Tuesday, 28 June 2022 00:00

Match-22 (Jordan Winters 5)

Written by
Rate this item
(10 votes)
Jordan Winters 5

Match-22

By Bek D Corbin
With special thanks to Ellen Hayes

 

A Jordan Winters Adventure

Match-22

By Bek D Corbin
With special thanks to Ellen Hayes

The Great Game was afoot!

Lord Burningoak peered over the battlements with his field glasses. “By the Gods! There are at least three thousand of them! Fuziwazaks, Bazibazuks and Snaligazaars, all riding together. And each unwashed ragamuffin of ‘em carrying a brand-new Wayland Arms pin-cartridge rifle, courtesy of Lord Scapegallows, Miss Mirandine.”

Lord Burningoak turned his lean aristocratic elven features toward the olive skinned adventuress. Her eyes were shut in concentration and the tips of her fingers were at her brow. “My Lord, while I did know that Lord Scapegallows was smuggling lotus blossom, I had no idea that he was paying for it with rifles and ammunition.” She screwed up her classic Mediterranean beauty features as she sent her mind out among the imp-bitten rabble. “Yes, I’m sure now. Count Koshei is definitely here.”

“I thought that I sensed his hand in this.”

“More than his hand in it - he’s still got his hands ON it! He’s over on that rise, watching the charge with the three chiefs!”

“Perfect,” Lord Burningoak purred. “Company Sergeant!”

The skinny goblin field engineer, Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, Queen’s Rear Regiment, clipped up and snapped a salute. “Sah!”

“Are the carrots loaded?”

“Yeass, Sah! Ev’ry one of the for’ard bombards are load with as many carrots as they can hold.”

“Very good.” Lord Burningoak lit the brazier and began to enchant. The purple fire lanced from the brazier and danced over to the seven crates. The crates began to bustle with barely contained fury. “Very well, Company Sergeant, on my mark.”

Forward gunners, ready your fuuuuusssses!” the Company Sergeant roared out a in a bellow that belied his wiry frame. The bombardiers prepped the fuses and lit their matches.

Lord Burningoak put the field glasses back up to his eyes. “They’re almost in range.” Then he slowly raised one hand, paused and then jerked it downwards.

FYYYY-AARRRR!” roared the Company Sergeant.

The six forward aimed bombards erupted in a shower of orange vegetable root. The charging orcs’ steeds, not being used to facing heavy artillery, balked. Lord Burningoak threw the essence of oyster on the brazier, and the crates danced with rage. “Now, Company Sergeant.”

LET LOOSE THE BUNNIES!”

From their safe hiding places behind the rammed earth walls, the field engineers pulled the cords that dropped the overstrained grates, and hundreds of near-berserk Vorpal Bunnies swarmed toward the carrot-covered riders.

Lord Burningoak watched with grim satisfaction as the vicious lagomorphs tore into the marauders.

Jazz played with her dice and gave me a long ‘Say What?’ look. “_Vorpal bunnies?_”

I put on my best Look of Honor Doubted. “What? There’s an Arms Convention that prohibits the use of dangerous Leporidae?”

“Oh, wonderful - now, we gotta deal with hundreds of Vorpal Bunnies, instead of twenty,” said Mike.

“Hey, not to worry! Once the Bunnies and the Raiders have stopped chewing on each other, I’ll drop the Multiplication spell, and the bunnies will merge back together. The damage that each has taken will combine and aggravate arithmetically - see, it says so, right here on Page 168 - and that will probably kill most of the Bunnies that are left. Those that survive, we mop up with grenades. By the way, you ARE gonna bring up the Grenadiers, aren’t you?”

“Grenadiers advancing,” Euge said. “I hope you realize that I’m gonna hold each and every one of my soldiers that gets chewed up in this fiasco against you.” Euge was playing Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, Queen’s Rear Regiment - the entire Company. Don’t ask me how he managed to talk Booker, the GM into it, but he did.

Jazz held a pencil under her nose with her curled upper lip. “So— do you guys use ‘live artillery’ like this a lot, in this game?”

Mike made a dismissive noise. <pfaugh!> “This is nothing! You should have seen the havoc that we wrecked with the Chicken Mines!”

*****

It was, of course, a complete fiasco. When ‘Lord Burningoak’ merged the wounded Vorpal Bunnies after they’d finished chewing up the orcs, they amalgamated into a single rabbit headed Vorpal Hydra. And yes, Euge chewed me out for every goblin field engineer that he lost. But by then, it was getting late, and we had to call it a day. Booker assigned experience, and informed Euge that reinforcements would get there - in a couple of weeks.

As Jazz and I left the Kelling College Student Union, she turned to me and said, “Well, that was surreal!”

"Yeah, well, y’see, ‘Vorpal Bunnies’ are from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s one of the threats that King Arthur and his knight have to face, along with the ‘Knight who say NEE!’-."

“I know that. I’ve seen the movie. I was talking more about your gaming buddies. I mean - ‘They call me ‘Euge’, ‘cause when I drop my trousers, the ladies always say, ‘He’s ‘UGE!’“ Jazz shook her head.

I grinned apologetically. “I can’t believe that he told you that story. Or at least, not just after meeting you.” I gave her another long look. “Come to think of it, I can’t believe that you’re into Role Playing Games.”

“Oh? Why? Do you think that gaming is just a _guy_ thing?”

“Well, to tell the truth, it’s more that gaming is a _geek_ thing. I mean, girls who are as cute as you are, are usually too cool to be seen with gaming nerds, let alone spend hours rolling dice and weaving stories out of nuthin’.”

Jazz gave a rueful smile. “Well, to be honest, I got into it ‘cause my big brother Jase was into it for a while. When we moved here from Chicago, he suddenly decided that he was too cool to be a gaming geek, and I didn’t know how to find a game myself.” She paused. “I don’t know why it never occurred to me to check out the colleges.”

“It’s that old ‘Town and Gown’ thing again. Hold it - what do your parents do?”

“My Mom’s a doctor, and Dad’s an instructor of Cultural Anthropology here at the college.”

“What? You’re a _College Kid_? What are you doing, hanging around with a local girl like Jordan?”

“Hey, YOU try finding a cute, happening girl, who happens to know her comic books, t’ hang out with, in this town!”

“Tell me about it,” I grumped.

Jazz grinned. “Well then - lucky you!” She slipped her arm through mine.

Oh, Bright Ones, Blessed and Wise, please don’t let this be going where I think it’s going!

A sudden look swept over Jazz’s face. “Hey! I just had a great idea!”

“Jazz, it’s Six in the evening, we have school tomorrow, and I gotta get home and help with dinner. We can’t stop off at the Soda Fountainbleu.”

“No, not that!” Thank God! Being on the treated end of the frilly parfait thingie bit so much, I’d sort of forgotten how expensive those things are. Besides, it sucks, digging into a bland - if manly - Sundae while Jazz tucks into a raspberry/lemon/orange sherbet concoction. “I was thinking that maybe we could get up a gaming group of our own!”

“Oh? With who?”

“Oh, lessee now - Jordan, of course-”

“Hold it right there! Anything that starts off with Jordan AND me, is doomed right off the bat!”

“Why? Y’know, Jordan would never really explain what’s going on with that.”

“Let’s just say that you simply CANNOT get Jordan and me in the same room at the same time.”

“That’s what she said. Same exact words, too. Why?”

“Lets---just put it down to ‘Family Politics’.”

“‘Family Politics’? What is that supposed to mean?”

It really means that if anyone in The Families ever found out about me, that I’d be sent to Siberia. But, if you look at it in the right light it can also mean- “Well, that’s sort of a term for something that’s really involved, really complicated, and it involves people that you don’t know (and wouldn’t be that happy with me telling their business), and situations that you’re not familiar with, and even if it weren’t all that, it’s also usually really boring.”

Woof!

“Hey, small towns are like this! Let me sum it up like this - I don’t have anything against Jordan, and I’m really glad that you’re friends with her. But I am NOT going to be in a game with her. Period. And I’ll lay odds that she’ll say almost exactly the same thing if you ask her.”

Wellll...does she at least GAME?”

“Well, I’ve never seen her doing it. You can always ask!” Hopefully, Jazz will ask me (when I’m ‘Jordan’), and we can do this thing together as girls.

She grinned. “I’ll do that! And I’ll bet that when I ask her, that she’ll surprise you and insist that you GM!” With that, she leaned over, gave me a kiss on the cheek, whirled around and flounced away.

Why do I get the impression that this is going to get stickier before it gets simpler?

*****

Sure enough, the next morning, I had e-mail from ‘Jinxkat’ in my ‘mailbox’. ‘YO, BLONDIE! WE GOTTA GET 2GETHR! MEET ME UZE PLAZE. I GOT BIG FVR 2 AX U. JAZZ.’ Oh well, at least she wasn’t into the ‘leet freek’ schtick, and spelling things with numbers and stuff.

I was about to check to see if she was still online, and I-chat with her, when Boris and Natasha, Mom's cat familiars walked up. Boris sniffed at the monitor, and Natasha decided that the keyboard was the perfect place to stretch out and catch a few winks.

“Ex-CUZE me!” I tried to dislodge Natasha, but she did that weird yoga thing that cats do when they don’t wanna move. I wound up picking up the keyboard and turning it upside down. Boris just sat there, looking at me with that combination of amusement and disdain that cats do so well. I’m not fool enough to dish the dirt, girl-style with those two sniffing over my shoulder. Hey, you know that cats can’t read, and _I_ know that cats can’t read - I’m just not sure that Boris and Natasha know it.

I just replied, ‘SAME BAT TIME, SAME BAT CHANNEL’ and logged off before the furry finkizoids got a good look.

*****

Jazz was waiting for me by the library, as per uze. She was practically bubbling over with something that she simply HAD to tell me. “JOR! It’s about freaking time! I just had the most scathingly brilliant idea!” From there, she launched into her sales pitch for a Role Playing Game. As she was halfway through her spiel, I held up my hand. “Jazz, I've seen those mutts that Dan games with; I’m surprised that he subjected you to them. Please don’t ask me to get stuck in a room with them!”

“No, no! I was thinking that we could get a game together in our group - You, Griff, Lex, Paris, and the rest.”

“Well, I’m familiar enough with it that I could back you up. I suppose that Dan has some books that I could use. You’ll have to be the one doing the honors.”

“Well, actually--- I was thinking that I could get Dan to do the Games Mastering.”

“Ack! Problem!”

“Oh, you’re not going to tell me that you can’t be in the same room with Dan again.”

“Amazing! You’ve developed psychic powers! Tell me, are there any tall dark men or romantic cruises in my future?”

“I can see a major league butt-whooping in your future, if you don’t ‘fess up. What is UP with this?”

“You don’t know, you don’t wanna know, and I’m doing you a BIG favor by not telling you.”

Jazz looked heavenward for strength from any stray Ministers of Grace that might happen to be wandering by. “Well, if you won’t play, will you at least not get all bent out of shape if I try and get the others to play?”

“Sure! Why not? I’ll even help you sell it!” I paused. “Are you doing this just as a way to get close to Dan, or something?”

“Why would I do that?”

“Well, it’s something of a byword in RPGing that there are three kinds of girls who game: Geeks, Trolls, and Girlfriends. The Geeks are the female version of the guy-nerds who play. The Trolls are the hefty girls who do it because it’s practically the only way that they can get social life, let alone a husband. And Girlfriends are the otherwise normal girls who aren’t really into it, but do it so that they can have quality time - such as it is - with their boyfriends. Jazz, you may have some...interesting interests, but you ain’t a geek. And you couldn’t pass for a Troll in bad light.” Jazz preened a bit. “So, that leaves the ‘girlfriend’.” I raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, you got me - I was on the high road to being a she-geek before my body caught on that I was going to be a Fox. I got into gaming ‘cause my big brother Jared was into it. He’s since decided that it’s uncool, but what does HE know?”

I gave a long sigh. “Okay, I’ll take your word for it. But, even so, as your best friend, I feel personally obligated to let you in on a rather nasty little secret.”

“Dan’s Gay?”

“That wasn’t what I was talking about. No, Jazz - Dan is wearing the Fool’s Cap.”

“_hanh?_”

“Oh, that’s right. You only moved here from Chicago a while ago, right? The ‘Fool’s Cap’ is the Millbridge way of saying that someone is the Designated Victim.”

“You mean that someone stuck a ‘Kick Me’ sign on his back?”

“Well, sort of. There’s this old tradition at Horace Mann Elementary and Middle School, where Dan goes. One student is singled out as the guy or girl that it’s okay to do anything to.”

“Well, sure! That happens everywhere! But usually they do something to deserve it.”

“I dunno how they do it in the Windy City, but here, there’s this thing called ‘The Fool’s Cap’. It isn’t a real cap, but everyone agrees that it’s just sort of there. When a student has the Fool’s Cap put on them, they are IT, for as long as they go to Horace Mann. Sometimes the stink even follows them to High School. When they graduate or leave town, the Fool’s Cap sort of floats around until somebody does something to earn wearing it. Earlier this year, Booker Lennox, the kid who’d been wearing it for years, moved to Wooster, and the Fool’s Cap landed on Dan’s head. Since then, he’s become very good at getting out of tight places.”

“Jor, WHY are you telling me this?”

“Well, first of all, if you decide that you wanna get close to Dan, you run the risk of some of that bad luck rubbing off on you. A girl is measured by her guy, and all that. Second, as you can imagine, Dan’s a little, eeerrr… twitchy in social situations. Being everyone’s punching bag will do that to you.”

“Hey, he’s been fine when I was around him.”

“Good t’hear it! And lastly, I didn’t want any nasty surprises to jump out at you, because of Dan. Or at least, they won’t be complete surprises.”

“So, it’s cool with you if Dan and I---”

“Well, he’s not the boy that _I_ would have picked for you.”

“Oh Yeah, that’s right. You picked that chuckle-head JayDee for me. And did I ever tell you how THAT turned out?”

“Oh Yes, you did! Y’know, I still haven’t figured out what got into him? I mean, in all the time that I’ve known him, he was an absolute sweetheart! Then –Boom!- he turns into the ‘Notorious B-O-Z-O’.”

To show how sorry I was for setting her up like that, I gave Jazz ‘Dan’s’ phone number, and helped her pitch the idea to Griff and the gang.

By and large, the gang wasn’t all that enthused. They decided that they’d give it a try, but my experience is that Role Playing Games are something that you either really get into, or you shouldn’t waste your time. I also took a bit of flack for not letting on why I wouldn’t game along with my ‘cousin’. No, I didn’t tell them that ‘Dan’ was my cousin; Jazz got that impression, and I decided not to burden her with any corrections. I am such a considerate friend.

Sure enough, Jazz called me at home. During dinner, too. Little brother Trey made a lot of loud, presumably embarrassing, noises about my getting calls from gurls.

Mom, on the other hand, was interested for other reasons. “A girl, Dan? When did this happen?”

“Well, remember that time when you had me take the munchkins to the movies, and Brett got lost?”

“I remember that that was when we trusted you to take care of your brothers, and you left them alone to go goofing off with your friends.”

“Whatever. Anyway, I ran into Jazz, and she helped me look for Brett when he went lost. We got along okay, and it turns out that she likes Role Playing games. Anyway, she wants to try starting up a game in our circle of friends.”

“Hm. Interesting. What sort of girl is she?”

Trey made ‘Tim Allen’ noises, and said, “A babe and half! She looks like Halle Berry’s kid sister!”

“She’s African-American? Even more interesting. Maybe you should invite her over for dinner.”

Fortunately, Dad stepped in as the voice of reason. “Dear, step back and think about that for a second. Bringing her here to meet the folks? Pressure the poor girl, much?”

Mom tried the ‘I’m only thinking of the children’ bit, but it wasn’t washing. Long story short, Jazz was spared the ‘meet the parents’ visit.

Della scooped up a pile of _Twenty-Four_ - yes, twenty-four! - dice and rolled them with fiendish glee. Her ‘flying bulldozer’ character, “Ms. Might’, plowed into the Mekka Marauder, and sent the towering ‘giant robot’ flying into a skyscraper, where it took even more damage from slamming into the building. “Oh Yeaaahhhh!” she exulted as she picked out a staggering number of sixes, which sent the damage done up even further.

I checked my sheet. “Okay, the Mekka Marauder isn’t looking too good. There’s a ‘Ms. Might’ shaped dent in its front chest plate, and its right arm is stuck in the wreckage. BUT-” I picked out twelve dice and rolled it. “-you take- (five, ten, twelve, eighteen,- hmmmm…) THIRTY– FIVE points of Stun! How does that do you?”

Della looked at her sheet, pouted and grumbled. “I’m not unconscious, but I’m definitely phased.”

“Well, that’s why you should always buy Damage Reduction (only for Move-Throughs) for ‘flying bulldozer’ type characters.”

“Then why didn’t you give me any, when you made this character?”

“It’s a stock ‘flying brick’ character. I couldn’t be sure who’d want to play it, or what their style would be. If you manage to keep her alive without giving her brain damage, maybe you can buy some Damage Reduction with Experience points.”

I’d decided to break the gang in with Champions©, everyone’s favorite superhero RPG. Well, it’s MY favorite superhero RPG, and that’s just as good. I figured that they’d get the general idea better if they understood the basics of what’s going on. And let’s face it, everybody gets the gist of superheroes, right off the bat. So far, I was getting a pretty interesting reaction from the gang. Paris was bored, as I figured she’d be. Griff and Stew were moderately interested. But Lex and Della were really getting into it.

Go figure.

Lex swooped in with his character, ‘Dyna-Blaster’ and put an energy bolt through the ‘Ms. Might’ shaped dent in the Mekka Marauder’s chest plate. <sha-KOW!>  He used his Ranged Killing Attack, and rolled pretty well. I decided that the combat had gone on long enough - Paris was starting to make shapes with her dice - so I let him ignore the armor. “Okay, your Dyna-bolt punches through the weakened chest-plate and detonates the Mekka-Marauder’s fusion core power plant.” I rolled a completely token set of dice. “The power plant violently explodes, sending a concussive wave that does-” More dice rolling. There’s a lot of that in role playing games. “Woof! A LOT of damage!” I knocked their figures around. “But you just get knocked around a bit. Mind you, the insurance companies won’t be anywhere near as happy about it. The head of the Mekka Marauder goes flying and lands with a big clang.” I placed a big twenty-sided die on the mat.

“Zoomer super-speeds over to the head and tries to open it,” Stew said.

“You look for an access hatch, but all that you find is a single opening panel, about the size of the cover for a gas cap.”

“I open it.”

“Two white mice come scurrying out of it, and disappear down a storm drain.”

All six of them glared at me. Griff quirked a wry smile. “By any chance, when we put an ear to the drain, might we hear something that sounds like ‘Narf!’?

“No, but you do hear a sharp sound that might be a ‘Poit!’”

“Well then,” Lex entoned, “we have to get back to headquarters, to get ready for tomorrow night.”

“What are we going to do tomorrow night?” Paris asked, not getting the joke.

“The same thing that we do Every night!” the rest chorused. “Try to save the world!”

Reviews were mixed. Lex and Della thought that the game was great and couldn’t wait until the next game. Paris was still glowering at me, and I didn’t think that it was because of the ‘Animaniacs’ ending. Maybe she just isn’t a Champs player. I could always bring over Vampire, The Masquerade©. She looks like someone that would get into playing a tragically hip mass murderer.

After I allotted the Experience Points, the game sort of broke up. Jazz, Della, and Paris were shifting out of gaming mode and into girl-talk mode. I had to force myself from diving in to the dish, ‘cause guys don’t dish. Anyway, the time came when it was obvious that Paris, Della and Jazz wanted to get down to serious girl-stuff, so we more *ahem!* manly types made our good-nights.

Jazz and Paris showed us to the door. “Well, Dan,” Jazz breathed, “thanks for the great game! I hope that we can get together and do this again, soon!”

“Yeah, well, getting a good gaming group together is always a pain.”

“I’ll see what I can do about getting Paris into it.”

“Hey,” Lex enthused, “if she won’t come around, we can always do this at my place!”

“Lex,” Griff gently reminded him, “your mother hates it when we hang out in your living room. How do you think she’s gonna react when we try to cram _three more_ people in there?”

Jazz smiled. “Well, let’s see then.” She turned her full attention to me and beamed. “Well, g’nite!” Then she leaned in and kissed me.

_wow_.

I thought that that only happened with Griff!

We were locked in the kiss, unable to break its power.

Not that that stopped Lex and Paris. “Hey, hey, hey! Knock it off! Or at least go get a room!”

“Hey, Jazz! Watch it! My Dad will go ballistic if he catches you like this!”

Jazz and I broke off. I could tell that Jazz was just as surprised by the reaction as I’d been. She blushed, even through her dark complexion, and hurriedly went inside. Della and Paris were right after her, smelling some heavy-duty dish in the making.

Y’know, I don’t know what I miss more - the chance to sit with Jazz and the girls and just talk, or the chance to hear what Jazz has to say?

The guys, being guys, took a completely different tack. “Whoo-Hoo!”

“Way to GO, Dan!”

“Looks like we have competition, guys!”

I gave them my lamest grin. “Hey, it’s not like you think! That was the first time that she’s ever kissed me!”

“Yeah, well, it’s not gonna be the LAST time!” Griff hooted.

We moved off in a group, and the guys immediately went into Locker Room mode. “So, you, ah, looked like you really knew what you were doin’, Dan. You two been at it for a long time?”

“No! This is the only time that we ever kissed!”

“Hmmm...maybe, but you still look like you’ve had a lot of practice.”

Okay, that’s technically true. Griff and I have been putting in a lot of practice time on the ol’ tonsil hockey. “<*ahem!*> “Well, gentlemen aren’t supposed to go throwing names around--”

Griff, Lex and Stew broke out in a storm of barnyard noises. Yep, it was locker room time, all right. Lex slung an arm around Griff’s shoulder, and said, “Yeah, well not everyone is so gentlemanly! SOME people share the good parts, man! Now, m’man Griff here, he hands out ALL the news that’s fit to hear!”

Oh, really, now? “Really? And exactly who’ve you been doing anything worth reporting on, Griff?”

            “Hey, Jordan, of course! And a choicer piece I’ve never had!”

Hey, I’m the ONLY piece you’ve even been near, I thought to myself. “Really? How far have you two gone?”

“Oh, so where’s the ‘a gentleman never tells’ NOW?”

“You’re the one telling - I’m just asking for corroborating evidence.”

“Yeah, well, ah - let’s say that a few weeks ago at the Tivoli, Jordan and I were in the back row to ‘Justiciar II’, and we weren’t exactly playing Gin Rummy.”

Okay, that was accurate - indiscrete, but accurate. “So, how far are we talking here? First Base? Second Base?”

“Oh, just First Base, so far!” So far? “Hey, I don’t date Doorknobs, y’know!”

Stew leaned in with a leer. “So far? And maybe you’re lookin’ to steal a base, hmmm?”

“Hey, I been givin’ it some thought.”

"You’ve been givin’ it some thought - Hey Somebody! Call the Pope! A miracle has happened!"

“Hey, I have plans!”

“Such AS?”

“Hey, I’m waitin’ for the right opportunity!”

Ahhh... You’re just fulla shit! You ain’t getting nowhere, and never will!”

“HEY! I’m gonna get some!”

“Yeah? When?”

“When the time is right! Hey, I’m not some chump who tries shovin’ his meat into a girl’s mouth, just to say that he did it!” Griff calmed down a little. “But it IS comin’, I’m tellin’ you, right here and now. As a matter’a fact, I've been givin’ some serious thought about Hobb’s Woods.”

“Hobb’s Woods?” I echoed. “No Way, Man! Hobb’s Woods is major league Bad News, Jack!”

“What’sa matter with it?”

“How long have you LIVED here, Man? Everybody knows that Hobb’s Woods is haunted or somethin’!”

<oooohhhh…> They jeered as one. “Haauunnteddd…

The problem is, Hobb’s Woods really IS haunted. Not by a ghost, but by a major league bad news spirit that’s been giving the Witches in the area grief for centuries. Nothing major, mind you, but one or twice every ten years or so, a kid goes missing, and six times out of ten, the kid belongs to one of the Families. And it’s been a while since any kid in the Millbrook area has gone missing. I may be a little old for the Lurker, but I still don’t wanna push my chances by going into Hobb’s Woods on any night that Griff might think of as ‘romantic’.

“Hey,” I defended myself, “Bad Things happen there. Kids go in and don’t come out. If you take a local girl into Hobb’s Woods, the only kiss you’re gonna get is Good-Bye.”

“Hey, that’s half the fun! A place with a spooky rep-“

“Then take her out to Cooper’s Woods. It’s just as creepy looking, but it won’t freak her out like Hobb’s Woods would.”

Lex gave me a dirty look. “I cannot Believe that you buy into spooks and haunts and stuff.” Oh, that’s right - Lex has a bit of a bug about superstition.

“Hey, there are reasons why people don’t go into Hobb’s Woods. We may not remember what they are, but there are reasons. And the only way to find out what those reasons are tends to mean going out and finding out the hard way. Personally, I’d take the safer route.”

“Why are you so concerned about what I do with my girlfriend?” Graff asked, one eyebrow raised.

Stew slapped him in the shoulder. “She’s his COUSIN, remember?”

Well, I never came out and SAID that, but I didn’t go out of my way to correct them, either. I just leaned over into Griff’s face and said, “Hey, listen, you watch yourself! Just don’t make me come after you, y’hear? I may not look like much, but I am a scrapper in a fight!” The rest of the conversation as we walked toward our homes was very much the ‘who can beat up who’ variety.

The next day, by the electronic grace of e-mail, I managed to finagle most of Saturday afternoon with Jazz, Paris and Della. I’d been cut out of the loop, and was in desperate need of an in-depth news update. I leaned over the table at the Soda Fountainbleu and went into my best interrogating newshead mode. “Okay, my sources say that, last night, at about 8 o’clock Pip-Emma, that you did, in front of witnesses, go into a five-minute lip-lock with Dan.”

“Pip-Emma?” Paris asked, torn between disbelief and amusement.

“My Mom makes me watch a lot of PBS. Well, Jazz? Do you wish to go on the record at this time?”

Jazz blushed a lot at first, but then decided to brass it through. “Hey, what can I say? I thought that I’d get it over with, but your cousin is more of a handful than he looks! I mean, WOW, what a kisser!”

Paris nodded. “I wouldn’t’a thought it of him, but Jazz here was stone-cold floored afterwards!” Paris flashed Jazz a wicked grin. “Or, maybe she just doesn’t have that much experience with kissing boys!” 

“I do too!” Jazz flared. “Okay, not a Lot,” she continued, a bit more quietly, “but I have kissed boys before.”

“And?”

“They just don’t compare. I mean it was like---- kissing lightning! With most guys, you’re just sitting there, swapping spit and wondering what all the fuss is about! But Dan? MAN! He lit up my mouth and set every nerve that I got tingling!”

"Oh, Yeah,” I murmured with a pussycat grin. “That’s what it’s like with Me an’ Griff. Electricity City!” Oh yes, dishing the dirt with your girls is so much better’n tossing the Bee-Ess with the guys.

Then I noticed Paris and Della’s eyes fixed on me. _oops._

“So -- you an’ Griff -- you’ve been making out?”

I looked with confusion at Paris. “And you haven’t with Lex? Della, I know that you’ve been making time with Stew.” Della sort of pulled her head into her shell. “Oh? Then why were you so hot to go see Lord Stengo’s Honor with Stew?”

Della glared at me from the depths of her shell. “Oh, Okay! But don’t let my father hear about it!”

All three of us turned to Paris. Well?

Paris sniffed and tossed her hair. “Well, Lex and I...we’ve been waiting for the right time and place...”

Jazz gave Paris a slightly superior smirk, then turned to me. “Hey, maybe we can go out on a double date with Dan and Griff sometime.”

Oops. “Ah, sorry, ain’t gonna happen.”

“Yeah, Jazz said something about you not getting along with Dan.” Paris was only too glad to get the spotlight off of her. “What’s that all about?”

I held up my hands. “Hey, tell you true, I wish that I could tell you, but I can’t! If any of this got back to my family, they’d disown me! Heck, if you asked my parents about Dan and me, they’d tell you that they have no daughter!” Well, that covers things nicely, and it’s technically true!

I managed to steer the conversation away from that point, and we spent the rest of the afternoon in a blur of girl talk.

When Jazz and I separated from Della and Paris, I finally managed to get her alone and talk about a topic that I couldn’t bring up in front of Paris. “So, Jazz. If you’re so hot about Dan, how do you feel now about Lex?” Hey, either I’m in the fix of trying to figure out whether Jazz is my best girl-friend or just my girlfriend, or I’m still stuck with being caught between Paris and Jazz over Lex. I’m on the horns of a dilemma; I’d like to know upon which horn I’ve been impaled.

Jazz screwed up her face. “Jeez, I wish I knew!  I mean, I’ve never been the sort to go chasing after white boys--- but Dan is so damn cute! And Man, what a kisser! But Lex is such a hunk! And I could actually take him home to my family without things going to DefCon-5. I’m really confused about this one, Jor.” Oooggg...gored with both horns! Gee, thanks, Pal.

I was about to offer a little girl-friendly advice and maybe steer her (and me) off one (hopefully both) of those horns, when Griff rode up on a bicycle. “Hey, Jordan! Where y’been? I been lookin’ all over!”

Jazz steered me toward him with a gentle push. “Go on ahead, Jor. I gotta do some serious thinking on this. No reason that you gotta waste your Saturday hanging with me while I’m like this.”

“Hey, what are best friends for?” I hooked my little finger and offered it to her. She smiled and hooked her pinky with it. Yeah. Best friends. I could feel it. Well, at least _I’ve_ made up my mind about one thing. Maybe I can help my best bud come up with some way out of her mess.

She smiled at me with that ‘gee, I wish that I weren’t feeling so many things at once’ smile. “Yep, that’s what best friends are for. And they’re for telling you to get on the back of the cute boy’s bike, and not throwin’ away a perfectly good spring afternoon listenin’ t’me suck my thumb. Gowan’.” She gave me another gentle shove.

I gave her a questioning look. Hey, you don’t prove that you’re a best friend by letting yer bud hanging while you go off with a boy. She just shooed me off. “Go on! B’sides, I gotta go home soon, anyway. Family stuff. Go on!”

Well, she’s bound and determined to tough it out alone. I draped myself side-saddle across the book-rack on the back of Griff’s bike, wrapped my arms around his middle, and we were off.

As we pedaled north and west past Kelling College, I yelled in his ear, “So, what’s so important that I gotta leave Jazz hanging? We were in the middle of something, there!”

“Yeah, and she wanted to deal with it herself.”

“Hey, you don’t know that! Girls gotta talk these things out!”

Griff laughed. “Typical! I never met a girl who understood that some things you just gotta work out by yourself!”

“In case you haven’t noticed, Jazz is a Girl!”

“Oh, I noticed. I also noticed that maybe she just didn’t wanna deal with it right then.”

Enh. Serves me right for trying to talk sense about emotions with a guy. I was still stewing about that when Griff pulled into a thick grove of trees.

“This is what I wanted to show you. This is where I come when I want to be alone. This is sort of my ‘special place’.”

I tried to hide a smile. Oh, so he was going to try and pull the dark and secluded ‘special place’ bit? Well, now all that I have to do is let him take it from here. We talked about this and that, as he slowly built up steam. Finally, he’d maneuvered me back against a tree, and he was closing.

At last, his lips met mine, and there was that electricity again. I melted into him and surrendered to the power of the kiss.

But there was something wrong, something off.

The first thing that I noticed was that Griff had his hand up my blouse. Normally, Griff just gets into the kissing. Oh, Wise Ones, Blessed and Bright, he’s trying to take it up a notch! This could be trouble. I don’t know how well the glamour is with other people. What if he grabs my tit, and, really being a foam rubber insert that’s sort of merged with me temporarily because of the glamour, it comes off in his hand?

Come to think of it, will it hurt?

Then he started grinding his groin against me. Oh, I have to stop this before he really gets started. Griff was really pushing the envelope when he slipped his hand up my blouse. This, on the other hand, is WAY over the limit. “Griff. Griff, sweetie. Please. Please Stop. Please. Stop.” C’mon, Griff! You’re a Third Millennium kind of guy! You know that when a girl says ‘No’, that she means ‘No’!

His only response was to ram his tongue down my throat. This was getting worse and worse by the minute. Then he took his hand out from under my blouse and stopped grinding. I sighed, relaxed, and, satisfied that he understood that he’d taken it too far, too fast, decided to reward him with more smooching.

Instead, I heard a metallic ripping sound. Griff took one hand and steered it to a location right about where his crotch should be. I felt something tubular, hard and warm. Then I felt it throb.

            Eeewww!!! GROSS!

“NO!” I pushed him away. As I tried to center myself from the sense of…violation…I felt that sense of deep wrong-ness again, but it wasn’t coming from Griff.

Okay, it was coming from Griff, but not just from him. My thumbs were pricking.

I looked around. This wasn’t Cooper’s Woods. Cooper’s Woods looks creepy, but that’s it. This place looked normal and healthy enough, but there was this sense of something waiting, something watching.

And then I saw it.

Only for a second. But then, you never really see it for more than a second. The Lurker in Hobb’s Woods. That thing eats Witches alive!

I pushed Griff away from me with every ounce of strength that I had. “This is Hobb’s Woods!” I screamed. “You brought me into Hobb’s Woods! And it’s getting dark!”

“Hey, Jordan, clam down!” Griff came forward, trying to be consoling. But the thing leering at us from the woods wasn’t helping. Come to think of it, the thing leering at me from Griff’s lap wasn’t helping, either.

Griff grabbed me by the arms and pushed me back against the tree. I pushed him back with everything that I had, and sent him sprawling.

As he clambered back up, I grabbed my backpack. Griff came at me again. “You ASSHOLE!” I slapped him hard. He stood there, pole-axed for a moment. Weird. I didn’t think that I hit him that hard. But I still took the opening, and lit out as fast as I could.

I put an Evasion spell on myself and Wings Unto My Feet, and I easily lost Griff in the twilight, even though he was on a bicycle. I ran for at least a quarter mile, and stopped in somebody’s back yard. Then, I slumped to the ground, and started to cry.

Part of the crying jag was because I was still scared. The Lurker had seen me! And part was because I was so mad and disgusted with Griff. My Griff! I honestly thought that he thought better of me than to try THAT! And there was Jazz, and Paris, and Lex, and the Fool’s Cap and the whole damned mess!

I was there until the lady of the house came out and asked what I was crying about. I made my apologies, and made my way back to the library, where I changed.

And just to cap off the whole sucko mess, Mom gave me shit for not getting home in time to help with dinner.

Sunday, Booker threw a particularly nasty Orc shaman at ‘Lord Burningoak’ and Charlie Company, and I was able to vent a little on an abstract framework of numbers. Still, I may have overdone it a bit, ‘cause when we finished and Jazz and I were on our way home, she asked me, “Dan, is everything all right?”

<gusty sigh> “Oh, I just had a really nasty run-in yesterday. I dunno why I’m letting it get to me so bad. I should be used to it by now.” Out of sheer habit, I felt up around my head, where the Fool’s Cap was anchored.

It was gone.

Gone?

It was gone!

It was GONE!

THE FOOL’S CAP WAS GONE!

My face lit up. I was free! I was finally free! My life was my own again! Out of sheer joy, I grabbed Jazz and gave her a deep passionate kiss.

After a bit, Jazz pulled free. “Hey, not that I’m complaining or anything, but what’s with you? All day, you’ve been like somebody ran over your dog, and suddenly *boom!* you light up like a Christmas tree and kiss me! What’s up, Doc?”

<heh> “It would take too long to explain. Let’s just say that I suddenly realized how good I really have it.”

Jazz looped her arm through mine. “Okay, that I can accept.”

All day Monday, I reveled in the absence of malice. I wasn’t Mister Popular or anything - hey, people still thought that I was the Designated Victim - but that sense that there was a target painted on my back was gone. People just didn’t feel obligated to give me shit. The Pesloe swarm still had it in for me, but for some bizarre reason, they just couldn’t find the perfect time and place like they used to.

But, just as every cloud has a silver lining, even the full moon has a dark side. Reese Aubrey cornered me in the Boys’ Room after Second Period. “So, Winters - I see you finally managed to pull it off. How did you get rid of the Fool’s Cap?”

Dreck. The hex that I laid on him was the only thing keeping Reese from using the fact that he knew about my double life to screw me over. If I’m out from under the Fool’s Cap, then I’m pretty much under Reese’s thumb, cause if I don’t have the Fool’s Cap on my noggin, then he’s free and clear. Okay, let’s see how I can weasel my way out of this without actually lying. I grinned at him evilly. “To be honest, I don’t know. I was out by Hobb’s Woods Saturday, and I haven’t had it since. Of course, that may mean that it’s out there floating free. And if I remember the exact terms of the Hex I laid on you---” I looked measuringly at Reese’s head, as if wondering what he’d look like with the Fool’s Cap on.

Reese promptly got the hell away from me. Life is good.

For the rest of school, I was someone that no one talked to, but at least they left me alone. After weeks of being everyone’s scratching post, being left alone was paradise. I was tempted to try taking the bus back home, but I’d ridden my bike to school. Besides, I was feeling so good that I decided to go into town and look up the gang. As Dan.

And why not? Because of the game, I’d met everyone in the gang socially as Dan. Besides, if I looked them up as ‘Jordan’, I might run into Griff. Ick. And I’m just feeling too goddamn GOOD to let ‘Mister Trousersnake’ ruin it for me.

The first ones that I ran into were Paris and two of the Paris-ettes, Mindy and Rebecca. I’d met Mindy and Becky as ‘Jordan’, so I tried to make a good first impression. For the second time. “So, how’s life treat’n you, Paris?”

“Pretty much the same as Friday. So, Dan, what’s with YOU? You are significantly more chipper than you were when you were rolling the dice for us!”

“Yeah, well, the Producer decided that I’d played out the ‘Teen Angst’ storyline far enough, so he talked to the writers. I just got the Pink Pages, and it looks like they’re gonna write a ‘Teen Shenanigans’ story arc for me for a while.”

Paris got the joke immediately and jumped on. “Damn! I only got the Green Pages. They still got me on the “Overprotective Father’ story line. My agent is trying to wrangle me an ‘Out of control, boy crazy teen’ story arc, but I think that we should settle for a ‘mildly controversial, but mostly innocent inter-racial romance’ story line.”

Marcy caught up with us. “Ooohh, good luck, Paris. You know how the networks are - they’d approve of a ‘out-of-control, boy-crazy teen’ story arc before a ‘mildly controversial, but mostly innocent inter-racial romance’ story line.”

“Yeah. Sometimes I wonder why I even have an agent. All the lazy bastard does is eat up 10% of my income. You’d think that at least he’d be able to weasel a ‘mildly controversial, but mostly innocent inter-racial romance’ story line.”

“I keep hoping for a ‘wallflower blossoms into knockout babe’ story line,” Becky sighed.

“The Head Writer told me that they’re workin’ on it, Becky,” Paris assured her. Then she turned back to me. “So, Dan- ‘Teen Shenanigans’, hunh? I was under the impression that your agent had managed to get YOU a ‘mildly controversial, but mostly innocent inter-racial romance’ story line.”

“Yeah, well, that’s in negotiations, y’know. Don’t wanna piss off the networks. I think that they’re goin’ for a ‘Teen Shenanigans’ bit as maybe intro to the ‘mildly controversial, but mostly innocent interracial romance’ story line. Y’know, start off light and frothy, and maybe get heavier into it as the story line progresses. Like that.”

“The networks are SUCH wimps. Ooohh, speaking of potential story lines! Hey Lex! Yoo-Hoo!” Paris waved as I spotted Lex, Stew, JayDee and <ahem!> someone else walking toward us.

Well, there went my good mood. And I just remembered that I’d made Griff a promise.

Focusing the glamour through my eyes and into my hand, I marched up to Griff, and as he was about to say something, I popped him one, right in the mouth.

<YOWch!> Even with the magic, my hand felt like I’d broken it! Griff went staggering back into the building. Lex, Stew and JayDee were too stunned by what I’d done to stop me. I grabbed Griff’s shirt and slammed him back against the wall. “HEY! Didn’t I tell you to watch yourself? And what did I say that I’d do if you didn’t watch yerself?”

“DAN!” Paris yelled. “What do you think that you’re doing?”

“Saturday, after she and Jazz left you girls, Jordan met up with Loverboy here. He took her out to Hobb’s Woods, and went too far. She came home crying. She didn’t say exactly what he’d done, but it was sort of obvious.” I slammed him against the wall again. “SO? What did you DO, Griff? You were making all sorts of noises about what you were gonna do with her, Friday night! Jordan’s no shrinking violet; she wouldn’t get all upset, if it were just a little necking! SO what did you DO?

Suddenly, Paris, Della, Becky and Mandy were right behind me. “Yeah, Griff, what DID you do, hunh?

Even more surprisingly, Lex, Stew and JayDee were backing me up as well. “Yeah, Man, what’s up with you t’day? You been like that ALL Day!”

Griff looked around in confusion. “What IS this? Dump on Griff day? Okay, okay, I went a little too far, a little too fast, but I didn’t hurt her or anything! If anything, she was more upset about being out in Hobb’s Woods than she was that I tried to get her to-”

Griff looked around at the girls’ faces, and realized that he was just digging his own grave with this mouth. “Okay, I screwed up, I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” He looked to his friends for some support. “Hey, Guys?”

JayDee strutted forward, all his ‘Original Gangsta’ attitude forgotten. “Not Cool, Man. Jordan’s a right chick. She didn’t deserve that. Not Cool at all.” Then he just turned his back and walked away.

We all walked away, leaving him alone with his back to the wall. As I walked away, I heard him say to the open air, “Hey, I’m sorry. Doesn’t anyone care that I’m sorry?”

I enjoyed the next Fool’s Cap-free day with the feeling of having been set free from prison. Or at least I did until the Pesloe swarm caught up with me between Third and Fourth Periods. It seems that they didn’t get the memo saying that I wasn’t the Designated Victim anymore. I’d been so used to using that stupid Fool’s Cap to detect them, that I sort of forgot to avoid certain halls.

But, just before Cole and his buddies jumped me, I got a pager message saying ‘R U OK? DAN SED THAT GRIFF MESSED U UP. SODA FOUNTAINBLEU. 4. I’M BUYING. JAZZ.’ At least somebody cares.

After school, I didn’t want it to seem that Griff’s --- what do you call it? You couldn’t really call it an attack. More like a catastrophic brain fart, aggravated by testosterone – behavior, had me cringing at home, too afraid to show my face. Besides, Jazz was buying – how often does that happen? So, I grabbed my best ‘I’m looking for a new boyfriend’ outfit, spelled myself up as ‘Jordan’, and went downtown. Or as downtown as Millbridge gets.

Sure enough, Jazz was waiting for me, a look of worry on her face. When she saw me, she rushed up and wrapped herself around me in a tight hug. She seems to be doing that a lot these days. “Oh! Jordan, honey! Are you okay? What did that asshole Griff DO to you?”

“Oh, well, y’see, he got a little pushy-”

Jazz interrupted me. “Dan popped Griff on the nose and said that he’d tried to rape you or something!”

“RAPE? Good Lord, no, not Rape. Well, a Radical Feminist might call it Rape, but then a Radical Feminist like Andrea Dworkin would say that that guy looking at us is raping us. No, no it wasn’t rape. He went too far, too fast, but I wouldn-”

Then Paris, Della and Marcie were there, asking a blizzard of questions and offering soothing consolations. I tried to tell them that it hadn’t been that bad, when Lex and Stew showed up, making loud apologies for Griff, themselves, and their gender in general. Finally, I had to whistle them all down. “PLEASE. Listen to me. Griff went a little too far, a little too fast, but it wasn’t that bad. He did _not_ rape me, or even try to rape me. What happened was-” I spelled it out for them. “Then he opened his fly and brought out his <ahem!> ‘thing’. That’s when I split.”

Paris looked a little flummoxed. “But Dan said-”

“Paris, do you think that you’re the only girl around here who has over-protective relatives?”

“But I thought that you and Dan hated each others’ guts!”

“I never said that. It’s complicated.”

Jazz gave me a hard look. “Y’know, one of these days, I am going to get a straight answer from one of you two.”

“Good Luck!” I answered chipperly. “Now, you said that you were buying?”

Jazz looked around her at the suddenly hungry faces all around. She sighed, nodded and slouched into the Soda Fountainbleu. The rest of us followed her in, and made a concentrated assault on the Soda Fountainbleu’s resources, and Jazz’s purse.

As I tucked into a Strawberry/Raspberry/Fudge Onslaught, Lex said, “Okay, so it wasn’t quite as bad as Dan made it seem, but still, Griff was WAY over the line.” From there, the boys tried, in Teenage Boy version of subtlety, to let the girls know that while they’d simply love to try what Griff had, that they wouldn’t be anywhere near as crude about it. And the girls let the boys know, in the far superior form of Teenage Girl subtlety, that they weren’t completely disgusted by the prospect, as long as they went about it in a more leisurely and considerate rate.

“Still,” Stew went on, “I don’t know what’s the matter with Griff recently. He’s being such an ASSHOLE! I mean, first what he did to you, Jordan, and then he goes around school picking fights and getting in trouble with the teachers and-.”

“Griff’s having problems?” I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about that.

“Yeah, I mean he’s had such an attitude recently! I think that maybe he picked it up from Jay Dee.”

“Oh, I dunno about that - JayDee seemed to be acting pretty cool yesterday.”

“Yeah. Maybe it’s like the only way to get rid of a bad attitude is to give it to someone else, like a cold.”

“By the way,” I said, looking around, “where IS Mister Hip-Hop?”

“No!” Jazz yipped. “Do NOT start up on trying to get me together with him again!”

“Okay, okay, it was a BAD idea, I accept that. I’m just asking.”

“Oh, and speaking of attitudes,” Lex steered us off that topic, “where did Cousin Dan get HIS attitude from? I mean, when he popped Griff, he was coming across with some major Terminator vibes!”

“Yeah!” Marcie piped up, “Who’d’a thunk that such scrawny little guy could be so macho?”

“_I_ would,” Jazz said smugly. “You shoulda seen him when he was facing down your buddy JayDee at the Mall! Well, my Daddy always said that it was the small, quiet ones that you gotta look out for.”

All things considered, it was a nice afternoon. When the parfait party broke up, Jazz walked me back to where my bike was chained up. We were doing the stream-of-consciousness girl-talk thing, when I heard, “Jordan! Hey, Jordan!”

Coming across the green at a half-trot was Griff. Jazz bristled. “Why that-”

“Chill out, girlfriend,” I said calmly. “I don’t want him to think that I’m afraid of him.”

Griff trotted up to us, hands held out. He looked like he’d been through a battle. “Before you say anything, I just want to say that I’m sorry, I’m really sorry! I know that what I did was really stupid-”

“Oh, you’re telling Me?”

“It’s just that I’ve never done anything like that before-”

“Oh, I’m supposed to be flattered that I’m the first of your victims?”

“Jordan, I’ve never done anything like that before! I mean, I never done ANYTHING like that before! I wanted to - I mean, I thought that - well, it sounded like a good idea when I read it in Penthouse Forum.”

Penthouse Forum? You mean you read that wrapping my hand around your dinky was supposed to be a _fun thing_?”

He smiled weakly. “Ahh--- somethin’ like that. It sounded a lot more convincing in the magazine.”

“You mean that you dragged me out to the worst place in the Berkshires and attacked me because of something that you read in a Girlie Magazine?”

He nodded disconsolately. “If it means anything to you, Jordan, since I did that, everything’s gone wrong. Lex and Stew aren’t talking to me, JayDee’s giving me attitude, the girls treat me like a serial killer, my parents have grounded me-”

“Then what are you doing here?”

“I skipped out. I’ll probably be grounded for at least another week for it, but I had to get things right with you.”

“What happened to your eye?”

“I ran into Buck Washburn and his crew. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but since I didn’t have my boys with me---” He gestured at his swollen eye meaningfully. “As a matter of fact, I’ve run into him three times. And the vice-principal gave me detention for fighting. Of course, Buck and his buddies weren’t anywhere to be seen.”

Against my better judgement, I started to feel sorry for him. It sounded like he was going through what I did, back when the Fool’s Cap was stuck on my head.

The Fool’s Cap?

As Griff reeled off how miserable he was without me, I focused my Good Eye on his head. Yep, there it was, in all it’s revolting glory - the Fool’s Cap. So that’s where it went! I don’t know why it slipped off of my head and onto his. Yes, he was being a 24 karat asshole, but so had Cole Pesloe, Julia ‘I am Bitch, hear me roar’ Dunaway, and Buck Washburn, and it hadn’t come off then.

Okay, if there’s anything that I know, it’s that the Designated Victim needs all the help that he can get. So, I gave him a sweet smile. “Okay, okay. I forgive you.” I almost laughed out loud at the show of exaggerated relief on his face. Then I went stern again. “But I want you to know that I am NOT the kind of girlfriend who puts up with that kind of shit and says, ‘oh, he’s just misunderstood’. You pull that crap again, and I will see to it that Dan jumps up and down on your head so hard that your brains will come squeezing out of your ears!”

He looked at me funny. “Does that mean that I’ll have to ask your permission before I kiss the back of your hand?”

“Hey, let’s not get crazy.” I stepped in closer. “Just remember that I’m a part of this, too? Think about how I’m going to react, hey? Oh, and there’s one thing that I’m absolutely going to have to insist on.”

“Whatever you want!”

“Burn that copy of Penthouse Forum.”

“It’s already ashes.” I came in even closer and gave him a kiss.

            Oh, yeah…the old electricity was still here! As he wrapped his arms around me, I plucked a hair from his head. “OW!”

I pulled away and grinned evilly. “You can consider that your punishment, instead of knocking out a tooth.”

“I consider myself spared of the loss of a tooth. I hate to leave right at this point, but I _am_ running out on a grounding.”

I sent him off with a grin. Jazz strolled over to me, arms crossed, a totally unamused expression on her lovely face. “You let him off WAY too easy, Babe.”

<sigh> “Yeah, I know. But hey - if women gave up on men every time the guys did something stupid, the human race would have died out in the Neolithic Period.”

“There IS that.”

*****

Once I got home, I snuck out my collection of photographs of me as Jordan. Y’know, I still don’t understand how I can take a photograph while I’m spelled up. I found one of Griff by himself. I clipped a small triangular ‘hat’ out of paper, and wrote ‘Fool’ on it. I pasted the hair that I’d plucked straight from Griff’s head onto the photograph so that it ran the length of the picture, and laid the little ‘fool’s cap’ on top of that, making the picture look like he was wearing a conical dunce cap. I took a deep breath and found the sorcery thread that bound me and Griff together.

Wise Ones, Blessed and Bright, guide my hand! I know that sorcery isn’t my best Discipline, but this is for Griff!

I took a pair of scissors and carefully cut the photo in two, so that the ‘fool’s cap’ was no longer on Griff’s head, and severing the hair.

Now, I know what you’re thinking - if it’s this simple, why didn’t she do it to herself, months ago?

Well, first of all, casting a spell like that on yourself is really hard. It’s like trying to brush your hair in the back of your head so that it’s just right.

Second, there’s a possibility that the Fool’s Cap just needs a little shove. After all, he goes to Tolbathy, and the Fool’s Cap isn’t really a part of Tolbathy lore, it belongs to Horace Mann and the High School. Which does have a name. I think.

And last, I’m not really sure that this will remove the Fool’s Cap, I’m just winging it.

Wise Ones, Blessed and Bright, I hope this doesn’t cause his hair to fall out!

The next day was blessedly Fool’s Cap free, which has its up side and its down side. On one hand, I’m still free of the damn thing; on the other, it might mean that my spell didn’t work And Griff as two weeks at least on his grounding, before I can find out! But maybe if the Fool’s Cap has moved on, and the gang knows that Griff didn’t make THAT big an ass out of himself, then Lex and Stew will be back on speaking terms with him. And they can tell me if he’s still on Luck’s shit list.

But the drama had already moved on. When I got spelled up and over to the shopping district, I spotted the Paris-ettes, all chattering away at each other. “Hey, Guys! What’s the buzz?”

“Oh, it’s the WORST! Paris’ father found out about her and Lex! And Lex got in a big fight with about a hundred guys, all by himself, and they’re talking about expelling him!”

“Man, what IS it with the guys? Is there some kind of Bad Luck germ going around?”

Oh God, I’m a carrier! “Has anyone heard anything about Griff?”

“Why would you care what happens to him?”

“Hey, he said that he’s sorry and banged his head on the ground three times. I told him that if he ever did it again that he was sushi, and forgave him. But if Lex is getting shit, what do you want to bet that Griff is right next to him, getting splattered?”

“Griff doesn’t deserve you, Jordan.”

“I know that. But what?”

“Sorry, haven’t heard anything.”

SHIT! This could mean that my spell worked, and the Fool’s Cap moved on to poor Lex, and Paris is catching collateral damage. Or, it could mean that it didn’t work, and Lex was being a right guy and standing by Griff. And as for Paris, well, she’s been playing it fast and loose for a while, so it was bound to happen eventually, Fool’s Cap or no Fool’s Cap.

I wonder if I could sell the secret of the Fool’s Cap to the Pentagon? Can you imagine what it would do to Osama Bin Laiden?

My string of luck ended Thursday, as I was helping with dinner. Mom gave me a long hard look. “Dan?”

“Yeah?” I asked, rather irritated that she would start asking questions while I was peeling carrots.

“What happened to the Fool’s Cap? I haven’t heard you complain about anything all week, and I don’t see any sign of it!”

“Da- darn good question, Mom! It went away for some reason, and it planted itself on the head of one of my new friends.”

“These are the new friends who don’t go to Horace Mann, right?”

“Right.”

“But I thought that the Fool’s Cap was a Horace Mann thing.”

“Hey, you’d know better than I would! Anyway, after it totally fu- fouled up HIS life, it went on to his best bud, who now it up to his neck in sh- stuff.”

Mom chewed on it for a while. “It sounds like an uncontrolled sorcery thread interaction. The Fool’s Cap seems to be looking for a suitable host, going from one person to another who are bound by sorcery threads.”

“But why did it come off in the first place? I always thought that once that thing was on your head, it was there until you weren’t going to school in Millbridge!”

“So did I. But you must have done something that changed your definition somehow. For some reason, you didn’t fit the Fool’s Cap’s requirements for habitation, so it moved on to greener pastures. Can you think of anything that you did or that happened that might account for that?"

<nnrrggg...> How do I phrase this so that I don’t blow my cover, but I also don’t screw myself over by lying? “Ah, well, I have been hanging out with a new crowd. I’m not what you’d call a ‘Horace Mann’ kid anymore, really. Besides, this is my last year there.”

“Iffy. And the Fool’s Cap has followed kids from Horace Mann to Beddoes before.” Beddoes, right, THAT’S the High School’s name. I knew that I’d remember it eventually. “Anything else?”

“Ah, well, we DID go out to Hobb’s Woods.”

Mom dropped her knife. “_Hobb’s Woods_? You went out to Hobb’s Woods? What were you thinking?”

“Hey, I didn’t know that we were going out there until we showed up!”

“The Lurker didn’t get a whiff of you, did he?”

“Ah, yeah, I think that it did. I even saw it.”

“You SAW the Lurker in Hobb’s Woods?”

“I only saw it for a second!”

“That’s all that you ever get! What did you do then?”

“What do you think I did? I ran like Hell!”

Mom almost impaled herself on my peeling knife giving me a crushing hug. “Thank the Lord and Lady!” She pulled back and gave me another searching glare. “I don’t see any devil’s marks on you, so you must have gotten out clean, somehow.”

“I - got - out---clean--- THAT’S IT!”

“What?”

“The Lurker! It tried to put its mark on me, but the Fool’s Cap got in the way! The Lurker tried to pull the Cap off, but I was gone before it could do anything! And since Griff is both too old and not a witch, the Lurker didn’t want him! So, the Lurker drops the Cap, and goes off looking for someone else to chow down on, and the Cap puts itself on Griff’s head!”

Mom nodded. “And since this ‘Griff’ isn’t a Horace Mann kid, it didn’t latch onto him completely. So it’s floating around, trying to get its hooks into someone that it can get a grip on.” She turned a maternal glare on me. “Dan, I don’t want you hanging out with those boys.”

Mooommm!”

“Don’t you ‘Mooommm!’ ME, young man! Now that you’re FINALLY out from under that stupid Fool’s Cap, maybe that bitch Sorensen will stop trying to use you as a weapon against me.”

“But they’re my friends! I only managed to survive all that because I could go hang out with them! I gotta do something to help them!”

“You can just wait until the Fool’s Cap finally manages to find its way back to Horace Mann. Then, it will be safe.”

“That could be months! And the Wise Ones alone know how much damage it will do in the mean time!”

Mom looked at me quizzically. Okay, I admit, doing the hard thing, even if it’s the right thing isn’t my style -- but we’re talking about GRIFF here! I thought at Warp Ten. “What if I offer the Fool’s Cap the perfect person for it to wear?”

Mom folded her arms across her apron. “And that would be?”

“Well, I was thinking about maybe Cole Pesloe.”

“Cole Pesloe. Wouldn’t he be one of Arnold Pesole’s boys?”

“Yeah, he’s Ryan Pesloe’s older brother.” Ryan Pesloe, following in his big brother’s footsteps, had been doing a good job of making Trey’s life miserable over in the Grade school part of Horace Mann.

Mom chewed it over for a bit. “Well, it does have the merit of possibly teaching that little thug something about compassion for the oppressed. We’ll get to work after dinner.”

It was a really nice change, working with Mom for once. We worked out a rather nice spell, using Lex’s Champions character sheet, and one that I created for Cole. As part of the character sheet, I added the Disadvantage: ‘Fool’s Cap, Greatly Limiting, All the time, 40 points.’ At the very bottom of Cole’s sheet was a strip with a minor hex written in lemon juice. We cut that strip off after enchanting the whole sheet. Now, first we had to get Lex to willingly take his character sheet from my hand when we gamed together on Friday night, and then I’d slip that hex strip to Cole in a way that he wouldn’t pick up on. And then Mom would pull something to finger Cole as a weenie. *Bam!* Instant Designated Victim! And it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Mom sent me off with explicit instructions on how deal with Lex, so that I could slip him the hex without getting in range of the Fool’s Cap. Once Lex had the hex slip, the Cap would be tangled up in the spell, and I should be safe. But since the Cap seems to want to find a nice, suitable head, and the fool thing only came off because of that damn Lurker, I’m at risk. Dear Lady, what we do for our friends.

I showed up at the Ashbroom’s house promptly at 7. Paris met me at the door, her face all wreathed in smiles. “Dan! Great to see you! Come on in!” This was not how I was expecting her to act.

“Ah—is the game still on?”

“Oh, Sure! But there IS one little thing.”

“Oh?” Worry began to set in. “And what is that?”

She grabbed me by the arm and dragged me, as only a girl who’s absolutely convinced that she’s gorgeous can, into the Living Room. Lex, Stew, Della and Griff were there. “Okay, our Gee-Em is here. Griff, you have something to say to Dan? Dan, I want you to just stand there and let Griff talk.”

Griff got up and made a Grade Ten abject apology, with assurances of no future repeats. I returned with apologies about the bop on the nose, and plead ‘family honor’. Then I asked, “But I was under the impression that you were grounded for at least a couple of weeks! What happened?”

Griff plopped down next to Lex and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “M’man Lex here got up in Hohnser’s face and told him that I got jumped! He made such a ruckus that Hohnser had to ask real questions instead of just throwing the book at me! All charges were dropped.” He turned to Lex. “Have you given any thought to a career in the Law?”

Paris settled down on Lex’s other side. “He’s the next Perry Mason, if he does!” She glowed up at me. “When Daddy said that I couldn’t see Lex anymore, Lex went over to Daddy’s office at the school and called him out about it!”

Lex shrugged. “Hey, it wasn’t all that hard. I just talked to him, and let him know that I was taking seeing you seriously, Paris. I just talked to him man-to-man, and showed him that I respected you, him, and myself.” Paris leaned over and kissed him. “That’s niiice.” He kissed her back. “BUT, I can’t take all the credit.”

“Oh?”

“Believe it or not, I owe it to Jay Dee.”

“Jay Dee?” I echoed hopefully. “You mean that he’s finally gotten his head out of his ass?”

“Looks like! Anyway, he told me that I had to face up to my problems and deal with them like a MAN.” Lex gave me a look. “So, you think that now that he’s gotten over all the ‘Gangsta’ crap, maybe we could bring him into the group? He was into RPGing, before he found The Original B.I.G.”

Weeell.. _I_ have no problems with it, but you really should ask Jazz when she gets here.”

“Oh!” Della remembered something. “Jazz called me and let me know that she wouldn’t be coming.”

“Oh?” I did NOT like the way that this was going. “Did she say why?”

“Well, she did say that she was having problems with her parents. I think that they caught on that she hasn’t been spending as much time at the library as she was letting on.”

Stay cool, Winters, that doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it means. I checked Lex out with my Good Eye. Nope, the Fool’s Cap wasn’t there. But that doesn’t mean that it’s on Jazz’s head. I mean, how would it get there.

I’d describe at least a little of the game, but to be honest, I was so worried about Jazz that I wasn’t paying attention. The others noticed, and chalked it up to my not having Jazz to show off for.

I e-mailed and paged Jazz all day Saturday, but I didn’t get any responses. As ‘Jordan’, I scoured all the places where we hang out, but I couldn’t find her anywhere.

Sunday dragged along like it usually does, and even the thought of my game up at Kelling couldn’t cheer me up. I mean, Jazz is my friend! And maybe more.  I mean, that kiss has to mean something! But I can’t be in love with both Griff AND Jazz at the same time, can I? Is it possible that I just have very hot lips? Wise Ones, Blessed and Bright, when did my life become a soap opera? 

I pulled my stuff together and biked up to Kelling. There, sitting on the Student Union steps, looking very dejected, was Jazz. She was all huddled up, trying to tie herself into knots. “Jazz!” I ran up to her. “Are you okay? What happened Friday?” Not that I needed to be told - even without my Good Eye, I could see the Fool’s Cap, sitting there on her head, bearing down on her and trying to crush her down into the cement.

“Oh, Dan!” she sobbed. She threw herself into my arms and started crying. It seemed that things had been going horribly for her for days. At home, at school, even on the street, it seemed that everyone was angry at her for some reason. She pulled away and looked at me with teary eyes. “Dan, please tell me that you’re not mad at me. I don’t think that I could take that right now!”

Lord, Lady and Light, I can tell where this is going. <sigh> “No, Jazz, I’m not angry at you. By the way, did you run into that Jay Dee guy recently?”

“Ah, yeah, why? You don’t think that he’s been trash talking me, do you?”

So, that’s it. I gave it to Griff, who gave it to Lex, who gave it to Jay Dee, who gave it to Jazz. And I can’t ask Mom to make up another spell for Jazz; she’d pick up on the strong emotional charge. She hadn’t picked up anything when I was prepping the spell for Lex, because Lex is just a friend. But Jazz? No, she’d pick up on that in a New York City minute. If she finds out about Jazz, she’ll start nosing around and find out about my secret life

Oh well, it’s been almost exactly a week. Long enough for a refreshing vacation, but not long enough that my reflexes have been shot. Let’s face it, turning my back on Jazz would be tacky. I don’t do that to friends. Besides, with my luck, snubbing her would be just what the Fool’s Cap needs to jump from her noggin to mine. And then I’d still have the Fool’s Cap and no friend.

Taking a deep breath, I said, “No, I haven’t heard anything. I was just wondering.”

“You’re not mad at me?” she asked with all the painful fragility of a little girl.

“No, Jazz, I’m not mad.” Oh Well, The Gods hate a coward. “Jazz, don’t worry. You’ll always have at least one friend. I really care about you.”

And with that, I pulled her to me, and gave her a deep kiss.

Once again, there was that wonderful electricity, and something else. Yep, there it was - that familiar weight on my head. I was the Designated Victim again. Or at least I will be, once I get back to Morris Hann.

Jazz broke the kiss and smiled like a thousand suns. She didn’t know that she’d lost the Fool’s Cap, she just knew that someone cared and was making everything all better. She cooed and leaned in for some more sugar.

We were at it for a while when Mike, Euge and Booker walked up. “Hey, Break it up! This is a Student Union, not Inspiration Point!”

Mike made a noise about bringing girlfriends into an established game, and Euge made a few unfortunate suggestions.

Girlfriend or no girlfriend, I hope that Booker worked up a LOT of Orcs, ‘cause I wanna kill something!

 

End
Read 852 times Last modified on Monday, 27 June 2022 21:23

Recent Stories

Nonsense, Book 1 (Chapter 4)

Whateley Independent Fiction Aug 02, 2022 Hits: 248
Author: Mylian

A Strange Fairytale (Part 3)

Canon: Original Timeline Aug 02, 2022 Hits: 517
Author: Dan Formerly Domoviye

Nonsense, Book 1 (Chapter 3)

Whateley Independent Fiction Jul 29, 2022 Hits: 315
Author: Mylian

Nonsense, Book 1 (Chapter 2)

Whateley Independent Fiction Jul 26, 2022 Hits: 405
Author: Mylian

Bittersweet Tea

Library Jul 26, 2022 Hits: 601
Author: Bek D Corbin

Nonsense, Book 1 (Chapter 1)

Whateley Independent Fiction Jul 25, 2022 Hits: 525
Author: Mylian

The TLC War

Library Jul 19, 2022 Hits: 733
Author: Bek D Corbin

The Catch (Jordan Winters 7)

Library Jul 12, 2022 Hits: 780
Author: Bek D Corbin

Triptych, Part 3: Arabesque pour une Garrison Chinoise

Team picture
Canon: Second Generation Jul 11, 2022 Hits: 2094
Author: null0trooper

Beginnings: A Tink Anthology

Canon: Original Timeline Jul 05, 2022 Hits: 1157
Author: Dan Formerly Domoviye

Out of the Woods (Jordan Winters 6)

Library Jul 05, 2022 Hits: 725
Author: Bek D Corbin

Triptych, Part 2: Count Zero Concerto

Colombine
Canon: Second Generation Jun 27, 2022 Hits: 2404
Author: null0trooper

The Last Freak Show

Canon: Second Generation Jun 21, 2022 Hits: 1334
Author: Dan Formerly Domoviye

Glamour Girl (Jordan Winters 4)

Library Jun 21, 2022 Hits: 1039
Author: Bek D Corbin

Triptych, Part 1: Solo Bransle for A Minor

Benjamin X. Keeling
Canon: Second Generation Jun 13, 2022 Hits: 2858
Author: null0trooper

Regret

Canon: Second Generation Jun 07, 2022 Hits: 1789
Author: Dan Formerly Domoviye

Add comment

Submit