Emoland


by Alex Miller

I've known a lot of morons in my life and met most of them at school. Here in emoland I go to school five days a week. Sometimes I think emoland would be better without school. I think it quite a lot, actually.

I've always taken the bus to school, and I noticed when Alyssa started riding again. Troy used to drive her in his Chevy, but after he dumped her she came back to the bus. Alyssa wasn't my friend, but sometimes she sat with me because nobody else on the bus was in high school. We were only freshmen, but technically that counts as high school. All the little kids acted scared of us. In emoland, big kids could be very dangerous. Alyssa almost never talked to me. I wanted to ask her all about Troy, about what it was like to date a big shot from the wrestling team. I chickened out. Alyssa was extremely hot.

It felt weird to sit beside someone and not say anything. It felt like I wasn't really there at all, like I watched from a distance, like in a dream. It wasn't the first time I'd felt that way. Lately I'd felt that way quite a lot.

Charles was the best teacher in emoland. He taught English. The best teachers are always English teachers. Charles wanted us to call him Chuck. The thing about Charles was he tried so hard to act like one of us kids, and it was sad because he came off like some pathetic old guy who couldn't cope. I refused to call him Chuck. I called him Dr. Weirdbeard.

On the first day of school, Dr. Weirdbeard told us his class would be different. He showed us a big copy of "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens.

"I promise I will never make you read Charles Dickens," he said. "If I made you read Dickens, you'd hate me and hate English class and never read anything again except 'Twilight,' which doesn't even count."

Then he started ripping pages out of David Copperfield.

"Screw Dickens," he said.

Torn pages floated through the air and settled on the floor in front of his desk.

"Screw Dickens," he said.

That was a few months ago. More recently he's had us read "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner." It's OK.

One day in class Troy wouldn't leave Avery alone. Nobody ever left Avery alone, so Troy probably thought Avery was an easy target. Troy was right.

Troy asked Avery—really loud so everybody could hear—where he bought his blue jeans. At first Avery wouldn't answer, but Troy kept asking him louder and louder. Finally Avery said in a small voice that his mom bought them at Walmart. Troy laughed and laughed.

The thing about Troy was that he lived in his own little world. In Troy's world, there were only two kinds of people—cool people and nerds. In Troy's world, nerds deserved to be punished by the cool people. Troy's world had no more depth than this.

Troy considered himself a cool person because he played sports. It didn't matter to him that nobody liked him, not even the other athletes. In Troy's world, being good at sports and winning medals is what makes you cool. Troy played pretty much every sport, but wrestling was the one he liked to brag about. He had a natural gift for crushing people and holding them down.

Anyway it made me angry how he laughed at Avery, so from my desk across the aisle I called Troy a nematode.

"What the fuck are you even talking about?" Troy said.

"You're what I'm fucking talking about. You're a dumb nematode. You're so dumb you don't even know what a nematode is."

"Sure I do," he said.

"What's a nematode?"

"Shut up," Troy said.

Troy was very pissed.

After class, Dr. Weirdbeard pulled me aside and told me he liked how I "handled myself back there." He asked me some lame questions like if I enjoyed being in high school and what I did for fun. I probably should have lied and told him I spent all my free time reading the classics of Western literature, but instead I told him the truth, which is that I play a video game called "World of Orcs." It's one of those big games that everybody plays online, and it's like a whole other world where people level up and fight orcs. Dr. Weirdbeard told me it sounded "rad" and he'd like to play it sometime. I gave him my server ID so he could find me in the game.

Alyssa sat with me again on the bus ride home. I worked up the nerve to ask her about Troy.

"We're not really broken up," she said. "Not really. This is just temporary."

"Everybody says he dumped you," I said.

"He'll change his mind. Guys always do," she said. "He loves me. He just doesn't know it right now."

"Why would you want to get back with some jerk who dumped you?"

"I love him," she said. "You wouldn't understand, not unless you've loved someone. He'll take me back someday because I love him so much."

I told Alyssa about "World of Orcs." I told her Dr. Weirdbeard was going to play with me.

"That's creepy," she said. "That kind of thing ends up on the six o'clock news."

I asked her to play with us, and she told me she'd think about it. That's how the three of us started playing "World of Orcs" together. Stranger things have happened in emoland, but not many.

Dr. Weirdbeard chose a character that was like an archer who could speak to animals. Alyssa made a dark knight with a big sword and some kind of tight leather bathing suit for armor. I played a druid because I liked casting heal spells on people.

Dr. Weirdbeard and Alyssa helped me with my quest to kill the Orc Lord. He's a giant orc who wields a mighty scimitar. He's mean to the other orcs and makes them do bad things. That's why I had to kill him. Also I wanted his mighty scimitar.

Dr. Weirdbeard started shooting arrows at the Orc Lord, and Alyssa stepped up to fight him face to face, and I cast heal spells on everybody, but it didn't do any good because the Orc Lord killed Alyssa with one chop of his mighty scimitar, and then he killed me, and then Dr. Weirdbeard ran away.

"Dying sucks," said Dr. Weirdbeard.

"I know," I said.

Then I typed "/dance" and my druid started dancing. Pretty soon all of us danced together.

"I don't know how to dance in real life," I said.

"It helps if you don't think about it," Dr. Weirdbeard said. "It helps if you are drunk."

I typed "LOL."

"Forget I said that," he said.

"No, it's true," Alyssa said. "Dancing is easiest when you're drunk."

"I'm going to lose my job," Dr. Weirdbeard said.

The next day in school Dr. Weirdbeard had red eyes, and he hadn't finished grading our quizzes. He told me he'd been awake all night "grinding up levels."

A few hours later I saw him again, sort of by accident. I was walking to algebra, my last class of the day, and I caught a glimpse of Dr. Weirdbeard when I passed by the open door of the teachers' lounge. When I saw him I stopped and stared for a minute. He drank coffee with the other teachers who were all old women with bad hair. One of the old women teachers complained about her "little monsters in third period." All the other old women laughed, but Dr. Weirdbeard looked down at his coffee cup and rubbed his temples. Dr. Weirdbeard looked like he wanted to shoot himself in the face.

On the bus home, Alyssa didn't talk about Troy. She talked about "World of Orcs."

"We can totally beat the Orc Lord," she said.

"Totally," I said. "You just have to use your Hell Slash. It focuses all your rage and hate into your sword. Just keep using Hell Slash until he dies."

That night when we found the Orc Lord, Alyssa did just as I told her. She hit him in the face with Hell Slash. But then he sliced her with his mighty scimitar, and she almost died. I saved her with a heal spell. She hit him over and over with Hell Slash, and I kept healing her, and Dr. Weirdbeard ran around in circles pelting the Orc Lord with arrows. Pretty soon we won.

"This is so rad," Dr. Weirdbeard said.

I looted the mighty scimitar, but instead of keeping it I gave it to Alyssa. It glowed purple when she equipped it. She took a few practice swings, wielding it like she was a sexy demon from my nightmares.

Late at night after we'd logged off, my cell phone lit up from a text. It was Alyssa. She wanted to go somewhere. I texted back that I'd go anywhere. A half-hour later I'd snuck out of the house, and she picked me up at the end of my driveway in her father's minivan. This was risky because she was too young to drive. When I brought up this point she told me to stop acting like a pussy.

Alyssa drove us to the school, to the football field. Our school had a very large stadium. Football is quite popular in emoland. The lights were out so everything looked dark. We walked on tiny blades of manicured grass. I felt like a ghost.

"This is where Troy fucked me for the first time," Alyssa said as we approached the fifty-yard line. "After the homecoming game last year, after he scored the winning touchdown. After the dance he took me out here, just the two of us, and it was nice."

"What's it like to have sex?"

"We almost didn't," she said. "He couldn't get it up. We had to fool around for an hour, and then when we got to it, it didn't last long. It was nice though, to be naked on the grass under the stars."

"You talk about him a lot."

"He's all I think about."

"Think about something else. Something better."

"Make me forget about him," she said. "I don't ever want to think about him again."

So I kissed her. This was the first time I'd ever kissed a girl in emoland, and her lips were soft and wet and her face felt warm. I held her head as I kissed her and ran my fingers through her hair. We knelt down and made out some more, and I pawed her breasts from outside her shirt, and she grabbed at my crotch, but we didn't take off our clothes or do anything that could get her pregnant. I hoped she wouldn't think I was a pussy. I felt like I'd be ready soon but not that night. Sex was a big deal to me because it only happens in the real world. Once you have it, you can't ever go back to emoland.

After we finished, Alyssa looked at the sky. The wind cut sharp and cold against my face. I watched it blow waves through her hair.

"I like it outside," she said. "I feel free. I feel—I don't know—the way birds must feel, like I can go anywhere."

I leaned back in the grass and watched her. The moonlight painted her blue. That's how I like to remember her, all blue and ecstatic and looking to the stars.

Anyway, it didn't take long for word to get around school that we'd fooled around. In emoland, everybody is always in everybody else's business. The next day I heard people whispering about me in the hallways. Upperclassmen I'd never met before high-fived me. But then Troy showed up, and things happened fast. He shoved me from behind. I dropped my books, saw them scatter across the floor. A crowd moved in to observe my humiliation.

"Listen up, nerd," Troy said, putting his finger in my face and spitting a little. "From now on, you keep your nerdy hands off my girl."

"She's not your girl," I said.

"She's my girl if I say she's my girl."

"Your girl says you can't get it up. Your girl says you can't even last five minutes."

Everybody laughed. Troy stomped away. And as I picked my books off the floor, it occurred to me that even in emoland there could be happy endings.

In English class, Dr. Weirdbeard's eyes were red again, and he kept putting his head down on the desk. He'd graded our quizzes at last. He called me to his desk to give me mine and explain that while he enjoyed "World of Orcs," it had intruded on his real life. He told me he couldn't play anymore.

"At some point," he said, "everybody must accept reality. Even me. Even when reality isn't what we want it to be."

I told him I understood. Partially I felt bummed, but also I was relieved because playing games with your teacher is somewhat embarrassing. Anyway he wasn't very good. He always tried to speak to the animals when he should have shot them with arrows for experience points.

That day, Alyssa didn't ride the bus home from school. She didn't log in to "World of Orcs," either. I played by myself for an hour and killed some boars.

Later I went outside on the deck in the back of my mom's house. I saw hills in the distance, and they were full of trees. Afternoon gave way to evening, and as the sun set it painted colors on the clouds. Sometimes the real world can be a very beautiful place.

Anyway I logged back into the game and helped some random girl kill twenty manticores for a quest. And she told me her name was Sancha and she lived in Holland. I asked her all about Holland, and she asked me about the U.S.

"I don't know the first thing about America," I said. "But I can tell you all about emoland."

I explained to her about Alyssa and Dr. Weirdbeard. Sancha told me that my teacher was funny and Alyssa was sad, and perhaps lacking in self-esteem. She told me about her life in Holland, and some of it sounded familiar and the rest was completely new and weird.

For the next few weeks, and me and Sancha played together every night. We leveled up quite a bit, and even when we weren't doing quests it was nice to have someone to talk to. We started a guild, just the two of us. Someday we might let other people join. Someday.

More than anything else I wanted to meet Sancha. I mean in real life. I wanted to fly to Holland and live in her parents' basement. Over and over I told myself I would do it. I would get up and go. Sancha was the most interesting person in the world.

Sometimes I thought about Dr. Weirdbeard. I wondered if, when it comes to Sancha, I was accepting reality or not. Mostly I didn't care. In the real world, Holland is only a plane ride away, but I can't afford a ticket. That's reality for you.

The other day I walked by the teacher's lounge. Dr. Weirdbeard sat in there with the rest of them. He drank coffee. He talked a lot and waved his hands. All of the other teachers laughed at his jokes. He said words like "semantics" and "Jean-Luc Godard." Dr. Weirdbeard had become the center of some strange little world that existed only inside the teachers' lounge. And he seemed happy. And even though I knew I could never be part of that world, I felt happy for him, too.

That same day, I saw Alyssa in the school parking lot. Alyssa had gotten back with Troy, so she never talked to me anymore. I watched her from out the window on the school bus where I sat alone. She didn't look like the Alyssa I used to know. She didn't look like the girl who focused all her rage and hate to kill the Orc Lord with her Hell Slash. She looked small, and sad, and far away.

I watched as she and Troy got into his Chevy. He stood outside while she sat down in the passenger seat, and he slammed shut the door, and she disappeared. I mean completely. Like she'd never existed. Like she'd never shared a seat with me on the bus, like we'd never played videogames, like we'd never made out on the football field. Alyssa wasn't in emoland. She wasn't in the real world, either. She was somewhere else. Somewhere lonely.

I imagine her, sometimes, sitting in her room. She looks at the walls. She looks at the windows. She wonders if they open or if they're painted shut. She tries to remember what the wind feels like on her face.


BIO: Alex Miller lives in Hawaii. His novella, "Osama bin Laden is Dead," is slated for publication later this year by Battered Suitcase Press. He tweets @mannerism77.