Steven Mumpower woke up and realized he slept passed his alarm. While he liked being woken to the tones of smooth jazz in the morning, he also ran the risk of being lulled back to sleep by yet another supermarket rendition of “Here Comes the Sun.” This is exactly what happened this morning though the result of his sleeping in was unlike anything else he would experience in his life. In all honesty, were one to compose a biography of the life and times of Steven Mumpower, this would be the only day worth mentioning.
Steven had the curse of being intelligent enough to yearn for more than a simple life of menial work and raising a family and yet not being smart enough to do anything but that. Not that he had been overly successful on the raising a family front either. 34 and single, his mother had all but given up on the prospect of grandchildren, not as much because of Steven’s age but because of inability to interact with women.
Steven didn’t worry about any of this as he rushed through his morning routine, blazing through his shower, grabbing mismatched socks and cutting himself three times with has harried razor blade. Looking at his watch as he ran out the door of his one-room apartment, he knew he’d have to take the subway if he wanted to make work on time.
Running out of the building without a jacket, Steven was greeted by a cold gray day with a bleakness only an old city could give. While sunny days made the faded paint and cracked old bricks of Steven’s neighborhood seem almost inviting, gloomy days gave power to the cracked and peeling spaces, the exposed rust of cascading poles and fire escapes, the ghostly remains of stickers on the sides of garbage cans, the dead grass poking through cracks in a gum-covered sidewalk.
Maybe it was the utter grayness of the day that made the subway seem so different to Steven, maybe it wasn’t. All he knew as that after he cut down 7th Ave. and made his down the steps to the subway platform, there was a distinct change in his perception. The subway tunnel had taken on a new dimension, a new definition. The green of the girders and the brown of the track were deep and rich and the area took on an almost otherworldly quality. It seemed not to be the subway platform but an artist’s interpretation of it. It had a painterly touch, that more than real feeling where every object is brought into perfect focus all at once.
That’s when he realized there was someone else on the platform. At the far end of cavern sat a man relaxing in a red overstuffed chair next to an overflowing garbage can that he seemed to pay no mind to. He wore a tweed jacket with a black turtle neck that contrasted nicely with his graying red hair.
“I know you probably doubted I’d ever come back, Steven, but I remember my debt to you. You didn’t think your old friend Conductor Inverness would forget you and all that you’ve done. I come with a gift as a token of my appreciation.” There was warmness in the soft creases around Conductor Inverness’ eyes that would have been comforting if Steven hadn’t been so bewildered.
What neither of them knew was that Conductor Inverness was speaking with the wrong Steven Mumpower. Conductor Inverness had yet to realize his multidimensional clock had been two seconds off for the last week, something that would later explain many of the odd encounters that had baffled before he realized the mistake.
“As with all of my gifts,” Inverness continued, “you will be given a choice. I know, Steven, that you will choose wisely.”
Steven liked gifts. He really liked them. He wasn’t about to question what was going on if there was a gift involved. “Alright, what’s my choice?”
Inverness smiled. “I’ve saved something quite special for you. As a reward for your efforts, you can either have the woman of your dreams…or a sage invisible elf that only you can see. He is very sage so he gives really good advice.” Holding his thumb and forefinger about four inches apart, he said, “He’s about this big and he can ride on your shoulder. But there’s more.”
“Really?” Steven said.
“Indeed. Not only is this elf extremely sage, he can produce an infinite amount of croutons—yes like on a salad—which he can throw at 2,000 plus miles an hour with deadly accuracy. And I did mention he’s really sage, didn’t I?”
“And my other option was the girl of my dreams?”
“I find it hard to believe you can just produce an elf,” Steven said.
“Well, do you find it hard to believe you can just pick up an entire package of Keebler Elves at the store?” Conductor Inverness stroked his beard amusedly.
“That’s different,” Steven said.
“If you say so,” Inverness replied.
Steven pondered his situation for a moment. If this was for real, he could see the advantages of either choice. Who wouldn’t want the woman of their dreams? Then again, who wouldn’t want a sage invisible elf riding on his shoulder? That would be almost as cool an orangutan. Then a realization struck him: with the sage advice of the elf, he could effectively find and woo the woman of his dreams anyway. The elf could be a two-for-one deal. Besides, he loved croutons.
Steven stretched his arms and stood up straight. “Well, Mr. Conductor, I’ve reached my decision, I think. I’m going to have to take the elf,” Steven said. Confidently, he brushed his shoulder, flattening down his jacket to make a comfortable spot for his new friend. Good times were coming.
“So be it, Steven. You made a wise choice.”
With a flash of white and a sound like when you first open a can of Pringles, Steven felt the press of additional weight on his right shoulder.
“I’m going to call you Stevesy,” said the elf in a rich baritone voice that sounded not unlike voiceovers in film trailers. And much like film trailers, the voice did not necessarily seem to have a source but surrounded Steven’s ears, the gravel in it a grinding vibration.
Conductor Inverness laughed. “Stevesy! Yes, that’s perfect. I told you he was sage! Thank you for everything, Stevesy.” His voice trailed off and Steven’s perception of his surroundings began to melt around him in a swirling tie-dye of color until he found himself sitting at the table in his apartment. He was staring across at the small little creature with a round cone-shaped hat and long white beard. He looked a lot like a lawn gnome.
“So, Stevesy, these are your digs, eh?” the elf said.
“Yep, this whole room is my domain. Can I have a crouton?”
“Absolutely, Stevesy,” the elf said, pulling a crouton out of thin air.
Steven could only mutter an “Oh, wow!” as he bit into the most delicious crouton he’d ever had. Finally regaining his sense, he said, “I could get use to this. So besides the croutons, what are my other perks having you around?”
“Well,” said the elf scratching his beard. “If you didn’t know, I’m very sage and I could teach you any number of things. Is there anything you ever wanted to learn?”
“Sure, tons of things,” Steven replied. Looking around the room, he saw the two rapiers that were the only adornment on his walls. When Steven was 12 years old, his great-grandfather passed away and Steven had begged all his relatives to give swords to him. He envisioned one day fencing for the honor of a fair lady, pulling the swords from the wall and taunting his villainous rival to defend himself. “I have always wanted to learn how to fence.”
“Fencing? I’m an expert in the discipline. Take a sword down, I’ll show you,” the elf replied, unsheathing a previously unseen weapon from his brown little belt.
Steven took one of the swords down. Swinging it back and forth a few times, he said, “Man, you’re like the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
The elf smiled. “We’ll start with a parry. To parry you make a reverse ‘C’ motion with the sword, like so.” The elf swung his sword about in demonstration. “It’s used to redirect your opponents blow. Take a stab at me, I’ll show you.”
Steven did just that, taking a mighty thrust at the elf. Halfway through the thrust, he realized they should probably have put a cork on the tip on the edge of Steven’s blade. As the thrust flung the sword out of the elf’s little hand and the rapier plunged into his chest, Steven was certain a cork would have been prudent.
“What a gyp,” Steven mumbled bitterly as he searched under his bed for a shoe box to put the little body in. “I guess he wasn’t so sage after all.”