A bunch of comments from a message on December 24 were from haters, saying I was gay or sounded like a girl or they hope I’ll get electrocuted onstage when I cry into my mike. When Jane sees this stuff she’s like, “It’s not the internet that makes people stupid and annoying, they were always stupid and annoying, now it’s in our face.” But at the bottom of the message, a commenter named “Albert Derrick Valentino” wrote, “If Jonny is reading this, he can contact me.”
His email address was listed, but that was it. There were a lot of impostors pretending to be either me or Jane or sometimes my brother or sister who don’t even exist and once in a while my father, but I never saw anyone use a middle name, and especially with our old last name, which only the rabid fans know about, not the lay fans, and not say he was my father. The media never pays them any attention because they know they’re fakes, but I always guessed my real father never went to the media. Or maybe he did, but Jane shut it down by threatening a publicity freeze-out to whoever was going to break the story.
I googled “Albert Derrick Valentino Jonny Valentine.” A bunch of different fan sites came up, and he’d posted the same message in each of their forums, all on December 24, at different times over the whole day. So it probably wasn’t a spam-bot. It was a real person. I just didn’t know if it was actually my father.
My hand was shaking over the touchpad like it does sometimes holding the mic preshow, and I got worried Jane would come back and find me reading it. I scribbled the email address on a piece of hotel stationery in case the post got erased and made sure the letter was exactly where it had been and left her room with the lights on like it was before even though it’s wasteful.
Back in my room next door I buried the stationery in the pocket of a pair of jeans in a suitcase. Was that message really from my father or an impostor? If it was an impostor, how did he know my father’s middle name? And if it was my father, why didn’t he say anything else besides telling me I could contact him, which was a weird way to say it?
I was thinking about it so much I got even more awake. I could have taken the zolpidem, but I was also excited to get back to Zenon now that I’d pretended to be playing it in real life.
So I loaded my saved game, and after a few minutes of traveling through a forest I encountered a horse. First I tried riding the horse, which didn’t do anything. I reloaded and damaged the horse, and it jumped up on its back legs and kicked at me, but my two-handed sword was too powerful and I got it all bloody and its horse ghost floated up in the air, except that didn’t give me any experience points, either. The second time I reloaded, I fed it a loaf of bread in my inventory. My experience points went up by 17, and a gem appeared on the ground.
I picked up the gem, and a few seconds later the Emperor’s minion jumped out from behind a tree. He was a regular-looking soldier in chain-mail armor, with a curved sword and shield. We battled, and he reduced my damage to seven percent and I thought I was going to depart the realm, but I came back and knocked his shield away and hacked him down to zero percent, and the narrator’s voice and screen said, “You have defeated the minion of Level 63 and advanced to the next level of The Secret Land of Zenon. You must pass through 37 additional levels until you encounter the Emperor.” That’s the other cool thing, how you don’t have a name in it. Other games, they’d give you a stupid name, like Kurgan or Dragonslayer or even just the Warrior. In Zenon you’re only you.
Finishing a level always helped me feel less wound up. I turned off the game and popped the zolpidem. I’d be able to conquer sleep now, and sleep was the Emperor’s minion. We had an early start and a big day tomorrow. ♦
Excerpted from The Love Song of Jonny Valentine: A Novel by Teddy Wayne. Copyright 2013 by Teddy Wayne. Published by Simon & Schuster Trade Paperbacks.
Teddy Wayne is the author of the novels The Love Song of Jonny Valentine and Kapitoil, for which he was the winner of a Whiting Writers’ Award. He writes a column for the New York Times, and his work regularly appears in The New Yorker, GQ, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere.