Refusing the Call
by Elliotte Rusty Harold
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Jonathan stumbled out of the shower and reached for a towel. “I’m coming! Hold your horses.” He knotted the towel around his waist and hurried across his apartment. Why did the super always come when he was in the shower? Was it leaking into Mrs. Delacroix’s apartment again?
By the time Jonathan reached his front door, the towel had started to slip. Jonathan tried to hold it up with one hand as he threw the door open. “What is so urgent that you can’t—” and then he stopped, momentarily rendered speechless by the sight not of the rotund Ukrainian superintendent he was expecting but rather a robed and bearded wizard, near seven feet tall (if you included the pointy hat), holding a gnarled staff in his left hand, a staff he had apparently been using to practice the cannon solo from the 1812 Overture on Jonathan’s front door.
“Jonathan Harris, I have come to fetch you on a quest of most urgent importance, for—”
The wizard stepped back, his ominous pronouncement momentarily interrupted.
“Excuse me,” he said in a slightly less stentorian tone. “But what do you mean by ‘No’?”
“No means no.”
“But you haven’t even heard what I was going to to say.”
“I think I’ve got the gist of it. You’ve come to take me on some miraculous quest, probably about 1500 pages long, in which I will retrieve the sole artifact that can defeat the Dark Lord and restore the world to rightful harmony. Is that more or less the story?”
The wizard looked chastened. “Well, yes, but—”
Jonathan didn’t let him finish. “No buts. The answer’s no.”
The wizard didn’t seem to know quite what to do with that. “You are the chosen one, he who is foretold by prophecy to come to the Fair Lands, fill the Crystal Chalice with the Tears of the Moon, and rally the good folk of Winterwhen to repel the forces of the Evil One.”
Jonathan noted how the wizard managed to speak the phrase “evil one” in italics. Neat trick. He’d have to learn it if he ever took up wizarding, but not today. “I think you’re going to have to find another chosen one.”
“There is no other. That’s sort of the point of the chosen one. Only you can find the chalice and collect the tears of the moon. So it is foretold.”
“This prophecy mentions me by name, does it? Jonathan Harris, 35 Eastern Pkwy, Apartment 4B, Brooklyn, NY, social security number 333-78-2231?”
The wizard fingered his staff nervously. “Well, no, not in so many words, but the signs and portents all point to this time and place.”
Jonathan snorted. Like he was going to fall for that. “Prophecies aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, or has your world not invented paper yet? No, don’t answer that. All ‘In the year of the Goat there will come a savior who knows not his power’ and ‘at the place where learning and nature meet’ and other fribble-frabble that can mean just about anyone when you squint hard enough and look at it sideways. Not one single word that clearly and unambiguously says ‘Go here. Do this.’ And when the quest is complete, and the ‘evil one’”—he tried to say it in italics like the wizard did, but only managed a weak pair of air quotes—“is defeated, then we’ll realize that the prophecy didn’t refer to me at all, but rather to my dog, or my companion, or my son, or some such thing. Meanwhile, I’ll have spent three years of my life sleeping rough, eating jerky and hard tack, and being poked, prodded, and tortured by orcs, only to finally restore power to the same feudal aristocracy that mismanaged the country in the first place. I have read The Lord of the Rings, you know. So no hard feelings, but I’m going to have to decline your offer.” Jonathan tried to close the door, but the wizard had propped it open with his staff.
The wizard threw Jonathan a forced smile, but his nervousness was starting to show. Perhaps he was on a deadline? “Did I mention there’s a princess? Quite comely she is too, with hair of golden flax and a face that would launch, well, maybe not a thousand ships, but I’m sure she could manage a rowboat or two.”
The wizard crinkled his brow at this. “Gay? It is more traditional for the hero to be morose and troubled, overwhelmed by the heavy weight of destiny he carries on his shoulders; but I’m sure we can work with a happy, singing, protagonist.”
“No, not that kind of gay. Homosexual.”
The wizard looked puzzled. Funny that he could speak such excellent English but miss this one word, almost as if same-sex attraction didn’t exist in his world. Jonathan reached for a synonym. “Queer? A friend of Dorothy? MSM? QUILTBAG? Any of this mean anything to you?”
The wizard shook his head. “I’m sorry, but no.”
“I don’t like women, OK? At least not like that. I like men.”
“Aha,” the wizard said. “In that case, I’m sure we can find you a prince or maybe a barbarian warrior. The sword brothers of Skalano’s tastes run in your direction.”
“No offense to the good brothers of Skalano, who I’m sure do the best they can with their lot in life, but I rather prefer modern men who know about bathing and nightclubs and American Apparel. So if it’s all the same to you, I’m going to let this quest pass me by.” Jonathan pushed harder against the door, but the wizard’s staff was sturdier than it looked.
“If a princess won’t sway you, perhaps a kingdom? That was supposed to go to Flerhara, who would later be revealed as the rightful heir in book 3, but I think we can work around that. Maybe give her true love and a small Duchy on the other side of the river instead. Haven’t you ever wanted a castle of your very own? Moat, crenelations, secret passages, a banquet hall for entertaining visiting adventurers, the whole shebang.”
“But no cable TV, coffee, central heating, blenders, or major appliances. I’m sure you don’t have dishwashers yet.”
The wizard perked up at this. Jonathan could swear his hat even got a little pointier. “Yes, we have dishwashers! And cooks and scullery maids too!”
Jonathan rolled his eyes. “No, that isn’t what I meant. No slur on your domestic staff, but I doubt they’ve achieved 21st century standards of hygiene. Frankly, I’d be surprised if I got a mattress without fleas.”
The wizard’s hat drooped. “A certain number of fleas are to be expected; but I’m sure you won’t notice them, not with all the wenches and serving girls—”
“Excuse me, what part of ‘gay’ did you not understand?” The wizard looked puzzled again. Jonathan sighed. “OK, all of it. Let’s just say that wenches and serving girls are not exactly a selling feature for me, all right? I’d much rather live here in my air-conditioned, one-room apartment with 800 channels including A&E and an unlimited supply of Internet porn. Now if that’s all you have, I really do have to get ready for work.”
Jonathan kicked the wizard’s staff out from the door. The wizard, startled, took a step backwards, which was all the space Jonathan needed. He slammed the door shut and threw the deadbolt before the old gray hair could contrive some other reason he should leave his comfortable Brooklyn life behind to run around some medieval backwater.
Jonathan wondered if the deadbolt would be enough or if he should barricade the door against some magical attempt to shanghai him. He didn’t relax until he heard the wizard’s staff banging at the door of Apartment 4C. “Roxana Jackson, I have come to fetch you on a quest of most urgent importance, for the Fair Lands are in dire peril and only you can save them.” Jonathan waited until he heard a loud pop. Then he went back to the shower.
Oh mi Jesús, perdónanos nuestros pecados, líbranos del fuego del infierno…
When my feet land on the canyon floor, I fall to my knees and give thanks to God. The claws of the condor are cruel, but it is only a bird. I fear the sharp claws and red eyes of my mistress. God have mercy on me, for the Lady will have none.
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