The bus floor smells like old shoes and tonsillolith. A fine layer of dirt scrapes like sandpaper against the side of my face. There’s not much I can do.
The duct tape around my wrists keeps me from moving too far from the bus seat I’m bound to. Nick is laughing. It’s all a big joke to him, and everyone else is joining in, chanting “one-brow”. I can’t see what they’re doing but I feel something press and drag against my forehead. There’s a sharp pain as the hair of my eyebrow is caught by the razor. I hear laughter and indistinct comments but that’s all. No one comes to help me. The reason doesn’t matter, they’re all accomplices in my mind.
Then someone wipes their naked butt across my crew cut.
The bus driver won’t even come help me. He just sits while the bus idles. After a few minutes he gets up and summons my dad from the house.
I lie there, silently fuming. I rub the raw patch of skin where my eyebrow used to be.
My dad boards the bus and walks to the back. He kneels next to me and cuts the duct tape. I can move my arms again, but I don’t want to get up, don’t want to talk about it. I lie there, silently fuming. I rub the raw patch of skin where my eyebrow used to be.
Eventually my dad gets me into the house. My parents ask me what happened. I don’t tell them everything; they were mad enough as it was. I know they’ll say something at the school but that doesn’t help me at all. All I know is I don’t want to leave the house.
Every time I relive the incident, a knot of fear grows in my stomach. I finally realize that what I need is to go see my old friend, Deckard Cain.
I still remember when I first met Deckard Cain. He told me of the hero who threw down Diablo in the tunnels beneath Tristram. He told me of his inability to save Tristram and of the evil that had befallen those who dwelt there. He was my mentor and guide.
“It would appear that our greatest fears have come to pass.”
If only he knew how true his scripted words were. Nick was the Diablo to my Cain. Only the red skin, horns, and lordship over the underworld were missing. In their place was a skinny, hatchet-faced kid who was bigger and stronger than me and as mean as the Lord of Terror himself.
“You must stop him or all will be lost.”
Deckard Cain’s words became the mantra which would carry me through the rest of my adventure, the words that gave me a power beyond my abilities in the game. His praise and assistance filled me with confidence and courage. I now had a real purpose.
His praise and assistance filled me with confidence and courage. I now had a real purpose.
My defiance was small at first. I stopped responding to the taunts and insults. Ignoring them seemed like the best option even if it was a passive one. It wasn’t likely that my hero would have ever accepted such abuse, but I was not him. I could not fight as he could, so I went home and relieved my frustration in the game. Yet with every vanquished foe, a small thought flickered and grew within me: What if I could be like my character? It was a life raft of hope in that sea of dread.
“I’m afraid that this nightmare will not end…”
Diablo II continued to be my go-to escape but some fundamental aspect had changed. Spending time in the game felt pointless. I still had to go to school and deal with the threat of Nick every day. But still I played on. I wanted to finish what I started. I plunged endlessly into the dungeon, eventually reaching Level 68. I was rewarded with the rarest item I’d ever found: A Shako helmet called The Harlequin Crest. It’s bright green and ridiculous, but it’s also incredibly powerful.
I defeated Diablo and rescued Sanctuary from his grasp, but it didn’t satisfy the restlessness inside of me. I bought myself a new hat, the same shade of green as the helmet I’d shed digital blood, sweat, and tears to attain. Still, I felt empty when I wore it. This wasn’t a victory. I was still just putting up with Nick every day. I had to stand up against the evil that was violating my inner Sanctuary, or I would never feel satisfaction.
I was rewarded with the rarest item I’d ever found: A Shako helmet called The Harlequin Crest. It’s bright green and ridiculous, but it’s also incredibly powerful.
“Don’t give in to your fears.”
I arrived at school the next day wearing my new hat. There he was, as always. He walked up and snatched the hat off my head, laughing as he held it out of my reach. His eyes mocked me, daring me to do something. I stood my ground, staring daggers at my tormentor. I felt an electric charge in the air between us. Terrified out of my mind but dead set on not giving in again, I channeled all of the pent-up humiliation and anger in the only way my 14-year-old brain could fathom.
I took a swing. Nick didn’t flinch as it brushed off of his shoulder, but he did look confused.
He quickly wrapped me into a headlock. I struggled as hard as I could to break out of the hold, determined not to give in.
His free hand swung in and bloodied my lip. My mouth was swollen but I was numb to the pain. I reached up and latched onto the arm around my neck, ripping myself free. As I gasped for breath, I balled up my fists. I faced Nick, just a few feet away.
He glared at me. “Go fuck yourself, nerd,” he said. Then he stormed away, slamming his palm against the bank of lockers.
Something had changed in our dynamic. I had taken back some semblance of control. I had stood my ground.
She was holding my green hat. When she smiled, her headgear gleamed bright like the Champion Sword, Doombringer.
As I regained my composure, someone approached me. It was Jessica from chess club. She was holding my green hat. When she smiled, her headgear gleamed bright like the Champion Sword Doombringer.
She knocked some dust off the hat and handed it to me. She smiled.
“Here you go, Christopher.”