Journey or Retreat Cover

“Journey or retreat?”

Kevin replies without hesitation. “Retreat” 

I contort my face into that supportive best friend’s grin that says, ‘This is your adventure; you set the pace.’ My actual words are less encouraging. “You retreat to the dungeon cell to find the orc has regained consciousness.”

Kevin laughs. “I thought I killed that dude.”

“Orcs are tough, my buddy.” This time, my grin is legit. “What do you do?”

“I swing my enchanted broadsword for his stinky orc mouth. Obviously.”

I grab my Dungeon Keeper’s Tome—tufts of pages falling out, the words “JASON’S BOOK” scribbled in Sharpie on the cover. I got it for my 12th birthday, and Kevin and I have played every Saturday in the four years since. I thumb to an appendix chart and tell him, “Roll a d24.”

Kevin reaches for the heap of dice—six total, all black. He picks up the 24-sided die, leaving its six-, eight-, 10-, 12-, and 20-sided brothers on the table. He rolls the d24, proudly announcing, “23! Beat that, Orc Dork!”

I thumb through my Dungeon Keeper’s Tome and read aloud, “‘With a grunt, you heave your weapon at the enemy’s scarred face. Bloody flesh flies as the fiend falls. The beast shall trouble you no more.” 

I look up and see Kevin twirling the die in his fingers, looking at the 24 sides in my desk lamp’s light. “You OK, my buddy?” I ask quietly.

“So many possibilities.” 

He doesn’t mean it as an answer to my question. 

But it is one nonetheless.

“It’s not too late,” I say. “We can still go.”

He makes a sound that’s something between a laugh, a sigh and a huff. He puts the d24 back with the others. “I think I missed the boat on that one.” 

“Nah!” I say. “The parade’s over, but the party’s still going. It’ll be fun. C’mon, my buddy! It only happens once a year.”

He looks away. “I’m not… I’m not sure I’m ready. What if people from school are there? What if news crews are there? What if my parents see me there under those rainbow flags? I… I told you, but I’m not sure I’m ready for everyone to know.”

I nod. “This is your adventure; you set the pace.”

He frowns. “My pace seems to be about as fast as that dead orc. Speaking of which…” He gestures for me to read the next passage in my Dungeon Keeper’s Tome.

“Oh, right,” I say. “But first…” I open a desk drawer, swiping the six black dice inside. I pull out six new dice: a red D6, an orange D8, a yellow D10, a green D12, a blue D20, and a purple D24. 

Kevin’s smile is as big and genuine as I’ve seen it in weeks. “Thanks, man,” he says quietly.

I mock-scoff. “Don’t thank me,” I say. “You’ve got an orc’s body to pillage and a dungeon to explore. So, my buddy, journey or retreat?”

He replies without hesitation. “Journey.”

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John Adams (he/him/his) writes about teenage detectives, robo-butlers, and cursed cowboys. His publication history includes Australian Writers' Centre, Bowery Gothic, Dream of Shadows, Fat Cat Magazine, Intrinsick, SERIAL Magazine, and Weird Christmas. Forthcoming publications include Curiosities, Metaphorosis, Paper Butterfly, peculiar, The Story Engine, and The Weird and Whatnot. His plays have been produced by Alphabet Soup (Whim Productions) and 6x10 Play Festival (Barn Players) and selected for readings at the William Inge Theater Festival and the Midwest Dramatists Conference. He performs across the U.S. with That's No Movie, a multi-genre improv team.

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