Welcome to The Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is a story inspired by the phrase “back to normal.” It could be a pandemic-related story about getting back to normal, or one about not getting back to normal, or a story about something else entirely.
Today’s post is written by Phil Yeats. In December, 2019, Phil (using his Alan Kemister pen name) published his most recent novel. Tilting at Windmills, the second in the Barrettsport Mysteries series of soft-boiled police detective stories set in an imaginary Nova Scotia coastal community is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Tilting-Windmills-Barrettsport-Mysteries-Book-ebook/dp/B07L5WR948/
He’s currently working on a Cli-Fi novel. Information on that project is available on his website (https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com).
Things One Must Do during the Pandemic
by Phil Yeats
He sat immobile two metres away while she played his game. When she removed the virtual reality headset and turned toward him, she realized he hadn’t been sleeping like she initially suspected, but lost in a trancelike state.
“Did you win?” he asked.
“Win? I battled endless enemies while vanquishing none. I survived, and somehow, I made your life quality index better than it was when I started.”
“How many game years did you play?”
“Twenty. I could have continued.”
“One hour and eleven minutes. Long enough for my prototype’s first test.”
She glanced at her phone. “Six thirty, and I’m famished. Can we, like, go somewhere for dinner?”
“Out? I thought the pandemic closed everything.”
“Wow! You’re so out of touch.”
“Been focused on this since they shut us down in March.”
She shook her head. “Things have eased up, and I know a vegetarian restaurant—quiet, outdoor patio, small tables, well-spaced, safe. You can explain your game’s real meaning.”
He gazed, wide-eyed, from side to side as they walked from their tiny student apartments in a decrepit old house.
“You okay, not paranoid about the risks,” she asked after they’d placed their orders at a pass-through window.
“Fine. Just realizing how out of it I’ve been while working on my project twenty-four-seven since March. But it’s important. I mustn’t let up.”
She smiled. They’d been buddies, not lovers, since she entered university three years earlier. She knew all about his tendency for exaggeration and long periods of almost maniacal preoccupation with crazy ideas. Had four months of coronavirus quarantine pushed him over the edge? “Tell me about it.”
“You know I’m interested in climate change.”
She snorted as she pulled out a chair at the last empty table. “Everyone on campus knows you’re a climate change crusader.”
“I’ve been involved in high school, through undergrad, and now in grad school. Me and thousands of others have given our all to convincing people we must act, but no one listens.”
“Not so. You’ve convinced me and countless others.”
“But we haven’t reached government and industrial leaders who control carbon emissions on national and international scales.”
“How will your computer game help?”
“The game’s framework, the scenarios, and the algorithms determining how player actions influence progress are based on solid science.”
“So, it’s realistic. How does that help?”
“We focus on the game and how players pit their skill against the ogres in government and big business. We develop a following and discussion forums where enthusiasts discuss winning strategies. They’ll see what actions, behaviour, and attitudes are good for the environment and what ones are harmful.”
“But you’re talking about gamers, a demographic that’s already onside in your fight against global warming.”
“That’s where my efforts to make the science as accurate as possible come in.”
“If I strip away the virtual reality headsets and the role-playing aspects, my game is like computer simulations used in scientific research, business management, and government planning. When scientists learn how credible my decision drivers are, they’ll realize I have a useful scientific tool with the added benefit of human behavioural input from the gamers.”
He spent the rest of their meal and most of the walk to their apartments describing how well his game mimicked reality. He finally ran out of arguments as they entered the old house.
“Come to my flat,” she said as he closed the outside door. “Yesterday, I baked a cake. I’ll brew tea, and we can, well, talk about other things and maybe, well, you know…”
“Wouldn’t that defeat the social distancing requirements?”
“I came to your flat and played your game.”
“And I sanitized everything before you arrived and kept two metres away.”
She scrunched her nose. “I noticed. The latest rules allow small non-family social bubbles. If we formed a bubble, we could visit each other and not worry about Covid-19 rules.”
He stopped with his hand on his doorknob. “Maybe tomorrow or the next day. Tonight, I must analyze the computer record from your session. If everything’s copacetic, I’ll get my prototype out to additional testers.”
He disappeared inside without another word, and she slumped against the opposite wall. For three years, he’d been a true friend, always ready with advice or a hug when she needed support. Tonight, when regulations were finally getting back to something resembling normal after almost four months of nearly complete lockdown, she desperately needed human contact, but he failed her. Her other friends had dispersed to places far and wide when the university closed its doors and moved to online learning. She’d considered going home but feared she’d be denied re-entry when the new term started.
His game may be as brilliant as he thought, but it was the escape mechanism that allowed him to survive the lockdown. Post lockdown, he needed someone to kick him into reengaging with the world. The answer was simple; brew the tea, slice the cake, and bring them to his apartment. They could drink tea and eat cake while he did whatever he must on his computer. When he finished, she’d be there waiting for the hug she so desperately needed.
The Spot Writers—Our Members:
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com/
Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/