Daryl’s resolve had been fully reinstalled by Vanessa, the love of his life. He now had a force fortifying him, filling the few remaining empty spots of his soul with purpose. With an emotional connection expressed physically, one is far less vulnerable to the wounds that Life so desperately tries to inflict with His rapier.
That is, of course, unless heartbreak is involved. For as rewarding as is the ascent to the top of the mountain, the tumbling downward is doubly painful. Given enough time, even the most sincere relationships can deteriorate, either losing their vitality or compromising until all that remains is a shadow.
And the shade is fine. Unless you’ve walked in the sunlight.
And there ain’t nothing more enlightening than love.
For Daryl, this had been a week of visions – both literal and figurative. He saw that his life, imperfect though it may be, could be reaching its apex. His friends, tortured in their own ways, had the possibility of any number of better realities slipping through their hands. And it was in his power, Daryl knew, to take the course of action that would realign the universe and set things straight.
But, just to be sure, he decided to stop in to 8-Bit’s house for a visit.
A knock on the door. A few moments’ delay. A warm maternal greeting. “Oh, Daryl, thank you so much for stopping by! Come on in — that October chill will kill you!”
With an earnest consideration, “Well, there are worse months to die in than October,” he half-laughed.
“Ha! I suppose so!”
Daryl appreciated the cordiality, but he was really looking to check in on his friend. “So, where’s 8-Bit? Can I talk to him?”
“He — wait, what’s that nickname you gave him?”
“Oh yes! How could I forget? Well, 8-Bit hasn’t come up from the basement since we brought him home last night. When I went down there this morning, I found him asleep with that controller in his hand, the videogame screen still on.
“I thought he just needed some space…that maybe he’d come around on his own. But he never came up. The morning came and went and he never came upstairs. I’d open the door and listen but all I’d hear was the video game. Normally when he plays on that machine he laughs and swears and screams, but there was nothing. It was as if he’d lost his voice.
“Around noon I figured I’d cheer him up by making his favorite lunch for him. I marched into the basement and exclaimed, ‘Hey hun, look what I have — grilled cheese and tomato with the crusts cut off! Any other day he’d pounce, shoveling it down his throat before he’d even have time to taste it. But he didn’t move from the couch. He didn’t even look me in the eyes. He just sort of nodded his head and kept playing.”
Daryl and his friend’s mother tacitly conversed, saying more through silence than any words would ever express. Both felt, in some way, responsible for the assault. Pausing at the door of the basement refuge, each guessed the other’s thoughts with uncanny accuracy.
A parent hating herself for never letting her son explore the more physical activities of boyhood.
In kindergarten he was interested in karate…but I thought it was too violent. Maybe…maybe he would’ve been able to defend himself if I had signed him up. Instead I gave him books and a computer, hoping intellect could serve him well. How wrong was I?
A friend hating himself for having stood up to an adolescent tormentor, thereby making targets of his more vulnerable friends.
If only I hadn’t embarrassed Brady Moore in the cafeteria, none of this would’ve happened. But I couldn’t let him continue to harass my friends without retribution…But now look what I’ve done — both of my friends are worse off than when they started.
Daryl’s visage offered his friend’s mother a silent promise.
When you fight the tyrant, he squeezes his fist and pulverizes the weak. But if you never fight the tyrant, you still remain in the palm of his hand. So the only option is to put the tyrant on his knees and chop off both of his goddamn hands.
8-Bit’s mother looked at the boy before her. No, he wasn’t a boy, nor a man, nor even a champion. She knew that he was a hero. Sizing him up, she just knew he had some heroics, some plans designed to set right that which had been wronged, in store for the near future. As a parent, she could have made an attempt to thwart a foolish course. Except…
An open window supplied a hearty afternoon draft of October. It swept across her entire body, chilling her to the bone yet bringing a warmth to her heart. She sucked it in and was both sobered and intoxicated. It massaged the back of her neck and murmured reassurances into her ear.
Weep not for naked trees.
For after winter’s worst
They renew dutiful.
Only in their deaths
Are the leafs
Lungs full of the tenth month, Daryl descended the stairs. He could hear the upbeat Calypso-rock of World 4-1. Ah yes, the stout plumber hopping over giant tubes, fighting monsters and dodging the aerial assaults of a cloud-man. Hunting down and the dinosaur that kidnapped his girlfriend with the hopes of destroying the beast for once and all. It was an epic struggle, the tale of an average man defying unthinkable odds, balancing the scales of justice that all too often sway like a pendulum.
And for the only time in his life, 8-Bit felt as though he were in control.
“Hey buddy, what’s going on?” Daryl approached the couch. “Mind if I sit next to you? I love watching your way through the Mushroom Kingdom?”
8-Bit sighed. He didn’t want anyone to care about him. His mother, his friend, at this point they were nuisances tethering him to the realm of self-esteem. He wished he could be forgotten completely, given up on absolutely, swept under the rug and trampled upon. Maybe that way, he wouldn’t run the risk of another hospitalization.
“Sure. Have a seat.” The gamer cleared the cushion to his right for his friend, tossing the crutches on the basement floor.
“Oh shit, dude — crutches? I didn’t realize…”
“Is it your leg?” Daryl immediately knew how stupid the question was.
“Yeah. The right one.” A four-syllable staccato. Followed by another. “It is fucked up.”
Daryl looked at his friend. Past the thick lenses resting on either side of his nose. Through the reflection of the television’s pixilated madness. Scraping off the veneer of disconnection, he could see it still. The depression, apathy, and self-loathing had been laid on thick, but Daryl could see what they were trying to imprison, what their Gulag was hoping to suppress.
A goddamn superpower.
And at this moment in time, Daryl wasn’t so sure that the superpower he was seeing was of the figurative sort. He felt dizzy in the same way as he had at Bandini’s Café. The room became hazy and the blue light from the television surrounded him entirely. There was no more basement. There was no 8-Bit, no couch, no Nintendo Entertainment System. No materiality.
Just essence. Pure, unadulterated information. A delivery of unfathomable cognitive sensation. Which, of course, is a bright shade of electric blue.
After another swirling of perception, the blue energy became concentrated, confined, contained. Within a neon lightbulb. At a bar. In Japan. Decades earlier. Daryl couldn’t quite make out what was happening, but he saw that two men — one suited gray and the other suited black suit — were having a conversation. A final conversation. And just as it was about to reach its climax, the indigo aura returned him to 8-Bit’s basement.
Upon his arrival, he remembered just how close his compatriot was to teetering over a precipice and into the ravine of personal ruin. He snatched the rectangular controller out of 8-Bit’s hand, instantly gaining his attention. Daryl was going to bring this soul back from the brink. And in doing so, he would ensure that every door could be opened, every threshold crossed.
“8-Bit, I know you don’t want to hear this. And I know you’re going to be skeptical, but you just need to believe me. You have an ability inside of you that you can’t even fathom yet. You’re not going to be stuck with this…this shitty existence forever. I promise you. I won’t let that happen.”
The glasses were removed and the two balled-up fists repelled the tears. 8-Bit, despite wishing otherwise, was listening.
Daryl continued. “I know the last thing you want to do is go to school tomorrow. But something…something huge is going to happen. And you have to be there. I can’t explain what it is, but I’ve almost seen it, if that makes sense. Please, tell me you’ll be at the pep rally tomorrow.”
It took every remaining ounce of strength to prevent himself from saying otherwise. “I’ll be there.”
“Yes!” Daryl hopped up with enthusiasm. “I assure you — on our friendship — I’m going to make a believer of you yet!”
“A believer of what?”