1. I Have Fifteen Days to Live

January 4, 2019


Fifteen days. I still can’t believe my time is almost up. Three hundred and fifty days have passed since I got myself into this mess, and now I’ve only got one choice left to make. I can either give up, or I can keep doing what I’ve been doing for nearly a year, which is trying to find a real boy to kiss me and break this spell.

     Not easy to do when you’ve been turned into an illustration in a book.

     The book I live in is LONG. It has many characters, but mine doesn’t come in until nearly the end. Which is lucky for me because the beginning of this book has all kinds of monsters and stab-happy warriors, and a huge battle against an evil sorcerer. Spoiler alert. He wins. So, yeah, that’s the world I live in. The one ruled by an evil sorcerer turned king.

     I spend most of my days hiding at the top of a tall tower because said evil sorcerer king is rattling around out there somewhere and there aren’t a lot of good characters left in this book. Most of the heroes died in the Great Battle between good and evil at Knob Knoll and the rest of almost-heroes (the ones with enough common sense to run for it when the battle went sideways) are being hunted down. So, you can see why I have hesitated to skip back a bunch of pages and go there.

     Other characters who have survived up to the point where I come in have told me bits and pieces about what happened, and not kidding here, but I have about a snowball’s chance in hell of making it through one week in the majority of this book.

     My problem is, all the real boys who read my book love the beginning, the middle, and most of the end. Then they stop reading before the final pages. They never make it to the part where I come in. Any eligible boy who might possibly fall madly in love with me when he reads about my imprisonment tends to get angry when the main character, some swashbuckling blockhead named Torvold, gets killed with only fifty pages left to go.

     Readers start the book, and so far, every single one of them has stopped reading as soon as Torvold dies. One kid even put the book in the freezer to punish it, which I thought was a little excessive. Twenty-four prospective kissers have read my book in the past three hundred and fifty days, and not one of them has gotten all the way through to the words: THE END.

     Now I’ve got just fifteen days, and then I’m stuck here. And I will definitely die here. People shoot each other in the face with arrows here. On a regular basis. They don’t even fight first, they just go, “Ho there! Stop or I’ll lose my arrow!” and then they don’t wait to see if the other guy stops, they just shoot.

     It’s a miracle I’ve lasted this long. That’s not to say that I’m completely incapable of taking care of myself. Since I got trapped here I’ve gotten pretty handy with a dagger. Sixteen-going-on-seventeen-year-old virgins are a hot commodity in this book, and I have no intention of being carried off by anyone.

     Even if I have learned to hold my own, I’m not meant for this type of life. Mostly because of the “commodity” thing that I just mentioned.

     In this world women are ranked somewhere above goats, but definitely below horses. I’ve managed to reduce myself to an eyeroll every time someone says something dumbfoundingly misogynistic, rather than launch into a diatribe about it, but I’ve had it. The princess thing is not what I thought it was going to be. Not at all.

     I’ve got to get out of here. I have to go back lots of pages, way before Mother Maybe tricked me, turned me into a character, and stuck me in this book. I have to find a way to get into this story before Torvold dies his heroically lame-brained death. If I can do that, there’s bound to be a reader out there who’ll fall in love with me and kiss me.

     Or, failing that, at least I might get a pity kiss. I’ll take a kiss from anyone. Boy, girl, doesn’t matter to me. Lots of girls could be reading this story.

     I am not picky. I might even kiss a girl and like it. Who knows? I’ve never kissed anyone so why limit myself so early in the game?

     Someone, please, kiss me.

     Still nothing?

     *sigh*

     I know you’re reading this. It could be you, you know. You could be my hero.

     *crickets*

     Crap.

     Maybe no one is reading. I can’t tell if I’m being read or not. All I hear is gossip in the market about Jinksy the Blind Man who, paradoxically, can only see when a pair of giant eyes are hovering in the sky. The other characters in this book have no idea what that is, but I do. It’s a reader. Or at least I’ve always thought it was a reader.

     But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I have no audience, and yet my story continues—my pathetic story of unobserved desperation. At least I know the answer to that question about the tree falling in the woods. It definitely makes a sound. And, if my life is any analogy, its saying ohcrapwhyme!

     I’ll have to do this alone, I suppose.

     Not exactly what I had in mind when I wished to live in in a world of knights and princesses and magic and…okay, yes, I admit it. Romance. Big, sweeping romance with life or death stakes, and a gorgeous boy who’d die for me. You know, real epic fantasy type stuff, with a steamy romance that makes you swoon when you read about it.

     I used to do a lot of reading, and a lot of swooning. I made a wish and I got it, only to find that in the world of Lucitopia, if you walk around with your head in the clouds, someone will chop it off for you.

     Today is market day. It’s the one day every month that the last few surviving non-evil people of Lucitopia get together to buy, sell, trade, beg, barter, and steal. And I know what you’re thinking—if someone steals, they’re one of the bad guys, right? Heck no. Real bad guys burn villages to the ground and carry off all the women under the age of twenty. Stealing is, like…nice here. Almost a compliment, really. If someone tries to take your stuff it’s because your stuff is useful, and they probably really need it.

     I don’t even get upset about it because there are a lot of old people in this world. They’re all that’s left after the Final Battle that killed all the young men, and then after the battle, with all the young-maiden-carrying-off stuff. These old people are not as nimble as I am, and if they’ve mustered up the gumption to do a snatch-and-grab on a loaf of bread I’ve been stupid enough to leave sticking out of my satchel, I don’t try to chase them much. They never get more than a dozen paces before they have to stop and wheeze for a bit anyway. I usually let them have it.

     If you don’t want to get robbed, stay in your tower. That’s just common sense.

     But I’m okay with a completely non-violent and arthritically impaired mugging today because I heard last market day that Mother Maybe, the old boot who totally screwed me, is going to be there this time. News of her coming was quite a hullabaloo (I use words like hullabaloo now to fit in) because it was rumored that our new sovereign, King Asphodel the Ghastly, had killed her.

     King Asphodel has been hunting down a lot of people since the Final Battle at Knob Knoll. It’s sort of his thing, actually. Even before he was King Asphodel the Ghastly, back when he was just Evil Sorcerer Asphodel, he had a thing for hunting people down. In his tumescent rise to glory, Asphodel killed off all the White Witches, who were the anthropomorphic personifications of all the Virtues. He took them out one by one, and thusly, clawed his way to the top of the poop-heap that is current Lucitopia.

     Compassion was the first to go because, by nature, she was a giant sucker, quickly followed by Humility, who apologized through her own murder. Next went Cleanliness who was too busy mopping up the blood spilled by Compassion and Humility to protect herself, and then Punctuality who showed up right on time for her own funeral.

     After that, Lucitopia went to hell in a handbasket. There isn’t even a record of when and how each of the White Witches was bumped off. Probably because Vigilance was killed before she could write it down.

     That’s the world that I’m stuck in. Years spent reading about codes of chivalry and honor and grand gestures, and I get Lucitopia. Do you know what a knight is without Virtue? Meat in a tin can. About as appealing as cat food.

     It’s so stinky here without Cleanliness, and everyone’s late now that Punctuality’s dead. I hate BO, I hate it when people don’t show up on time, and I can’t take it anymore. I feel like I’m always waiting around for smelly people. I’m getting out while I still can, even if it kills me.

     I’ve packed a few things in my satchel just in case I’m able to set out from the market immediately. Of course, this is if I can get Mother Maybe to put me in the story earlier. I double check my pack, because you can never be too prepared.

     I’ve got a bedroll, flint, and spare daggers—replacements for the ones I keep in my bodice, my garters, my sleeves. Oh, and my boots. I’ve got some traps, so I can feed myself. I’ve got a waterskin, and salt. I never understood how important salt was until I got here. Ever try to eat squirrel with no seasoning? If you haven’t, don’t. I’ve also got a few spells in here in case everything goes bunk.

     I’m as prepared as I can get, I guess. Here I go, out of my nice, safe tower. The place I’ve called home since I’d been in Lucitopia for about a month. That was one entire month of eating squirrel with no salt, by the way. This tower was dry, stocked with all kinds of provisions, and it was easy to defend. Well, against a bunch of old people, I suppose.

     I’m stalling. I know. It just really sucks out there. Okay. Here I go. One, two, three…

     I heave my collection of skirts and corsets over the ledge and use the braid of crazy long hair left here by the former inhabitant (I assume she made it out okay) to lower myself down. Now I just have to navigate through the magical mine field around my tower. The mine field is harder to get through going out than coming in. I have a feeling the former owner of the hair was not exactly a willing participant in her tower habitation.

     Magical spells come in all shapes and sizes, as you’d imagine, but they have a few basic design parameters in common. Most of them have a small radius of influence, and they only work a few times. Think of spells as semi-reusable land mines (if you step on one) or grenades (if you cast one). They are also one-hundred-percent illusion.

     Magic doesn’t actually change anything, it only tricks your brain into believing something has happened. That being said, if your brain thinks a poisonous monster just bit your arm off, it’s still going to hurt. A lot. The spell will go away on its own eventually, but in the mean time you will not be able to see, use, or feel that arm—except for the excruciating agony that you would expect from having your arm bit off.

     Of course, none of what I just said applies to really strong spells cast by great sorcerers. Those can change the world around them. Luckily, that kind of magic is extremely rare, difficult to do, and even a great sorcerer can only pull off a handful of them in a lifetime because they kind of almost kill the sorcerer to do them.

     But illusion messes with your head enough, in my opinion. My first foray out of the tower, way back when I still believed in things like Kindness (dead) and Fairness (way dead), I stumbled over an ax-in-the-face spell. That was a very bad day. After a few hours of writhing around on the ground in blinding pain I concluded that it couldn’t be real. There was no way I could survive an ax in my face for longer than about a millisecond. From that point on, I understood how magic worked in this stupid book and now if something happens to me and it seems impossible, I call baloney and ignore it until it goes away.

     Still, I place my boots carefully as I work my way across the open ground surrounding my tower and toward the outer stone wall circling the hold.

     I know there’s a bug-crawling-all-over you spell at the gate between the outer stone wall and the path, thanks to some bandits who unsuccessfully tried to carry me off. I never go through the front gate. Instead I jump the wall to the right of it, put my skirts over my head to slog through some sludge, which I assume was some kind of moat at one time, scramble up the other bank and then haul myself up onto the path.

     I’m damp, muddy, and cranky by the time I start my six-mile hike to the market.

     Another lovely day dawns in Lucitopia. 


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