Near the redwood forest where the ageless trees dwarfed humans, new fires raged, popping cones to release new seeds for a future generation and consuming buildings as the wind swept cinders everywhere.
Through the apocalyptic firestorm, oblivious Lucy continued her game of Dungeons and Dragons. Her parents were overseas somewhere. She was lost in an online version of Perrenland where she reigned as queen. In her guise as Iggwilv, she was supposed to be invulnerable. After all, she had her spells—and her magic cloak. Those attributes would protect her.
Smoke rose in her spacious house, and the windows and walls were so hot that her green iguana retreated to the center of her attic room, which was the coolest place. Lucy felt the creature nudging her leg, so she picked the lizard up and placed it on her shoulder. She held her arms out to both sides and spun while uttering a sheltering spell. Aware now of the flames licking her forest refuge, she was also aware of her cell phone ringing.
“Lucy, this is Mom. Please say you are okay. The news says an evacuation has been ordered. Where are you now?”
“Hi, Mommy. Where are you and Dad?”
“We’re in Israel for two more days. Then we’re going to Rome. We should be home in a week or so. I ask again, are you all right? Where are you?”
‘I’m fine. I’m at home. I’m surrounded by fire on all sides, but the flames won’t hurt me. I have my cloak and spells as protection. I have to get off now. I’m in the middle of an online game. No rest for the wicked.”
“Lucy, listen carefully. I’m going to call the police and fire department. Stay where you are. A rescue crew will come for you. If you have trouble breathing, fill the tub with water and get inside. There should be a thin pocket of air in the tub just above the water.”
“I hear you, Mom. Have a good time in Israel and Rome. I’ll see you when I see you.”
The call was terminated on the other end. Lucy went to the attic bathroom and started the water in the bub. She coughed on account of the smoke. Back online, she picked up where she had left off dispelling evil like the wicked witch she was. She was under attack from three other witches, but she knew her powers would prevail over theirs, for she was Iggwilv, one of the greatest creatures ever devised. She consulted the time and laughed. An hour of play remained until her game was over.
Lucy was at first a reluctant gamer. Thinking that computer games were the domain of macho men, whom she disdained, she came late to the realization that strong women also figured in the online play. She embraced Dungeons and Dragons from the first experience and never looked back. Unlike school, D&D offered an escape and transformation. She became more than anything in the real world could offer. Absorbed in the interplay of virtual characters for three or four hours each day, she spent her off-game free time studying about her character. She was increasingly impressed. More, she discovered that the game world overlapped the real world in such a way that her growing powers enhanced her boring existence and gave her a reason to live.
The young girl, as the witch Iggwilv, was no longer the bane of her parents’ ambitions. They observed her studious attention to the game and fed her interest by giving her presents to open her game vistas. Her inward focus they now recognized as precocity. Her tantrums subsided, and she no longer threatened to run away from home. Besides, her friends were studious types now. And, miraculously, Lucy had lost weight. She was no longer called “Fatty” at school or in her neighborhood.
At about the same time that Lucy discovered her new identity, she became aware of why some hitherto unexplained events in her life had occurred. For example, when Milly, the snob, had called her a slut behind her back, she had stumbled and skinned both her knees and banged her head on the curb so her eye swelled up. Or when Ronald Hatch and his buddy had called her a skag and a mud fence, both had been summoned to the Vice Principal’s office to be beaten with the long-handled board that hung behind the enforcer’s desk. Lucy had formerly wondered why Sylvia Blanco’s hairdresser had stumbled as she cut hair and sliced a large swath of Sylvia’s beautiful hair off at an unsightly angle.
Lucy now realized she had a seemingly unlimited capacity to harm others. Merely thinking evil about someone caused some minor catastrophe in their lives. The more she became Iggwilv, the greater her powers were revealed to her. When she was excluded from the cabal of catty girls who met behind the school at lunchtime to play doctor, she deeply resented being left out. As she brooded on this slight, the Assistant Principal discovered what the cabal had been discussing. All the girls had been summoned to his office where the female head of physical education administered the paddling’s so none could sit down comfortably for the rest of the day. Now they resented Lucy for a different reason, and she hated them back, redoubling their distress at school.
As Lucy’s powers grew, her intentional motions became grosser and more targeted. One of her teachers was being fucked by another, but she made the mistake of insinuating that Lucy was a busybody for observing the pair in flagrante in the gymnasium after school hours. Lucy had nothing to do with what happened to them, but the school newspaper photographer rigged a camera to document the two randy teachers’ next sexual encounter. The picture was banned from appearing in the student newspaper, but it was mysteriously posted throughout the school. Both teachers were fired for behaving in a lewd fashion.
The young girl was also a good observer—so good that she saw Hank Foster stealing from the Salvation Army collection container at a local supermarket. She whispered what the boy had done to the same newspaper photographer who had captured the fornicating teachers. He had no problem shadowing Foster and snapping a picture of his next infraction. That photograph did get published in the student paper. The Assistant Principal was only the first to paddle the thief. She learned that the school called the boy’s parents, who both whipped him with a belt on his bare backside. The school also called the police, who took the boy into custody where he was again beaten with a length of rubber hose before his parents’ lawyer got him out of jail.
Lucy decided to be careful what she thought about miscreants since her dark thoughts translated almost immediately into evil effects. Her physical education instructor criticized her for her muffin top sticking out of her gym shorts. That woman was arrested at a busy street corner for prostitution the next evening. Her Russian teacher took umbrage with her pronunciation of the phrase that meant, “Fuck your mother.” The man was arrested for espionage that evening and would spend the rest of his life atoning for his crimes in a maximum-security prison.
Lucy had a crush on Lionel Fierce, a young Turk with an insatiable desire to tarnish girls’ reputations. He never gave Lucy a second glance after he collided with her in the main hall at school. For no good reason, the Assistant Principal singled him out for corporal punishment. Fierce said the sadist had him drop his pants so he could receive his beating on tiptoe with a bare behind. Lucy’s brooding about that event elicited the principal’s stroke that left his right side paralyzed for life.
Such was Iggwilv’s power that her fellow students, male and female, avoided her like the plague. Meanwhile, in the D&D game world, she had become a major player. She won every game she played though she played within the scope of the rules. Other girls could not withstand her when she desired to take revenge on them for minor affronts.
Lucy’s academic performance soared during this interval. Her confidence grew as her body shrank. Her piggy eyes now had a healthy glint. She kept care of herself for the first time, shaving her legs with her mother’s razor. She used makeup too, not so much that the school noticed. Still, when Mike Roach showed up with a handgun he had stolen from his father’s locked gun case, she was not in his sights as he gunned down six of his classmates. In the following weeks-long grieving process, Lucy only thought of revenge for those who had been harmed. Roach hanged himself in his cell at JU-VYEE, juvenile hall. No one attended his funeral.
The paraphernalia of witchcraft was a source of constant interest to Lucy as she struggled to accommodate her old self into the new mold of her persona. Those contemporaries she played with online seemed to be interested in many of the same things as she, but they did not exhibit the depth of understanding or practical experience she had found in herself. The others were not as driven towards self-actualization as she was. Perhaps they had been attracted by the things that usually led girls and young women off the road to boy craziness and conceit. Lucy could not concern herself with the hoi polloi, Treated as an adult and equal by her parents, she had no patience for teary-eyed, vainglorious and mostly shallow girls.
In the D&D game world, she was not aware of the ages of her peer players. They were merely her teammates or her competitors. Like them, she submitted to the authority of a Master, but her role cut her out from the herd. After all, what could the game Master do to her if she fell afoul of the rules? If the Master branded her as an outcast, all she had to do was join another game under a different Master. She thought of her game episodes of three to four hours as closed sets of actions, without histories. She never cared to meet her fellow gamers in the real world as that would diminish both herself and them, at least in her eyes.
She did one time meet a group of women who liked to assume the role of Iggwilv whenever they played D&D. They ranged from nine to seventy years old. Each had her individual interpretation of the role. All felt constrained by their female lives in the real world. All resented that others might presume to take the lofty role of evil, magic queen. The meeting had been mercifully short. Lucy ate refreshments and kept in the background lest another Iggwilv call her out. Mortified, she never returned to the group. Instead, she withdrew further into her own imagination. She started a diary whose first entry was, “I hate them all.”
No greater punishment could her parents inflict on her than forbidding her from playing D&D. Her only come-back was to threaten to run away. In fact, one time she did run away and stayed in the forest for three days before lack of food and a drenching rain forced her to return home. Her father, wisely, counseled that she should not be punished for her willfulness, but her mother thought she should be taught an additional lesson. So her mother beat her on her bare backside with a triangular ruler, the kind that would not break when it was applied with hard strokes. Lucy hated her mother from that time forward. She hated her father too for his pusillanimity and not coming to her aid.
The positive effect of her homecoming was Lucy’s determination to fast. She lost thirty pounds in one month. She had to be fitted with a new wardrobe. She selected clothes that looked like those Iggwilv wore in online illustrations. Her mother was terrified that her daughter would starve herself to death one day. That suited Lucy fine. Her father told her he found her looking attractive at her natural weight. She did not like his point of view when her aim was to cause hurt and alarm.