Hi everyone, this is Belle! This short story is called “Canterbury.” It is about a boy who enters a game world and discovers an online predator. Will he save Isabelle before it is too late? You decide. Endings might include: 1-Brendan is too late! He discovers Isabelle’s body just as police arrive–and he is blamed. 2-Brendan saves Isabelle! But sadly, he is mortally wounded and dies in her arms. 3-Brendan saves Isabelle! They fall in love! 4-Choose your adventure! An alien, the high school Principal, or a character that comes to life from the gaming world might be the key to the ending. HAVE FUN!
Canterbury, by Belle
The Green Knight stepped silently into Merlin’s forest. Though his body was hardened from battle, his magic remained sensitive and pure–he could feel the evil. The young mage-knight’s body tensed with apprehension as he cast a seeking spell into the depths of the wooded shadows. He sought only a branch of ancient yew-tree, but his quest exposed him to grave danger. The magical branch would bring life in battle and prophetic powers, though not for himself. The Green Knight was sworn to protect his people from a dark and sinister foe. This foe, he well knew, stalked him even now.
Softly, the Green Knight slipped through the mottled gloom, moving expertly between darkness and light. Suddenly, a bright figure appeared, standing alone in the clearing ahead. Looking up, he saw her. A pale lady in a shift of white linen, embroidered with fine gold. Her fair features, light and open as a lily, were rendered fairer still by long tresses of shining red and gold. She held a stem of fruiting mandrake in her hand. Entranced by her beauty, the Green Knight stood transfixed. As the hidden mage-knight watched, a noble lord entered the clearing, astride a white horse. The nobleman dismounted and took the lady’s hand, bowing low.
The Green Knight sensed a wrongness about the nobleman. It seemed as though the man were made of darkness–as though he sought to extinguish the lady’s light. The lord’s face was familiar yet strange: he had gray eyes, a strong jaw, and dark waves of hair tumbling over his forehead. His muscular chest was draped in the livery of a noble house. The Green Knight knew that he had seen this man before. But where?
“Milady,” said the nobleman. “Hail ye from Canterbury?”
“Aye,” replied the lady. “They call me Lady of Shalott.”
“Well met, fair lady,” said the man. “I am Lord Brendan of Canterbury.”
“Crap, what the hell?” the Green Knight exclaimed, jumping up from his computer chair. “That guy is pretending to be me!” He suddenly realized why the handsome nobleman on the horse made him feel so uncomfortable. “His avatar looks exactly like me, and he is calling himself “Lord Brendan!” The Green Knight was suddenly and permanently out of character. He had to figure out what this fake “Lord Brendan” character was up to.
Brendan Fitzwilliam was a senior at Canterbury High School. Kids at school used the phrase, “Hail ye from Canterbury?” to greet other students from school when groups went online to play Merlin’s Forest, an online role-playing game. Brendan didn’t use game time for his social life, and he didn’t play very often. His avatar was a Green Knight, warrior mage. He hadn’t been logged in since summer break, because he was too busy in the real world to spend much time in an imaginary one.
Brendan was furious about the impostor. Why would someone use an avatar to pretend to be someone from real life? The whole point of fantasy role playing is to play, well, a fantasy role. Why pretend to be a high school boy? Brendan knew that there were plenty of boys from school who wanted to be him. He wasn’t vain, but he did realize that his looks, wealth, and status at school made other guys envy him. Brendan kept his Green Knight avatar immobile, and watched the interaction unfold between the beautiful female avatar and the imposter. Or, at least he tried to watch the interaction. The pair was engaged in a private chat channel. That could not be good. Frustrated, Brendan logged out.
* * *
The next day at school, Brendan slipped in to the back of his first period AP English Literature class. He was kind of hoping that the teacher wouldn’t call on him, because he hadn’t slept well and he was still a little groggy. He ran his fingers through his tousled brown hair, completely unaware that his bed head and his fringe of dark lashes above pale grey eyes were so smolderingly, smokingly hot distracting to his female classmates.
As Brendan sat at his desk, he found himself staring at the shy junior who sat in front of him, Isabelle. She was exquisite– pale and delicate, with long, strawberry blonde hair. But more than that, he knew that she was brilliant. When they traded papers for peer evaluation, he was blown away by her insight and her writing ability. He had been unable to resist noticing her, but whenever he said hello, she just looked down and didn’t reply. He figured she probably hated him, so he left her alone to her silence. Maybe she hated everyone, because he had never seen her talking to anyone, ever.
That is why Brendan was so surprised when Isabelle turned around and smiled at him. She slowly lifted her eyes to his, and he saw their color for the first time. Isabelle’s eyes were soft and crystal blue, fringed by lashes that were invisibly pale. He felt his pulse rush, and then he realized, to his horror, that his mouth was hanging open. He snapped his jaw shut, smiling weakly in return. Isabelle handed him a note as the teacher walked into the classroom. Brendan slipped it into his pocket. What was that all about?
After class, Isabelle apparently lost her nerve, because she shot out the door before Brendan had a chance to speak to her. He gathered his books, put them in his pack, and headed out the door. Maybe the note in his pocket would explain Isabelle’s strange behavior. But just as he was reaching for the note, Principal Weisner came up. He did not look pleased. With a jerk of his head, Mr. Weisner indicated that Brendan should follow him into the front office. Brendan was perplexed, but he followed the Principal to his desk and sat down. He wondered what was going on.
“Brendan,” Mr. Weisner said, “I am sorry to have to do this, but you may no longer use the school computers. We are going to be placing you on in school suspension.”
Brendan was stunned. He was the president of the computer club, student government president, and top of his class. “I’m sorry, Mr. Weisner,” he said. “I don’t understand.” His mind was racing as he considered the impact a suspension could have on his future. His college applications were going out next week! “I haven’t done anything wrong,” he said.
“That’s not what I have heard,” Mr. Weisner said. “If it were just one girl, I would give you the benefit of the doubt. But several girls have brought this to my attention.”
“Girls?” Brendan replied weakly. “What do you mean?”
“Brendan,” Mr. Weisner continued sternly, “Your behavior online has been threatening and harassing. Just because you are playing an online game does not mean that you can threaten to rape your classmates.”
Brendan felt the air rush out of his lungs. He had done nothing of the sort. He hadn’t even been online gaming for several weeks until last night. Last night. Suddenly, he recalled the avatar riding the white horse. The character called himself, “Lord Brendan of Canterbury,” and he had looked eerily like Brendan looked in real life. Now he realized what the imposter was up to. He was stalking girls from Canterbury High School. He was gaining their trust by pretending to be Brendan. And then? Did he ask for personal information through private chats? Were the girls dumb enough to give it to him? How long before one of them was actually harmed? Brendan felt sick.
Brendan looked Mr. Weisner in the eye. “I am innocent,” he said. “And I will prove it to you.”
Despite his show of bravery, Brendan found that he was trembling as he left the Principal’s office. He steadied himself against the wall as a feeling of lightheadedness swept over him. He put his hands in his pockets. The note from Isabelle was still there.
“Isabelle! She must be the Lady of Shalott,” he whispered. She was the pale avatar with the long red-gold hair, the literary character name, and—she met the stalker just last night. The stalker that she thinks is me. The stalker that tries to get personal information from girls. Brendan pulled the note from his pocket. His fingers shook as he unfolded it. He did not want to look.
“Yes,” was all it said.
* * *
Brendan knew that he had to warn Isabelle. He didn’t know what her cryptic note meant, but he did know that Isabelle believed she was saying “yes” to an invitation from a boy she thought she could trust. His best guess was that the internet stalker had asked her to meet him somewhere last night. Perhaps he had given her a location, or an address. Isabelle was new to Canterbury High School, and she was really shy. If she had agreed to meet a stranger on the internet, she was also pretty naïve. In other words, Isabelle was the ideal victim. Brendan’s mind was seared with the image of her beautiful, hopeful face, smiling shyly as she passed him the note. The knowledge that her faith in him—and probably an innocent crush—was leading her to a possible encounter with a predator was more than Brendan could handle. His mind leapt to places that it did not want to go. Images of Isabelle being hurt. Images of her face streaked with the tears of ultimate betrayal. It felt like a knife to his gut.
It was 2:30pm. Brendan’s unpleasant encounter with Mr. Weisner falsely accusing him of rape threats had caused him to miss the bus. But worse than that, he knew that Isabelle was already gone. And he didn’t know her last name. How could he find her before she did something that could not be undone? He couldn’t very well go to the office and ask Mr. Weisner for her name and phone number. He gritted his teeth, frustrated by the irony of the situation. He had no idea how much time he might have to find Isabelle. At that moment, he knew that he would do anything to keep her safe. Anything.
Brendan grabbed his backpack and pushed open the front door. There was a group of girls from English class standing near the flag pole. Maybe they would know how to reach Isabelle.
“Hey, guys,” Brendan said as he approached them. “Could you tell me the last name of that new girl in English class? You know, Isabelle?”
“Why do you want to know,” a girl asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Are you going to threaten to rape her, too?”
Brendan was stunned. Word of the accusations must have spread like wildfire through the school. His reputation was ruined. He ignored the girls, picked up his pace, and strode past them.
“Dude!” A group of guys from the football team hailed Brendan. “Hey, Bro, we got your back!” they said. Then they laughed, like that was possibly the funniest thing they had ever said, and walked away. Well, they weren’t going to be much help.
It was getting later by the second, and Brendan was not any closer to knowing Isabelle’s last name. He needed to get online fast. It was the only chance might ever have to save Isabelle.
* * *
Brendan was high on adrenaline as he ran two miles back home. He was desperate to find his Isabelle before it was too late. He couldn’t help thinking about the end of the poem that they had studied in English class, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The parallels were striking. In “The Lady of Shalott,” an enchanted girl risks everything to look at a boy—and loses. At the end of the poem, the beautiful fairy girl was dead. Why did Isabelle take the risk?
The only thing that mattered was finding Isabelle and warning her about the predator. And the only way to find Isabelle was online. After failing to find her on social media, there was only one option left. Brendan needed to log in to Merlin’s Forest. If he couldn’t find Isabelle’s last name or phone number, he would have to find the predator in the game. And time was passing too quickly.
Brendan pulled up the login screen for the role playing game, Merlin’s forest, and rapidly entered his username, “greenknight” and his password. Access denied. His account was suspended! Whoever was pretending to be him in the online world had violated the terms of the game. Well, rape threats and stalking were certainly violations of the terms of pretty much any online site. But that must mean that the predator had actually been using his login information. The guy was a professional. He must have hacked or sniffed his way into Brendan’s account, something that Brendan knew was beyond the tech skills of the other kids at school. The fact that the stalker was not a student made the situation significantly more frightening.
Brendan checked the clock. Looking at the clock made his pulse race. But he knew what he would have to do. He needed to hack Isabelle’s account. It was the only way.
The username was the easy part. “Ladyofshalott” was Isabelle’s user name. But how could he hack the password? He figured that she wasn’t stupid, but just in case, he typed, “password” and “Qwerty11” and “12345678” into the required minimum of eight symbols. No dice. Then just for luck, he tried, “iloveyou,” but that didn’t work, either.
“The poem,” he said. “It is my only chance.”
There was no way that he could use brute force to hack Isabelle’s password without some major clues, and he knew he would find the clues in Tennyson’s poem. But damn, that was a very long poem. He was going to have to try to think like a girl to come up with the most important eight symbols in the poem.
He searched the poem online and found quotes from the poem that girls liked well enough to post. The line that came up most frequently was, “I am half sick of shadows, said the Lady of Shalott.” That line marked the turning point in the poem, where the maiden could no longer bear to see only shadows of her love, and decided to see a real, live, knight in shining armor. Big mistake. Brendan tried to use the first letter of each word in the phrase, and he came up with “Iahsosstlos,” which was more than eight symbols, and didn’t work anyway. Damn.
“Please,” Brendan whispered, “be predictable!”
For the next couple of hours, Brendan hacked Isabelle’s favorite poem. Nothing worked. Time was running short. Frustrated nearly to the point of tears, Brendan felt hopeless. What was he missing? He read through the poem once more, and then he saw it. Lancelot. Of course. It must be Lancelot. Brendan was finally in.
Once Brendan had control of Isabelle’s account, he was able to find the information he was looking for. Unfortunately, he had been right. Isabelle was planning to meet the predator—the one she thought was Brendan—tonight. And it might already be too late.
* * *
Brendan was not like the people that you see in the movies. He immediately called the police with the details of the meet up. But it was impossible to get the detective to listen to him.
“So, son,” the detective drawled, “you say that a girl from your school is going to meet someone tonight? Well, it is a free country, and if your girlfriend wants to meet another guy, you can’t stop her.”
Brendan was pretty sure that it was just to get him off the line, but the detective agreed to send a squad car to cruise through the park, keeping an eye out for blonde girls hanging out with men. When the officer put it that way, Brendan understood why the police were not likely to be much help. Precious minutes had been lost. Isabelle would be looking for Brendan, and the stalker would be looking for Isabelle.
* * *