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archive:stories:bulzork1

The Zorker's Story

"All right, all right, let's get some work done here," Bruce shouted above the din. He waited a few moments for the noise to settle down, and when it didn't, he strode up to the stage and picked up the megaphone. "Quiet down already!" he cried.

      The students, startled by the loud voice, turned to him and

were quiet. "That's better," he said without the megaphone. "Listen, I'd sort of like to get through this scene so if you'd all pick up your books? Hey, great. Okay, it's page 82, act two, scene two of The Tempest. Eric, you play Caliban, Ed can play Trinculo, and Alex can play Stephano. The rest of you," he added through the growing mumble of dissatisfied aspiring actors, "listen for the things we talked about. Symbolism? Huh? Okay, Eric, take it away."

      " All the infections that the sun sucks up...'" 
      Bruce jumped off the stage and went to sit in the back of

the auditorium. It was really too big for a classroom, but as the only room in the school with a stage, it sufficed. As the two drunks decided what to do with the strange monster Caliban, Bruce sighed and leaned back in the seat.

      Bruce Williams was the teacher of eleventh grade drama.  

known for his odd combination of expertise in Shakespeare and twentieth century drama, he was well-liked by the students for his easy, informal demeanor. For this same reason, he was mistrusted by other teachers and the principal. He was secure in his job because of his excellent credentials–his short but notable professional theater career earned him the job. And he did a good job, so although people complained about his un- orthodox methods, his record was unshakable.

      He enjoyed the work a lot.  It reminded him of his own work

at that age, when he had really loved acting on the stage. No glamour, now, no applause, but just his students doing well and enjoying the class; that was gratification enough.

      He sat through the scene, half-listening to the unac- 

centuated high school speech. More than once he had requested the course be audition required, but as it was the only drama class, the school had decided that it shouldn't be restricted. Some of Shakespeare's odd wording provoked laughter from the kids, but they listened carefully under the direction of Bruce. He flipped through a few odd bulletins and notices while the scene went on.

      " O brave monster!  Lead the way!'" exclaimed his student

Alex as Stephano. There was a short silence after he finished the line, then the class began talking loudly again. But before Bruce could say a word, the bell rang signifying end of class. In their Friday eagerness to leave the class, they pushed past him, ignoring his pleas for them to think about the scene for tomorrow.

      Now he was alone in the makeshift theater.  He stood and 

walked down the aisle of seats, looking up and down the rows. Somebody had forgotten his book. Bruce picked it up and tucked it under his arm. He would return it tomorrow, probably with one of his corny jokes like "Shakespeare's labors lost". The rest of the room was clean, so he turned to leave. He only had two classes in a day, one of them second hour and the other right after lunch. After the second he could leave.

      He walked down the halls, avoiding the crush of students

racing the clock to reach their next class. He thought briefly that if they ran in Phys. Ed. like they did in the halls, their 50-yard dash scores might be a lot better.

      "Hi, Mr. Williams!"  Bruce turned his head towards the

anonymous caller and smiled. Probably one of his students, although his fame as a teacher had spread even to the non- dramatically inclined. He continued through the mob which thinned out until the final bell rang and the halls cleared.

      He checked off his name at the main office and then left the

building to the parking lot. His blue, non-descript little car was parked in a space close to the door. There was a ticket tucked under the windshield wiper.

      "What the hell..." Bruce exclaimed and trailed off.  He

snatched up the ticket and read it. But it wasn't a ticket after all. It was a short note. "Bruce–Call me when you get home. Joshua."

      Joshua Monlley was Bruce's personal accountant, personal 

advisor, and personal friend. Bruce often joked about taking the two l's out of Joshua's last name to describe him better. This was actually true. Not that he was particularly avaricious, but he did have an amazing knack for making money.

      Bruce got in the car and turned on the ignition.  He let it

idle for a few moments while he thought about the note. It was strange that Joshua should leave a note like this. Either he would call Bruce at home himself, or, if it was really urgent, call him at the school. But why a note under the windshield? Bruce stepped on the gas and pulled out of the parking lot.

      He was always happy to leave early, beating the usual

rush-hour traffic most teachers had to deal with. He drove fairly fast through the almost deserted back streets.

      His house was on a large street about five miles from the

school. A convenient location, because it had the added bonus of shopping right around the corner. Not that Bruce needed much, but he did tend to eat.

      He parked in the driveway and walked up the three or four

steps to his front door. Letting himself in, the first thing he did was to go to his study and sit down at the desk to call Joshua. Something made him do it; the note had had a peculiar sense of urgency, casually worded though it was.

      Quickly he tapped the memorized numbers off Joshua's office

on the telephone and listened at the receiver. The phone rang once…twice…three times…four times…and it was answered.

      "Good afternoon, Mr. Monlley's office.  How can I help you?"
      Bruce recognized the smooth, low voice of Joshua's secret-

ary. "Hello, Paige, it's Bruce Williams."

      "Why hello, Mr. Williams, how are you?"
      "I'm fine, thanks.  Is Mr. Monlley in?"
      "Yes, he is," the secretary said.  "Hold, please."  Bruce

was eternally thankful that Joshua's office didn't play innocuous Muzak during telephone hold.

      "Heyyy, Shakespeare!" came the loud voice of Joshua.
      "Heyyy, Rockefeller!" Bruce responded good-naturedly.
      "Funny you called me.  I was going to call you tonight."
      "What?" Bruce said in surprise.  "But why did you leave me

that note, then?"

      "What note?" 
      "The note you left under my wiper."
      "You hallucinating, pal?" Joshua said lightly.  "I didn't

leave you any note."

      "What the hell are you talking about?" Bruce said.  "It said

for me to call you when I got home."

      "Somebody's playing a trick on you."
      "A trick?" Bruce said blankly.
      "Yeah, a trick.  A prank?  You know?"  But Joshua sounded

uneasy. "There, uh, was something I wanted to talk to you about. It's pretty important, too."

      "Weird," Bruce muttered.
      "Bruce, listen to me!"  All trace of bantering was gone from

his voice now. "Listen to me–I have some bad news for you."

      "What is it," Bruce asked nervously.
      Joshua spoke gently.  "Andrew Colman died this morning of a

heart attack."

      "My cousin?"
      "Yes."
      Bruce couldn't believe his ears.  Andrew Colman, Andy, had

been his best friend since they were three. Ever since Andy's mother, Bruce's aunt by marriage, had died, Bruce's mother had spent a lot of time with her brother-in-law, which meant that Andy and Bruce were left to play together a lot. Andy was only two years older than Bruce, and they had been friends all through school, until they went to different colleges. Still they had kept in touch, until a few months ago when Andy had moved to England. To hear that he had died left Bruce with a tremendous sense of loss.

      "Andy--is dead?"
      "I'm really sorry, pal.  I know what a friend he was to

you."

      Bruce was silent for a moment.  "He was only thirty. 

Thirty-one."

      "Bruce, the will reading is tonight.  It's in California, so

I don't expect you to be there, but they'll call me and let me know what you inherit. Okay?"

      "Yeah, fine.  Thanks."
      "Sure.  If you need me, I'll be here until 5 and at home

after that."

      "Okay.  Bye."
      "Bye."
      Bruce set down the receiver heavily and stared off into

space. It really wasn't anyone's fault that the communication had deteriorated. But the mail often took two weeks at a time to go from Rhode Island to England, and phone calls were too expensive. It had been a business move, and he had been due back after eighteen months. Andy hadn't been in Bruce's thoughts much after the move, but hearing he had died made Bruce realize how much he had missed his cousin–and how much more he would miss him now that he was gone.

      Numbly, Bruce got up and went into the kitchen for something

to drink. He opened up a can of Coke and drank some, for lack of something better to do. Normally, after school, Bruce would read or correct papers, but it was Friday, and the day's develop- ments left him not really wanting to do work. He decided to take a walk instead.

      He walked down the street where his house was, heading for

the shopping area nearby. It was no Fifth Avenue, just a couple of short, busy streets, but it was the most urban area of his small neighborhood, and he enjoyed walking around there.

      People often glanced at Bruce, not because he was par-

ticularly strange, but just that he was mostly different. The neighborhood, though small and cozy-seeming, was mostly full of conservative professionals who worked in Providence but wanted to live in the suburbs. It was the children of these yuppies who attended the school Bruce worked at.

      But Bruce was different.  He didn't dress like an eccentric,

nor like a slob, nor like a yuppie, but just a plain pair of pants, unadorned with expensive labels, and a shirt much the same.

      He stepped into a small, cozy ice-cream parlor and ordered

a double scoop of butter pecan. He sat in a white, shiny metal chair. The kind of chairs with flat red cushions that ice-cream parlors seemed to love although they grated on your backbone. Bruce ate his cone slowly, looking around at the empty store. He came into this place a lot when nobody else was here. Although he ate a lot of ice cream, Bruce was very trim and in good shape. God only knew why, since he never exercised.

      After finishing his ice cream, Bruce got up and threw away

the paper wrapper that had covered the cone. The mirror caught his eye and he went over to check that he had no ice cream around the mouth.

      For a man of almost thirty, Bruce Williams looked more like

twenty. His blond hair was short, thick, and fairly wavy. His face was slightly square, which made him look as if he had authority (but with his classes, forget it!), with a high forehead, dark hazel eyes, the nose a little big for his face, and the mouth a little small. Altogether, he was not what you could call handsome, exactly, but he was good-looking.

      Consoled with the thought that while some looked better

than him, others looked worse, Bruce left the parlor and headed for home. Short, non-productive walks, reading, and occasionally checking papers were the bulk of his afternoon. Horribly mundane, except for his two drama classes, which he really enjoyed.

      The problem with those classes, he reflected as he walked

home, was that nobody really cared. It was, to them, an easy `A'. Which was why, as happened so often, when rowdy or apa- thetic students accused him of enjoying giving out bad grades, too many times it was true. He demanded the best. He got mediocrity.

      But what could you expect?  These weren't seasoned profes-

sionals, they were kids hoping for a good time. There were a few with real talent, who actually hoped to get something out of the course, but it was usually spoiled for them by the less enthusi- astic kids.

      "Oh, well," Bruce thought as he jogged up the stairs to his

house, "you can't expect the best all of the time. You can only hope for the best some of the time."

      Entering the house suddenly gave Bruce a shock, as it

reminded him of what he had been trying to forget. He glanced at his watch. It had been a quarter to two when he came home from school; now it was a quarter to three. He wondered what time the will reading was.

      How to spend the time?  It was a question that plagued most

of his evenings, but when awaiting a phone call, the time passed so slow as to be tortuous. He thought of calling Joshua up, but then decided against it. Joshua, he knew, would be all too happy to pause work and talk to him, but Bruce knew how busy the office was and didn't want to burden his friend with more work.

      Then Bruce thought of Ellie.  Ellie Fontaine was a trig-

onometry teacher at the school, very intelligent and very beautiful. She and Bruce had become excellent friends shortly after his arrival at the school two years ago. More than just friends, ran the student/faculty grapevine, but that was really all there was to it.

      He looked up her number in the faculty phone book and dialed

it.

      "Hello.  This is Ellie.  Thanks for calling, but..." came

the sound of her recorded message. Bruce didn't really want to talk to her answering machine, so he started to hang up. Then he heard Andy herself.

      "Oh, damn it...hang on a sec..." Bruce heard the tape speed

up until it was incomprehensible, then stop altogether.

      "Hi," Bruce said hesitantly.  "Uh, this is Bruce."
      "Bruce!  Hi, how are you?"  Andy said, slightly out of

breath. "Sorry about that, I was upstairs and forgot to turn off the thing. What's up?"

      "Are you busy?"  
      "No, not at all."
      "I just wanted to talk to somebody."  His voice had a note

of desperation in it that he wished would go away.

      "What's wrong?  Why do you sound so upset?"
      Did it show that much?  "I..." Then a thought struck

him. "Why aren't you at school? Why are you home?"

      "I always come home early on Fridays," she said patiently. 

"I don't have a class the last period. Normally I stay at school for assorted reasons, but Fridays I just want to get home. Now what's up?"

      Bruce was about to tell her about Andy, but suddenly decided

against it. "Something's come up. I probably won't be at the meeting tomorrow."

      "Well, that's fine, but why are you calling to tell me this,

Bruce? Seriously, now, what's wrong?" Ellie had an infuriating way of knowing everybody too well.

      Bruce gave it up.  She was a friend, she would understand

and tell nobody. Where was the point of keeping it from her?

      "Andy Colman, my cousin, died today."
      "Your cousin?  Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that.  Were you

close?"

      "Like brothers.  He had moved to England, where I guess he

was pretty busy, but…" Bruce drew a painful breath. "Anyway, that's why I may not be in school tomorrow."

      "I understand.  When is the will reading taking place?"
      Bruce sighed.  Why was everyone so damned concerned about

wills? "Tonight, in England somewhere. I'll know tonight what the share is, if that really matters."

      "Does it matter?"  Ellie used her "patient-teacher-with-a-

disruptive-student" voice on him, which annoyed him.

      "Of course not!  Why the hell should I care what my best

friend, virtually the only relative I had, left me? It can't be anything I couldn't live without, so what's the big deal? What's the whole big deal?" Bruce paused, realizing he was shouting at Ellie. "I'm sorry."

      "That's okay."
      "I don't mean to be taking this out on you.  You really

don't deserve it at all."

      "Don't worry about it," she said kindly.
      "Look, I'd better go.  I didn't mean to call up and yell at

you."

      "Okay, Bruce.  I'll cover for you tomorrow."
      "Right.  You always do," Bruce said, embarrassed.
      "Take care, okay?  I'm really very sorry."
      "Thanks.  Goodbye."
      Ellie paused for a second, as though she were about to say

something else, but "Bye" was all she said.

      Bruce hung up the receiver and put his head in his hands. 

He felt like an incredible jackass. He had called her up to make him feel better, and wound up yelling at her. Just like an undusciplined child. It was embarrassing and humiliating.

      He sat like that for a few minutes more, and then suddenly

sat up. Three o'clock. The reading was in England. But it was later there–six or seven hours later. He picked up the phone and dialed Joshua's office.

      This time Joshua himself answered.  "Joshua Monlley's

office, the aforementioned speaking."

      Joshua's odd greeting made Bruce smile in spite of himself. 

"Hey, Rockefeller," he said nervously.

      "Hey, Shakespeare," Joshua replied.  "WHat's up?  How you

doing?"

      "Okay.  Okay, thanks.  Listen, about the will reading..."
      "I know," Joshua interrupted.  "I didn't think about the

time change either, I had other stuff on my mind."

      Bruce was only slightly surprised that Joshua had known what

Bruce was thinking. He was more surprised that Joshua had forgotten the detail at all. "So what's the deal," Bruce asked, trying unsuccessfully to sound nonchalant.

      "Well, you know, it's odd," Joshua said quickly.  "He, uh,

didn't leave you money, or bonds or any other kinds of assets."

      "Oh?"   
      "No, what he left you was books.  Two books, unusual books,

ones he acquired in England. Books that are worth a lot of money. They're very old and antique."

      "Joshua, I don't care about the money."  Bruce felt the

irritation returning, but kept it under control.

      "Right, pal.  Anyway, there are the books, and also two or

three large envelopes."

      "Envelopes?"
      "Yeah," Joshua said somewhat hesitantly.  "Just large yellow

envelopes with your name on them and specific instructions for nobody to open them but you. One of them appears to hold large coins, the others just documents. The books and the envelopes are on their way through overnight mail."

      "Coins?  Documents?  Books?  What is this?"  Bruce asked,

puzzled.

      "Any idea what it is?"  Joshua said curiously.
      "None at all.  I'll just have to let you know."
      "Right.  Okay, I'll be in touch if anything else pops up."
      "Thank you."
      "Bye."
      "Bye," Bruce said absently, and slowly set down the re-

ceiver.

      Bruce spent the rest of the afternoon working on a script he

was writing in his spare time. It was a mystery play which kept getting more and more involved as he wrote it. But it kept his mind off of Andy.

      Until that night.  Bruce was lying in bed, unable to sleep. 

The whole affair, starting with the note, bothered him, seemed suspicious. Why should that note have been left? Joshua didn't leave it, but he had needed to talk with Bruce anyway. If it was a prank…but the coincidence was too great. Somebody must have known, but how?

      And the inheritance.  Andrew had owned several little

objets d'art–sculptures, paintings, etc.–that had come from Bruce's home but were bequeathed to Andy. He, Andy, had said many times that they ought to have been Bruce's as they had come from his house (Bruce, however, received the money). Those were what Bruce expected from Andy. Nothing of any practical, financial worth (they would never be sold by him), just sent- imental value.

      But those books?  Those envelopes?  What could they be? 

Andy was never a huge reading fan, and Bruce couldn't see what the big deal was with the books. Did Andy expect Bruce to sell them? What about the coins that Joshua had spoken about? Perhaps they, too, were worth something. And the documents… yes, it all fit in, now. Andrew had given to Bruce some things which he could sell for himself. To make a lttle money. It was thoughtful–but Bruce was a little surprised by the imperson- ality of the items. It wasn't like Andy….

      People change.  
      And with that, Bruce drifted off.
      
      In the morning, Bruce's head was clearer, probably helped by

the fact that it was, indeed, Saturday, and he had an excuse not to go to that damn meeting. He lay in bed for a while, trying to fall asleep for a few more minutes, but the more he tried the more he woke up. He got out of bed and went to the kitchen for some coffee.

      Glancing at the clock, he was astonished to find that it was

nearly ten-thirty. Normally, even on weekends, Bruce only slept until eight-thirty or nine o'clock.

      "Psychological exhaustion," he thought, gulping down

strongly caffeinated coffee. "That's what I needed to sleep off. Mental tiredness."

      As he drained the cup, he suddenly heard a thunk outside his

door. Shortly after, the doorbell rang. Bruce glanced at himself, in sweatpants and no shirt. "Hang on!" he yelled, running back to his bedroom to pull on a T-shirt.

      He looked through the peephole.  There was a man in a

Federal Express outfit with a large white envelope under his arm. Bruce opened the door.

      "Bruce Williams?"  said the man.  Bruce nodded.  The man

gave him the envelope and bent to pick up a package at his feet.

      "I'll do that,"  Bruce said, sliding it across the threshold

into the hall with his foot. He dropped the envelope on top of it.

      "Please sign this."  The courier gave Bruce a clipboard and

Bruce signed the receipt. "Thank you." The man tore off a carbon copy, handed it to Bruce, and left.

      Bruce closed the door, picked up the envelope and balanced

it on his arm, lifted the package with his other arm, and entered the kitchen, dropping them on the table. He got a knife out of a drawer and tore off the tape on the package. It opened to reveal two books.

      The books were remnants of what was once beautiful. 

Leather-bound, gold-stamped tomes whose bindings were worn and gilt had rubbed off. The volumes had once been colored, one in azure, one in emerald. Now they were simply aged blue and green, darkened by years of handling, or shelf-life, or both. Bruce could make out the titles, once traced golden, now dull: A Life in Literature (blue), and World (green).

      Bruce didn't open the envelope.  Instead, he picked up the

blue book and leafed through it. The print was large and written in a sort of primitive italic font. He sat down, there, and began to read.

      The book was simply a novel of one man's life.  He lived in

another world, sort of a fantasy world. It was very complete, in that it told much about every person connected with the man, Teague. Teague's mother, father, friends, teachers…all were described in detail, so as to give an excellent portrait of the man. Every person in that book was described carefully–except one: Teague's brother. The book said no more than the fact that Teague had a brother. It didn't even mention his name. Bruce found this odd, but kept reading.

      Teague was a friendly man who led a simple life.  He was a 

father and a teacher of languages. Bruce wondered why a book had been written about such a lackluster man, but nevertheless he enjoyed the book.

      After he had finished the book, and Teague was dead and

buried, Bruce lost no time in picking up the second book, Worlds. He read through two or three pages, before recognizing the writing style as almost identical to that of the first book. He looked for an author, but found no name.

      The book seemed to be a detailed description of the world

that Teague had lived in. It was very factual, and very real- istic, almost as if

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