Young and strong and brave- o
He wore a sword and rode a horse
And his name was Dave- o
"God!" Julia shrieked. "Stop!"
James had written this song years ago for a middle- school talent show. He still liked to sing it; by now they all knew it by heart. Julia shoved him, still singing, into a garbage can, and when that didn't work she snatched off his watch cap and started beating him over the head with it.
"My hair! My beautiful interview hair!"
King James, Quentin thought. Le roi s'amuse.
"I hate to break up the party," he said, "but we've got like two minutes."
"Oh dear, oh dear," Julia twittered. "The duchess! We shall be quite late!"
I should be happy, Quentin thought. I'm young and alive and healthy. I have two reasonably intact parents viz., Dad, an editor of medical textbooks, and Mom, a commercial illustrator with ambitions, thwarted, of being a painter. I am a solid member of the middle-middle class. My GPA is a number higher than most people even realize it is possible for a GPA to be.
And yet, walking along Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, in his black overcoat and his gray interview suit, Quentin knew he wasn't happy. But why not? He had painstakingly assembled all the ingredients of happiness. He had performed all the necessary rituals, spoken the words, lit the candles, made the sacrifices. But happiness, like a disobedient spirit, refused to come. He couldn't think what else to do.
He followed James and Julia past bodegas, Laundromats, hipster boutiques, cell-phone stores limned with neon piping, past a bar where old people were already drinking at three forty-five in the afternoon, past a brown-brick Veterans of Foreign Wars hall with plastic patio furniture on the sidewalk in front of it. All of it just confirmed his belief that his real life, the life he should be living, had been mislaid through some error by the cosmic bureaucracy. It had been diverted somewhere else, to somebody else, and he'd been issued this shoddy substitute faux life instead. Maybe his real life would turn up in Princeton. He did the trick with the nickel in his pocket again.
"Are you playing with your wang, Quentin?" James asked. Quentin blushed.
"I am not playing with my wang."
"Nothing to be ashamed of." James clapped him on the shoulder.
"Clears the mind."
The wind bit through the thin material of Quentin's interview suit, but he refused to button his overcoat. He let the cold blew through it. It didn't matter, he wasn't really there anyway.
He was in Fillory.
Excerpted from The Magicians by Lev Grossman © 2009 by Lev Grossman. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Group (US) Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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