"Kalen, it's been 3 weeks." CallaBot's voice is tinged with panic. "You have to come out sometime."
Lying on my bed, I stare at the ceiling and say nothing.
"Come on, Kalen - it's anarchy out here." My wooden door shudders as CallaBot pounds it with her metal fists.
For a moment, I consider giving in to my best friend's request. I'm supposed to be the leader of our little group, after all. How can I be responsible for anyone right now, though? I'm coming apart at the seams. I sigh and wait for her to go away.
"Seriously, Kalen," CallaBot says, "Enough is enough." I hear a low humming sound from outside my bedroom and notice my doorknob glowing bright red.That can't be good
, I think. Then there's a zapping sound, a clatter, and a stream of loud cursing from CallaBot.
"What the fuck is wrong with you, Devin?" she shrieks.
Devin speaks in hushed tones; I can't make out his response. Under normal circumstances, he isn't the quietest guy, so I'm guessing he doesn't want
me to hear what he's saying. Tiptoeing over to the door, I rest my ear against it.
"If he were going to do it on his own, he would have by now," CallaBot says.
"Whatever," Devin snorts. "It's not like he can stay in there forever."
"Well, he wouldn't
be able to, Numbnuts," CallaBot's tone is icy. "If somebody
didn't keep leaving meals outside his door."
Devin grunts and says nothing.
Huh. I was wondering
who was responsible for that. Three quick knocks, a fork and knife shoved under the door, then nothing. By the time I looked out into the hall, there was never anyone there.How would he disappear that fast?
I think. He must have been using an InvisiSuit.
"Why do you insist on coddling him, anyway?"
"For fuck's sake, Calla... he just lost his brother."
"Since when are you
Mr. Sensitive?" CallaBot demands.
"Shut the fuck up, okay?" Devin's voice sounds... odd. "And leave him the fuck alone or I'll deactivate you."
CallaBot must be aware that Devin's threat is an empty one. She could take him down in a matter of seconds. Even armed, I wouldn't give him more than a 5 percent chance of overpowering her. She doesn't call him on it, though - doesn't even bother with one of her signature verbal slapdowns.
I'm still wondering why when I hear the metallic clank of her stomping away down the hall.* * * * *
"Hey dude, you up for some SimFighting?" Wes calls through my door one evening.Same old Wes
, I think wearily. Pathologically cheerful, just like always.
"You don't even have to come out," Wes says, "We can play from separate rooms."
I sigh and continue my thorough examination of the ceiling.
"Please?" Wes sounds almost desperate. "Devin always kicks my ass and I'm tired of it."
Under different circumstances, I'd smile at that. I don't have the heart to tell him I let him win.
"Dude, you know we're all worried about you, right?"
That gets to me a little. It doesn't matter, though. As bad as I feel about freaking out my friends, I'm just not ready to talk. I don't want to see their pitying looks or hear their sympathetic words. There's no way any of them can understand what I'm going through.
"Well, I guess I'll go now," Wes says softly. "I'll leave your headset out here in case you want it."
I wait until the echo of his footfalls dies away before I crack the door and grab the headset. Though I'm not interested in a SimFighting match with Wes, I am
getting pretty tired of lying around and doing nothing. Who knows?
I think. A little simulated killing might take my mind off things for a while.
Putting on my headset, I fire up "Splinternet Battle Mode". Random strangers aren't going to try to get me to open up. The mindless action of the fight is a good distraction. Since I'm damn good at this game, there's the added bonus of feeling like I've accomplished something for the first time in over a month. Before I know it, I've been playing for hours.
Reluctantly, I pull off my headset and collapse into bed. That's when the ugly thoughts come.You don't deserve to have fun - not with Brendan dead.
Shivering, I pull my blanket up to my chin and try to think about something else.What kind of monster are you? Taking pleasure in blowing people up after what happened to him?
"It's only a game!" I don't realize I've spoken aloud until the sound of my own voice makes me jump.Was it a game to Brendan?
I close my eyes and will my brain to shut itself off. It's your fault he's gone. You were the leader. You let him go in there.
Throwing back the covers, I climb out of bed. It's obvious I won't be sleeping anytime soon - might as well play a little longer. Hell, I've got all the time in the world now. Might as well not stop at all.* * * * *
My eyes don't seem to be focusing very well anymore. The projected image of my SimFighting match doubles and blurs. I blink, hoping to clear my vision, but it doesn't help much.
"Shit!" I mutter as my SimFighter explodes.
My head feels a little funny. For the first time, it occurs to me to wonder how long I've been playing without a break. I remove my headset and stand up, thinking I'll just go to the bathroom and splash some water on my face. A wave of dizziness smacks into me like a fist. Grabbing a chair to steady myself, I wait until it passes.
Stumbling into the bathroom, I wash my face. When I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror I do a double-take. Not only do I need a shave in a major way, my hair is so greasy it almost looks brown instead of blonde.Nasty
, I think. How long has it been since I bathed?
Shaking my head, I punch the "on" button for my washing station. Jets of water shoot out, heated to my personal specifications. The steaming water sluicing over my body makes me feel a bit better. I stand under it for a long time, feeling some of my tension melt away.
I've just finished showering and wrapped a towel around my waist when I hear three short knocks. My stomach rumbles - who knows when my last meal was? I wait for Devin to leave so I can snatch whatever food he's brought.
Only he doesn't go away. There's more knocking, insistent this time.
"Hey buddy, you okay in there?"
Something in Devin's tone makes me want to respond, but I fight the urge. Stepping out of the bathroom, I notice a small pile of forks and knives scattered in front of the door. It really has
been a while since I ate.
"Look, Kalen," Devin says through the door. "I get it if you don't want to talk. Really, I do. And that's cool. There's a lot I don't want to talk about, too. It's just..."
My unintentional fast must be getting to me, because I swear Devin's voice breaks a little.
"CallaBot tried to blast her way into your room and I told her to stop," he says.
Irritation bubbles up inside me. All I want is for Devin to stop talking so I can finally eat.
"So, um," he continues, "Do you think you could just tell me you're still fucking alive
in there? Because if you're not, it's my fucking fault and I - "
My hand reaches for the doorknob when Devin trails off, but I pull it back.
"I don't want to be responsible for that too, okay?" he finishes.
Before I realize what I'm doing, I've yanked the door open. Devin almost drops the plate of food he's holding. I fumble for words - it's been weeks, maybe months, since I've spoken to another person.
"Up for some SimFighting?" I croak. "Bet I can kick your ass - I've had a lot of practice lately."
It's a really stupid thing to say, but it doesn't matter. In that moment, it's enough.(using this story to fill the 500themes prompt "The Vacuum of Time" found here and the "nervous breakdown" square on my hc_bingo card)