Bitter 36

Diana stood on the steps surrounded by the squishy festering bodies of defeated zombies. They were fizzing and bubbling now, sinking into the stone steps. All around, the bodies decomposed like in a speeded up nature film.

Flies buzzed around.

“That was amazing,” said Diana, a big smile plastered across her sweaty face. Why was she so sweaty, Britta wondered. It wasn’t like she had a real body that needed to cool down. More ‘realism’.

Britta looked over shoulder at the others consulting their status screens.

“Don’t worry about them,” said Diana. “They’re just in shock. We’ve never managed to kill the boss before. I don’t know why it started hopping around like that, but it gave us the opening we needed. And we’ve never seen the second stage—didn’t even know there was one! Ha, those fast zombies were a bit of a surprise.” She was talking excitedly and with good humour. At least she didn’t blame Britta. Although, from the way she was talking, it almost sounded like it was Britta’s intervention that had been the turning point in the fight.

Diana opened up her status screen and looked it over. “Hasn’t updated yet. Rewards are supposed to drop when you kill a mob, but there’s some kind of bug. They usually post the rewards. Hope we get something decent.”

Britta opened up her own screen. Nothing had changed. Possibly there was nothing to change. Whether or not she had enabled the win, in reality, all she’d done was poke the big boss once and then run around like a headless chicken.

“You know, there’s a beginner’s dungeon just outside town,” said Diana. “I could help you with it. Easy level up.”

Britta considered the offer. It would help to have someone along who knew what they were doing. But did she really want to follow a better player around while they took care of all the monsters and she picked up scraps of XP here and there? Relying on other people was hardly the best way to become strong and independent. If her real life had taught her anything, it was that the only person she should depend on was herself.

“Thanks, but I’m going to log out for now. It’s four in the morning where I am.”

“Ah, okay.” Diana smiled again. “Well, you’ve got my number. Give me a shout if you need a hand.” She walked off towards the other players who were all chatting excitedly, probably reliving key moments of the battle. Britta couldn’t tell because she couldn’t hear them.

Even though she had used the time as an excuse to turn down Diana’s offer, she was actually quite tired. She hit the exit button and left the game.

When she opened her eyes she was bathed in sweat again. She climbed out of the pod and walked out of the room doing a bit of a zombie impression, trying to avoid the touch of her cold clingy clothes.

She stripped in her room and towelled herself off. She did consider taking a shower but as soon as she put her head down on the pillow to have a moment’s rest, she fell asleep.

Hunger pangs pinched her stomach when she woke. Light streamed in around the edges of her curtains. The clock on her bedside table said it was after three in the afternoon.  Britta was lying on top of her covers and felt a bit cold. She also smelled terrible.

Her first thought was about the game. The annoyance at how she’d been treated for making a simple mistake—not even a mistake, really—had subsided. If it hadn’t been for her, all those ‘pro’ players would never have defeated the boss monster but they were too wrapped up in themselves to even realise it. A more realistic game didn’t make a difference to people’s personalities.

It didn’t matter, they could run around pretending they were heroes all they wanted. Britta had given the game a decent go and while it was visually stunning, the game itself was a bit too much like real life. If she wanted to be surrounded by unreasonable people behaving unpleasantly, she didn’t need a pod to experience that.

After a shower and some cereal, she sat in the kitchen in a bathrobe and a towel wrapped around her head. There were plenty of things she could do today. She washed up the dishes and cleaned the countertop. It was Saturday and her homework alone would take all day to complete. She walked out of the kitchen. Or she could binge watch something on Netflix. Or… she looked down. Somehow she had wound up in the living room, standing over the pod.

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