Cross the Line

Simply put, when drink and the night took him, that’s when she came alive.

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In that virtual world, she wielded great powers and a blade she found so long ago, when the dragon overtook Highreach and she was sent on a quest by a desperate villager who willingly parted with town treasure and even promised to help her learn the secrets of the fighting warrior monks of the Lost Valley who left scrolls of martial techniques in a jar in the local tavern when they Ascended.

She had to wipe blood off with the back of her hand. It had been a bad night.

It was hard to look out of one eye. She hadn’t checked it in a mirror, yet. She didn’t want to. Occipital fracture. That was what her face was screaming. But she didn’t know.

He said she was so stupid.

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She could hear the music in her head; she rode it to the stars in ships named Bravery or Freedom or Star’s Reach and, in that moment, when the hyperspace engine hit and the universe blurred into motion, she knew there would be worlds with monsters and alien artifacts and mysteries for her to crack, as pirates would come at her. Or maybe rebels for her to fight or join and she would level her blaster at them and demand to meet their leader.

She didn’t dare turn the volume actually up, in case he found her and took even that small mercy. All the tech was his, of course. From his job, testing. All of it, even her, was his.

Her hands were cramping up something fierce. She tried to remember what she did about them last time. That was when she’d overcooked the pasta. He’d slammed the pot down on her hands. She was grateful it had cooled down some. She was fairly certain she’d soaked her hands in milk that time. She’d have to do that soon.

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She could smell the jungle, feel its heat, the two guns in her hands, as she cut down wild animals and smugglers searching for that lost treasure because it was actually the key to an ancient civilization that had been destroyed because its power had grown too great and it threatened the gods so they had sunk the lands of those people and relegated the whole thing to history.

Why couldn’t she stop crying?

It wasn’t so bad a life. The rent was paid on time. There was enough for food. Sometimes, it was tough to get the bills off. She had a hard time thinging. Thinking. Words could get hard. He knew she was slow.

He didn’t drink every night. Wasn’t angry every time.

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The invaders were on the march and her army was the only thing standing between them and the kingdom and she’d been saving her mechanical legions for last, towering things of steel and steam that would lumber above the field and slaughter wide swaths of the enemy but it was sometimes hard to stop them and they’d stumble off the map and into villages when she wasn’t concentrating, and she could imagine virtual screams.

In the end, it was all her fault.

She was too dumb and too fat. Too ugly. Too tired. Much too clumsy. She’d only had a couple of years at college. He’d had four. Her friends had even less. That’s why he didn’t want her seeing them anymore. Their faces remained a thumbprint on her memories, blurred with time, connected to random names like Nancy or Jolene or Bobby. She was lonely but it wasn’t safe for her to be alone. He was there for her.

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There was a gun in her hand and she looked at it and she held it out and she blew away the driver’s face and she jumped into his car and drove away; the cops came racing after, but there was another car, always another driver but the best part was when she carjacked a tank.

He had a gun.

It was by the side of the bed, in a drawer. He’d never taken it out but he would look at the drawer sometimes. If he was truly angry, there was a phrase he’d use. “Insurance.” Against criminals. Or stupidity. Or clumsiness. Best behavior would be rewarded. That was always his promise.

He let her know she was never at her best, at least around him.

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The oldest game, so simple; two lines an inch long, white and pure, on each side of the screen. Dashed line in the center. Simple bright scores on top. Square ‘ball’ that would bounce back and forth. You’d have to concentrate, hard, not to lose it as the ball went faster and faster, and even when you have to squint between tears, you can always find a way to win. Ones and zeroes.

She pulled the gun out.

She stood over him and she checked if the gun was loaded. Took the gun and pointed it at his head, an inch away. The distance of a line of phosphor in an old game. Her finger trembled on the trigger. She put the gun in her mouth. There was this horrible metal taste, oil like the backfire of a car. Her hand trembled with restraint. She closed her eyes. She pulled the gun out of her mouth, pointed it at him.

Put it back in, out again.

It all blurred together; her, him.

The anticipation of a single shot.

When it came, it was louder than she could imagine.

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