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Once Upon A Time:
Note: The names of all parties involved have been changed in order to prevent crazy-ass Google searching.
I was twelve the first time I gamed. I was twelve, and awkward, and bored.
I grew up in the middle of nowhere, Alabama. My parents owned a farm, and when I was ten, we moved out of the burgeoning metropolis of Eufaula, Alabama (population 10,000) to a house near the family farm, fifteen miles away from, well, anything. I didn't exactly fit the lifestyle, though - I wanted to spend my days reading odd literature and playing computer games. I hadn't discovered fantasy yet, really - the sort of books I read were full of sex and violence and transgression, though. I suppose Clive Barker and Piers Anthony's non-Xanth stuff and Heinlein were fantasy, but the whole elves-and-swords-and-magic thing had eluded me thus far.
Oh, two more things: first, I wasn't cool. That much is probably already apparent, but it figures in later. Second, I came from a very strong fundamentalist Christian background, and because of that, the mythology of transgression kind of obsessed me.
One Sunday afternoon, the phone rang. My mom called out, "It's for you." The phone wasn't ever for me. This was more than curious.
Danny Pepper, the coolest guy I knew, was on the other end of the phone. Danny was already a consummate actor at twelve - he's still acting today, as far as I know. The funny thing is, looking back, he was just as weird and pimply as any other twelve-year-old boy. He just acted cool.
Anyway, Danny said, "What are you up to?" I'd seen Danny at Sunday School that morning.
"Nothing much. Just playing on my computer." I'd been writing a computer game all day which was supposed to simulate hacking into another computer.
"Want to play some D&D?"
My mind back-flipped. I had no clue what D&D really was. I just knew that it was satanic - that it was the Devil's game, and full of magic and nightmares. In my mind, Danny had just asked me if I wanted to get possessed by Beelzebub. Of course I wanted to play D&D.
"Sure. I mean, yes. Um... when? What do I do?"
"Show up at my house in any hour. And roll three dice six times and add up the totals. You got a pen? Write this down. Write those numbers beside these words: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. Chris and Kyle'll be there."
My voice quivered. "Ok. I mean, all right. I'll be there."
I hung up the phone, my hands shaking and my bowels lurching around like the undead. "Mom? Can you give me a ride to Danny's?"
"Why? That's a long drive into town," Mom said.
I thought she could probably see into my soul and see all the evil I was about to unleash into my life. I could taste vomit in my mouth. "Um... we're going to play basketball."
"Basketball? But you don't play basketball."
"I want to learn. Plus, Danny's cool."
She patted my head. "Well, ok. I know you miss hanging out with your friends."
I must have hyperventilated the entire way into town. Armed with a dictionary and three dice from a Yahtzee set, I'd figured out what Constitution meant and made scores for each of these arcane words Danny'd told me. I had the piece of paper folded in my pocket, and it burned against my thigh like the demonic talisman I thought it was. Maybe these scores were for the demon I was going to summon. I had no idea what was going on, but the adrenaline rush had me sweaty, frightened, and totally exhilarated. I think my mom asked me what was wrong twenty times in the thirty-minute drive, and each time, I thought she was going to pick up on the incantation in my pocket with her God-sense and have me exorcised on the spot.
Finally arriving at Danny's, I knocked on the door to have it opened by Mrs. Pepper. "Clint! How are you? Do you want some cookies?"
My stomach lurched around. Mrs. Pepper's cookies were amazing, but all-American wholesomeness and deviltry in the same hour sounded like a mix of milk and orange juice to me. "Oh, no. I can't. I mean, I just ate."
She grinned. "Ok. Well, will you take the plate down to the other boys? They're in the basement."
In all honesty, the door to that basement was a gateway to the hell of my parents' nightmares. I saw my first naked woman, smoked my first cigarette, had my first beer, and touched a girl's tit all in that basement within five years. Mrs. Pepper was the coolest. At the time, I didn't know that.
I made my way down the stairs holding onto one handrail for dear life. The harsh reality of what I was about to do hit, and even opening the door to the basement took on great symbolism, the opening of a gate to let in all that my soul had been protected from.
"Hey, man. Come on down."
Danny, Kyle, and Chris were sitting around a card table covered in booklets. "So, Clint - whatcha want to play, man?" Danny asked. "We got a dwarf, and a cleric, and a thief."
I shrugged, totally confused. "I dunno. Here's my scores." I pulled out the piece of paper for his approval.
"Not bad, man. This would make a good elf."
"You mean like Santa's elves? Little chubby people?"
"No - that's like a halfling. These are like pale people with pointy ears that cast magic and swing swords."
I'd read some Moorcock, and thought immediately of Elric. "Hell, yeah. I like that. So what do we do?"
A few hours later, my mom came to pick me up, grins and all. I was covered in a smile. I didn't know the rules, thought THAC0 was the hardest math I'd ever had to do, and died at the claws of some stirges, but was happier than I'd ever been.
"Did you enjoy your basketball game?" my mom asked.
"It was great," I said, laughing inside. Now if I can only get to seventh level, so I can learn real magic, I thought as we drove off to church.
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