The Sword

by Thomas Wharton

He was a young man who played a lot of video games. He was between jobs at the moment and so he spent most of his time hunched in front of the television with a game controller gripped tightly in his hands.

The man's mother would come over to his apartment from time to time to clean up after him. When she did she would tell him that he had so much to give the world. He should really get out there and get a job, she told him. The man would nod and say yep, I'm gonna do that, mom, not taking his eyes off the screen. His mother would say good for you, then she'd go back to washing the man's dirty dishes and gathering up his dirty laundry.

One night when the man went to bed he could hear a faint ringing in his right ear. He lay quietly for a while, thinking it must be one of those odd things your body does every so often that go away after a while, never to return. But the ringing didn't go away. It got louder. The man tried yawning and clearing his throat. He shook his head back and forth, up and down. He thumped his temple with his hand. The ringing was still there.

The man couldn't sleep. He sat down in front of the television with his controller, but it wasn't long before the ringing bothered him so much that he couldn't concentrate on the game. And now the ringing had acquired a rhythm, a kind of ting TING ting TING, like metal tapping on metal, that nearly drove him mad.

After a sleepless night the man went to see a doctor first thing in the morning. The doctor looked in the man's ear and said Oh my. With a small pair of tweezers the doctor pulled something out of the man's ear.

It was a tiny sword.

About the length of a pinky finger.

Will you look at that, the man said.

The ringing in his ear was gone.

The man took the sword home with him. He put it in an empty matchbox and tucked it away in a drawer in his kitchen. Then he printed off a sheaf of resumes and went out to look for a job. He had no luck the first day, but when he got home, instead of playing video games he packed up his gaming system and sold it online. He went out job-hunting all that week, and every evening when he returned home, footsore but happy, he would take down the matchbox, open it, and take out the tiny sword. He would turn the sword over in his fingers, admiring its bright silvery gleam. Sometimes he would pretend he was fighting tiny monsters with it. He whispered swish swish as swept the sword back and forth, cutting down his enemies.

The man's mother came over. She was startled to see that the house was clean and the man was sitting at his kitchen table looking through job postings on the internet. You should take a break from that, she said to him. You don't want to do too much all at once.

Okay, mom, the man said.

There was nothing for her to clean, so she went home.

The man finally found a job, as a waiter. He enjoyed the work, and it showed. People liked him. They gave him big tips. The man went home happy most nights. After he'd put his tip money in a jar he would take out the tiny sword and look at it for a while before he went to bed, tired and satisfied.

One evening a young woman came into the restaurant alone. When he asked her what she would like she said, "A simpler life." The man took a liking to her and she to him. She came back to the restaurant several times, and finally they exchanged numbers and began to date.

A year later they were married.

The man became assistant manager of the restaurant, and eventually manager. He and his wife had a child, a beautiful little girl.

The years went by. The man forgot about the tiny sword. One evening he suddenly remembered it, but the matchbox wasn't on the shelf anymore. The man searched everywhere. Did you see my sword? he asked his wife.

I found a matchbox with a little plastic sword in it, the man's wife said. I thought it was just an old toy. I threw it out. I'm sorry.

The man was upset and sad, but in time he forgot about the sword again.

When the man was very old his family gathered around his bedside. There were children and grandchildren. He said goodbye to all of them.

He knew he was dying, but it wasn't what he'd expected. First everybody in the room seemed to fade away, so that he was all alone. Then he saw a small figure coming toward him over the white bedsheet, like someone trudging through deep snow. It was a tiny person in silver armor, carrying a tiny sword.

When the tiny person in armor got closer, the man reached out his hand. And now the sword was bigger, or he was smaller, because the sword fit in his hand like a real full-sized sword.

The tiny person bowed and walked away.

The man wasn't in bed anymore. He was standing on a snow-covered plain with the sword in his hand.

The man swung the sword back and forth. Swish, swish, he whispered. Then he began walking.

BIO: Thomas Wharton is the author of the award-winning novels Icefields and Salamander, and the short fiction collection The Logogryph: A Bibliography of Imaginary Books. He teaches creative writing at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where he lives with his wife and children and a dog named Boo.