Game Log - Raphael

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Revision as of 18:34, 22 January 2022 by Relmopator (talk | contribs) (CHAPTER TWO: FORT GARLAND)
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(The year before the Pandemic began)

The shaggy man sat himself on a park bench in the fresh cool air of morning. The long bushy white hair might have been blond in his youth, or brown, or red. A long walking stick sits behind him on the bench. A ragged looking large dog of some mongrel breed sleeps on his back below the bench, legs akimbo, showing that he is without doubt an uncut male.

Around him was the early bustle of a city in the desert filled with people of a familiar style; urban, technological, digital, and blissfully unaware at the dangers in the universe next door.

A passerby sneered at his unkempt attire. Uncertain if it was rags of a once proud uniform he kept his tongue. A woman with a child in a stroller and one on foot pass the ancient man without a second glance. The walking child turned and stopped, looking at the man. He hands her a twist of cord that she slips over her wrist absentmindedly. Looking at the girl he sees down the paths of her life into tragedy and illness and crippling pain. He nudges the cord to pulse on her wrist. Looking down her life path he sees tragedy and a life of migraine headaches and drug abuse. He pulses the cord again. Her life path slips into frequent migraines, a series of cancers, and a fair career as a singer. The cord pulses. The life path includes occasional migraines, a bout of cancer that costs her a foot but also includes several happy children, a loving, if eccentric and occasionally unfaithful husband and a rich and famous singing career ending in a peaceful death surrounded by loving family, mourned by millions of fans.

"BETHANY!!! Leave the bum alone and get back here."

The girl looks quizzically at shaggy man. "Are you a bum?"

He smiles, "Trust not too much to appearances. You will do well if you read a lot."

She feels the cord pulse. He looks and her life includes migraines, family, fame, the eccentric unfaithful husband, and a lifelong obsession with reading she spreads to others through song and story. He nods as the girl runs off to her mother, hiding the cord from her lest she have it taken away.

He withdraws an apple and chews it as people pass him, ignoring the old man. As he gets up and walks on he spits the seeds casually, usually to the disgust of passersby and to the future annoyance of park gardeners who can't seem to dig the apple trees out, root or branch. The shaggy man laughs as he thinks of the fruit trees he leaves everywhere he goes. Knowing he can pass from plant to plant, world to world, through any plant he has spit out such ways.

Stepping to a nook of bushes, he stands, looking around the park. Some might think he urinates but they would be wrong. When he leaves a small bronze gold replica of his foot is left behind. Unnoticed by millions, and found by happenstance by one person who will soon tread paths they had never known before.


Call me Raphael. This is not the name I was given by my birth mother. Nor is it the name I was given by my Adoptive Parents, my legal name; the name that shows on my Birth Certificate and is registered with the Government... but it is the name that I chose to be called... now. In the latter part of 2019 the media and politicians called it 'a problem overseas'. In the early part of 2020 when it 'arrived on our shores' they called it 'a Pandemic'; initially we were told by The Experts to 'self-quarantine and isolate', which many did... but 'The World has to keep moving', so not everyone could. Masks were mandated and social distancing was observed... mostly.

It was then that I was first a bit fearful. But I did my research and this 'new' virus was no more deadly than Influenza, though it did have some nasty lingering effects for a fair percentage of those infected that did not die from their initial exposure. My fear subsided, but still I was cautious and paid attention to the statistics and read reports... and trusted in my knowledge, my diligence with PPE and 'possible exposure'... and 'my luck'; so I avoided getting 'the vaccine' almost to the point of losing my job.

Over time new variants of the 'new virus' came and vaccines were invented and many got vaccinated, but it was still possible to contract and spread the new virus, even after receiving vaccinated. Booster shots were recommended so many more got vaccinated and boosted. But each time a new variant was found, the new virus got more virulent but also less deadly and less symptomatic, and more mild on those with symptoms. Most stopped wearing masks in public places, but I was still cautious, and many who had remained unvaccinated decided to remain so... as did I. But I get ahead of myself... as I often do. Perhaps I should start from the beginning.

I was adopted at birth by a husband and wife that were having difficulty having children of their own. They had already adopted another son a few years earlier from the same agency but different mother than I. Though I was adopted, in my early 30's I did discover who my biological mother was and I have met her, but not my biological father. I live on what I would call, from a 'Gamer's Perspective', a 'Modern Day Earth World' were I grew up well educated in sciences, mathematics, reading & writing, arts and literature, and I was also ill-educated and programmed by TV shows and news and such as well.

I spent a lot of time reading lots of books, especially fantasy and sci-fi; Roger Zelazny was my favorite author... I met him once at a Sci-Fi Con when I was in my early teens. I also played lots of games; board, dice, cards, etc. with my family and their friends. Then I got into RPG's, in my late pre-teens with my friends; started off as a Player, later became a DM/GM. Later on in life I got into playing and GMing Amber Diceless RPG, both in person and online... even downloaded the entire wiki for my current ADRPG online game. Hehe.

Before my fascination with RPG's & reading, TV & movies began, I developed a love for the outdoors and camping, as well as hunting and fishing. My adoptive parents were frequently getting me outdoors for weekend and summer vacation camping trips, since I was 6 months old in fact; they were avid campers and outdoors people. I learned much about the outdoors... and while on these wilderness excursions I also pickup the love of throwing knives and axes... which soon was no longer reserved to just the camping trips... or the backyard... and later grew to include other throwing weapons... I was rarely to be found without some sort of small knife or throwing weapon on my person.

I also got involved in LARP during my younger years, when my body could handle it. I discovered that I was naturally good at armed and unarmed combat, in a controlled and somewhat choreographed way. A bit later after that I hung out with some new friends at Fighter Practice with the local SCA groups; there I got involved in and learned a lot more about more realistic combat.

When I was a young teen I also took some martial arts classes for self defense, but was always advised to never use in unless absolutely necessary. I started with Judo, then learned some Karate, then some basics with weapons like the staff, sword and chain. As well as fight knives and more throwing weapons; spikes and stars.

I joined the Army National Guard at the age of 17, with the permission of my parents, for a four year contract in order to gain some basic military skills and some spending money while completing high school and starting my 'adult life'... I only barely avoided active wartime service by a very narrow margin of time.

Though I became a Legal Adult at age 18, it's said that our 'adolescence' doesn't end until our early to mid 20's... and that mental illness sets in during the early 20's... how interesting... anyway. I was a 'late bloomer' and most things didn't seem to settle in until my 30's. But by my mid 20's I had already served in the Military, learned some valuable lessons about life and learned much about my 'adult body'. And though I was raised by a Registered Nurse for a mother and received all my vaccinations on a regular and regulated schedule (like everyone else did during my childhood, or so it seemed), and during my time in the Military even more so, once I became 'an adult', I stopped getting 'regular vaccinations and boosters' and found I got less ill than I did before.

After that I paid more attention to my health (but still did little about it) and it seemed I was the opposite of what everyone expected, medically speaking; I was the kind of person that would fall asleep on the medication with 'hyperactivity' as the side effect, and be wide awake on the meds that 'might cause drowsiness', and other oddities. I also needed a lot more pain killer than most. And twice in my adult life I got a 'flu shot and each time I got the flu; go figure. Despite some other minor medical issues I have with my body, inside and out, I have always had a 'strong immune system' and rarely got sick, and when I did it was mild and short lived.

The next thirty years contained more Role Playing Games and more camping, but less LARP and SCA. And over time both camping and gaming sessions began to dwindle as well... as did the number of my friendships. That span of time also included two marriages, both ending in divorce; the first a short one, the only one with a child, a son; he was raised by his mother, I was absent from his childhood and early adult life... the second lasted much longer but also ended. None of which I wish to speak on much.

When the Pandemic came I was living with my Best Friend (with benefits) and had been for over a decade. At that time we lived in a one bedroom apartment with a good-sized fenced backyard that our trio of 5 yr. old miniature poodles loved. We had been somewhat isolated even before the Pandemic began as we kept to ourselves and we had very few friends that we visited or that visited us. And most of my friends at that time were online; a few RPG related friendships, a few family members and some old friends from my school years.

The latest news reports said the latest variant of the virus was the easiest to get, especially for the unvaccinated, the easiest to spread but the most mild on symptoms and lasting side effects. The estimates were that over eighty percent of the population would be or had already been, infected by this current variant... I forget the name; it was something Greek, like all the names of the Variants of the Virus, all of them had names from the Greek alphabet... I think... and in order I believe... I'm not exactly sure, I never studied Greek, soooooo “It's all Greek to me.”

I use a lot of old sayings and slang and I find myself amusing. I like 'old man humor' and 'dad jokes' and puns; even as a small child I liked those types of humor and they have stayed with me for life... so far. And so has whistling, humming and singing to myself... though often out loud. Get me drunk enough and I will sing during karaoke night.

When the newest variant of the virus hit, it hit so hard and so fast that the results were seen even before scientists and medical professionals were able to identify it as a new variant. And it was named by the public and the media, perhaps incorrectly and out of order, the Omega Variant; though technically it was three different, though nearly identical, variants that were all called 'The Omega Variant' that wiped out all of the Human Race and all Primates, near as I can tell... except for me, that is.

The initial death toll was catastrophic. First the elderly and the immuno-compromised of all ages were hit hard... and those that were vaccinated and boosted were the ones hit first... and thankfully hardest and fastest. Many barely knew their elderly friends and family were ill, let alone dead, until the numbers being reported were at staggering levels and everyone started checking on their elders. This is when the fear set in for most people and some early looting began, mostly the homes of the deceased elderly... but mostly in the larger cities.

The second variant of the 'Omega Variant' affected vaccinated children first; this variant came barely a week after “The Omega Variant” had been officially discovered and blamed for the sudden and catastrophic (and still growing) death toll of the elderly. Unvaccinated elderly and children were also affect by this variant, but not as quickly, but still with just as deadly finality; that is when a greater fear in most people in general set in; general panic, public rioting, looting of homes and businesses on a massive scale all became common in all cities and even most smaller towns... but it didn't last long.

The third (and final?) variant had already mutated, infant to mother, and was on its way to infect others within a single day of the second variant's arrival... and it would (and did) infect and affect every human on the planet, and all the primates as well, near as I can tell. And thus the end of all Human and Primate life on the planet. Again, near as I can tell.

During the first wave of deaths, while I was dealing with my parents' deaths and the pending sale or transfer of their 'estate', everyone around the world began to realize, via the media, the massive extent of the initial death toll... soon enough all legal proceedings over my parents' estate came to a temporary halt, as did all services and businesses for that matter; when children died in mass over the course of a few days everyone began freaking out. Shortly there after, mass deaths of adults.

I was dealing with the illness, then quick death, of my Best Friend when it all began to truly crumble into chaos; for 72 hours the lawlessness and pure evil and randomness of Humans (and animals) started off with a great intensity, but spiraled into an eerie quiet punctuated by the barking of dogs, yipping and howling of coyotes... and the growling of cats; domestic, feral and wild.

I keep thinking that I can't be the only one left alive... not just in this city, but in the state, the country, the continent, the world... surely others were resistant like I was... and surely there were those hidden away in bunkers that were not infected by the deadly variants of the virus... but it IS awfully quiet and peaceful in the ghetto... only animals moving around and making noises... but it has only been a few of days, perhaps a week, of quiet and the power has only just gone out last night... I would guess it has been over a week since anything was aired on TV or Radio (that was not automated)... about the same for anything Posted or Streamed Online... it all seemed to stop during the height of the chaos, during the first day or so of the 72 hours of chaos before the eerie quiet began.

It has been two weeks or more since my Best Friend first exhibited symptoms, but I have had no symptoms... until today; a sudden dry cough with an odd feeling in my throat and chest, and an odd taste in my mouth from the cough... that feeling and taste that tells you that you're sick before you're willing to admit or accept it. But I was not foolish, I heeded the warning and I had already made some plans. During the days since the quiet began I had ventured out further and further, gathering supplies; sometimes just scrounging up whatever I could find while exploring the neighborhood and surrounding areas, and sometimes targeted shopping trips at known businesses for specific items(if they were still there); all on foot, as the streets were too packed with vehicles and wreckage to be passable in a car or truck... and I still have not found a suitable motorcycle with keys.

I gathered up the gear that I had been collecting and preparing for this day, the day I was to leave the apartment and not come back. I put everything into and onto my backpack or heavy belt, then harnessed up 'the puppies' (our three miniature poodles that had made it through it all and were never away from my side) and put them in the special outer pockets of the backpack, shouldered it, then left the apartment, headed north towards the (dry) river.

It didn't take long to reach the riverside park where I intended to let the poodle-boys run for a bit. I was near a wild apple tree, one of the few in the southwestern desert, about to let the dogs loose when a coughing fit hit; it was short, but felt like I had just coughed a bong hit and left me breathless for a moment or two... it was then that I noticed the golden metal medallion in the shape of a foot on the ground buried deep within the branches of an old creosote bush. I felt compelled to grab it up immediately, rather like I did with most shiny things I have seen on the ground my entire life... part raven I think... I barely had time to look it over and see it for the metallic foot medallion that it was before it disappeared... or faded away... or what ever the fuck that it did... I was a bit slack jawed and not sure if that had just happened or if I had just had a minor hallucination.



The next cough wasn't has hard. Spittle tasted a bit like apple. Delusions maybe.. Setting the pups down he pushes to scoot them. Thinking if now is his time at least the puppies might survive. But the little beasts just sat looking at him strangely. After a bit he picked up the pups, slips them away and continues onward. Suddenly no goal in mind, no rhyme or reason, he starts whistling a little mechanic's song.

Off far in the distance he sees other scavengers. A small group. Dangerous to be in a group. Groups spread contagion and that means death., Solitude... well... means dying alone. They probably have scavenged everything up that way. Pickings in town were getting thin. Moving on made sense. If they saw him they might decide to scavenge him.

After a time the breathing was easier. The pickings had been grim but at least the scavengers were not hunting him. Coming to Indigenous Peoples Park, what was once Christopher Columbus Park, he sees trees, water, and empty spaces. As good of a resting place as any.

As he enters the park he sees an area unseen from the street. A large collection of cars and bikes and bodies. The sick and the dead. Walking among them he sees cuts from Hell's Angels, Outlaws, Mongols, and other small cubs. It was clearly a gun fight of epic proportions. Green Knights, a military based gang seems to have been in it to their necks, odd them not being 1%ers. There seems to be a few firefighter and police bike groups.

After looking it seems like this was once a camp. Isolated, of lawfully oriented bikers. Then a large group of usual enemies in the 1%s came and tried to take over. It didn't go well. Sick dead and wounded dead seem mixed together.

Not new either. This happened awhile ago, but clearly after the rule of law ended.

Still, no one is here now, and this is a lot of stuff no scavengers found until he arrived. All things considered, it was a good place to camp.

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

I look around one more time, and listen carefully, for scavengers or predators, then unshoulder my pack and let the poodles out of their 'travel pouches'. “Puppies...” I wait for them to all look at me; “Stay close.” I tell them. “No eating!” I say a bit sharply. “Ok. Go potty.” I say to set them loose to take care of their business. I stand and put the pack back on and look around.

As I move about the area, the poodles will (usually) stay within 15-20 away (at most) from me. I move a few feet then stop to look over the motorcycles, noting the Dirt Bike and Enduro models; any with racks on the back or handlebars will make me take more note. I move a few feet more, looking over things on the ground, on bodies, in bags or boxes. I keep checking on the poodles often. Though I had some food and water, it was very little and far from enough if I intended on getting far away from the city... and I wasn't ready to start hunting the coyotes, feral dogs and cats or newly freed domesticated pets roaming the city... but a javelina would get me to fire an arrow or maybe squeeze off a round, if I thought it safe enough from scavengers of all kinds.

Having already owned, purchased or collected over 90 percent of what I thought I might need before now, and a few scrounging trips in the last few days, there was little I needed; food and clean water always being the exception. And luxuries. And this place looked like it might have some of the luxuries, and specialty items, I was after; cigarettes, weed, alcohol and medications... not for recreation though; pain killers, antibiotics, anti-diareaha, etc. Maybe some more ammo and a throw-away handgun, and of course, let there be some food and or water.

I gave the poodles a couple of minutes in the same general area to 'go potty' while I surveyed the area for what was scavenge-able, and surveyed the lay of the land and the path or paths through the maze of motorized metal and rubber. Then I began moving deeper in, hopefully away from the bodies, to a better place to make an actual camp site, but still surveying the surroundings for supplies and keeping the poodles close with verbal commands or snaps of my fingers.

I was thankful for the cooler temperatures of the winter months here because it slowed the decomp of the bodies and the smell hadn't gotten overpowering yet... but it wasn't far off. Despite that, I was still unwilling to camp too close to dead bodies... maybe I could get upwind of the smell.

  • Michael James Watson

After a couple hours of checking there seems to be a huge amount of random supplies. The Green Knights seem to have had a well armed encampment before they got sick.

The 1%ers seemed both armed and sick when they came in. Having set aside gang grievances they came to pillage and bit off more then they could chew.

Hearing a playful yip from the pups he looks to see them sitting with a small girl. 10, maybe 9, petting them and taking their affectionate licks. She is wearing camo pants and top, a tac vest, Riot helmet, pouches full of ammo clips. She has a double barreled coach gun, 12 gauge, strapped to her back, which is to him.

She looks up, sees him, and stands up turning quickly. Long ragged brown hair frames her face. She extends a stainless .38, holding it with two hands.

"You ain't a asshole roller, are you? These your friends? The Asshole Rollers had pit bulls and killer dogs. My daddy shot all the rollers. Even as sick as he was. I got the good food over by the trike with the trailer. You and the pups can have some just don't make me shoot you. Daddy said folks are usually polite but they are more polite if I aim his backup gun at them."

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

I hold my hands up in front of me, palms outward, giving the 'I Surrender' gesture. I smile at her warmly but I do not approach.

"Yes, the little poodles are my friends. The gray one is named Fudge. The short chubby white one is named Berkeley, but he prefers to be called Berk-Berk. And the other white one is named Swirly but I call him Kuzco because he looks like a miniature llama."

I look around briefly, and listen carefully, to determine if there are others about.

"And your daddy is right, most people are more polite when a gun is pointed at them." I chuckled softly. "I'm not going to hurt you and I'm not going to take more than my fair share. But if you feel more comfortable keeping the gun pointed at me you just go right ahead. I guess your daddy's not around anymore." I look around again, briefly. "You can call me Rafael, like the Ninja Turtle. What should I call you?"

  • Michael James Watson

"I'll keep my true name to myself. Daddy called me Slugger. He had me shooting this at the rollers. I hit one below the belt buckle and daddy and uncle buck laughed.. you aren't a roller. Come on."

She move quickly among the ruins of camp and to the back of the camp where some tarps make a low tent.

A black and white cat sits on a pile of tire in front of the low entrance. It notes the dogs but they don't seem to want to chase it.

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

"Ok, Slugger. It's smart to keep your true name secret. And my true name isn't Raphael, either."

I follow her through the camp, making a note of all the paths in and out, and checking for defensible areas. And even though the poodles don't seem too interested in the cat at the moment, I still tell them, "Puppies... Behave. No Cats!"

I peek under the tarps and look around at the supplies. I start making mental notes of supplies I want to scavenge and where I saw them. "How long have you been here? In this camp. And how long have you been alone?" I ask, thinking about her chances of survival alone in this newly post-apocalyptic world. I certainly wasn't looking to adopt and care for a child, but I definitely didn't feel right about leaving her here alone once I am ready to depart.

  • Michael James Watson

As he looks into one area of the tarps he sees a withered sick man. He looks up, nods as Slugger steps up.

"Uncle Buck? I brought someone.. Not a roller.. He has some small dogs."

He smiles at her, then to Raph. "Slugger, you go get the keys to the trike. "

He waits till she runs off. "She's a survivor. Never got sick for a minute. No signs of the disease in her system. I was trying to get her to Crystal Palace. Colorado. There is a Disease emergency center there. We came here to say good by and all hell broke loose. Take her there. They will know what to do. Riverstone Bank, near it. There are three keys to gold reserves on my keychain. If she gets there its all yours.. Secret.. "

He goes through a fit of coughing.

"She...won't leave me a gun...That 45... Take her and go."

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

A deep sigh of resignation escapes my lips as I nod my head, knowing what I must do. "I'll get her there. You have my word, Buck. There's enough daylight left for us to get out of the city and to relative safety, so we will be leaving soon."

Another deep sigh, this one of resolve.

"I don't know what your religious beliefs are, but before this is over, I'm sure I'm going to have to send more than one Soul to it's Maker, so let me save yours from Suicide Damnation." A slight pause "I'm going to need a little time to scrounge up a few additional things and finish prepping the trike. Take that time to say your goodbyes to Slugger. I'll be back soon to take care of business before we leave."

I take a moment to look around the inside of the tarp shelter for luxury items; cigarettes, alcohol and weed... If they can be found in this camp, then they would most likely be hidden in here... Or close by.

I wait for Slugger to return with the keys before checking out the trike for it's preloaded supplies, then I gather up whatever else we might need and pack it in the trike trailer. I strap my pack to the back of the trike, leaving room for Slugger. I clip the dog carrying 'pouches' to the handlebars. I strap the 30.06 to the handlebars as well. I strap my two swords to the sides of the trike. I leave the .45 in it's holster on my right thigh.

Once everything is done, I check on the poodles, put them in their carrying pouches and clip them in to the links on their body harnesses. Then I return to the tarp shelter.

  • Michael James Watson

Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr. When he gets back he smells a strong sweet cigar smoke.

Looking in he sees buck has pulled himself up to sitting position. Three cigar boxes are next to him as well as a wood box of bottles. "Wife always said these would kill me but she kept letting me buy them. Cohiba Behike Cigars; $500 each."

He pulls up a bottle, pulls the cap an tosses it away.

"These she liked; pappy van Winkle, family reserve. $5,000 a bottle.",

He smells the cigar..."I've 6 cigars in the top box," He pulls the box to his lap, and tosses the other toward Raph.

"I've got 12 bottles in this case. I am going to smoke these cigars and drink the whiskey then take care of family business. You take the trike and trailer, and anything else you want, but especially that box of Cohibas and that case over there of 16 bottles of Pappy. Under that blue tarp is a case of grenades. Take Slugger and handle that piece of family business for me and I'll handle the rest of my family business, thank you kindly."

"You are a blessing really. When it came time to handle family business i was going to have her sit her and drink with me till she passed out. Then I'd have shot her in the head. Now, whatever happens to her beyond today I am spared committing that crime against family. " He fishes in the blankets and raises a grenade.

"I can't walk though, and that old .45 is just too far out of my reach. If you'll toss it to me I'll be grateful."

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

I catch the box of Cohibas tossed at me and put it under my left armpit for the time being and continue to listen to Buck. When he points to the case of whiskey meant for me, I place the box of cigars on top of it.

When he asks for the old .45, I reach over and pick it up, check to make sure it's loaded with one in the chamber, then I move in closer, crouching down to hand over the pistol, butt first.

"The safety's on. Don't get too drunk or you'll be too weak to take care of business."

Then I step over to the blue tarp Buck pointed at and pull it aside. I carefully open the case and inspect the grenades, visually; type, apparent age, condition, and how well they are packed. Closing the lid, I pick up the case up and place it on the ground next to the whiskey and cigars.

"Thanks for the supplies. If you happen to know the location of two full gas cans, a carton of smokes and a big bag of good weed, would you mind pointing me in the right direction. Pretty much all I need to complete my shopping list."

  • Michael James Watson

He chuckles around a chug of pappy.

"Id check the outlaw bikers. My guess is they are all kinds of holding. They just picked the wrong crowd to hit. We tried cleaning up. Emptied tanks. There should be a couple barrels out in the bike pileup. I'd suggest stripping a few tires. I don't plan to go too soon. And i won't till after you go so Slugger won't freak out.. She's a good girl but has a temper."

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

"Outlaw bikers; strip some tires. Gas in barrels; pileup. Got it. And thanks." I pause a moment before continuing. "And thanks for the warning about her temper."

I bend down and pickup the case of whiskey and box of Cohibas and place them on top of the case of grenades. I pick it all up and head over to the trike and place some or all of it in the trailer, or on the trailer for later strapping down.

I check on the poodles, tell them they are good boys and give them each a dog treat from my pocket.

"Hey Slugger..." I say, but not too loud as I look about for her.

I tell the poodles to behave then look for two gas cans and a siphoning hose, then head into the pileup looking for the barrels.

  • Michael James Watson

The poodles are sitting with the tuxedo cat. The 4 seem like old friends. While the dogs get their treat it licks its paw casually. Searching the dead is a gristly business but it clears a lot of things. a good supply of pharmaceutical marijuana, a large quantity of gold coins, and his pick of firearms the others hadn't gotten to collecting before it was too late.

When he returns to the trike he finds the pups in a cage and slugger in the back seat. She seems bundled up in cold weather gear, including a leather Green Knight's Cut. A Green helmet sits on the seat ahead of her.

"Uncle Buck and I talked. He wants me to go with you. I fit in this seat. I put the pups and my cat in the carrier. I got the cat food and what buck calls my Go Bag."

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

While searching the bodies I also scavenge up as many packs and cartons of cigarettes as I can find, canned foods with the labels still on them, empty prescription bottles, liquor bottles (even if they're empty) and a half a dozen fully loaded handguns. I also snatch up an assault rifle with an extra clip and some extra rounds.

Once the grizzly work is done and I have gathered all of my supplies together I take them back to the trike and deposit them on the ground. I take a jug of water and the remnants of a bottle of hand sanitizer and I clean myself up.

"Good job getting things ready for me, Slugger." I say while still cleaning up. "Thank you. You're a good kid."

Once the cleanup is done I check the gas tank and fill it if necessary, then strap the extra filled gas cans to the trailer, then I begin packing away all of the supplies. Some of the gold coins get put into a zippered fanny pack which I strap around my middle, the rest of the gold coins and majority of medical grade marijuana goes into my backpack as well as two cartons of smokes.

I take my hunting rifle from the handlebars of the trike and strap it to my backpack and then make sure the backpack is tightly secured to the back of the trike behind Slugger. I then take the assault rifle and put it across the handlebars where the hunting rifle was. The throw-away handguns gets wedged or lightly strapped strapped into convenient places around the trike.

I put on my army field jacket and then take 4 grenade from the case and put two in each side pocket. I take a bag of weed and some rolling papers and put them in the right breast pocket of my field jacket, and a pack of smokes and Bic lighter in the left breast pocket.

I fill the liquor bottles with water and other liquids until they look like the alcohol they are supposed to be. I then take a cardboard box and cut the tape off of it but do not cross fold the flaps so that it will stay closed; the intent is for the box to fly open at some point. I then fill the box with the canned foods, packs and cartons of cigarettes, prescription bottles and the filled liquor bottles.

I finish strapping down the supplies on the trailer, making sure everything is nice and secure. Then I take the cardboard box that I just filled and put it on top of everything else on the trailer and tie it down with its own separate rope with a slip knot for easy release, leaving a long piece of rope leading up to the trike which I loosely secure next to Slugger.

"Don't pull this rope unless I tell you to" I say to Slugger.

Lastly I pull out the bag of weed and break up a tiny amount, then I pull out a cigarette and knock a little tobacco out of the end and pack it with the cleaned weed. Then I light up and enjoy. I only used a small amount of weed so that I would not get stoned but just enough to take the edge off. Once I finish my smoke I drop it to the ground and snuff it with my boot.

"Ok, Slugger, it's time to leave." I say, then look over the trike and trailer one last time, check on the animals one last time, and then put on the green helmet sitting on the seat. Then I place myself on the trike and start it up. I rev the engine once, put it in gear and say "Hold on to yer butts!", then navigate my way out of the camp and towards the streets.

My intent is to NOT travel on the interstate and instead use the highways and byways to avoid all the major cities. Thankfully I am familiar with the western United States, and more thankfully I have an older road atlas in my backpack that still shows most of the dirt roads and access roads that don't show up on more current road atlases.

As I navigate the clogged streets of Tucson, heading towards Oracle Road, aka Highway 77, I keep my head on a swivel for threats and dangers of all sorts; human, animal, obstacles, terrain and environmental. Once on Highway 77 northbound, I stay ultra-wary until we are out past Oro Valley and Catalina, the northern most parts of the Tucson greater area, then I increase speed and relax just a bit and settle in for a long ride.

Between cities and towns, I keep my eyes open for snipers and likely areas (blind corners) for ambushes in the places I would sit to pick off travelers or block the road... (this is a game, as well as others, I would play in my mind while traveling the roadways of the Western U.S. as a child and adult, passenger and driver. I was, and will always be, a Gamer; always pretending / role playing in my head, but sometimes it's playing 'what if...?'.) I have traveled the Highways and Interstates of the Western U.S. for most of my life, both business and pleasure related; travel and driving seemed to be in my destiny... if I believed in such crap.

While traveling northerly on Hwy 77, then Hwy 60 & 61 once we get past Globe, headed towards Hwy 191, as we approach and pass through the smaller cities and towns along the way, I slow down for safety reasons and my wariness increases; again, head on a swivel.

I stop after about two to three hours of travel, if dark has not fallen first... but NOT anywhere in or near a city or town; the more wild and removed from civilization the better.

However far that gets us depends on any obstacles or delays we might encounter along the way and the relative road and weather conditions. After three hours, surely the poodle-boys and possibly Slugger, will need a break to pee, at the very least... and maybe it would be about time to find a place to camp for the night anyway.


  • Michael James Watson

After (another) six hours on the road, Raph is getting tired. He comes up to a Intersection and sees it is busier then anything he has seen on the road yet. There is a clear guard post ahead, looking well defended. Created of Cars stacked for hundreds of yards left and right. It would be hours back to find any reasonable way around it.

He sees an American flag on one side of the gate. Then other flags. State flags, team flags. Must have hit a tourists shop. The one across the gate from the us flag is a familiar one but hanging limp he can't see it all. It might be... but he can't see it all. Slugger says..."I got wee. Are we stopping?"

There is a sign on the gate but he'll have to get closer. Its in large letters and in three different types of script He sees 6 guards in what looks like improvised armor, each with AR-15s. One is casually smoking a cigar as he waves.

As he sees the sign clearer he sees its written in English, Spanish, Russian... and Elvish.

Welcome to Fort Garland. Everyone welcome except Orcs. Peacebond all weapons. Food to the left. Gas to the right. Pay for everything. Gold, Silver, Ammo, Luxury Items Accepted. There is a Doctor with free food 10 miles South and to the West 2 miles. Be calm of we'll kill you.

The words in the Black Speech is only one sentence.

Orcs-go away Nart Nart! we'll Taag Okak

Despite terror of the least few months and the 6 hour ride, Raph is feeling better. Not coughing much. His hands feel steady and less arthritic. His breathing is better.

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

"Yes, Slugger, we're stopping. I gotta wee too. And I'm sure the animals do too."

As I approach the gate closer and see the sign and the different languages I start laughing out loud. I kill the engine as I reach the guards. "Elvish? Black Speech? No Orcs?" I say with mirth. "Gotta love the Gamer Nerd Culture! Great way to keep the morale up with some levity. No worries guys, no Orcs with me" I say to the guards. "We hates Orcsz, preshush!" I say like Smeagol.

I look at the sign again and then over to the guard.

"Peace Bond, huh? Well I got a fair number of weapons. Is it your job to peace Bond them, or do I do it myself?"

  • Michael James Watson

A man jumps down and walks up. Sniffing. He looks like a Seattle hippster in what once were designer overalls, with a well trimmed red beard and a scully hat.

"Well sureing you don't look like an orc. But coming up from the south you must have had some run ins. I'm Marko Doyle, 3rd Mayor of Fort Garland. Let me look over your gear, eyeball the guns. I'll take your tempurate and do a quick swab test. If you are clean I'll give you a pass token. I don't think someone on a bike like that is part of the Bruised Hand. and coming from the south you are probably not with the Sylvan Horde. We are still part of Colorado but everyone is dealing with things differently. There is a federal presence up in Colorado Springs you know. Air Force, Space Command, CDC, Feebies and Atfas. Denver is the national capital of course, but i suspect you know that. As long as you give the feds a wide swing you should be ok. The Feds get a bit grabby. I suggest gassing up first.; You might stay a few days and then discover the pumps are dry till supplies come in from CARTO. After that food is to left. You can get most anything if you got trade goods. Camp space is north of the road. We don't have spare indoor lodgings. sorry.."

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

As the man begins talking I realize his talk of Orcs seems serious. No hint of humor at all... Odd. And the mention of the Bruised Hand and Sylvan Horde... Even more odd. This confuses me slightly, but I let it slide for the moment as I listen to the rest of his information. Some of it doesn't sound quite right, but a lot has happened in the last few weeks... it is possible that some part of the government survived and relocated to Denver... but again, something doesn't seem quite right.

"Pleased to meet you, Mayor Doyle. My name is Raphael and this little one behind me is Slugger. I also have three dogs and a cat back in the trailer. Hope pets are okay. Fortunes have favored us as we had no run-ins with anyone on our trip getting here. Guess we're the lucky ones. I appreciate your information and will definitely take advantage of some of the services here; I do have some goods to trade. Definitely should gas up before we move on. Headed to the Emergency Center near Colorado Springs; Slugger here has been completely symptom free during all this craziness... I think she might be immune, which is why we're headed there. I had a slight cough when I woke up this morning, but have been feeling considerably better as the day has progressed. Guess it was just allergies."

I chuckle softly, to ease any tension. But I do find it a bit odd that I am feeling much better now than I was this morning, especially considering the normal progress of the virus once symptoms begin and the 6 hour road trip. I should be feeling wiped out but I don't... again, odd.

"And I'm not too worried about housing, I am used to spending time outdoors and have plenty of gear for such. Just need a place to pitch my tent and park the trike for the night."

  • Michael James Watson

"Pleasure is all mine, Raphael. Hey there Slugger. Pets are fine. You say you came up without trouble? Passing through Albuquerque? Did you go through the reservation land? The Navaho, Ute, Hopi and Zuni seemed to have handled the change well but they have some serious internal problems with the smaller groups. If you came up the 25 I don't need to tell you that. The change hit them hard and they are managing it. Becoming real big time earth Indians. They struck a deal with the officials at Durango. The word is leave them alone and they will buffer us from the Bruised Hand. The Mescalero over at Hollman, ya know, White Sands took the change bad. Half-breed like Orcs but Indian. Feathers, not dots. Look its none of my business how you got here but If you talk to Mayor Carl, give him the skinny you saw south, he'll give ya a token too. 2 tokens is 2 months inside Fort Garland. As for going to the CDC at the Springs, its your business but they don't know anything more about the change then any of the rest of us do. Six months and the best they can say is people changed. Like duh."

He looks over things casually, clearly whatever makes him nervous isn't on the bike. He takes temperatures and hands Raphael a cheek swabs, "Just a swirl inside the cheek. We don't need a blood draw. Though, if you want to hold up in Garland for a few months Mayor Christine will give you a token for full scans, blood, piss, and interviews on how the change effected you."

He collects the swabs and dips each in a tube.

Nodding, "Good. Ok, you're clear. Gate will open in a sec."

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

The logical part of my brain begins to reel; Orcs. Sylvan Horde. Six months. People just changed! What in the actual fuck is going on!? I think to myself. And from what I could see, there sure seemed to be a lot of people in this community for a devastating worldwide pandemic. A pandemic that nearly wiped out everyone in Tucson, near as I could tell. And worldwide too, for that matter, according to the news reports I heard before all systems and services went down. And how did I get to Fort Garland Colorado in just 6 hours? That trip should have taken at least 10 to 12 hours.

Then the more imaginative part of my brain kicks in. My Gamer Mind takes over and I begin thinking about the role playing games I used to play, especially the Amber game. Different worlds. Different possibilities. All sitting right next to each other with only a thin Veil separating them. Is it possible that I have crossed over into a different world? Is it possible that everything I read in those books and played in that game could be real? Did I just move from one Shadow Earth to another? Did I somehow stumble across a Shadow Path that brought me here?

I knew I had to be cautious. I needed information, but I knew I had to be very careful about how I asked questions. And more importantly, how I answered questions; I knew I had to guard my words and be careful what I told anyone about where I came from and what I saw.

"Well, thank you again for the information, Mayor Doyle. And the hospitality." I hold up the Pass Token he gave me. "But I'm not sure how useful my information will be, considering I didn't run into any problems or really see anyone on my trip here. Maybe it was my choice of little-used highways. Or maybe just the timing of my trip. Either way, I consider myself lucky that I had such a peaceful and uneventful ride."

Once the gate opens up I start up the trike and head in moving towards the gas pumps. Once we are out of earshot of the gate guards I lean back to talk to Slugger.

"Slugger, don't talk to anyone. Just pretend you're shy and look away from anyone that talks to you or asks you questions. Something weird is going on and we need to be careful until I can figure out what it is."

  • Michael James Watson

"Well, Uncle Buck told me to shoot anyone you tell me to. Not that I want to but it was like the time when the bad men came into the house. Sometimes you gotta. I got to wee bad though.. And im powerfully hungry."

Turning into town its clear this place is well armed. To one side is a resteraunt area with a BBQ going outside. The other is an Arco station. Turning in to Arco, up to the pump, a dwarf walks out of the door, shotgun over his shoulder. His beard is dyed colorfully. He walks up to Raph.

"Just getting in? Ok, We got gas. Whatcha got to trade?"

Slugger says, "I got to wee"

THe dwarf laughs, "Do you? Well thats a start. In the door on the side, little lady. There is a yellow can. Pee in that. If you got to pinch a loaf use the brown toilet seat."

Looking up, " Nitrate, Fertilizer, you know. So two peeing i guess. That's a start. What else?"

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

At the site of the Dwarf... not a Little People Dwarf, but a Dwarf like from an RPG, I am mildly shocked, but at the same time, not really. I am a Gamer after all. If there are Orcs and Elves here, why not Dwarfs as well. I force myself not to stare, but his beard of many colors makes it difficult. I try to take it all in stride, mainly because I have to.

“Ok, Slugger, wee first, food shortly. When your done, come straight back and let the poodle-boys and the kitty cat out so they can wee as well; but make sure to leash all three dogs first. You take them over to that dirt spot right there.”

I point to a spot nearby that I can easily keep an eye on, then I look to the Dwarf. “If that's ok with you? Or is there somewhere special for pets to do their business?”

I get off the trike and pickup Slugger then place her on the ground, then pull a partial roll of TP from an outside pocket on my backpack and give to her. Then I give her a playful little shove in the direction of the indicated door, then turn back the pack and pull out three 6ft leashes and put them on the seat of the trike, then I turn to the colorful Dwarf.

“I'd like to fill the gas tank and the two gas cans on the trailer, if possible. What is your preferred type of payment? I have a variety of goods. What is considered most valuable here? Or most in need?”

  • Michael James Watson

"Well, you seem well heeled and none to effected by the Change. You'll be giving water for the cause but lets say 100 rounds, any ammo will fill the bike and a couple cans. Ammo is scarce. Six months and three days ago I was leading 12 tank trucks up from Galveston with Texas's finest go-go juice. We stopped here and one of the boys got in a fight and it took a couple days to get Mayor Clyde to see reason. Just a bar scuffle. That night the Change hit. Went to sleep as 6'6", 400 pounds of muscle and beard and I woke up like this. The good people of Fort Garland saw the reason in protecting ourselves. But we run low on ammo as the Southern biker gangs went orc and on a killing spree. So Ammo is like gold. Not that I wouldn't take gold. For some reason I like it well."

He waits to see what ammo Raphael offers

  • Michael James Watson

Looking over the ammo he says, "Looks nice and clean. You know, there ain't shit worth seeing up north. Denver is like madness on crack. The Change hit big cities hard but seeing how you roll i can't imagine i need to tell you that. And the feds at Colorado springs aren't much better. Still think there is a USA and the rest of us should just do what they say. Who they kidding?"

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

I would have initially offered up any spare ammo I collected from the biker camp back in Tucson, whatever went with the throw-away handguns I grabbed, and a lot of .45 ACP. I do not offer the 30-06 or assault rifle ammo.

"To be perfectly honest, friend... I'm not really sure where I'm headed now. The whole reason I was headed to The Springs really is kind of moot, knowing what I know now. Got a bit to ponder on it seems. If you're willing to take mixed ammo, I'll trade 100 rounds for the gas tank and cans. If all one type, 75 of the .45 ACP. What do you say? Have we a bargain?"

  • Michael James Watson

"Mixed is fine. They all fit in something. I'd be willing to deal for the .45 ammo though. Thats for me, not the Arco Boys. I pack 12 g salt loads. I'd trade ya 200 salt loads. Good for when you just want to piss someone off, not kill them. Hey...If you got no place to go Fort Garland is up and coming. We got good relations with the Indians. Most went Old School Indian but the Navahos went elven, mostly. We got us a genuine Nez Perce shaman over at the tavern. Got good rep with Denver and Durango. The Feds work with us. Talk to Mayor Clyde. He runs a lot of the wall defense.. Could always use a good gun. There are kids here too. Slugger would fit in well.. "

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

This new information about a Change that took place overnight and people becoming Elves and Dwarfs and Orcs and such is just like an RPG I played... once or twice... Shadowrun if I recall correctly... it was a long time ago. I was trying not to freak out or geek out on this guy while I finished sorting out the ammo.

As I sort out the ammo, I realize I only have 100 rounds in my reserve of backup ammo I scrounged, mostly of the varying handgun calibers for the throw-away guns I scrounged and the rest in .45 that I managed to find.... that would leave only the ammo I brought from home for my .45, my 30-06 and the ammo I scrounged for the scrounged AK47 assault rifle. And since ammo was scarce, and I only have ammo for the weapons I am carrying, I suddenly decide to switch things up, so I put all the ammo away.

Then I reach for the leather 'fanny pack' at my waist, open the zipper just enough to fish out a single gold coin, which I do not show off in any way and carefully hand it over to the Dwarf.

“Since there's a shortage of ammo, and my back-up supply is only for what I'm carrying, I think I'd rather pay with those. How many of those do the Boys at Arco need for their fuel? And I'll have to get back to you on the trade for .45 ammo; I don't have a shotgun and when I pull the trigger my intent is to kill, not piss off. I'll be staying the night for sure, possibly tomorrow as well, maybe more. Got some thinking to do... and probably some talking... and certainly a lot of listening."

"So, what's that coin worth here, friend? And you can call me Raphael.”

As I introduced myself, I swear I felt myself 'slip into character'... like I was playing myself in an RPG... it felt weird... but not that weird. ~I love being a Gamer... this shit is sooo cool...~ I think to myself. ~But it's also real, you idiot... you should be scared shitless...~ I also think to myself. But I'm not.

  • Michael James Watson

He flips the coin around several times, "Well the elves do love the maple leafs. Arco Boys.. That's what we call ourselves. We all seemed to have become dwarves and the owners of the Arco station are in Dubai so they can come bitch us out for not sending good gold their way. Raphael, call me Rodak. You tell anyone around here for the next couple days that you have a tab with me. Lets say a weeks lodgings, food bars for meals. There are cargo containers out behind Woodies's place. Tell woody to put it on my tab. You can back the bike right up in it. Use your own lock. An I'll fill your tank and two containers twice. So don't go riding too far. If the walls are attacked I hope you'll join the fight."

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

So... the gold has some weight; very cool. And Rodak just saved me some time and effort. I think I made a friend... or business partner at the least... and perhaps a key contact here in Fort Garland.

"If the walls are attacked, I will help defend; you have my word. And since you have weight here... and my gold has weight with you..." I hand him another coin, looking at it first to make sure it matches the one I handed him, "let's upgrade the lodgings to include pets and separate but attached rooms and upgrade the food... that BBQ smells good. And how about Woody or one of his boys keeps an eye on things as well... I'd hate to lose any of this. And I'd like to make sure that my poodles and Slugger's tuxedo cat are not mistaken for food or sport."

"And I'm pretty sure I will be staying on a while... at least a week or so. Pleased to meet you Rodak. I'm sure we'll be seeing each other again quite soon and perhaps often."

I turn to look towards the door, hoping all is well with Slugger. I grab the leashes and open the trailer door to let the animals out. I leash the poodle boys and head over to the dirt spot I told Slugger to take them, a spot near the door Rodak had told her to go in. I let the cat do what it wants; it's a cat.

  • Michael James Watson

"Here now pilgrim... I ain't in charge of Woodies and I ain't in charge of the motel and I ain't your butt boy. This ain't the Waldorf. You wanna run a tab, that's fine with me. Tell people you got a tab and do your own bartering. We don't have enough folks to run your errands. Now, Woodie puts your gear in a container it as safe as my stuff. But you barter past these two pretty coins it not my ass they will be renting out. Frankly it won't be yours neither. Savvy? So be careful what you buy, we don't know you. But..."

He flips the two gold.

"but. I got a good feeling we going to get along. You and your rig don't look haphazard. And the change kept you human"

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

"My apologies, Rodak. I didn't mean to offend or overstep. And I am really sorry for coming off as a snobbish entitled asshole, because I'm really not."

I chuckle then let out a sigh and continue.

"A lot has changed since... well, the Change, and I'm still trying to catch up and get a read on things. I hope you'll forgive me; I've been isolated for awhile... been spending a lot of time away from people and civilization. Before the Change I had kind of gotten tired of people and their ways so I headed out to the sticks and have been spending a lot of time in the more isolated parts of the Southwest. It's only been within the last couple of days or so that I returned to civilization. That's how I ended up with all this gear and how I met Slugger... and how we ended up here. I found her at the site of a huge massacre, all her family was dead and her uncle was near death; he begged me to get her to safety before he passed."

I let out another sigh, this one a bit deeper with a bit of weariness on it, and I shake my head.

"I thank you for your candor and the information. It is greatly appreciated. I'm sure we'll get along fine, and I'm sure I'll fit in well enough, just got to remember how to be 'civilized' again."

I chuckle again and give him a broad smile while I tend to the animals as they do their business. I look over towards the door, hoping Slugger hurries up because I've been holding it a while too and I gotta pee pretty bad as well.

I ponder my next several moves while waiting my turn and watching the animals: Food for all of us... bbq for me and Slugger and maybe the same for the animals. But I really should secure the trike, trailer and excess gear... so, Woody's first, then bbq. After that, lodgings. I needed to figure out what happened; how Slugger and I ended up in another world... and I needed to talk to Slugger about what has happened, once I figure out a bit more, and talk to her about her future, now that she has one... outside of being a human pincushion in a lab somewhere back in the Colorado I was headed for, as opposed to the Colorado I reached.

  • Michael James Watson

When he talks to Woodie he learns several things. Woody, a human, says 6 months ago he was an elderly hippie. Now he feels like a 25 year old. His hair even got darker and filled in bald spots.

He ran a campground and still does. He also ran a storage area for big stuff. Tractors, combines, a lot of the farm stuff. He had leased a huge lot to a company that brought storage containers here to ready for shipping down south. So when the Change hit he had 40 storage containers out in the back lot. Half had all been empty. Now storing vehicles is good business.

As for the campground, Raph can have any one of a dozen camp spots. Back in the day he also had storage RVs. 60 of them. People from Colorado, New Mex, Kansas, as far as California, stored their RVs here and picked them up on their way up into the mountains. Now he rents them out by the week. Of course if anyone shows up claiming one they can have it. He's no thief after all.

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

I rent an empty storage container nearest the campground possible, and I rent a campsite nearest the storage yard possible; with any luck (hehe), they might be right next to each other. I also rent a large RV for Slugger to stay in while we are here and park it in my rented campsite space. I stay in my tent outside the door of the RV. And though I mentioned Rodak and his tab, I withdraw a single gold coin, the same type as the ones I paid Rodak with and tell Woody:

"Don't bother charging Rodak's Tab; I'll pay with this" I hand him the gold coin "and have some credit with you for later, if and when I need it. If that's okay with you."

I smile in a friendly manner, my speaking manner and tones are friendly and upbeat, my body language is non-threatening. I am normally a friendly and outgoing person, at least I was before the Pandemic.

After backing the trike and trailer into the storage container, I collect some belongings and put them on, strap them on or put them on a belt or in a pocket.

As I exit the storage container I am bearing my Moro Sword on my left hip, my Khukuri knife on my right hip, the .45 still strapped low to my right thigh, a set of three flat steel throwing daggers in a nylon sheath next to the Khukuri and a matching set and sheath on the other side next to the sword. There are also four matching square nylon pouches on the front of my belt, two to either side of the buckle, each containing 3 tri-pointed throwing stars.

I place my Kryptonite lock on the storage container, make sure I have the keys, then close and lock it up, placing the keys back inside my pants pocket.

I still wear the Army Field Jacket and the AK47 is slung over my right shoulder and Slugger is at my side and the poodles on leashes between us, Slugger holding the leashes, as we head to the BBQ place. Slugger is still armed with her Daddy's backup gun and her shotgun.

  • Michael James Watson

Woodie looks at the gold, "Far Out... ah... Ya...this'll keep you in a RV for a couple months. If you decide to stay in FG I can help ya find one of the abandoned houses. The Change may have made Orcs of some people but it also wided a third out who didn't wake up. We've made sure no one is living in them but they are still furnished.

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

"Well, Woody, if I have need of long term housing, I will let you know. For now the storage container and RV should do it."

Slugger and I walk over to the BBQ place to get some food and perhaps meet some of the townsfolk.

On the way to get food I decide to talk to Slugger about what is going on, near as I can tell it, anyway. She seems pretty smart. I was at her age, and they say girls mature / advance faster / sooner than boys, so... here goes.

"Hey Slugger, slow up a bit. I know you're hungry, and so am I... but we need to talk about some things. Some important things. Things like; what has happened. Where we are now. What I promised your Uncle Buck. What is best for you and your future."

I pull out a square green foil packet, unopened; with a chocolate covered brownie within; the MRE equivalent of a candy bar. I've seen guys fight over these during my time in the Army National Guard while on days long field operations. I am about to open it and offer it to Slugger, but then stop myself and hold it out, unopened.

"First; an important lesson, to keep yourself safe: Never accept an opened food package or food container or an opened drink from someone you don't know very well; it could be drugged or poisoned."

I show her the foil pouch is unopened then hand it to her.

"This will tide you over for just a little bit. Let the poodle-boys sniff about while you walk slowly, eat and listen. Do not give any of that to the dog-boys; chocolate is not good for dogs and can make them sick."

"When we left Tucson your Uncle told me to take you to the Disease Emergency Center near Colorado Springs, because you are immune to the Virus and they would have taken care of you so they could figure out why you're immune, and them make everyone left alive immune too."

"But in our travels from the place we met, we have somehow arrived at a different Colorado; a Colorado that is not in the same world as the Tucson we left. It's kind of like that animated movie; Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse, where there are other Earth's, other 'dimensions' is what they called them in the movie. Well, Slugger, it looks like we ended up in one. Another Earth where instead of a deadly virus killing everyone, there was a Change that happened overnight and people suddenly became Orcs and Elves and Dwarfs... like from those Lord of the Rings movies."

I pause, giving her a moment to let things sink in.

"I have more to say, but I need to know; do you understand any of what I told you, Slugger?"

  • Michael James Watson

"Ya... we're fucked."

"What's your cat's name?"

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

After laughing at Slugger's succinct assessment, I say:

"I thought it was your cat? It was on the little stack of tires outside the tarp shelter your Uncle Buck was lying in, back it Tucson. That was the first time I saw it. I assumed it was following you or that you brought it along."

I turn my head and look down at the cat, raising my right eyebrow into an arch, just like Spock. "Curious."

"And we are not... totally fucked..." I say, turning back to Slugger, "But yeah, we are a bit fucked. But we are somewhat better off than most due to the all the gear and gold we have... and the fact that I am a Gamer and you are a smart child, still able to accept the fantastic as real without missing a beat; which means: we both just accept new things, strange or not, and just deal with it."

"So, anyway, all of this means that what ever your Uncle Buck told you and what ever he told me, and any plans that you or I had upon leaving Tucson, is all moot... doesn't matter anymore. Everything has changed, and we have to adapt or die."

"Now... I want to do right by the promise I made your Uncle... and being a mostly decent Human I want what is best for you... BUT... I am not looking to adopt and care for a child. No offense, Slugger; you may be a great kid, but I am not a good role model nor a good parent; I know I am a bit too selfish to raise children... this I already learned in my previous life, in that other world."

A remembrance of the past, a brief silence, a sad look, then I continue.

"I don't know how long I will be staying here in Fort Garland. I don't know where I will go next or what that next place will be like. While I am here in Fort Garland, I will look after you, but if I find a suitable home for you here, then you will stay if and when I depart.... and I hope you find it suitable too. If I find nobody suitable here, then you will come with me until I find you a suitable home and family. Until then, be careful talking about things before we got here... don't talk about people getting sick and dying everywhere. Tell people you don't remember much, or you don't want to talk about it, if you like."

  • Michael James Watson

"Ah, ya, I'm going to stick with you. Uncle Buck insisted. He told me to never let you leave me behind. I got my own gold and I can shoot things. Ya know.. .if this is like the spideyverse, and where things are kinda the same, wouldn't the place Uncle Buck wanted you to take me be kinda the same too?"

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

"Yes, it will be kinda the same... and kinda different, too."

I smile with real admiration for this smart kid.

"But the reason your Uncle Buck wanted me to take you there, in that world, not this world, was because you would have been cared for there because you are immune to the virus of that world."

"None of that matters here, in this world."

A short pause for effect.

"Taking you to the same place here, in this world, will not be the same, because you are not from this world and your immunity does not apply to what has happened here. It is very likely you will not be treated the same way, here in this world. It is possible they will not see us or listen to us and will turn us away."

"And neither of us can truly afford to tell the people of THIS world that WE came from a different world. A world with a sickness that killed everyone. They might think us crazy and lock us up... or kill us. Or they might believe us and kill us for bringing the sickness here... or lock us up to prevent it from spreading... or worse; they might experiment upon us."

I pause for a moment, to let Slugger process all of this. I recall the cigs, so I pull out the pack of smokes and Bic lighter, pull a cig from the pack, light it and put the lighter and pack away. I puff a couple of times, then continue.

"But if you insist on going to the CDC in Colorado Springs, like your Uncle Buck wanted, then I will take you there. If that is the only place you will part company with me, then that is where I will take you. But know that I am also considering other things, perhaps some better options for you, for your future, here in a different world. I know I'm selfish, but I'm not an asshole or a bad person."

I continue to puff on the cig, wondering how much Slugger understands... wondering how much of an asshole I really am... wondering what might happen if / when we go to The Springs.

"You think on it, Slugger. We will talk about it more, later tonight and tomorrow. We should eat, and learn about how things work here and learn more from the townsfolk... by just listening to them talk. Most people like to talk, and most like to talk about themselves... all you have to do is ask a question, or make a comment, then listen. So, BBQ?" I ask ,then take a final puff, drop the cig and snub the butt with my boot.

  • Michael James Watson

She nods, "BBQ sounds good. Curios will look after the dogs. Keep them from BBQing them!"

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

"Oh... So, you've named and claimed the cat now, have you?" I say playfully and with a smile.

"And you're just going to order the cat around and make it do things for you, are you?"

"What? Are you some sorta Jedi? Wavin' your hands around..." I say in a gruff voice, like Watto (the little winged blue dude) from one of the Star Wars prequel movies. Then I smile again and laugh playfully as we head for BBQ.

  • Michael James Watson

"You called it that. Good name though. The dogs like him. And you don't order a cat around! Everyone knows that. You ask nicely. Dogs you can order but they might not like it. You go ordering a cat around it'll poop in your shoes."

The bbq turns out to be a nice safe beef. They have taken cows in trade.

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

A huge smile splits my face as I begin laughing at Sluggers assessment of cats versus dogs; it's spot-on... and she's a really smart kid.

"Actually, I didn't name the cat Curious, I was just making a commentary on how it is curious that the cat has glommed on to us. But you are right, it is a good name for a cat. And you are even more right that you don't tell a cat to do anything, you ask nicely. Otherwise you get poo in your shoe... Or other places."

If there is a table and chairs outside the barbecue place, that is where I choose to sit, that way I can have a smoke, and the dogs won't bother anyone inside. I know that most businesses didn't allow pets inside, or at least that's how it was before. While eating, I feed the dogs a bit of the BBQ.

"You are all good boys for not chasing the cat and for playing nice. Good boys. And if the cat gets into any trouble, you're supposed to help him now, poodle-boys. It's your friend now."

I also feed a small amount of BBQ to the cat.

"You are a good cat and thank you for not beating up the dogs. We are going to call you Curious. This little girl's name" I point to Slugger, "is Slugger, and I think she is supposed to be your Human now. I would appreciate it greatly if you would keep an eye on her. And Slugger would appreciate it greatly if you would keep an eye on the dogs and make sure they don't become barbecue."

As I continue eating I ponder my current situation. As incredible as it may seem, impossible even, Slugger and I have ended up on another world. It makes me think about the Amber RPG I played for many years. It makes me think about how the Amberites can travel from Shadow to Shadow at will. It seems that this is what has happened to us, that we have traveled to another Shadow of Earth. But what is really boggling my mind is how this happened. I eat a little more barbecue as I ponder.

Then I began thinking about all that has occurred since I left my apartment back in Tucson. I think about that weird foot shaped medallion that I found at the park... The medallion that disappeared after I picked it up ... no, wait... It didn't disappear, or fade away, I think it absorbed into my hand, now that I think back on it. I stare at my right hand, looking at my palm wear The Medallion had been before it disappeared, or absorbed into me... Or whatever happened. For some reason, The Medallion seems familiar... like a dusty old memory. Something from my Amber RPG that I had been playing with my favorite GM for years online. Perhaps something I read on the wiki pages that he had set up with all of his gaming information. I reach behind my chair to grab my backpack so I can retrieve my laptop where I have all of my Game Master's Wiki information downloaded to the hard drive. But then I realize that I left my backpack with the trike and the RV in the storage container. Guess I'll just have to check on that later.

After I finish eating I pull out my little bag of weed and rolling papers and I twist up a joint, then light it up and enjoy.

"After I finish this, let's walk around a little bit and get familiar with the town and let people get familiar with seeing us. I think we'll go to the tavern as well. Wouldn't mind grabbing a drink and meeting some of the locals. What do you think Slugger?"

  • Michael James Watson

While addressing the cat it seemed to pay particular attention. It looks at Slugger when directed and back again. It seems to nod its head in agreement then starts grooming its paw. It looks up as Raph talks to the dog, the rolls over, raises a leg to do some personal grooming.

When he thinks of the medallion that melted into his hand the image of it appears on his palm, vibrant, like an exquisitely intricate tattoo. Parts of it seem to have a light of their own. There is a sense of contentment in the medallion itself, not the wearer. But by observation Raphael feels tight somehow. Stretching his hand he feels strength in his hand. Somehow he feel less winded. Something just beyond the ability to perceive is happening.

After mentioning getting a drink and meeting people she says, “Sounds good. I could use a brewski.”

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

I try not to choke on my hit off the joint as I'm overcome by laughter yet again.

"Well, if you know how to handle your alcohol, then who am I to stop you." A mirthful snort. "I told you I'm not a good role model for children, right? So, what say we amble on over to the saloon and get us some brewskiis, eh Slugger."

I stand, then bend down to unhook the leashes from the chair leg, then hand the leashes to Slugger. I pull a single gold coin from the leather 'belt pouch' (I refuse to call it a fanny pack ever again.) and take it to the proprietor of the BBQ Place, give the coin to him/her and say:

"Call me Raphael. Slugger and I enjoyed the food and will be coming back for more; we will be staying for several days or more... as will my three miniature poodles and tuxedo cat... so make sure they don't become bbq by mistake." I chuckle. "Please and thank you. I know I mentioned Rodak's tab, but I'd rather just pay with that coin, for now and later. If that's okay with you."

I ask for directions to the tavern then depart with a smile and a wave, heading the way I was told, with Slugger holding the leashes for the Poodle Boys and Curious nearby, surely.

  • Michael James Watson

The cook, a large burly man in his 80s, but vigorous takes the coin, rolls it over his finger and hands it back.

"Raphael, I'm Old Bruce and its a pleasure to meet you. Keep your gold, I'll bill Rodak. He's something of a banker around here. He won't tell anyone how much gold you gave him and if you out spend it he'll send one of the Arco boys to tell you to stop or to get more. In the mean time I don't get a reputation for having anything worth stealing other then my secret dry rub.

He breaks open two rolls and stuffs them with three fingers of beef. Wrapping each, adding a small collection of bones, wrapping the lot and putting it in a brown bag.

"Bones for the dogs. Before the Change this town had less then a 500 people. Now it has over five thousand. Not all of them good people. Don't go flashing that gold around, you'll get a reputation. I saw you come from Woodies. He's safe. Hes gpt a reputation himself to protect. . But if you go any where else, drop Rodak's name. The biggest shitkicking Orc in town doesn't want to have trouble the with Arco Boys. Oh ya.. The Orcs in town are not affiliated with the out of town ones. Mostly Fort Garland and Blanca natives that went Orc. Just so you know. "

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

I slip the gold coin back into my belt pouch and close the zipper.

"Old Bruce, it is my great pleasure to meet you; you make one helluva barbeque... been missin' that. I appreciate your candor, the information and the advice. Not lookin' to get rolled or get on anyone's bad side while we're here... so thank you for the heads up on the gold, the Arco Boys and the local Orcs. Slugger and I will be back again, I'm sure. Have a good evenin'."

As we leave, heading to the tavern, I think to myself: ~Dwarfs. Orcs. Elves. This is so cool. Gonna take a little getting used to, but still cool.~

Along the say I find myself singing a Led Zeppelin tune in my head, so I continue it out loud... but not too loud.

I ain't tellin' no lie~ Mine's a tale that can't be told~ My freedom I hold dear~ How years ago in days of old~ When magic filled the air~ T'was in the darkest depths of Mordor~ I met a girl so fair~ But Gollum, and the evil one~ Crept up and slipped away with her~ Her, her, yeah~ Ain't nothing I can do, no~ I guess I keep on rambling~ I'm gonna~ Sing my song~ I gotta ramble on, sing my song~ Gotta work my way around the world baby, baby~ Ramble on, yeah~ Doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, my baby Doo, doo, doo, doo Doodoo doodoo doodoo doodoo doodoo


  • Michael James Watson

At Old Bruce's suggestion the first Tavern a couple blocks from the wall is the All-Gon Pizzaria. Once a pizza place the back had once been a private hangout and now was a public bar. Bruce said that he gets growlers of beer almost daily from them. Its a human joint and the owners brew a lot. Sadly the quality has gone down in the last 6 months as raw materials are scarce. The place is nearly all human too. Though the Arco Boys do hang out there when they make their rounds. As he enters he has a sudden flash of a bare range of broken mountains surrounding a shallow inland sea. But the vision is just a flash.

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

As I enter the tavern I am whistling the last few bars of Ramble On by Led Zeppelin. I stop whistling when the Vision hits me. I shake my head and think to myself, "Weird", but I don't dismiss it as nothing, as too many strange things have happened in the last 24 hours for something like this to be ignored or dismissed. I try to remember what I saw and store the image away for later.

I look around the tavern, making note of the general layout, the location of the exits and anyone who might be inside having a drink. I look to the bartender and ask:

"Is it okay if I bring my pets in? I assure you they won't be any trouble and they won't make a mess. They are well behaved and potty trained. Call me Raphael. This is Slugger. We're just looking to relax with a few brews after a long road trip. Rodak said to put it on his tab."

  • Michael James Watson

"Ya, sure. Bring the pets in. Its not like FDA is going to cite me. But, brohem, they look a little scrawny. You might want to fatten them up before you fight them. But what the fuck, its not my call. We got brown brew and yellow brew and pruno. The brown compares to a porter well. The Yellow is far better then budwieser used to be. The Pruno is mostly pear and rye these days but we keep it running. It isn't bad mixed with 7up."

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

I raise an eyebrow at the mention of dog fighting, blowing right past the use of the word 'brohem'.

"Last things first; a brown and a yellow, please and thank you. Secondly; I don't fight my dogs... not my thing. Now, I'm not against training dogs for defensive and offensive purposes, ya know; War Dogs, but pitting animal versus animal for sport... yeah, not my thing. But thanks for letting me know that that sort of thing goes on here."

After getting the brews, I find a table where I can sit with my back to a wall and where I can see the door I came in. I hand the yellow brew to Slugger and take the leashes from her. I order the dogs to stay, pointing to the area around the table and chairs, then tell them to be good boys before taking off the leashes. Then I pull out the brown bag from Old Bruce and pull out three bones, giving one to each dog. I watch for a minute or so out of the corner of my eyes while I drink the brown brew quietly, to make sure they don't fight over the bones. Then I look around the room, making note of other patrons.... wondering if this is the tavern where the shaman was supposed to be.

"So, what do you think of the brew, Slugger? Better than Bud?"

  • Michael James Watson

"Its familiar. Like the stuff dad brews. Homemade. He puts it on cereal. Nasty. Did you see where curios went? Out that door at the back maybe? Hey...look at those guy...they look all puffy..."

Following her glance he sees down the bar. The long thin room has about a dozen patrons, mostly men. By the back door he sees Curious walking out, looking around curiously. Two men by the door are indeed puffy. Raphael realizes he is looking at two actual orcs. They look after Curious and follow him out.

  • Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.

"Yeaaahhh... he went out the back door" I say with a sigh. "Guess I should go see what he's up to... especially since those Orcs are following him."

I take a long drink as I stand. Setting the glass down I say to Slugger, "Watch the dogs, I'll be back."

I head towards the back door, thinking: ~Guess I'm going to meet my first Orc up close and personal now. Cross that off my Bucket List.~

  • Michael James Watson

Rushing out the back he sees an orc grab Curios from where it sat on the corner of a fight pit. The sounds of dogs fighting a crowd cheering tells him everything.

Curious erupts in claws and screeches tearing the orcs hand to shreads almost instantly. His companion laughs outloud. Curios is dropped in the pit