I wrote this for the Wil Wheaton/John Scalzi Fan Fiction Contest to Benefit the Lupus Alliance of America that ran earlier this year, and wrote a bit about the process in a couple of posts. I didn’t win, but it was fun!
It was embarassing, really. Other families had heirlooms, lovingly passed from generation to generation – necklaces, precious books, priceless works of art. But in Wil Wheaton’s family, it was a… sweater. A mystical time-traveling sweater, but a sweater, no less. And to add insult to injury, it wasn’t a cool-looking sweater. Not cable-knit or even slightly-less-hip argyle. No, the Wheaton family’s extraordinary time-bending sweater was decorated with a horrible clown’s head, with red tufts of hair ballooning from the sleeves.
Who believes in a goddamned time traveling sweater, anyway? As a child, Wil sat patiently as his grandfather shared the Wheaton family legends, knowing that if he rolled his eyes, it would be that much longer until he was pumping quarters into Kung-Fu Master down at the arcade. Wil pasted an interested look on his face and focused his thoughts on how he was going to beat that guy with the stick as his grandfather droned on and on about the sweater’s storied properties. And so the ghastly sweater hung at the back of Wil’s closet until this very day, its sightless blue eyes staring back at him every time he reached inside for a tshirt.
His wife found the thing terribly creepy. Occasionally he’d hear a shriek come from the bedroom when she put away some laundry.
“Wil, I swear, that horrible sweater is watching me,” Anne would complain. “Why do you keep that damn thing? Give it to the Salvation Army, if they’ll even take it.”
“It’s a family heirloom,” Wil replied each time. He couldn’t tell her the truth, that it was a mystical sweater, handed down for generations. Anne was open-minded, but the first rule of the Wheaton Family Sweater was that you don’t talk about the Wheaton Family Sweater.
He had to admit to himself, the whole thing sounded completely ridiculous. Maybe it was a tall tale, spun by his grandfather to capture the interest of a child more interested in seeing the new video games at Shakey’s than in weird family legends. Maybe it was a ploy to foist off that hideous, unwanted (and probably powerless) sweater. Maybe it was time for Wil to give it to the Salvation Army.
He found himself contemplating this again, one balmy day when Anne and the kids had taken off for the afternoon. He’d have the house to himself for several hours, a rare luxury. As he reached into the closet to get dressed, he saw the clown sweater and a grin spread across his face. Why not? No one would see, perhaps the sweater would get one last hurrah before it was given to charity, and he could prove once and for all that there was nothing special about it.
The wool was surprisingly soft against his skin as he pulled it over his head, and it didn’t fit too terribly. It was a little short, especially when he raised his arms. Wil imagined generation after generation of Wheaton men, wearing this midriff-exposing atrocity through different eras, and snickered. It must’ve looked great with chainmail. As he rummaged for pants, he glimpsed one of the SportKilts he’d gotten when he worked on The Guild, and it seemed like the perfectly ridiculous match for the perfectly ridiculous clown sweater.
Wil walked barefoot to the kitchen and grabbed a Stone Pale Ale from the fridge, eager to settle in for a few hours of Dragon Age. He popped in the disc and headed over to the couch, beer in one hand and wireless controller in the other – and stepped right onto a stray d20 that had probably slipped out of his Dungeons & Dragons stash when he had been running a campaign for his son the other night.
Pain lanced through his foot, and he stumbled. Beer sloshed onto the carpet. His balance gone, Wil found the floor quickly rushing up to meet him.
And then – a flash, and Wil found himself in a place that definitely wasn’t his living room in Pasadena. In fact, he wasn’t sure it was Earth.
I must have hit my head hard, he thought as he surveyed his new surroundings. It was a horrible place, an arid landscape of dry, cracked earth with a blackened, angry sky. A volcano loomed in the distance. The air smelled of sulfur and rotting flesh, and it was a far cry from the comfortable spring day from which he’d departed.
Wil stiffened when he heard the distant cries of… something. It didn’t sound friendly, whatever it was. He looked down. Yep, still wearing nothing but the clown sweater and kilt. He needed to find shelter, and wait it out until he snapped back into consciousness from this nightmare. So he started walking, grimacing at the sensation of the hot, brittle ground on his bare feet.
He walked, finding no refuge in the barren landscape. He eventually found himself on a battlefield, scattered with the charred corpses of unidentifiable warriors. Now he knew where the horrible stench had been coming from. Wil couldn’t salvage much from the bodies, they were in such terrible condition. But lying halfway under one of the soldiers, he saw a relatively undamaged spear. Better than nothing, he thought, rolling over the rotten corpse to claim it.
He clenched the spear in his hands as the terrible cries pierced the darkened sky again, sounding closer than before. The slaughter surrounding him was probably a lure for carrion scavengers, in whatever form they might take in this place. All the more reason to seek shelter, he figured.
But Wil wasn’t moving fast enough to escape the creature that descended from the skies, its huge wings stirring the putrid-smelling dust around him. Its screams were throaty and fierce, each one punctuated by a rumbling growl now that he was close enough to hear it. And Wil’s defense lay entirely in a spear he didn’t know how to use and a stupid magical sweater.
The winged beast descended, and Wil crouched defensively, spear held tightly and eyes squeezed shut (because of all of the dust flying around, he told himself). The creature swooped down upon him, let out one last keening wail, and… stopped?
The silence was a sudden shock, and Wil opened his eyes to find himself facing the strangest damn thing he’d ever seen. Which was saying something, because he’d worked in sci-fi for years. But Wil had definitely never seen something like this.
It had the face of a cat, with round green-gold eyes and familiar slitted pupils. It was covered with lush brown fur and was shifting its considerable weight around on – Wil spared a glance downward at its front feet – yes, definitely paws. With huge claws, which he supposed wouldn’t be unexpected on a cat the size of a small elephant.
Otherwise, it most definitely wasn’t a cat. He caught a glimpse of horse-like back hooves, of the soft kitten fur giving way to a sleeker coat on the flanks of the animal. And a huge spiraling golden horn protruded from its forehead.
Wil struggled to form a coherent thought. It was like the Chimera, he thought, or an owlbear, formed from different animals. The creature in front of him was some sort of unicorn-pegasus-kitten hybrid. He had no idea what to call it, and it didn’t really matter if the strange beast was about to slaughter him.
Instead, it grinned at him. It wasn’t just a baring of its fangs (which were just as impressive as its claws, he noted), but more of a Cheshire smile. And then it purred, and brought its face close enough to Wil’s to tickle him with its whiskers and breath.
The beast lowered its body to the ground submissively, and that’s when Wil noticed the rough-hewn saddle and reins upon its back. This creature had lost its master in battle, he figured, and had accepted him as its new rider. Oh, why not? He climbed on gingerly, shifting his spear into one hand as his fingers twisted into the reins.
It wasn’t like riding a bicycle, or a horse (which he’d done now and again). It was more like sitting astride a furry jet. Wil found himself flattened to its neck in an attempt to hang on. He let the creature choose its path, as it had chosen him. They flew over death-strewn battlefields, abandoned encampments, and long stretches of barren desert. Eventually, Wil spotted a sign of life below – a single figure running along the parched earth. His furry steed seemed to feel his interest (or perhaps sensed prey below), and swooped downward.
The rugged-looking creature was better prepared than Wil, in both attire and weaponry. It was clad in battle garb of metal and leather, armed with a battle axe and shield. It reminded Wil of an Orc, with its solid muscular legs and broad, pointy ears. Wil raised his spear, ready for a fight.
As his flying kitten brought him closer, the Orc started to look vaguely familiar. The green creature stopped running and turned its face skyward to confront its descending fate, raising its axe ominously. The kitten hovered, and Wil squinted. How many Orcs had a receding hairline?
The Orc looked up at him in shock, axe slightly lowered. Yes, this was his friend John Scalzi, melded freakishly with a mythical creature. Interesting. The kitten landed, and Wil climbed down.
“Wil? What the hell are you doing here?”
“I couldn’t really say,” Wil replied. ”I slipped in my living room, probably got a concussion. Too much Lord of the Rings and Dragon Age, if this is what I’m dreaming up.”
John frowned. ”This isn’t a dream, Wil. I’ve been here for days. I missed two appearances!”
When he thought about it, Wil realized that he hadn’t seen any tweets from John in the better part of a week.
“But how’d you get here?” he asked.
“Oh, the usual story,” John replied, “found a strange new store in Bradford, bought some cursed frogurt, blah blah blah, and I popped up here in the middle of a battle. You? Nice sweater, by the way.”
Wil noticed that John didn’t seem to be too concerned that he’d turned into some sort of ScalzOrc. Or that Wil himself had been sitting astride a majestic flying unikitten. In fact, John seemed positively gleeful about these things. John had always been a bit weird in Wil’s book.
“I told you, I slipped,” Wil said, but he was struck by a pang of realization.
The sweater. It was the damn sweater. His grandfather had never explained exactly how to activate its powers (or Wil hadn’t been paying attention), but he was pretty sure he’d done it somehow. Worse, he didn’t know how to undo it. He explained his theory to John, who nodded sagely.
“Completely plausible,” was John’s assessment. ”I mean, not a Hugo Award-winning plot, but definitely unique.”
And he had an idea of how to undo the damage, as well.
“Destroy the sweater? Are you kidding me?” Wil was incredulous. ”That volcano is not Mount Doom, and this sweater isn’t the One Ring!”
But it wasn’t like they had a lot of other options, and John was apparently eager to destroy his armor in a similar fashion (when Wil had asked, John had mumbled something about the armament man was not meant to wear). So together they climbed aboard Wil’s noble steed and headed for the volcano.
It was quite simple, really, and not fraught with the hardship and danger that one would expect on such a quest. They circled above the smoking crater and peered into its lava-filled depths. Wil peeled off the horrible clown sweater, John tugged off his breastplate, and they dropped them into the volcano without further ado.
And landed in the middle of Phoenix Comicon, half-naked, on a unicorn-pegasus-kittenskin rug.
Well, Wil thought, this is going to make the front page of Slashdot.