(Unraveling, the series) The Serious Conundrum of Balthenius (Bob) Valentine

Part One:

Most people call me Bob.

I don’t know why, I think it started with Milly. She couldn’t say Balthenius, it just came out like… Babb. It caught on, and evolved, and so now, I am Bob.

There isn’t anything wrong with that. I mean Bob is a perfectly acceptable name. The problem is, I am a powerful and terrifying wizard (one of 7 in the order). So, when your line of work is to strike fear into the hearts of… everyone, Bob, doesn’t really cut it.

Why are you wanting to strike fear into hearts, you might ask. Even if you weren’t asking, now I pointed it out, you probably are. (Ok, so You, are not, but you’re just thinking that to be contrary, so either stop and read on, or go read a manual on how not to be an annoying jerk to your friends and people who barely know you. Seriously, I don’t even know you, and I want to pop you in the face, just for being you…)

Sigh…

Ok, so, I don’t like to scare people, and I don’t do it unless I have to. But my job is to keep people from finding out too much. There are things out there that “people” just shouldn’t know. You may be able to handle it. I may be able to handle it. Your nephew Petey may even be able to handle it, but “people” in general, cannot.

So I lurk in the shadows, skulk in long lost ruins, hang out in coffee shops and haunt the musty corridors of libraries, trying to keep dangerous knowledge out of the hands of people who might misuse it. Sometimes I get to be the hero, snatching some dark artifact or obscure ritual out of the hands of a nefarious villain. Sometimes I just feel like a jerk, beating up on a clueless archaeologist, or misguided young bookworm.

Still, it’s a job, though it does not pay the rent. I do this thankless job because someone has to. I do it because it was handed down to me by my Father – Althenar Bar-Hain. Most people called him… Harry. I’m not sure why, but he never argued with them so I assume there was good reason. Anyway, when your Dad lays this burden (I mean responsibility) on you, well, there really isn’t any choice. This is especially true when your Dad is a thousand year old barrel of a man with the power to pull small moons out of orbit. He pulled me aside one day and said, “Hey, Balthenius, your time has come. I have served my time and now I pass the mantle on to you. Do not mess this up or the whole universe might unravel. You must protect this continent, and assist your Brothers in defending theirs.” Then he handed me a small piece of twine and instructed me never to lose it. “Don’t lose this. It is one of 7 pieces, each a part of the fabric of the universe. This will give you your power. Lose it, and you will lose your power. If you misuse it, then the fabric will tear, and everything we know, will be lost. Speak of this to no one. The knowledge of the Fabric is sacred. If word gets out, or if knowledge of how to unravel the fabric gets out, then… well, you get the picture.”

So I figured, with those stakes, if I have to scare some spectacle wearing nerd in order to keep the universe intact, then I’ll do what I have to do.

The problem is, after about 50 or 60 years of being responsible for patrolling the whole of the United States, and being part in charge of saving the universe, it sort of loses it cool factor. I watch all these “normal” folks, strutting around with their regular lives and I think, you know what I feel like doing today, I feel like enjoying a tuna melt at that one place on the beach in Maui. Maybe I’ll even splurge and get a fresh squeezed orange and pineapple juice in a tall glass with a curly straw. I tried it once. It did not end well. I almost missed a one-eyed psycho trying to unlock a 2000 year old vault hidden under the Appalachians by a descendant of Methuselah. He was a constant thorn in our sides, and had a knack for evading capture and recruiting all sorts of random, and powerful stashes of knowledge. I think though, it all boils down to him just being a bit lonely and sad. Either that or he really is just an evil psychopath.

I was so focused on enjoying myself that I didn’t feel the usual mental tug I get when something of that magnitude is about to go down. It almost destroyed the whole continent and possibly a hefty part of the universe.

The melt was really good though. I think it was the Havarti cheese. I got lost in it’s divine meltiness and wasn’t thinking straight.

Lucky for me I had to stop and go pee after one too many tall glasses of juice, and I heard the mental cry as the vault was opened. I made it there just in time. The fella calling himself, Dr. Timothy Grim, was trying to get past the formidable traps inside the vault. He had already used up three henchmen and was about to use the ace up his sleeve, an old Sherman Tank he had rustled up and resurrected from a scrap heap, when I popped into existence right in front of him and utterly ruined his day.

I do still enjoy some of those moments, to be honest. The look of despair on his face when I brought down fiery rain hot enough to melt through his little metal pet tank. He wriggled out and threw himself on the ground, begging me not to kill him. I totally should have, or at least put him well out of commission. But then he said something.

“Bob.”

“The name is Balthenius.”

“Right, yes, I just thought Bob was a bit more… approachable. And besides, I think I can do you a favor.”

“And why would I listen to you. This is the third time we’ve had to stop you getting your hands on something that could potentially unravel everything we know.”

“Fourth time.”

“What?”

“Fourth time. There was that thing with the petrified skull of the Inca priest that I found, under in the basement at Baskin Robbins.”

“That was a very old acorn squash that got covered in concrete.”

“It could very well have been the skull of a priest. I could feel it, there was power. I’m quite sensitive to these things.”

“It was a squash, and it was rancid. I could smell it. I’m quite sensitive to these things. Anyway, cut the crap. I’m taking you in.”

“Wait. What about the favor.”

“There is nothing you can do for me that.. blah blah blah blah”

After that part it starts to get a bit hazy. I must have been boring myself, and I think I got distracted thinking about getting home in time for Milly’s birthday party. She was turning 6 and having a Doc Mcstuffins party where everyone had to come dressed as a stuffed animal. I still had to pick up my Lambie costume at the store and go grab a gift. Her mom, who I think is part witch and part mummy (not the cute english version but more like the withered bandage type) doesn’t like me much. Something to do with me missing most of the last 6 years of Milly’s life I think. So I had to make sure it was perfect. But then he said something that made my blood freeze.

“It’s about Milly.”

I didn’t say anything back. My fiery rain fizzled. The last of his minions turned tail and ran as I walked slowly towards Tim Grim. I’m not sure if it thundered in the background, but it should have.

“What if I told you that you could get your life back. That you didn’t need to run around saving the world any more. You could watch Milly grow up and be a part of her life.”

I didn’t mean to answer. I meant to tell him to go choke on a gate post, but before I knew it, my heart spoke. “How?”

“I don’t want power Bob, I really don’t. What I want is security. I want to know that I have a piece of “the fabric”.”

My heart stopped. I couldn’t tell you if it was literal or figurative at the time, because I was too busy having a heart attack. This one-eyed low life, who my “brothers” and I had let live only because he was deemed, no real threat, was now throwing around the name of my daughter and the most dangerous word of all, the word I was sworn to protect. I took a deep breath, and through gritted teeth I managed to speak. “You know I have to kill you know, right?”

The squirmy little rat smiled. “Well, sure, of course you do. But that would be dangerous. If I disappear, then everything I know about the Fabric of reality, and your little group of “wizards” will be sent out to every crackpot blog, conspiracy theorist, liberal journalist and trashy news magazine in the world. Most people will not believe it, obviously, but enough will find some truth in it, and they will keep on tugging until they quite literally unravel the universe. Or, you can hand over the little piece of twine you have, and walk away, back to your life, back to your daughter.”

I was stunned. I stood there, shaking, hands ready to open up the earth and have it swallow him whole. If what he said was true, I couldn’t. If what he said was true, then we were all in trouble.

Then his words started to work on me. It didn’t have to be my problem. None of this was my fault. I had a life, once. I could have a life again. There was only one little thing in my way.

I pulled the little piece of twine from my pocket, turning it over in my fingers. I saw his eyes light up as he saw it. This little piece of reality seemed so unimportant, so ordinary, and yet, it was given to me by my father and it gave me my power. It could mean the end if all I knew, if I gave it away and it was misused. It could mean the beginning of a real life if I gave it away and went back home.

“I don’t want it for the power Bob. I want to be in control of my own destiny. I won’t let anyone else have it. I won’t let anyone else learn of it. Nothing will change, except for this; you will have a real life.”

I thought about Milly and her mother, once my wife. I thought about the pain my life had caused them and what I could do to make it all better. “I’m sorry father.”

The twine dropped from my fingers, falling to the ground. I turned and walked away.

 

 

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