Jim Beckins shuffled off the bus, making the long walk back to his parents' house, and the basement in which he lived.
It wasn't like that, though. He had a life.
He had a degree in Poetry, with an emphasis on dead languages. He'd graduated with a C average, and went to work at a used sci-fi fantasy bookstore after moving back in with his parents. Ten years later, he was managing the store, but still making crap wages. He hadn't dated since college, had developed a gut from far too many all-night beer and internet sessions and was starting to go bald. His father essentially ignored him, and his mother still cooked his meals and made his bed. His only friend was one of the regulars at the store, a gawky college graduate he called his "Padawan".
Okay. So, maybe it was like that.
He went through his private entrance, tossing his backpack on the freshly made bed. Looked like Mom had cleaned today, too. Which was good. The place had been starting to stink.
His dad ended up being in the room, and gave Jim a bit if a rough talking-to about how lazy he was. Jim thought it was mean, especially the part about how his mom was getting older, and how she shouldn't have to be "picking up after an overgrown child" anymore. He wasn't a child. He wasn't. And they weren't toys, they were collectibles.
He mumbled something non-commital and his dad left. Trying to put the old man out of his mind, Jim settled in with one of the books he'd gotten in that day. It was an old hardcover. A first edition Book One of The Dragonbeard Saga.
He picked up the book. It was so dusty, he doubted anyone had cracked the cover in years. He laid it on his lap and opened it, and all at once his bedroom disappeared.
He sat up on a cold stone slab in the middle of a dank musty room, also made of stone. Suddenly, he smelled something foul.
"Ah, the Champion awakes at long last," a man's voice said from the doorway. The man was robed and hooded. Another man entered the room with him and moved toward him. The smaell got a lot worse. He couldn't figure it out at first. It was so pungent, so rancid, it filled his nostrils and nearly choked him to death. Then he realized it was THEM, and he almost choked again. As they got closer, he saw that their faces were dirty and pock-marked. Most of their teeth were missing, and from what Jim saw, they'd be better off without the ones they had.
The second man stepped closer. Jim wished he wouldn't. As soon as he'd get used to the smell, they'd bring it closer to his face. "I know. I know," the second man said. "You have no idea where you are, how you got here or what's going on. But we are in something of a hurry, so I am afraid you must learn as we go." He gestured for Jim to get up off the slab. He did, and immediately noticed something wrong. The floor was way farther away than it usually was. And his muscles felt funny. He actually had them, for one thing.
"Yes," the first man said, hurrying him down a long damp hallway. "You don't look like yourself. There are other surprises in store for you as well." They stopped in front of an open door and the first man gestured him inside. The room was filled with weapons and armor. The second man grabbed a glittering suit of armor and carried it over to them.
"Mmm," the first man said, "Yes, the dragonscale armor would be best. And bring the Singing Sword with you too. It's his first mission, he'll need the advantage." He turned and grinned at Jim. "It doesn't really sing, of course. But the sound it makes as it cuts through the air sounds like singing. It's charmed to be unbreakable and twice as lethal as the average blade."
As they dressed him, they explained that the book he'd bought today was charmed to bring a soul to inhabit the body of their immortal Champion when danger threatened the Land. They explained that, centuries ago, a Champion of the Land was granted immortality by a kindly old wizrad he'd saved from a rampaging golem. Unfortunately, the spell only granted physical immortality. At some point roughly 100 years after the spell was cast, the Champion's soul departed for the Afterlife, so it could be born again in a new body. Thus the Champion's body lay dormant, and a group of mages set the spell upon the book and cast it into the outer dimensions, to bring souls to inhabit the body of the Champion.
"We've been doing it for hundreds of years," the first man (presumably a mage) said as he finished strapping Jim into the armor. He handed Jim a shimmering helmet. "Here. This will transfer all the skills of the previous Champions into you. It may take a little while, and you might want to sit down."
Jim thought on this a minute. He'd been transported into a fantasy realm. To be their CHAMPION. He was going to get all sorts of fighting skills and bad-ass moves just by putting on a magic helmet. This was AWESOME. He sat down and felt his brain fill up with information: strategies, fighting styles, tactics... When he came to, he found out his mission was to fight a dragon that was terrorizing several of the local villages.
The fight with the dragon was spectacular, as were the overwhelming displays of gratitude afterward. He just wished they didn't smell so awful. A pretty hot girl who he assumed was some noble's daughter approached him after the fight and offered herself to him. She was pretty enough, and he hadn't had sex in over 10 years, but given that he could smell her even though he was covered in soot and they were standing right next the steaming carcass of a disemboweled dragon, he decided to pass. He went to the bar instead.
He woke up the next morning in her bed, with a surprisingly mild hangover. Astounding, since his real body couldn't hold its liquor worth a damn and he was missing huge chunks of time from the previous night. He remembered enough to know that he'd been drunker last night than at any other time in his life, though. He dressed quietly and left without disturbing her.
He stayed in that dimension for another couple of weeks. A gang of bandits invaded the forest between two villages, using it to live in and cover their escapes. Jim spent a week and a half hunting for them, before realizing how much easier it would be if he just burned down the forest. He then spent the rest of the week on a quest to find a tribe of druids to replace the forest.
Finally, he knew it was time to go home. He didn't know how time would work between the dimensions, but he assumed it was in his favor. He bid farewell to the mages and those women of the court still speaking to him and lay back down on the stone slab.
He opened his eyes in a hospital bed. He was hooked up to a respirator, feeding tube and IV. He woke to them removing the respirator.
"Wait! Look! He's awake!" a nurse cried.
He looked around. His parents were there, along with a doctor and two nurses. He tried to talk, but couldn't. His parents seemed oddly discomfited by his recovery.
"Oh," was all his mom said. "Well."
His dad cleared his throat. "Carry on doctor."
They removed his feeding tube, but the IV was still in his arm. He coughed. "Mom, Dad! What am I doing in the hospital?"
"You--you were in a coma for two years," his mom said. "We'd given up hope you'd ever wake up."
"Finally, though," his father said, " we came to grips with it. Realized it was best to let you go."
His parents looked at each other, then back at him.
"We, uh, told the doctors this morning to unplug you."
"Oh." After only two years? He looked around the room and noticed the nurses were gone. The doctor approached the bed. "Good thing I woke up when I did."
"But putting that aside a moment," he said, glancing down at his IV, waiting for the doctor to stop futzing with it and just take it out, "you really need to hear what..." He felt a slight rush of euphoria, and things started to slow down. "...wha happn...t-t'me..."
His parents blurred into each other as his eyes began to close. "You have to understand," his mother said. "We'd made our peace with it. It was agonizing, we cried and prayed over it for days, but in the end we made our peace with losing you. And well..."
"Let's be honest Jim," his father's voice echoed, "you weren't exactly living the life you had, anyway. We figured we might be doing you a favor."
The doctor's voice drifted across his awareness. He wasn't seeing anything anymore. "It really is quite common, Jim. Just not widely talked about. Plus, there is scientific research that suggests the sudden return to life of a loved one once the grief process has begun is likely to cause undue psycological stress on the survivors." There was more, but Jim was too far gone to hear much other than "morphine" and "feel a thing".
"NO!" he wanted to scream, "No, you don't understand! I've been to another dimension! I fought a dragon! You can't kill me! I'm the Immortal Champion!"
But he didn't. Instead he lay there and everything went white. Then black.
And then his heart stopped.