“How was your walk?” Gramps calls down the hall as I enter the yellowing paperback that is my grandparents’ house.
“Lousy!” I call back, dumping my backpack, shoes, and several pocketfuls of candy bar wrappers in the parlor. I peel off my beanie, wipe the sweat from my brow, and generally try to make it look like I am not about to have a heart attack from overexertion—not because I’m self-conscious or anything, but because I refuse to give any points to my grandparents for making me exercise against my will. Our house is allegedly within walking distance of Boca Linda; the idea is for me to walk to and from school every day in the hopes I’ll drop a few pounds, but I’m two steps ahead of the game: I snack heavily both ways.
I pass through the living room. Gramps is sitting in his favorite rocking chair, and is listening to talk radio on his portable CC Radio. A five-foot-tall cardboard cutout depicting a pixel art version of Grams rests crookedly in the chair beside him.
“What’s with Grams?” I ask.
“Oh, she’s napping,” Gramps replies. “She was up all night doing yard work.”
(The two of us pause to share a deadpan that momentarily breaks the fourth wall.)
I shrug and hit the kitchen for an after-school snack. You might think I’m cold for my lack of concern that my grams is now a cardboard cutout of her former self, but I’m just being real about it. I never wanted my parents to die in a Wal-Mart stampede. I never wanted to inconvenience my grandparents by coming to live with them. I was perfectly willing to live and let live, but Grams had to downshift to mom-mode, going from a bestower of birthday presents and ice cream sundaes to a tyrannical slave driver insisting that I do my homework, take daily showers, lose weight—and for all her nitpicking, what are the results? A cardboard cutout. If you ask me, she had it coming.
The lock’s off the fridge. It’s lying on the counter, along with a rusty sledgehammer. Looks like Gramps didn’t care much for it either. I grab vanilla ice cream from the freezer and Oreos from the crisper, along with a bowl and spoon, and lock myself in my bedroom, ready to rock a night of gaming and torrenting…and maybe a little homework, if there’s time.
Except that Shitorrents.com has been taken offline.
You’ve got to be jerking me off! Another torrent site killed in the line of duty! Worse, it’s the last one in my bookmarks, which means I’m going to have to waste precious minutes and/or hours finding new torrent sites. Typical government overregulation! Like I’m really going to start buying all my movies, music, and games just because I can’t torrent them online! I’ll just find a bigger, better torrent site! I’ll exploit a motherlode of public server indexes! I’ll learn IRC! I’ll…I’ll—I’ll go to Theo’s! He’s a geek; he’s got to have some kind of super-secret, unbreakable dark Web action going on.
Taking a mouthful of French vanilla for the road, I cradle my ice cream and cookies and bring up my SMN buddy list, scroll down to Theo, and click “visit.” A second later I’m in Theo’s modern Zen monastery.
“What’s up, dick-farts?” I blurt, dumping my shit on Theo’s desk and noticing that he’s (amazingly) passed out, sprawled face-down on his bed. He’s snoring loudly, a plume of ragged z’s rising above his head. Jan’s sitting on the floor with his back propped against the bed, and is looking like an incredibly bored bodyguard as he works his way through Super Mario 3D World on Theo’s Wii U.
“Hey,” he says when he sees me.
“Hey,” I say back. “What’s with the pepperoni prince?”
I gesture at Theo’s sleeping form. “You didn’t notice the epic nipples on our little jungle friend over there?”
“Why would I?”
I frown. “What’s wrong with you? I don’t know how it’s done in Brno, but here in America the first thing you do when someone takes off their shirt is check out their nipples.”
“I’ll try to remember that.”
“Bite me.” I flick Jan off and glance over at Theo again. He’s got a spiral notebook tucked under his arm. “What’s his deal?”
“I don’t think he got much sleep last night,” Jan replies, “what with him defeating your babička and all.”
I walk over to the bed, finger the notebook. “What’s this?”
“His book of lists. He says he makes them to pass the time whenever he’s bored or can’t sleep. He was making one earlier.”
I pry the notebook from Theo’s arms, half interested in what’s inside, and half trying to get him to “accidentally” wake up so that he can help me with my torrenting problem.
“I don’t think you should be touching his stuff,” Jan says.
“Quiet, Czech,” I say, and start poking through the notebook. It’s just pages of random lists, a few charts—and a pie graph of a human brain labeled, “Ernie’s Brain,” with the two largest chunks marked as “food” and “porn.”
The little fucker thinks he’s a comedian!
I turn the page. There’s a scribbled chart ranking Yes albums from best to worst, each one accompanied by a five-star rating. Close to the Edge and Fragile are at the top; Tormato and Heaven & Earth are at the very bottom. A few more pages and there’s a list by Mini.
“Wow,” I murmur.
“What?” asks Jan.
“Tarzan boy’s got issues. There’s a list in here by Mini. It’s even got different handwriting.”
For the first time since discovering female bodybuilding, Jan seems interested in the outside world. “What’s it say?”
“‘Study Postures: a look at the various postures and positions employed by Theo’s friends during homework or computer use.’” There’s a list for everyone:
- Arkenstonehenge (Theo)
A straight-postured stance marked by the consumption of copious amounts of green tea while sitting in a lotus position and listening to David Arkenstone, John Tesh, or Yanni.
Heh—that’s totally Theo.
- Protein Powder (Jan)
Designed to burn off mounting rage during extended Windows load times on shitty hardware, and is achieved by the lifting of weights and watching of female bodybuilder videos on YouTube.
Heh—that’s totally Janny Boy.
- Gas Giant (Ernie)
Minimal muscle fatigue is achieved through the practice of a hunched, bloated posture in which the body’s excess fat acts as support for underlying bone and muscle structures. Junk food can be placed between the upper belly and lower pectoral folds for easy access.
“Plush bastard!” I shout.
Jan snickers. “I like that one.”
- Rainbow Cupcake (Eva)
A strictly honorary stance used by darling little girls who think hacking is typing out a diary entry on a pink MacBook (as if!). Performed by lying prone on one’s bed and waving one’s bunny-slippered feet back and forth.
Heh—that’s totally Bug Eyes.
- Code Warrior (Beta)
A deceptively laid-back, relaxed posture conducive to long periods of hacking………
“Huh.” I flip the page, looking for the rest of the description. “Where’s the rest of Beta’s?”
Jan shrugs. “Theo must’ve fallen asleep before he could finish it.”
“I don’t blame him. Hacking is the most boring thing in the world.”
Jan nods in agreement.
Atop a mountain of skulls reaching high into an acrid sky clouded over by swarming server daemons, I stand proud, my well-muscled frame glistening, bristling, the screaming wind whipping through my hair.
“Halt!” cries one of the daemons as it swoops down on me. “Who goes there?”
“It is I, Simon Wong—code warrior!” I proclaim, raising my sword. “Your protocols have all been slain! It is time to meet thy demise!”
“Very well.” The daemon bares its sharpened teeth menacingly. “If a fool’s death you seek…”
To quote Gurney Halleck paraphrasing the Bible in Dune: behold, as a wild ass in the desert, go I forth to my work.