Fiction — The MagicLand Chronicles
The House of Nadab
“It’s not another pandemic,” says Gareth as he winds a long, loose thread from the sleeve of his flannel shirt tightly around his wrist. This has the effect of creating a wrinkled plaid funnel aimed at his worn, black hand.
“Yeah, yeah,” says Button disbelievingly. That’s all we know about her. Her nickname. She’s wearing a shoulderless vest over a thin white top on a cold Minnesota day. Not much she does or says makes sense to any of us, but we all nod at this. Button’s arms are thick trunks of white steel.
She’s bigger than most men I’ve known. How she stays in shape is beyond me. I don’t ask her a lot of questions.
She’s wearing an aged Harley cap over a nest of frizzled, platinum hair that looks like it gets its only maintenance from weekly doses of Clorox. Each of her arms has a tattoo telling you what to do with yourself.
“Don’t believe me, fine. It ain’t on me,” says Gareth. He looks down at the table and fills a bowl. Even on a dying planet, we seek our medicine.
“I seen pictures on Instagram,” says Roof, who’s called that because he wears a dark gray, almost black flattened hat that looks like it has tiny shingles across its wide brim.
“There ain’t no Instagram, brother,” says Gareth, passing the bowl to Roof, who sits next to him.
“Before all this…” says Roof, drawing a hit. “… I saw it. Saw them. Some dude posted pictures of cats in hazmat suits dumping bodies into dump trucks with tires as big as a house.”
Roof is a tall, wiry Black man who sits so upright at the table that it looks like a plank of wood is strapped to his back.
“That don’t prove nothin’,” says Button. “Just that it’s another pandemic as bad as the last one and the one before that.” She follows that with a round of cursing that would have made my army dad blush.
“It’s an eradication, that’s what The Society says,” says Gareth. “Ain’t none of them pandemics.”
“The Society?” responds Button. “They’re a bunch of psychopaths.”
“Hey,” I interrupt. “If not for them, none of us would be in this house right now. With the luxury of choosing how we die. That is what you are here for, right?”
Button nods. “Maybe.”
“The Society of Nadab,” says Roof. “Who was a priest in Biblical times, as I understand it. He went astray and was punished for it.”
“I don’t understand the symbolism,” I say. “All I knows is that we got here ten rooms. Each wired with a VR of our choice. It’s a last wish kind of thing. Getting to do one last thing, and getting to choose how the VR kills you, which is better than what you says you saw on Instagram.”
“Before Instagram died.”
“Before everyone died.”
It becomes that I don’t know who is saying what. I’m just lost in the next moments, wondering when this day will ever end.
“So. Is The Society saying we deserve this as punishment?” someone asks.
“We are all destined to die,” I say. “Remember when people would freak out about terrorists? And then after that, a couple of pandemics? People get so freaked out. Oh my God, what if this kills me? Or that? Who cares? We all die anyway. Why does it matter how we die?”
“But it does matter. That’s why we’re here,” says Roof.
“Yeah but before all this. Before all this everyone lived in fear all the time about all the ways they might die, but then they’d get in a car and drive down these freeways full of loaded steel moving in ways that are almost designed to kill them.”
“Yeah, so?” asks Button. “People made a choice. Acceptable risk. I did it a lot more than any of youse. On my Harley. Didn’t care. Dodging rolling steel is an art form for some of us.”
“But now we all know how we die. And it’s ugly. Horrible. I don’t want to die with my skin burning up like it's lit on fire, do you?”
“If I did I wouldn’t be sitting here with youse all,” says Button.
“So we are gifted with a choice. Something few people have. I mean, anyone can off themselves somehow if they want. But that is different, too.”
“How can a virtual reality headset kill you?” asks Gareth. “Is it weaponized somehow?”
“It’s not the headset,” I say. “I mean, I don’t understand it exactly. I came here the same way you did.”
“You were called,” says Roof. “A vision.”
“It showed me this house.”
“Sort of like that Stephen King movie,” says Jan, the quietest one.
“It was a book first,” says Gareth. “The Stand. Everyone gets a vision and they all go to some town.”
“Not to die though,” I say.
“Not directly,” laughs Gareth.
“Which room will you choose?” Button asks me accusingly.
That one is easy. “I’m going to skydive.” The bowl has reached me but I pass it.
“Ugh. I hate heights,” says Jan, looking down at a hot chocolate she had made. Jan is young and pretty, with a light brown skin color that makes for guessing her lineage a charming quest. Her eyes look Native American, but her braided hair, full of complex curls that dance together in excited choreographies, suggests a thoroughly African subplot. I finally guess Haitian.
Her thin fingers rotate her cup absent-mindedly. She looks out over the top of horn-rimmed glasses that are almost bigger than she but have fallen halfway down her nose. “Hmmm, maybe that’s why I should do it, too.”
I smile at that.
“So you skydive and then what?” asks Gareth, who is new to the house and knows the least. His questions are understandable. Nobody who has come to the House of Nadab is prepared for what they’ll encounter.
“Then I die.”
“Yeah, man, I know that. But how?”
I shrug my shoulders because I honestly have no details for him.
“It’s magic,” says Roof, who again cites various older social media references as he describes the history of the huge Victorian house we are in. “If you fight a Samurai — that’s room two, he kills you eventually, but the battle is epic. That’s what I’ve heard, anyway.”
“Give me a break,” says Button. I can’t understand why she’s here if she doesn’t subscribe to at least the possibility of a magical element to all of this. There have been consistent rumors for years of magic springing up in the midst of all our devastation.
“You’ll see soon enough,” I say to her. “People walk into those rooms, and they don’t walk out. And when they’re taken out of the rooms, well, let’s just say it’s all different. All dead, but all different. And room two? It’s always a bloody mess.”
“Who cleans it?” asks Roof. “Obvious question.”
I express an “I don’t know,” with my hands off the table where we all sit. “All I knows is it's pristine for the next person.”
“That’s creepy shit,” says Gareth, shaking his head as his voice trails off. “House has its own Winston Wolfe.”
“Who?” I say.
“Pulp Fiction dude,” says Roof. I’m beginning to wonder if Roof and Gareth aren’t old friends or brothers or lovers.
“I don’t know what that is,” I say. And I don’t.
Jan surprises me with her own answer. “A fixer is someone who cleans up after a murder. Usually for the criminal element who committed the murder.”
I just stare at her for a moment. It makes sense, but she seems so fragile to me that her possessing this factoid doesn’t.
“No. The house doesn’t have a fixer,” I say. “The room is immaculate five minutes after the body is carried out.”
“Why am I here?” asks Button, echoing my earlier thoughts. “This place is crazy.”
“Nobody is keeping you here,” I say. “Feel free to leave, and ride really fast on your bike, and you can check out that way.”
“I would, for sure, if I could. One, no bike, and two, only rich people can get gasoline.” Her glare is a block of ice. “Like you don’t know that.”
“And you, tough guy?” I say to Button. “What will you choose?”
She laughs at that. A genuine laugh, warm even. That surprises me. She probably wasn’t expecting to be called tough guy. “I don’t even know what the choices are.”
“We all know the choices,” says Gareth. “We get them in our dreams.”
“You expect me to believe those?” asks Button.
“You’re here, ain’t you?” asks Gareth.
Button looks down. If I didn’t know better, I’d think her look was of shame or embarrassment. I don’t know what it is, but it’s pronounced. “When I was a little girl,” she says softly, “I wanted to be a major league baseball player. I played in high school. I made the men’s team as a first baseman.”
Everyone is quiet. “For reals,” she says.
“Well then, room three, I guess,” I say happily. That’s where the bean baller is. She’ll take one right on the noggin, but hopefully after playing a few innings. “Maybe you’ll get a little chin music to warm you up.”
She nods. “That would be cool.” I imagine a high, hard one nearly clipping her chin as she jumps back off the plate, her shoulders reared back, the bat high in the air as she nearly falls backward, her baseball helmet leaping toward the sky.
I look at Jan, dying to know what she has chosen. She senses this, I guess, and says, “I’m in room one.”
Gareth laughs wildly. “The painter? How you gonna get smoked paintin’ a picture?”
That’s a good question, I think. I’ve never heard of anyone going into room one.
“Booze,” says, Roof. “She’ll drink herself to death.”
“I want to experience death,” says Button.
Everyone stares at her.
“If you drink yourself to death, you’ll just be gone and that’s it. I wanna know what’s happening to me. If there’s an afterlife, especially, which there isn’t I”m sure, but if there is, I want to check out feeling the whole thing. I wanna know everything. I want to experience death. Drinking, you’ll just disappear.”
“Yeah, man, feel that transition, from this life to the next, you feel me?” says Gareth.
“She won’t really be drinking, if that’s the method,” I say.
“Yeah, it has to be,” says Button. “The experience is — well, it is the experience, right? So if it’s booze, it means blackout and then lights out. That would suck. You’ll experience nothing.” Suddenly she’s an expert on how the House works? I wonder.
“It’s not alcohol,” says Jan.
“How do you know?” asks Roof. “How can you know?”
“I just know. That’s not it. I think it’s a stroke or something. I’ll die with a paintbrush in my hand. It’ll be amazing.”
For some reason, everyone looks at Gareth. “Aww man, I ain't sayin’.”
The bowl returns to him. Everyone continues to look his way.
“Awwright man. Sheeeit. I’m a park ranger. Room five. Up near Lake Merced. Ever hear of that place?”
“Why go to California when we got 10,000 lakes here?” asks Button.
“Cuz I ain’t gotta drive,” says Gareth.
“Bear attack?” asks McGelligott, who up to now hasn’t said a word, thus replacing Jan as the quiet one.
I shake my head. “I don’t think there are bears there anymore.”
“Doesn’t need to be,” says McElligott. “It’s a VR. And magic, you say.”
“Point taken,” I admit.
“Just like there ain’t nobody skydivin’ these days,” says Gareth.
“Right?” says Jan.
“Me, I’m room six,” says McElligott.
Gareth laughs. “You? A Russian gangster? Now that’s funny.”
McElligott is such a slight, small man that he wouldn’t half fill an old-fashioned phone booth. Long strands of combed thin hair barely cover his bald head. His feeble appearance is striking next to the dreadlocked Gareth and his wide shoulders.
“Lotta ways for you to get smoked,” says Roof.
“I don’t want to see it coming,” says McElligott.
“You won’t,” smiles Roof mischievously, peering at McElligott from the other side of Gareth.
Everyone looks Roof’s way next. Waiting for his choice.
“Well?” asks Button. “Everyone else has said their stupid choice. What’s yours?”
Roof jumps out of his seat, his knees pushing the table up as he rises. He brandishes a gun from his coat, maybe a Glock.
“This is my room, mutha fuckas!” and he lets loose a volley that splashes fountains of blood all along and across the table. He misses me somehow. They always do. I am able to survey the gory impact of his actions from the corner of my eyes as I look at him and smile.
God, I hate room ten.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. In no way does it mean to imply that our current pandemic was hatched by evildoers. Please continue to stay safe and pray for India! Thanks!
This short story is part of the MagicLand Chronicles. It takes place within the 2,000-year timeline of MagicLand but doesn’t involve any characters from the novel.
The novel will be available at online booksellers in June, and in print on December 7, 2021.
To read more from The MagicLand Chronicles, click on one of the links below. Do it randomly! It’s more fun that way since they are in no particular order: