For those of you who don't know, John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton are running a fanfic contest. I've just e-mailed my entry. The auto-response reminds me that they're not asking for exclusivity, so I am free to do what I want with my story. I share it here, with you.
The Sweater's Dream
by Erin M. Hartshorn
"It's coming," the Velvet Wesley crooned in the dark. "It's coming soooooooon."
Over and over, the words repeated, finally sinking in to Wil Wheaton's head, past the announcer for the Dodgers game on TV. As soon as a commercial came, he got up and went to his office, following the sound of the voice. He flipped on the light, and silence fell.
Wil glared at the painting. "That's what I thought."
He flipped the switch back off and turned toward the living room. Behind him, he could hear a snicker. "But it's still coming."
His stepson Ryan looked up from the TV. "What was that about?"
"Some damned thing of Scalzi's, no doubt. That picture is evil, you know."
"Yeah, you've only told me like a million times. Now be quiet -- the game's coming back on."
Wil cheered for his team, but he couldn't quiet the worries in the back of his mind. What was Scalzi up to this time? He hadn't even made the mandatory Evil Overlord announcement on his blog, letting the world know that he had another evil plot afoot. Had he finally read the list and wised up?
The Dodgers won in the tenth inning, but Wil wasn't ready to go to sleep. Instead, he kissed his wife Anne and headed for his computer. "I want to do a blog post. I'll be along in a bit."
She looked as though she didn't believe him -- what, like he was going to interrogate the Velvet Wesley? -- but she nodded and let him go.
Sitting in front of his computer, though, Wil hesitated. He couldn't very well do a blog post about Scalzi's big evil plot to take over the world without knowing what the plot was. Even if he did know, most people wouldn't take him seriously -- everyone knew that Scalzi and Wheaton were friends, BFF geeks who loved going to cons together. Besides, Scalzi had the world eating out of his hand with the "Photoshopped" picture of him as a devil.
If the information wasn't on "Whatever," Scalzi's blog, maybe he'd let something slip elsewhere on the Web. Wil unleashed his mad Google-fu skillz and began to look for l337 information. He was a geek, after all, even if he wasn't Scalzi's BFF. Nothing unusual, no matter how he searched -- except. he finally noticed, for this sponsored ad that came up with every search -- "Save the unicorn kitty!"
That was unusual. He did a few test searches, but it didn't come up with various combinations of "unicorn," "kitty," or "cats," until on a hunch, given Scalzi's known predilections, he tried "kittens +bacon." Okay, this must be the gambit. After making doubly certain that his firewall and virus detection were up to date, Wil clicked the link.
The page consisted of a single picture, a fluffy russet kitten with a horn in the middle of its head. It was cute enough as these things went, but Wil wasn't seeing the link to Scalzi. He tapped his fingers on the desk while considering the picture.
"You know what you need," the Velvet Wesley whispered without moving its overlarge lips. "You won't see the truth without it."
"Never," Wil said. "I swore I'd never wear it again."
The painting said nothing. Neither did the kitten's picture on the monitor, but Wil could feel them both looking at him, waiting. Waiting for him to admit the time had come for him to track down and wear the clown sweater once more.
As far as he knew, no one else who had put it on had gotten so much as a glimpse of the alternate world co-existing with Earth -- a world where the unicorn kitten would be right at home, a world where a clown sweater could be valuable armor -- but then, who would admit to seeing such things? He certainly hadn't, in his blog post about wearing the sweater. Maybe, though, this was the reason for the sweater's hideousness -- no one would attempt to claim it for their own unless they saw the truth and accepted it. Even with the truth in front of him, Wil hadn't. Now he had no choice.
John Scalzi was up to something, and only Wil Wheaton and the clown sweater stood between him and the fulfillment of his plans.
Reluctantly, Wil closed his eyes and pictured himself wearing the sweater again, felt its yarn rough against his arms, smelled the old-lady mothball aroma that could never be gotten rid of. As its presence became more real in his memory, its current location became clear in his mind. Wil knew where he had to go to find the sweater. Fortunately, it wasn't far.
Five minutes later, Wil stood in the middle of the train tracks not far from his home, looking for the body. He tripped over the legs, so busy watching for the bright colors of the sweater that the dark denim faded into the tracks. He'd been wrong; the homeless man wasn't wearing the sweater. It was tied in a bundle with frayed string, and the odor of mothballs had been supplemented by malt liquor. Wil rolled the man away from the tracks to sleep it off, then tugged the package away from him.
Grimacing, Wil untied the sweater and slid it over his head. He didn't try to fight the sideways pull of his eyes. Around him, Los Angeles County shifted away.
"Took you long enough," the sweater said in a familiar voice.
"The Velvet Wesley."
"It wasn't like you'd listened to me when you put me on before. What was I supposed to do?"
However, Wil was too busy looking around at the no-longer familiar environs to talk back to his clothing. Night was darker here than at home, without all the streetlights and cars and towers of lit windows polluting the sky with photons the way the engines polluted it with exhaust.
The only visible light here was the glow of lava running down the flanks of a nearby volcano. It was enough to see the rocks surrounding him, and the defile that spilled away into a plain. He would have taken that route, toward more open space, but a pitiful mew stayed his feet.
He moved toward the lava, into the broken field of lava and spewed rocks that marred this land. This was not the world that he had glimpsed before. The clown sweater was mercifully silent as Wil searched for the cat. As he went, smells came to him, of bacon and of wet cat. Rounding a glossy obsidian boulder, he found the unicorn kitten of the Google ad, barely recognizable in its current state, bedraggled and greasy, its horn a dim point in the blackness. The reek overpowered him for a moment. He was too late; Scalzi had already been here.
Kneeling beside the cat, he took it in his hands and cradled it to his chest. The sweater made a gagging sound, but Wil ignored it. He combed the kitten's fur, pulling bits of crumbled bacon free.
"You poor thing. Scalzi will pay for this."
Muscles twitched beneath his hands, and Wil almost dropped the kitten as he felt wings sprouting from its back. Clumsily, he stroked the wings, preening them with his fingers, separating the feathers so they might dry.
In the distance, a howl echoed.
"The beast!" the sweater exclaimed.
Indeed. Scalzi had not only tortured this kitchen, subjecting it to bacon and bacon grease -- possibly causing its mutation -- but he had also set his dog, Kodi, upon its trail, possibly using the bacon as a lure.
This required a response. Wil thrust out his hand to the air around him, confident that a weapon would come to him, one fit for the wearer of the sweater. He just hoped it wasn't a clown horn.
A heavy lance materialized in his grasp. "Cool. A d8 damage."
"What are you -- lawful geeky?" the sweater muttered.
"True geek," Wil replied.
The lance glowed in his hand, glimmering with a blue light while silver sparkles danced along its length. Wil brought it nearer to examine it, and sparks fell on the kitten. This weapon would drive back the fierce Kodi and even end Scalzi's unknown fearsome plot.
More sparks fell on the cat, and it shuddered in his arm, twitching. It grew heavy, and its purr rumbled against the sweater. The sparks had made it grow, and they still showered it. Gently, Wil lowered it to the ground. Already the size of a beagle, the kitten continued to grow.
Kodi's howl sounded closer, and Wil tore his gaze from the kitten to face the approaching menace. The dog charged around a boulder, tongue lolling, ready to slobber over anyone in his path.
Wil dropped to his knees and set the lance's tip into Kodi's path, bracing himself to absorb the dog's momentum. The impact clanged like a muffled bell, jarring Wil's arms. He realized the dog wore some thin armor plate -- enough to dull the lance's blow, but light enough that the breath had been knocked out of him. Kodi fell over, his chest heaving as he struggled to recover.
Something pawed at Wil's shoulder, and he twisted, knowing he couldn't get the lance around to protect himself. The kitten's face, now as large as that on the clown sweater, loomed over him.
Wil stood. The unicorn kitten pegasus was the size of a small horse. It nudged him, and he realized it wanted him to climb on its back. He scratched it behind its ears first, then mounted. It bent its knees, then sprang into the air. Wil decided not to worry about minor details like whether the wings could actually support his weight.
"I think I'll call you Bee."
His comment was greeted with a purr.
Their bonding was interrupted by a roar of rage below them. Scalzi -- not a demon here, but an orc armed for battle -- had caught up with his dog, and he wasn't happy at what he saw. He shook his axe in the air at Wil. Not an orc double axe, but a dwarven waraxe -- d10 damage if he hit. Wil would have to make sure he didn't -- a reach weapon and mobility were on his side.
"Why'd you do it?" Wil called as he circled Scalzi, watching for an opportunity to attack. "No one wins with bacon grease on a cat. It's just like Baconnaise."
"Kodi would have," Scalzi replied. "And look -- wings!"
"Why not use Ghlaghee? Why an innocent kitten?"
"Ghlaghee's too smart for that." Scalzi swung his shield around to face Wil.
Indeed Wil squeezed Bee with his knees, and they dove at the orc. At the last second, Wil changed the angle of his lance so it was at the level of Scalzi's head. He swept the weapon sideways, clobbering Scalzi over his ear. The orc went down, and Bee swooped up and away, leaving the short-lived battlefield behind.
Far from the volcano, they landed in a field. Pink tinged the horizon, and Wil knew he had to leave before the sun rose. He dismounted from Bee and dropped the lance, which faded before it hit the ground. Even with the lance gone, however, Bee remained enlarged.
"I guess you're stuck like that," Wil said. "Try to stay out of trouble. If you see the orc again, fly away." He petted the kitten, then spoke to the sweater. "No offense, but I hope I never see you again."
He pulled it off before the sweater could reply. Clothes that talked back were just too unsettling. The world around him shifted sideways once more. In the distance as the world faded, he heard a woman scream, and he knew Scalzi had been found.
Wil shivered. Not even a clown sweater and a unicorn kitten pegasus might be enough to save him from the wrath of Krissy Scalzi.
- The End-