Written By: Nathan Hill
So by the time he finished the daily quest grind today it was dark outside, and his mind felt so fuzzy and remote and sort of constipationally plugged up after five hours of rote tasks that he did not have the focus or drive or energy for difficult higher-order engagements, like shopping or cooking or a complicated kitchen renovation. So he stayed at his computer and recharged with a six-shot latte and a frozen burrito and kept on playing.
He played for so long that now, as he tries to sleep, he finds the Sparkles especially amped up, and there’s no way sleep is going to come anytime soon, and so the only thing Pwnage can really do is get out of bed and fire up the computers once more and check the West Coast servers and go on another raid. Then he joins the Australian servers, hours later, and attacks the dragon again. Then by four a.m. the hard-core Japanese players come online, which is always a windfall, and he teams up with these guys and kills the dragon a couple more times, until killing the dragon no longer feels triumphant but rather routine and ordinary and maybe a little tedious. And around the time that India appears, the Sparkles have morphed into more of a fleeting mushy luminescence, and he abandons the game and he feels all hazy, like his forehead is physically three feet away from his face, and he decides he needs some decompression time before going to sleep, so he pops in one of the DVDs he’s seen a million times (the thinking here is that he can let it play and zone out a bit, since he knows the film so well, not having to do any hard work brain-wise), one of his collection of apocalyptic disaster movies where the earth is destroyed in any number of ways—meteors, aliens, off-the-charts interior magma activity—and his mind begins to glaze over within the first fifteen minutes, at the point the protagonist figures out the secret the government’s been keeping all this time and now knows there’s some seriously heavy shit about to go down, Pwnage zones out and reflects on his day, remembers vaguely his eager and intense desire that very afternoon to start eating better, and maybe because he feels guilty that he did not, in fact, find it the right day to start eating better, he cracks open another Brazil nut, figuring maybe it’s best to kind of ease into these things, that the Brazil nut is a bridge between his current life and the eating-better life that is ahead of him, and he spaces out and stares at the television with an empty fishlike quality in his eyes and swallows the thick Brazil nut bolus and watches as the earth is destroyed and he sort of happily imagines a rock the size of California falling into the earth and in a skeleton-melting flash wiping out everything, killing everyone, annihilating it all, and he rises from the couch, and it’s almost dawn, and he wonders where the night went, and he stumbles into his bedroom and sees himself in the mirror—his white-yellow hair, his eyeballs red with fatigue and dehydration—and he gets into bed and he doesn’t so much “fall asleep” as he plummets into a sudden allover concussive darkness. And the thing he tries to hold in his mind in this near-comatose state is the memory of himself dancing.
He wants to remember what that felt like: a moment of transcendent joy. He had defeated the dragon for the first time. His Chicago friends all cheered.
But now it won’t come to him, the feeling that made him dance so exuberantly. Pwnage tries to imagine himself doing it, but it feels detached—it has the quality of something he saw on television, long ago. The way he feels now, it couldn’t have been him churning the butter, starting the lawn mower, spanking that ass.
Tomorrow, he vows.
Tomorrow will be the first day of the new diet—the real, official first day. And maybe today was actually a warm-up or dry run or head start for the actual first day of the new diet, which would be very soon. One of these days very soon when he would wake up early and eat a healthy breakfast and get working on the kitchen and clean the cabinets and buy some groceries and avoid the computer and finally, for an entire day, do everything exactly, perfectly right.
He swears. He promises. One of these days will be the day that changes everything.
“YOU THINK I cheated?” says Laura Pottsdam, college sophomore and habitual, perpetual cheater. “You think I plagiarized that paper? Me?”
Samuel nods. He’s trying to look sad about this whole situation, like when a parent has to punish a child. This hurts me more than it hurts you, is the expression he’s trying to produce, even if he does not sincerely feel it. Inside, he secretly likes when he gets to fail a student. It’s like revenge for having to teach them.
“Can I just say? Once and for all? I. Did. Not. Plagiarize. That. Paper,” Laura Pottsdam says of the paper that was almost entirely plagiarized. Samuel knows this because of the software—the truly exceptional software package subscribed to by the university that analyzes every essay completed by his students and compares them to every other essay in its massive archive of every paper ever analyzed anywhere. The software’s inner brain is made of literally millions of words written by the nation’s high-school and college students, and Samuel sometimes jokes to his colleagues that if the software ever achieved sci-fi artificial intelligence and consciousness, it would immediately go to Cancún for spring break.
The software analyzed Laura’s paper and found it to be ninety-nine percent plagiarized—everything had been stolen except for the name “Laura Pottsdam.”
(OR, “THE LOADED QUESTION”)
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- The One (The Selection, #3)
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- Reaper's Property (Reapers MC, #1)
- This Girl (Slammed #3)
- Overruled (The Legal Briefs, #1)
- Into the Still Blue (Under the Never Sky, #
- One Tiny Lie (Ten Tiny Breaths, #2)
- The Will (The Magdalene Series) (Volume 1)