MALCOM'S STORY

"So what is it about Lewis Carol?" I said, logging into Nadine's game. The universe looked radically different from my own, and I wondered why. "Was it he really found something in Alice he liked or was he more interested in the vague idea of the innocence of youth?"

I had just began reading books in my off hours, from playing own personal rogue-like universe. But there was nothing that could prepare me for my own game's last permanent death. Part of me refused to believe that my own universe couldn't have the same properties as hers. Even when we were kids, we found our differences just an the ice cream shops we went to. For one, she primarily liked double chocolate brownie. Otherwise she would have it Vanilla. But for me, I always liked weird shit. Peanut butter and zucchini ice cream was the way to go. After the month that Slephner died, both of our world began to divide.

I got into more of a reading habit, including Alice In Wonderland. But nothing would prepare me for the rabbit hole that was getting using to having half my brain being an electronic prosthesis. I found myself hallucinating day and night various different game systems and styles. I found this new form of virtual reality largely by accident. But because my brain was healing, it was unstable. I had to get immediate medical attention, and warned to try to play games less often. But I had no more friends besides Nadine. Ellen herself had gone missing, I barely here from her anymore. I met Akiko and Hiromi at a restaurant just down the road, they were pretty cool. I couldn't really prepare for the fact that Akiko had jumped off a building the previous week. Therefore by all practical purposes my friendship life was dead.

"I haven't heard from you in a while Malcolm. How has life been treating you?" Nadine asked. I couldn't believe she had to ask. The fact that have my head was made out of vat-grown semi-electronic prosthesis would give an indication.

"It's been good enough, I haven't had any arcade sessions with you in a while. My last rogue-like was a bit of a disaster." I said. Nadine came up to me, and even though she never acted this way before hugged me tight where I stood.

"Well our group kind of needs help, or rather Rassie does. I'm going to go on and do my own thing. Maybe gain a few levels, steal a few bounties. So you and Rassie, you two take care now." Nadine said. She tried to walk off and do her own thing, but Rassie gave her a right hook in the robotic arm.

Nadine turned around. "What did you do?"

"Come on, let's me serious. Elena is counting on us." Rassie said.

I didn't think about where we were at first, but a large crowd was situation around a scaffold where a young fairy woman placed her neck on the headman's block. There was only a moment of time to spare. But Nadine did not look like she cared whether the game broke at all. "Don't you care about finishing the game?"

"You are forgetting Malcolm," said Nadine, slamming Rassie down to snowy dirt road like she was on the road with a top down hook to her noggin like she was on the wrong kind of treasure hunt.

"My vision is fading, I need to eat something." said Rassie.

"Wow that was a stronger blow than I realized." said Nadine.

"I need food or my vision will blur to darkness." said Rassie.

"We don't have time for this, this princess is going to die." I was reminded of how my own gaming session malfunctioned. I was aware of the fact that with one mess up, the entire game would be over.

"This is a different game Malcolm. The game doesn't end. You just deal in a psuedo-real life simulation the consequences of your actions, if you care about that sort of thing." said Nadine.

"You think I'm like you?" I asked.

"Let's go guys. I can find food, you two go on." said Nadine.

After retrieving Millie, we boarded a cart to flee the dark knight's army. After a certain point we lost them, but not without minor cuts and bruises from the party. Nadine did not seem to care much about the fact that she had to have her left arm bandaged up. I suppose she wouldn't be do any kind of writing with it. As the morning became the afternoon, it got to be a little bit warmer outside. When we thought we lost them, we pitched some tents to take a rest for a little while. We had a fire going, and we all sat around it. Nadine roasted some spider-pig meat, although we kept some of the spider-piglet babies to raise into adulthood for the slaughter. "I don't like to eat spider-pigs, they're to ugly cute." said Millie, shielding her face in her hands.

"Shut up will you, it's not like there is anything else to eat." said Nadine.

"That's not how you treat a princess hero." said Millie.

"If I here one more word about being being princess..." said.

I decided to be the peace mediator. "Nadine, I think you might be remembering Blanci. Yea she was a bit of a narcissist wasn't she? But look, not everyone is like Blanci. Millie is all right."

"Maybe we should have asked Malcolm." said Elena.

"Yea but you wouldn't have been generated in Malcolm's game. At least in the way that you are interacting with me now." said Nadine, taking the crabby flavored sausages off the skewers, and rapping them in flat breads. "...I suppose not everyone is like my my mother either."

"Your mother Nadine?" asked Malcolm.

"A few months ago I would have said your mother loved you. I believed in many of the lies from the state we live in. But now I can't understand why you dislike your mother. She has changed..." said Rassie.

"What do you know about my mother." said Nadine.

"Enough..." said Nadine.

It was nightfall when I saw Nadine exit the tent. While I didn't know she was this much of a night owl, I knew that she would have hours that were incomprehensible to me at the time. On some level I was still hoping my family would take me back in, even though I was been long past high school age. In a way, I came to tolerate this largely because I had no living sister of my own. My parents had kicked me out of the house because they could not afford to take care of me.

I remember dad attempting to fire a shot gun, and missed.

"Get back here, I can't afford to take care of you." I remembered him saying. I felt that I had as much of a right to live as my sister did, and ran away as far as I could from home. Eventually I was able to get far away enough to start a new family. I had no friends of my own, and I also knew that unlike myself people tended to largely only due things for you if you do things for them in return, even if that involved keeping them company on lonely nights and having conversations in the dark. I had a thing for telling jokes, even if they were bad jokes, just to try to cheer up my friends. Some of my friends died in gang wars, others moved to higher districts as a ruse--they wanted to off themselves off the tallest of buildings.

For Nadine, I didn't want to lose another friend.

A friend that was like a sister to me I never had.

"Nadine, is something on your mind?" I asked.

"Nothing in particular. Even if it's cold outside, there is something about watching the sun set and the moon rise over the horizon. You remember don't you, how we grew up? I only ever seen the sky once in my youth. Isn't it beautiful?"

"All those stars are angels in the sky." I said, joking.

"But the thing about those angels, even if they aren't real. They give peoples hopes and dreams." said Nadine, pushing her hair out of her face. "I never had been much of a hope for anyone." The was something that felt different about Nadine, but I couldn't quite verbalize why. "Blanci, I realize now, needed me. She needed some hope in her life. I was simply to caught up in my own misery to understand her issues at the time." Nadine memories manifested visually in the sky. We could Nadine our regrets and fears about her life.

For once, I found I could really understand Nadine.

She had grown up. "There is no time like tomorrow." I said.

"But you think I can do it?" said Nadine.

"Only you can decide that."

Sometimes you reach just the edge of darkness, only to run away in fear. Some other times, you become the darkness itself. Whatever fears you once had, feel minor in comparison. Your chosen life. In the heart of truest darkness, there lay beyond a certain kind of light. When everything fades away, one can say goodnight. Goodnight to all the ills of the life, goodnight to life itself. Goodnight to the wind, in its calm cooling embrace. The shadows keep one company, under the glow of the starry night. The fireflies that are born and die glitter under the glow of the "Meadow Of Gold".

It had many months since my friend Nadine had made the first step to true goodness, one only speculates what one's future may hold. There are some things under the stars, that makes grown men and women cry. Before they die slow and painful deaths, longing for the secrets of a better life. She had been dating Millie for the last few months, the AI that manifested into the real world. At first Ellen her girlfriend, was resentful of the new girl, yet over time she began to accept that Nadine had become to absorbed into the world of fantasy. Where the skull-fairies still wander in the darkness.

We had simply seen to much in the game world. In this world where children die to young, there is a faint glimmer of hope. Not the false hope given by the glow of the meadow of gold, but another kind. The hope that others will never grow up like they did. It is an uncertain hope, but you can make the future. The future of the alley cat. And in this world where children dance to the dance of death, there is the sound of distant thunder.

The sound of the night.

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