Three days a week, they set their alarms to wake them at ten o’clock pm. On those days, they don’t sleep because they chose to be awake when the rest of the house is asleep. When the lights go out, when their mother’s snore can be heard from the hallway, when the German Shepard has quieted- they’re up. Lily is the first one up because she knows more about tiptoeing along the squeaky boards. In his room, James has turned on his desk lamp. He’s pulled a jacket and a pair of sweats over his pajamas, and he waits patiently for Lily to slip the white paper under his door. White means go because James can’t see green. If it’s black, it means turn off the lights, get in bed. On those nights, they text. Lily hates those nights, and on those three days, she hopes against hope that their mother is asleep.
A long time ago, after the first time they did this, Lily set up a schedule. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, they got together, climbed out James’ window, and ventured behind the house, into the toolshed. There, beneath the empty shelf their father never filled, they escaped the reality that plagued them. First, Lily sets down a lantern. It’s an actual lantern, one that requires candles. Next, James gets out the thick blanket, the game board, and the many dice with multiple sides. They live in Florida, so rarely do they have to worry about being cold. James turns on a fan to cool the air around them as they play. Both have played this game many times, first with their father, then with each other, but every time feels like the first. When the die hits the floor, the games begin, and their world shifts them to a new adventure. Lily is no longer the short, stocky teenager, and James is no longer the preteen nerd with glasses and acne. They are Madam Lily and Sir James, knights who serve no king or queen and are helpers to anyone who calls.
Madam Lily and Sir James scale the walls of an abandoned castle. Its structural integrity is barely holding up as the siblings arrive at a third-floor window. Rain pours in sheets from the sky, and thunder booms in the distance. Around Lily’s neck is a locator crystal that starts to glow even brighter; James lets a whoop of joy at the sight.
“We don’t have to climb all the way to the top! So glad she’s not in a tower.”
“Same,” Lily replies, breathless. “She’s close.”
“It looks like this window leads into a giant bedroom. Wow, this room could fit our entire house!”
Lily tugs on James’ harness and growls. Lightning strikes the ground several feet from the castle. “Come on! We don’t have all day.”
“Right, right.” James swirls a fist in the air and murmurs a magic word. The window disappears. Hurriedly, he raises himself up and over into the room where he turns and hoists Lily up. A scream sounds behind them and the window reappears a split second before the princess almost takes off James’ head with a sword.
Lily grabs the princess’ arm, pins it behind her back, and takes the knife. She places it in an inner pocket of her jumpsuit and says, “Princess, we heard your call. We are here to help you.”
The princess relaxes and bows. “I apologize. I did not expect you to be scaling this castle. Would you like a towel?”
“No need,” James says and whisks the water away with a flick of his hand. “We were unable to get through the front door.”
“You couldn’t have teleported in?” The princess inquires.
“Yes, why didn’t we teleport in?” Lily looks to James, who shrugs. Lily rolls her eyes with a smile. “Anyways, we’re here now, Princess. We must act quickly before-”
A mighty roar rings out behind the door to the room. A beast with giant pointed teeth that fill a massive head made of spikes burst through the wall into the room. James steps in front of the princess and prepares to form a spell, but the beast throws James across the room with a swipe of its paw. Lily sighs and rolls her eyes, looking to the sky. “Why do men always think they need to protect us?”
“I do not know. I believe it has something to do with their brains,” the princess responds.
Lily hands the princess her dagger and draws a sword from her back. “Can you attend to James whilst I take care of this beast?”
The princess nods and rushes off. Lily faces the beast with a glare in her blue eyes and anger set on her lips. “Come at me beast! Do your worst!”
The beast obligates, rushing at her full speed; its claws leave cracks on the marble floor. Lily dives to the side, and the beast stops short of running through the window. It swipes a claw at Lily and roars in rage. She dives away from it and leaps onto a dresser, then onto a wardrobe as the dresser is destroyed. The beast smashes the wardrobe, but not before Lily has managed to hop onto its spike head and run onto its back.
Again, the beast roars. But this time, its roar is cut short as Lily plunges her sword into his neck and screams. The beast explodes into shadows, and she lands on her back. James and the princess rush to her side.
“I am so glad I didn’t wear a dress,” Lily says as she dusts off her jumpsuit.
“Should I change into something more reasonable, then?” The princess jokes and helps Lily up, handing her the sword.
“What you’re wearing is fine to me,” James replies, winces, and grabs one of his shoulders. “Going to be feeling that in the morning. I think I dislocated something.”
“You’re fine, you big baby,” Lily quips and went to the window. Outside, the storm has worsened. Visibility is near zero and thunderstorm shakes the building. “Please tell me we’re not leaving the way we came?”
“No. We’ll go through the front door now. Well, actually the back door. We can get to the stables quicker.”
“Of course. Allow me to lead the way.” The princess bows and gestures to the destroyed wall. “Right this way, please.”
“Wait, why is the princess leading the way?”
Lily looks at James, then at the princess who is walking away. Then at James. He has a point, Lily admits to herself.
“Because she’s not a princess.”
Suddenly, the princess transforms. Her elegant mermaid gown becomes tattered and bloody. Her hair comes down from its braided bun and became that of a haggard witch. Her skin turns grey as ash.
James makes a sword appear out of thin air. “Why do you do this?”
“Do what?” Lily takes out her own sword, though with much less flourish.
“Change the good guys into bad guys. Couldn’t the princess have just been a princess? For once, Lily, could the good guys stay good guys?”
“Then we would have spent hours walking around a castle.”
“We would have made it interesting.”
“Come on, James, let’s go. This witch isn’t going to fight herself.” Lily runs forward. The witch summons balls of light that fly at her at intense speeds.
“Why does she look like one of your friends?”
“We defeating this witch or not?”
“You didn’t want to say witch, did you?”
“James, you doing this or not?”
“I follow where you go no matter what.” James summons a shield and the lights bounce off it and into the castle wall, which are already falling. The witch launches into the air and Lily growls.
“What, can’t I have fun?”
“I hate you.”
“I love you too, sister.”
Lily takes a dagger from her hip and throws it. James summons portals and defensive shields that reflect the balls of light even further. The castle falls apart around them as they run down a flight of stairs to the lower level. There, they dash out the back entrance, which is located in the kitchens and to the stables where their horses are eating hay. Lily hops on hers and James gets on his as a ball of flame lights up the place. The rain stops, just as the sun comes up on the horizon.
James and Lily look outside with looks of disappointment on their faces. Lily sighs, then gathers the dice into James’ pouch. He turns off the lantern and stands up, stretching his legs.
“That was really fun. I can’t wait for Wednesday.”
“Me either,” Lily replies. She hands him the board and the dice pouch.
They leave the garage and sneak into the house from James’ window. Before leaving him, Lily kisses his forehead.
“Ew. Did you have to do that?”
“Have fun at school today, alright?”
The door closes. James places the board and pouch in a box in his closet and climbs into bed. He’ll only get an hour of sleep, but it’ll be worth it. It’s always worth it.