Pastor Steve Dwyer spends an hour each morning on his knees in his tiny church office. Today, he is keenly aware of his Father’s voice: Feed My Sheep. He rises from prayer and looks out at his mission field: a neighborhood that has given up its fight with poverty.
Tommy awakens with cigarette smoke in his nostrils. He groans and rolls over, then sits up with a start at the tinkle of breaking glass.
Pulling on too-small jeans and an old, sleeveless Motley Crue tee-shirt, Tommy listens for further noises from downstairs. He hears only the television; his mother’s favorite show is blaring.
He walks carefully downstairs and into the kitchen, dirty ankles flashing above worn sneakers. A glimpse into the living room reveals his mother, sprawled on the tattered couch, a cigarette in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other. Tommy takes a deep breath. “Do you want something to eat, Ma?”
His mother doesn’t even look away from the screen, where a tattooed woman is screaming at a toothless man. “Shut up,” she says. “And clean up that mess in the kitchen.”
The kitchen floor is covered with spilled whiskey and slivers of broken glass. Tommy mops up the mess, then pours a bowl of cereal. The gallon jug in the refrigerator contains only half an inch of milk, and is stamped with last week’s date. Tommy pours the milk into the sink and eats his cereal dry.
“Tommy! Bring me my bottle!” He looks around and spots the whiskey near a pile of dirty dishes. He hesitates. His mother swears at him, her voice beginning to slur. Tommy snatches the bottle and runs to his mother, knocking several magazines off an end table. “Get outta here, you little…” She reaches out to slap Tommy, and catches his skinny arm with a long fingernail. There is a slight trickle of blood. His mother looks back at the television.
He tears out the door and runs three blocks to the library. Panting, he writes his name on the computer sign-in sheet. A pretty blonde librarian glances at the bank of computers, then smiles at Tommy. “You can log in on number three. Half an hour, remember?”
He rests his head in his hands as the computer hums to life. Several seconds pass, then Tommy looks up at the screen. His eyes are bright. His heartbeat quickens. A few keystrokes later, and his escape is complete.
He is Errad, warrior-prince and dragon lord. With his trusty sword, Umit, he conquers the foulest monsters and defends the land of Engardim. Prince Errad has amassed a fortune in gold, and at one time he held in his hand the living Jewel of Iseril. Today, he battles the dragon Danus, which has been savaging the land for a fortnight. Errad has acquired an extra measure of strength, and he swings Umit bravely at the head of the sulfurous, smoke-breathing creature. Danus falls to earth, but manages to swipe Errad’s bicep with one poisonous talon before soaking the ground with greenish blood…
“Time’s up, Tommy. And from the looks of that game you’re playing, I rescued you just in time. Sorry, but there are other people waiting for that computer. You’re going to have to escape from…wherever you are.” The librarian pats Tommy on the shoulder. “Come back tomorrow, okay? Have a nice day!”
The sounds of dragon-battle fade to silence. Tommy logs off, then starts slowly toward home.
Pastor Dwyer is researching Sunday’s sermon when his computer freezes. He tries every trick he knows, but finally, with a sigh, he hits “ESC” and turns off the machine. He’ll have to use the library computer again. As he walks the few blocks to the library, he passes a young boy, barely a teenager, skinny and dressed in ill-fitting clothing. He turns and watches the boy approach a door, his shoulders stooped.
Tommy’s mother is asleep on the couch, a cigarette in her fingers dropping ashes on the floor. Tommy takes the cigarette and rubs it out, then turns down the volume on the television. He begins to imagine his next escape, when he hears a knock at the door.
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