“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons.
The warm air sloshes up against the sturdy wooden hull of the galley. I stand on the edge looking out towards the sea that whips up with watery fingers, splashing a light mist on my face. The warm Mediterranean sun beats down on the other men and myself as I gaze at the modest landmass slowly approaching. I am Odysseus, famed leader of the Greeks in the ten year war against Troy. I can hear the cries of my crew as their stomachs churn and growl like the Spartans battle cries. Their mouths were cracked and dry like clay pots in an Athenian kiln. I knew that we had to land soon to replenish our stocks of food and drink, or we would never feel the warmth of our lover’s embrace again.
We pushed ashore and tethered the ship as best as our weary bodies could muster. The island was blanketed in grass and speckled with pitiful trees. The only real feature was a vast cavern that had the delicious aroma of roasted meat emanating from it. My crew braved the darkness, whether from curiosity or ravenous hunger I do not know. We approached the venerated dwelling that had fresh wine and cooked mutton. Surely nobody would complain if the victorious Greeks, starved and thirsty, helped ourselves to the extra rations? We feasted and consumed until there was nothing left but filled bellies and tired eyes. With most of my crew drifting off to sleep, I heard the “meh” of sheep quickly approaching the cave mouth, followed by a huge shepard, lacking an eye. The cyclops laughed knowingly as he smelled his favorite dish and rolled a boulder across the only exit. The cave went dark.
I blinked the darkness away as panic seized my warrior heart, and all I knew was that I was sweltering hot. Fire leapt around me as I slowly stood, weak from days of walking. I looked for anything familiar and found a golden cross abandoned at my feet, which I quickly clutched to my breast for protection. “Dante… We must brave the heart of the last level of **** if we are to reunite you with your beloved Beatrice. Lucifer himself presides over this frozen wasteland, and to face him in his own domain would be foolish.” Virgil hovered over me as my eyes got accustomed to the gloom. He glided silently over the rocky pathway as he led me down further into the pits of ****.
The fire gave way to glaciers and icicles. Soon I was yearning for the sweltering heat, due to it being stolen by the blistering cold that tore through my bone and heart with every gust of wind like even the weather itself was determined to torment your very soul. Then a voice came over me like a warm summer’s breeze. “Dante the time has come for us to be reunited.” Standing in front of me was a ghostly Beatrice, still beautiful and pure, as if she never was destined to be Lucifer’s wife. I reached out and slowly enclosed her hand in my own when the ice all around us shook violently. A giant three headed demon burst from the glacier, beating his ink black wings and sending torrents of icy air in our direction. She was mine, and my angel would not be taken from me again! I clasped Beatrice’s hand with all my might and ran away from the demonic Lucifer, when a light shined all around us. It was subtle at first, then it encompassed everything burning away the ice, demons, and wind.
I blinked and the light began to fade. The shooting star vanished across the sky of Athen’s, but the warmth of my beloved was still in my hand. We ran from the city lights, fleeing the penalty of death for not following her father’s wishes. Why he would marry my beautiful Hermia off to that dastardly Demetrius I would not know. I ran through the expansive pine forests, the foliage squishing under my sandals. Pine sap and needles stuck to my clothes and matted my hair into sticky knots. I ran until I couldn’t see the lights of the city anymore, and I paused, panting. Looking around, the sun was beginning to set but I had lost my Hermia.
I started walking through the darkening woods, calling her name and looking in every obvious place she may stop to take a rest. Soon I hear music and laughter and see faint lights through a clearing. I stalked slowly towards the noises and emerged into a festival in full swing. Musicians played flutes, lutes, and harps while jugglers made everyday objects fly and land with such practiced grace. A play was already in session when a beast walked from the back of the stage. It appeared to be a man but it had a donkey’s head! The actors screamed and ran from the stage, as did the audience. Benches were upturned and goblets of mead was spilled over the woodland floor. My vision became a blur of people rushing past me desperate to get away from the dastardly beast they have just witnessed.
I looked around and the screams of fleeing people were actually the screams of people being delighted by a extravagant party. I wasn’t Lysander, silly me, I was Nick Carraway neighbor to Gatsby himself! The drummer as playing a beat, and the trumpeteers began to blow a fast swinging Charleston. I swung Jordan around in her glittery dress that reflected the light from the chandeliers, sidestepped in time with the other couples, and dipped my lovely partner at the end of the song. We shimmied over to the side where Gatsby was holding us a couple of drinks. “Having a bit of fun, Old Sport?” he smiled his pearly white teeth, the same color of the page as I turned it to proceed to the next story.
I have stood on the edge of the Titanic as it sailed across the Atlantic, holding Rose as we pretended to be rulers of the world. I have fought Grendel in the mead hall of Hrothgar, using nothing but my hands and pure strength to defeat the monster. I have pieced together parts of humans with surgical precision and created life when there was none as Dr. Frankenstein. I have wrestled the great white whale firsthand and lived to tell the tale. I have lived all these lives and wielded wands of dragon heartstring, swords from stones, and rings to rule them all as if by magic. As Stephen King himself once said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”