"We were twelve," I tell Dishes. His parents named him Richard, and he went by Rich to most people, but to me he'd been Dishes since we'd gone through every one of his mother's good Corelle dinner plates that October night. Neither of us believing the crossbow actually worked.
Dishes unzips the long gym bag with a sound like the end of my world. "Tell you the truth, I thought I'd find the Door a lot sooner." He drops a scabbarded sword on my desk. The sword clangs in a very real fashion against the wood, and I look past his lean, hungry frame through my glass wall into the cube farm. No one turned to look. Yet.
"Jesus. This is my job, Dishes. How I feed my kids. You trying to get me fired?"
"You're not hearing me," Dishes says. He comes to the edge of the desk I'm standing behind. Fixes me with his watery blue eyes. "I found the Door."
"The door." Noncommittal, like I don't remember. Like for twenty years he hasn't been sending me actual paper letters from all over the world.
Really just buying time.
"The Door. Into the Winterlands, you know? C'mon, Matty."
"The door," I say. "That door."
"Shit." I tear myself from his eyes to look at the sword. The scabbard is carved in ornate sigils that I don't remember, the hilt wrapped in a light-absorbing leather that looks like nothing I've seen. Hoarfroast is metastasizing out from the scabbard across my desk, crinkling the neat stacks of paper. "Is that--"
"From over there? What do you think?"
"Shit," I say again. "I got obligations, Dishes. Haven't been near a gym since Sammy was two and Jenna bailed. Let alone the dojo. Look at this gut. What am I supposed to do with a sword?"
Dishes turns away to pace the room, a wolf testing the boundaries of my little glass cage. Muttering to himself. I make out kids and promises, some other words in the same vein.
"Look, man," I tell him. Trying for Placate, coming out Wheedle. "When we were twelve, thirteen, this stuff was an adventure. It was impossible. There was no door, it was all a game. Now I got employees depending on me. I got the kids, the alimony, the nanny, the school. I can't just up and go."
He turns on me, his teeth bared, closing the distance in the space between my suddenly-rapid heartbeats. "But youswore."
Beneath my right hand, the desk has grown cold, cold as winter. I can feel the sword there. So can he, I can see it in the tension in his shoulders, the readiness of his hips. I'll never get to it first.
He steps back, his hands rising. "You know what," he says. "You know what? Fuck this. I'm going about this all wrong."
"What do you mean?" I don't know what he's talking about, but the tension has run out of him and I don't feel like he's about to rip my throat out anymore, so I'll play along.
"Ver-Patrus told me this wouldn't work, coming to you directly."
"Ver-Patrus?" It sounds familiar, but I can't place the name. The puzzle occupies my mind for a moment. Long enough for him to return to the door. The caged wolf, spotting an open gate.
"He said you'd be tied down. Said I'd have to cut the strings or you'd never come."
Cut the strings--stuck on the name, it took a second to hear him. Cut the strings. My heart, already double-timing, kicked into overdrive.
"I didn't want to believe him, but the bastard was right." Dishes backed through the doorway, still looking at me. "I gotta go, Matt." A cockeyed grin shows me his teeth. "Be seeing you."
And he's gone, sprinting through the cube farm. Heads turning in his wake.
Be seeing you.
I stand still for far too long, numb with horror. Cut the strings.
I have to stop him. Call the cops. Call the school, tell them not to let Dishes near the kids. Call Jenna, as if I want to talk to her again. But still. I should call. Email. Reach out.
But on my frozen desk, amid the frost-covered papers, the sword from the Winterlands waits for my hand.
Haven't done an /r/writingprompts prompt in a while. This one was "As a child, you and your best friend made a pact to go on an real fantasy adventure. After growing up, starting your separate lives and families, and losing touch, one day he/she bursts into your office, throwing you a sword and insists you accompany them."
I kinda like it!