It only took another two episodes of My Little Pony for Jack to sober up enough to realize that he had been sitting in a drug dealer’s living room for about two hours watching My Little Pony, and he politely excused himself from Jeremy’s company. In another five minutes he realized that he was trying really hard to put his coat on backwards, and after a paltry twenty minutes of admiring his Volkswagen’s “Check Engine” light to the tune of an old Slint album, he managed to start the car and head for downtown.
He took a parking space next to the courthouse (not for its logistical advantage, but rather because it didn’t require parallel parking), killed the engine, and tried once more to remember any details of his evening, no matter how small.
His blank, almost-pensive stare was interrupted by the grumbling of his stomach, unsatisfied with his tribute of Crunch Berries and plain Ritz Crackers. If he was going to explore the vast, mile-and-a-half long expanses of downtown, he was going to have to put more fuel in the tank. Luckily, Carmen’s Taqueria was a mere block away, and with a carne asada burrito in one hand and a bottle of fruit punch Gatorade that he had somehow convinced the staff to let him fill with sangria, Jack set off in search of his next clue.
As he walked, he began to doubt that he would find anything. If he had gone anywhere, it probably would have been any number of the bars he had been known to haunt, and at 2:30 in the afternoon, none of them were even close to opening.
The best idea was to kick around until they opened, then go around asking about last night. The plan was solid, if not more than a little imprecise, but Jack and his dwindling checking account were prepared to face every last happy hour, buy-one-get-one-free, and two drink minimum in town if it meant finding the next piece of the puzzle.
No longer pressured to do anything until about five o’clock, Jack drank deeply from his Gatorade bottle and allowed his vision to fuzz along the edges, paying attention to nothing but the crackle of sand and salt as it grinded between his sneakers and the icy sidewalk.
A hand tapped irritatingly on his shoulder. Jack obliged to see who it belonged to, finding a slightly ponchy, extremely pale seventeen-year-old, garnished with a mop of bunchy red hair that probably begged to be made fun of back in grade school.
“I’ve been yelling your name for about three minutes now!” the boy whined, frantically rubbing his arms for warmth since they were regretfully left exposed by the “CHOCOBO X-ING” t-shirt he had decided was not only cool enough to buy after his second play-through of Final Fantasy VII, but was cool enough to continue wearing after his seventh play-through.
Jack just stared back.
“You’re kidding! It’s Freddy!”
Jack continued to stare.
“You know, ‘Final Freddy’?” he attempted, tugging on his shirt as proof.
Jack scratched his right thigh and turned it smoothly into a shrug.
“Oh for God’s sake, Freddy, from Saving Throw! We met last night?”
Jack’s eyes widened. “OHHHH! RIGHT! Freddy! How could I forget?!” he replied with his best cheer, stretching his hand out.
“Give it up, you don’t remember me, you prick,” Freddy challenged, refusing to shake Jack’s hand.
“Okay, you’re right, I’m sorry, but I really am glad to see you.”
“How you can you be glad to see me if you don’t remember me.”
“Because you saw me last night.”
Jack stuck his hand in his pockets and quickly searched around him for someplace warm to loiter. “You look like you’re absolutely freezing; I can’t believe you chased me down without a jacket on. Can we go inside somewhere and talk?”
“Yeah, fine. Follow me.”
Freddy and Jack backtracked a couple of blocks and entered the nondescript storefront of Saving Throw, the hobby shop where Freddy worked and spent most of his free time. Jack absorbed the various Magic: The Gathering and Warhammer paraphernalia lining the walls, and as soon as Freddy took his place behind the counter, and the clang of the front door’s bell dimmed, Jack began his interrogation.
“So, I was here last night?”
“You were here all right,” Freddy called back as he helped himself to a Mountain Dew. “My friends and I found you in the alley out back breaking fluorescent light bulbs on the pavement and giggling.”
Jack winced. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Freddy assured. “They were all burnt out anyway. You were such a fumbling idiot when we caught you that you offered to immediately clean everything up.”
“So I cleaned it up, then I left?”
“No, actually. You started asking about all these questions about where you were and what this place was, and then instead of waiting for the answers you pushed us out of the way and barged inside.”
“And then what?”
“Well, since you weren’t of the geeky persuasion you started asking us what all this stuff was and what we were doing with it. I explained all that to you, then explained that we were in the middle of a game of Dungeons and Dragons and politely asked you to leave.”
“Where did I go after that?”
“You didn’t. You stayed and demanded that we let you play Dungeons and Dragons with us.”
“Yeah, and for some reason we let you.”
“I played Dungeons and Dragons?”
“You played Dungeons and Dragons.”
Jack blushed at his lapse into nerdiness. “How’d I do?”
Freddy chuckled. “Surprisingly well. It was obvious you’d never played before. You were making things up about your character as you went along and couldn’t grasp the concept of rolling a die with more than six sides, but it was actually because of you that we won the campaign.”
Unwilling to let an opportunity to stroke his ego pass him by, Jack pressed further. “Really? How?”
“We were playing a campaign in which we had to save a kingdom from an evil warlock that had been terrorizing it. We let you join as a human knight named Matthias, but you insisted that we call you ‘Sir Matty the Donkey Puncher’. Long story short, we encountered a succubus—”
“You didn’t know what it was last night either. It’s a demon that copulates with male adventurers and steals their life force.”
“All of it or just like, some of it?”
“You asked that too—and the answer to that is all of it. There is no halfway life stealing.”
“You were also disappointed by that, so you said, ‘Fuck that I’m still going to fingerblast her’,” Freddy explained, prudishly stumbling over the two F-words.
“So how did that not steal my life force?”
Freddy tried to remain inert, but an awkward excitement crept into his voice. “Long story short, you left your Gauntlet of the Gnoll King inside of her, which acted as a dildo, which acted as a decoy, and we managed to flee. Shortly thereafter, we ran into the warlock, and you used your high constitution stat to challenge him to—and win—a drinking contest with him, and while he was passed out our party’s mages sealed him and his magic away, and we won!” He recognized the fever pitch he had hit and brought himself back down to his nerdier-than-thou tone. “It was certainly unorthodox…but it was effective.”
“Effective? That sounds kind of awesome.”
Freddy smirked. “Yeah, it kind of was.”
“So then what happened?”
“You yelled ‘Huzzah! Come my lads, and we shall quaff many goblets of hearty mead in honor of our most righteous victory!’ and dragged everyone who was old enough to drink out to the bar with you.”
“Great! Where did we go?”
“I don’t know. I’m not old enough to drink. Roger would though.”
“He’s the owner. You gave him such a bad hangover that he was throwing up all morning. If his text messages are any indication, he’ll be here in about an hour.”
“Mind if I stay and geek out with you until he shows up?” Jack asked.
Freddy smiled warmly. “I would be honored, Sir Matty.”