“He knows something,” Arthur told Leon.
They were together again in his living room. Leon was examining the Xbox, using the controller to openmenus and looking through game files.
“You mean he listened to you?”
“No, he’s still… Wendi. Like he hasn’t come to grips with what he is. But he heard Ollie and, I don’t know, had a crisis?”
Leon stopped scrolling through menus. “I told you this wasn’t going to end well. We have to figure out a way to give him some peace. He can’t hang around being reminded he’s dead all the time. Neither can we. That’s not healthy.”
“Why can’t he just hang around, huh? We’ll hop on the game with him every once in a while, keep him company. What’s wrong with that?” Arthur was painfully aware of the pitch of his voice, the near-whine, and realized he must’ve sounded like a teenager. But even as the words were leaving his mouth, he knew it wouldn’t work. How long was that supposed to go on? How long could he keep slipping back to teenage-Arthur, using the old words and old language of the children they’d used to be? How long until he got tired of Wendi’s inability to move forward? How long until he resented him, started to think of him as a burden, a ghostly houseplant to be watered once a week?
“What should we do?” Arthur asked.
“So,” Leon said, pushing his glasses up, “I think we might be able to give Wendi his own server. Nitros Sunset is client based, meaning you can host your own server. I can set one up, upload him as a modded NPC and he can simply cruise forever.” He gestured at the TV screen. “He’s in this hard drive, somewhere. If I can find the files and transfer them out, I think I can get him out.”
“How is that any different from now?”
“Well, he wouldn’t be in darkness until you turned on the console again, for one thing. The other is that we won’t be able to talk to him. He’ll just exist within the game.”
Arthur stopped pacing back and forth. “That sounds like you’re locking him away.”
Leon’s face darkened. “Come on, you know how he feels about that game. Let him run out whatever restlessness his soul has. Then we can all get on with our lives.” He said the last sentence a lot harder than he’d meant to, but Arthur seemed to take it well.
“We gotta let him go,” Arthur said thickly.
Leon nodded. “Know what he would say, if he was with us now, all grown up and lame?”
“He’d tell us to get a fucking life.”
Arthur smiled weakly. It was one of the old jokes that would reappear in their gaming parties, where if someone was too good at a game, they’d be ridiculed for being glued to their couch, never seeing the sun, a Mt. Dew vampire.
Leon stood up, jingling his keys. “Say goodbye to him. I’ll have the mod done and the server up by the end of the week.” He put a hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “I know you think this is a fun thing, but it looks like you haven’t slept in weeks. It’s like you’re grieving all over again.”
Arthur awkwardly tapped Leon’s arm and ducked out from under it. He laughed shakily. “Okay, okay. I get it. Set it up. Let’s send our boy off right.”
“0wl! We gonna hit the record tonight or what?”
It was the final night. Leon was coming over the next morning with his laptop to end all of this. Arthur hopped on, intent on explaining everything to Pete, laying it out there in one final bid to try and get him to understand.
That intent faded the moment he heard Wendi’s voice. It reminded him that playing these games were some of the best moments of Arthur’s young life, and of Pete’s. Why spoil it with cruel reality? Why not just let it all go? There was no real point in souring Wendi’s mood, hearing his voice fill with confusion and fear as Arthur tried to explain: you’re dead, you’re dead, you killed yourself. I’m sorry I don’t know how else to tell you.
“You know what, WendigoPete?
“I can play a quick match.”
“Oh of course! Just a quick match!”
Leon explained how it would work, but Arthur wasn’t listening. He was staring at the Xbox, thinking of old times. The Xbox was detached from the TV and sitting on the coffee table while Leon worked. It looked like the console was getting a medical operation.
After a while, Leon said: “There, I think it’s done.”
“Did it work?”
Leon shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m not an expert in moving ghosts. I found a really weird bit of data on the hard drive. Couldn’t open it, couldn’t do much with it, but I could bundle it with the Nitros Sunset stuff. So I moved it all over and created a mod.” He tapped his laptop. “I set up a private Nitros server. If it works, Wendi can drive forever.”
They started the game. Leon started driving around the city, both of their eyes peeled for a car to stand out amidst the pedestrian vehicles.
They were about to give up when a purple sports car zipped past them, drifting around a deep curve and boosting away.
“I think that was him!” Leon exclaimed.
Leon raced to catch up. The car had no player name, no markers, no anything. They drove side by side for a long time, until the purple car slammed Leon’s vehicle into oncoming traffic.
Arthur swore he could hear Pete laughing
I’m sixteen years old and there’s only one thing I want in the world. Well, actually there’s a few, a lot of things, but I can narrow it down. I want Lindsey Pollock from Civics class to go with me to the homecoming dance (truth told, I want Lindsey Pollock to do a lot of things to me, with me, on top of me, but….),
Mostly, I want to get all gold medals in Nitros Sunset.
Nitros Sunset, man, what a game.
At first it was the music. Electronic, percussive synth. 0wlman calls it robot elevator music but I do not care. It rocks.
Is it the graphics? I love the openness, the way the map always seems to be angle toward a sunset or moonrise. The sky is always lit in pinks and oranges, makes it feel like you’re driving into a painting.
Maybe it’s having my friends with me, chasing each other like a never ending game of tag, cackling and laughing like we’re five years old. A digital jungle gym, no tag-backs.
Maybe it’s driving like a maniac, gathering boost bonuses to go faster, faster, faster. To the point where everything melts away in a gleeful blur as thought disappears into twitchy, quick reactions.
I think I could drive like that forever.