fire breath mountain
(This is 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 girl!”
“I did not! I just got freaked out 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.
“So what’s next?” asked Danny.
Just then, Andy spotted a fenced-off section of the park, behind which stood a medieval castle under construction atop a grey man-made mountain.
“Wait a sec. What’s this?”
“Oh, that’s Fire Breath Mountain, a state-of-the-art virtual reality ride,” Danny offered. “It was supposed to open last year, but apparently there are technical glitches.”
“Let’s check it out! Look, there’s a gap in the fence over there.”
Jared shook his head. “No way, Andy. They’ll kick us out of the park for life!”
“Only if we get caught.”
“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 to adjust to the darkness. A hallway opened into an indoor courtyard, lined with a large arrangement of tall, ornate mirrors covered with cloth.
Andy pulled the cloth off the mirrors and stared at his reflection. Nothing special about this, he thought. But as he was shaking dust off his jeans, he noticed a control panel. Retreating from the mirror, he walked over and flipped a switch. Suddenly, the mirrors hummed to life, emanating a blue light that gave the walls of the castle a strange glow.
When he 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. “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 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… in your mind.”
Andy closed his eyes, and when he opened them, avatars 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 by a pack of direwolves, and 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 seemed like real fire, he managed to get to the princess’ dungeon and rescue her. And just as Moyog was about to incinerate them both, Andy’s double dove his battle axe in the beast’s brain. The dragon landed in front of them with a loud thud.
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. Would you like to go again?”
“Nah, my friends will kill me if I make them wait any longer.”
“Very well, then. Just touch the mirror to 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...”
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 staring 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 “Leveling you up, young knight. You found your way into the game. Now, you must find your way out.”
“No, wait! Please, I…”
The avatar turned off the power, 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, but recognized Jared and Danny sitting on a bench across the walkway.
Jared was livid. “Jeez, what took you so long? You were in there for fifteen minutes!”
“Sorry, guys, I just got really into it. The technology is incredible! It’s so realistic. Go see for yourselves!”
Danny was skeptical. “It’s that good? No glitches?”
The avatar grinned.
“None. Trust me!”