by Bert Rock

Late one night, the hour and the moon are small as a motley crowd fills a tiny third-floor apartment, huddled around a bed and its sole occupant. A man, his beard equal parts red and gray lies in it asleep, and unstirred by the presence of the onlookers. They are all waiting, like the strangest family at a vigil for a coma stricken loved one.

It is not possible for so many to be inside the small space, and yet they are. Men, women, children, and other creatures fill the apartment. They move within and without, down the stairs and on the walkways. There is a pirate ship in the parking lot. It is surrounded by a thick mist, moored amongst cars tucked in spaces framed by neat, white lines.

Inside the tiny apartment, a beautiful woman with a scarred face and half an ear taps on the sleeping man’s shoulder. She has done this many times. She is pregnant, dressed in a breastplate shaped to her pregnant form and carries a sword. She is the captain of the pirate ship.

“This used to work,” she taps him again, harder, but the sleeping man does not stir.

The apartment has a writing desk littered with papers and books and a laptop computer. There is a map of the first world the sleeper created on the wall over the desk, surrounded by smaller maps and assorted drawings. Overhead, where the ceiling would be, is an opening to the cosmos. It is where stories, ideas and dreams all swirl above the sleeper, like a mobile of a vast galaxy. A barbarian wearing bearskin ducks as he walks to the kitchen, slightly bumping a planet made of words out of sync. An enormous wolf cocks his head curiously and wonders if any of the stars are edible. A lion named, Ian flicks his tail and watches the others with the indifferent curiosity only a cat has.

A dark-haired girl with a tattoo of a crow’s wing on her arm, leans against the wall and flips through the pages of a book. Occasionally, she looks up to scan the room and the others. Outside, an eight-legged horse eats grass while an old knight tells stories to rocks.

“What do you think is wrong with him?” asks a man wearing leather armor and mage robes. He is the Crow Girl’s father.

“He’s lonely,” a young woman with cropped red hair says. She is a soldier in some medieval army.

“Eh, he looks sad,” says a medieval lord with a vicious scar on his face.

The Crow Girl’s father sits at the desk while the others mill around. He examines the laptop computer as if it were a holy artifact, afraid to touch it as if doing so would disturb some god.

“When will he write again?” someone asks.

“Do you think he will write again?” another says.

The room is alive with murmurs pondering the possibility. In the kitchen Odin makes eggs with Frigga. Thor flips through channels on the television. The great, feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl coils up around a pillow and talks of his brother, Tezcatlipoca. Coatlicue, a goddess fifty feet tall, sits on the corner of the apartment building in deep thought. Her hair is the night sky. She wears a skirt made of snakes.

A giant, tongueless, and mute, rummages through the dumpsters for something to eat. Nearby a boy dressed in sealskins holds a narwhal-horn spear and waits for an enemy–any enemy. Villagers and knights and healers and lords walk here and there.

Inside, a naked, gray skinned man scarred from head to toe, with tattoos of weapons on his body covers himself with an old shirt and sits in a corner. A wooly centaur, the last king of an arctic land attempts to hold council with some of the others. They do not listen. The giant wolf and the lion watch each other from across the room, each one quietly sizing up the other. A young knight, with a look of affluence and malice twirls a dagger in his hand. Standing by him is a golem encased in plate armor. It is eight feet tall with four arms and a head shaped like a fist. They are all waiting.

The room full of strangers and friends murmur and mingle a little, but mostly they stay to themselves. Outside an elephant trumpets and two ravens call.

The Crow Girl’s father looks up at the map on the wall, “This is it!”

Everyone in the room turns to the man at the desk.

“What is it?” the Centaur asks.

“The map. This is where we live isn’t it?” He looks down then, at the laptop, which appears to him like a slab of obsidian. Next to it is the mouse–a small, ruby colored device.

“What is that?” The Centaur points to the slab of obsidian. “Some kind of spell tome?”

“Whatever it is, he commands it,” Crow Girl’s Father points to the sleeper. “Of that I’m sure,” he looks again at the map and then the desk. “This is where it all happens.”

“How does it work?” Quetzalcoatl asks.

“I don’t know,” the Crow Girl’s Father says.

The Old Knight who told stories to the rocks outside walks through the door with a young boy, whose hair is like sunlight.

“He misses you, you know,” the Old Knight says, and everyone turns to him.

“Who?” asks the Pregnant Pirate Captain.

“All of you,” the Old Knight sweeps the room with a gesture.

“Even me?” three voices speak in unison.

The Old Knight flinches. The voices belong to three witch women, chained together at the feet, and sitting in the corner with bowls of mead. When they speak everyone in the room inches a little further away from their corner. The Old Knight replies with eyes wide and his disgust barely hidden.

“Yes. Yes, yes,” he nods and looks around the room at the others. “Like I said, all of you.” He takes a step further from the witches.

The Young Knight, a murderer with an unrepentant chin, looks down and says, “Well, we miss him too.” He digs the toe of his boot into the carpet.

Nods and murmurs of agreement fill the room.

“How do you know he misses us?” the Pregnant Pirate says.

The Old Knight looks quizzical and shrugs. “I don’t know how I know,” he furrows his brow. “I just know.”

“What do we do then?” a brawny young man asks.

“I think we wait,” the Scarred Lord says. “I mean, do we really have a choice?”

“We’ve been waiting,” the Pregnant Pirate says and is met with a chorus of agreement. “Some of us longer than others.” She looks at the Old Knight.

He puts his hands up, “I only mean to help.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want to write anymore,” the Crow Girl slaps a book shut.

Everyone looks at her now.

“Maybe he doesn’t care. Anybody thought of that?” she gestures toward the Sleeper.

“The old guy just said he misses us,” the bearskin wearing barbarian says, as he takes a beer out of the refrigerator.

“Maybe he dead,” the Sealskin Boy says. People try to avoid his narwhal horn spear.

“He’s not dead,” Crow Girl says. “Maybe he just doesn’t love us anymore.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” the Bearskin Barbarian says, beer froth falling from his beard.

“Everything.” A man so wrinkled, he looks like a human shar-pei speaks.

The room looks at the shar-pei man.

“Without it we are nothing, we would not be here,” he looks around the room with disgust, “Wherever here is.”

No one speaks for a time. Then, the Crow Girl’s Father, sitting at the desk, nudges the mouse with his knuckle. Everyone in the room holds their breath. Nothing happens.

“That doesn’t do anything,” the Boy with Sunlight Hair says. “You have to turn it on.”

Everyone turns to the boy.

“I know you!” the Crow Girl says. “You’re the new kid.”

Her words have an edge. Crow Girl’s Father gives her a look. She sticks her chin out defiantly but says nothing. The boy gives her a shy look and speaks to her father.

“It’s a computer,” he says and steps forward, eyeing the centaur, the lion, and the wolf as they watch him walk through a gauntlet of fantastic characters. “Here, let me show you.”

The boy flips open the laptop and turns it on. everyone in the room gasps at this when the screen flickers to life showing a sketched charcoal drawing of a dog. The boy turns the mouse on and clicks. In his peripheral vision, he sees some of the wonderous people flinch.

“Oh no,” he says.

“What?” Crow Girl’s Father asks.

“I don’t know the password,” he looks at the old knight and then to the others. “Does anyone know the password?”

The room sighs. Many put their hands up, shake their heads and go back to their conversations, and ignore the boy. They go back to watching the writer as he sleeps, all of them somehow fitting into his tiny apartment. The boy watches them as they argue, unable to agree on why the man won’t write, or whether or not he can. It’s like an odd gathering of the world’s strangest children in a classroom with no teacher.

“Oh, I have an idea!” the boy says.

“Speak,” says the Scar Faced Lord. He sniffs a container of food and grimaces as he places it down on the kitchen counter.

The boy looks at the sleeping writer and summons his courage. He turns to Crow Girl’s Father and puts out his hand.

“Hi,” the boy says. “I’m Simon Smart. What’s your name?”

The man smiles and glances around the room as he takes Simon’s hand.

“I’m Marmac,” the man says. “But you can call me Mac.”

“Nice to meet you Mac.”

“Pleased to meet you Simon,” Mac said. “What did you have in mind?”

“Maybe we should all just talk to each other. We all have a story, right? We could share them.”

Simon smiles and the room gets brighter.

Marmac nods. “That’s a great idea.”

The Crow Girl taps Simon on the shoulder.

“Hi,” she says. “I’m Faunie. Sorry I snapped at you.” She smiles and puts her hand on Simon’s shoulder and points to the pregnant pirate woman, “That’s Izra, and over there is Borgo the Bear, this is Inkasu,” she gestures to the boy with the spear. “Oh, and there’s Tom Jonney, and…” her voice trails off as she goes around the room and introduces Simon to the rest of the people there. Barbarians, knights, witches, and gods all start talking to one another, sharing their strange and wonderful stories.

At the center of them all, the writer begins to stir…

Arizona writer of fantasy fiction, children’s literature and passionate about social justice. BLACK LIVES MATTER! www.bertrock.com, follow @BertRock1