Ben and the other alliance members constantly worked to expand our territory. It started with the roof of the mall; then our presence slowly grew into it. The black metal of the Master Builder now extended to the entire second floor. Glass windows were replaced with it, as were any doors or openings. Walking through the second floor of the mall now resembled more a jail than somewhere you would go to kill some time with your family. Makeshift torches lined the walls and cast flickering light onto the sealed away stores. Now, each small shop was home to survivors, who set up homes behind each thick door.
Nikko and I announced that we needed first looting rights of the lower level. When no one challenged this, probably due to being too scared to explore somewhere that wasn’t patrolled by guards, we left the secured stairwell that lead to the ground floor by the food court. Every other stairwell, escalator, or elevator tunnel had been blocked off so that we only had one entrance to the second floor and roof. Ben estimated that in a few weeks, he would have the entire mall sealed and secured. It would be an impenetrable bunker for our operation.
“Found one,” Nikko said as we perused the clothing racks of Target. We had discovered quite recently that magical items hid amongst the rows and rows of merchandise.
“Will it protect my eyes?” I asked. Nikko held up the black ski-mask he was holding. As I looked at it, a dull blue sheen ran across it. The color was enough for us to tell it was magical, but it had eye holes, so I wasn’t interested. What I wanted was some type of magical goggle that would allow me to fly on my dragon without ripping my eyelids off and possibly, maybe even something that also gave me an insta-death Raggy Punch ability or something.
“Nope. It has an interesting effect though,” Nikko puffed up his chest and read the description that was only visible to him, “Grants Night Vision.”
“That’s it?” I asked with a raised eyebrow, “that shit is basic man, damn, have you never played a video game in your life?”
“No fucker, you know we couldn’t afford it.”
I nodded, “True, my bad.” Nikko shook his head and donned the ski mask. He looked every bit of the criminal as you would think.
“I’m going to keep this one,” he said, looking around. “This must be what night vision goggles are like…”
Nikko drifted away to explore his new illuminated night, and I wandered over to the bathrooms. I was hoping that no one else discovered them and I would have the water left in the top of the bowl all for myself. You see, one thing they don’t talk about during the Apocalypse is the utter lack of places where you can take a relaxing shit. The sort where you sit there much longer than usual and think about life until your legs go numb. The type where you read the label of a shampoo bottle or the type your doctor says might cause hemorrhoids. That was the kind I wanted. And by the smell of the small hallway, littered with corporate communication posters reminding readers that it is open enrollment season, it looked like I was going to get it. My hand grabbed the handle to the men’s bathroom, as they were always cleaner than the woman’s for some reason, when I heard it.
“Go away,” I whispered, my hand still on the handle. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. When my affliction passed, I opened them as well as the door. There were four stalls, two urinals, and a row of relatively clean sinks. I walked to the closest stall and pushed on the door. My arm buckled, as it was unprepared for the door to be locked. Then my brain decided to play tricks on me again. The toilette behind the door flushed, and then the door swung open. I was standing there, looking at me, looking at myself.
“What the wh…” I said, dumbfounded. A man was standing in the stall. He looked just like me. No, he was me. Except that he seemed slightly younger. Not smaller in any way, in fact, he had about thirty pounds of extra weight around his stomach than I did, but younger in his face. It was like staring at a picture of a President before he started his term and right beside that picture was another one of him after his term. Technically, he is older in the second picture, but he also seemed to age double the amount he should have. I wore baggy pants, a ripped and torn black graphic t-shirt, a Katana on my back, and a Fedora on my head. My doppelgangers face was pudgy, so much so that it seemed like he was squinting at me. Am I that fat? I turned around to have a good honest look at myself in the mirror. Phew, I thought with relief, not as fat as that guy. Before I could inspect my mirrored reflection any further, I heard the distinct sound of my Katana being unsheathed. A hand shot to my back, I whirled around, then our two Katana’s met between the stalls and the bathroom sink with a shrill, metallic clang.
I grimaced at myself, “Oh, so we are going to do this thing huh? The old doppelganger, this town isn’t big enough for both versions of us so let the strongest prevail, switcharoo.” The fatter version of me didn’t seem to be in a talking mood, but that was fine with me. I was buying myself time to try to get into my other head. Maybe, just maybe, I could intimidate myself enough that I would clam up and run out the room and never be heard from again, only to be discovered on the news a few years later that I died from blood clots in my leg that traveled to my brain after I stood up from an irresponsibly long stretch of gaming in one spot. My intimidating stare had little affect, something I should have predicted, so I settled for plan B - a punch to the throat.
As suspected, my doppelganger hadn’t put much thought into what he would do after the ‘stare down’ phase, so he settled for falling back into the stall he came from and gasping for air. Old Milton put a hand on his knee from his seat on the toilette, and one hand waved around spontaneously, looking for anything it could grasp that would support his weight and help him stand. I kicked him in the chest, and he fell back again, frustrated and angry at the world and short of air, his Katana stuck pointing downward in the tight space. Then this fucker belly bumped me. I flew back into the bathroom mirror. It shattered into a few large triangles that broke into smaller pieces as we crashed onto the countertop.
“Two can play that game,” I said, activating my own, higher level Knock Down ability. Old me never saw it coming since his stomach still needed to touch something for the ability to work. My stomach was stronger, harder, more jolly, and so powerful that when I violently pushed it out, the dispersed air was enough to knock my counterpart into and through the adjacent stall. He lay face down on top an awkward pile of red plastic doors and a broken toilette spilling the last remnants of fresh water hidden inside. Blood pooled from his hidden face and dripped onto the tile floor. I poked him in the thunder thigh with my Katana. He didn’t move, so I inspected him. No rainbow letters came, no matter how much I screwed up my eyes in his direction. But then, they did come.
Lorelai - Level 23 human - Level 5 Street Fighter
Max Health - ???
Power Punch 2
Power Jump 2
What? I looked down. My doppelganger was gone, replaced with Lorelai’s comely face. The light from my regular flashlight reflected off her blond hair.
“I’m not an idiot anymore,” I said, “I know that you are dead and if I am seeing you now then it is just some sort of te-” Her entire arm came alive with an orange light that overpowered my flashlight and seconds later I was smashing through the drywall behind the broken mirror. I grunted as nonchalantly as I could manage, and got to my feet. Then I summoned my own orange street fighter energy. My fist crackled and sparked. I smiled. Then she smiled. Then I stopped smiling, suddenly aware of my inferiority. Her energy was much louder and brighter than mine. It traveled up her entire arm, whereas mine didn’t go past my wrist. Damn, I thought, moments before her sneakers lit up and I found myself flying backward again. This time, the wall was tired of backing me up and let me pass right through it. I skid across the floor in Target, knocking over a shelf of dried fruit and other goodies. Lorelei was on top of me, still smiling. I understood why she was smiling around the same time as I realized my Katana was gone, maybe a moment or two after.
“Damnit,” I said as I threw her petite frame off my waist. She fell to her back, and I ran away, just as I did in the first grade when a girl with cooties decided to crush on me before I got too fat and socially inept. It was amazing how those sort of regrets managed to follow me around, really. The urge to complete my daily routine grew inside me once again, this time not caring if I was able to do it in a relaxing bathroom or not. I ignored it and hid behind a rack of utterly tasteless male hipster pants. My chest heaving, I swung my backpack to the ground and began building a trap. But Lorelai’s karate feet crashed through the rack and scattered it before I could complete it. I ran again, this time back in the direction of my Katana and punching Lorelai in the face as I went. It was only a glancing blow, and her shield absorbed most of the damage, but it gave her pause nonetheless. She did look more offended than physically hurt though, and that tugged on my heartstrings, even though I knew she wasn’t who she looked like she was.
“Sorry!” I yelled as I ran, ”I’m still gonna kill ya though!”
I found my Katana in the bathroom. I picked it up and caught a glimpse of Lorelei walking over to me through the hole in the wall. My feet splashed in a thin layer of water as I went to meet her. She walked toward me, and when she got too close, my Katana chopped downward. I felt my grip slip slightly as the force behind my blow arrested. She had stopped my attack with her elbow. I assumed that it still did damage since my sword was dug almost an entire inch into her bone, but if it did, she didn’t show it. She casually straightened her arm, and my blade was released. I wasted no time and began chopping at her in other places. Both her arms came alive with orange light, and she deftly punched away each strike of my sword with energized fists. Eventually, her Combo Breaker ability ran out, and my superior fighting style prevailed. Nikko stood in front of me now.
“Uggh,” I breathed, “Are you Nikko Nikko or are you Not Nikko?” I was ninety-nine percent sure that I already had the answer to that question, but I asked it all the same if only to catch a break from all the fighting. I was at such a level in my fitness journey that I promoted myself to thirty-pound dumbbells, as opposed to the featherweight ones I used before. As such, I could keep fighting if I wanted to, but I knew that the best performances were done with a full tank of gas. Nikko seemed content to stare at me, so that was what we did.
“What the fuck?” Nikko, the real one, said from a few rows of shelving over.
I looked at him, then back to the man in front of me. This time, Greg was standing there.
“That’s not Greg! It’s a mimic or someth-” My words cut short when Greg’s finger slowly rose to my lips. He gave me a flirtatious wink and I could definitely tell that he was gay, although my gay-dar would have never discovered Nikko had he not come out to me - not that that's a problem. If anything, I was just highly impressed at the mimics professionalism in getting his characters right.
“Kill it then you weirdo!” Nikko yelled. Okay, I thought, grabbing Greg’s wrists, just as his fingers began to explore my mouth, and breaking it. I threw his ruined hand away and whirled my Katana, chopping Greg’s head off for the second time in my life.
Nikko sighed, “Goddamnit, I just got that vision out of my head. Now it's going to haunt me for the next month.”
“Really?” I asked, “Only a month?”
“Yea man,” Nikko said as he walked over to inspect his impostor of forbidden love, “We have shit to do. Can’t be ruminating over shit like this forever.”
“Ruminating,” I repeated as I whipped the blood from my blade, just in case it was real Then I stood up and gave my friend a wry smile, “That’s a big word. Who told you what it meant?”
“Shut up fat fat,” Nikko countered, “What were you doing over here anyway?”
“I uh… I had to use the bathroom.”
He shook his head, “Well, get on with it then. We have to feed your dragon again before it eats the fucking world.” He walked off, ski mask and all.
I returned to the flooding basement and opened the door to the only stall still standing. The toilette was golden. Sparks bounced off it. I tried to catch one, but it merely passed through my sweaty palm and out the other side. Thinking I was about to have the most magical shit of my life, I opened the lid and began to turn around when I caught a glimpse of something inside. My first thought was one of gross disappointment that someone else had gotten here before me, but my second thought, which occurred only microseconds later, was one of wonder. There was a bundle of cloth with the tell-tale glimmer of blue pushed into the water, which admittedly, did have a yellow tinge. I told myself that it was just gold runoff and grabbed the cloth. It dripped and glimmered asit came free of the toilette. It was longer than expected, and when I finally got it all out, I saw that it was as long as I was tall.
Item Received - Cursed Robe of the Lich’s assistant, the evil, but slightly less powerful than the Lich herself, Master of Decrepitation, Bringer of Rot and Taker of Life, SUSAN!
“Did Raggy write this shit?” I asked the empty bathroom, “gods I hate him.” I squinted my eyes in the direction of the annoyingly long name. The rainbow letters dissolved slightly, just enough to float around and solidify into new letters.
Item Description - Anything alive within a ten-foot radius of the robe’s wearer will rot. A portion of this lost health is transferred to the wearer. This item is cursed, and will slowly turn the heart of the wearer black.
I tossed the robes into my bag, “Perfect for Nikko.” Then I finally sat down and clenched my deed muscles.