John Went on A Bender
John strode into the grassy lea, the trinkets from his travels jostling heavy at his sides. He grinned inanely at the familiarity of the place. He didn’t know where he was, of course; he had long ago ceased to assume he knew anything. Or, at least, what he knew, he knew would be of little use to him in the places he went. But hell! This place looked almost like home. If the lea were replaced with a yard, and the town at the hill’s foot not so large. Whatever the simulation, they’d done a fine job this time.
John had just spent three days playing video games, and nothing else. At least, he thought it was about three days. It was possibly closer to a week. Maybe ten days. His beard was thick, he’d grown it out nicely on Rook Island. He wondered what Mary would think of it. Maybe she, like those dogs in Unova, would want him to shave it off.
A girl. John sighed. Another love interest/ escort quest. Mary would be pleased. “Look lady,” he said to her, “I haven’t even got a map. If you want me to take you somewhere, you’re going to have to at least tell me what you’re running from.”
“Sorry?” said the girl. She was pretty, and young, and dressed in a modern style. Well hello! John’d guessed from the rolling hills + town this would be another RPG. But perhaps he was wrong, perhaps this was the ever-elusive semi-futuristic action-puzzler. Oooh.
John wheedled closer to the girl. She had red hair and large eyes, but she didn’t look like Yoshitaka Amano’s work, and so John thought for the moment he was safe. By Ragnorak, if he had to trawl through another fourteen hours of goo to get to open-ended gameplay, he’d jump on his own stupidly oversized sword. But then, where was he? In the much desired action-puzzler? Or simply in the prelude of yet another first person shooter?
“I’m sorry,” said John, figuring he may as well instigate another conversation rather than finish the last one. He assumed the dialogue trees were equipped to handle it. “This may be a strange question, but which world am I on?” Oh, large eyes, he knew! He grinned. “Don’t tell me it’s Columbia again! Luteces? Luteces, come out! I know you’re here!”
The girl frowned at the empty sky into which John called. “I don’t know any Luteces, and this certainly isn’t Columbia. In fact, it’s Earth.”
“Columbia is on Earth,” John told her, jovially enough. Stilwater, maybe? San Andreas? Hong Kong? He’d liked Hong Kong. This could be... rural Hong Kong.
“Yes, but Columbia is not Earth,” said the girl, “you asked me what world this was. It’s Earth, and Columbia is part of it, but Columbia isn’t a world.”
“That really depends,” said John, “I jumped over the edge of that floating city, and I can tell you I never hit the ground. They tell you there’s an Earth, or lots of them, but there isn’t really; the boundaries end about six foot under Columbia.”
The girl only shook her head.
“Anyway, I agree,” said John. “This does look like Earth.”
He was almost certain that this was a puzzler. Perhaps it wouldn’t be one which required him to think with portals, but they couldn’t all be like that. The girl could talk, so he wasn’t in Minecraft again, thank Steve. Holy saddled pigs he didn’t know how long he’d spent in Minecraft. Perhaps he’d been away longer than ten days. Perhaps, really, thinking about it soberly now, he’d been away a lot longer, considering all the great monuments he had erected in Steve’s glory, every second not spent working immersed in the most abject loneliness as he longed for any company more sentient than a chicken stuck in a lake. Wishing every sunset that there was something else out there, that he wasn’t alone, and burying himself in his cave every night knowing that yes, he was alone, and be damned if there was any way out of this but death.
“Sir, are you all right? You’ve gone all quiet.” The girl touched his arm. John jerked away. Oh dear, no, no! Don’t tell him this was Fable! He’d go back to Minecraft – just don’t let it be Fable!
“I’m fine!” he cried, rubbing his arm as if physically branded by the minor attentions of another. Oh, a follower. Oh, another soulless follower! Oh, please! Put him back in Dragon Age! He’d deal with the wretched controls and the recycled environs if only it meant he could experience a little human comfort and humour away from those wretched imbeciles called Fable NPCs.
He threw up his hands. The two hundred and fifty pounds of inventory he carried clattered with him. It always pays to invest in stamina. “Sorry, lady, I’m just a little homesick. Did you want me to take you somewhere?”
“No, I’m all right, thanks. Did you want me to take you somewhere?” The girl was concerned. “You’re obviously not feeling well. I mean, you just asked me what planet you were on.”
“And you said Earth.” John sighed. Oh Mary. He’d give all the threesomes with Isabela and Zevran in the world to see her again. “I just wonder which Earth.”
“Just Earth, I think,” said the girl, kindly.
Earth. Earth. Earth.
“Earth!” cried John, leaping up, clattering loudly. He shouldered out of his backpack. “Earth?” he demanded eagerly. “You’re serious, aren’t you? This is really Earth – this is really it! I’m home! Oh, I’m home, sweet mercy, I’m home! I can see my wife again! Oh dear Mary! And my children – you don’t know how much I miss my children. It’s true, isn’t it true! We’re on Earth! Oh, Jesus Christ, Allah, Buddha, Vishnu, Thor! I’m home, I’m home!”
He shed pieces of armour to the ground. Daedric armour, be gone! He was on Earth now, he no longer needed armour smelted in the Sky Forge. The girl watched him strip with growing alarm. But she had little reason to fear, for under his heavy armour John was wearing a full kit of Kevlar, and under that the leather bondage of a raider’s outfit, and under that a skin-tight latex suit, and a coat of pixels, and a hazmat suit, and finally a T-shirt and jeans.
The girl, however, was not as comforted by jeans and T-shirt as John would have anticipated. She stared him up and down as if he were a ghost come to life before her very eyes.
“You – you,” she stammered.
“John,” said John slowly, “John.”
“No, you imbecile. You’re – well,” and she gripped him by the shoulders and turned him, to see there on the hilltop a house thick with vines and half collapsed, where once John had ate and slept with Mary, and now he spied an old tombstone, made fat with moss and cracked with age, and he screamed at the name he saw there.
And he turned to the girl, and he screamed, his hysteria rising like fire through him, “How long have I been gone? HOW LONG HAVE I BEEN GONE?”
But the young girl only put her arms around him, and held him tight as he struggled to understand how fickle was the passage of time. “Great grandfather,” she said, “it’s okay. It will all be okay. You’re home.”