“Hi, my name is Steve and I’m a questaholic.”
The voices echoed around the church basement, despite the small crowd (although, it being my first meeting, I wasn’t sure if it was small or not). I was still unsure whether I was the subject of a Harry Potter-obsessed lunatic’s idea of a sick joke, but the meeting quelled some of my paranoia. After my discovery of the Epic Quest list, I received a tidy packet of information at my desk one morning, filled to the brim with oddly-colored pieces of paper. Upon closer inspection, the packet turned out to be the Quest version of junk mail. But as a new initiate to the intricate and weird world of questing, it was a most welcome packet of junk mail indeed. There were token banks, where scrupulous individuals would watch over your tokens for free (and probably loan them out to seedy goblins), crudely-written cards advertising how-to pamphlets (where to find the most frequent Quest-requested items, creative excuses for work absences, and more), and some pieces of paper that were completely blank as far as I could tell.
Steve quickly launched into a sad and sordid tale about how he had broken his clavicle falling into the Gowanus Canal while collecting moss, but I largely tuned him out. Unlike the rest of the motley crew sitting in dingy chairs in the barely-lit room, I had not come to achieve catharsis. No, this was an information-gathering mission. These people had fallen off the wagon, had let their quest obsession overtake their lives, and I was not about to let myself become one of them. When it came to my turn, I paused slightly for effect, then, just as I’d practiced that morning in front of the bathroom, launched into my tale of woe.
“Hi, my name is Jen [not my real name], and I’m a questaholic.”
“I stopped at the Park Slope Farmers’ Market on my way home from work to pick up an empty lobster tail shell. Digging through piles of discarded shellfish, I found the perfect shell, or so I thought. As I exited into the alley next to the seafood stand – a shortcut I had found during a previous questing foray – I was beset upon by a band of teenagers, who circled around me menacingly. I was about to reach into my pocket to offer them my wallet, when a smile appeared on one of their faces.
‘Keep your filthy norm-money, it’s your tokens we’re after.’
I was never one to carry my tokens on me except during a token exchange quest, but I knew that wasn’t going to be a satisfactory answer, so I stalled for time.
‘This lobster tail shell is worth five wooden tokens if you throw it in the sewer grate on the corner of Baltic and Bond. That’s all I have.’
I held out the shell with trepidation. The leader of the group walked toward me with a smile and took the offering. As he turned to walk away, I breathed a sigh of relief. But then, without warning, the ruffian suddenly [turned] back my way, and just as I noticed the glint of metal reflecting from his knuckle, he punched me right in the gut. The blow knocked the air out of me and I collapsed to the ground. Still smiling, the boy bent down until he was squatting in front of me.
‘No one comes questing near the Market without our assistance. If I see you snooping around here without any tokens on ‘ya, the hurt you’re experiencing now will feel like a summer breeze once we’re done with you. You follow?’
Still on the ground, I nodded slowly, which seemed to satisfy him and the rest of the group. By the time I got to my feet, they were gone.”
I looked around the circle, waiting to see the group’s reaction. Finally, a woman in her sixties with greying brown hair smacked her first into her palm
“The Council’s gotta put a stop to these attacks before someone gets seriously hurt! I’ll bring a petition next meeting that we can all sign.”
Most of the other people nodded in agreement, as I breathed a sigh of relief. But then a troubling thought bubbled up in my brain. This gang that I had manufactured might not have been real, but there were apparently others like it roaming around the city and that made my heart beat a little faster.
“Is there some sort of map charting out the safe spaces where we won’t be attacked or robbed?”
If I was actually going to be set upon by marauding gangs, I might as well know where the no-go zones were. The brown-haired woman’s brow furrowed for a second at the question.
“Can’t say that there is, but it would be a good idea to pool our findings. Let me talk to some of the other meeting groups, and maybe we can’t just get something whipped up.”
The rest of the meeting went on without anything noteworthy occurring, and I made my exit quickly after grabbing a powdered donut, lest anyone hit me up for more information about the non-existent gang.
I was nearly up the stairs to street level before Steve caught up to me.
“Interesting story back there,” he said, with a hint of mocking in his voice. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you just carved yourself a nice little slice of territory where no one else is going to intrude.”
My eyes widened. I hadn’t even thought of that aspect of my story. I was just trying
“I don’t know what you’re talkin–”
“Save it, newbie. I’m not going to rat you out to Ms. Concerned Citizen down there, but next time, try to come up with something that doesn’t sound like it was taken from a bad 80’s movie.”
We reached the top of the stairs and Steve turned right and starting walking away. Not wanting to continue the awkward conversation, I started heading in the opposite direction when Steve [turned] back and Steve shouted something to me.
“One bullshitter to another, you should really stay away from the alleyway behind Trader Joe’s in Union Square. That’s the Black Vultures’ domain and you don’t want to mess with them.”
He pulled down the collar of his shirt, revealing a jagged scar that pulsed with a faint, green glow. The vomit rose suddenly in my throat and as I stooped over to finish retching, I could hear Steve laughing as he retreated into the distance.
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