This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

Carl’s gaming chair, with its cracked upholstery, multitude of off-white and reddish-brown stains, and faint, rotten sweet stench, was only the centerpiece to his vile quarters. There were less putrid decorations strewn about – dirty laundry dating back two months (which amounted to five or six outfits) and knick-knacks and peeling posters of animated characters – but the corners of his room hid the most offensive filth. A moldy, maggot-ridden trash bin was toppled by the closet, welcoming anyone brave enough to enter with a paralyzing odor, and plastic bottles of glassy, amber liquid were tucked underneath the bed, which, unfortunately, were not the only bodily fluids stored away there. How Carl could look at such a grotesque landscape and consider it the apex of comfort was criminal. It was home.

Excursions beyond the grimy dungeon walls were rare and trips outside of the house were even more occasional - usually forced on him by his mother who fretted about jaundice and an “unhealthy lack of sunlight”. Carl would argue that he held sunlight in a generally favorable perspective except in two cases: when it was directed at his computer screen, and when it caused temperatures to rise above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which he deemed unbearable. This dramatic approach to mildly warm temperatures was indeed hyperbole, though it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine weather above the threshold causing him to melt into a slimy puddle of blubber – such was his softness and fragility. But Carl had accepted this. Everyone had. It was his father that accepted it first, that time in little league when the pitcher released a wild pitch to the inside, barely grazing Carl’s knee, sending him and his father into shame as he cried like an infant and was dragged off the field, unwilling to walk on it. Inevitably, others began to notice his utter intolerance for pain and his tendency to give up at the onset of difficulty. This would change, though, if only for a time.

In August of 2024, a new animated television show by the name of “Stylus” was released in the United States. Carl’s taste leaned in the direction of Japanese film and television, but he made an exception based on the supposed pop-culture relevance. Carl was unimpressed by the first episode, as voiced in his internet forum post.

MEGABOSS044 8/9/24 03:16:24  

Ah, yes, the archetypal superhero origin story! How many times will this trope be beaten to death? If it were only a more compelling character with unique powers, it might be bearable, but Stylus is LITERALLY THE SAME AS GREEN LANTERN! Sure, he has to draw the object instead of imagining it, but it is effectively the same. Oh, I wonder where this one is going…. NOT! Incoming episodes of the protagonist struggling to develop and strengthen his superpower sprinkled with interpersonal conflict with his best friend and a love triangle that will inevitably end with Stylus getting the girl and Clyde accepting his position as the comic relief who will never find love. The ONLY reason I am going to watch the next episode is to feel the satisfaction of my prediction proving true.  

Carl waited unenthusiastically for another week until the next episode was released. This time, he was met with surprise.

MEGABOSS044 8/15/24 23:54:02  

Well, I suppose I will have to eat my words a bit. I am not often wrong, but I will admit when I am. It was quite refreshing to see Clyde steal some of the spotlight from Stylus. He is the only character that is truly intriguing, and while the other characters offer a marginal level of depth, Clyde is the only character capable of capturing the attention of the most intellectual audience members. Of course, the damsel is reeling in her lapse in judgment and is still head over heels for Stylus, but one can hope that she comes around in the next episodes.

That night was grew long for Carl, whose imagination picked away at what the next episode might hold. When he did sleep, he dreamt a chimera of his own world and the world of Stylus. In the following days, he maintained his balanced routine of 10 hours of gaming and 10 hours of sleep, but often both activities were interrupted with nagging curiosity.

MEGABOSS044 8/23/24 01:03:58

OH. MY. GOD. HOW DID I NOT SEE THIS COMING! Of course Clyde has superpowers! It should be noted that the producers worked this in quite skillfully, and I suppose I was clouded by my own perceptions to not see it coming. This was a masterpiece beyond that of entertainment. It was a work of art. The battle between Stylus and The Duke foreshadowed doom and utter destruction, BUT THEN! BUT THEN! Clyde channels every emotion in such a beautiful twist, and reveals his superpower! This couldn’t come at a better time, since now it is obvious that Clyde is the true hero. It is such a relief to see Clyde finally given the respect he deserves. And the once deluded Katie has a moment of enlightenment, and overflowing with joy and tenderness, kisses the obvious hero in the heat of her passion – as she should. This episode was PERFECTION.

PB&JiffyLube 8/23/24 01:10:11

Dude… Relax.

BlastedUnicorn6969 8/23/24 01:11:59

Lol holy cringe what a f****** incel

SilentCruz88 8/23/24 01:22:13

F*** Clyde, team Stylus all the way b****

The harsh replies hardly touched Carl amidst the euphoria. He had heard it all before and far worse, whether it was concealed in whispers in those tight circles of peers always forming when he was out of reach or shouted belligerently across the cafeteria. The comments were peripheral – the moment was transcendent. Carl re-watched the episode three times that night, and he looped the battle scene for at least seven. Clyde – misunderstood, timid, sensitive – underwent his metamorphosis, not an evolution, but a change that preserved his core DNA, siphoning the assaults, slander, and abuse, and reforming them into the motive force of his new power.

Carl awoke the next morning with a fire in his heart. He couldn’t bear to sit in his chair – that was too sedentary. He needed adventure, to tear down his boundaries and move beyond comfort. Carl remembered Clyde, bloody and beaten, with his strong, soft voice, brimming with determination as he struck The Duke with unpredictable strength. Carl left his room.

“Mother, I will be going outdoors today. No need to accompany me.”

His mother hovered over the kitchen stove, mouth agape, and a glint of hope filled her eyes.

“Enjoy yourself, honey! I’ll have lunch for you when you get back.”

Clyde would never burden another by making them provide him a meal.

“No, Mother, I think I will forage for my own food.”

There was a large creek that wound through the suburb, surrounded by preserved forest that was most often inhabited by drunks or druggies. To Carl, this seemed the most natural place to begin. In order to channel great power like Clyde, he thought, he must dig deep and find his most primal self, and within this primal self he would find the building blocks of unprecedented achievement. He breathed in the sharp, dynamic air powerfully and purposefully. He removed his shoes and his socks – they were only barriers between him and the earth, the ancient roots and the green vegetation’s life force. His stomach rumbled with hunger, as it had been months since he had spent longer than a few hours without food. Returning was not an option. Carl’s eyes narrowed, suddenly realizing the task before him. He must hunt.

Thankfully, the forest floor was not lacking in weaponry. It took all of thirty minutes for Carl to scavenge then assemble a crude spear, sharpened with a stone he found by the creek bed. He beamed at his success. All that was left was to locate his prey, and the rest was primal instinct. Carl waited. Much longer than anticipated. His feet and back ached, his ankles became fodder for mosquitoes, but he would not relent. As the sun grew dim in the orange sky cracked by the tendrils of trees, Carl spotted movement along the water’s bank. It was brief, but it caught his attention, now honed by the intense urge to feast on something. He scanned the bank until he saw it again – a furry brown thing larger than a squirrel, perhaps a beaver of some sort, low and stout and deceivingly quick. Carl fumbled his spear, struck with joy intense and surreal. He wasted no time, trouncing through the woods directly at the beast, leaves crunching loudly with each step. A branch swiped his face as he ran, and for the span of two seconds he considered crying out at the pain. But that’s not what Clyde would do. So Carl continued forward through the cold, knee high water while the furry thing remained calmly stationary. Carl contorted his body into an unbalanced coil, then released it as he heaved the sharpened stick at the rodent. The stick hit the creek bank with an unimpressive thud, and the rodent scurried away into the tall grass.

It was not all a failure – Carl had discovered a strength in himself that was previously untapped. However, he still lacked nourishment. As he sat above the creek, leaning on a rotting trunk, watching as the curve of the sun flattened into the horizon, a glint of color shone but a few feet away. The berries were an enticing red, small but appealing. He picked a handful and stuffed them in his mouth, and his tongue met with a bitter juice that resembled tomato.

Twilight melted into night, and Carl found himself unable to move. Breaths became swift as a dizzy fog filled his head and an uneasy tightness gripped his stomach. Sweat poured from his glands even though he was horribly cold. But Carl didn’t scream in pain – certainly Clyde wouldn’t have. The pain grew and swelled through his body, and at the moment that the pain was about to break him to pieces, he saw a vision – although it wasn’t as much of a vision as it was his destiny. Carl took up his spear, stood face to face with The Duke, and stuck him through with piercing quickness. He turned, and at his side was a beautiful girl, hair shimmering in the moonlight like water of a pond, eyes like jewels hidden deep in the earth. He took her quickly, not hesitating to touch her ruby lips with his own. He was Clyde. And then, he was not.

July 28, 2023 21:16

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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