I had about two hours before my first session, so I decided to grab a coffee. When the cab dropped me off in front of my hotel, I noticed a Starbucks across the street. Sure, I’m in Chicago, and there’s probably some great coffee places pretty close by, but I’m not exactly from the city, and let’s face it, Starbucks is really good.
Some Chicagoans gamely played Frogger with the traffic, but as an out-of-towner, I figured I’d better go the safe route and use the crosswalks. My death would probably disappoint the hundreds of misguided educators planning to listen to me deliver a speech pathetically titled, “Be a Hero To Your Subjects.”
I originated the speech for a School Improvement Day, mostly because the principal asked me, and since I’ve been disappointing her for years, I figured I’d better take the opportunity to shine. I made it as sappy, clichéd, and pandering as possible. Just as I knew would happen, the administrators loved it. Unfortunately, my plan backfired to a degree. Sure, I regained my principal’s faith, but she made a point to share a video she took of me with her peers. (She did so without my consent, by the way.) This resulted in some fairly generous offers to visit other schools and deliver the same speech. Before I knew it, I found myself in great demand across the Midwest. Finally, the most lucrative offer yet arrived—an invitation to speak at the Illinois Educator Association’s conference.
Intended to be a play on words, my speech encouraged teachers to really focus on why their particular subject is super cool. I suggested they find heroes within the field and focus on that person. Try to recreate what those luminaries did—whether it be a scientific feat, a groundbreaking work of art, you know, whatever. By allowing the students to imitate the hero, they become the hero themselves, connect more deeply with the subject of study, and may even feel inspired.
Of course, I’d taught for twenty years, so I believed none of that would actually come to fruition, but my bosses ate it up, as did the more optimistic among my coworkers. People are paying me well to give the same damn talk over and over, so it must be striking a nerve with somebody. I’d feel a bit hypocritical, but my wife and I have always dreamt of finishing our basement, and this whole fantasy is making our dream a reality.
As I approached Starbucks’ door, a … mumbling person sitting on the sidewalk next to the entrance of the coffee shop extended his hand to me.
I recoiled, saying, “Sorry, guy, I don’t have any change.” After I spoke, tiny puffs of vapor hung in the frigid air, refusing to dissipate, much like my shame.
The … person … okay, I’m just going to call him a bum. He was a bum, right? I know that’s not a polite term, but there’s really no other way to describe him. He had long matted hair, a scraggly beard full of crumbs and grime, a long overcoat that looked like it came out of a dumpster, and boots with several toes poking out.
Anyway, the bum kept his hand outstretched as he gazed straight up into my face. His eyes were blue—a blue unlike any you’ve ever seen. This blue evaded the boundaries of time, space, and reality itself. I instantly recognized this man as something … unique.
I took his hand and lifted him to his feet. “Who are you?”
“It is I, the one true King of England.”
I shook my head, saying, “But this is Chicago. We’re not in England.”
“Impossible. All the world is England,” he muttered with eyes squinted.
“Hey,” I said, “look, is there someone I can call for you? Do you need help?”
“Indeed I do,” the man said. “I am in need of knights. You will be my first.”
“Um … I’m not sure I’m really qualified.”
“What is your name?”
My every instinct told me to walk past the man, to go get my coffee, to head back to the hotel, to set up my space in the conference hall, and to leave this crazy situation behind.
Instead, I said, “I’m Lance. Lance Dulac.”
The man’s electric eyes blazed. He whispered, “A sign!”
“I don’t think so,” I said while waving my gloved hands back and forth and shaking my head.
The man took one of my hands. He pulled me in close while proclaiming through rank breath, “It is I—Arthur! Do you not recognize me? All is forgiven, my friend. We have been given a second chance! We will bring peace back to the Kingdom—together!”
I forced Arthur to release me, backed up a step, then said, “Look, this is a little crazy, okay? There is no Camelot. We’re not even in England. This is Chicago, Illinois. You know, in the United States.”
“I know of no such thing,” he said. “Is this the same world it has always been?”
“Well … yeah, I guess,” I stammered.
“Then the Heroic Age begins anew!”
“Um, Arthur, really, can I help you get in touch with family, or …?”
“You look different,” Arthur said to himself while nodding. “I look different as well. You need proof. I would expect no less.”
Arthur pulled open his overcoat to reveal an enormous sword hanging from an old leather belt. I won’t pretend to be an expert at swords, but I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. The craftsmanship of the hilt, the pureness of the blade … it did not strike me as a weapon so much as a … spirit.
Doubts flooded my mind. Rationally speaking, I knew King Arthur grew from myth, that no actual man by that name executed the adventures of such fantasy. Of all the legends surrounding the figure, the magical sword proved the most unlikely.
And yet … when Arthur held the sword above his head and pointed to the heavens, the gray clouds parted and a beam of light showered both the man and his sword in gold.
I felt a smile spread across my face as I lowered to one knee.
But then someone yelled, “Holy shit! He’s got a sword!”
Another shrieked, “Terrorist! He’s gonna kill us all!”
People scattered in every direction as screams erupted. I fell flat on my face when the panicked crowd knocked me to the ground.
“Be not afraid,” Arthur bellowed. “I am here to restore peace, honor, and chivalry!”
“Drop the sword!” a voice demanded.
Still prostrate upon the sidewalk, I glanced to my right and saw a police officer leveling his gun at Arthur. His expression guaranteed not one citizen would suffer a beheading on his watch.
“Arthur, put down the sword!” I implored.
“Are you a knight?” Arthur asked the police officer.
I looked through Starbucks’ windows and saw people cowering beneath their tables with their cell phones held aloft. They recorded the unfolding horror.
The police officer finished calling for backup, then said, “Drop the sword now, or I will shoot you! Do you understand?”
Convinced bullets were about to fly, I scrambled away from Author while begging him, “God almighty, Arthur, put the sword down!”
Arthur instead assumed a battle stance, and, while staring at the police officer, said to me, “Why do you withdraw? Join me, my friend, for together we will help the people achieve glory!”
“I don’t want to kill you,” the police officer said. “Put it down—now!”
“And I don’t want to hurt you,” Arthur responded. “Within your eyes, I see a brave warrior, a man worthy of my crusade. Join us!”
Oh, shit. Sirens blared, tires squealed, doors slammed, feet pounded, guns clicked.
“Please, Arthur, give up,” I groaned while scooting back on all fours. “You’re delusional. What you’re trying to do … it’s not the way the world works anymore.”
“Then this world is doomed,” Arthur groaned.
“Last warning,” the original officer yelled.
“Don’t do this!” I screamed to Arthur, to the officers, to myself.
“I bow to no man!” Arthur declared. “I serve God, and through Him, I serve the people! I will never put the sword down, for the sword gives me the right—”
The lead officer made the shot. It hit Arthur precisely in the chest. The sword fell. Arthur fell. Everything fell.
The police officers gathered me up and took me in so that I could make a statement. My speech had to be canceled. The media got hold of all the cell phone video and somehow twisted my actions into that of a hero. They said I tried to help the police by talking the man down. As a result, my speech became more popular than ever, for I appeared more authentic than ever. Truthfully, I grew rich from it.
I’ll never forget those eyes as they dimmed.
While in the precinct, the officers were kind. When they realized I only meant to grab a coffee, they offered me one.
It did not taste good, but I drank it anyway.
Copyright © 2017 by Scott William Foley
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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