by Kyle Kirkpatrick

Sean looked at his alarm clock. It was already quarter past three and he hadn’t read a single chapter in his textbook for his 10 a.m. philosophy seminar at Rider.

Whatever, he thought. Twenty more minutes.or at least until this battle is finished. Maybe an hour at most. Or two, we’ll see. Besides, it’s not like he couldn’t talk philosophy on three hours rest. BSing is an art in itself.

It was nearing 6 a.m. when he finally shut his computer down. He flicked on the bathroom light and smeared the last bit of Colgate on his worn toothbrush. Guess this could technically count for the morning too, he concluded.

As he moseyed back to his lair, his roommate emerged wrapped in only a towel, readying for another crew practice. “Late night, huh?” he asked.

He had no idea.

“Yeah, I guess you could say that,” Sean responded.

When his head finally hit his pillow, it seemed that he still couldn’t close his eyes. Maybe it was the Adderall from earlier in the day, or maybe it’s just hard to convince the body that it needs rest after seven hours of sitting — or slumping — on one asscheek.

His cat, Wendy, jumped up on his chest and gently pawed his face. She got her name after Sean found her rooting through a bag of Wendy’s one night when he was stoned in the parking lot. Or maybe it was a he. Sean never really bothered to check.

She gently swiped at his face, not enough to break the skin, but enough to be profoundly annoying. Foooood. She kept pawing. Foooooooood. Sean finally tossed her onto the floor.

“Here’s an idea, Wendy,” he whispered angrily. “How about you find your own food! Maybe kill one of those centipedes running around here! There sure seem to be enough of those! Do something worthwhile for once!” He rolled over and squeezed his eyes closed, hoping to fall asleep, or at least drift into a state of semi-consciousness.

When his cell phone alarm began to crescendo the next morning Sean was already awake, but he felt completely immobile. The last thing he wanted to do was listen to some hippie professor give his two cents on the myth of altruism. But still, the only thing worse than getting up for that class was listening to that torturous alarm. Sean finally got up and mashed every button on his phone until it stopped.

He didn’t have any “clean” clothes per se, but he did have a t-shirt that he wore only once last week, and he figured it had time to air out by now. He skipped his shower (it wasn’t like his philosophy class was a model of cleanliness, after all) and rushed out the door, already ten minutes late.

As he hopped on the bus, he was immediately greeted by a grating chorus of chatter and gossip. Guys sitting together talking about how many beers they shotgunned the night before, or blabbering mindlessly about last night’s buzzer-beater from the Knicks game. Girls talking about who they’ve hooked up with, or want to hook up with, or are currently hooking up with, or who will be their backup hook-up if they can’t hook up with the guy they were hoping to hook up with, or who they won’t hook up with because they want to date them — not just hook up.

It all made him sick. These people had no idea they were leading such petty, meaningless lives, he thought. He didn’t associate with those kinds of people — or any people, really — depending on other people to get by was a sign of weakness, he thought. But there was one exception.

By 10:30, he flung open the door to his 10 a.m. philosophy seminar, and there she sat. Amanda’s hair was curly and unkempt, and as always, very, very red. She wore a wrinkled floral tunic and jeans that were about one size too big. Sean always joked that she was trying to look homeless, but he thought she looked gorgeous.

Amanda was Sean’s first and only love, and they’d been together almost two years; she seemed like the only person that could tolerate his endless cynicism and general disdain for humanity. She saw untapped genius in Sean, as if his gloomy facade sheltered a fountain of intellect and creativity. Like Russell Crowe, or something.

“…And with that, we’ll be taking a ten-minute break, guys. See you in a few,” the professor announced.

“Wow, I was later than I thought,” Sean said sheepishly. Amanda rolled her eyes and leaned in. “Please, please, PLEASE tell me it’s not because you were up all night playing that computer game again.Warcraft World, or whatever it’s called.”

“World of Warcraft,” he corrected her. “And no, I just couldn’t get to sleep. My roommate was being noisy and Wendy kept meowing —”

“You were up all night playing World of Warcraft, Sean.”

“Yeah,” he responded.

Amanda tried to keep her composure, as she always did. But it was becoming more and more difficult to make excuses for him. His eyelids sagged, and his man-boobs were starting to, also. His beard grew thicker by the day, but not in the “rugged, outdoorsy man” kind of way. More like the “I just learned that I can grow facial hair” kind of way. He just looked … tired.

“Alright, tell ya what,” she said. “How about we just have a ‘you and me’ night tonight? I’ll bring some wine, you take care of the food. We’ll just relax and enjoy each other’s company, and if your roommate’s not home then we can really enjoy each other’s company.”

“OK,” Sean responded flatly. That wasn’t exactly what he had planned for tonight.

“OK then. I guess I’ll come to your place around eight, then. Can’t wait.”

Sean went home on a mission. He sat down at his computer with a bag of Spicy Nacho Doritos (his favorite) and two Red Bulls (sugar free, of course). He couldn’t click the “World of Warcraft” icon. Time was not on his side — Amanda would be over in seven hours, hardly enough time to build significantly on his level 10 Sorcerer character.

He took turns chugging Red Bull and licking Doritos cheese from his fingers. He hunched over, pupils dilated, extinguishing every monster in his path.

“Bring it on. Bring it on, bitches,” he found himself whispering aloud. Red bull, Doritos, monsters, repeat. No enemy could challenge him; he had amassed such a formidable virtual arsenal that he felt invincible, untouchable.

It was a feeling that was unattainable in everyday life. It was impossible to be the hero, let alone the king, as a pimply 22-year-old philosophy major. This wasn’t just an escape — this was how he once envisioned life was supposed to be.

Sean continued his online onslaught through the afternoon, something that had become commonplace, to say the least. It seemed that he had just sat down at his computer when he looked at the clock. Seven thirty.

“Seven thirty.”

Dazed, Sean removed his custom-padded headphones and powered down his computer. He had thirty minutes to find dinner and no car. Time had escaped him again, but it wasn’t like he hadn’t pulled anything like this off before. Besides, there was a Krauszers only two blocks away. Of course they’d have dinner — that’s why they call them Krauszers “Food Stores.”

Sean heard a knock on the door at 8:03 (after all, Amanda was always on time). Her hair straightened, she wore a silk blouse, tucked into her high-waisted skirt, along with brand new high-heeled boots. “Hey, what’s up?” Sean droned. “You look different.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Amanda asked.

“I don’t know, I guess it’s ‘cause you never wear skirts. Or maybe it’s the hair. You hungry?”

“Uh, yeah!” Amanda responded. “I got this bottle of A-vant . . . Avanthia Godo — whatever. It’s good wine, I think. What’s for dinner?”

Sean handed her the plastic grocery bag. “I wasn’t sure what to get, so I kind of just got a variety of stuff.”

Amanda’s shoulders sunk as she looked into the bag. Microwavable burritos, Hot Pockets, a frozen pizza. She stared blankly, frozen with disappointment. Her eyes began to well up.

“What’s wrong, babe?” Sean pleaded. It was the first sign of concern he’d shown in weeks. “Oh jeez, I forgot you don’t like pepperoni.” Amanda looked helpless, as if any words she could muster would be meaningless. She gazed over at Sean’s desk, which was littered with crumbs and toppled Red Bull cans.

“I just … can’t … Sean.”

“What do you mean, you can’t?” Sean’s voice ticked up an octave.

“I can’t.” There was no agonizing pause, no dramatic stare. She dropped the bag of groceries and walked away, gently and calmly closing the door behind her.

A lone frozen burrito rolled toward Sean’s feet. He quickly shoveled it back into the bag and tossed it into the freezer, where it belonged.

Sean wasn’t used to dealing with loss. After all, it’s hard to lose much when you don’t have much. His family told him to “keep busy,” whatever that means.

One thing Sean did know how to do was kill time. Night after night, a familiar glow emanated from his room. Sean rarely emerged unless he was running low on fuel (caffeine and Combos).

He may have lost his love, his best friend, and his sole human complement, but Sean never really seemed fazed. When one door closes, another opens, he thought. His life was now free of any and all obligation. No longer any need to please another human being, and school? Ha, school.

The days began to mesh together as Sean’s addiction grew stronger. He vaguely remembered seeing the subject line of an email from the Dean: “URGENT: REGARDING YOUR SCHOLARSHIP FOR THE FALL 2011 SEMESTER.” He didn’t bother opening it. College was just another way for cigar-smoking big wigs to suck money out of the people that needed it most, he thought. It was all better just left alone.

It had been a full month since Amanda left. He hadn’t heard from her since, save one text that read “hope ur doing ok.” Sean was doing great, by Sean’s standards. Sure, he hadn’t eaten a square meal or exercised for 30 days, but he was a full-fledged Internet celebrity. He was a powerful — no, dominant — force in World of Warcraft, and his ‘E’-peers praised his commitment and hard work.

One Friday night (or was it Saturday), a faint aroma of burning plastic slithered into Sean’s nostrils. His monitor turned a bright blue, then black. A light toxic steam leaked out from his computer tower. He covered his mouth and smothered it with his bath towel. He peered in, and saw that his cooling fan — the one that he saved weeks of his parents’ “lunch” money to buy — had failed.

He collapsed on his bed, still incapable of shedding a tear or letting out a scream. Glancing around his room, he searched for something — anything — to keep him company.

Sean called out to Wendy, who had her head buried in an industrial-sized bag of cat food. She gleefully hopped onto his lap as he let out a meek smile and snagged the remote control from his dresser.

“Well,” he said, “at least there’s always TV.”

Kyle Kirkpatrick is a Rutgers graduate (Class of 2009). He lives in New Brunswick, working in community and economic development. This is his first — but not last — attempt at short fiction. His father’s story precedes his.

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