Friendship Funny Speculative

Benjamin Parr had been in the Gameplex for the past eight weeks.

Slaving away every day just to feed his family, and none of it was real.

Presently, he picked himself up off the floor, located his dagger, and turned up just in time to catch the wolf bearing down on him with a well-placed stab to the chest. Fur and blood and one short yelp. Black blood on his dagger. He looked at the scoreboard. They were tied.

Another one coming.

This time, he tried something different.

The wolf bounded toward him with reckless abandon, the ridge of its back bobbing with the frenetic movement of its legs; forelegs stretching out, a snap of the paws on the dirt–-right, then left–-and the hind legs came forward, a snap of the paws on the dirt and the forelegs came forward again. Of course all of this happened in a split second, after which he sidestepped the beast and watched it crash headfirst into a tree at the edge of the clearing.


He flipped the dagger in his hand; facing outward now, thumb and forefinger curling around the handle's bottom.

Dinner's ready.

That's when he flew out of nowhere.

Dressed in a greenish-gray ghillie suit and screaming like a maniac, arms windmilling as he leapt and grabbed onto the back of the stunned beast with his arms and legs. He brought the knife up, and down, and up again, and down again. His eyes gleamed with a radiant, exhilarating madness made all the more striking by the sweat dripping down his face. He fell off the beast and rolled out of the way; it gave a final twitchy jerk and collapsed, dead, with a meaty thump.

"Ha! Yea! Take that, yo!" 

He took the knife, now dark with blood, and threw it into the bark of the tree directly next to him. It stuck deep. In that instant, Ben felt like that tree.

"You're welcome you absolute--"

"Easy there, big papi" He chided with a broad grin, "Fair is fair, yo."

"I downed the thing, all you had to do was cut it open!"

"Oh, and I did, something that isn't easy to do, by the way. I've put 1,000 hours into this game and you..." He looked him up and down, snorted softly. "You just a scalper."

Something about the kid's half-grown mustache, his oiled, fluffy mushroom cut and his camel neck with its pointy Adam's Apple made Ben want to punch him in the throat.

"You little--"

The gamemaster's voice, booming over the loudspeakers, shook the trees.

"Gaaaaaaaame oooooover! Thanks for playing! Prizes will be distributed at the lobby! And thanks for choosing Wilderness Wildman as your game of choice. If you have a membership with us, we have a discount today on..."

The hologram of the sky, a too-bright blue scrubbed clean of clouds, vanished like a screen being turned off. Just synthetic trees and the clearing in a vast, windowless concrete dome. The wolves, black fur matted with blood, stood up on hydraulic joints and padded over to the maintenance room, there to be cleaned and prepped for the next round.

"Better luck next time, big papi!" The kid called out as he bounded toward the exit.

Seething, Ben emerged through the two sets of blast doors into a dark space with ratty carpet and green, purple, and red glow-in-the-dark stripes patterning the inky black walls. To the right a vendor sold food paste--blueberry pie, spaghetti bolognese, ramen--and to the left a large screen played a slow-motion replay of the final moments of the game: dilated pupils fixed on the descending knife, red blade shedding gouts of blood from the first strike. His competitor walked over to the screen, cheeks taught in a wide grin. The gathered people bleated their disbelief. You're welcome, he thought, infuriated. He half-considered crossing over to the smug little skidmark and giving him a proper beatdown. But he had responsibilities now. His wife was waiting, and why should a smug little skidmark interfere with her happiness?

He left the Gameplex through the automatic glass doors, where he was reminded by a robotic voice to "Come back soon!" He pressed the button on his bodysuit and warmth enveloped his body. Everybody wore bodysuits during the wintertime. Most especially the women. Instant warmth, and instant gratification for any roving eyes. As for himself, he wore a pair of pants over his. He would spare the public that much, at least.

The winter spread out before him like something out of Blade Runner, one of those ancient movies that seemed more and more like a documentary nowadays. A wind that he didn't feel whisked little eddies of snow across the mile-long parking lot, lit up like a football field by unending sets of fluorescent lights. Cars, endless rows of cars. The Gameplex was a big place. All around the parking lot it was a maze of neon signs and holograms and faded, crumbling, retrofitted brownstones and 2000s office buildings, all huddled around the City Tower, a 200-story glass shard of a building that sold every type of insurance conceivable to everyone in the state.

Where there were trees in his youth, there were now dirt lots slated for new construction projects. There was a big one happening downtown. A Casino? he thought. A mall? He felt that everywhere he went was a mall. That the city was just one giant mall, a modern Vanity Fair. All of it designed to maximize pleasure at the expense of everything else. Gratify yourself, get more, eat this, cast off all those tedious notions of self-control, prudence, morality. He remembered the tagline of a commercial he had watched recently: “Impatience is a virtue.” Cute, he thought.

Such things usually evaded his notice, but after the fight his anger seemed to sharpen his awareness. His mind sought a target.

He kept his head down as he left the parking lot and started down one of the city's main boulevards. He knew what he would see. He would not look; for the sake of his family–-his newlywed wife, who was probably starting to worry. And all this during a crime wave! He felt stupid for coming here at all, but his train was at the edge of the city and so he strode through the streets, empty except for cars and the seductive, slow-pulsed light of the adverts. Yellow. Violet. Red. Orange.

That stupid kid. Christmas Eve, and nothing to show for it. 

Suddenly, the eaglelike scream of a solar-powered car engine tore through the night air. And just as suddenly the car had whooshed by him, one of those three-wheeled wonders that skimmed the ground like a snake. Chrome finish, red racing stripe, six-foot windbreaker on the back like a giant square bucket handle. Someone clearly wanted to be noticed. More engines sounded behind him, whinier and zippier, and--zoom! zoom! zoom!--three motorcycles were burning trails around the corner, chasing the first car. 

Ben had to follow them. He ran toward the corner of the block, following the sound of zooming engines. There was a short burst of screeching tires, then a deafening crash. 

He rounded the corner. 

The three-wheeler was crumpled up against a fire hydrant, which was spouting clear water 50 feet into the air. 

The motorcycles had forced the car onto the curb–-two of them were idling behind it, and another was positioned just in front of the mangled hood. The first driver took his helmet off. A wiry, tough-looking young man in a wife beater that showcased the ropey veins of his arms, he ran his fingers menacingly over his buzz cut. His hair was dyed pink.

“So you think you can just sneak off without paying me, huh!” he bellowed. The door of the three-wheeler opened slowly. A hand grabbed onto the top of the door for support, and out stumbled a skinny kid in a greenish-gray ghillie suit. 

“Hey, bro," he began, voice hoarse. "I swear I was just about to pay you! Donuts, bro!” 

Donuts. Another entry in the ever-shifting modern urban lexicon. Noun: Slang. An expression affirming that someone is telling the truth. See also: No cap (archaic). 

He wondered by what standard anything was considered archaic anymore, not that such considerations mattered at the moment. 

“You were gonna pay me?” Pink Hair was slowly walking toward the kid. “Then what’s this, huh?” He gestured toward the three-wheeler. 

“It’s my uncle’s. Here, I’ll show you.” 

“Nah, bro! Let me show you something.” 

Pink Hair was not stopping for anyone. The kid, so abrasive in his confidence just minutes before, was sweating and pale, reduced to a skinny, terrified teenager. He fumbled inside the car, looking for something. A weapon that he didn’t have. 

The man ducked into the open door, grabbed the kid with one of his taught, veiny arms, and threw him onto the asphalt like he was nothing more than a duffel bag. His motorcycle buddies, helmets off, looked on impassively. One of them, a girl dressed in a black bodysuit, smirked and flared her nostrils in a silent chuckle. Caramel-colored skin, catlike eyes dark with eyeshadow and fake lashes, glossy black hair pulled flat against her skull in a tight braid that she shook like a mane. Gold hoops. Ben swore he had seen the girl before. She had clones all across the city.

The man took out a pocket knife and flipped it open with a flick of his wrist. His knife followed the swinging motion of his arm, blade facing down toward the ground. The adverts were now turning everything a deep red. 

It was time. 

Ben drew the gun from the holster hidden in his jeans, pointed it skyward, and fired one shot. 

The report from the gunshot blasted through the city. The echo bounded down the empty streets like a shockwave.

Pink Hair twisted his head to look at him with a look of unmitigated shock. 

“Next one’s for you.” 

He licked his lips, tried to tense his jaw, but just ended up looking like a scared idiot as he called for his pals to mount up and edged back toward his motorcycle, never taking his eyes off of the gun, which was now leveled at his chest. 

He unleashed a torrent of threats laced with obscenities. Rape this. Kill that. But his eyes never left the gun. 

“Bye, bye now.” Ben said, blowing him a kiss. 

The girl suddenly looked younger, more innocent, behind all that makeup and eyeshadow. Touched by the beauty of fear. Her eyes shone with a new light. She looked at Ben, back at her leader, and put her helmet on. 

Pink Hair worked the handles, revving the engines. Still, Ben did not drop the gun. The three drove off, the drone of their engines fading to a low hum until, finally, the city was quiet again.

“What was that, hotshot?” Ben asked, voice echoing off of the buildings with a good natured ring. He had long since forgotten his anger.

“What the hell, bro!” The kid was clearly still in shock. “You, like, living under a rock or something!?” 

“What?” Ben stifled a laugh. “You, like, getting loansharked or something!?”

“The Second Amendment was overturned, dawg, the hell you doing with a gun! Massachusetts outlawed that junk! Donuts!” 

“First of all, sorry for saving your life,” he scoffed. “And second of all”--he brandished the gun playfully--“this isn’t real, dawg.”

He squeezed the trigger and shot a small white airsoft pellet at the kid’s shoes. 

“OW! Ow, man, that hurt!” The kid clutched his shoe, grimacing more from embarrassment than from the pain. 

Ben was doubled over laughing now. 

“Ok, ok, but the sound, how did you do the sound!” 

“So glad you asked.” He pulled out his phone and held it so that the screen faced the kid. “iGun Pro. Free on App Store. Also had my speakers modded. They’re already really loud–-the speakers on the iPhone 50 are like studio speakers. Still, after the gun ban I needed something a little more powerful.”

He tapped his phone. Another bang sounded, just as loud and as shocking as the first. 


“Yea. I know.” Ben's face widened in a cheerful grin. “Alright,” he said, studying the kid sitting on the ground. The water from the fire hydrant, which had slowed to a trickle, was pooling around his sneakers. And even though he looked like a drowned rat in his soaking wet ghillie suit, his face was miraculously free of scratches. “Can you stand?”

“I mean, I think so.” 

The kid got his feet under him and Ben pulled him up the rest of the way. He swayed unsteadily, stepped forward to catch himself. 

“Ok, I think I’m good.” His eyes fell on the totaled three-wheeler. “But my car…” 

“It’s OK, we don’t have to worry about that.” He placed a reassuring hand on his back. “How about we get something to eat?”

“Well..” he looked back at his car. His face softened in surrender and, for the first time, he smiled. Really smiled. “Alright.” 

As they made their way down the thoroughfare, now awash in a sunset orange glow, Ben dialed a number on his phone and put it to his ear.

“Hi, honey. I’m gonna be a little late tonight.”

August 19, 2023 03:57

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J. D. Lair
16:36 Aug 23, 2023

This was a real entertaining read Ben, donuts! You kept me engaged the entire time and felt pretty feasible for the not-too-distant future. :) I thought your characters were all pretty distinct in their voices, which can be hard to do. Your explanation of ‘donuts’ made me chuckle lol. May have to try it out in the real world. I am curious why you didn’t submit to the contest? I think this would have been a contender personally!


Ben LeBlanc
19:32 Aug 23, 2023

Wow, thanks for the comment J.D., glad you enjoyed. It’s nice to know that I’m not going crazy when I think I’ve written a half-decent story (haha). I would’ve submitted it to the contest, but it was very last minute and I wanted more time to edit it. The last story I submitted that I edited past the submit date didn’t get approved for some reason, so I was afraid my $5 would go to waste more than anything. Appreciate the kind words, and you should definitely try that out on somebody. 😂


J. D. Lair
23:04 Aug 23, 2023

Totally makes sense! I’ve ran out of time in the past too, which is a bummer, but I’d rather not submit anything than submit something half-baked lol. I’ve missed several weeks because of it, but that’s okay! I either save those stories for future prompts, or finish them and post to my Wordpress. :)


Ben LeBlanc
02:40 Aug 24, 2023

Amen. No writing is wasted. It’s all practice for that next big story.


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Amanda Lieser
12:57 Aug 22, 2023

Hey Ben, This was an epic story. I loved the premise of it all-terrifyingly realistic. I also loved the way this story slowly unfolded a universe for us. You did a lot of brilliant show, don’t tell. This piece had an interesting character arc with strong potential for a sequel-or a prequel. That line about the trees being gone was beautifully tragic. The one thing that surprised me was that you chose not to include content warnings. I know, I know, it’s every author’s choice to make. And I acknowledge I am enjoying this piece while sipping m...


Ben LeBlanc
18:08 Aug 22, 2023

Thanks for the kind words, Amanda! I'm glad you enjoyed the story. Still getting used to the short story form, but it's been a fun challenge trying to compress the depth and lived-in world building of a full-length novel into a short story. By no means good at it but that's my goal haha. As for the content warnings I thought it could've been a lot worse. Many authors would've written out the dialogue containing those words and almost every story I come across has f-bombs and other swears mixed in. People never put up content warnings for tha...


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16:37 Aug 21, 2023

Cool story Ben! 'Ben' is one cool dude 😎😄


Ben LeBlanc
18:10 Aug 21, 2023

Haha, yea very creative on my part. Thanks for reading!


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