How To Avoid Death On A Daily Basis: Book One (3 page)

BOOK: How To Avoid Death On A Daily Basis: Book One
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8. Dress to Impress


“Any questions?”


For the next few minutes, Grayson fielded a barrage of different questions.


“Is there a way for us to go home.”


“Not right now. But that’s not to say there’s isn’t a way that hasn’t been found yet. You may be the one who discovers it.”


“You said there were others before us. Where are they? Can we talk to them?”


“They’ve all moved on, mostly to one of the big cities. If you meet one of them, I’m sure they’ll be happy to talk to you.”


“Is this a game?”

“No. I assure you this is not a game.”


“Can we die?”



“If we die, can we come back to life.”


Grayson pulled a face. “Well, there are healers who can treat severe injuries, but once you’re dead, you’re dead, as far as I know.”


“Are you sure this isn’t a game?”


“I’m very sure.”


“Does magic exist here?”


“Yes.” This sent a buzz around the room as people got excited. “But it’s very rare, and people who can actually put it to good use are even rarer. Most blow off their own hands the first time they try it.”


“What about dragons? Do they exist?”


“I’ve never seen one myself, but there are those who claim to have encountered them.”


“This is definitely a game, isn’t it?”


Grayson put his hand on his hips and looked directly at me. “For the last time, this isn’t a game. Please stop asking that.”


After that, most of the questions got the same sort of answers.
I don’t know. You’ll have to figure that out for yourself. I’m not sure.
Until they petered out and we sat there staring at him.


“Is that it?” said Gayson. “All right, then. Next thing we need to do is get you some clothes. You can’t walk around looking like that!”


Grayson bent down and dragged out the boxes next to the desk. There were four of them and they were each overflowing with shirts and trousers. 


“These aren’t particularly stylish, but they will do until you can buy something more to your liking. Take whatever fits, it’s all free.”


People started walking over to have a rummage. I noticed another couple of boxes by the wall which had footwear in them. While a crowd formed around the clothes, I made for the shoes. The walk to town had been a painful one and finding a pair of shoe that fit seemed much more important than a matching top and bottom ensemble.


Maurice peered over my shoulder as I tried to find something that looked sturdy. They were all old and used, mostly sandals and cloth slippers, but I dug out a pair of strappy boots that covered my foot and ankle. Not the greatest fit, but they didn’t fall off. Maurice grabbed sandals with one clasp broken.


By the time we got to have a look in the clothing boxes, the only things left looked more like rags. The others had put on their new gear, and none of it looked ready for the catwalk. The material was coarse and everything leaned towards baggy.


The shirt I decided on was more a sack with holes for head and ams. It had a slash across the stomach with red-brown stains around it. The bottom of the trousers hung around my calves and the waist was many sizes too big. But the material was thick and some string would sort out the waist. Until then I’d have to hold it up with my hands. Looking at the stuff in the boxes, I got the impression these had all come from our predecessors who had met with sticky ends. Pretty much everyone’s clothes had rips and stains. I tried not to think about it.


Maurice’s Batman onesie was better than anything in the boxes so he didn’t bother taking anything, but while I was trying on stuff, he went over to speak to Grayson. After a brief discussion, Grayson opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a handful of spectacles which Maurice tried until a pair seemed to work for him. They had thick black frames and some kind of wrapping on the middle bit where they were obviously broken.


Less than a day and Maurice had already levelled up from nerd to dork. If there was an uber-geek achievement to be won, he was well on his way to claiming it.

9. Party Up


We retook our seats, looking like refugees from an Oxfam shop. Captain Grayson once again sat on the edge of his desk.


“Any more questions?”


No one said anything. Probably not because they didn’t have questions, more likely because people had had enough. Nothing made sense and the only question that really mattered had already been answered with a big, fat no. We couldn’t go home.


“My men are preparing food for you, but we weren’t expecting so many, so it will take a little time. What I suggest you do is get into small groups of three or four and go have a look around town. It’s a small place that was originally built to help visitors like yourself. The people are quite friendly, but bear in mind they all carry weapons, so be polite and don’t start trouble. You might get a better idea of what to expect once you’ve seen a bit more. We’ll ring a bell when the food’s ready.”


People slowly got up and started forming groups. I remained seated and moved my hands in front of me playing imaginary whack-a-mole, trying to feel for any kind of interaction. I couldn’t shake the idea this had to be a game. If I could just access the status screen, maybe I’d be able to work out what I needed to do to level up.


“What are you doing?” asked Maurice.


“I’m looking for a way to access the user interface.” I continued to pat the air.


“You really think this is a game?”


“Yep.” I had no doubt, even though I had yet to find any actual evidence.


Maurice looked around, still squinting even though he had glasses now. “I don’t think the technology exists for this level of immersion.”


“I didn’t think ogres existed either,” I said.


“Fair point. Looks like everyone’s leaving.”


Having no luck with clicking on anything, I decided I should probably go have a look around town. The only people left in the room were a red-faced guy who had his arms folded and was staring at the ceiling for some reason, and two girls sat next to each other. One girl was a little plump with a round face that made her look fatter than she was. The other was very skinny and almost good-looking if it wasn’t for her huge nose.


Quick sidebar: It may seem like I’m a sexist twat who only sees women in terms of their looks, but I don’t think I treat women like they’re inferior. I notice what I notice. I’m not going to pretend I’m some New Age moron who sees all life as part of the same beautiful tapestry. The first thing I noticed about Maurice was that he’s black—and that’s despite him wearing a Batman onesie. Does that make me racist? I think it means my eyes work. Feel free to judge me how you want.


I headed for the door and the girl with the big nose stood up.


“Don’t you think we should form a group?” She said it almost as an accusation.


Damn, I’d almost made it to the door. I stopped and turned around. “Er, are you talking to me?”


“I get it, all right?” She seemed quite angry. At me in particular. “We’re the ones nobody wants to hang out with. The losers. More reason we should stick together. Or are you just another bastard willing to leave two girls alone in this FUCKING SHITHOLE!”


The blast at the end had me leaning back. I don’t really know how to handle angry girls, which is strange because my mother was like that for most of my childhood, so you’d think I’d be used to it.


Then again, maybe that’s why it unnerves me so much. If you get angry back they turn up the volume, no bass, all treble. If you try to speak gently, they get mad because you aren’t taking them seriously. Back in the 1950s you could slap a screaming woman and she’d thank you for calming her down. Try that these days and you might get a slightly different response.


“I don’t know what you’re so pissed at me for, I don’t think you’re a loser. If I don’t seem sociable it’s just because I find it difficult to talk to people, especially in big groups. I’m going to look around. If you want to come, nobody’s stopping you.”


I walked out the door with Maurice and the two girls falling in behind. Ceiling-staring guy got up and shuffled after us. Was this really my party? I had to ditch these losers as soon as possible.

10. Welcome to Probet


Outside, the road, more a dusty track, led in only one direction. Buildings ahead of us looked all the same. Wooden shacks of one storey. Noise and smells drifted towards us as we approached. It was hard to identify either.


“My name’s Claire, by the way,” said the girl with the big nose. “This is Flossie.”


I turned to look at the plump red-head. “Really?”


“Oh ah, not really,” she said in the broadest Brummie accent I’d ever heard. “Actually, it’s Victoria but everybody’s always called me that since I were a babby.”


“I’m Colin and this is Maurice.”


“Hello, ladies.” Maurice smiled inanely.


I looked over to our fifth member, who was walking a few steps behind us with his hands behind his back and a tremendous interest in the sky. “What about you? Got a name?”


“Dudley Fenderson III.” The voice that came out of his mouth was so posh it sounded like the sort of voice you put on to mock posh people. He was quite tall, had a receding hairline even though he couldn’t be more than nineteen or twenty, and no chin to speak of, so he definitely could be a member of the aristocracy. Or, perhaps he had chosen this new stage to reinvent himself.


Introductions done, we turned a corner and the main thoroughfare appeared in front of us. The whole town couldn’t have been more than a dozen shacks. Various stores lined either side of the main street.


The first was a blacksmith’s, a large open area with a roof over it and an intense fire burning in the middle. A variety of metalware hung on all sides. Weapons, armour pieces, pots and pans. A heavy-built man pounded away on an anvil with an enormous hammer.


“Go over and speak to him,” I said to Maurice.


“About what?”


“I don’t know, the price of stuff.”


It turned out nobody wanted to talk to the blacksmith. Having a party made up of the socially awkward and chronically shy clearly had some drawbacks. In fact, it had nothing but drawbacks.


The idea of being unable to ask a question of someone in a shop, a person who’s there to sell stuff, may seem ridiculous. But that means you’ve never experienced
the fear
. The inexplicable paralysis when you have to speak to someone official on the phone or attract the attention of a sales assistant in a shoe shop.


You could walk up to the nearest person and say, “Hey, I’d like to try this in a size nine, please,” but you don’t. You wait to be noticed, waving a shoe about, hoping someone offers to help.


If you have no idea what I’m talking about, congratulations, you’re a well-adjusted member of society.


I steeled myself to do what had to be done, went over what I would ask in my head, and then walked purposefully towards the smithy. The others followed, but at a distance where they could pretend they had nothing to do with me.


“Excuse me? Hello?” Sweat ran down the back of my neck.


The blacksmith was completely bald, but with a huge walrus moustache. He wore a heavy leather apron that made him look like he had nothing on underneath. I desperately hoped that wasn’t the case. He ignored me and continued to bang away—Pang! Pang! Pang!— red sparks flying in every direction. The hammer could have been borrowed from Thor. He picked a glowing object off the anvil with large pincers and plunged it in a bucket of water. Steam shot into the air.


“What is it?” he finally said without looking at me.


“How much for a dagger?” There were a number of daggers of varying sizes on a shelf.


“Depends.” He started banging away again. Pang! Pang! Pang!


A bit rude, you might think. How did he expect to sell anything with that attitude? Well, you have to look at it from his perspective. A sweaty young man approaches, holding up his trousers with one hand, and carrying what looks like a table leg in the other. Are you thinking, ‘
Ho ho, big spender. I’ll be able to shut up shop early tonight!
’? Of course not. More likely your first thought is, ‘
Shit, crazy homeless guy. Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact.


“The cheapest one,” I shouted over the noise. “How much?”


“Five bits,” he shouted back, still not looking at me.


I thanked him and walked away. How much was five bits? No idea. I thought the currency would be coppers and silvers, maybe gold for expensive stuff. I had no idea if five bits would be easy to earn or not.


The other had overheard our conversation and were equally unsure.


“Hey, what weapons did you get?” I asked the others.


Claire pulled out a stick similar to mine. Dudley had two wooden balls attached by a string. Flossie looked sheepish, then put her hand down her top and took out a dagger.


“Bloody hell,” said Maurice. “Nice.”


I couldn’t really tell if he meant the dagger or the cleavage it had emerged from. Both, were quite impressive.


“Put it away,” I said. “And don’t show it to anyone.” It was the sort of thing others might want for themselves. She quickly stuffed it back in its hiding place.


Clearly, we needed better weapons and this place would sell them to us. But first we had to make money. In an RPG, you killed monsters and they dropped loot. Money, potions, weapons. I looked at the stick in my hand, and wondered if the local fast food joint was hiring.


BOOK: How To Avoid Death On A Daily Basis: Book One
11.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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