It was routine. I got off work on Thursdays, and I went to Barnes & Nobles. I did it every week, often to explore new and different options in the RPG section. My friends always laughed at me, like I should be going to a game store to get the best stuff, but I’d be damned if I was going to take a 45 minute train ride just to get the same things I could from the store that was a five minute walk from my flat. It was a bit cloudy that day when I went down the street, hugging my jacket against the biting air.
There was an old man at the doors of the bookstore as I approached, hastily spitting out the last lines what I could only assume was a joke to another set of patrons as they hurried past him.
“She hid the knife in its usual place,” He said, “Unaware that the dog was watching and would later bury it in HIS favorite hiding place.”
He laughed at his own joke as I quickly walked by, doing my best to avoid eye contact. There was something about him; something wrong that I couldn’t quite place. I knew where I was going, seventh row back from the doors, right to the D&D books and manuals. I was ready for a new adventure, and as their DM, I felt my friends were counting on me to keep up with the latest rules and tools of the game. I browsed the selection as I heard an awkward shuffling come into the aisle beside me. It was the old man.
“You know I used to play these,” The old man said. I smiled and nodded absently. “I was a Dungeon Master, back in my day.”
I looked side long at the man, but that was too much; we locked eyes for a moment, and he took it as a sign to share his life story. I cursed under my breath.
“You know how all those quests start, ‘It was a dark and rainy night… ‘ Or something like that. Right?”
I took a deep breath. You got this, I thought. Just humor him and he’ll go.
“Yeah, D&D’s pretty fun,” I said.
“Fun?!” The old man shouted, “FUN?! It’s all the same these days! Back in my day, those games were legendary. Every time me and the pals got together, it was all goats, hobgoblins, donuts, and Kieth Morrison. Now look, it’s all fancy premade adventures. I bet you don’t even eat donuts at your games, do you?”
“Everybody loves donuts,” I replied as calm as I could; but I was starting to sweat. This guy was giving me the creeps, and I couldn’t get away from him. We weren’t even in the RPG section anymore, I had started walking through the other aisles in hopes he’d lose interest, but he kept pace with me every step of the way.
The old man scoffed. “Let me tell you how a real D&D campaign should go. Take this one for instance: you have your players walk into a dungeon, and in the middle of the room are two grey haired elves, and male and female. There’s a boardgame between them. Now, the guy elf, he’s sat at the table, waiting for his wife to make her move, if he wins the game of chess he would live for another year. If he loses he would die. They had been playing this game for a hundred years.”
“Is this going somewhere?” I said, my patience waning fast.
“Mind your elders,” The old man said as he folded his arms over his chest. At that point I just facepalmed.
“I’m just here to get some books,” I said quickly, “Could you just leave me alone?”
The old man’s eyes filled with tears. I was shocked, I’d never seen an old man cry, let alone been party to the cause.
“I’m sorry?” I said, unsure of what to do in this situation. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face.
“Now, at my advanced age, I more fully understand why I did what I did, and how God saved me so many, many times.”
He stared at me for a moment. And I at him. I quickly scanned the shop for sign of any attendant who could create a reason for me to give the old guy the slip, but no one was around.
“Don’t you want to know why God saved me?” The old man entoned with a sinister grin. I instinctively took a step back.
“No,” I said flatly. “Not really.”
The old man sighed.
“Kids these days,” He said. “And can ya blame them? Adults don’t really run the world- have you seen the double down effect of a toddler screaming, and every fucking parent on the hunt for a lost binky? Where are the gps locators on those things?…”
He walked away as he finished his bizarre rant. I hurried back to the seventh row, and quickly found the book I was seeking among the new edition of D&D manuals. I peaked around the aisle, fearful that the old man would be there once more, but he was gone. I breathed a sigh of relief, and hurried to the counter. But the worst part of the whole experience was when I opened my wallet to pay for the book; I was short by two dollars.