hwango: (hermit crab)
[personal profile] hwango
A warning to returning readers: this is not my usual brand of whimsy.

When Timothy Hansen was nine years old, his family moved to a different city halfway across the country. It was a lot to adjust to, and Timmy had barely settled into his new school and started to make friends when he stumbled through a magical doorway into another world where he befriended a charming nonhuman race who called themselves Wargleblags, went on an epic quest for a lost artifact of power called the Fibbulark, and then used the Fibbulark to defeat a terrifying monster called the Voracious Snoot.

After a great celebration, the Wargleblags helped him locate a portal back home, where he discovered that to his family only minutes had passed, and no one realized that he had ever been gone.

Timmy had really been looking forward to telling everyone about his incredible adventure. He had also been looking forward to how happy everyone would be to see him after an absence of what to him had been many days. Timmy had several siblings who all seemed to be special in some way that he was not - Samantha was a talented artist and the only girl, Bobby was the youngest and always sick, and Alaric was the eldest and did all the cool things older kids did like learn how to drive a car and get arrested for vandalism and trespassing. But this! This they would have noticed. This finally made him special.

Except, no one thought he'd been missing. And since no one thought he'd even been gone, it seemed impossible that anyone would believe where he'd been and what he'd done. Add to that the fact that his adventure was full of unbelievable events and rather silly names, and even Timmy thought it sounded rather implausible, and he had been there.

He did try telling some of it as a story to Bobby, but his little brother told him that it sounded dumb and made Timmy read to him what he referred to as "real fairy tales."

So Timmy rather reluctantly returned to his old life, which was still in many ways his new life. His experiences with the Wargleblags had changed him, though, and he found that his budding new friendships withered and failed. The novelty of a new town and a new school paled compared to wonders such as the floating city of Abzerklang or the terrifying bone castle of the Uberlich (previous owner of the Fibbulark). He was sorry that he would probably never see them again.

But when Timmy was eleven years old, a Wargleblag jumped out of the bushes and accosted him as he was walking home from the bus stop. The Wargleblag told him that their world was once again in peril, and asked would he please come to help them.

This time, Timmy retrieved the Orb of the Ungerlake and did battle with the Hrangvat of Ooblegong and the vile wizard Flitibigious Smeeg. The Hrangvat had the most enormous teeth Timmy had ever seen outside of a museum exhibit about dinosaurs, and when it bit him it almost took off his arm. Considering that Timmy's most serious injury up until that point had been a skinned knee, this was terrifying. Once it became clear that the healing magic of the Wargleblags would save him, however, he dared to think that it would be cool to have some awesome scars that he could show to people as proof of his adventures. Alas, the healing powers of the Wargleblags erased all traces of his epic battle. He asked about bringing home some other souvenir that he could use to prove his story, but the only indisputable proof would be a magical artifact of some kind, and the Wargleblags warned him that such a thing would either cease to function or be dangerously unpredictable in his world. Timmy returned home empty-handed and, as he expected, once again no one realized that he'd been gone even though he'd been in the magical otherworld for weeks.

Timmy's father lost his job, and it seemed that they might have to move again. Timmy felt conflicted about this. Packing up and moving had been exhausting and tedious and he'd hated giving up his school and his friends. On the other, he'd never quite settled in here, and it might be nice to start over again.

His parents shouted at each other even more than usual, and Timmy took to going for walks by himself just to get out of the house. Alaric got arrested again, prompting more shouting. Eventually his father found work, though, and things stabilized for a while. Timmy made a friend at softball and was happy they hadn't been forced to move away after all, but then one of the cars broke down and his parents had to share, and the altered schedule meant no one could give him a ride to practice anymore.

When Timmy was twelve years old, the Wargleblags came to him again for aid. Timmy spend almost two months at sea to reach the distant island believed to hold the fabled Magecrown of Weir. After navigating a harrowing maze filled with traps, snakes, spiders, and carnivorous ambulatory land sponges, Timmy acquired the crown, made his way back to the lands of the Wargleblags, and destroyed the giant clockwork spiders of Arrak the Merciless. The Warglebalgs had fought valiantly while he was retrieving the crown, but many of them lost their lives amidst the terrible destruction wrought by Arrak. Timmy learned to deal with loss and grief. This time there was no celebration in his honor, but instead somber memorials for the fallen. White was the Wargleblag color of mourning, and for the rest of his life Timmy would feel a pang of sadness whenever he saw someone dressed entirely in white.

Not long after Timothy returned home, his little brother Bobby died. Timothy appeared to handle it the best out of anyone in his family. Alaric called him a heartless little bastard and a lot of other names, and Timothy feared that maybe the rest of his family also thought that he didn't care. Really, though, after so recently burying so many of his closest friends he was just too emotionally drained to cry.

Timothy's parents got a divorce, and his mother moved out. That was awful, and Timothy missed her a great deal. Still, it was wonderful not to have to listen to his parents shouting at each other anymore. It made him feel inexpressibly guilty to think that, but he couldn't help it.

When Timothy was fourteen years old, he used the Spear of Blitzenkrag to defeat the ghoul armies of the evil necromancer Willhiem. Time had always passed at a vastly accelerated pace for the magical otherworld, and by this point the Wargleblags now called themselves Wargkin. They had long since rebuilt their cities after the destruction caused by Arrak, but they now lacked the rainbow streets and other whimsical flourishes that Timothy still remembered from his first visit. Many of the friends that he had made on that first adventure had passed away from old age or been killed in battles. It didn't feel like the same place he'd first visited just a few years ago, and leaving it was easier than he expected.

Alaric shot up a gas station. He was was old enough to be tried as an adult, and went to real prison this time. Timothy thought that was probably the best place for him, and was privately relieved. Later that year, Timothy rather nervously shared his first kiss with a friend because they both wanted to know what it felt like. Even though they promised each other that it wouldn't mean anything it still made things awkward afterwards, and soon after that they were fighting over stupid things and then suddenly never speaking again. Timothy wondered if that was his fault. He felt that he had never really acquired the knack of making or keeping human friends.

Timothy got into a fight at school. Some new kid wanted to prove that he was tough or something, and decided to push around the obvious weirdo who never talked to anyone. Timothy was more used to armed combat with swords or knives and such than he was fighting an ordinary brawl, but he'd picked up a thing or two in his various adventures. After a few seconds he had broken the kid's arm and knocked out two of his teeth. Timothy got detention even though he hadn't started the fight, and wasn't really surprised. He was, however, a little surprised to be jumped by three of the kid's friends a few days later. With three on one odds he'd been forced to fight even dirtier, and this time he put two of them in the hospital and got a week's suspension. Only the fact that he was the victim kept him from being expelled.

When Timothy was sixteen years old, he descended into an ancient tomb that turned out to belong to the wizard Smeeg, whom Timothy had fought just five years ago according to how he reckoned time. This was in some ways even more surreal than some of his original adventures. Smeeg had been buried with several of his more dangerous and poorly-understood magical items, and Timothy needed them to defeat the Khan of Wind and Dust. No Varkin had dared to enter the tomb in the centuries since it had been constructed, but didn't so much as blink when Timothy suggested that he go himself. Partly this was because they believed that he could do anything and partly it was that they were desperate for anything that would save them all from certain death - unlike many previous adversaries, the Khan's goal was neither conquest nor localized mayhem. He was creating an ever-widening shroud of soot that was blocking out the sun. Already whole forests and fields of crops had withered and died in the artificial darkness. After Timothy defeated the Khan and the cloud dispersed everything felt simultaneously too bright and somehow muted - washed out and gray, as if the black dust were spread very fine over everything. For the first time Timothy was almost eager to leave the place.

Timothy went to college, happy to put some distance between himself and his family. It was nice to have an excuse not to have to visit Alaric in prison. This was finally that chance to start fresh that he had half-wanted back when he was twelve. He made new friends. He fell in love, or so it seemed at the time. He got his heart broken, had his heart mended. He was a student of average ability who excelled because he put in the time and effort. One thing a childhood full of life-or-death adventures instills you with is a drive to finish what you start and not give up just because something seems difficult.

When Timothy was twenty years old, he thought he might be in love again. Evelyn was smart and funny and he felt like he could trust her. He thought about confiding in her about his unusual childhood, but it had been so long since he'd visited the Varkin that it was becoming easier to think he might have imagined the whole thing. He wasn't sure that it was worth telling her about it all if he didn't believe in it anymore - then it was just a bunch of stuff he'd made up as escapism from unhappy childhood events.

Naturally it was while he was alone in his dorm having this debate with himself again that one of the Varkin appeared to him. Timothy had never seen one so gaunt or with such a look of defeat in its eyes. It asked him if he was the fabled Timothy of Hansen who had saved his people so often in the past, and when Timothy allowed that he was the creature wept openly. The darkest of dark times had come. Varkin had searched for him for decades, but apparently hadn't been able to adjust their portals to find him a few states over from where they were used to him living. Timothy felt guilty that it had never occurred to him that they Varkin might need him and be unable to find him while he was away at college.

The Varkin told him that he was needed now more than ever, but that their seemingly endless search had depleted the power that opened the doors between worlds. They could not promise that if he came to help them now that they would be able to return him home again. They were desperate, but they owed him too great a debt already not to warn him of the price he might pay for coming to their aid.

Timothy wondered if he was having a nervous breakdown or something. He'd really started to convince himself that none of his childhood adventures had been real, and now this happened. The timing felt like more than coincidence.

But he had to consider the possibility that this wasn't simply him hallucinating, and that these people might be real. These people who had made him feel like he mattered in a way that, if he was honest, no one in the "real" world ever had. He thought about the fact that he might be leaving Evelyn forever and realized that the fact that he was even considering it meant that his relationship wasn't everything he'd built it up to be. She would get over it and so would he.

He might never come back. But really, a lot of those adventures had put his life in real jeopardy. The first few trips he'd been too young to understand how dangerous the stuff he'd been doing was, but the last three or so he'd known when he went that there was a real chance he might die, and he'd gone anyway. Why was this any different?

Because, he realized, he might live, and still not come back. He'd have to build a real life there, not to just visit for some big adventure. It would be just like real life, it would just be somewhere else. Or he could turn his back on them now knowing that if he did they'd probably never be able to ask for his help again.

But...if the world of the Varkin was only in his imagination, what would it mean if he chose to go there and never return?

It was time to choose which world was going to be the only one he would live in.

Timothy chose.

Date: 2015-05-26 11:23 am (UTC)
fiveforsilver: (Doctor Who [Donna])
From: [personal profile] fiveforsilver
I like this. One of the things that always bothered me about Narnia, say, or the Star Trek episodes where someone lived a whole other life in a dream or whatever, was that it never had any real world consequences. They always just went back to themselves as though nothing had happened. This is much more satisfying (and makes much more sense, as far as anything like this makes sense :).

Date: 2015-05-27 10:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hwango.livejournal.com

Certainly Star Trek's The Inner Light has to be one of the worst offenders for what you're talking about - most of the rest of the series pretty much pretended it never happened. Maybe once or twice they at had him play that flute again, but any other side effects of living 40 extra years, getting married, having children, and having their civilization die? Nope. Which I always thought was a shame.

I never read any of Narnia, but I did like that in the movies they would address the issue at least a little - Edmund complained about being treated like a child after having grown up once already.
Edited Date: 2015-05-27 10:53 pm (UTC)

Date: 2015-05-28 12:07 am (UTC)
fiveforsilver: (Default)
From: [personal profile] fiveforsilver
Star Trek seems to have been pretty bad about anything that might have required character growth, honestly. When Troi had her magical pregnancy (sigh) and then was all better at the end, for example. All the times Riker (or do I mean Kirk?) fell in love, and then had to move on.

Date: 2015-05-26 09:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shadowpanther10.livejournal.com
I hope he chose to go with the Varkin, I know I would. As for Narnia, I have been wanting to go there since I first read the books as a small child, and I am now 45 years old.

Date: 2015-05-27 10:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hwango.livejournal.com
It's a great place to visit, but...? = ) Thanks for reading!

Date: 2015-05-26 11:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cedarwolfsinger.livejournal.com
Hwango, my dear, how nice to see you writing here again. I love this. Reality and choices. Narnia with no one to speak to at home about it. Thank you! Lovely.

Date: 2015-05-27 10:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hwango.livejournal.com
Glad you enjoyed it!

Well, maybe Narnia - I tried to sprinkle some seeds of doubt as to whether he really went anywhere. As he gets older, his adventures grow darker and more serious, names become less silly and sometimes might be corruptions of real world people (Arrak for Alaric, and after Billy [presumably William] dies we face undead creatures led my Willhiem). Coincidence? I think that gives the decision of whether to stay or go an extra layer of consequence.

Date: 2015-05-27 10:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jlly-coppercorn.livejournal.com

I look forward to your imaginative humor when you sign up to write with us. Despite this story only showing hints of that I enjoyed it very much. The need for a choice at the end is moving without feeling like a ploy. It's more of a natural progression. He can't have a commitment to either life while straddling two worlds. This is as imaginative as your ususual writing and exhibits a wonderful, thought-provoking depth.

I'm glad you made time for us this month. Thank you for sharing.

Date: 2015-05-27 10:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hwango.livejournal.com
Thanks! It's funny, but when I started writing this I was thinking it would all be just fun and whimsy, but it kinda went off the rails. I couldn't help dwelling on how hard it would be to be totally invested in "the real world" as a child after making life and death decisions in your magical other world. And even if you could make the transition back to "normality," going through things like that would have to leave it's mark. And then to repeat the cycle over and over again...

Once I'd gone that dark, I couldn't help but make the other world start to lose its innocence and appeal as time went on, and even scatter hints that it might not even be real (as mentioned in my reply to the previous comment).

So, yes, a bit weightier than my usual. Glad it was still enjoyable.

Date: 2015-05-30 06:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] darlinleo.livejournal.com
Hello, sunshine.

What's most surprising to me about this piece is it's so ... internal. The lengthy narrative and summarized imagery, adventures, and profound personal discoveries all work. I didn't crave dialogue, or elaborate setting, I just enjoyed the story. As a reader, I do appreciate some dark, particularly in the way you presented here, in tandem with Timothy's own realizations that as a child he really didn't grasp the dangers he faced but as he matured he could look at those risks and weigh them against Real World expectations and personal values -- though his ultimate conclusion is still quite ambiguous, and his questions led to questions of his own sanity.

If all my rambling wasn't clear, I love it. Glad you joined us in May. Hope to see you in June!

Date: 2015-06-01 08:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hwango.livejournal.com
Thanks! One thing that survived intact from my initial plan is the inversion of how these stories are usually handled - normally we'd focus on the strange new world and epic battles and all that, and here his first adventure is instead reduced to a single sentence. = ) Glad you enjoyed it!

Date: 2015-06-11 11:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gunthersdncemix.livejournal.com
Choose your own adventure? :)

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