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The Short Form

“The Dungeon Master”

Sam Lipsyte


Not true of Cherninsky. He makes a habit of asking for it, though some tormentors hang back. There’s something feral and untutored about his schoolyard ways. You sense that he might take a bully’s punches to the death. He’s the kid people whisper has no mother or father at home, but of course he does, they’re just old and stopped raising him years ago, maybe when his sister drowned. He always plays a thief, and even outside of the game, when he’s just Cherninsky, he steals stuff from the stores on Main. He and the Dungeon Master are not so different, or this town hurts them the same, which is probably why they sometimes hate each other.

“Damn it, Brendan,” Cherninsky says now. “A tough decision? I say we go to that cave and get the gold. And then we get wenches.”

“Wenches?” Brendan says.

“Tarts,” Cherninsky says. “Elf beaver.”

It’s all a charade, because there is no decision. There is no alternative. We shall scale Mt. Total Woe or die trying. Most likely the latter.

“We’re going to grease that dragon,” I say.

“Grease?” Brendan says.

“Vietnam,” I say.

“Oh, right.”

We read it in The Fun Parts.

Originally published in New Yorker: October 4th, 2010.