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The American Quest

Alex’s breath fogged in the cold night air. The sweatshirt he’d grabbed from the back of his chair smelled like old milk or cheese. Alex checked the pocket and pulled the lint out, throwing the tuft into the bushes. By two-ish in the morning, the streets had died. Earlier, pangs of hunger had set in, and Alex didn’t want the last package of noodles, crunched and broken on the cupboard shelf. He deserved a treat.

The corner-store was less than two blocks from his single bedroom flat. The neighborhood was built in the 1970s and had gone into disrepair due mostly to landlords hording money against unsung bullshit. No one really knew the state of things anymore, especially with how much the politicians garbled. For Wall Street things were fantastic, thought Alex. For the out-of-work, code monkeys, not so much.

Alex walked through the intersection of Derby Street, dimly lit against a flickering streetlight. He could see two figures standing next to a parked car, their hoods pulled over their heads, creating a single, large shadow behind them. He figured they must be kids, probably breaking into cars. He watched as one guy slapped the other’s arm with the back of his hand and pointed towards Alex. For a moment, Alex thought of the game he’d just left. Maybe they were players too. He always wanted to meet fellow gamers in the wild. He’d love to talk to someone about the loot he’d collected or the secret dungeon he’d crawled through for the fiftieth time, all for a random chance at a glorious riding mount. He’d been trying for half a year.

“Hey, you got a light.” One of the hooded men asked as he came shuffling up the sidewalk. He held a bent cigarette between two fingers.

“No, man. Sorry.” Alex looked down the sidewalk.

“You got a few bucks then?” The guy turned toward the corner store, shouldering next to Alex as he walked. The other guy pushed lightly on Alex other shoulder with a hand as if to say he was repeating the question. Alex kept walking. He thought about the night he’d won the crown jewel riding mount off the six armed beast, Death Strider. The mount was coveted by players throughout his server. Many farmed it after the weekly reset, because that was the best time to defeat the boss and get the mount — the statistics gathered from thousands of playing hours suggested as much. Fourteen had been found dropped within an hour of server reset.

“I don’t have any extra money. I’m heading to get a few slices of pizza,” Alex’s voice cracked. He was sorry he’d said it. Why would he tell them what he was doing?

The only time Alex saw the mount, the raid leader, a goblin named Chugbugoo, had pocketed it for himself, even though Alex’s character, Teemo, was the one who rolled the highest. The mount was rightfully Alex’s. He’d filed a petition and waited for redemption, logging in at odd hours to see if his request had been fulfilled by Sky Support. Then the green check-mark had been ticked and Alex saw the stupid response. Loot rules needed to be said upfront. A master loot raid was up to the discretion of the leader. Alex then knew the dice rolls were for show — the true power was held by the raid leader. After that, he’d always forced the lead to announce loot rules in chat.

The guy behind Alex said, “Why don’t you just give us your wallet and we’ll go in there and get what you wanted?” He said it like the offer made sense, like he was talking to a fourteen year old girl looking to buy Schnapps, not a guy who hadn’t seen the Death Strider mount in fourteen weeks, a guy who only wanted to buy a few slices of pizza to push down the bile gurgling up his throat.

“No.” Alex stopped walking, his hands hanging dumb at his side. “I’m not giving you shit,” He looked at each of them. He saw their scrawny faces, the sprouts of hair under their chins, acne scars, bloodshot eyes. He saw terror curtained behind a drugged veneer.

“Now leave me be.” The one guy laughed, and the other followed with a snort and a short squeal. “We’re just giving you the rub,” the other parroted the same, but Alex didn’t care. He was going to get his reward.