The shabbily-dressed man shuffled down the quiet midnight streets, the city having found its bed some time ago. He tossed the remains of his extended nightcap into a trashcan. He self-consciously rubbed at his belly and sighed.
He stared down the length of empty street before him. Was this who he was, now? Fat, half bald, an alcoholic, presumably homeless now. He rubbed the coin in his coat pocket and started walking again.
It was so hard to remember the brighter times, now. He’d been a brilliant lawyer, very respected in his time. Like so many, he had become a victim of his own success.
He celebrated that success with drugs and alcohol. It changed him over a number of years. He garnered a sense of overzealous importance. It masked the growing discontent that had silently crept into his mind one night. It grew and festered there, hidden by booze and money.
So he had tried to return.
He had received a coin years ago from his grandfather. It looked like any other half-dollar. His grandfather told him it was no such thing.
The grandfather had told him wonderful tales of the adventures he had gone on in another world when he was younger. This coin, he said, was matched to a key in that world that acted as a gateway. With it, his grandson could visit this same wonderful place.
The man passed away a short while later. The young man hadn’t given it any more thought until one boring Summer afternoon. He sat at the end of a blind alley, turning the coin over in his hand, thinking of his grandfather. He flipped it up into the air.
When it landed in his hand, he found himself sitting in a wide-open field. Everything his grandfather had told him was true. Here, before his unbelieving eyes, was all the evidence he’d ever need.
What followed was an epic tale in and of itself. In this reality, the fair kingdom of Aleria was ruled by King Michael, but he had become deathly ill. His son, Prince Aaron, believed it to be the work of the wicked Count Errol.
He soon found that a prophecy held that a young one from a faraway land would come to save them all. He reluctantly embraced this proposed fate and agreed to help the people of Aleria. The prophecy held true, and the Count’s plans were thwarted.
The king, deeply grateful and dutifully impressed with the young man’s abilities, offered for him to live in the kingdom as one of his loyal knights. This he did… for a time. He soon found himself missing the life he had left behind.
He returned to our world to find that not but a day had passed since he had first left months ago. He would feel a yearning to return to Aleria from time to time. One flip of the coin in this nondescript alley…
The middle-aged version of that young man stood at the mouth of that very alley. It had been so long since he’d visited this place. He had been in the last weeks of his senior year in high school.
He’d recently learned that he’d been accepted to a prestigious law school. With the last of his childhood fading, and his adult life racing toward him, he had decided it was a perfect time to escape this world for a while.
Except this time the coin failed to work.
He stood there, staring dumbly at the coin, unsure of why its magic remained quiet. He went home deeply worried for his friends in that distant land. He would return a number of times, increasingly faint hope tingling in the pit of his stomach. The coin never worked again.
It had sat in the top drawer of the bureau in his bedroom for years afterward, slowly forgotten, cold and lifeless. He pressed on with college and began his life as a newly-minted adult. The memories of his young exploits slowly faded from his mind.
Only recently had he rediscovered the coin. Memories of Aleria raced back into his mind the moment he picked it out of its hiding spot. He found it while he was packing his things. He’d just separated from his third wife.
Things had quickly gone downhill from there in the form of countless bottles and pills. The man shuffled to the end of the alley and sat down roughly on the damp ground. It had been so many years. He pulled out the coin and turned it over and over in his hand.
That old familiar tingling returned to his gut, spurred in part by the exhilaration he felt at the idea of returning to Aleria. He flipped the coin skyward. He watched it flip high into the air and back down into the palm of his hand.
The sky remained dark. The alley stubbornly refused to dissipate.
The man bowed his head and began to sob. This was it. There was no more hope. He pulled a pistol from his other pocket. Still sobbing, he placed it to his head.
The gun clattered to the ground. He balled his fist and pushed it hard into his burning chest. Even now, would he be denied what he wanted? His eyes watered from the pain spreading from his chest to his left arm.
“Enough of it, Trevor! Hail and get off of your ass!”
The man… Trevor… looked up at the robed man looming over him in the dark. “Help me… I’m having… heart attack.” He fought to spit the words out.
The man above him waved a dismissive hand. “Bah! Of course you are. You poisoned your heart with the sickness of this land years ago.”
The robes of the man swung aside, revealing a gnarled wooden staff. He stabbed at the ground beside Trevor, who yelped. The amber stone at the top of the staff shimmered.
The staff glowed bright yellow. Crackling yellow energy arced from the stone to Trevor’s chest. The robed man returned the staff to its former position. “Now, I say! Get off of this forsaken ground! Aleria needs you.”
“Aleria…” Trevor looked up, fresh tears in his eyes. “Tyrion!”
“At least your eyes are still working.”
Trevor scratched and pulled his way to his feet. “The coin! It stopped working years ago.”
“Aye! I told you! You became too poisoned to use its magic. That’s why I came of my own accord. But I warn ye… if you return with me, never again will you see this wretched, filthy world.”
Trevor shook his head. “I have nothing here. Please… please take me back.”
The wizard considered him for a moment, his gaze burning into Trevor’s own eyes. “I can see the pain. Desperation. You are sick, child…” He nodded. “Come forth with me, Trevor of Earth! Stay close, now.”
Trevor followed closely behind the wizard. The brick walls on either side of them began to change. Bits of mold and fungus erupted from between the bricks and spread. The concrete underneath their feet gave way to earth and grass.
The gray sky above brightened into one of a brilliant blue-green hue. The sun glared in Trevor’s eyes. When he blinked it out, he found the two of them walking across the fields outside the kingdom of Aleria.
The wizard Tyrion turned to see what his charge thought of the sudden change of scenery. Trevor looked back at him with a face decades younger than his years and smiled. Tears of joy filled his eyes.
Tyrion nodded, his own eyes growing moist. “There you are, lad. Welcome home… now and forever.”