Lothian Deith Ben

by Julie Frayn on February 8, 2015 in  Fiction - short stories

Well, it’s that NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge time of year again! Despite finishing novel #4 and being too busy at work – I signed up again. Yup, sucker for punishment.

The challenge (round 1, heat 1):

  • Science Fiction (gulp, my first).
  • Video Games
  • A housekeeper

I give you, Lothian Deith Ben (Lothian is an actual location in Scotland. Deith Ben is Scottish for Death Mountain).

Synopsis:

A gamer from the good old days of Nintendo 3DS and Xbox One, can Zoe rescue her employer’s son from Lothian Deith Ben, and still have time to vacuum his room?

LOTHIAN DEITH BEN

“Nathan?” Zoe tapped on the bedroom door with one knuckle. She placed her ear against the smooth surface and listened for any sign of life. “Wish I could sleep all day.” She turned the knob and pushed the door an inch, poked her head in and eyed the room.

The stink of his cave—puberty and feet and cheese puffs—caught in her throat. No amount of air freshener cut through the smog. Mrs. Windstrom constantly bitched at Zoe to make it smell like a fresh mountain breeze or wildflowers. Or at the very least, like nothing at all.

She was a housekeeper, for God’s sake, not a magician.

She threw the door open wide. His sheets were piled in a heap and shoved up against the footboard, his pillows tossed about willy-nilly. He hadn’t made his bed, as usual. So, where the heck was he?

With her hands on her hips, she surveyed the damage he’d done in one short week. Shelves dusty, floor littered with dirty clothes and damp towels, bowls caked with dried cereal.

At least Link’s Twilight Princess Master Sword was safe on its wall hooks, out of the filthy fray. It was the collector’s version, real steel, not some plastic toy. Zoe couldn’t afford to get it for him for his fourteenth birthday. Mrs. Windstrom was all too happy to buy it, and take full credit for the idea. But Nathan knew it was Zoe. Just weeks before, she’d given him her old Wii, complete with antique television to hook it up to. Then she’d cleaned his clock playing Legend of Zelda.

Other than the sword, the only tidy thing in the room was his gaming system. The chair was polished to a lustrous sheen by his flannel-pyjamaed butt that spent fourteen hours a day sitting in the massive seat, his eyes glued to three huge screens. Three games. At the same time.

She ran a finger across the leather back of the chair, eyeballed the pokey things that protruded where his spine would fit, on the armrests and throughout the mesh and wire gloves built into the chair. One day, while she tidied around him, gathered stacks of dishes with dried Kraft Dinner permanently crusted to them and fished pop cans, stinking of mold, from under the furniture, he’d told her they read his biorhythms.

Or something like that.

Zoe longed for the good old days, for the simple systems of her teen years. Nintendo and Wii and Xbox. Even games on her old PC. Back when she beat the crap out of her brothers and ruled World of Warcraft. Good times.

She sighed, put her hands on her aching lumbar and stretched until a loud crack relieved some stress. Her static duster buzzed and shook in her hand. The monitors blinked and beeped and came to life.

“Hello, Zoe.” The sultry voice of an electronic woman seemed to boom from the walls. “Do you want to play?”

Zoe grinned. Nathan must have programmed her avatar in after that time he challenged her to an old-fashioned game of Mario Kart. Some dumbed-down retro game pack he picked up online. She’d wiped his sorry ass all over Thwomp Ruins.

She tossed the duster to the floor and climbed into the chair. She shifted in the seat until her spine got poked in all the right places and slid her hands into the gloves.

“Bring it, bitch.”

All three screens lit up, each depicting a different landscape. The first, dark and foreboding with a purple sky and vast, black-water lakes; the middle, a desert, the sun beating down on endless dunes; and the last, green hills and rocky terrain akin to what Zoe imagined Scotland would be like. Her dream vacation spot. If she could ever afford a vacation.

“Choose a world, Zoe,” Sultry said.

Zoe wiggled the gloves, shifted her body in the chair, but nothing happened.

“Just tell me, Zoe. I’ll take you there.”

Zoe raised one eyebrow. “All righty, then.” She squinted at the letters under each setting. “Lothian Deith Ben.” She shook her head. “Whatever that means.”

The gloves tightened around her hands and the chair molded to her body. Her heart raced and sweat broke out on her brow. Her gaze flew from one hand to the other, then to her soft middle now hardened by the leather encompassing her belly and chest like a suit of armour. When she was fully encased, her heartbeat slowed and her confidence grew.

She forced herself to breathe in a steady rhythm and watched the screens fill with green valleys, rocky hills, and endless sunny skies. The ground raced beneath her as if she were flying above it.

The skies darkened, clouds gathered, and on the horizon, a horde of rampaging beasts powered down the embankment of a gorge. Her vantage point became lower and lower until her avatar was on the ground. Dust billowed into the sky. Whatever those things were racing toward her, she was right in the path of their thundering… She squinted. Hooves?

They were too big, too ugly for horses. And the riders were what, cockroaches? Or gigantic men in cockroach masks? With… tentacles?

As the horde neared, Zoe squirmed in the chair, her confidence shot and her nerves on edge.

This game sucked.

Sparks of electric energy arced around her body, streaks of light flew about her head like cheesy special movie effects just before a Delorean disappears into thin air.

A lightning bolt shot through her spine. She arched and heaved, her vision blurred. And then, blackness.

————–

Zoe blinked and squinted to focus her vision. She rolled onto her back. Moisture oozed into the cotton of her shirt. She stared up at roiling masses of clouds, low and threatening. Sky as red as a blood moon peered out between them. Her head throbbed, her skin alight with sparks of pain.

The ground rumbled and quaked. Zoe jumped to her feet. The mossy ground. The rocky terrain. She was in Lothian…whatever the heck it was called. But how? Maybe she was in a coma. Or electrocuted—dead atop a pile of shit-streaked boxers on Nathan’s bedroom floor.

But the shaking earth beneath her feet and the pounding of her adrenaline-fuelled heart felt real enough.

Twenty yards away, the mouth of a small cave beckoned. She scrabbled up a craggy hill and ducked inside. The massive hooves, yes definitely hooves, of those ugly non-horses reverberated overhead. Dust and gravel strew in front of the cave entrance. The horde jumped the five-foot cliff and stampeded away. The riders were not men in cockroach suits. They were full-on giant bugs with six legs, helmets and body armour, each carrying a huge weapon.

When the last of them rumbled away, the clouds parted and blue sky appeared. Zoe backed farther into the darkness. She stumbled on a huge branch, lost her footing, and landed on the rocky ground.

The branch groaned and sat up, scratched his head and rubbed his eyes. “Zoe?”

“Nathan! Holy Christ, what the hell is going on?” She grabbed his shoulders with both hands and shook him. His man-boy eyes became saucers. Tracks of clean flesh down his cheeks showed the trail of his tears through the dust. She pulled him to her and hugged him, clamped her eyes shut and said a silent prayer.

She let him go and sat in front of him. “Is this real? Are we inside that damn game?”

“I think so. It sucked me in last night. I fell asleep in here. Bands of Kakkerlaks keep running over this cave, like, in a loop. I think they’re waiting for the game to start. For the players to make a move.”

“Players? Who are the players?”

Nathan swallowed hard and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “You and me.”

Zoe’s eyelids fluttered and her stomach flipped. “Excuse me?”

“It’s the only explanation.”

“And you’ve done this before?”

He recoiled. “Hell no. I downloaded a new game. Must be a virus. If we get back home,” he swallowed again, “I’m going to quit gaming. For good.”

Zoe squinted. “What do you mean, if?”

Nathan got onto his knees and pointed to what was left of his shirt, crusty with melted fibres. Zoe gasped. “Are you burned?”

“Just a little. One of the shots from a murendaag glanced off the rocks and grazed me. If they’d hit me dead on, I’d be a vaporized wisp of air.”

“What is a murathingy?”

“Guns that shoot rays that disintegrate everything except the scenery.”

Zoe touched the short streak of seared flesh. Nathan winced and pulled away.

“If you haven’t played before, how do you know all this?”

He rolled his eyes. “Forums? Research? Nobody just starts playing blind. You find all the cheats, all the hints first, learn the language and the weapons.”

She ran her hand through her graying hair. “So how do we get out?”

“Getting sucked into the game wasn’t in any forum. But I’d guess we have to win.”

“Win. How the hell do we win?”

Nathan shook his head. “I have no idea.”

“But, forums. Research.”

“I didn’t get that far.”

Zoe struggled to her feet. “Well, we can’t just sit around here. You’ve haven’t eaten since yesterday, and I bet that’s not drinking water in those streams.” She checked her watch, tapped the face.

“They don’t work down here. Phones or transmitters or GPS links either.”

Zoe nodded. “How long before the next loop of marauding, what did you call them?”

“Kakkerlaks. Not long.”

“Then let’s move before they come back.” She held her hand out to Nathan. “Let’s go home.”

They crept from the cave, crouched low to the ground and kept to the edges of the rugged hills. In no time, everything looked familiar, like they’d gone full circle and were right where they started. It was like her grandmother’s wallpaper; it just repeated its pattern over and over.

The ground shook and sent tremors through Zoe’s legs. “Here they come.” She searched the rocks for another cave entrance. “There, behind that, that—whatever that is.”

A towering pillar of stone with moss covering most of its face stood fifty yards away. They bolted toward it. The sky darkened, clouds formed and roiled, casting the scene in eerie red shadow.

Pounding hooves neared. A chorus of screeching, squeaking, chittering voices sent bolts of fear through Zoe’s heart. She grabbed Nathan’s hand and raced faster.

A Kakkerlak came into her peripheral vision. A boom and a sizzle rang out from behind. A ray of green fire hit the pillar and careened away. Zoe and Nathan crouched behind the pillar just as the shot hit the Kakkerlak in the middle of its armour. The gigantic bug dissolved in its saddle. His murendaag flew through the air and landed in the moss two metres away, most of his arm still attached.

The weapon was ornate and looked heavy. It had more than one trigger and three barrels.

She tapped Nathan on the knee and pointed at it. “How does it work?”

“Pull a trigger. Any trigger. It’s just a big-ass gun.”

Zoe dove for the murendaag and struggled to lift its heft. She aimed in the general direction of the band of Kakkerlaks and pulled the trigger twice, her fingers entangled in the spiny, hairy digits of the dead bug.

The shots bounced off the rocky slopes and seared through three giant insects before fizzling out. Sizzling flesh and retreating hooves filled her ears. She rolled behind the pillar. “OK, let’s move.”

“Zoe, damn. I had no idea you were so, so…”

“So scared to death?”

“Yeah. That.” Nathan threw his arms around her and hugged her hard. “Thank you for coming after me.”

Zoe hugged him back. “I’m here by accident. But if I’d known you’d been sucked in,” she pulled away and looked at his face, half man, half little boy, “I would have come for you in a heartbeat.” It was more than his bitch of a mother would have done.

Moss fell from the pillar and landed at their feet. Zoe looked up at the monolith. It was a cockroachy totem. Some big, ugly idol for the squash-worthy Kakkerlaks to bow to in exaltation.

“Zoe, look.” Nathan tugged more moss free from the base. “It’s a door.” He pulled on the handle to no avail. Put his shoulder to it and pushed. It didn’t budge.

Zoe ran her finger over an indentation in the stone. “Is that a Kakkerlak handprint?”

Nathan’s eyes lit up. He disentangled the Kakkerlak’s arm from the murendaag and handed the gun to Zoe. He held the creature’s crispy flesh against the stone, matched the fingers or tentacles or whatever the hell body parts they were up to the indentation. The totem quivered and groaned. The door slid to one side.

“It’s a key!” Nathan took Zoe’s hand and led her through the opening. Three steps down the stone stairs, the door closed, entombing them within the totem.

“Damn it.” Zoe stomped one foot on the step. “We should have brought the arm. Maybe there’s a key on this side.”

“Too late now.” Nathan advanced down the stairs into a damp and ill-lit room. At the far end, a bank of three monitors faced a chair. Nathan’s chair. Or one just like it. He spun around. “That’s it!” He dragged her toward the gaming unit. “This must take us home. Why else would it be here?”

“Worth a try.”

They squeezed into the chair together. He put one hand in the right glove and jerked his head toward the other side.

Zoe slid her left hand into the other glove, the murendaag across their laps.

The chair and gloves molded around them. Sparks arced about their heads and streaks of light whipped around the chair. Zoe squeezed her eyes shut and prepared for the lightning bolt of pain.

————–

Zoe blinked and shaded her eyes from the bright light. She lay on a pile of damp towels, the air around her pungent with cheese and dust. She sat up. Nathan stood in front of the gaming chair, the murendaag aimed at the leather. He kept pulling the trigger, the click of it echoing against the walls of his room.

She stood and put one hand on his shoulder, took the murendaag from him, turned it around and held the muzzle. She swung the grip and crashed through one monitor, then another, then the third.

Without a word, Nathan eased Link’s Master Sword from the wall hooks and drew the blade out of its scabbard. He eyed the steel, sliced the air with it, then held it above his head. He brought the blade down one, two, five, ten times until the leather chair was shredded, the gloves tattered rags of mesh and filament. He looked over his shoulder at Zoe.

“Game over.”

 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

mary February 9, 2015 at 3:32 am

Loved it, Julie – and I never read sf/fantasy!

Reply

Julie Frayn February 9, 2015 at 6:30 am

Thanks, Mary! I don’t read it either, but when given that assignment, the writing must get done… Thanks to NYCM, I’ve covered rom-com, sci-fi, and a ghost story! Three things I never thought I’d write. Hoping to avoid political satire… 😀

Dale Furse February 9, 2015 at 4:54 pm

Good story, Julie. I enjoyed it and Zoe and Nathan were the perfect characters for it. :)

Reply

Julie Frayn February 11, 2015 at 6:20 am

Thanks, Dale! Sci-Fi – check! (The writer’s bucket list) 😀

Carolyn Frayn February 10, 2015 at 4:13 pm

I enjoyed it as well, loved the wallpaper analogy! Zoe and Nathan, great character names… the cockroachy totem for the Kakkerlaks, haha! … and Link’s master sword, well played! :)

Reply

Julie Frayn February 11, 2015 at 6:23 am

Imagining mom’s green velvet/foil wallpaper now painted over whitish and all crusty? I was… And those buffalo-head orange and green paisley things in my room. I think that’s why I have a red and black house. Too much green in my childhood.

I was never a gamer. Had to google all that gaming stuff. Mentioned Thwomp Ruins to Charlie and he said, only if it’s on (insert gaming system name that I forgot here). Nope, I said, it’s a retro pack on a future gaming system. I can do ANYTHING. LOL

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