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Undetermined Actions

by Ryder Miller

Charles Strom walked into the break room at work with a handful of mail. He often tried to get some personal work done at work, because the job was not that demanding. He was a phone pro, calling people to get information and often he would have to wait for people on the other line and could use that time to read some of his letters. But today the morning was busy and there were new employees so the supervisors would give him a hard time if he looked through his mail at his desk. He would lose that battle. How simple his heroic struggles had become in the real world. He could only struggle to make his life and working conditions easier.

He was at this temporary job longer than he wished, but it was his fault because he hadn't found other work. But at least he was employed. He had also met a number of interesting people at the job. There was a high turnover and always new people stopping to work for a couple of weeks.

Strom decided to sit at the big table, even though the room was empty accept for the person sitting at it. He had not seen him enter the office this morning, but sat across from him rather than at one of the small tables.

"Good morning," Strom said non committed, trying to communicate that he was not interested in talking to the long haired man who sat at the table. He was unusually dressed in a foreign robe with odd designs. Strom could see pentacles and triangles. He had seen more unusual people in this city. There were transvestites and cross dressers who occasionally worked at the office.

The man gave him an annoyed look and said,"I have had better mornings."

"In between jobs," said Strom as he fingered through the pile of mail.

"Lets say my regular gig may be on hold for a while," said the man.

"And what do you normally do," said Strom.

"I am a wizard," said the man.

"A wizard at what? Can you show me a magic trick," said Strom.

"No, I am a wizard, it is much more involved and the cost that I must brunt is much too high today. I am not here to amuse you," said the man.

Strom gave him a closer look and saw there were ornaments drawn onto his robe and he was wearing crystals around his neck. One was translucent green. When he looked closely he could see the rock was shining.

"What is your name?" asked Strom.

"You couldn't pronounce it in human languages, your language is too primitive." he replied annoyed.

Strom thought what the hell, who knows what is really real. He had read some fantasy books when he was younger and even played Dungeons and Dragons. There were witches and warlocks in town. People in other parts of the world put the magic people on pedestals where they were known as wisemen and sages. In this country they were just considered crazy. He would have other times to talk with this man and today he was obviously not in a good mood.

"I am sorry sir, I would like to talk some more, but you don't seem like you are in the mood for it and I have a little work to do," said Strom.

The man who said he was a wizard looked at him with piercing blue eyes, there was distaste on his face. He stood up from the table and said,"Bills to deal with? We will talk again."

What an asshole, Strom thought. Probably a bullshit artist wizard or just crazy he added in his mind.

When he had left Strom began to finger his way through the months mail. He immediately divided it into small piles: non profits asking for money, bills he had to respond to immediately, and odds and ends. How he got on all these lists he didn't know. He threw the non profit solicitations in the garbage. He wouldn't have money for them this month.

Looking through the bills he opened the gas and electric and the phone bill to see how much they were. Not bad he thought after looking over the charges. He had less to pay during the summer months because he did not have to heat his apartment nor did he make many phone calls during the summer.

In the pile of bills was the Fantasy and Science Fiction Book Club monthly mailing. Using a pen he opened it at the top. He was tired of this company and would like to end the membership but he had a few more books to buy. They would send him letters every month and if he didn't reply they would send him the books whether or not he asked for them. Since he only checked his mail once a month he often got the books sent to him and then he would have to send them back in the mail.

This time included with the rest of the normal things that came (the extra advertisements and the books of the month) was a personal letter from the president reminding him that he had not paid his bill for last month again. He got this letter every month because they would have already sent him the feature book and he would have sent it back already, but they did not process that he had sent it back yet. This month like last month they requested that if he did not want the books that he should send in the slip to save the company the expense and him the trouble. But this month in the form letter the president apologized for having to take "undetermined actions."

What are they going to do, send me to another planet? Strom wasn't worried, and he liked costing the company money. They had really gypped him in a way. Yes he got a few books for free, but he thought maybe he could recapture some of his youth. He ordered mostly science fiction instead of the fantasy he liked to read when he was younger, and now he had to watch the mail every month and get the slips back in the mail on time. He didn't get them in on time, but it would be less trouble if he did.

Some of the Fantasy titles seemed so silly now, almost campy. Looking through the brochure for the month he saw the newest book of "The Avenging Trio Saga". The brochure described a wizard, a warrior, and a thief on an adventure to return the slave kingdoms back into the hands of the free and the brave. What a bunch of crap he thought. When was there ever free and brave people.

He preferred science fiction these days, but he remembered when he was younger playing Dungeons and Dragons. He would get together with a bunch of friends and they would go on imaginary adventures. He often would play warriors, but there would be others with other professions in the party of adventures.

But he was beyond that and even a little bit embarrassed by those things now. Looking through the odds and ends he found a few letters which he would reader later. One was from Bradley who he played Dungeons and Dragons with the gang. When his break was over he made his way back to the big room to sit at his desk.

He looked over the booths for the "wizard" but he could not find him. How strange he thought, maybe he decided the job was not for him and he left already.

Strom happened upon an almost empty bus on the way home. He took two seats so he could stretch out his legs and he began to read the letter he got from Bradly this month. Bradly was fun to play Dungeons and Dragons with many years ago, but he was presently not doing that well. He found it hard to hold down a job and would often get into tussles with his bosses. The heroic impulse could become misdirected. One would strive for power and control, but one could get confused and lost Bradly wrote. He didn't like the for profit sector nor did he like how he was treated in the non profit sector. He didn't have the money to start his own business so he had just been getting by on odd jobs for awhile. Bradly waxed in his letter how it was hard to be a man these days. How it was hard to be a hero. He also relayed some information about their old gamemaster who never wrote the book they hoped he would write.

We all owe him, all us role players he thought, mostly good things. But he was off somewhere having fun in some beautiful town. The gang was not prepared for the real world and most turned out to be failed hero's.

They are not looking for hero's at work, that was not what was required thought Strom before he was disturbed by the man who sat down in the paired chairs in front of him.

Sitting before him was the "wizard" that he had met at work. He had an annoyed look on his face.

"We have unfinished business." he said.

Strom was startled, but quickly regained his composure.

"What do you mean unfinished business?" Strom demanded.

"We need to talk," said the wizard.

"I don't have to talk with you," said Strom and he stood up in the bus and walked towards the door.

He kept an eye on the wizard who sat in the chair smiling. The wizard did not get up to follow him to the exit and Strom decided to get off the bus in a different part of town from where he lived, so the wizard would not know where he lived.

"You can't escape this," said the wizard smiling, as he watched him walk out the door.

Strom watched as the bus went down the street, then he turned to walk down another street quickly trying to make up the time he was losing not taking the bus all the way home. He was about half a mile from home and if he made good time he would be there in fifteen minutes. From there he would call the office to find out who the wizard was and then call the police.

He walked the streets quickly weaving between the people on his way. On his way he walked past the Gaming Store and then the Comic Book store. He didn't shop at these stores anymore.

Walking past his favorite cafe at the corner of his block he saw the wizard sitting at a table by the window. He was smiling and he waved, but Strom acted like he didn't see him. Strom walked nervously strait down the street making a detour around the block on his way to the apartment building.

Strom found the keys to the apartment building quickly but as he was closing the door he felt a tug on the door. The wizard stood in the doorway with a large barbarian man who had his hand on the door.

"Not to worry Strom, but this is unavoidable. This is my friend Bron," the wizard said.

Bron was a foot taller than both of them. His shirt was open and their was hair on his muscular chest. When Strom looked closely he saw that the fabric was primitive or foreign. He definitely didn't buy his clothes at Mervyn's.

Strom struggle with the door, but he could not move it while it was within Bron's grip.

"I don't want to have anything to do with you," said Strom.

"We have business to attend to and then we will go," said the wizard.

Strom turned and ran up the stairs. Behind the lock doors of his apartment he could call the police and grab his knives to stab them if he needed to. If he needed to he could climb down the fire escape to get away.

He stumbled once on his way up the stairs but he got to the door first with some time to spare. He opened the door quickly and made it to the kitchen where he grabbed a large knife and the phone before he heard the loud knock on the door.

There was laughter and then the yell of a deep voice.

"Let us in or I will break the door down."

It must be Bron he thought as he turned the phone to look at the key pad, but he decided it was too late to call. He heard a terrible sound as the door splintered as it was broken open.

The apartment was dark and the light from the doorway shined into the room. Bron stood at the entrance way blocking most of the light coming through the hallway door, his large frame just managing to make it through the door.

"Do we have him," said the wizard.

"Yes, Snade is on the roof guarding the fire escape, if he goes through the windows" bellowed Bron.

They looked through the dark apartment and saw Strom in the corner with a knife and a phone in his hand.

"There is nothing you can do but hear us out at this point," said the wizard.

"But who are you?" said Strom.

"Why I am the nameless wizard, you couldn't pronounce my name in your language, you could have read tales about me in the books you no longer buy. And this is Bron, a warrior from the North," said the wizard.

"We are of The Avenging Trio, I am a dragon slayer and control most of the North Country," said Bron.

"You are fantasy book characters, aren't you?" said Strom.

"Yes, we are from a different world, but we are here to talk with you," said the wizard.

"You just want to talk some business and then your leaving, right," said Strom nervously.

"Yes, and don't annoy us," said Bron as he went to the window and knocked on it.

"What are you doing?" said Strom.

"Why I am letting my friend in," said Bron as he opened the window.

A man dressed in black climbed through the window. His clothes were so grey that Strom couldn't see him clearly in the darkened apartment.

"Who is that? Who are you?" said Strom to Bron and then the new man who stood there.

"Why I am Snade, a master recompensator, choose your personal descriptions of me carefully. We have unfinished business," he said.

"What kind of Dungeons and Dragons bullshit is this," said Strom.

"Oh it goes deeper and more ancient than that," said the wizard.

Snade took a step closer but made no sound in the process.

"You owe us for services rendered," he said.

"We were created for your entertainment and we need things to survive. Most people aren't caught, but you need to pay for the services rendered," said the wizard.

"Don't you see," explained Snade,"You need to pay the fees, our existence depends upon it. Without you we wouldn't exist."

Strom looked at the wizard and Snade like he was trying to not show that he thought he was crazy.

"You mean you are not a bunch of guys from the Village," said Strom.

"We are The Avenging Trio," said Bron again, angrilly.

Bron took a long sword out of his scabbard and it glowed in the light from the doorway. He looked like he could rip a whole through the ceiling.

"But I didn't hire you personally, how could I owe you money," said Strom.

"Nonetheless you need to pay your bill or we may personally suffer. Things are rough in the dream industry these days," said Snade.

Bron put the sword back in his scabbard and grabbed Strom by his arms and lifted him up into the air.

"What do I have to do with this," said Strom.

"Turn him into a toad," said Bron to the wizard.

"No turn him into a cockerroach," said Snade.

"Patience friends, you need to pay the dues Strom. You don't have to buy the books, but to cost the company money for no reason, you cannot do that. This is a warning," said the wizard.

Snade added, "You have benefitted from our services, just as there are hidden costs, there are also hidden rewards. You have to pay for those rewards. You didn't just receive paper and ink when you bought those books when you were a kid. There was art in them, there was beauty and mystery and adventure. Those were high time and you have to pay for them now. You can't just shrug it off as if it is dumb."

Interrupting the wizard said,"He doesn't have to buy the books Snade, he just needs to be a faithful member of the club. He needs to buy a few more books and he needs to get his slips in on time."

Bron put Strom back on the ground and Strom rubbed his bruised arms.

Turning to Strom the wizard continued,"We remind people of what heroism is, even if it can usually only exist in a fantasy world. When people pay attention we can exist. We were given life because of this industry, by the author, the great author, by people's attention. We exist because people help us exist. We would like you to buy the books, but you don't need to. You do have to return the slips on time. If you don't we will be back. We were sent to talk to you by the president of the book club."

"Alright, I'll look at the books. I'll send them back on time," said Strom.

"We also have a life to live and the Avenging Trio is not doing as well as we could be," said Bron walking towards the door.

"You can suggest for children to read these books. You also owe your old Dungeon Master something," said Shade.

"We have to leave, we have other people to talk to," said the nameless wizard.

The Avenging Trio closing the door behind sadly walked out into the night.

Copyright Ryder Miller 2005

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