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Hero (based off Tumblr)
“Dude, are you ready?” my best friend Chris asks, slapping me on the back. I try to pretend it doesn’t sting. Sadly, I never was very good at pretending. I cringe, which inspires Chris to hit my back again.
“Ready for what, exactly?” I ask, rolling my shoulder to get rid of the pain. I pulled open my locker, tossing my History notebook inside. At least I had a top locker this year. Chris sighed, leaning around the open door of my locker.
“For our 24- hour gaming marathon!” he said, practically jumping. In all the places I had lived (approximately 12, give or take a few we only lived in for a week), I had never met anyone so obsessed with video games as Chris was.
“Did you finally get a Bench?” the newest thing in gaming was called a Bench. It was a full- immersion, in- home gaming system. You could play games for days with a Bench, without any of the outer world distracting you. They were comfortable black fabric and a helmet with a crimson red visor that you slipped over your head.
“What’s better than a Bench?”
“You got two?!?”
“Yeah. So are you ready?”
“Totally. Did you get Hero?”
“Uh, did you seriously just ask that question? Yes!” Hero was the newest game for Benches. You created a Hero, and went through the game saving people. It was amazing in full- immersion, apparently.
“Sweet.” The bell rang overhead. We had different homerooms this year, something that was both a blessing and a curse. I shut my locker door.
“See you, Leo.” Chris zipped off down the hallway, to his homeroom. I swear, that kid had undiagnosed ADHD sometimes.
“Ready to play?” Chris asked. He and I would be playing separate games of Hero. We were each lying on a Bench in Chris’ basement. As a response, I pulled the Bench’s helmet on over my head. The red visor went over my eyes.
It felt like every fiber of my body was being ripped apart by vicious insects. They were eating my insides and flesh with a fiery itch that made me want to scream. I wanted to cry and yell and laugh all at the same time, just for the heck of it. My stomach churned. This was real pain, not moving around or tripping down the stairs. My vision flickered between tar black and the reflective crimson of the visor. I could see the terror in my eyes reflected in the visor. My body wanted death. I wanted death.
And then, I felt normal. The pain of first- time immersion was gone. What was left of the world was the Bench, Hero, and I.
“Create your character.” The female voice said, robotic but also loving and patient. Video games always had weird voice overs. I chose a well- built male and spent my starting points to make the character strong, keeping a few points towards looks. No one wanted a butt- ugly hero. “Speak to play.”
“Play Hero.” I said. My voice sounded deeper through the game. My hero said the same thing, and the doors behind my character opened. I stepped into the world of Hero.
I was in an alley, standing across from a scene bound to unfold soon. There was a young girl, very small and scrawny, with soft blonde hair that looked like liquid lightning cascading down her skinny back. She was trying to lure an alley cat to come home with her. A man, hiding in the shadow of a Dumpster, stealthily walked up behind her.
The man’s arm reached out as if to grab the girl. The cat swiped its paw, almost in slow motion. She pulled back her arm, and I saw a glint of blood on three long scratches on her wrist. The man was going to kidnap her. I leaned forward, barreling towards him. Cold rain whipped into my face, stinging my skin with ice crystals and soaking my hair. I ignored it, punching the man in the face. The little girl screamed as the man swung back. I caught his hand and spun him. His back smacked the ground with a large crack. He didn’t move.
“Let’s get you home.” I said, turning to the girl. Terror flashed in her eyes for a moment, but she took my hand. I leaned down and scooped her into my arms like she was a princess. I ran down the street as she pointed the way home. Her arm dripped blood onto her pastel pink shirt. We finally found her house, and before I could put her down, she pulled my head close to hers.
“You’re my hero.” She whispered, her warm breath making me shiver. I placed her on the doorstep of her house, turning my back to the yellow light of her porch light. I ducked my head and ran into the night.
And so the game began. The girl would be safe on her own doorstep, I was sure of that. My phone buzzed in my pocket. I pulled it out, standing under an outdoor patio table at a restaurant with an umbrella attached to it.
“Hello?” I asked, holding my arm up to my eyes to block the sheets of rain from my phone. I could hear someone breathing on the other end of the line.
“Leo?” she asked, and her name jumped into my mind. Lana. The love of my life. We were going to be married in June.
“Lana. It’s so good to hear your voice.” The words spilling from my mouth now felt set up, set in place by the game. But the feelings for Lana felt so real in my chest. Lana was so beautiful that looking at her ached, in a good way. My love for her was so powerful, there was almost nothing else.
I’m so, so sorry.” She was crying now. The ache in my chest, once love, was now dread. It felt like it was widening, threatening to swallow me whole. There was a chasm in my chest, pulling me into a black abyss.
“Why?” I asked. Lana didn’t answer. The chasm was growing bigger and bigger. I was either going to explode or be sucked out of existence. “Lana?” Two gunshots shook my eardrums like an earthquake. My chest was a black hole now, with no intention of turning in on itself.
I had to find her before I was gone. Before this feeling broke my heart into a thousand pieces and scattered them into the wind. Before the black hole swallowed me out of existence. I could feel it, a frost spreading from my soaked hands and shoulders down to my legs and wrapping around my heart.
I hung up the phone and ran. I ran as fast as I could, rain slapping my face with ice. I wiped the rain from my eyes, the cold water feeling warm against my freezing skin. The freezing rain, just as cold as me, thundered on the pavement, drowning out the sound of my feet hitting the wet concrete. But it didn’t stop the gunshots ringing through my mind over and over again.
Finally, I get to Lana’s apartment. I ran up the stairs and hurriedly knocked on her door. There was no answer. I kicked the door in, falling through with a thump as my foot it the hollow- sounding floor. There was Lana, lying on the couch, a gun in her hand. Blood pooled around her head and dribbled from her mouth. I touched the inside of her wrist with a shaking hand. There was no pulse.
“No!” I screamed, the black hole of my chest taking over. I fell to my knees, my soaked jeans filling with her blood that had spilled off the couch. Her precious, red blood that was still warm and so sweet looking but I knew it meant death. I wept, my shoulders shaking with a force that could break down mountains with every sob. Where was the Lana I knew? The girl who had overcome all her demons and finally made it? The happy girl I was going to marry in June? “No!” I cried again. My whole life felt like it had been thrown into the chasm of my chest.
Red stained my vision, the deep black- crimson of her blood. I screamed until my voice went hoarse and then disappeared into the night. I felt hands pulling me back, away from my lovely Lana. Away from her curly black hair, spilt like ink around her perfect porcelain face. Hands closed her bottle green eyes, that looked like broken beer bottle shards in place of her eyes, broken like I was.
“Leo?” the man behind me asked. It was a policeman, my best friend. He pulled me into an embrace as paramedics took Lana’s body away. But it was no use. It made me weep harder. Why did I have to save that girl? I should have stayed home. If I had been home, she wouldn’t have died.
“You’re my hero.” The little girl had whispered. What a joke. A terrible, painful, angry, stupid joke. That’s all it could have been.
It’s been three years since Lana died. I’ve spent my time becoming stronger, getting stronger, always stronger. Her death still ached in my bones, no matter how strong I was. It was a sunny afternoon in the big city. I stood on a skyscraper’s roof, my black vest and black pants doing nothing against the stifling air.
A scream rang out across the silent afternoon. A high- tech hearing aid helped me know where it came from. Two blocks away. I raced down the staircase and ran and full speed towards the sound. Here was a man, trying to mug a woman. I punched him square in the face, watching him as he fell.
I handed the woman her purse and ran off. No words, no thank you, nothing to be said. I would wait for the next time someone needed me. The next time came a week later. A small home in the suburbs was burning to the ground.
There was a woman and three small children inside. The children were crying for their mother to live. The woman was screaming to save the children. But the woman was easier to get to. Lana flashed across my mind. She would never have children, or a family. I pulled the woman onto my back and raced from the house, sweat pouring down my neck.
We escaped from the house just as it collapsed. The children’s screams were stifled by the smoke in a matter of seconds. The woman collapsed in a pile of coughing and sobs. I raced from the scene, Lana’s hair on my mind. Black, like ink in an ancient inkwell. Black, like the charred house. Black, like the pain in my heart.
I fought villains who thought that they were the heroes. They were obviously insane. I saved children from kidnappings and women from sexual offenders. I kept the city safe. Until the day that I saw Lana walking down the street.
I stopped still in my path, staring at the inky black hair whipping in the wind. She had pale skin and was wearing denim capris and a red shirt. White flip- flops slapped her feet. I wanted to race after her, wanted to pull her hand and kiss her and remind her that she had me. Maybe I just wanted to remind myself that she was dead. But either way, I ran. I ran and pushed people out of the way. I stopped at a red light, looking left and right for her inky hair.
Lana was gone. I had imagined her all along. Rage at myself filled me for a moment, flashing my vision bright, screaming red. I blinked it away. Lana was dead, I knew that. I shook my head, an tendril of pain wrapping around my heart. I was so stupid.
I called myself Fate, because the choices I mad were ones that were fated to happen. People had tried to explain to me that fate was what had taken Lana from me, but I believed that fate had given her to me and some tragedy had taken her away. Either way, the choices I chose always seemed to be the wrong choice.
My opponent, the villainous Red Eagle, thought himself to be the hero. We met that night, on top of a skyscraper. He fought me with a fiery passion, one that I could not muster up for myself. He beat me in the fight. Gripping me by the arms, he swung me over the edge of the roof, dangling my body over the traffic of the road below.
“Villain, you will pay for your actions!” he shouted, and I laughed. It sounded insane to my ears. “You thought you were the hero, Fate. You thought wrong.” His hands let go of my arms, and I started to fall down to the sidewalk.
My life, my choices, flashed before my eyes. I saw the little girl, who I had saved the day Lana died. I saw Lana’s dead body, Lana’s ink black hair spilling around her face like a dark halo. I saw the woman and her children, who died in the fire.
Red Eagle was right, I realized. The wind whipped around my ears, drowning out the traffic and deafening me. I tried to scream, but I realized that I deserved to die. The free fall that I was stuck in was rubbing my skin raw. I had killed those children; I had killed that man trying to mug the woman. I had killed the man trying to kidnap the girl.
I had been the villain all along. My body cracked against the pavement, my vision fading from navy blue to crimson to black. What was the point in being alive if you weren’t the hero? I could feel every broken bone in my body, screaming in one last attempt at keeping me awake. There wasn’t a point, I realized as death washed over my body. I had been the villain since Lana died. I had been the villain all along.
Gasping, I pulled the Bench’s helmet off my head, shaking the game out of my mind. I wanted to throw the helmet and get up, but my whole body felt like it was asleep. I slowly sat up, looking over at Chris. He was having the same reaction, calming his heart rate with some deep breaths.
“Dude.” He said, taking another deep breath. “That was intense.” I nodded, swallowing. It felt like I had truly loved Lana, like I had truly killed someone, like everything in my life had fallen apart. I felt like the character in real life. My soul was stained with the actions of the game, but the stain was slowly fading away as I got my bearings back.
We had been playing the villains all along. Hero had done a good job at making you think you were going to be the hero, that you were going to save lives and be loved. How wrong we were, going into the game thinking that we were good. But I was the villain all along. The ache of Lana’s death was still there, just fading away slowly.
Hero was the wrong word for that game. Hero was the wrong word for anything.