by Martin Maenza
On a mountainous road in Upstate New York, on a cloudy autumn night with the half-moon barely peeking though the clouds, a single pair of headlights pierced through the darkness. The glowing circles shimmered side to side as they approached, quickly becoming larger.
They jerked suddenly again with a slight squeal of tires against the asphalt.
Behind the wheel of the vehicle, the driver had removed his hands briefly to fumble for something between the seats. “Where issit…?” he grunted, his words slurring.
The in-dash radio was pointing to 100.5, an oldies station. From the car’s speakers blared a male rock singer melodically crooning, “Oh, where, oh, where can my baby beeee…?”
“Got it!” the driver announced victoriously, hoisting up an open bottle of vodka about a third of the way full. He raised it to his lips, one hand casually on the wheel. And over the edge of the bottle’s glass, he saw it…
His car crashed through the guard rail with a metal-grinding crunch.
The two-door midnight blue sports car hurled over a cliff’s edge, then plummeted down front first like a falling stone.
It bounced when it hit the sharply sloping ground one-hundred feet below once, turning over on its end, then again and again. The crunches of metal against rock echoed in the unspoiled valley, no one around at this late hour to hear them.
Finally, the car came to an abrupt stop against a huge rock outcropping, no doubt large stones that had broken off the cliff and fallen in years past. A spark ignited the engine, and the gas tank exploded.
The car was quickly engulfed in flames.
The driver, a man about forty with shoulder-length black hair, blinked his eyes as he watched the vehicle burn in the night. “What the–?!” he wondered aloud as he felt a cool breeze blow about him. “Am I dreaming? Am I dead?”
“No, Jim Rook,” a voice behind him said. “You are neither.”
The man turned his head to where the voice came. With bleary bloodshot eyes, he saw a shadowy figure floating in the air. What little light there was in the evening sky highlighted the figure’s long blond hair and white robes. A dark cape of green billowed gently behind him.
Jim Rook then realized, too, that he himself was floating in the air high above the canyon floor and just a bit away from the cliff where his car had just left the road. “You don’t look like Ssuperman…” he slurred.
“Hardly,” the blond man said with a slight scoff.
Jim frowned to consider. “Then you musst be an angel or ssomethin’ like that…” His voice sort of trailed off.
“Something like that,” the blond man said with a faint smile. He floated a bit closer to the black-haired man.
Jim arched back his shoulders, almost as if startled by the whole situation. “What issit you want from me?” His voice had a trace of panic to it.
The blond man stopped his advance. “You seem startled.”
“Damn right, I’m startled!” Jim shouted. “One ssecond I’m about to go crassh over a cliff in my car, and the next I’m talkin’ with the likess of you…”
The blond man nodded. “Yes, I can see how that would be jarring. But I did save your life. You would have been dead in that wreckage had I not happened along when I did.”
Jim glanced down and nodded. “Yeah… I guesss so.”
The blonde man moved a bit closer, more slowly this time. “Tell me, Jim Rook, how did your life end up this way?”
The whole moment seemed so surreal to driver of the car. Here he was floating in the air somehow with another, when by all rights he should have been dead in his car below. And his savior, whoever he was, was looking to play this is your life? It was crazy.
“OK,” Jim said, sobering slightly and wishing he still had the bottle of vodka in his hands, “I’ll play along. But trusst me: it ain’t a pretty tale…”
My story’s an odd one, to be sure. It started long, long ago in a place far, far away. And, no, I’m not talking about that movie series with all the flashy special effects! This was real, or at least it always seemed to be. There have been times in my life that I really wasn’t sure.
Thousands of years ago, in an other-dimensional kingdom of Myrra, there lived two mighty warriors. One was named Brom, and the other Nacht. They both were champions who fought hard for the kingdom.
To reward them, the king of Myrra ordered Farben, his court magician, to create magical weapons for the two. Brom was given the magical Mace of Mists. Nacht received the enchanted Sword of Night. Both were entrusted to use the weapons for the defense and betterment of the kingdom.
Brom, however, plotted with Farben and a band of assassins to murder the king and Nacht. Brom hated that Nacht was so loyal to the king, and therefore decided his old ally would die as well in the bid to take over Myrra. The two battled, and Nacht was victorious in the defeat of Brom. But Nacht didn’t count on the fight being an unfair one. Farben magically transported Nacht to another world, this one — Earth. As Nacht vanished, the Sword of the Night became inserted into a stone pillar, where it would remain for centuries.
With no champion to defend her, Myrra was besieged with sorcery by the Warlocks, descendants of Brom. For a thousand years, they lay waste to the land, destroying the magnificent buildings and transforming the people of the land into shriveled, ugly abominations.
Sure, I know, this sounds like something straight out of a Yes song. I know, I felt that way, too, a number of years back. I actually turned the tale into lyrics for my song Myrra’s Aria. It was on one of my albums from the mid-’70s — Sing A Song Of Sorcery. I put a lot of effort into that whole album, worked on it for a good part of two years, but the critics panned it. Called it a “self-indulgent masturbation of a concept album.” Little did they know how personal those songs were, how I was using my music to deal with what had happened to me a half-dozen years before.
Anyway, at the time I was just twenty-two years old, living fast and loose as the leader and singer of a rock ‘n’ roll band called the Electrics. Little did I know then that Myrra’s latest king, Zolto, would contact me and alter the course of my life forever. One psychedelic trip later, and I found myself in a land of short, blue-skinned people. And that’s when Zolto gave me the quick history lesson.
“Today, I detected a change in the cosmic force alignment–” the old king later explained, “–a breach in the barriers — and I was able to snare you!” When I asked to be sent home, he gestured to the stone pillar. “First, I ask you to lift the sword… the Sword of Night, your ancestor’s mighty weapon! It is written that only one of the family of Nacht — one born to be a hero — can heft this steel!”
Having no recourse, I reached for the hilt. It was then that the weapon began to sing, alerting us that an enemy approached. A patrol of green-hooded men were attacking the palace. Instinctively, I took the blade and used it to defend myself and Zolto.
Only after defeating the attackers did I learn that my beloved fiancée, Janet Jones, had been dragged into this other world by the same spell. King Zolto told me, “The Warlocks interfered with my spell!”
I don’t know if it was just anger or the heat of the battle, but I grasped Zolto about the neck. “What’re you trying to say–? Spit it out!”
“The young woman was captured by the Warlocks!” the old man said.
“You creepy, sawed-off…”
“It avails naught to vent anger at me!” Zolto pleaded. “Save your fury for the Warlocks! If you would see Janet alive again — you must enter the warlock fortress!”
I really had little choice in the matter. Before I could return home, I would have to rescue Janet, even if the whole situation I found myself in was a bit too convenient for Zolto. It was exactly what he needed, someone who could wield the ancient weapon forced to go into the den of his enemies to defeat them.
After receiving some ceremonial blue and red garments worn by my supposed ancestor, I was introduced to Boz, a white-skinned guide. Together we rode a giant insect of a beast which resembled an Earth grasshopper out across the land. Along the way, we encountered the dread Ice Witch, and made an ally in a barbarian named Tickeytarkapolis Trootrust, whom I soon dubbed Tark to make it easier on myself. Together, we battled our way across the lands, searching for where Janet was being held captive.
Eventually, we managed to find her in the keep of Duke Spearo. The Warlocks had used their powers to disguise her as a dark-haired maid named Mizzi and attempted to use her against me. True love must have been enough to overpower their dark magic spells, and my words reached her. By freeing me, Janet was also freed from the spell. The remaining undefeated Warlocks tried to escape to our world, and we gave pursuit.
Cornered inside the shop where Janet and I were first mystically snatched, I threatened the two green-robed creeps. “Either go back to Myrra — or stay here and try your luck against the Nightsword!”
The cowards fled, using their magic to retreat back to Myrra and their defeat.
At first, Janet wondered if the whole thing were just some wild dream, a fantasy that we both shared. In truth, it felt that way. It seemed so farfetched. Only then did I realize that the Sword of Night still remained in my possession. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Some Forbidden Fate,” Showcase #82 (May, 1969), “Sing a Song of Sorcery,” Showcase #82 (May, 1969), and “Come Darkness, Come Death,” Showcase #82 (May, 1969).]
Although we didn’t know for sure at the time, we both assumed that Myrra would begin on its road to recovery, rebuilding and attempting to renew the old ways and the life they once knew. It would be a long while before I knew anything different.
Meanwhile, it was time to get back to what I knew, which was making music. Following the little adventure in Myrra, it was back to the Electrics and performing in clubs around the New York City area. Our usual horde of faithful followers showed up at the gigs, and that helped us appear more popular and marketable.
A record company executive managed to catch some of those later shows, after word of mouth about us reached his offices. From the stage, I could often see Janet in the audience, talking to the man during the sets. Mr. Parker was a portly man, slightly balding. Looked like he stepped down from his office, ditching his tie to at least appear to fit into the scene. Still, the man knew the business and was fairly discreet; he often used Janet as a go-between for messages and information. He wasn’t interested in the Electrics as a whole. It was a time when music was emphasizing the singer-songwriters, and he felt he could do more with me as a solo artist.
Janet was always my biggest supporter, even from those early days before I became a star. Janet helped with the booking of gigs, would run errands for food and such while we practiced, kept an eye out for important people, and in general acted as my overall public relations person. She truly believed in me.
Not everyone was in my corner, her family, especially. They thought I was wasting my time, and that Janet was, too, given her devotion to me and my dreams. However, her belief never wavered. She eventually managed to convince her parents that I would amount to something, and her father granted me Janet’s hand in marriage.
By the time we were wed, I had finished recording my first album, and my first single was rising up the charts like a shooting star. I was on cloud nine then, and Janet looked so lovely when she walked down the aisle. Her beautiful blonde hair interleaved with white flowers, her white satin dress glistening on that sunny July afternoon down near the brook.
From there, we rushed off to our honeymoon in the tropics, a gift from the record company. And even though the media caught wind of our presence there and chased us all over the beach, trying to snap pictures of us, it was still a wonderful time.
By the time we returned home, the pictures were all over the magazines. And my debut album reached the top ten and held there for fourteen weeks. The studio was eager for me to follow it up. And many of the industry big names were interested in meeting me, working with me, or just partying with me.
It looked at that point as if nothing could ever bring me down again.
I was wrong.