fire breath mountain
(This is the edited version of my entry for the third round of NYC Midnight's 2019 Flash Fiction Challenge. I had 48 hours to come up with a 1,000 word story based on their prompts: Fantasy, a construction site, and a mirror. As luck and timing would have it, I ended up having to write this story crammed into an airline seat on a plane between Dallas and Tokyo. Despite that, I thought it turned out well. However, I needed to finish in the top three in my group of 25 to advance to the fourth round. I finished... fourth. And I'm OK with that.)
“Jesus, Jared. You screamed like a little girl!”
“Shut up, Andy, I did not! I just freaked out a little on that last drop.”
With that, Andy Jenkowski and his friends Jared and Danny disembarked from Merlin’s Menace, the latest, greatest roller coaster at Camelot Landing Amusement Park, where the three had decided to play hooky from their jobs for a ‘mental health day’.
“So, what’s next?” asked Danny.
But Andy’s attention had already turned back to his phone, where he was engaged in an epic hunt for the newest creature to pop up on Quantum Quest, a new augmented reality game that Andy had been spending the better part of a year to master.
Jared rolled his eyes. “C’mon, dude, you’re almost 30. Maybe it’s time to live in the real world.”
Undeterred, Andy spun around with the phone in front of him until he spotted his prey.
“Shit! There’s a Grenarian Ghost here, but it’s behind this fence. It’s one of the most valuable creatures in the game!”
Jared and Danny looked up at the fenced-off section of the park, behind which stood a medieval castle under construction atop a brownish-grey man-made mountain.
Jared suddenly remembered seeing pictures of it on TV. “Wait a sec. Isn’t this that new ride that never got finished?”
“Yeah, that’s Fire Breath Mountain,” Danny offered, in his smart but slow southern drawl. “It was supposed to be a state-of-the-art virtual reality ride, but apparently there were technical glitches. They’re not sure if or when it’s ever gonna open.”
Andy’s eyes lit up. “Let’s check it out! Look, there’s a gap in the fence over there.”
“No way, Andy,” Jared replied, shaking his head. “They’ll kick us out of the park for life!”
“Only if we get caught.”
Danny sighed. “I’m gonna pass too. Probably not much to see.”
“Fine,” Andy sighed. “I’ll go in alone. losers!”
Andy climbed through the fence and toward the nearly-complete castle. The construction site was littered with abandoned tools and building materials, and Andy nearly twisted his ankle tripping over a sledgehammer. He found an entrance to the castle and crawled inside.
It took time for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. He held up his phone in search of his virtual quarry, which led him through a hallway that opened into an indoor courtyard, lined with a large circular arrangement of tall, ornate mirrors covered with cloth.
Andy pulled the cloth off one of the mirrors and stared at his reflection. Nothing special about this, he thought. Andy took off his ball cap to shake the dust out of his long brown hair and set down his phone to brush off his jeans and his grey Chuck Taylors. But as he bent down to pick his hat and phone up, he glanced back in the mirror and noticed a control panel in the dim light behind him. Retreating from the mirror, he walked over to the panel and flipped the breaker switch. Suddenly, the mirrors hummed to life, emanating a blue light that gave the walls of the castle a strange glow.
When Andy returned to the mirror, his reflection was now bearing the chain mail and armor of a medieval knight.
Then, it spoke to him.
“Please, good sir. We need your help! The evil King Frederick has kidnapped the princess and locked her in a dungeon guarded by his red dragon Moyog. Will you join us, and accept the challenge of Fire Breath Mountain?”
Andy was floored by how real his reflection appeared, and how impressive he looked in armor. “Whoa.”
“I’m sorry sir, I do not understand. Do you accept the challenge of Fire Breath Mountain?”
Andy regained his composure and answered. “Yes!”
The room filled with a blinding white light. When it subsided, Andy was dressed just like his reflection. But he was now standing with the avatar on the other side of the mirror! His cell phone and baseball cap remained on the castle side, among the discarded tools on the dusty cement floor.
“Do you battle alone, good sir?”
Andy was too stunned to speak.
“What? Oh, yeah, I guess so. I’ve got two friends with me at the park, but they were big wussies and didn’t want to check this out.”
“I see. If you’d like, you can imagine that they’re here.”
“Just picture them here, brave knight… in your mind.”
Andy closed his eyes, and when he opened them, two more knights in the spitting images of Jared and Danny were there. Andy was amazed.
“We must go now,” Andy’s doppelganger barked. “Follow me. Trust me!”
The army of four spent what seemed like hours winding through virtual hills, canyons and caves, fighting demons, trolls, and other assorted villains. Danny’s character was killed and eaten after a brave battle with a pack of direwolves, but Jared’s ran away when faced with a giant ogre. At one point, Andy nearly fell off a cliff. It felt weird to be rescued by a virtual version of himself, but it absolutely felt real.
The two Andys finally reached the dragon’s hideout.
“We’ll have to split up,” the avatar said. “You go rescue the princess, and when the dragon turns its attention to you, I’ll run up from behind and kill it with my enchanted battle ax.”
“Wait. So I’ll be the one in the line of fire?”
Andy followed the plan. Despite a few close calls with what felt like the extreme heat of real fire, he managed to get to the princess’ dungeon and burst his way through the heavy wooden door. He was shocked at how much the princess bore a resemblance to Emily in accounting, a co-worker Andy had been working up the nerve to ask out.
Andy took the princess in his arms and led her out of the dungeon. And just as Moyog was about to incinerate them both, Andy’s double drove his battle axe in the beast’s brain. The dragon landed in front of them with a loud thud. The princess rewarded Andy with a long, romantic kiss.
Instantly, blinding light filled the room again. When it was gone, Andy and his avatar stood alone on the virtual reality side of the mirror.
“Congratulations, young knight. You have survived Fire Breath Mountain and rescued the princess! Would you like to go again?”
“Oh, man, I’d love to, but my friends would kill me if I made them wait any longer.”
“Very well, then. Just touch the mirror and return to the castle.”
Andy shook his character’s hand “This was amazing! I can’t believe they haven’t opened this up yet. It’s perfect! Maybe just a little too easy, but what a rush!”
Andy reached out for the mirror. But just as he touched it, his avatar shoved him away from the reflection. When the lights brightened and dimmed again, Andy was still on the mountain side of the mirror. His avatar stood grinning back at him from the castle, dressed in Andy’s street clothes.
“What are you doing?”
The double chuckled as he walked toward the control panel “I guess you could say I’m leveling you up, young knight. You found your way into the game. Now, try to find your way out. Good luck!”
“No, wait! Please, dude, I…”
The avatar flipped the breaker, instantly relegating Andy Jenkowski and his thoughts, experiences and memories to a series of ones and zeroes on a computer hard drive.
The avatar placed the cloth back over the mirror. Picking up Andy’s cap and cell phone, he made his way out into the crowded park, and recognized Jared and Danny sitting on a bench across the walkway.
Jared was livid. “Dammit, dude, what took you so long? You were in there for like fifteen minutes!”
“Sorry, guys, I just really got into it. The VR technology is incredible! It’s so realistic. Go see for yourselves!”
Danny was skeptical. “It’s that good? No glitches?”
Andy’s imposter grinned.
“None. Trust me!”