I walked down the stairs of my brick apartment complex in paranoid silence. Admittedly, that was always how I went in and out of the building, but this time it felt more necessary. I could usually hear couples and kids screaming through apartment doors as I passed, but today there was nothing but silence. I never thought it possible, but as I opened the front door, I found myself missing the dangerous hustle and bustle that came with living in the ghetto.
“Damn,” I sighed, just after taking in a breadth of the polluted air, “It’s still fucking night time?”
I looked up in an attempt to find the moon but found nothing but wispy and illuminated clouds instead. I guess it could have been smog, but whatever it was, it hid the moon and meant I had no way to tell if time was passing.
I turned left and traveled to my Grandma’s house. It wasn’t far, as she couldn’t bear having me live far away. The houses I passed were all silent, all though I avoided making eye contact with any of them anyway, just in case another Avalanche hid inside.
Looking down to Goldrin who padded along after me, I wondered if his Bork Bork Growl skill had a cooldown or not. I imagined it would, partly because balance was essential to every game in some way or another, and party because fuck me, right?
Before I knew it, I had arrived at my Grandma’s front porch. I walked up the familiar stairs where I had carried a million grocery bags before and couldn’t help but feel like I moved zero. I turned the doorknob that I had scratched not too long ago and couldn’t help but feel like someone else's key did it. I slowly swung the door open and found myself doubting if I was in the familiar beige apartment at all. A quick glance up the stairs told me that my Grandma’s light was still on and that I was, in fact, in her apartment.
“I know bud, its okay,” I comforted my companion as I grabbed my regular flashlight out of my backpack and flicked it on.
Batteries, I thought, I should get batteries while I am here.
Reluctantly, I decided to be proactive and get the batteries first, before I forgot about them. A brief ransacking of the kitchen rewarded me with a few knives, some more food, a can opener, a ton of matchsticks, and the knowledge that I would have to venture into the basement again for batteries.
I stuffed everything into my backpack and threw it back on with ease. Even the dumbells inside it didn’t weigh it down an ounce. It was a useful bit of magic, I supposed, but at the end of the day, I would still rather have my Grandma back.
I peered into the blackness of the basement stairway with my flashlight. Fear, or fear and cheese, bubbled up inside my gut. I stepped down anyway. I could have sworn that the light from my flashlight seemed slower than usual. Like it was traveling 670,616,620 mph instead of the usual 670,616,629, but I couldn’t be sure for obvious reasons. It was probably me being a coward, but luckily Goldrin whined to harden my resolve.
Giving my razor scooter the side eye, I turned around the edge of the stairs and flashed my light underneath where I thought the batteries would be. I moved a tarp to the side, then realized I should take it with me instead. I put it into my bag, along with some jumper cables, various tools, and then finally a box of different sized batteries. Gathering up my courage, I set about the basement stairs, slowly and composed.
“Pheew,” I said as I got to the top and didn’t have a monster latched on to my rear. “Now for the Pilate gear.”
Luckily, Grandma liked to keep everything in the same spot. She would always say things like, “Everything has a place, and everything should be in its place,” or “If it doesn’t have a home, it lives in the trash,” and, “Milton, pick up your pop cans please, honey.”
Growing up I would have liked to talk back like most kids and teenagers my age did, and maybe I would have if there was even an ounce of meanness or snark in my Grandma, but she always asked so sweetly. So I always obeyed.
I walked into the living room, and sure enough, Grandma’s pilate gear was right in its home, which happened to be a wicker basket at the edge of the couch.
“Okay,” I said as I let my considerable bulk flop down onto the couch. It groaned. I leaned over the edge to pick up a butterfly-shaped, springy apparatus that my Grandma always squeezed between her legs, and groaned as well. It was bright pink. I put the thing between my legs and looked at Goldrin. He was sitting in the middle of the floor with the flashlight a few paces to his left, illuminated his judgemental face.
“Hey, if it makes me more agile, then it is cool,” I said as I compressed the thing with my inner thigh muscles. I was surprised that it was so easy. I was even more surprised that it was easy for me and that I had muscle at the awkward, often forgotten about, groin location required to use such a device. I gritted my teeth and squeezed repeatedly.
Close legs. Open legs. Narrow legs. Wide legs. No. Yes. No. Yes.
Seconds before I was in danger of discovering what, ‘the zone’ was, an explosion of pink dust covered the living room like a giant makeup bag was crushed and upended. When it all settled, My Grandma sat there, legs crossed, sitting next to Goldrin.
“Faster!” My Grandma barked, rather crudely.
I stood up, causing the thing between my legs to shoot off somewhere into the dark house, “What the-”
“EH!” Grandma said, holding up a long finger, “No swearing. You know better.”
The utter absurdity of her words left me speechless. Was she really going to die, magically come back in a puff of purple makeup dust, then act as nothing happened? was the general gist of my thoughts. Of course, it was no help that Goldrin wasn’t making a fuss about it either. He just sat there, getting his greying fur pat down.
“I thought you died…” I said, cautiously walking closer.
She held up a hand, “Stop right there mister. We don’t have much time. I am dead, and I don’t have much time left here.”
A million questions blurred across my consciousness like race cars speeding down a highway on the same day you accidentally took the sleep medication instead of the Tylenol.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Grandma looked me in the eyes and said, “I am dead. But I am here now to help you. If you don’t listen to me, you will die as well. So get my Thigh Master and sit down. HURRY, please.”
My Grandma had never yelled at me before. Ever. She also never died and came back to life before, but that was beside the point. Before I knew it, I was sitting back on the couch, squeezing and un-squeezing my legs.
“I see you found your Fedora,” Grandma said before glancing to the black sword sheathed to my back, “and your Katana, that is good. Have you inspected them yet?”
“Yes,” I said with a respectful nod from the couch.
“Annnnd?” She replied, her eyes widening as she drew out the word.
“Uhh, It just told me the name of each item,” I said, recalling the moments when I found them.
“Hmmm,” Grandma said, turning her head to the side. She pat Goldrin a few times in silence before speaking again. “Okay, you need to level up your inspect skill as soon as possible. The items have powers, but you can’t use them until you know what they are.”
Grandma deftly leaned down to kiss Goldrin, the action not at all showing her real age, and bid me farewell.
“No, wait!” I said desperately, standing and losing the Thigh Master once again, “What is this? Who are you?”
“I am your Grandmother, you idiot,” Grandma said as she slowly faded, “The person that gives you advice, tough love, sweet tea, and snacks.”
Grandma faded away. Goldrin whimpered. I fell back down onto the couch. It groaned.
“What the hell?” I asked my lifelong companion, “Am I going crazy?”
Side Quest Completed! Find your Grandma’s Pilate Gear. Experience Gained.
With an assortment of supplies, Thigh Master, and the entire contents of Grandma’s fridge safely tucked away in my backpack, I set out to find Nikko and Lorelai once again. I opened the front door, saw some movement on the street, and immediately closed the door.
‘What the…” I said as I crawled over to the window and peered out, my thighs burning. Outside I could see people walking around, waving to each other, and getting in and out of cars that refused to start. There were about four different people on the street, according to my expert mathematical skills, that all seemed to be just going about their everyday lives. The closest person to my Grandma’s house, was not, however, pretending to be normal, and instead was busy hoping up and down and yelling at the other people.
“Shit,” I whispered to Goldrin, “I think they spotted us.”
Goldrin whimpered, just as someone knocked on the front door. I cursed myself for not looking outside before I opened the door and crawled to the middle of the living room, where I slowly stood up and shuffled to the kitchen.
“C’mon,” I whispered to my companion as I held the back door open. I closed it behind us, and we sprinted across the backyard. I tossed Goldrin over the back fence rather unceremoniously, figuring that he was secretly a skinless killing machine and would be able to survive the fall, and attempted to hop over myself. I placed my hands on the top of the chain link fence, lifted my body up, shook a little bit, then threw my left leg over. After that, the rest was all gravity. I dusted myself off in the stranger’s yard behind my Grandma’s and was thankful that my outer thighs were not as sore as my inner ones. I looked around and got my bearings. The stranger’s house was much like my Grandma’s, which was much like her neighbors, her neighbors neighbor, and all the other houses in the ghetto - all multiple family homes made of rotting wood and painted with ten coats of peeling pastels. Either that or the buildings were brick. Those were usually apartment complexes, like where I lived, and tended to be on the end of the streets.
Goldrin and I crept through the yard and into the next street like trained ninjas. Luckily, no Scroungers were trying to accomplish daytime human things over here. The street was empty.
I pointed to the end of the road where we could walk a block over and find the Parlor. Goldrin looked at my finger but didn’t say anything. He knew it was safer not to talk, especially on a strange street such as this one. We both slowed as we approached the end of the road. Neon signs flickered at their corners. Against my better judgment, I walked closer still. On the main road, a pile of scrounger bodies.
The source of the neon lights read, “Tele-Pizza.”
My stomach growled, even though it knew that there probably wasn’t any pizza to be found in the building.
“Another one!” A voice yelled from up high. I looked up, trying to place it, but was greeted by a point. I jumped left, and a carved spear clattered against the road behind me before disintegrating. Another spear came. I bent backward at the knee and let it sail past my chest, with an inch to spare.
“Bork!” Goldrin yelled angrily.
“Stop it!” I pleaded at the spear throwing voice from up high, “I’m not one of those things!”
A reply didn't come, but I could hear two people arguing about Scroungers that could talk. Luckily, they reached a conclusion that was in my favor, and just in time. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could rely on my Matrix ability to dodge.
“Bork!” Goldrin yelled.
“No! Down,” I said with my hand held flat out to Goldrin. Then I tilted sideways and whispered, “Only do that when I am going to die. For certain."
I squinted my eyes, waiting for the darkness on top of the building to say something. It was eerily quiet, short from the occasional muffled whisper. Then the darkness grew. Rather, something grew from the darkness. It shot out toward me.
A spear? I thought quickly. No, it's not a spear. A football?
I was notoriously bad at catching footballs. I just didn’t understand why they were shaped the way they were. Catching them would be much easier if they were spherical, like most balls. Now those I could catch, at least, every time one out of ten.
“Oh shit,” I said, realizing the thing thrown at me was not a football, but a perfectly spherical rock.
"Agility Check Failed," was the last thing I saw before the rock sailed through my outstretched hands and smashed into my forehead.