me, Merly,” I said.
“He’s a terrible, selfish man, Greg.”
“But I’ll be dead, how can I get him?” I asked. “Could I approach him for our meeting, the predetermined one where I introduce him to you, and then take him out?” I thought it would work.
“No,” he wiped his eyes. “I’m afraid you’ll just end up spending the rest of your time rotting in prison, or at least another interested party will come after you. There’s no way out. I’ve tried these many months to think of one, and I can’t, Greg. I’m sorry.” He couldn’t look at me, nor I at him. He blinked and slapped his knee. “But I promise you this, Greg. You’ll get him. I swear that your hand shall be the one to destroy him.”
“And how many more like me will that save?”
“A few hundred, potentially.”
“And if I run?”
“Then I can’t make you that promise.” His tone was flat.
“Fine, what should I do?”
“Go home, Greg. Just go home.” He was staring out the window behind me. The first droplets of rain long coming pelted the glass.
So, without saying another word or looking back, I went. I marched out the building, hailed a cab, rode home, opened my door, and the sight there before me was horrifying but all too right.
There I was, sitting on the couch, remembering this very moment.
I walked over and sat next to myself, looking at my bald scalp and war scars, and remembering within the memory. I relished the time I had, staring about the room with all those trinkets collected over my past. I felt satisfied. It had been a good life.
I opened my real eyes.
There was a man with a gun in front of me, pressing it against my head. I noticed that the metal of the muzzle was warm and wondered how long the other man had been there with me, just like that, waiting for my eyes to open.
He said, “I am the rock, and I cannot feel…” as if singing, crooning to himself.
“Yeah, well, that’s fantastic for you,” I said. He looked at me oddly for a second, then did what he had come to do.
I felt a small tap on my forehead, and everything went black as I cried out the only thing I could think of: Merly!
I checked for my guns. The old man was out doing something, I didn’t care what, and I always liked to be prepared.
There are five in all, barrels wearing on my hands with their calming, cold touch. These are my family and friends. I don’t have people over for dinner, but I do have a weapons locker, and across the street is a shooting range.
It hit me: I’d never see those things again. I’d never have my life again; now it was someone else’s life, and I had to live it.
Hell though, this someone else had five beautiful guns. I say this because I wear five holsters under my jacket, three on the left, two on the right, and none at the same level of height, alternating the way down. The last one’s in my…damn, my briefcase, which was gone now. The empty holster pressed hard against my side.
Fine, I was a guy with four guns, an old man, and a magic college kid. I saw a glint of golden light reflect from my wrist - two tattoos. I’d lived my whole life avoiding drugs and all that crap, and I had two tattoos. Damn.
I pulled Molly out. Yes, okay, I name them. Molly is a Model 500 S&W Magnum Revolver. I’m shallow, but she’s the most powerful handgun in the world.
Sleek and heavy and wonderful.
I need help. I am beginning to realize what I’ve done. I need someone to help me, but I’ve never needed anybody in my whole life.
I don’t know what to do. I stroke Molly and put her away.
He was reading.
He stood, a man centered in an army’s row,
the center stage and arms to show,
those Saxon dogs whose bloody boss,
to toss them out on boxed up ears,
fleeing fields, trailed by tears.
Yes, this man was anointed, king of all,
England would harken, heed his call,
“To Arms! To Arms! Good soldiering men,
and women, children, there again,
I say to Arms, and arm you shall
bear weapons upon each person,
Do not dwell, for I am Arthur,
king of all, and they don’t have
the wherewithal to stand and say
they came to conquer England here this day!
Nay, these fakers, frauds, and shams,
couldn’t stand up to English curses! Damn
your bloody useless carts,
they’ll look good burned, broken apart,
we shall, like bloodhounds, hunt down your supplies,
and it shall not be a surprise,
that we will burn them, one and all,
to spite this glorious year of famine,
soon to watch the bounty of our crops,
once the thirsty land is drowned
in your dirty Saxon blood!”
The curdling rush, the faces flush
and full of life each man and wife
for this was the appointed day
where all these men would go to slay
the pillagers who had even dared
to trample grasses not their own,
for these people would defend their home.