His great broadsword sprouted flames every time he attacked and his spells could keep him alive against all but the toughest foes. In gleaming black armor his tall imposing figure held its head high – there was no fear to be found about his person. He was admired throughout the server and was the leader of one of the most powerful guilds, they were always the first to enter the most dangerous dungeons and slay the deadliest dragons. Nobody knew that he was only sixteen years old.
Monday morning Benjy woke up at 5:30 to get ready for school. He sat lazily in his bed, staring at the few tacked on stars which adorned an otherwise bland and quiet ceiling. Those stars were within reach, much different than the real ones he thought. It was Cold. Benjy braced himself for what was to come. He kicked off his warm blanket and jumped deftly out of bed, running at an almost breakneck pace down the hall of his room to the bathroom, the evil chill trailing centimeters behind him. Beads of sweat formed on his brow. He slammed the door but the chill snuck through the cracks and swarmed his almost naked body, creating tremors sending shivers down his spine. In defeat, Benjy turned on the shower and stood looking at himself while he waited for the water to heat up, resigned.
There were goosebumps all across his chest and arms as a result of morning’s embrace; his skin was pasty white. Two gangly arms hung at his sides, a hint of muscle protruding through the flesh. There was nothing remarkable about his body; he let out a sigh. Flowing brown hair cascaded down to his shoulders framing his face. A hard cleft and jawline led to a sharp nose, two brown eyes were seen staring back at him, the mirror ripping open his soul, spilling the contents of it out onto the counter before him. Benjy shivered and crossed his arms across his chest for greater warmth and a human sensation. The mirror began to fog, he stepped into the shower.
In the shower he cried, the tears mixing with the running water to create a mirage of normalcy. Shaking shoulders in the white fog were the only evidence to the contrary, perceptible only to a clever observer. He wasn’t sure why he cried, only that he did – not always though. Incoherent thoughts flittered in and out of his mind like the scenery while on a rollercoaster. No one thought sat idly by long enough for him to even identify what it was. He just knew that his heart ached, sore from those salty tears. There was though something ironically and strangely beautiful about crying in the shower. He watched as his tears spiraled down the drain and his body was washed clean. In his little cell there was a measure of peace.
Benjy stepped out of the shower and dressed, putting on his old faded jeans, a white t-shirt and his Brown hoodie. He walked slowly downstairs, taking pains to not wake up his mum. In the kitchen he poured himself a bowl of LIFE cereal and ate it quietly, alone. After he finished he took a small cup of strawberry yogurt and devoured that too. He packed a bag with an apple and some grapes. A few swigs of water later, and he was ready to go. Grabbing his dark red backpack from the floor of the kitchen, Benjy walked to the garage, stepping into his car. He was off.
The drive was long. It took over an hour to get to school and the whole time all he could think about was getting back home where his friends were off fighting without him. He felt every moment away he was falling behind, losing touch and focus. The roads were packed with drones heading to work in boxes, Benjy thought of the vast emptiness in the collective brains of those he was sharing this journey with. He wasn’t one of them though, of course not.. There was a quiet, low hanging fog obscuring his vision; traffic lights shone down in permeating beams creating eerie criss crossings of light on the morning road. Painted yellow lines guided him forward.
He practically slept through honors Biology (plus he was yelled at for being late; he couldn’t find a parking spot on the street). In all truthfulness, Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium meant absolutely nothing to him. And besides, why stay awake in a class so easy a zombie himself would ace. Something was said about the percent of homozygous dominant and recessive alleles in a population equaling one and a bunch of other random jibberish. A hazy sun poked its way into the slit of a barely open door, creating a dim lit pattern on the floor beneath Benjy’s feet. He barely noticed it though, it would have been beautiful.
At nutrition Benjy wandered the halls alone until the bell rang. He stood on the second floor watching the cool kids in the quad talk and gossip – his hood was up. He couldn’t tell whether he envied or pitied them, the two emotions are practically the same anyways (and pathetic). All he knew was that they were as empty as the fools he encountered on the road every morning (a slight hint of contempt).
AP World History was by far his most exciting class; he was like David battling the goliaths of the senior class. He could go toe to toe with them a majority of the time. Allen was a genius and knew much more about history than even the teacher, who made me feel intellectually alive for the first time. Class discussion ended always in us debating and me usually bowing out to Allen’s intellectual prowess (in later years he would become a good friend of mine in college and beyond). Today we discussed post World War One reconstruction and the impact the Treaty of Versailles had on facilitating Hitler’s rise to power and the rapid resurgence of Germany as a Great Power state. Benjy wondered whether or not it was the senseless hubris and big-stick-waving of England and France that really brought about the end of the pre-modern world. Hell, maybe Hitler would have vented his manic desires on canvases (a la Van Gogh) instead of Jews, if only things were different.
The rest of the school day would prove to be uneventful – Benjy snuck out after lunch (climbing the tall fence by the basketball courts, scraping his hands on the coarse, rusted metal in the process) and ran to his car to begin the long drive back home. There was no traffic and the day was cloudless, he flew with reckless abandon down the highway, music blasting and a furious wind wrestling with his long hair. The road approved knowingly, its curvatures set the path home, the world opened itself casually, inviting. Everything was and is possible.
Benjy wasn’t much into the world though. When he arrived home his mum was still in bed, the door closed. He cast off his backpack as if it was unwanted baggage and ran upstairs to his room, closing the door behind him and turning on his computer immediately. The screen flickered briefly, black gave birth to life. He dove in.
His guild had missed him. Benjy spawned in a black forest and made his way over to the castle in which the evening’s raid would take place. His task was to clear the castle entrance of enemies so that advancing inward would be less tedious. He was several hours early, he enjoyed the challenge of sole responsibility. There were elemental golems twice his size; he had to deftly pick them off one by one to fight individually. More than one would be certain death. He had perfected the art of pulling long ago; the golems would be no match for his skill. It took about an hour to clear the entryway to the castle – and about then his guild mates began to appear. Some teleported in with a wizard, others came on horseback. All in all, Benjy was leading almost forty people, barking orders with confidence and organizing his friends.
The castle doors slowly opened and his team went inside; there were undead sorcerers and skeletal knights lining the entry hallway – none of them proved to be too difficult. There was a grand staircase leading to the second floor, and slightly more difficult monsters, and then another, spiral staircase leading up to the rooftop level where the great crystalline dragon, Veeshan slept. Being the strongest warrior in the guild, Benjy was slated to take the brunt of Veeshan’s attack. He casted his most powerful spell and charged in, swinging his broadsword – quickly catching the dragon’s attention. The fight was on.
Almost instantaneously, a swift attack from the dragon’s claws sent his health close to zero, but a quick heal by the cleric rotation kept him alive, he had trained them well. Veeshan emitted a burst of flame from his mouth, engulfing several of the magicians and a wizard, four of his guildmates fell. A swipe of his crystalline tail took out two rogues who were slashing him from behind. Sweat dripped from Benjy’s forehead, losing the battle would mean several hours of work and a week’s worth of preparation for this encounter would be wasted, he was determined to see this through to the end, to sit atop the dragon’s corpse smiling. He left no stone unturned, using all of his spells and abilities, scoring multiple critical hits. One of his clerics fell, but each time his health dropped, a cleric would step in at the right moment. The battled raged on, and two more warriors were slain. He had lost fifteen men; there were just twenty more of his guildmates left. As Veeshan’s situation became more perilous, his attacks became enraged and doubled in strength. His attention shifted from Benjy to the wizards pummeling him with deadly spells; rampaging through the line of spellcasters. The clerics couldn’t keep up with Veeshan’s onslaught and the casters were taken out. Benjy called for his friends to give everything they had, they would not lose the battle.
Under a great flurry of activity, Benjy finally dealt the killing blow, and the fire of Veeshan was extinguished, his body falling limp to the floor. Of the thirty five friends who entered the castle with him, only eight remained to see the dragon slain. Benjy wiped the sweat from his forehead and gave a long sigh of relief, finally they had accomplished what had been thought impossible, his was the first guild to slay Veeshan. His victory was short lived however, as suddenly his world disappeared into blackness and a loud crash snapped him back into reality. A world tumbled before his eyes and into focus and Benjy saw a computer screen displaying only static. He was sitting in his chair, hand trembling on his aged mouse, the black cord withered with use and covered with electrical tape. There was a loud bang on his door, “GET THE HELL OFF THE COMPUTER.”
He didn’t even know what time it was but it was dark outside, his mother’s scream halted his fantasy and opened the door of the world’s torrid hopelessness. There was no bracing himself for the verbal onslaught he was to receive. His mum’s berating lasted until her voice was hoarse, the words failure and faggot resounded with him long after the torrent had subsided. They sat quietly eating dinner. The chicken was overcooked and the rice was mushy. Benjy remembered how when he was a kid his mum’s cooking had been the greatest. Her roast chickens were unparalleled – she had taught him how to cook pasta and bake a cake, taking extra care to buy the finest ingredients. It was like watching a master blacksmith honing his craft, taking gentle care of every tiny detail, mixing at first, then folding in the batter incrementally and with affection, adding just the right amount of vanilla extract to give the cake the perfect flavor.
Those days were long past.
After they had finished eating and Benjy washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen, he heard his mum call from the staircase, “Benjy, come up here and look at this.” He walked cautiously to the stairs to see his mum peering out the open window at the parking lot below. There were three cars parked. “See that car over there? It’s been parked there watching me all day now. Believe you me Benjy, it’s watching me. They follow me when I leave the house.” He never knew how to respond, so he stayed quiet – letting her ramble on for an additional ten minutes. “It’s your dad you know, he wants me to think I’m crazy but you see it right there right? It’s right there. I’m not crazy.”
Benjy had to wait for his mum to sleep before venturing to turn on the computer, and he waited. It was 2 A.M. and he could hear her pacing and talking to herself downstairs. A small lamp on his desk set a ghastly illumination about the room. He looked out the window and saw the neighbors vast jungle-like yard, trees and bushes swaying calmly in the night breeze. He pushed the hair out of his face and stared blankly at the black screen before him, wondering how his guild was faring and wishing he could be with them. There was no leaving the confines of his small room and by 3 A.M. the walls loomed tall and imposing before him, seemingly constricting like a deadly serpent squeezing the life out of him. His mum was still awake. At some point in the night he fell asleep at his desk, still waiting to return home.
There was a room with white walls, a barren landscape. A chair, wooden, uncomfortable, lay prostrate in the middle of the room. Benjy sat. Four burly Orcs flanked him on all sides – his hands were chained to the back of the chair. There was no light in the room but it was illuminated. Suddenly, a voice. “If Ian was here he would never be doing this. What would Ian say if he saw you now? You’re a failure.” Why are you doing this. “Because I like to.” It repeated, again and again and again and again.
A hand shook Benjy out of his sleep.
What’s going on
“I just saw someone in that car, still watching me”
It’s 5 A.M.
A hand shook Benjy out of his sleep.
“Get up and get ready for school! Why are you at your desk, you weren’t on the computer were you?”
Head lowered in defeat, Benjy sauntered to the bathroom and turned on the shower, stepping in to the icy water without waiting for it to heat up. The chill shot through his veins like an injection of amphetamines and at once he was alive, if only for a brief moment. The sensation coursed through him and naked in a cold shower he embraced all that was beautiful in the world. He felt every molecule of air as it touched his skin, saw each drop of water as it flew like an arrow towards him – time itself seemed to slow and in that solitary moment Benjy’s struggles and pain were erased. His soul was open to the world. He was clean, and, turning the water off he stepped back into reality and a sobering draft of morning air.