Tag: #gamers

written by Susan
August 1, 2021 0

Walking. Again. Sarah rubbed her nose and tugged her sleeves down farther. With each breath, she saw a puff of white steam that made her feel like she was really in an arctic tundra. Her character, Kitsu, trudged through an unbearably cold landscape with her hunting group.

Likewise, it was forty degrees outside of her apartment, and only a single layer of brick meant that the inside wasn’t much warmer. Sarah reached blindly for her coffee and cringed when she felt the cold glass. Instead, without taking her eyes off the screen, she leaned forward in her seat and pulled her arm inside her shirt. As long as they all walked in a straight line, she wouldn’t have to use that hand anyway.

The landscape on her screen had an icy beauty, but it was slowly getting darker, and as it did, the blue gave way to black like a stained bruise on a tender sky. Around her, the cracks and corresponding drag through ankle-deep slush shuddered through her speakers. Every once in a while, she heard a piercing cry from her surround sound and a low rumble from the subwoofer that signaled they were getting closer to the dragon’s lair. A strange noise made Sarah stop and listen.

 A frog echoed along the frozen cliffs.

A distinctly Canadian voice cut through her speakers. “Really? A frog croaking in a frozen biome? Way to wreck the fucking illusion.”  Yes. Way to wreck the illusion, Sarah thought. Nothing could ruin the suspense and wonder of a new expansion like her antagonistic guild leader Ziprig.

Sarah heard a gravely cough and labored breathing before another voice broke through at an ear-shattering decibel, “I hate to do this, guys… but I gotta pee.”

Bjord was a major sweetheart, but the quality of his microphone and the fact that he possibly wore it so close to his mouth that he could be in danger of swallowing it meant that your ears were never safe. You couldn’t turn him down either because it had a way of being super soft one day and super loud another. It was a crapshoot. Actually, although not harboring any ill will for the guy, Sarah’s friend Joey often kept him muted entirely. Today was one such day. As expected, Sarah’s phone lit up with a text from Joey asking why everyone had stopped. Sarah typed a quick explanation and then tried to get some feeling back by rubbing her hands up and down her arms.

“Bjord, really? You should have just said something earlier.” Zip wasn’t fond of breaks. Especially since some people had a unique sense of time. One of their group mates had a habit of taking a five-minute AFK and returning two days later with a tale of what an awesome party he had with the swingers next door. Considering he was an anesthesiologist in real life, Sarah was certain he was a frequent flyer and never came down.

Sarah’s stomach growled hard enough to almost forget how cold she was. Almost.

“What was that?”

“Sorry,” Sarah mumbled. “I wouldn’t mind a break too. I’m starving, and frostbite might have already set in.”

“Fine. Let’s take five. And I mean five. Not ten, not twenty. Five.” Good luck with that, she thought. Bjord was guaranteed to need a refill of cigarettes if history was any indicator.

The first thing Sarah did when she got up was pull out her heater and turn it on. The central heat and air hadn’t worked in this apartment since long before she moved in. As anyone could tell by the peeling yellow paint and unfinished wood floors, the place was a complete dump, but Sarah couldn’t get the energy to paint or argue with her landlord about the carpet. It was either save money for their meet-up in Vegas or find a new place to live, and frankly, she didn’t look at the walls or the floor much anyway. She was almost to the bathroom when she heard it kick on. Then, just as she sat down to do her business, there was a loud pop, and her apartment went dark.

Sarah felt around in the dark for the toilet paper and cursed the old wiring. This was why she had been playing in the freezing cold. One in every three times she ran the heater and her gaming rig at the same time, it would pop a breaker. She had to be close to five minutes already. So much for being on time.

By the time she reached the breaker box, she had tripped over a pile of clothes and wrecked her shin on her suitcase that she was supposed to already have packed for Vegas. Thankfully, she knew exactly which switch to flip. Three flips later, she was still in darkness. She felt around a moment until she found the edge of her bed and sat down. She didn’t have to feel far. Her whole apartment was probably just over 450 square feet. She felt a small shudder beneath her feet. Was that thunder? Four seconds later, she heard the low answering rumble. One more trip over the same suitcase, and she peeked out her yellowed blinds. The whole block was out. A storm was coming.

She could see the fridge was empty with the tiny light from her phone. Or it might as well be. Miracle Whip, while being the foundation of everything wonderful- was not wonderful at all with nothing to eat it with. In the cabinet, she found a used package of crackers with about four left.  She peeked in her silverware drawer and grunted when it predictably had only silverware in it. Outside, the wind picked up, and a series of taps signaled that it had started to rain. Her stomach growled again as she went over her options.

It didn’t take long. There were only four crackers to consider. So she’d just order pizza. She was about to dial Dominoes when she noticed it was 2:35am. No pizza place in this hell hole would be open past midnight. Only one place was open so early in the morning. She found her jacket and pulled out her boots.

Her phone lit up again. Zip would never believe that her electricity was really out, and she didn’t blame him.  Joey would have to cover for her this time. Sarah shot him a quick text about the power being out and then headed out the door.  There was just a steep stairway from her garage studio to the door outside, and she was extra careful on her way down because her boots were a half-size too big. They were a gift from her Dad, who never really bothered to ask her size. For him, it was always the thought that counted. Unfortunately, it was never forethought.

She stopped at the door and peered out of the glass. It wasn’t sprinkling anymore. It was a full-on downpour. No umbrella, but she did have her hoodie and her boots. Arcadia was only a few blocks away. Four, to be exact. She could run it. Maybe. She didn’t run much, but there shouldn’t be much to it. She zipped up her hoodie and put the hood on, making sure to tuck her carrot-colored hair in as far as she could.

The owner of Arcadia, Raj, tried to steal a lock of her hair once because he thought it must have magical properties. Talk about stereotypes. She tried to be insulted, but honestly, there was a fair amount of people in town that thought he was a Muslim terrorist when he was really a Hindu from India, so they were even. They were on good terms, but people came from several counties to buy his specialty goods so she wouldn’t put it past him to try again. Raj was all about the money.

Sarah ran in place a few times to psych herself up and then threw the door open and burst out into the rain. Cold. It was so cold, but she ran. Past her landlord’s house up to fourth and across. Arcadia was just ahead, not as well lit as the Quiktrip across town, but it was the brightest thing on this side of town, and with it raining so hard, she was thankful. Both her and her hoodie were soaked, so Sarah didn’t see the woman until she ran into her.

“Watch it!” The woman snapped, pushing Sarah off as they both squeezed into the gas station at the same time. Her black hair was in a tight ponytail, and she wore professional black from head to toe. She was definitely from out of town.

“Sorry,” Sarah muttered, wiping her wet face with her sleeve. The hoodie hadn’t helped much. It made a better sponge than a shield.

“Whatever.” The woman looked around with her nose turned up slightly, her lips tight. She had to be lost. Most people from out of town stopped at the QuikTrip off I-40 because it was a beacon on the long stretch of interstate. She probably missed the loop and ended up on highway 64 instead. If that was the case, she was lucky because this was the only gas station for another forty minutes.

“Raj!” Sarah yelled. “You’ve got a customer.”

With a long groan, a bald head appeared from behind the counter and then a smiling Buddha face. Sarah smirked. Raj saved that look for new people from out of town. It kept him from having to deal with most of their bullshit.

“Can I use your bathroom?” The woman asked.

“Yes. Yes. Here key.” Raj held out a key attached to a 12-inch ruler with the word bathroom in capital letters. She looked at it for a moment and then accepted it gingerly and headed to the back.

Sarah gave Raj a nod that he returned and then grabbed a bag of Funyons before heading to the back where the soda was stored. She was debating Diet Pepsi or Pink Lemonade when someone brushed past her from behind. Sarah smelled cinnamon like the old cinnamon toothpicks that Raj used to sell when she was young. She turned to see who else was dumb enough to be up at almost 3am in the morning, but all she saw was a full head of shaggy blonde hair walking up the next aisle over towards the cash register. No one from in town. Maybe Raj got more business at night than she thought.

Sarah chose Pink Lemonade and a hoagie. As she headed to the register, the dark-haired woman slid into line in front of her. All thoughts of telling her where to get back on I-40 disappeared. She’d figure it out when the highway dumped her into Fort Smith anyway. The guy with blonde hair at the front of the line was tall and lean, with a black leather jacket and tight blue jeans. In one hand, he held a Mountain Dew and in the other a sleek black motorcycle helmet. Sarah glanced outside, and while it was still sprinkling, at least it had calmed down a bit. It still probably sucked to be him.

“Get out,” Raj said quietly to the guy, pushing his drink and cash away.

“Is my money not good for you?” The guy asked with an amused European accent.

“It’s on the house. Now get out.” Raj nodded towards the door, staring down at the counter.

“Just take his money.” The woman bit out, shifting on her heels with a squeaky click. She clutched one of those cold coffee drinks and a honey bun.

The guy grabbed his drink off the counter and nodded to the woman. “Then I’ll buy hers too. “

Raj grit his teeth when he glanced at the woman but then looked away again. “Fine.”

The woman looked surprised as they both moved away from the register.  “Well…thank you.” Sarah rolled her eyes. No one ever offered to pay for her stuff. Not that he’d paid for anything. She planned on grilling Raj as soon as the two of them left.

And then he smiled, and Sarah was lost. Her skin tingled, and her heart pounded, but her reaction was to sink into herself. Sarah leaned over to lay her items on the counter, watching through a haze as the man and woman talked. She was curious about what he was saying, but she couldn’t hear anything. It was like all the sound had been sucked out of the room.

Somehow, her lemonade didn’t make it. It dropped to the floor, and when she looked down, she saw the fizz shooting out of the lid. She saw it, but her muscles didn’t coil into motion. Sarah couldn’t move.

“You should go get another one.” The guy prompted. He was still smiling, but the woman looked on with an upturned lip. Suddenly her trance was broken, and she blushed, dropping immediately to put her hand over the hissing bottle. It coated her hand, arms, and then face as she picked it up. She was about to run back to the back with it but stopped and turned to say something- anything to him. Maybe she meant to thank him, but when she opened her mouth, she couldn’t think of why or for what. It didn’t matter because when she turned back, the shooting stream of fizz sprayed across the dark-haired woman’s white shirt, and the woman let out a scream.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry.” Sarah lurched forward as if to help, but the woman just screeched and put her hand out.

“Stop, just get rid of it.”

Sarah hurried to the back. The bathroom was locked as usual, but Raj had an industrial sink that she used. Sarah sighed heavily and took off her rain and lemon-soaked hoodie. She washed her arms and face and then leaned against the sink until she heard the telltale jingle of the front door. She was so embarrassed. In all the hurry, she hadn’t noticed how she would look to strangers. Red and black polka-dot rain boots, red flannel pants, a gamer t-shirt, and a green hoodie. Why did she leave the house like that?

A few minutes later, when she was sure everyone but Raj was gone, she roamed back up front, stopping only to get a different lemonade. This one wasn’t carbonated…just in case. Raj was waiting for her. “You okay?” He asked with no trace of the broken English from before.

“Yeah, they’re just passing through anyway. I doubt that’ll be the last time I do something dumb.” Sarah gave him her card.

He nodded and swiped her card. As he gave it back, he held onto it when she tried to put it away. “Hey.”

“What?” She asked and leaned back because she remembered her hair was no longer safely hidden.

“Stay away from that guy.”

“What? I don’t know him. He’s from out of town, right? Probably just passing through.”

“Yeah.” He let go of her card. “I’m just saying it for your own good. He’s bad magic.”

Sarah smirked, grabbing her sack and heading for the door. “I’m the first one to wish there were such a thing as magic, Raj, but I know better. There’s no such thing.”

She barely heard what he said as she left, but it sounded like, “You’ll see.”

The rain had stopped completely, but it was damn cold. Sarah held her hoodie and sack close, but neither helped. The hoodie was soaked, and her bag was filled with refrigerated goods. As she stepped down off the walkway, she paused. The woman’s car was still there and the motorcycle too, but neither was to be seen. Sarah looked around, but just like before- besides the light from inside the gas station and a light above each gas pump- it was dark. Her head snapped to the right as she heard a scraping noise from the side of the building. As Sarah walked to the edge of the building, her steps slowed more and more. A sharp cry came from around the dark corner. Sarah closed the distance, rounded the corner, and came to a full stop.

A distinctly awkward stop. His helmet was forgotten on the sidewalk along with both of their purchases. Her bare legs were wrapped around his lean hips, and Sarah could see the perfect rounded curve of his ass. Sarah felt a tingle down the back of her neck as she realized the situation. If these two were strangers up until ten minutes ago, they definitely weren’t now. Sarah looked down the empty street that she had to take to get home. There was no way to go that wouldn’t be like a voyeur walk of shame. Maybe they wouldn’t notice. Sarah chanced one more guilt-filled but envious look and froze.

He was looking at her. He was breathing heavily, the pale steam of his breath mixing with the steam from the vent beside them. He never stopped moving, but his eyes smoldered at Sarah. She tightened her grip on her bag, flustered but unable to look away until it happened. The iris of his eyes that were dark before flashed a brilliant blue, and the effect was like blue lava. Once again, the spell was broken, and Sarah started walking backward. As she did, she saw him start to untangle himself from the woman. Sarah didn’t know what else to do so she ran.

The run home was excruciating. The electricity was back on, so instead of hiding in the cover of night, the hideous orange illuminators lit the path right back to her apartment. Sarah almost panicked when she saw a shadow pass across her window, but she remembered that she was expecting her friend Miranda, so she pulled open the downstairs door and ran up the stairs. When she reached the top, Miranda was sitting on Sarah’s bed with her own neatly packed suitcase.

 Sarah quickly flipped the light switch off and moved across the room to peer out of the blinds. She couldn’t quite see the gas station, but she could see up the street well enough.

“Uh…why are we in the dark,” Miranda asked.


“Do you want me to lock the door?”


“SSHhhhhh.” Miranda retorted as she locked the door and then returned to her seat. “Can we at least watch TV? If not, this is going to be a long night.”

“What’s happening?” Joey’s voice whispered through Sarah’s speakers making both Sarah and Miranda jump.

“Jesus.” Sarah sighed, leaning against the wall. “You scared the crap out of me.”

“Bitch, don’t change the subject. What’s going on? Did you rob the quickie mart or something?”

“No, I…” As if suddenly remembering why they were in the dark, Sarah peeked back out the window. “This guy with a motorcycle just… I mean, his eyes were blue. Suddenly. Like they weren’t before, but then they were blue.”

Miranda just stared, and Sarah’s speakers were quiet. Sarah sighed again because, once again, communication had failed her.

“There was a guy and a girl at the gas station.” Sarah gave up the window and plopped down in her desk chair. An oddly warm desk chair. Sarah’s eyes narrowed at the softly glowing red coils on her heater. Traitor.

“And?” Joey prodded once again through the speakers.

“When I came out, they were having random stranger sex on the side of the building.”

“And what does that have to do with his eyes?” Joey asked. “Or did his dick start glowing too?”

“How’d you even look at his eyes anyway? Did you try to get an autograph?” Miranda joked.

Sarah reached over and grabbed a pillow so she could smack Miranda with it.

“Hey, you didn’t hit Joey!” She laughed.

“Only because he’s not here. Anyway, I knew because he was looking at me.”
“Whoa whoa whoa.” Joey interrupted. “Girl, was he hot? Could you see his dick?”

“What?!” Sarah blushed. “Joey, his eyes glowed blue. Glowed as in bright as a freaking Light Brite. I was a little busy and didn’t have time to gawk at his crotch, which was also kind of busy…”

Joey scoffed, and the speakers crackled. “That’s why you’re single. There is always time to check it out.

“Maybe it’s a new kind of colored contacts.” Miranda offered.

“Maybe,” Sarah admitted. She looked out the window one more time and saw nothing but orange-tinted pavement and deep grass-filled ditches. “I guess we can turn the lights on.”

“Why did you turn them off again? Were you scared?” Miranda stood and leaned across to switch the lights on.

“Not exactly…” Sarah thought for a moment, trying to remember the exact feeling. “I was, and I wasn’t. His eyes were startling, but I don’t know… I think it was mostly embarrassment, but then there’s what Raj said too. He told me to stay away from him because he was bad magic.”

“Now that’s creepy.” As Joey spoke, she heard the flick of a lighter from over the speakers, and then he continued with a muffled, “That’s the dude that tried to scalp you, right?”

Sarah rolled her eyes and then remembered that Joey couldn’t see her. “He didn’t try to scalp me. He just wanted a little piece of my hair.”

“Uh-huh, and that guy outside the gas station probably just wanted to share some candy. Just keep your doors locked tonight. Shit gets crazy in the bible belt.”

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