And I bow as I step onto the dance floor, and the strings strain, and the bodies around us move. Bodies of abusers and saviors. Rose dances with Olsen, Destiny with Tiger. The music plays, we all twirl, and I take each of the next stories out onto the floor. The waltz is the most proper. The waltz has the arms wide, the circle, the spinning. The waltz doesn’t pull in close and breathe in the ear like I do with my wife. The waltz doesn’t get “tangled up and tango on.” The waltz holds back. It looks into the eye, holds at a distance, and the waltz appraises. The waltz appreciates.
There’s a scream across the battlefield as a hundred thousand warriors of bullies and abusers roar hatred in my direction. The Round Table lines up behind me. They bang sword on shield. You are about to read about the women standing along my side. They form the front ranks now. And when the horns blow and I collide with my abusers, it will be The Shieldmaidens waltzing with my enemies and dancing beside me as the blood and the hate flies.
I introduce you now to the women of my life and my past. I introduce you now to The Shieldmaidens.
“No, I don’t want to eat dinner with Jesse Teller. Be Crow for me. Let Crow out. I want to see him. Just let me spend some time with him.” Shy gazed at Shadow across the table of the very fancy restaurant she had brought us to. “Please.” Her tone was warm and desperate. Her eyes hungry for a meal, but not any that would be served at this place, and not for me.
I need to show you how we got here. I need to let you see how a perfectly sane woman in a strong, firm, loving relationship lost her mind and her heart to a character that didn’t even exist.
As the Degenerates began to ramp up and the addiction became deeper, bone deep, I looked around and knew I needed to escape this place. I needed to find a way into college and I needed out of Waynesville. This was long before Bravo and Ty would verbally assault me for my sedentary life. This was when we all lived at Heart’s house and the party would not end, when no one wanted to go home and we were all addicts who wanted “one more.”
Basic was going to college in Denver and his parents didn’t want him to go alone. He came from money and they said that they would pay for the apartment, the travel money, the food and everything else if he wanted to take a friend. He proposed the idea to me and I jumped at it.
I remember the last day I lived with Heart. Everyone showed up except Harvard. He was still failing out of SMSU and would not pack it up and come home for a few more months. But Walleye was there. Jammy and Heart. Basic stood by the U-Haul smoking cigarettes and waiting for the crying to stop as they all said goodbye to me.
There is a last picture. I think they made Katty take it. All of us are leaning against the U-Haul and this is moments before we climb into the Jeep Comanche and pull off. Heart has her arm around my shoulders. Walleye is crouched on the ground. Jammy huddled near me and Basic is smoking a cigarette with his shade glasses on, holding his hand at his thigh flipping the bird.
The drive was insane. I may have already told about it. At this point, and in this book I am writing stories in all the sections at once. I just wrote a chapter called The Swashbuckler from the Bards and Scribes section and will go back up to The Round Table tonight to write about D. But for now, I am here. I do not know if I will have the time to tell about the adventures out to Denver, but I hope I do. It is a story worth telling.
We got out to the apartment and it was tiny. No bedrooms. Small kitchen, a walk-through closet that led to the bathroom and a medium-sized living room. We divided the living room in half with my bookshelves and made a bedroom for Basic. I laid my mattress in the closet that led to the bathroom and we had it figured out. No job, but we needed money for random crap, so we got temp work.
Odd thing, temp work. You never know what kind of day you are going to have. We went to a packaging plant, packing boxes of some such thing. Basic was working the shrink wrap machine by the end of the day. We worked at a nightmare shop.
There were shelves and shelves of tiny boxes, each numbered with a three-number code with a few letters thrown in and a few more numbers. These are sheets for folders that pilots need for flight plans into cities. They are very thin, tissue paper thin. They have odd lines, stranger angles, indecipherable symbols, and this is a pilot’s blueprint of an airport. They don’t have the right blueprint for the right airport, people could die. Getting the right pages was life and death.
Nice job for a dyslexic, huh!
The boxes that held them were small and filled with stacks of hundreds of these sheets. Now it was very important that the wrong sheet did not end up in the wrong box. So the rule was, if you pulled two sheets on accident or purpose, you had to let the extras fall to the floor and ignore them.
Soon we are walking a carpet of slick paper with a list of letters and numbers and a file full of tissue paper flight plans. It was a nightmare for us, because we are dyslexic and as we walked through the littered papers, Artist made shapes with the dropped pages, often bringing up monsters made of paper mache that took many forms. They all swatted arms at me and I kept walking. Tried ignoring the swinging arms and kept staring at numbers and letters that swam in my head.
Well Basic and I both played DnD, and we played a few games but got bored pretty easily. He was not that great a player. That is not fair, but it is a bit. See it takes a different kind of player to play a game run by Artist. Most gamers are prepared for a simple game of DnD, mostly numbers and maps with a bit of storytelling. Most Dungeon Masters run games from modules with prepackaged plots and characters. Artist’s games tended to be character based with hot running emotions and a lot of roleplaying. There were so many screaming matches and times when role players would break down in tears. I even threw a chair at a player last year in a particularly intense scene. I was never going to hit him, but I got the desired effect.
What I needed in Denver was a better gaming group, and back then, if you were new in town, you had one option.
We went to gaming shops, hobby shops where we would find rule books and dice, and we checked the bulletin board. Players would leave cards with contact information and DMs would put up cards with how many players they were looking for and a number to call. We found a card and we brought that number home. They were looking for a DM, and I called the guy and got an answering machine.
“Yeah I’m looking for Gazer. Look, my name is Jesse Teller and I am a DM. I got your number off a board in a hobby shop, and I was wondering if you ever found that DM and if you wanted to get together and see if we are a good match. Get back to me when you can. Hope to hear from you.”
Well it was a week before we heard back. Him and his roommate Shy had met a lot of shitty DMs through that card, and they had meant for over a year to take it down. They were very careful about who they played with because they had bad luck, but he would like to come over just to hang out and see if we matched up, okay? I invited him and he showed up.
We exchanged a few stories, then when he realized I was not a mess, we made a character. We played a game that I was not satisfied with, but he seemed to get into, and he shook my hand at the door and promised that he would be calling me back. One hour later he did.
“Yeah, well I told Shy about the game and she is pretty excited. She likes what you do, I like what you do, and we wanted to know when you could come over and we could run something.” I heard someone yell something in the back and he laughed. “She said she would cook.”
When I got there, I was told we were waiting for one more person. They said he was the very best player they knew and he was interested in my gaming style. Said that he had run an arrogant paladin, and they laughed and exchanged stories of this legendary character for about a half an hour. When he arrived at the apartment, I knew they were full of shit.
He was tall. Wore a tank top and basketball shorts, and he carried a basketball with him. As I gave him his character background, he spun the ball on his finger and seemed almost uninterested. Jocks aren’t good role players, was the bit of idiocy I was telling myself at the time and I lost all hope that he would be worth playing with. I tried to figure out how I was going to talk them out of having him at the next game, and I began.
The jock was running a barbarian, and the moment it was his turn to talk, he set the ball down, he licked his teeth and closed his eyes. When he opened them, I was sitting in the room with a barbarian. I can’t explain it. It was not the body language, though his arms were moving in a different way. It was not the way he talked. Gamers who spoke with an accent always bugged me. It was a thing he did with his face maybe. A look in the eyes. This jock had just turned into a barbarian right in front of me and I embraced it.
Shy played a warrior, and minutes into the game, she ran into a character that I called Crow. He was a bit borrowed from the movie The Crow in appearance and name. His weapons were short swords and his black panther I grabbed from a famous fantasy character from the Forgotten Realms books. He was not original. He was a character slapped together in the blink of an eye. That will be a problem, just watch and see. He wore all black with waist long black hair and deeply tanned. He saved her from being surrounded and they fought their way out. By the end of the game, the two characters kissed.
Shy thanked me and Basic for coming, we set up a game for the next weekend, and off we went. On the third gaming night when I arrived at the door, Shy handed me a letter. She looked flushed and out of breath. “Don’t read it here. Read it when you get home.”
We played. Great game. I fell in love with this Jock’s barbarian and used it for inspiration for my Mountain Folk in my writing. And when I got home, I read the note. I don’t remember it verbatim. But it was something like this.
I can’t stop thinking about you. I feel your eyes on me at all times. When I wash the dishes. When I am at work. I can smell the musk of Lady, your black panther, and I know that you wait for a time when we can be together. My body I want to give you. All my time I want to spend with you. Tell me you love me again, this time on paper, and let me carry it in my work pants every day next week.
Don’t make me wait. Write me soon.
With all my love and devastating desire,
Shamala was the name of her character, or at least that’s how I remember it. I can’t be sure, it’s been so long. And I could ask Crow. He might know, but I doubt he wants to talk about it.
I didn’t know what to do. I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote it out. I did not want to get in the way of her and Gazer. And I assumed this would end somewhere in a bed with our bodies entwined. I wrote the letter, gave it to her the next weekend, and the next day she was pounding on my door.
“I don’t want this!” she snapped. “Why would I want this?” She threw the letter back at me and looked at me exasperated and hurt. Impatient and very confused. Shy was so confused. “This is signed with the name Jesse. I am with Gazer. I don’t want you.” She turned in a circle and clenched her fists.
“What do you want?”
“I want Crow!” She looked about to cry when she said it. “Can you get Crow to write me a letter? Just tell him I want to carry it with me. Tell him that I said I cannot wait and I will be back here tomorrow before work. Tell him I said hello and tell him I love him.” She kissed me and pulled back. “Give him that for me.” She turned and walked down the hallway. “That was not for you. That was for Crow.”
This continued for weeks. I was in Denver for two months I think, maybe three, before I got too lonely for the Degenerates and I came home. The last night I was there while packing up the last of it, Shy knocked on my door.
Black dress, tight and short, low cut, it showed off every bit of her voluptuous body and her fishnet stockings were so kind to her legs. I stared at her for a while unable to take my eyes off her body and the way she was dressed.
“I want to take Crow out to dinner before you leave Denver,” she said. “Does he like the dress? Can you ask him?”
I looked into her eyes and you might be surprised to know this, but I did not see crazy. I can usually sense crazy. I couldn’t this time. She was definitely crazed, but with the dress and the way she held her body, she did not look crazy. She looked focused. She was getting time with Crow. She just needed to get me out of the way.
“No, I don’t want to eat dinner with Jesse Teller. Be Crow for me. Let Crow out. I want to see him. Just let me spend some time with him.” Shy gazed at Shadow across the table of the very fancy restaurant she had brought us to. “Please.” Her tone was haunting. That is what I remember the most was her tone. She needed this. Knew this was the last time she would ever see Crow, so I went with it.
I closed my eyes, lowered my head. I summoned up the character and I looked up and opened my eyes. I sighed. “Shamala, I was so scared I would not get to see you again before Jesse left. He has been so busy and had no time.”
She reached across the table with her red painted nails and gripped my hand. “We are together now.”
This was not Shadow. This was not Servant. Not Artist or Ronin. This was something new. This was a new alter that I have seen a few times.
I saw him once when Bekah was sleeping in our old apartment. He stood over the bed and stared at her, wondering if she was Shamala. His massive black panther lay the other side of the bed with its bottom jaw on the bed looking at her.
I saw him once on the stairs to the basement. He sat with his swords in his lap, his panther curled on the floor at the bottom of the stairs, its long tail flicking back and forth, its thick whiskers twitching.
Crow wrote a scene in the Manhunters book Hemlock, though I do not know which one.
Crow was created out of one woman’s desperation. He haunts this house. He haunts this body. I am not sure what he is looking for. I don’t know how to tell him that he is not needed anymore. I am not sure if he has ever met Bekah, or the boys.
He loves Sadie, our Rottweiler, and he comes out at night to pet her and whisper to her. If he is in love with Shamala, he is not in love with Shy. See just like I was just a conduit for Shy to get to Crow, Shy was just a path to Shamala.
Shy drew a picture of Shamala in black ink and colored pencil. We still have it and have laminated it onto our DM screen. Every now and then, when I go to run a game, I will stare at it for a minute too long and I will feel the breath of a black panther on the back of my neck.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.