ATTEMPTING TO JUMP OVER A CHASM, YOU ROLL A 5
The bridge is out. Either someone cut the ropes or time wore them away. In any case, it fell against the far side. You scan your surroundings. You find nothing that you could fashion into a bridge, no tree to chop down, no statue to topple.
You could turn back. But turning back would mean returning whence you came, and if you could accept that outcome then you wouldn’t be here. Returning would mean chides and jeers from all those who think they know you. Welcome back, they’d say with smug grins. You know the pain of injuries to your pride better than physical ones.
You run the running start that precedes a successful leap. You misjudge where the ground ends and the chasm begins. You bounce off the rocky wall all the way down.
At the bottom is a skeleton of a child or a Halfling. You crushed its skull when you landed hard. You may never regain the strength to climb out. No one will find you in time to splint your limbs. You think you will die here. Your body will rot and wither. But at least you never went home again, and your bones will be anonymous, so they’ll never know how you proved them right.
ATTEMPTING TO RECALL A LORE ABOUT FOOTSTEPS, YOU ROLL A 9
In your camp in the dark wilderness, you awaken to the sound of footsteps of a humanoid creature with a limp. The noise triggers déjà vu, and you keep still and silent as you try to recall where you’ve heard these footfalls before. Instead you remember a bedtime story your mother told about a man with the ambition to conquer a mountain. That is, not only to summit it, but to climb every inch on every side, and thus know it completely, and thus become its master. After months of mapping every crag and handhold, the man declared his ownership of the mountain. He challenged other mountaineers to races up his mountain, his victory assured. During one such contest, as if the mountain could spite the man, a landslide engulfed him, and his right leg was broken. His splint was set crooked, and his bones healed wrong. His walking grew labored, and he could never climb again.
You listen to the stranger’s footsteps fade into the distance. You ponder the misfortune of a figure who limps alone through a forest at night. You wonder if your mother’s story was true, or if it was designed to teach you something: the danger of hubris, or nature’s cruelty, or a femur’s frailty.
ATTEMPTING TO LISTEN TO THE MUTTERING OF A MAGIC ITEM, YOU ROLL A 13
A quarterstaff should not speak, but this one is enchanted, and so it mutters. Its noises are discernible as common speech yet barely audible, like a mad neighbor heard through a thick wall. Curious, you hold the head of the staff to your ear, where it trickles a stream of whispered words: crack swing swung whoosh ping tick tock toll tweet clang whack good night. The staff is of unknown origin. You know not how long it lay inside this cave before you found it. How many have wielded it over untold years? From generations of men it could have heard these words, absorbing and regurgitating them like a manic starling. Perhaps, as you listen to it, it also listens to you. Hello, you say into the staff. You listen: lift limp walk ache back oh hell stretch strain pop crunch stop crutch. You clear your throat and enunciate. Repeat, you say. Hello, hell-o, hel-lo, you repeat. Searching for meaning, you touch your ear to the hunk of wood—stick fit shove up face hole plug shut done—but its speech softens further, as if retreating from you. You store the staff in your bag. You will try again tomorrow, hoping to hear your own voice outside your own head.
William Hoffacker is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of Cartridge Lit, an online literary journal dedicated to poetry and prose inspired by video games. His work has appeared in NANO Fiction, The Matador Review, Threadcount, and others. More information is available at williamhoffacker.com.