by Chris Buchanan
Flash fiction, 2012
Mark sits on the sofa in what looks like an uncomfortable position. He’s online. Playing a VRS. He smells terrible and his boxers and hockey jersey are not so clean.
‘Don’t worry, Bel’iia,’ he says to a character who only exists inside his head. ‘Stay down and take a medpac. I’ll protect you.’ From the look on his face I can tell something serious is going on here. I’ve never played the game, you understand, but he’s swallowing his fear, there. I know that. He’s not confident.
There’s a little fizzly sound from his headset. ‘Mthou, ththmt! Taeewlnnnou DO THIS!’
He waves his arm, miming a laser gun. The first time I saw him do this I laughed. This time I just lean my head and study him. His body is taught and held in place. It looks like it hurts. His chin juts out a touch, too, a little Neanderthal. He’s hiding something from Bel’iia. I think she’s some sort of wizard princess. From space.
‘Trust me,’ he says. ‘I love you.’
I say I love him too and shuffle up to him. He doesn’t notice, which is good. I don’t want to spoil his immersion. Very slowly, over the course of the ensuing gun-battle, I wrap my arm around his shoulder and edge him backwards, trying to tilt him. Suddenly I hear some sort of explosion and he jumps up off the sofa. Without thinking or breathing I throw my left arm behind me, lean out and yank the cushion I was using. It flies out in the wrong direction but I grab it with my other hand and slam it in place behind Mark’s arched, sore back.
He lands on the edge of the seat, teeters dramatically and finally collapses backwards. There’s a familiar sigh and he looks very proud.