A LINK TO THE PAST (2)
choose your own adventure
“Alright,” I give in. “What do I have to lose?”
NAC can’t break the daunting smile as he talks through it. “Great, one moment.”
… … … … …
Somewhere in Toronto, Ontario
July 13, 2002
[As seen on SRK-64 — abbreviated]
“Do you remember this?” NAC asks, as I watch a scene that plays out during my childhood.
It’s a bright summer day. I’m nine-years-old and biking with my friend Tom. We’d bike aimlessly for hours and today was as generic as any other.
“Catch me if you can, Conor!” Tom is a good cyclist, he’s far ahead of me. “I’m so much better than you!”
While I have endless energy, I like to keep a steady pace. Tom is always challenging me to exert my energy sooner. “Nothing good comes from waiting,” he reminds. It’s his catchphrase. Slow and steady doesn’t win a race, at least not against him. Going from 0 to 100 does.
Eventually, I catch up. I’m helped out by the fact we’re going uphill and I can exert my stamina while Tom falls apart.
“Whatever, loser.” He says, noticing I’m finally beside him. It’s simple childhood swagger and nothing personal. He keeps telling me he’s better than me and I keep trying to defend myself.
NAC and I watch on from a distance.
“Simple childhood swagger, huh?” He asks me.
“Yeah, I think so,” is my reply.
“It’s becoming a very heated conversation, is it not?”
I mean… sure? I don’t say this to NAC out loud but I can see us starting to shout.
Then the scene goes black.
Until I envision his red bicycle again. It’s off to the right, bent in half. The front wheel spins fluently, the back wheel is at a standstill. The car sits in front of nine-year-old me. Its front tires mark the soles of my feet.
And Tom lays in the middle of the intersection. Motionless.
There is blood everywhere. I hear commotion as others stop their cars when approaching. The scene freezes for good.
NAC and I appear at ground zero. I’m standing in front of myself at nine-years-old, trying to make sense of my friend’s death after he was hit by a car. Time feels like eternity.
“What do you think happened?” NAC wonders.
“I don’t know. These are the only memories.” Is my reply.
“Well, I’ll tell you what happened,” NAC begins. “You pushed him.”
I’m having none of it. “I did not.”
NAC is quick to respond. “Yes you did. You and your friend Tom got into a heated argument and you pushed him into oncoming traffic.”
“That’s bullshit, NAC.” I walk around the scene. I see the sheer terror on my childhood face, the look of someone who is completely innocent and watched his friend fly fifteen feet in the air before meeting the cement. “There’s no way.”
“Yes there is,” NAC reassures. “How come you don’t remember?”
“Fuck off, buddy.” I snap, turning to NAC and speaking to him directly. “How come YOU don’t remember!? You’re me, you dumbass.”
New Age Conor raises his arms. “Easy, pal. I am you, yes. But I’m telling you I remember.”
I survey my surroundings again. “That doesn’t make any god damn sense.”
“It makes perfect sense,” NAC shakes his head. “You wanna talk openly, Conor? I’m you, you’re me. We’re the same person. I’m not real. I’m a figment of your imagination and I’m here to tell you… you PUSHED Tom into oncoming traffic. You killed your friend. People can face traumatic experiences and forget them for a period of time or forever. I am a part of your subconscious, reminding you what happened.”
This is nonsense. I slowly make my way over to Tom. From where he lays, I can look into the truck that hit him. I see the shock on the man’s face.
“Well NAC, you’re wrong.”
“No, I’m right.”
“So that’s it, eh? You’ve been showing up here and there for this payoff? To tell me I’m some kind of murderer? What the hell does this have to do with my match at Bottomline?”
New Age Conor hangs his head in shame, like I don’t get it. “It has everything to do with your match at Bottomline and I never said it was premeditated. You didn’t bike up the hill with the intent TO push your friend into traffic. But it happened and you did it. After the events, you hid behind video games for the next twenty years as a coping mechanism.”
NAC sees me getting angrier by the second so he speeds things up.
“Whatever. The real point I’m trying to make is you have darkness in you. There is no such thing as a do-gooder. Sutler Reynolds-Kael tells you people have DIED in HOW. They have. His step dad is obvious. You don’t have the killer instinct. You willing to take a life? I mean a real life. Because I’m trying to tell you it’s inside you. You’ve already done it. And you’ll do it again if you have to. You’re acting like I’m the bad guy, Conor but I’m not. Sure, maybe you’re a different person now. This was almost twenty years ago… and yet, something inside your head snapped during this argument and you killed your friend Tom.”
“What?” NAC asks.
“Proof. If I pushed him then where’s the proof? Unlock that fucking memory block in my head; show me I did it.”
He doesn’t respond.
“You can’t, can you? You’re simply INSINUATING I pushed Tom but you can’t actually show me the memory. What’s not to say there’s another explanation? We reached the top of the hill, argued and he took off without looking. BANG. Dead. You know what, I don’t care. Everyone can go straight to hell.”
NAC starts smiling. “That’s the spirit, budd-”
“NO. No you don’t get to take part in this. If you can’t give me proof then I’m flying on a whim and I refuse to believe I had it in me.”
Calming myself down, I walk over to NAC and place a hand on his shoulder.
“If I did push my friend, how come the driver never reported it or no one else saw what happened? If there were long-term consequences of my behaviour, it would be impossible to forget those.”
NAC has no reply. Have I gotten through or is he formulating something else?
“I’m not Sutler. I’m not 90% of this roster. I’m good.” I wave my hands in front of me. “GL214 can leave me but I believe in something greater. Goodbye, NAC. You’re gonna leave me, too. We’re done.”
New Age Conor looks shattered. No longer smiling, he glances at the hand I placed on his shoulder and begins to fade away.
“I’m not your enemy, Conor,” he argues. “Believe me or not, I only want the best for you. Ultimately, we’re the same person…”
And then I wake up.
… … … … …
Dearness Living Community – Common Room
August 22, 2021
“Thanks for meeting me,” I begin, standing in front of the Elders. “For months we’ve had fun taking online jabs at Sutler Reynolds-Kael and Human Resources. I wanted to say from the bottom of my heart this has been the most fun I’ve had in my life. Let’s face facts. Margo, that’s quite the potty mouth you have, isn’t it?”
She laughs wildly as the rest of the Elders clap.
“Richard, your posts have been hilarious. Asking John Sektor to ‘jOiN uS’ and then pull the carpet out from under him BEFORE he can say no. Genius time.”
The Elders clap for Richard.
“Ruth, you hit the nail on the head when talking about Sutler’s family. The only thing is, while it’s a shady group, they do watch out for each other. Kinda. Ulterior motives.” I realize the last part of my statement may have confused the Elders so I add, “let’s give it up for Ruth!”
And the Elders add a round of applause.
“Honestly, thank you. It’s been a tough few months. Grapplers Local/Gamers Loco are no more. Those I walked into War Games with have been taken out. It’s not fun to lose friends. It’s even worse to lose a girlfriend, as I’m learning for the first time. And, apparently, I have dark shit in my past I need to figure out one day…”
My voice trails. I make eye contact with the greybeards.
“After this weekend, I wanted to let The Elders know I’ll be moving out.” I’m met with a surprising groan. Seems like I killed the momentum. “My grandfather has decided not to move in and I’ve stayed long enough. It’s clear that-”
“Just a second, Conor my dear.” Margo interjects as she struggles to stand up so two Elders help her.
“Yeah, enough with the grandfather stuff,” Richard replies and the wisemen/women seem to be in agreement. I raise an eyebrow but the Elders keep going.
“Conor, we know. We all know.” Walter walks over and puts a hand on my shoulder. “You can drop the act…”
“What act?” I inquire.
“That Jatt Starr is your grandfather!” Hollers quaint little Tina from left-center.
“He’s not your real grandfather!” To be honest, I don’t even know who said that line. It’s mob rules by now. The only thing is…
No one is mad.
“Conor, take a seat…” Walter invites me to sit down across from everyone as the ninety-five-year-old speaks on behalf of the DLC. He maintains composure.
“We’ve known. All of us watch Refueled. It’s rather clear when a guy named Jatt STARR isn’t named Jatt FUSE and looks nothing like you.”
Sigh of relief. Thank god he looks nothing like me.
Richard stands and points in my direction. “You took us for fools!” He starts off with an angry look but then lights up.
“Maybe, at first, you did take us for dementia-riddled idiots but you always treated everyone with respect.” Frankie adds.
I rub the side of my head, mentioning “but I’ve made fun of you, too…”
“And we’ve made fun of you.” Walter clarifies.
“Yeah. Man-child motormouth gamer with a hideous haircut!” Adley states.
“Momma’s boy. Forever-a-virgin gamer. WAIT, too soon?” Wow Ruth, I didn’t know she had it in her.
That’s all the confirmation I needed.
“Okay. I’ll stay.”
And the Elders cheer.
“Listen, I’m going to leave this World Title match a very changed individual.” I intervene. “I walk out as the Champion or reality sets in deeper. But at least I’ll have all of you, even if many of you will die in the next six months.”
Hopefully the joke went over well.
“Alright, let’s do this! Spam the news boards! What else can we come up with? Let’s GOOOOO!!!”
“We can talk shit about Aunt Elenore!” Shouts Chariot.
“I can’t stand Chloe! Fucking slut-bitch-pigshit belly whore ninja!” Margo screams.
“Down with MAXKAELJr.!” Frankie roars.
The rally continues. I’m merely a passenger.
“We’ll never leave you, son.” Walter puts his arm around me. “You can walk out with the World Championship or you can leave with your tail between your legs. Doesn’t matter because you’ll always have a home in Dearness.”
“Oh, Marin was a cunt.” Walter adds. “You’re better off without her.”
— — — — —
I find myself at what I can only assume is the High Octane asylum, or a specialized wing in Alcatraz, sitting on the same chair directly across from His lair, staring through the glass to which I can only see the heh carvings.
“Nothing’s changed, my friend. You remain correct. Everything I said to you earlier stands. But I’m okay with this path. I’m good with second place. In the odd chance I can defeat you, I’m sure the story won’t be over. In fact, our story doesn’t end, does it? That’s why I’m talking to you at sixty. Hey, remember that time we both took on Lee Best? It sure was something. Annnnyway, I’ll see you this weekend.”
Having said my goodbyes, I hand the chair to the guard I received it from and turn to the one who led me here. We make our way down the hall, past the other cells before I notice something and come to a halt.
“Can I have a moment?” I ask the guard, looking at the cell door in front of me.
“Of course, it’s your dream,” he remarks.
The lighting is much better, although like the other dungeons, I can’t see through this tainted glass, either.
“I just wanted to say hi while passing through.” I begin, hoping he hears me. “You’re as instrumental in my success as anyone else. You said my friends would eventually cease to exist and I didn’t believe you. Seems to be a running theme. You’ve looked out for me since the start, even though I took everything so personally. You are the reason I found the Dearness Living Community. You strike a balance between funny and legitimate. While SRK may be my bitter rival, YOU are practically my mentor. I recently entertained the thought that I could be the bad guy but how can I be bad when I am going to…”
I run my hand across the STARR, J. nameplate. I look at his 64-bit portrait.
“Apologize. I should’ve chosen you over Dan. I’m sorry he put you in the hospital. It was wrong to be so pissed off when you defeated me in Alcatraz but I have a way to make it up to you: win the World Championship. While I may come up short like the second player I’ve always been, you singled me out the moment I walked into this Game and it’s because you saw something special in me. It’s my fault our relationship fell apart.”
I turn to the guard, expressing with body language I’m done. He leads me down the corridor.
“Bye, Jatt. And thank you.”
— — — — —
And now back to you, the center of attention, Mr. Sutler Reynolds-Kael.
Not much more to say, is there? I think I did a lot of talking in front of your cell. I may not have the odds in my favour. Everyone’s left. Conor Fuse stands alone.
Well, other than the older demographic and they’re not much immediate help outside of trolling you for shits and giggles. However, they continue to teach me real life lessons and that is invaluable. The Elders are right, I initially moved in to use them but the true me took over, the one that sees good in others. Your family uses you. They don’t care about SRK. You are a pawn in a greater Game. But I’ve also learned it doesn’t matter what circumstances surround you. Or I. Did I kill my childhood friend? Who knows, I can only speculate. At Bottomline, am I supposed to channel the darkness? I don’t think that matters anymore.
You call me a disaster, beat me shit outta me and tell me I’ll never be on your !Level. That’s fine, so be it. I already KNOW THIS. Either way, I beat you or I fail… you’re going to be stuck with me for the rest of your career. I promise.
I remember laying at the soles of your feet after your brilliant sneak attack. Called me a fad, said you’re a legacy. You might have your family legacy but I am not a fad. A fad lasts a couple weeks. A fad loses to Jatt Starr in Alcatraz, throws the controller down and never returns. A fad is a punk ass kid who’s unable to look someone else square in the face and not sprint for the hills.
Although in the end, you and I are not so different. You do get up when you fail. You are driven to succeed and you work extremely hard. What stands between us right now is that you’re more skilled than I am.
But wouldn’t it be something that if, for just one night this gaming dumbass steps into the Best Arena and cracks the Conor Curse? You never know, I could have cheat codes in my back pocket.
And if I don’t and you win, then congratulations without a hint of sarcasm in my voice.
You better hope it ends your way.
You better beat me.
Because you’re of the age range and mentality to do exactly what any young shitbag pubescent gamer would do when he realizes he didn’t get the job done.
Trust me, you fit the profile. On the off chance I get the victory, you better keep your family on standby. No more hookers for Sut-Sut. Back to curtain jerking. I don’t mean that in a sexual way or by wrestling terminology. I mean grandpops will put you to work again. Literally jerk the curtain. Clean the bathrooms. Mop the floors.
While you watch me parade the championship around like the blistering hot mess I am. Might have a controller in my hand while I do it. How annoying can I get?
Conor Curse. Second Player Syndrome. Office of Human Resources. Time Travel Technology (TTT™) Join me, you have 15 minutes to respond. Somebody call me a reckless UBER driver. Sutler OoOoOoOoOoOuuuuuttttttt.
All goes bye bye.
Replaced by the one nobody thought would get here. And the guy everyone turned their backs on.
The Retro. The Vintage. The guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. The gamer who walks into LEE BEST PRESENTS with a chip on his shoulder while the greybeards cheer him on.
Doesn’t matter if I killed a guy. Doesn’t matter if I’ll never be able to.
I can kill your reign. And that, my friend, is good enough for me.
By the way, nice streaks.