"Hey, Dad," the voice says over the phone. "How are you doing? You hanging in there?"
"Yeah, I'm doing the best I can," I reply. "I've been a bit bored around the house."
"You could always come game with us tonight. We will be online at around 7."
"What are you guys playing?"
"Dad! We are playing this game where you get sucked into some sort of different dimension. You have to save a small village from goblins, but the goblins work for this Wizard's apprentice. And, that Wizard's apprentice, of course, has a whole bunch of constructs that he is building, and you have to figure how to beat each one because they all have different abilities, and only certain kinds of magic or weapons work on each one--"
"Woah, slow down."
"Sorry. I get excited. I think you'd really like it."
"You are playing with Kyle tonight?"
"Maybe. He is grounded."
"Eh, what can you do? Do you want to play? I have a free trial code."
"I told you, man. If you all get hit by a truck, then I'll go straight to the store and buy a Nintendo or whatever they have out these days. What else am I gonna do if you're all gone?"
There is laughter on the line.
"Dad, why you always put that evil on me? Besides, who are you gonna play with if I get hit by a truck?"
"I guess I could play with Kyle. Why is he grounded?"
"Who knows? He's always fighting with his parents. Couldn't just play everyone once in a while?
"I wish it was that easy. I got pretty sucked into those things back in the day. I would do little else for days at a time. I just got other stuff to focus on."
"I miss you, buddy."
"I miss you too, Dad. I'll be on at seven if you change your mind."
I set the phone down on the counter and sighed deeply. Walking across the small underground apartment, I stepped over a large TV box, some of the packaging attaching itself to my foot as I passed. Shaking it off, I stop and look back and forth between the large chair in front of the TV and the futon haphazardly placed in the corner of the room. I trip over another box as he moves towards the chair. I kick at it, hard, but barely make contact. Sighing, I sit down in the large chair, pick up a game controller, and turn on the console. The TV screen lights up. It cycles through several images before eventually coming to a home screen; an icon flashes below a single line of text.
Press the start button to log in.
Pressing some buttons, the Gamertag, Dad1979, flashes on the screen with a message saying, "do you want to accept?"
"I can't do this right now."
Beginning to tremble, I drop the controller and put my face in my hands. After a few minutes, I stand and pace the apartment for what feels like forever—the isolation of my small world pressing in all around me.
"Dad. We will be on at seven if you change your mind." The clock on the wall reads seven-twelve.
This next part, I am not proud of—I meltdown. I feel so uncertain of what to do or who I am supposed to be. I walk over to the game console and remove the power cord. I tie it around the ceiling fan then tie the other end in a loop. Tugging at it, I look around for something to stand on. Grimacing, I see a single tottering end table next to the chair. I grab it, an empty glass and plate fall to the ground. I set it underneath the fan and stand on it. I look at my phone, then place the loop around my neck.
"I'm sorry buddy, but I miss you too m--"
The table breaks.
I wake up to a voice screaming my name. "Dad, wake up!"
Confused, I roll onto my back and see a hole in the ceiling; there is electrical wiring hanging out of it. I look over and see Andrew standing there.
"Dad. Get up. We got to go right now."
There is a power cord around my neck and a ceiling fan on the ground next to me. I look over at the destroyed end table. I must be seeing things. My head is pounding.
"Dad. Do you hear me? Did you hit your head? You're bleeding."
I stand up. My son is standing there with a troubled look on his face.
"What are you doing here?"
He looks to the window, then takes his backpack off. Digging through it, he finds what he is looking for.
"Here you go."
He pulls an old rusty sword from his backpack.
"Business end toward the bad guys. Careful; it doesn't look like much, but it'll cut you if you're not paying attention.
I awkwardly hold the sword, looking at his bag and wondering how he fit this in there. I shake my head and take a step towards him. He brushes the blade aside.
"Woah, Dad, I just told you to be careful with that."
I look down at the sword, confused, then back at him.
"What is going on? Really?"
"I'm not 100% sure, but I think the Wizard has brought his tower to our region. His minions are out scavenging. They will be looking for anything valuable, anything they can use to build their constructs. This could be people or your Xbox."
"I don't have an Xbox. I have PS5."
It's as if the word 'seriously?' is written on his face.
"Dad. Focus. If they find us, they will kill us and take us to The Apprentice. You know, getting captured might be a plan to consider. He will know where The Wizard is.
Walking towards my big lounge chair, I start to laugh, the ceiling fan dragging behind me.
"I get it. This is one of the games that you play with Kyle. I must have hit my head hard. Now I'm dreaming or hallucinating or whatever."
"Dad." He jumps over a box on the floor and grabs me. "This isn't a game."
"Sure, it is. Call Kyle. I am sure he will go save the world with you."
"Dad. Kyle can't help me!"
"Why not?" Sarcastically, "is he dead?"
"No, worse. He is grounded. I've got no one else. I can't do this alone."
I begin slapping myself. I stand up and walk over to the sink. I turn the water on, but nothing comes out.
"Ah, damn it. Did I forget to pay the bill?"
"They probably shut all the power and water off in this area."
"You're still going after this, aren't you?
"Uh yeah. If they shut the power and water off, you will eventually have to leave your house. It is easier for them to get you that way. Otherwise, you'd just be sitting in here doing..." He looks at the ceiling fan. "What were you doing in here?"
"Did you try to..."
"This makes perfect sense why this is happening here and now!"
"This is your redemption arc!"
"Rember in Game of Thrones, when Theon turns bad then--"
At that moment, the front door blows off its hinges. There is a sound of canisters rolling onto the floor—tink tink tink.
"Dad, cover!" Andrew tackled me like some sort of action hero.
BOOM!!! How do you type that ear ringing noise? eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. The next few seconds are hard to describe, mostly because I was both blind and deaf, but my apartment was an absolute mess once everything cleared up. Andrew was standing there with a sword in one hand and an Uzi in the other. The ringing in my ears starting to subside. Small green creatures are lying all over the ground. Large ears and mouths full of...
"What the fuck are those?!"
"Dad, I told you. goblins."
There were pieces of them everywhere. There was one in the sink. All of a sudden, Andrew turns and raises his gun in my direction. I close my eyes and cringe. Brrrrttttt. I hear a thump behind me. I turn, and I see a goblin riddled with several smoking holes lying on the ground.
I dropped the rusty sword in my hand and walked towards the fridge as the loud clang echoed through the tiny apartment.
"Dad, we need to go. There will be more. And the next group will be packing much more heat."
With my head in the fridge, "Packing more heat than small green humanoids with flashbangs and razor-sharp teeth?"
He doesn't respond, walks over, and picks up the old sword. "Denial is the beginning stages of your Journey. Come on." He tapped the blade on the open door of the refrigerator. "Let's go."
The emptiness of the fridge is a metaphor for how I feel inside. I think something fracturing in my mind, and I cannot tell whether that feeling is good or bad. Closing the door, I take a deep breath and stand up. I reach over reluctantly and take the rusty blade. "Denial is all I have right now."
"I get it. That is why we are leaving. You won't find a replacement for it sitting in here."
"What if I don't want to replace it? Doesn't that mean letting go of--"
"Process Dad. It's a process. Let go of this place first."
Crossing the room, stepping over goblins, I lift the TV box and grab my backpack. I awkwardly put the sword in the bag, the hilt sticking out of the top. I stand there for one more second, looking at the TV; the screen still showing Dad1979--do you want to accept?
I look over at Andrew. "Are you really here?"
Andrew looks at me and shrugs. With a sad smile on his face, he opens the door. I take a deep breath and head out.