It’s always tough fitting in at a new school, in a new social environment. But it can be even tougher when all the kids in your new class are just a bunch of withering shits that get off on others misery. My misery, to be precise. God how I hated them. Miss Perkle didn’t help either, she didn’t give a crap, all she cared about was banging the Head Teacher, after hours, in his big red car. Little Slut. But I was going to show them, and her, how it felt to be the one under the microscope. It was a rainy Saturday and I had nothing to do. I was flicking through my big-brothers comic books when I saw the advert for the Hypno-Coin on the back page. I didn’t know such miraculous items existed! I had to have it. I dug a wrinkled dollar bill from my savings piggy, carefully clipped out the order form, stuck it all in a self-addressed envelope and mailed it that very day. The next week was glacial. Each day an epoch, filled with boys pulling my braids, the other girls making fun of my braces, and my skirts, and my epilepsy. They were generally just being the bunch of pricks I had come to know and hate. By Friday morning I was beside myself and ready to run away, but when I got home that afternoon, and found a letter addressed to me, well, I suddenly felt a whole lot better. I spent the weekend learning how to use the coin, and by Sunday night I felt fairly confident on how to wield it. The cut on my hand (from the ritual prescribed by the book) still hurt like mad, but compared to the torment I felt on the inside, it was a breeze. Monday came. I managed to find Miss Perkle alone in her classroom on the third floor. She looked up over her gull winged glasses when I called her name. I coughed nervously and began to explain how I wished she would intervene more on my behalf when the other children stood around at laughed at me when I had one of my ‘episodes’. But the bitch just kept on chewing her gum, and flicking through the latest fashion magazine. I put my hand into my pocket and felt the Hypno-Coin lying there, heavier than it should be. It felt dry to my touch, flaky, like a thousand slewed snake skins, it wiggled gently under my fingers as I began to recite the words required to activate its powers. She looked up now, putting down her magazine, pushing her chair across the floor. There was a look of, what was it, fear? I couldn’t be sure, but the words were flowing now, like a river of poison, a litany of pure hate that filled her dainty fucking ears. She was wearing the earrings that I liked too, but it was too late for all of that now. The coin was in my hand, spinning, throwing strange beams of hypnotic light around the stark white classroom walls. The bitch was in my thrall at last. I was going to ask her to be nicer to me, cut me some slack, but the way she was standing there, with her arms limp at her sides, well, she looked just like a marionette that had had her strings cut. So, with that in mind, I made her dance. Up and down the classroom I made her go, banging into chairs and tables, making a huge mess. It was pure inspiration when I made her jab her eyes out with pencils. I laughed really hard at that one. Made me feel good, made me feel like I hadn’t felt in such a long time! Making her dive head first through the window brought our little show to an end, just in time as it turned out because the bell began to ring loudly snapping me from my fugue state. It looked like Miss Perkle had finally learned her lesson, and, as I watched the rest of my class file in to the room, it was high-time I taught them their lesson as well…
Role Playing Game
“Roll the dice, roll the dice,” they chanted. I picked it up, blew on it for good luck, then unloaded the emerald green fate-sealer across the paper strewn table. Everyone held their breath waiting for the result. I leaned forward and told it like it was.
“Only a natural twenty you dumb, bastards,” I said. The room erupted with jubilation, elation, relief.
“Not so fast, not so fast,” said the new Dungeon Master. He was pissed. I’d potentially killed the Ettin. “You still need to roll for damage. What you using?”
The choice was obvious.
“I’ll use my two-handed sword,” I said. What else would a skull-splittin’ barbarian of the Northern Wastes use?
Everyone nodded in agreement. Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells album rose to a fitting crescendo in the background.
I picked up another of the green dice and prayed for a high number, following the same procedure as before, but this time, I slowed it down for dramatic effect before throwing it.
Outside, it was a Friday night and most of the kids in our town were swimming in the mainstream. But in here it was buckets o’ blood, and bravery... with the promise of gold and treasure beyond compare.
We were playing a pen and paper game called D&D, where the only limits, were those of your imagination. We had seen it advertised in the back of a comic book. It looked like a lot of fun, and it was. Dice and charts are used to determine whether or not you are successful in any particular action, like I was doing now: fighting a severely wounded two-headed Ettin who had been slowly and systematically emptying a village of its inhabitants.
The die rolled and ricocheted off a miniature dungeon wall, then came to rest at the feet of a Pringles can towering over assorted maps and figurines like a giant God of junk-food.
It was a twelve. The Ettin would be going down, soon.
“Hell yeah,” went the cry, and it was high-fives all around. I sat down and felt remarkably calm after everything we had just been through. I checked my watch, still several more hours to go before I would have to head home. I didn’t dare tell my Mom what I was up to, she just wouldn’t understand, and I didn’t have the energy to explain it to her either. Besides, she hated me playing D&D. She saw an expose on Fifteen Minutes once, on how it was a ‘gateway-game’ that lead you to Satanism and/or suicide. What bullshit. It had gotten such bad press lately, especially when all those kids disappeared in the steam-tunnels while playing it. The adults said they had been summoned to hell, by the devil himself. But we kids knew the truth: that they had actually all run away from their over-controlling and manipulating parents.
But I digress, we had an Ettin to slay. Mike the dwarf was up next.
“Come on, Mike. Finish the son-of-a-bitch off so we can loot his cave,” I said, smiling, thinking of all the treasure that lay ahead. I looked at the Dungeon Master. It was the first time we had played with him, we got his name from a friend of a friend. In fact, the friend, was one of the kids that had disappeared from the tunnels.
His face seemed to change somewhat, maybe it was the flickering of the candle, I wasn’t sure, but his skin had taken on an almost unmistakable, reptilian glow. And his voice had got deeper too, more, animal like.
Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.
I tried to get up, but I couldn’t. It was as if I was stuck to my chair. I wasn’t alone. I looked around the room, everyone else was struggling to get up. The Dungeon Master’s face had changed completely now. It was demonic. Eyes, pitch-black and emotionless. Teeth, pointed, wicked, and a tongue that danced maniacally in the air. It spoke, slowly. Dreadfully.
“So, Mike,” it said, “the Ettin swings around to hit you.” The demon rolled a dice. It flew over the table leaving a trail of sparks and smoke behind it. The numbers glowed red and fierce.
“It hits…” hissed the demon. He threw another dice. Mike was trying to scream but something was muffling his voice.
The demon bent over to examine the result. His head was bowed, with his twin horns clearly evident, arching outward from his skull.
“Max damage,” he snapped, looking up.
Mike’s head fucking exploded everywhere. I took the brunt of it. Bits-and-pieces of brain, blood, and bone slugged down my face, to fall on my character sheet. Tears filled my eyes, and I realised that whatever this was, it wasn’t a game anymore…
The donut was stale and the coffee was tepid at best, but Jimmy wasn’t there for the food, or the ambience, he was there for the money.
He sat with his back to the glass door of the diner, hunched down in his tattered overcoat sneaking sidelong looks at the old man behind the till counting out the days takings. He was arthritic and slow and it was beginning to get to Jimmy, especially when he began to sort through the assorted coins.
Jimmy sat at the end of a long counter, studded with salt and pepper shakers and the occasional bottle of sauce. The gun was in his right pocket; a silver 9mm bought from a ‘friend’ in a back alley about a thousand miles away from where he was now. Outside it was snowing but inside the diner he was sweating. He tried focusing on the white cup between his hands, swirling the oily dregs in a slopping circle. A scrim of snow framed the front window. The jukebox was playing ‘God Bless ye Merry Gentleman.’ Jimmy hated Christmas.
“Get you a refill, darling?” said a voice, breaking his strained concentration. It was harder than he thought, trying to look innocent. Small towns were all the same Jimmy had come to realise; security was always lax. You just walked in and made a withdrawal.
“No thank you,” he mumbled, looking up quickly at the face of the friendly waitress standing behind the counter. He gave her a token smile. The pink name badge said her name was Kathy. He looked down quickly hoping she hadn’t got a good look at his face because the last thing he wanted was her picking him out of a line-up.
“You all right? You look a little green around the gills,” Kathy asked the sweating man.
“I think I’ve got flu,” Jimmy said, grimacing, hoping this would make her go away.
“That’s a pity. Do you want some chicken soup, honey? The chef makes a mean one, guaranteed to take care of any sickness you got in your body,” Kathy said.
She looked as if she was in her late fifties, early sixties perhaps, with a full head of soft white hair that floated above her concerned face in a maternal cloud. He shook his head and told her he was fine. It would take a lot more than chicken soup to take care of the sickness that lived inside him.
“Suit yourself,” she said. Jimmy watched her as she ambled through a set of doors that led into the kitchen. He looked around; he was the only customer left, everyone else had slipped out the doors and into the snow. He checked his watch, five o’clock. If he wanted to be at the rendezvous by ten then he had better get a move on.
“Ok... show time...” he said, under his breath, hoping the Hollywood style one liner would give him the balls to proceed because he’d never done this before. Burglary, fraud, and dealing drugs, you name it; Jimmy had done it all. But armed robbery? No, that was not his cup of tea... he didn’t like guns, detested them actually. He had even hated fireworks when he was a kid. But desperate times they say, eh?
And boy was he desperate. He felt like he had been born desperate; doing whatever it took to earn money. He’d even sold Grit as a kid. He got the idea from the back of a comic book. In the advert, the boy (also called Jimmy) was making money enough to buy himself whatever he wanted. Jimmy decided then and there, that he wanted in on that, that he wanted a little piece of that action.
So he stole the money needed to join from his Mom’s purse one Friday night, and two weeks later he was out proudly selling Grit. The problem was, was that no-one wanted to buy it. And when he did eventually get a postal order from the Head Office, it was for 20c. Twenty fucking cents. Jimmy felt like his head was about to explode. He kept at it though, and made the swift realisation that if he stole whatever he found at those premises where he knocked where no-one was home, well, he could sell that stuff on and make a lot more cash in half the time. And that’s what he did. But right now, it was time for Grit of another kind. He pulled out the gun and started shooting.
Things went wrong almost from the word go. And when they took his body to the morgue an hour later, the coroner couldn’t believe that it was Little Jimmy lying there, on the slab; Little Jimmy that used to go door-to-door selling… what was the name of that paper again?
Grit? Wasn’t it?
He was different when he came home from the war. Thinner, both outside and in. And angrier too, man, he would fly off the handle at the littlest thing. I learned to live with it, we all did. We had to. He’d fought his war, now it was our turn. He was a butcher, my dad, and would bring home the choicest cuts of meat for Sunday lunch. We might not of have had much, but we never went hungry. It was Thursday. Mom would be out at her sewing club. Dad had cooked Meatloaf, again. But this time it wasn’t half bad. I asked him about and he pointed at the advert in the paper. Spam, it said, in lurid colour. The tag line was, ‘Life with Father is LOTS more fun since we found SPAM.’ And, if tonight was anything to go by, it was. I had never seen him happier. We laughed and joked like we didn’t have a care in the world. But I should have known better. I should of, but I didn’t. In fact, up until I found the earring in my ‘Spam’, life was as good as I could ever remember. But it went south rapidly after that, when I asked him where Mom was… and he pointed at the advert again, and said, in a dull, emotionless voice, that life with father is lots more fun, since we found Spam…