The video game Chester enjoys playing most right now isn’t one he would have picked out for himself when he was younger. The tattoo on his arm is from an online first-person shooter. It’s the symbol of the guild to which he belonged. It was once true that all Chester would play were FPS titles, fighting games, and games mostly focused on their action, rather than their storytelling.
Now Chester has, in his estimation, evolved beyond that. On a whim, three years ago, he picked up a game that was getting rave reviews, an action role-playing game in which he explored an open world with a single character. He fell in love. The game included support for the collectible figurines made by its publisher, which had a chip in their base that the game could read.
Chester has a huge box full of these figurines. He intends to buy or make a shelf for all of them. At present, the majority of them are sitting on the floor in front of him, or perched on the entertainment center, because he’s been using them for his video games. All three games he currently plays which support them grant him daily prizes for checking in with the figurines. Chester has over thirty of them, so doing so for each game takes him some time.
His current obsession is another role-playing game that has the best support for the figurines out of any of the others. It should, because when the company realized the success, they built this game around them. Unlike some of the other games, every figurine has a function in this game. It is a party-based RPG with heavy story elements, in which characters original to this game are relying on the figurines — which represent characters from the company’s other properties — to try to save their world.
Chester likes this game more than the old him would have thought. It’s cute, and it’s humorous, and it lets him fully use his collection of characters. Once per day, he can use each of the figurines to summon the character as an ally in battle. After the battle, the add a special item to his inventory. Then he can use them once more to permanently power up a member of the in-game party.
It’s all quite addictive, which is why it is four hours after Chester begins playing that his stomach rumbles and he finally checks the time. He curses himself for being so easily distracted, but, because he’s in the middle of a dungeon, he doesn’t stop playing for another half hour.
With a sigh, Chester turns of his television and gaming system, lights a cigarette, and hops into his car. He should have bought food while he was at the grocery store. He should have bought more beer, too, while he was at it. He just didn’t plan ahead. He’s used to that, though. He’s used to the idea of wasting his time because he didn’t plan something out. It has never bothered him, even when he notices that he’s done it.
He does have a plan now, though: Go get some food, them come back and write the note to his mom. It’s nice and simple. Simple and direct enough that Chester can be assured that it will succeed. Chester likes that sort of thing. He likes when he knows, for sure, that something will work. It’s why he waits about a year after a new game system is released before buying it, he always checks the reviews for products online before purchasing, and why he’s never bothered to buy a computer of his own.
Chester gets fast food for lunch. It’s not a chain restaurant, though. It’s actually a local business that just happens to operate like one of the big chains. Their prices are a bit higher, but that’s okay with Chester, because the food is far superior. He orders a burger, fries, and a soda. Simple.
The girl who takes his money and hands him his food is lovely. Her voice is sweet but not too high, her eyes are round and innocent, and she has the clearest, most unblemished skin Chester has ever seen. He gives her his best smile and his most genuine “thank you” as she hands him his food, but she doesn’t seem to notice.
In that moment, she loses all the beauty chester saw in her before. He sees that her eyes are, in fact, cold and uncaring, as she turns back toward her register. He notices that though yes, her face is smooth and clear, she has coated it with a layer of makeup, which makes him wonder what she’s hiding. Beneath her cap, her hair has been pulled into a sloppy ponytail.
Chester drives away filled with an odd sense of disappointment. He munches on his fries while he drives. He has plenty, because he got a double order. They are, without a doubt in Chester’s mind, the best fries he’s ever had. They aren’t seasoned except with salt, and they have a delicious, flaky, crispy coating on them that, in one of his few attempts to actually cook something, Chester completely failed to replicate.
It is a short drive home, and Chester finishes only one order of his french fries. He sits at his table in his kitchen-dining room to eat his burger and the rest of his fries. It is his first time eating at his own table, in his own home. Though the thought should fill him with something more positive, it instead brings his mood down further. He finds himself, for the first time in his memory, feeling achingly lonely.
He’s alone in the house, and he truly feels that. He doubts anyone but his mother will ever come to visit. His father might come, if his mom insists, but the man won’t put any energy into pretending he wants to be there. Chester doesn’t care much. He appreciates some of the positive things his father has done for him, but he doesn’t miss him, and honestly doesn’t care if he ever sees him again.
At least he has his neighbors to remind him he’s not alone in the world. Even in the day, with the noise of cars on the street filling the house far more frequently than at night, he can hear the sounds of their lives being lived. Children are laughing in the postage-stamp sized yard to the west. Two old men are sitting on their porch across their street, talking loudly because they can’t hear each other if they don’t.
Someone nearby is crying again, too. It sounds distant, just as it did last night. Chester didn’t hear any yelling this time, but that doesn’t mean much. It does sound like the same voice, weeping in the distance, with those stuttering breaths that say they’re trying to stop but that they haven’t yet brought about the willpower to make it happen.
Chester doesn’t want to listen to that, so on the way into his desk, he turns on one of his game systems. This one he rarely plays games on anymore. He uses it more as a media device. He watches movies on it, and streams television shows, and, occasionally, uses it to play music. He does now, to drown out the crying more than the other sounds of life, which today he doesn’t mind. Much.
Rock music fills the small house. The older stuff, and not the harsh stuff that sounds like the bands are thinking about turning to metal. Chester doesn’t turn the volume up to high, because he’s thinking about how easy it is for him to hear his neighbors. He doesn’t want to bother them with his music, he just wants a sense of ownership over the sounds he hears in his own home.
He’s going to have to make yet another trip in his car today, to mail the letter. Again, his lack of planning has cost him time he didn’t need to spend, but again, he barely notices. He’ll write the letter, and take another short car ride — it doesn’t occur to him that he’ll have to make at least two more today, because he still has nothing in his home for dinner — and then come back to playing more video games. Or, maybe, unpacking.
All of his plans are dropped the instant he enters the spare bedroom, where he is greeted not by what he expected to see — the package of pens, sitting in the center of the desk on top of the blank thank-you note, with the still-crumpled paper towel holding the two broken pens from before nearby, and his box of writing utensils. No, instead the new package of pens sits in the center of a black pool which has spread across the desk like a ragged melanoma.
Chester swears. The pool, which can only be ink, has reached out to touch everything on the desk. It has soaked into the bottom of the roll of paper towels, which he left their yesterday, and, because they’re ultra-absorbent, it’s begun to creep up the roll, soaking the whole thing and dying it black. He approaches the desk and picks up the writing supply box, but the ink has penetrated the cardboard. Its liquid nature has weakened the box. As soon as Chester picks it up, its contents pierce the bottom.
The pencils and the pads of sticky notes and the markers and all of the cards that Chester has bought and not yet used fall to the desk. The land in the black puddle, sending sable droplets flying through the air to splatter the wall and the chair and Chester’s clothing. Chester swears again.
Even without the splash, the black stuff — can it possibly be ink? The pens were multi-hued, not black — has begun to drip onto the hardwood floor, where a secondary, smaller puddle, the child of the first, has formed. Not knowing what else to do, Chester rushes to his kitchen, where he grabs a plastic trash bin and the rest of the paper towel rolls.
Before he starts to wipe up the mess, he takes out his phone for a picture, because he suddenly doesn’t trust his eyes, and he wants documentation of what he’s seeing before him. He wonders what the chances are of this happening, of him not somehow ruining two pens in the same way during his move, but also an entire package of freshly bought pens.
The Chester dumps everything solid on the desk into the plastic trashcan. It’s all been ruined by the ink, or it’s the source of it. There’s no point in keeping it now. At least there the ink will be contained, even though Chester still hasn’t put a bag in the can.
With a handful of paper towels, Chester pushes the ink puddle, stroke by stroke, off of the desk into the trash can. It has pooled up enough that this is possible. Chester is astounded by the volume that came from one set of pens. With that done, he starts wiping up what remains.
To his despair, the ink has completely ruined the desk. It is stained, as is the floor where the ink dripped upon it, and likely his clothes and the wall where it splashed. That, however, is not the only damage it has caused. At first Chester blinks, not believing his eyes. He reaches out with his bare fingers, heedless of the fact that the ink will likely stain them, too, and he rubs them along the desk.
Where the ink sat upon it, there is an indent. All throughout where the ink has stained the light wood of the desk, it’s as though it has eaten away at the desk like acid. The finish is gone, where the ink pooled, and the desk is dull and dark. Toward the center, where the ink sat the longest the dip in the once-level surface is the most noticeable. In fact, there is a tiny hold, little bigger than the nib of a pen, which pierces through the desk’s center to the wooden floor.
Chester takes more pictures, this time with a purpose behind them, because Chester is made. No, angry. No, he’s livid, and this, like many of the firsts moving into his home has brought him, is new to Chester. He’s heard that word before but never thought to use it to describe himself. His desk is completely ruined. His floor is damaged. The pens, too, are ruined, but that matters little, in the context of everything else he’s lost here.
Chester retrieves the pen set from the trash can and shoves them into a grocery bag. He is going back to the store. This will be the first time in his life he has ever returned anything to a store. He expects it to be the first time he’ll ever say the words, “Can I speak to your manager?,” because he wants more than just a return. He wants the store to pay for a new desk, because it’s their defective product that ruined it.
Armed with the pens, the receipt for them (which, miraculously, was in the first grocery bag Chester grabbed), and the photos of the damage to his desk, Chester storms out of of his house, slams his car door after he gets in, and drives back to the store, taking furious drags from a cigarette as he drives and wishing he had taken a moment to drink a beer.