The Ranger Queen of Sulphur

It was nearly dawn. Deana had been up all night disbanding a cult of hooded dwarves who were sacrificing children to a giant eyeball. Her mouth was dry, her eyeballs were fuzzy. There was a tinny hum in her head. But she decided that as long as she was awake anyway, she might as well do as she’d promised and go with her brother to his eight o’clock appointment at the obesity specialist. With at least an hour before she had to leave the house, she packed another bowl into her pipe. She opened her bedroom window, perched the box fan facing outward on the sill, and lit another stick of sandalwood incense, which she sank into the barren dirt of the flowerpot on her cluttered desk. She hit the bowl. She clicked the mouse.

There was plenty of time yet to seek out a curative potion for her druid, who had been struck by a poisoned arrow and was hemorrhaging massive hit points each turn. Whenever the poison took its toll, the little druid avatar, a long-haired, leather-clad figure with a wooden staff, would shudder and go “Hunh!” In five turns, he would be dead. Azama (née Deana), exiled ranger queen, halted her party in a circle of stone ruins and cast a healing spell on her afflicted companion. It was only a palliative, but it would buy them some time. “Hunh!” said the druid, and shuddered.

From the dark beyond the ruins emerged a specter in a purple shroud, its hand held up as if in blessing. There was a bright flash. The trees, the stream, the adventurers—all went eerily still. The specter, moving fast, came to each frozen figure in turn and touched them with its thin fingers. One after another they silently died, last of all the ranger queen. Now on the screen a human hand floated in a starry cosmos. It turned and stretched its fingers as though its owner were regarding it in wonder. With a spasm, the hand exploded into dust. The game blinked off and Deana found herself looking instead at the keyboarding tutorial she had left open the previous night.

“The fuck?” she said. The timer on the ten-key numeric test was still running, nine hours and thirty-seven minutes later.

Granted, she was stoned and therefore apt to overlook or misinterpret vital details, but a lengthy search through her hard drive revealed no evidence of the game file that represented more than four hundred hours of her life for the last four months—about twice what she’d spent at work, and fifteen times what she’d spent on her classes at the vocational college.

It took another long while (just under nine minutes, according to the typing timer) of watching a red ember burn the incense stick to ash before she began to understand the magnificence of this loss. All of it, she thought, just gone.

More time gone getting dressed, changing clothes again and again, trying to like this body she had inherited from her father and shared with her brother, this imposing colossus that stood five feet eleven with shoulders like a linebacker’s, this mighty frame that—despite breasts for which she had to special-order brassieres—looked ridiculous, she thought, in dresses and in most women’s clothes. Fine, so clothe it in jeans, a crew neck T. Why fuss over what cannot be helped? Although she was large, yes, dense and big of bone, unlike her brother she was not obese; her body, she thought in her best moments, was the body of a warrior. Her best moments, unfortunately, were few.

She had written the information about Jonathan’s appointment around the edges of a pay stub and stashed it somewhere not obvious, not on her desk, not in her wallet. Finally she found it on her dresser, under bras and Coke cans. When she pulled it from the mess, she started an avalanche. She kicked aside the towel that was blocking the crack under her door and gave her shoes a twice-over on the way out, once to see if they were tied (they were) and once more because by the time she looked up, she’d already forgotten whether they were or not.

And she was almost on her way.

 

Photo: US National Archives


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