Just an empty hallway.
He closed the door. It had been aggravating timing, too. Rinsing the dish soap off, drying his hands, yelling “Hold on!” tripping over the clutter, yanking the door because it stuck.
Another knock came.
A beautiful floating woman with floaty hair and gossamer and stuff.
“Hoggggggins?” she said in a literally thrilling contralto. Despite his annoyance, thrills had literally run up the back of his literal neck. “Mooorty Hogggggins?”
Morty pointed at his name on the door.
“Youuu are the chosen one. There will be daaanger, and adventuuure; heeeroes, conniiiiivers; heartbreak, rooomance, and dehhhhhstiny!”
“Thanks.” A thin smile. “No.” He closed the door.
“Join us!” exhorted the wizard. The barbarian added, “Brother!”
As the door shut, the barbarian was barbariansplaining to the floaty woman, “Now he’s refusing the call to—”
Morty left his hand on the knob. Three loud bangs came.
Yank. A band of dwarves extended into the hallway behind the one whose pickaxe was raised to bang again.
“Can I interest ye in a quest,” the dwarf said stoutly, with a weird attempt at a smile.
“Let me explain something.” The crowd was growing. “I’ve got three kids to pick up at two schools and one bus stop, at three times, in two towns. Three work deadlines, a phone call in five minutes because our insurance got canceled, we’re out of everything, the apartment’s a shithole, I haven’t showered in… I don’t even know…” He sniffed himself. He still didn’t know. “And the bags under my eyes look like mandrill buttocks. I appreciate this thought — I do, it’s nice — but you’re way too late.”
“Evil is afoot—” the wizard began.
“Rent is afoot. Children are afoot. Why don’t you guys go pick up a teenager, like you always do? They love quests, plus when a teenager disappears? Nobody goes without groceries.”
“But youuuu,” said the floaty woman, and the thrills got his neck again. “Youuu, Morty, are the choooosen one.”
“Man, that was nice.” He shivered. “Wow. No.”
“Kingdoms will fall,” said the dwarf.
“Not only kingdoms,” the wizard reminded him.
Morty made a sad face. “No.”
“Second refusal,” the barbarian murmured pointedly to the floaty woman.
By the elevator, a furry blue giant with a club was hunched to the ceiling, pointing at two smaller giants with smaller clubs. “MOG BRING KIDS.” One smaller giant clubbed the other one in the back of the head.
Mog took the club away.
Morty said, “Do they arrest Mog?”
The blue brows knitted. “NO MAN THWART MOG!”
“No, no,” Morty said. “Not thwart. Like, incarcerate. Like, take your kids. Yes, yes, I know. No one take Mog’s kids. But if my kids stop showing up at school? Because I took them to Evil…ville, or whatever? Don’t,” he said to the wizard, who was about to tell him the name of the evil land. “Seriously. I don’t care.”
The barbarian clapped a massive hand on his shoulder. “Brother! We will not let them!”
A hearty cheer rose in the hallway. Mog gave the smaller giant its club back, along with the parental glare understood by all species.
“Sorry,” Morty said. “You’re twenty years late, and you should have planned better.”
“That is not fair!” came a high voice from a low place. The crowd parted for an irate halfling. “We didn’t know we needed you then!”
“Oh, please,” Morty said. “There was a prophecy, or a scroll, or this guy—” he pointed to the wizard “—lied to you and you’ll find out later.” The wizard pursed his lips. “And now terrrrrible evil descends upon… whatever. Well, that’s — oh, shit!” He looked at the time on his phone. “Early dismissal today. Let’s wrap this up.”
“You truly refuse the call?” said the wizard.
“I refuse the ass off the call.”
The barbarian held three meaningful fingers up at the floaty woman.
A talking sword suddenly cackled. “Mandrill buttocks!” it said.
“All,” intoned the wizard, “will be lost.”
“Well, you should have thought of that when you didn’t come get me when I was sixteen.”
“Let’s goooo,” said the floaty woman. “We’ll dooo it ourseeeelves.”
“We shall do it ourselves!” the barbarian bellowed, too close to Morty’s ear.
“Jesus,” he said, “why don’t you go bench press a dragon or something?”
“Let’s goooooo…” said the floaty woman. “Seeeriously, learn to iiimproviiiise…”
The wizard narrowed his eyes at Morty. “It will take your children too!”
“And I should believe you why?”
“The ancient prophecy—”
The wizard went silent.
“Hear that everyone? Ancient prophecy! Pointy hat dude had a long heads-up on this one.” His phone rang. It said School Nurse.
Morty held up both arms and shouted, “I AM THE CHOSEN ONE!”
The tongues stopped. The eyes stared. The other small giant hit the first one with a club.
“THE CHOSEN ONE SAYS…” He pointed dramatically at the floaty woman. “FOLLOW HER! SHE’S THE ONLY ONE WHO SEEMS LIKE SHE CAN GET ANYTHING DONE. Now, everybody out! I have to take this call.”
The dwarves muttered about wizards. The talking sword snickered, “Bench press a dragon!” Mog, teeth gritted, was saying, “NO MORE CLUBS. GIVE CLUBS.”
Morty barked “Now!” and pointed, and as the mob split between a shuffle to the stairs and a wait at the elevator, he allowed himself a last look at the gossamer disappearing down the stairwell and tapped ANSWER.
Keith Snyder has kids.