Fred


When my parents told me we were moving, I just shrugged, “Okay.” I didn’t have friends, anyway.

Our new place was in the boonies. My parents thought I started exploring the woods because I fell in love with nature, but I was just searching for a cell signal.

While I was hiking, I found a scrawny pug with no collar. I fed it jerky and tried to take a picture, but it ran away.

I kept bringing food and named him Fred. Whenever I tried to take a picture or pick him up, Fred ran away.

One night my parents came to my room to show me a video. I looked crazy, sitting in the woods, petting air for hours before leaving a pile of jerky.

I stopped visiting Fred.

A couple weeks later, I heard yipping outside. It was Fred, shivering in the cold. I took a blanket and sat with him until sunrise. He let me take a picture before he ran off. I never saw him again.

My parents think I photoshopped the picture. They got me a pug named Fred for Christmas, but I’ll always miss the real Fred because he was my first real friend.


Written for Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner: 2021: Week #12.

My Element Is…

With my soul mate

on a candlelit date

not caring how late

of a perfect night we create.

Snuggled in bed

laptop glowing at my head

surrounded by art

furry snout snoring over my heart.

Perfect horse rides

under clear skies

Trailing alongside fireflies

Scaling mountain highs.  

What’s to come!

I’ve been spending all of my time on No Zero pursuits. As a result, my list of blog posts that I need to write is piling up! Here’s a look ahead at what’s to come:

Equestrianism

Max and I have been making progress as a team.

Arena patterns have helped us so much. I need to write about a few of my favorites.

We’ve also been spending more time outside of the arena. There are many hills at our stable, and we’ve been climbing and descending them to practice for trails. I’ve also taken him on a mounted tour of his pasture, which is a trail ride itself!

Back in the arena, I’ve been remembering to focus on keeping him between my hands and legs and constantly check my balance/position. Of course, that’s something that every good rider just does automatically, but I’m still working on becoming a good rider.

I’ve been dreaming about cantering him at least three nights a week. That’s probably going to happen (finally!!!) this summer. I can’t wait to post a video!

Exercise

As if horseback riding wasn’t enough…

Spring is starting in East Tennessee, and that means spending time outside, preferably in the mountains! I’ve been throwing my family in the car and hitting up the many trails that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has to offer. Each trail is worth its own blog post. The ever-changing beauty along the way has us constantly stopping to take pictures.

When we aren’t hiking, we’re pedaling along our town’s miles of connected greenbelts and parks. I’ve had the same mountain bike that I bought with one of my first paychecks at the age of 15, and I’ve upgraded it over the years. Now it’s an electric bike with an attachment to hook a dog to, which was sorely needed for my German Shepherd!

Following a strict healthy diet has given us so much more energy to get out and enjoy exercising for fun. I’m not sure if I’ll write about healthy eating, but it deserves a shout out.

Since we aren’t going out to eat, which has been the go-to activity for our family for years, I will be exploring other ways to have fun! There are a ton of places to go and spend money around here, and I look forward to trying them all out and telling you about what a great time we had!

Music

I’ve been playing around on my digital piano. It’s incredibly daunting to learn how to play. There are so many resources to choose from. The big thing I need to work on with music is setting aside time to be consistent and practice. I’m so hyped to go out and enjoy the sunshine that I just don’t find myself sitting around and thinking about playing the piano. It’s still early in the year, specifically my first No Zero Year, and adjusting to a disciplined life proves to be a learning curve.

Writing Prompts

Seeing as most of my follower bursts happen right after a writing prompt, it’s only fair that I keep up with demand. I also want to start my novel idea as a serial novel online. It’s going to be such a vast world, and I could use the ongoing critiques and fresh eyes from the internet to help me along the way.

Looking Back…

The sunshine has flipped my focus from music and writing to horseback riding and exercising, but I don’t want to give up the momentum in the former or the latter. I’m enjoying making each day not just a No Zero Day but also a little bit of everything day! As I strive to find balance and discipline, I’m made more aware that I need to study the art of discipline just as much as my individual pursuits.

Expect to see a little of everything I mentioned in a blog post soon!

The Call

Clinging to the receiver,
All my hopes in one hand,
Listening for an answer,
Listening for an answer.

Click.
A moment of silence.
Listening,
Listening.

“Can’t you stop calling?”
A rush of blood;
Leaving you in suspense,
Living on your fear.

Writing Prompt #197

The Promise

[WP] To stave off mass starvation, humans have managed to capture and cage a phoenix. They kill it and eat it. A few days later, it would be reborn, only to be butchered again.

We gathered in The Clearing of Redemption and waited for Father. I held Gaia tightly in my arms as the Family finished shuffling into place. Her eyes seemed too large for her tiny face. She looked up at me with them, the constant edge of her starvation piercing into my heart. Mama had made me promise to look after her until we could be together again. “Cold,” Gaia whimpered. I shrugged off my sweater and covered her skeletal frame. Gaia snuggled into the soft cotton, momentarily comforted. I wished that I could somehow fill her with the fibers instead of just wrapping her inside of them.

Her fingers stretched up with those around us, and a smile stretched over the sharp points of her cheekbones. “Father!” we all breathed as one as he finally approached us.

Father returned our smiles as he took the time to greet each one of his children. I cried openly when His holy hand rested on my shoulder. The touch washed away my doubt and filled me with rapture. Father leaned into me and kissed my tears. “You are forgiven.” I basked in His forgiveness. I had doubted Him, He had seen my doubt, and He had forgiven me. “Glory be to Us, Father,” I murmured, the intimacy of our conversation sending the hairs on the back of my neck on edge.

Father let his hand linger on my shoulder a moment longer before He went to the very center of the clearing. A platform had been erected in preparation for His announcement. Besides Father, there was a large crate.

“My beloved Children,” he began, “God called me away from you to wander the Earth so that he could show me the devastation brought about by mankind. I am sorry to tell you, with absolute certainty, there are no other humans left.”

“Mama?”, Gaia whimpered into my ear. I stared at Father in numb horror. Surely God had saved Mama. She had been away doing His work on the Day of Reckoning. As Father’s voice rolled over us, I felt my hope slipping away. I couldn’t do this without Mama. I was too young; God was asking too much of me. Gaia pulled my hair impatiently. “Mama???”, she insisted, as if I could bring her back, somehow. “Shut up!”, I hissed, and immediately regretted it.

Harmony, my best friend, appeared beside me. “Let me take her, Sister.” she offered. I thrust Gaia into her arms and fought the urge to run away. God couldn’t have taken Mama. Father must be mistaken. He didn’t have enough faith.

“Charity?” Father stood before me. I was startled out of my sacrilegious thoughts, and shame burned my cheeks. The Family had closed in around us. Harmony was standing amongst them; she and Gaia were looking at me with expectation. My mouth had gone dry. I gaped and searched their faces for instructions. What did Father want of me? Why couldn’t I just pay attention and keep the faith?

“Charity, you have been chosen for a great honor. What do you have to say to The Family?” Father’s soothing voice gave me courage. I forced a bright smile from my trembling lips. “I’m honored, Father. I wish only to serve Our Glory before God.” I felt Father’s faith galvanize me as I was able to stand a little taller.

The trembling in my hand stopped as Father took it in his and folded my fingers over a dagger. I looked down at the sharp blade and wondered what I had been chosen to do. The Family parted before us as Father led me to the wooden crate. It was taller than Father, crafted of yellow wood, and bore biblical runes along its edges. Father had stepped before me and unfastened one of the panels.

My heart caught in my throat as a beautiful bird stepped out of the darkened container. Crimson feathers ruffled gently in the afternoon breeze. Each gust revealed the spectrum of fiery colors beneath. It towered above us. I wondered how it had fit in such a small space. I felt Father’s hands close my fingers around the dagger again. I looked at my hand and blinked dumbly.

“You have been chosen to feed us. God has given us eternal sustenance. You are the chosen one. Do God’s will, Charity!”

Gaia’s shrunken face floated before me. I felt her hunger — I felt the hunger of the entire Family. I saw our suffering stretch out behind us. The Phoenix’s beak parted and I heard a heavenly song. It held redemption before me. The creature’s eyes softened to me as we somehow came closer to each other. I felt my hand plunge the dagger into its heart and I screamed as its life leaked down my face and its face and its chest and my soul. Everything went black.

Mother held me in her arms as I sobbed. “Forgive me, Mama, please forgive me!” I felt the warmth of her vitality through her soft skin.

“You are chosen,” she murmured. “Only you can save The Family.”

“I don’t care about them!”, I screamed into her face, “I want you! I need you! You can’t leave me!”

She smiled at me, but there was only sadness in her expression. Her form grew cold in my grasp. “NO!” I choked. “COME BACK!” It was to no avail. She crumbled in my arms and left me covered in the mud of my tears and her ashes.

My eyes fluttered open. I lay by the crate, forgotten, as The Family feasted at last. Their Holy robes were stained crimson from the rivulets of raw blood running down their faces. I stared in horror as they tore chunks of meat from Her with their bare hands and teeth.

Father appeared beside me. He held out her still-beating heart. I cringed and tried to draw away. The mania in his eyes repulsed me. This couldn’t be Holy. I shook my head no and sucked my lips between my teeth. Father became insistent. He pushed me to the ground and forced the meat between my lips. I tried to kick out and roll away, but the taste of blood betrayed my humanity. I felt my body crave its nourishment. I hated myself as I grabbed her heart with my fists and swallowed it whole.

Father smiled eerily. His approval sent waves of euphoria through me. I looked around and saw our miracle. The Family had transformed from sickly walking skeletons to demigods and demi goddesses. Memories stirred in my mind as I swung between elation and despair. Gaia’s face cycling between sickness and health, thousands of times, spinning around me until I couldn’t hold in my food any longer. I retched as they celebrated. I birthed her from my lips. The egg laid in my hand, wet with my bile. Father studied me with a look of smug triumph as he took it and left us.

I watched him go with hatred. I hated myself. I crawled to my cabin and fell into a fevered sleep, knowing that I would forget everything and do it again and again, for Gaia. I had promised Mama.

“I don’t want this anymore.”

r/SimplePrompts -“I don’t want this anymore.”

“I don’t want this anymore.”

Scared to open my closet door.

Turning sideways to cross my room.

Because I wanted to be

good at that, or try something new

a decade ago.

As if I could course correct

my life with the things I’ve kept.

Because “some day” is still possible?

My possessions

serve as lessons

against impulsiveness.

I ache to throw it all away,

but I’m stopped by the weight

of the fortune I turned into a mess.

How fortunate for it

that I’ve come to value, value

over my own comfort.

When will I own up to my own objects?

When will I have the guts to reject

the pressures they represent?

How do I say all of this in a classified ad,

or bottle it into a vaccine

against buying anything ever again?

Bella

Miscellaneous Prompt: “An emotional support weapon” – r/SimplePrompts

Photo by Julian Paolo Dayag on Pexels.com

Those soulful eyes set above a thick, strong muzzle drew me in as I read the short description. “Need home ASAP for Bella. 3 years old. Super sweet, but she doesn’t like men. Potty trained. Can sit, down, and stay.” I nestled into the pillows in my bed as my hand ran through my hair. Had it come to this? Was this the only way that I could feel safe? I sighed and pressed the reply button. It brought up a phone number.

Is Bella still looking for a home? I texted.

I flipped back to her picture and spread my fingers apart on the screen to zoom in closer on her face. Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought I saw a hint of sadness. She had a reason to hate men, just like me. A notification made the phone vibrate in my hand.

Ya. When can u meet?

I don’t have a car, can u bring her to my place? Anytime tonight would be gud.

Sure, what’s ur address?

I blew out a sigh of relief. My car hadn’t left the garage in over five months. I sent my address and waited.

Cool. I’m ten minutes away. Be right there!

Ten minutes? I groaned and inspected my studio apartment with disgust. Crap was everywhere. Who was going to leave a dog with me? I checked my phone. Eight minutes, time to think fast. I grabbed a trash bag and started shoving everything inside. Three trash bags later, and it was completely bare: rocking those Minimalist vibes. I fluffed the comforter over the mattress and threw the trash bags into the shower stall. There was just enough time to brush my teeth and run a brush through my hair. Perfect timing.

The knock on the door sent a jolt up my spine. My heart raced as I flipped up one of the blinds and scanned the parking lot. I knew all the cars that should or shouldn’t be there. Only one stuck out. Hopefully, it was Bella’s. I glanced through the peephole. A pleasant enough looking girl, her arms full of dog bowls, blankets, toys, and food, stood next to Bella. As I took them both in, the girl squatted down and looked into Bella’s eyes. Bella’s tail wagged, and she licked the girl’s nose. She was perfect. I opened the door.

“Hi! Oh, she’s so cute!” I squealed. I felt my heart speed up, but this felt nice; no, it felt amazing.

“Yea. She’s my- I mean – a baby.”

I gave her a sympathetic look. “Wanna come inside?”

“Ok.”

Bella walked in ahead, her nose twitching as she slowly inspected the room. The girl watched her without moving. I stood by the doorway. It was a relief that she wasn’t coming in. Bella finished sniffing everything and sat beside me. She nuzzled my hand and licked my fingers. I wiggled them against her muzzle, and her tail thumped on the ground.

The girl watched us. “So… you like her?”

“Yea. She’s awesome. You want any money or anything?” I didn’t have any money. I hoped she didn’t want any money.

“Naw. Just… take good care of Bella, ok? Oh, and you saw that she doesn’t like men, right?”

“Yea. It’s just me, so she’ll be fine. I’ll text you if I have any questions. You can text me too if you like, wanna know how she’s doing and stuff.” I added in the last part, hoping it would make her feel better.

“Thanks. Here’s her stuff.” She cast another sad look at Bella before turning and jogging to her car.

Bella started to follow her. I instinctively put out my hand, and Bella sat back down. We both watched the car drive off. I shut the door.

Bella followed me around as I laid out her bed and filled her food and water bowl. She sniffed the food, drank a little water, and hopped up on the bed with me. I pulled the blanket around us. She laid her head on my thigh and drifted off to sleep while I watched T.V. I felt the weight of five years start to slide off my shoulders. Maybe this would work. My hand sunk into her fur, and I felt my eyes begin to drift shut.

A familiar banging startled me awake. Bella was growling, and the hair down her neck and back stood on end. I fought the urge to hide under the blanket, like usual, because I was sick of being scared.

“Go away, Luke!” I yelled.

“Open up,” he screamed back. He started banging on the window. I could hear him try to pry it open. “I’m going to kill you!”

“Luke, just leave me alone!”

“You’re mine! Open the door!”

I opened the door.

Bella shot out around me, and Luke screamed. Her face had stuck on to his leg. Satisfaction burned in her eyes as she whipped her neck back and forth. He fell on the pavement.

“Call off your crazy dog! Help! HELP! IT’S GOING TO KILL ME!”

I contemplated his words.

“Here, Bella.”

Bella came back and sat at my side. She licked her lips.

“Leave us alone, Luke. Next time, I’ll let her kill you.”

As he limped away, I looked down. “Good girl!”

Bella wagged her tail, proud of herself.

Every girl needs an emotional support weapon.

That One!

[CW] Write a short story, where each sentence starts with the letter T. r/simpleprompts

Image by Annick Vanblaere from Pixabay

The young girl jumped in place, her long golden ponytail bouncing as she pointed to a group of frolicking kittens. “That one, Mommy, that one!” Tangled as they were, it was impossible to tell which feline “that one” could be. Trying to solve the mystery, the girl’s mother crouched down and brought her face to eye level with the animated youngster.

Their exchange grew harder to hear, but easier to see, as the mother tried to coax more information from her euphoric child. Though I could make this easier on everyone by telling them they could go in and play with the kittens, I wanted to hang back and enjoy the cuteness of the moment for just a while longer.

The mother would point and say “Him?”, and then the girl would shake her head no and point in the same direction and insist, “Her!”. Truthfully, they could be pointing at the same kitten. “Time’s up”, I prompted myself. Taking a few steps in their direction, I cleared my throat and smiled helpfully.

“Taking an interest in any of these cuties?”, I asked the youngster, while flashing a look of respectful acknowledgment to her mother. There was a shared look of understanding that passed between us. Though we were the adults, we both knew who would be making the final decision. The girl nodded emphatically and pointed again toward the kittens. “That one!”, she stressed the first word and looked up at me, her expression pleading for me to understand.

There was only one way to solve this mystery. Turning slightly, I pointed at the door while I grabbed a couple of cat treats from my pocket and handed them to her. Tightly gripping the treats, she looked to her mother for permission before she rushed through the doorway. Terror gripped the group of rescued felines, their fight or flight instincts driving them to the safety of the nearest hiding spot.

The only cats remaining in the open were the playing kittens, souls who hadn’t been on this planet long enough to learn fear, and the protective shadow of their ragged Mama Cat.

The years hadn’t been kind to Mama Cat. Tears notched her ears. Time had worn her fur down to a dull rug of clumps. Though we had tried to help by shaving off the worst of the mats, it hadn’t done much for the old queen’s looks. Those ten-week-old kittens that everyone wanted to play with were the result of Mama Cat being dropped off at the shelter as a pregnant stray and being overlooked… day after day. Thus, she now remained, as her kittens were adopted out and taken from her. Through all of this rejection and loss, she had won over the shelter staff by meeting it with unyielding dignity and spirit. The matriarchal tabby stirred as the girl rushed towards her dwindled family.

The girl passed the oblivious pile of kittens and stopped before Mama Cat. They locked eyes. The age difference between them could have been months. To try and comprehend the vastness of their different backgrounds would have been impossible. The girl stood still. There was something about Mama Cat that calmed her. The feline seemed equally spell struck. Time paused while they gazed at each other. Then, Mama Cat rose to all four paws, and regally attended to her visitor.

Toughness, a mask she had been forced to wear, melted from her as she rubbed back and forth across the girl’s legs. Tiny mews fluttered from her scarred snout. The girl plopped down on the floor and grabbed Mama Cat up in a gentle hug. Throaty purrs filled the room. There was no doubt who the girl had been pointing to. Their bodies intertwined, the girl pressed her open hand towards Mama Cat’s whiskers. The treats were scarfed down between her booming purrs.

“That’s the one, I think!”, I suggested, hopefully, to the woman still at my side. Tears glistening in her eyes, she nodded in affirmation. The chance to turn away couldn’t have come any quicker; I wiped the corners of my eyes as I power walked to the adoption desk and started the paperwork. Thankfulness filled my heart and sent more tears to replace them; Mama Cat was finally going home.

Hive Mind

[WP] 99.99% of humanity was assimilated into a hivemind 3 months ago. Surprisingly nothing really changed, and no one noticed. However that 00.01% is slowly putting the pieces together.

From r/WritingPrompts

My eyes fluttered open, revealing the start to another day. I instinctively moved to stretch, but my limbs pressed up against the walls of my coffin sized apartment. A low groan buzzed through my lips. It echoed back at me, bounced off of the insufferably small space. Another day in paradise. I wiggled out of the apartment and stepped onto the elevator.

“Mornin!”, one of my overly cheerful neighbors waved in greeting. I choked back a sarcastic burn. There were cameras everywhere, and I had met the men who watched them.

“Eddy! It’s great to see you, buddy!”, I beamed, summoning all of my pre-pollen acting skills. You could never be too happy in 2021. It was as if all the misery in the world had supposedly been used up in 2020. Now we were going to live in eternal ecstasy. Stupidly tiny apartments and invasive spy cameras were the future and everyone had better love every minute of it … or else.

Eddy gushed at the attention. “Isn’t it great that we don’t have to wear masks anymore? I still can’t believe pollen was the cure for COVID-19 this whole time! Who would have thought?”

“Who would have thought?”, I parroted back. masking my completely inauthentic enthusiasm by energetically nodding. Maybe we didn’t wear physical masks in the Golden Age, but our new masks had been programmed into our very beings by the pollen.

The Golden Age had started a month before the final vaccine was released. While the rest of the world was in lockdown, a group of health nuts had found out that honey from somewhere in South America kept them all from getting infected. Science got involved and traced the source of their immunity back to an endangered local flower’s pollen.

They couldn’t synthesize the compound in labs. It became a global effort to save the plant. Humanity loved that plant so much that they made it Earth’s official flower. COVID-19 had started the movement towards a global society, and the little purple flower was the finishing touch.

The vaccine had unique side effects. Within hours of the inhaler, the inoculated became increasingly considerate toward one another, empathizing with the needs of those around them. The 1% disappeared overnight as they liquidated all of their assets to save the purple flower and each other.

In a matter of weeks, everyone had given up their individual wealth to the cause. One by one, we signed away our earthly possessions as we left the vaccination centers in packed buses. The electric fleet had been donated by Elon Musk, one of the first to move into the pollination towers.

It just made sense to move into the towers. They were at the center of the flower fields; we could all get to work by just taking the elevator to the ground floor. As the need to harvest pollen for vaccines lessened, portions of the surrounding land was converted to agriculture. Where we had previously navigated concrete jungles in order to one up each other, we now toiled side by side to provide each other with just the basics, and nothing more. Though COVID-19 was completely wiped out, the beloved purple flower still lined every pathway and filled every flowerbox.

In those early days, everything made sense and happened without conflict. I had been swept up by the movement and hadn’t needed to fake enthusiasm. Once the pollen saved my life, I realized the value of its gift and wanted to work day and night to pay it forward to everyone else around me.

Inevitably, however, I started to view the utopian ideals as nonsensical and oppressive. I remembered the first morning I woke up and realized that I couldn’t fully stretch out. The Golden Age had lost its luster. I tried to leave the pollination center. That’s when I discovered the cameras, and the men who watched them.

I had been stopped at the compound entrance by a team of men in black with bright yellow jackets.

“Are you lost, friend?” their leader asked, motioning his team to block off my path.

“Uh, no? I was just..”, my voice faltered as I searched their faces for any clues of their intentions. They all wore the same concerned mask. They were genuinely worried about me.

“…going for a walk.”, I finished and hoped that I sounded convincingly O.K.. Nothing to see here, fellas, just a guy who woke up in a freaky pollen cult and wants to go home.

The leader nodded to one of the other yellow jackets. I started to get scared. Two others moved up behind me and pinned my arms between them. He walked forward and retrieved an inhaler from an inner pocket.

“Looks like you might need another dose of vaccine.”, he explained, while positioning the device towards my flared nostril. I tried to shake my head no, but the men behind me quickly moved to hold me still. I couldn’t stop the pollen from shooting through my sinuses and numbing my resolve.

I woke up in my apartment the next morning. I didn’t even realize that I had missed a day until weeks later. Everyone had lost track of days of the week during quarantine. The Golden Age’s communal lifestyle made the days run together. Society never picked the calendar back up.

After my second dose of the vaccine started to wear off, my memory of the event returned. I began to notice the yellow jackets as they casually wove through our daily activities and retrieved any lost soul that tried to go the wrong way.

There weren’t many people that the yellow jackets had to redirect. For the most part, everyone else remained satisfied with their new existence. I began to live for the chance that I might see a takedown. By watching their targets, I was able to start the resistance.

The elevator door opened and I politely motioned for Eddy to exit first. As his head filled the camera’s lens, I stealthily rose my hand and slashed its power cord with my multitool. Eddy continued out into the dining hall, oblivious that I had remained behind. A few seconds later, a shadowy figure slipped through the still open door. She pushed one of the elevator buttons to the side and I palmed a small golden key from my pocket to the keyhole. I twisted it and the elevator doors closed. We were alone and unwatched.

The elevator continued downward, before coming to a stop and opening once again. An unmanned maintenance level stretched out in front of us. I stepped out of the elevator and stretched. My compatriot moved up alongside me and cocked her eyebrow in amusement. “Never get tired of that, eh, Stretch?” I laughed.

Over the next few hours, the elevator door opened dozens of times as my fellow resistance members were able to pull away from their assigned posts and join us. Each newcomer made their way to a ceiling tile and took down their hidden tools. Some of them had microscopes, others had various colored liquids in vials.

I weaved amongst them, offering my assistance as it was required.

“I think I have something here!”, an excited brunette exclaimed in a hoarse, but projected, whisper. We all carefully set down what we were doing and rushed over to check her workstation.

She held it up so we could all see the shriveled, dead plant. Its purple flowers were completely wilted, an odorous black slime leaking from them.

I felt hope catch in my throat.

Epic Fantasy

Your guild says you have little hope as an adventurer- and they cast you out. Dejected, you wander- until you discover that the monsters they’ve been slaying are merely misunderstood- now they, as your companions, make up for your missing strength.

(From r/writingprompts)

The white minivan bore down on my bumper and assaulted my ears with a barrage of honks. I flashed a syrupy sweet smile into the rearview mirror before tapping my brakes, just to piss her off more. On the other side of the windshield, a worn out looking woman flipped me her middle finger. I shrugged and let it go. We were all stuck in rush hour traffic, just like every other day of the week. At least it was going the right way — back towards home.

“TGIF!”, the local DJ hooted over my radio. “I don’t know about you guys, but it’s been a long week. I can’t wait to get home. Have a great weekend! I’ll talk to you all on Monday!”

I grinned to myself. Actually, Deejay would talk to me in about two hours in guild chat on Epic Fantasy, the newest and hottest MMORPG. She was my favorite guild officer. Today was the end of my two week guild trial, and I was pumped about getting promoted to a full member.

Life had been pretty boring before I won my sweet gaming PC and a copy of Epic Fantasy in a radio contest. High school just doesn’t prepare a person for the mind numbing routine of blue collar adulthood. I’m pretty sure the world could go on without me there to man the counter of Gas and Go. Then again, my average customer had the intelligence of an orc. I flashed Miss Impatient a sympathetic glance in the rear view mirror. Maybe she had a boring, cruddy week, too. She flipped me off again. People suck. Screw her.

If only I could just live in Epic Fantasy. Tonight was going to go a long way towards making that happen. Once I was a full member, I would be put on the raid invites. I was going to spend all weekend kicking dragon butt and getting epic loot.

Another round of honks brought me out of my daydream. Minivan was going at it full blast. The entire highway in front of us was blocked off by flashing lights. I squinted my eyes to try and make out the accident. A county’s worth of fire engines almost completely blocked off the wreck, but I caught a glimpse of an overturned SUV engulfed in flames. How did anyone manage to flip their car over in bumper to bumper traffic?

Mercifully, my exit came just before the emergency blockade. I pulled on to the off ramp and tooted my horn vindictively at Miss Minivan.

Residing next to the highway had its perks. A couple more blocks of driving and I had finally reached home sweet apartment. Leaving my car and the parking lot behind, I climbed a mountain of sadistically planned steps. The weight of a full day on my feet grew more painful with each one of them.

Finally, I had made it home. I fiddled with the door handle and swung open the gate to my sanctuary. Everything became more bearable after I locked it back behind me and made my way straight to my command center. My TerraPower CPU tower sat on my dining room table, rainbow LEDs glowing in synchronization around its gleaming silver case. My hand rested on the hard plastic. I made it through the week. Now, I could finally start living.

With a weary “oof”, I slid into my gaming chair and booted up Epic Fantasy. My main character, a sassy looking elf, appeared in the middle of the merchant district. The nonchalant power of my CPU loaded her and everything else in instant high definition. In the real world I drove a piece of crap; but, in the gaming world, I drove a Lamborghini. Between my overpowered rig and my in with Deejay, I had everything it took to become a full fledged member of <Night Warriors>.

I settled into my early evening routine by checking my in game mail. I loved seeing my mailbox full of gold from the auction house. I spent most of my off time grinding crafting mats and rare drops. It beat watching late night T.V. and thinking about my shrinking chances of ever finding a girlfriend.

I clicked collect all on the mailbox and started counting. Somewhere around 40,000 gold, an actual message flipped from the box into my bags. Woah, someone sent me mail? I opened the message. A scroll filled my screen and the words appeared across it in medieval calligraphy.

“Hey Elfina,

I’m glad you’re having fun on Epic Fantasy! Thanks for trying out for Night Warriors, but we really need people with more raiding experience. Let us know if you get more gear and we would be more than happy to revisit your membership application!

Happy Gaming!

Deejay

P.S. Thanks for listening to Rock 107.4!”

I stared at the screen in disbelief, rereading the message over and over again. Then I saw that my <Night Warriors> tag was gone from under my character name. Those jerks kicked me out of the guild when I was offline!

Now what was I going to do all weekend?

I flipped through the achievement window, looking for something that I could solo. I should have known that I would be rejected. My entire life was one big solitary grind. My mouse stopped over the perfect drudgery to fill the next two days until work started again. I was going to get the Adventurer’s Lava Dragon mount — a reward for collecting 5,000 Lava Dragon bladders.

I had never gone to the Fiery Wastes zone before. It was a zone full of elite monsters, the kind of mobs that everyone else joined a raid to fight. Since that zone was undiscovered on my map, I couldn’t even take a taxi to get there. I summoned my Camel mount and put it on auto run as I headed out of town. I hugged the road, hoping none of the higher level mobs would aggro on me.

If I could make it out to the flight master, I could pick up the flight path and hopefully sneak in a few attacks on some Lava Dragons that the raiders were fighting. It wasn’t going to be my dream weekend, but the Adventurer’s Lava Dragon was pretty cool. It had an auction house and a mailbox built in. Heck, with those I could just make enough money from auctions to buy raid run throughs and get all the gear in the game.

I got off my mount and went into stealth mode. The characters on this road were all decked out in epics and it was getting embarrassing to see them target me as I rode by. I felt like I didn’t belong. It sucked. Epic Fantasy had become the one place that I fit in. Now, I didn’t even have any friends on there.

I crept across the map, my toon crouched in stealth. I may as well keep farming for the Adventurer’s Lava Dragon. I didn’t have anything else to do.

The corners of my screen flashed red, indicating that a Lava Dragon was nearby. With my finger on my mouse button, I panned the screen from left to right. They were supposed to be giant. Where the hell could it be? Granted, I hadn’t ever seen a Lava Dragon in game before, but I could imagine what to expect.

While I was trying to find the big bad dragon of doom, I spotted a pet sized creature stuck in a well. I didn’t know what struck me as more odd, the random creature or the well in the middle of the Fiery Wastes. What was it for? Lava? Wait, lava! What kind of creature can live in lava?

My toon had barely touched the side of the well before a little winged lizard shot out of the molten pit and ran around in circles. A yellow exclamation mark popped up over its head. I had spent a lot of time on my phone, looking up quest guides, at work. I didn’t remember anything about this.

I clicked on the lizard and the familiar scroll unfurled across my screen. The stylized writing couldn’t appear fast enough.

“Hello Adventurer!

My name is Flicker. I need your help! A group of raiders chased me into this well, and now I’m lost! Can you help me find my way home?

I don’t have any gold, but my family are the keepers of the Timeworn Trove. If you can get me back to them, a piece of the treasure will be yours!”

I must have found a secret quest. Secret quests were all the rage with collectors. They usually rewarded vanity pets or toys. None of those things would ever get me into a raiding guild. Realistically, though, the chances of me getting into any kind of guild were slim to none.

“Sure, Flicker.” I said to the screen as I clicked the accept button. “Let’s get you home, little buddy.”

Yeah. I was talking to a computer lizard. Wait, was that a dragon? A red dragon? I hovered my mouse pointer over Flicker to bring up his character information. Flicker, the Lava Whelp. There were Lava Dragon babies? This was starting to get cool.

I opened up my map to see where the quest was going to take me. My heart sank. A dotted line ran all the way from my location to the heart of the Lava Dragon den. How was I going to get past all of those elite mobs without a raid party? I closed my map and looked back at Flicker. He flapped his baby wings and did an occasional somersault.

It was strange that no other players were in this part of the Fiery Wastes, especially on a Friday night. All the big guilds should have raiding parties swarming this whole zone. Maybe if I could find a big raid, I could stick with my original plan and sneak in behind them. I cast stealth again and started creeping back towards the road. Where there are roads, there are eventually people. Where there are people, there are raids. I needed a raid, whether they called me a member or not.

Flicker followed me for a few seconds before darting off into a roadside cave. I opened my map. There was no cave on the map. What was going on? I didn’t want to go into the cave and get one shot by whatever elite mob lived there.

My screen flashed and an urgent sounding horn played in my headset. Bright red text started scrolling over my character.

“Stay close to Flicker, or they will become lost forever!’

Crap! Lost forever? I was probably the first person to find this secret quest, and I was going to miss out on it just because I was afraid of a stupid cave? I broke out of stealth and started sprinting into the darkness.

Everything around my character stayed pitch black. Was the game glitching? There was no way that my brand new TerraPower was lagging. I knew I was going in the right direction because my screen stopped flashing red text. My game music changed to a tribal flute and drum. I couldn’t tell if my character was running into a wall or actually following a path.

Up ahead, Flicker sneezed a fire puff. It was so stinking cute. He was stunned by the sneeze. He stayed put long enough for my elf legs to catch up. Thinking that I hadn’t come across any elite mobs yet, and that this whole adventure might turn out alright, I took my hands off the keyboard and popped my knuckles. My smart watch screen illuminated and caught my eye. 2 A.M.?! There was no way I had been sitting here for seven hours!

My stomach rumbled. This looked like a good place to log off. I hovered my mouse over the logout button. Flicker would be here after I grabbed some McDonalds.

Flicker had other plans. He started flying around the cave and sneezing fire onto the walls. It took me a few minutes to realize that he was lighting torches. Flicker hopped around by my feet as he lit up the entire room. Wait, if Flicker was next to me, then what was shooting fire all over the room?

The cave’s walls started to materialize in the firelight. This wasn’t just a cave, this was a fortress. A massive ceiling spanned across the top of my screen. It was covered in murals of Lava Dragons. These graphics were amazing. I zoomed in to first person and started taking screenshots of everything around me. r/EpicFantasy was going to go crazy over these!

I kept moving down the main path, zooming in and out and turning to get pictures from all angles. As I scrolled my mouse wheel to find just the right distance to capture a statue’s detailed graphics, I saw a hidden door. A hidden door in a hidden cave. My post was going to go viral.

I made sure Flicker was still next to me and ran through the doorway. You didn’t walk anywhere in video games, you just ran. Flicker zoomed ahead of me and stopped in the middle of the room. A yellow question mark showed up over his head. I had completed the quest!

I whooped and clicked on Flicker. I was expecting another scroll with quest text, but everything started to dim as a cut scene loaded. This was getting serious! I pressed a couple keys on my keyboard and started to record the screen.

In the cut scene, Flicker started to morph into a human… girl. She shook out her hair and stretched her arms, like they had been cramped up for a long time. Her piercing red eyes looked past the camera and then lit up with joy. “Papa!”, she called out to the unseen person.

A deep throaty reply played as the camera slowly panned back around to reveal who she was talking to. “Flicker! You’re alive!”, it choked out with emotion. The video panned to look upward. The giant Lava Dragon was looking down, bright red tears rolling down its face and falling to the ground with hot hisses.

As Flicker wrapped her arms around one of the dragon’s giant forearms, a female voice rung out. “Flicker! You’ve come home!” Flicker and the great Lava Dragon embraced while another human female ran into the scene. She had Flicker’s crimson red locks.

“Mama!’ Flicker trilled. “This adventurer saved me from the raiders!” My eyebrows shot up. The raiders? As in, raid raiders? I was in a dragon lair with Lava Dragons, and they thought I had saved one of them from other players?

The giant dragon and beautiful woman moved closer together, with Flicker between them. The three of them faced the camera. The other two morphed back into dragon form as the patriarch spoke.

“Thank you for saving our Flicker. We wish there was more time to express our gratitude, but we are all in grave danger. For centuries, we have been the sole protectors of Fantasy. Because of our sacrifice, no one else in the realm knows of the great evil that lurks underneath the lava. “

“It was only recently that the raiders began to attack. Their relentless greed has driven them into a frenzied assault. It keeps us awake day and night. They slay our kind and take our scales as their epic trophies. The more of us they kill, the stronger their armor and weapons become. With fewer of us remaining to cast our lava magic, the Demonic Horde are starting to break through the magma flows.”

“Adventurer, we are approaching our final hour. Once we are no longer able to protect Fantasy, evil will break through and destroy everything. We need you to wield the ancient artifacts in the Timeworn Trove and restore balance to Fantasy.”

The cutscene ended and my character reappeared in the dragon stronghold. Holy cow. I did a double take and opened my character window. Every gear slot had a legendary item. I looked at my gear score and gaped. The max gear score in the game was 240, and mine was 800!

I was pumped! I closed out of my character window.

I was in the merchant district. I turned the camera around and opened up my map. Everything looked normal, except for the fact that I wasn’t in the dragon stronghold! I closed the game and opened it back up. My character was still standing next to the mailbox.

A whisper message popped up on my chat window. “Dude, wtf u wearing?”

I started to type a reply, but then I got another whisper. And another. And another. My entire screen filled up with walls of text. Repeatedly.

“WAT?”

“This a joke?”

“Who r u?”

“U a wiz?”

“Nice gear, lulz!”

Not only was I getting a ton of whispers, but the general chat window was going crazy, too. Everyone on the server was talking about my character’s gear. People started flying in from other zones to inspect me. It was a good thing that I had a brand new computer, because all those players in one place had to be making everything super laggy.

My phone rung. I checked the screen. It was the radio station’s contest line. Apparently that was a thing now, too. I rubbed my eyes and pressed answer.

“Elfina?” Deejay’s tone was urgent.

“Uh, actually this is Tom.”

“Elfina, Tom, whatever. Look, we need to talk. NOW. I’m outside your balcony. Can you open the door?”

I started toward the front door.

“UGH! No! The balcony door!”

I turned back to the balcony door.

Two smoldering eyes illuminated a pair of flapping whelp wings.