*Features adult language and themes.*
“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.”
– Steve Martin
* * *
The march had taken them all night. They’d battled through the patrols; taking them unawares and making sure that they didn’t raise the alarm.
They made a strange pairing, a troll and a dark elf, but they seemed to work well together. The troll’s sheer strength combined with the elf’s speed and finesse had outwitted the enemies so far but two of their party had been lost.
They were so close to completing the mission. The fortress was in sight. They had to find a way past the gates and assassinate the fortress commander. It was a big ask for just two of them. They hoped that their compact number would be an advantage. Their weapons were stealth and surprise.
The plan was for the troll to cause a diversion while the dark elf slipped in to take the commander out. They were using the darkness as cover and it wouldn’t last much longer.
An arrow thudded into the ground next to the elf. He had no idea where it had come from. Retreating behind the troll, who could take more arrow fire, he drew his knives and prepared for an attack.
The enemy charged from behind, the arrow had been a ruse to turn them around. The troll jumped over the elf landing on the first attackers squashing them into the mud with its big stone shoes.
The elf hesitated for a moment too long, trying to decide if he should run and continue the quest alone, or to stand and fight with the troll. The decision was made for him when the fortress guards closed in. There were four of them wearing leather armour and carrying longswords. He raised his knives, swirling them around, loosening his wrists. The guard on his left feinted forward as the attacker on the right slashed towards his leg. He parried low and stabbed high, his knife sliding into the guards throat with sickening ease.
He had to swing around to block a second attack then kicked out at a third guard. Then threw one of his knives to stop the fourth guard taking his head off. The patrol was too big, they were surrounded, there was no way out. His troll companion had been felled and guards were climbing all over him hacking and slashing as he roared and struggled.
“Die, die, die… We’re dead.”
Charlie pushed his chair away from the desk in defeat. He continued to watch the slaughter on his computer screen. Light had started to leak into the room through half closed blinds. The diffused light made the mess in the room look a little sinister. The room could easily have been mistaken for an amateur bomb-maker’s workshop. Tables and shelves ran all the way around the room filled with technical books, computers and components. Dotted amongst the organised chaos were empty fast food packets, crushed cans of energy drink and a few collectable figurines. The limited wall space was filled with notice boards of post-it notes and scraps of paper covered in scribbles and notes. In between the boards, and sometimes underneath, were anime movie posters.
Charlie was leaning back in an expensive ergonomic office chair snapping open another can of Red Bull and ruffling his hands through his greasy hair. He wore a microphone headset, a t-shirt, underwear and socks.
“That was 12 hours well spent,” Charlie said into his headset.
”Stop bitchin’ Razor. It’s not like you had anything better to do.” Came the reply in his ear.
Ouch, the truth stings. “Piss off, Tim.”
“The name’s ‘DarkTroll’ when we’re here, fuck you very much.”
Charlie sighed to himself and pressed the heals of his hands onto his closed eyes. It put him into total darkness, and the pressure on his eyeballs felt good. Why do I hang out with him? I guess he’s my nerd litmus test, if he doesn’t freak me out and annoy me I’ll know that I’m losing touch with reality and turning into him.
“I’ve got work to do actually. See you later… Tim.”
He reached out to the keyboard, making sure to close the game and disconnect the audio. The screen reverted back to his email window. He had new messages but couldn’t face reading through them. He already knew what they would say. There wouldn’t be anything new or exciting.
He spun his chair around idly looking at the wreckage that surrounded him. Noticing the dawn light creeping in, he realised he’d sat up all night again. Without the noise from his headset it was eerily quiet. There was nobody else in the flat and he knew the mess extended beyond the room he was in.
He started playing some music through the computer to get rid of the silence then reached out to check his phone. No messages or calls. He couldn’t find the energy to do anything about the mess. So, with a bored sigh, he turned his attention back to the emails.
* * *
* * *
Dull, dull, dull. More sales, more work, more money. Another twitter follower I’ll never get to know properly. An online dating profile that nobody has looked at in three months and more interactions with people on forums whose opinions I don’t care about.
He got up from the desk and went over to the window. He twisted the cord one way then the other making the blinds flip up and down, letting the light in; shutting the light out. He winced each time the brightness hit his tired eyes.
It was surprisingly bright for the last day of the year. He kept the blinds open and looked out over the marina. His flat was three floors up and gave him a panoramic view. The rows of boats jostled around on the water gently making their masts sway. The river wormed its way into a horizon of buildings ending in the concrete line of the Orwell bridge in the distance.
The day was bright, but it looked cold. He spotted a few people walking along, probably on their way to get breakfast, they wore coats and scarves and their breath misted on the air. The sky was cloudy but the sun broke though in big strong rays like a children’s illustration. It wasn’t an inviting day.
“I need to get out of this flat. Speak to a real person,” he muttered to himself. It was one of the side effects of living alone. He noticed that he talked aloud to himself a lot. It was embarrassing when he did it in public.
He sighed. I’m only bitching because she hasn’t been in touch and I’m sad enough to sit here waiting until she does. Cheer up though, They dispatched my Lego, that’ll be here in a few days.
“I don’t even have the nerve to buy Lego in person”
Who cares how I get it as long as I do? Lego’s cool. End of.
He glanced back over to his computer screen in the hope of seeing something new, something from her. All he saw was the spam folder flashing at him.
Why is the spam folder so enticing? I know it contains a load of crap, but I have to look before I delete it.
He wandered back over to the desk and settled into the chair.
* * *
* * *
Charlie read through the spam chuckling to himself. He wondered how many people were tricked into buying black market Viagra, land in Costa Rica or ‘investing’ in some strange get rich quick scheme. He guessed only one person got rich from those particular schemes; the weirdo sending the emails. He was surprised that he hadn’t got his usual missive from an anonymous African royal. If a Nigerian Prince really needed financial help the internet had well and truly fucked up any chances he had of getting it.
His eyes tracked down to the message from ‘Self Magazine.’ That might not be spam. I think my Mum gets that?
“Might not be spam, but looks like bullshit.” He muttered. Delete. His finger was hovering over the ‘DEL’ key when his instant messenger gave a friendly ‘BING!’
* * *
CHLO-BO13: Hi Charles. Are you busy? Need you to weigh in on an argument I’m having with some woman in an ‘art appreciation’ chatroom. You up for it? Click HERE to join in.
RAZ0R5H4RPE: Hi, Clo. Sure thing.
* * *
She hates being called Clo.
He clicked the link and a new chatroom window appeared with a cheap looking ‘art’ theme.
* * *
ART APPRECIATION CHATROOM
EVIE-NIN411: Of course that’s cheating!
CHLO-BO13: No it’s not. I didn’t even meet the guy.
EVIE-NIN411: But you were thinking about him while you were out with your boyfriend.
CHLO-BO13: You think that’s cheating? You’re telling me you’ve never thought about someone else when you’re with your significant other?
CHLO-BO13: Never? I’m not talking sexual fantasies. Haven’t you ever wished you were out with a friend instead of your partner?
EVIE-NIN411: Sometimes. But that’s perfectly normal. I’m not cheating on him. To call it cheating there has to be a sexual element.
CHLO-BO13: So how is me being on a date with someone and wishing I was out with a different guy cheating? I haven’t slept with either of them. There’s no sexual element.
EVIE-NIN411: It’s a commitment thing. You agreed to go out on a date with one guy, but you cheated on him in your mind by wanting to be somewhere else with a different person. Plus the whole situation has a sexual intent.
CHLO-BO13: That’s not cheating! Wait a minute, I’m going to get a male friend of mine to weigh-in. We need a guys perspective. I bet you’re married, right?
* * *
RAZ0R5H4RPE: I thought this was an art appreciation chatroom?
CHLO-BO13: We got a bit off topic! She’s so prim and proper. I can feel her looking down her nose at me like I’m some little tart.
RAZ0R5H4RPE: How can I help? And what are you doing in an ‘art’ chatroom?
CHLO-BO13: I just want you to join in. You don’t have to take my side. I’m getting bored of her, but I want to win the argument.
I always do a bit of trolling on ‘arty’ websites. The people that use them aren’t usually all that computer literate and pretentious enough to bite all day long. It backfired a bit this time. I meant to talk to you earlier before I got stuck with this cow. Don’t see why I should deny myself your company on her account!
* * *
EVIE-NIN411: Yeah, I’m married, so what?
RAZ0R5H4RPE HAS ENTERED THE CONVERSATION.
RAZ0R5H4RPE: Hi Chlo-bo asked me to referee. I’ll just catch up.
CHLO-BO13: I imagine once you’re married your lines in the sand get re-drawn.
EVIE-NIN411: Lines in the sand?
CHLO-BO13: You know, your definitions of stuff. What you classify as cheating. What constitutes sex?
EVIE-NIN411: Well, for me it starts in the mind. Once your partner is thinking of someone else, it’s a small step to them taking action. What’s your definition?
CHLO-BO13: My line is sex. A bloke can think whatever they want when they’re with me as long as they don’t sleep with someone else. You can’t control someone else’s thoughts.
RAZ0R5H4RPE: Right, all caught up. I kind of agree with Chlo-bo, but it depends on her definition of sex.
EVIE-NIN411: You agree with your friend. Shocking. You make a good point though. If you’re going down the physical route, how far can someone go before they’re cheating? Obviously, the actual act of kissing someone else is cheating, but before that there is the intent to do so, which in my book, is also cheating.
RAZ0R5H4RPE: I guess that’s true. But if I were to kiss my Grandma, or one of my attractive cousins, would I be cheating?
EVIE-NIN411: Again, it depends on your intent. I would hope you weren’t kissing them in a sexually motivated way.
RAZ0R5H4RPE: Incest. A game the whole family can play.
EVIE-NIN411: Urrggghh, this is getting silly.
EVIE-NIN411: I’m assuming you’re both teenagers and you talk about sex a lot more than you’ve experienced it. Come find me again in a few years and we can compare notes.
CHLO-BO13: I’ve had plenty of sex, thanks. Haven’t you heard? Every teenage girl in Britain is an obese, alcoholic slag! We all have babies before we’re 16 and hope to be grandmothers before we’re 30. At least, that’s the impression I get from reading the Daily Mail. As for you. I’m guessing that you’re seriously worried about your husband cheating on you and that’s why you have such strong views. Or, maybe you’ve been having some thoughts of your own that you feel guilty about…
EVIE-NIN411 HAS LEFT THE CONVERSATION.
* * *
RAZ0R5H4RPE: I think you hit a nerve.
CHLO-BO13: Ooops. Seems that way. I have a habit of rubbing people up the wrong way.
What are you up to for New Year’s?
RAZ0R5H4RPE: The usual, me and a few mates getting together for a drink. If I remember bringing in the New Year tomorrow, I’ll have failed.
CHLO-BO13: I’ve got a similar plan. Hopefully I won’t wake up with any regrets.
RAZ0R5H4RPE: No point having regrets. Hindsight’s a curse.
CHLO-BO13: That’s lovely in theory. Not sure it stands up well when you wake up next to some ugly bloke you don’t remember from the night before.
RAZ0R5H4RPE: Can’t say I’ve ever had that problem. All the blokes I wake up next to are gorgeous!
That’s right make her think you’re gay. That’ll win her over.
CHLO-BO13: 😀 Good one. I better go, It’s been fun chatting, thanks for your help with the Ice Queen. I’ll talk to you again in the New Year.
RAZ0R5H4RPE: It’s always fun chatting with you Clo.
CHLO-BO13: Awww. Charles, you know I hate it when you call me Clo.
RAZ0R5H4RPE: And you know I hate being called Charles.
You love it, when SHE calls you Charles.
CHLO-BO13: Catch you later Charles. XXX
RAZ0R5H4RPE: Bye. X
CHLO-BO13 HAS SIGNED OUT.
* * *
You like this girl. Why don’t you find your balls, give ‘em a squeeze and actually do something about it?
The music was still playing in the background, it had moved onto a different album but it was the only thing in the flat that had changed. Nothing ever really changed. He took another long swig of drink and winced when he realised it was flat.
Turning his attention back to the computer screen he saw the spam email was still showing on screen.
* * *
From: Self Magazine
Subject: Feeling lonely? Sad? Insecure? Find out – How to be Happy! 🙂
To: ‘Charlie Sharpe’ <email@example.com>
Self magazine is excited to announce that they will be running a monthly column from Britain’s leading self-help guru Kurt Sampson.
Start the New Year the right way. Find out ‘How to be Happy!’
Looking for a way to turn your life around? Find love? Get that promotion? Kurt will help you find the answers. Make this year the best of your life, and the first of many more to come.
Magazine out 1st January, or follow the column on our blog www.selfmagazine.co.uk/htbh-blog
* * *
Charlie bookmarked the link and deleted the email. Reading what Sampson had to say couldn’t make my life worse, might even be a laugh.
He reached over the desk and placed his headset on and signed back into the game.
“DarkTroll, you still online?”
“Of course, where else would I be?”
“If we give this quest another go we might be able to complete it before the New Year arrives. What do you reckon?”
“Sounds like a good way to bring in the New Year to me! I’ll IM VampireVern and SnowSn0w, see if they want to give it another go.”
Yeah. Happy, fucking, New Year!
Many thanks for reading. The story updates every Monday & Thursday. If you have any feedback or thoughts, feel free to comment below.