“The hill giant shudders and then falls, unable to ward off your collective attack. It mumbles something as it crashes to the floor, but the words are too faint to decipher. What do you do?”
“Whose turn is it?”, I asked, my gaze fixed on the pizza box. Sure, defeating the hill giant was a matter of life and death, but Anthony had been eyeing the last slice of Hawaiian with a zeal that made me nervous, and every hero knows that the most precious treasures involve an extra-thick crust. Somewhere, I heard muffled laughter and kids giggling.
“It’s mine. I loot the room,” my brother Ethan replied. He rubbed his hands together quickly like an excitable ten-year-old. Two years my senior, he’d been the one who introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons when we were shorter and thinner. He’d also met Anthony and Brad first, formed the Heroes of 8th Street West club, and even dated two of my girlfriends before they ever noticed me. I was born playing Sam to Ethan’s Frodo, if Frodo had just shrugged, driven up to Mount Doom in a Ford Fiesta, and wondered what all the fuss was about. Ethan perpetually seemed a step ahead.
Brad smiled, the gesture causing him to look slightly vampiric in the low light. “You loot the room–and find a trove of circus peanuts.”
Bedlam from Ethan’s corner of the table. “CIRCUS PEANUTS?”, he hollered. “That was worth at least two Baby Ruths and a Smarties! You gave Anthony FIVE Special Darks for that pack of hobgoblins!”
“Shoud’ve upped your charisma, bro,” Anthony’s smirk was wearing a smirk. “Can I help it if I suffer from an excess of gallantry?”
“No one else likes Special Dark.”
“This is fascism,” my brother complained good-naturedly. He collected his bounty with a sneer, swiping a KitKat from the bowl and waggling it front of our faces. “And I am the Resistance.”
When Ethan and I were growing up, our parents frequently complained that setting a night with their friends was a Herculean, nearly always unsuccessful task. While we knew adulthood was full of responsibilities and taxes and parent-teacher conferences and cholesterol-lowering cereal, neither of us had understood that it also meant scheduling down to the minutiae, and that maintaining friendships wasn’t immune. “She called this morning. She’s tired again–as if we’re not all exhausted,” our mom frequently griped. “We’re looking at next week.” But next week would come and go, and the friendship would take a backseat to things like calling for estimates on dishwasher repair or dog obedience class. There was always something.
And now Ethan and I lived 20 minutes apart, but we hadn’t been in each one another’s company since Christmas. It’d been even longer since I’d seen Anthony and Brad. Being aware of the curse had done nothing to deflect its hit damage.
Outside, we could hear “The Monster Mash” playing faintly, its familiar melody floating from the neighbor’s entryway into the crisp night air. “You know what no one talks about? We know next to nothing about the Monster Mash,” I said thoughtfully, popping a Starburst in my mouth.
“That song’s 50 years old, Ben,” Brad said. “Who didn’t make it through childhood without singing about ghouls begging for an electrode cocktail? It was already around for years when our parents were trick-or-treating.”
“Is anyone else really perturbed that we never learn what Dracula’s ‘Transylvania Twist’ is?”, my brother asked, checking his character sheet.
“But the song is about a dance called ‘The Monster Mash,'” I pressed. “The evidence describes who attended the party and that the Mash was a graveyard smash. We also are told that it caught on in a flash. But there could be someone on the street right now mashing it up, and that moment would pass us by.”
Ethan awarded me a golf clap. “Poetic,” Brad said, reverence reverberating from his beard. “Now, returning to business–having defeated the hill giant, you see a rickety handbridge to your left. The water looks squalid, about 10 feet deep. On the opposite side, there’s a door, but the platform is far enough away that jumping would likely land you into the swamp.”
“But it’s possible?”, Ethan asked.
“I’d recommend rolling for skill,” Brad advised, in a tone insinuating that we really ought to consider the handbridge option.
“I believe one should always err on the side of skill,” my brother said seriously. He cracked his knuckles, challenging the dice to a fight as he guzzled the remainder of his Mountain Dew. “If we’d dressed up tonight, what would you have gone as?”
“Sexy Pledge Drive,” Brad said, not missing a beat.
“Leaving The House,” Anthony’s disembodied voice wafted from under the table.
“The Higgs-Boson particle,” I shot back with what I hoped was a straight face.
“Seriously, guys. This is a serious costume survey,” my brother grumbled. “Think pure, cowering fear.”
“A phone call.”
“A sentence without multiple revisions?”, I said, aware Ethan would realize I wasn’t joking.
” The Collected Works of William Faulkner,” Brad snickered.
Ethan sighed and rocked his closed hand back and forth, up, down, sideways, the dice smashing against their fleshy quarters. He released them with a flourish, tumbling towards fate. Thirteen.
“You needed to roll a twelve. That’s more than sufficient!”
“I sail across the swamp with the utmost finesse and land on the platform like the graceful and attractive hero I am .” Ethan pumped his fist.
“Your turn, Ben”
I picked up the dice and rolled. And rolled. For a few precious hours, I’d had my brother and our closest friends reliving our favorite activity on our favorite holiday, and the night was well past adolescence. Tomorrow, the Fellowship would disband, and we would scatter to the winds, separated by a wall none of us could name.
I scarcely heard; I just watched them for a moment, turning the dice over in gratitude. Maybe if I never let go, I’d never need to let go.
@GrahamGemmell requested a story about two brothers together for a long overdue visit, Halloween, or Dungeons and Dragons. I used all three prompts.