Keith’s mother was calling him for breakfast, annoyance creeping into her voice, not because he was late, but mostly because he wasn’t responding; even if he woke up late, he usually let her know he’d be down.
He was slow, big and burly, so she didn’t like to rile him. Built like his dad, was Keith, and had his temper sometimes.
She’d gotten the phone calls from the school, and told them she’d come in, promised to, even, until fear of her son got the better of her, and she made up excuse after excuse to keep avoiding the school’s administration.
They’d run out of things to do with Keith, and to him, and now, he pretty much did what he wanted, short of sexual assault, to anyone he wanted.
It made no difference to him: boys, girls, sometimes the same age as him, sometimes a little younger. He seemed to enjoy those especially.
The older kids around his age just got a look of resignation, knowing he could, and would, beat them if he didn’t get his way.
But the younger ones were the ones he enjoyed the most, the ones who didn’t know him, who grew all wide eyed and blubbery as he menaced them, and who bruised so easily when he hit them.
She was loathing calling him again, but she did.
“Keith! Your breakfast is getting cold, and you’re gonna be late! Come on, now!”
The front door opened, and she thought it was Keith, beginning to feel silly.
He just went out to get the newspaper.
But there was no one standing there.
Her stomach did a little flip, and she grabbed a kitchen knife, though she knew she’d more likely cut herself than an assailant; still, it might work.
She peeked outside. There was no foliage for cover for a potential thief, and the street itself was beginning to fill with students heading for the bus stops, smiling and laughing because it was Friday, full of chatter about weekend plans, or immersed in their devices, eyes intent, their facial expressions mostly serious, though some were laughing, mostly in mockery at someone they designated a ‘loser’ worthy of their derision.
Online was serious business these days; life and death dramas full of intense emotions played out there, and every so often, the internet got blood on its pixels.
She closed the door, breathed a sigh of relief, chalked it up to a random breeze rather than the inexplicable, and heaving a sigh, she went upstairs to see what her son was up to in that disaster of a room she’d long ago given up asking him to clean.
He still had his gaming glasses on, the ones that ‘immersed’ him in fantasy worlds of fantastical creatures, scantily clad elf princesses, impossibly large-muscled men who’d obviously be on steroids in the real world, all capable of doing ‘cool impossible things,’ as she once heard it said.
His head was tilted back at an angle; there was something wrong, and she hurried in, since he didn’t turn around at the sound of her coming down the hall to his door.
She walked up beside him, a tentative hand on the back of the swivel chair.
She spun the chair around, and Keith’s head dropped to the floor with a loud, wet thud.
A piercing sound rent the air, and darkness claimed her as her scream of anguish and fear rendered her unconscious.
Akihiro woke, squinted his eyes against the morning sun sneaking past the blinds, and was a long time trying to sit up before he finally managed it.
He finished the half bottle of water by his bed, and slipped off the edge of the mattress, bare feet in the small piece of rug that kept his feet warm before he put his slippers on.
It was Friday, and for that he was glad; Fridays meant forty-eight hours of respite from Keith Murray.
Keith Murray was what they called ‘the school bully,’ making it sound like a mascot or something.
Keith Murray had belittled Akihiro whenever he saw him.
“You’re so small you could probably drive a Hot Wheels car.”
Sometimes, Keith would forget he said the joke before; he had a few, some for size, some for the contempt he held for intelligence, and he never failed to barrage Akahiro with a few, standing in front of him, preventing his movement, cornering him, digging elbows, or twisting Akahiro’s arms.
The kids would laugh, some of them, just for the sake of having Keith think they were cool, but Akihiro could see the shame of the coward in their gazes, turning away when he found their eyes, their smiles faltering and disappearing when he looked at them head on.
Well, Keith Murray was no longer a problem.
Akihiro had seen to that, and he never even left the house.
Akihiro’s dad sat on the edge of the bed while Akihiro was sloughing off his covers.
“Wake up, son.”
“I am, dad.”
“Hiro, why are your game glasses in bed? We talked about this…”
“I know, dad. I just had one more mission to complete, so I finished it.”
His dad shook his head and chuckled, rifling Akihiro’s lengthening hair.
“All right then; since you’re the ruler of the universe, with all the teachers
saying what a ‘delight’ you are, I’ll let it go this time. But keep your grades up, all right?”
Akihiro smiled and looked around his room. “Up where?”
His father laughed, and got up to leave, but something seemed to pass over him, something foreboding and he turned around to look at his son.
Akihiro was just getting out of bed, putting his slippers on, when his father saw light shining from his eyes.
It looked like black light, but that couldn’t be.
His heart was pounding, and he didn’t want to call his son, but he had to know.
The boy jumped, visibly startled.
“What is it, dad? Geez, you scared me.”
There was no light, and his father shook his head.
“Nothing, son. Thought I saw something that’s all.”
“It’s just me here.”
“Are you…all right?”
“Yeah dad, I’m fine.” His eyes betrayed his fear, but his father chose not to press the issue, nodded, said nothing, and left as the feeling of panic subsided, but not the memory of the light.
He was the last person Keith expected to see; he stood on the hill so Keith could see his avatar.
Keith was smiling, because the shadow his character cast dwarfed most of the others, but the smile vanished when he recognized Akihiro’s avatar.
Keith had been killing at will, at random, but he must have saved a rabbit somewhere in history.
Akihiro shuffled down the hillside toward him.
“You challenging me, runt? I’ll beat your ass here, too.”
Akihiro said nothing, and his character’s muscles rippled beneath his tight skin.
Keith’s character smiled, and charged, sword in hand.
Akihiro sent his mind streaming down the cable, becoming his character, the heat of the day oppressive, burning across his shoulders like a mantle of fire, the sizzling sand beneath him cooked his already calloused feet.
Keith’s CG warrior uttered a vile curse, and closed with Akihiro’s.
Keith was more agile as a warrior than a bully, and his character’s knife was fast, but Keith didn’t really know how to fight with it; he kept slashing instead of trying to get in close, where a knife was most useful.
Akahiro’s sword was longer, so he needed to keep his distance. If Keith cut him, he would feel the pain; Keith didn’t know that, and Akahiro wanted to keep it that way.
He pushed Keith’s warrior away, and managed to slash him across the chest, but it was slight, and Keith feinted right and came left, knowing that to be Akahiro’s weak side.
But Akahiro had been working on it…
With the ease of a skilled matador, Akihiro sidestepped the next attempt to slash his character, and as Keith pulled back to regain his balance, Akihiro kicked him back to keep him off balance.
Keith stumbled backward again, Akahiro’s long sword sliced through his throat, removing most of it, almost taking off his head.
Blood spouted, and hissed with steam as it sunk into the sands, and Keith’s warrior fell over backward, his head held on by a few missed strands of muscle, the sand billowing up like a shroud of made of gold dust.
The eyes of Akihiro’s CG warrior flashed a dark violet light, and Akihiro returned to his own body.
It took time to come back to the reality of his own slightness after feeling the swell and pulse of being so strong, but the warrior was in pain too, and had a lot of scars that still burned in the desert sun.
If not taken care of properly, he would be in serious trouble if he lacked mobility, even a little.
Sometimes the enemy attacked in swarms.
But that was not the case today, and there would be no more battles for Keith.
Akihiro looked at the screen; the body of Keith’s CG warrior lay broken and emptying out at his feet, the icon for his heart was now black with a red X over it.
He smiled, admiring his handiwork for awhile, and onscreen, the first of the vultures began to enter in from the right; a nice, realistic touch to an otherwise routine role playing game.
The thrill of the fight subsiding, the need for sleep growing strong, Akihiro took off the gaming glasses, showered, humming his warrior’s game music, and went to bed, the dark violet light pulsing under his eyelids to the rhythm of his heart.
© Alfred W. Smith Jr. 2015