neXus: Part 1

Ramen.

Twizzlers.

Instant rice.

Hot Pockets

Energy drinks. (But only if Red Bull was on sale. If not, he'd settle for Rockstar.)

Grant mulled over his list while his heart thrashed. His trembling hand reached for the doorknob. He glanced at the glowing green numbers of his digital clock. He knew what they said, and even worse, what they were about to say.

2:00 A.M. It was time.

He took one last breath, turned the knob, and stepped out into the darkness.

It was the first time in a month he had been outside.

*****

gas station

The clerk sat behind the counter and every so often, he would blink. His lank hair fled his scalp, leaving a shiny pink patch on his crown. He looked half-asleep.

Good, thought Grant, he might not talk to me. At least it isn't a girl this time.

Grant moved swiftly through the aisles, gathering up the things on his list.

Ramen

Twizzlers

Instant rice

Energy drinks (Damn it all, they only had Monster)

He had done well to make it this far. He hadn't run away when the door slid open this time. There had been a girl behind the counter during that outing and he hadn't planned for that. She had been pretty enough, but she had on too much mascara and it made her eyes look like spiders. Running away had been fine. He didn't like 3D girls anyway.

Grant stepped towards the counter until his legs decided to stop moving.

Treat it like a game, Ipsum had told him. Get through the real-life dungeon. Face the boss at the end. You can do it. Just take one step at a time.

Grant hated how his tennis shoes squeaked with every movement. The supplies clacked and clattered in his trembling arms. He ordered his feet to move but they would not listen. His back spasmed and his breath caught in his throat.

He was almost to the counter when everything in his arms slipped and clattered to the floor. The clerk looked at him,

blinked, and thankfully did nothing. Grant reached out to the giant box of ramen and placed the Twizzlers and rice on top of it. With his other hand, he gathered up the six-pack of Monster. He placed it all on the counter, keeping his eyes away from the clerk's. Grant pulled out his wallet and fumbled for cash. He was almost home free.

“Did you find everything okay?” the clerk asked.

Grant hadn't planned for this. Of course I found everything okay, you idiot. You were right there, watching me the whole time. I shouldn't have come here. I had enough to last another week, maybe two.

“Uh, okay,” the clerk said. “That'll be twenty tw...”

Grant thrust a sweaty, crumpled bill at him. The clerk took the cash, straightening it out as best he could.

“I still need two fifty-nine, man.”

Grant felt his insides fighting with each other. He could have sworn a twenty would cover everything. He rifled through his back pocket, found his wallet, dropped it, picked it up, and pulled out a five. He nearly threw it at the clerk in his panic.

“Have a nice night...or something,” the clerk called after Grant, who had scooped up the bag and was already halfway out the door.

Somehow the cool air lent Grant some courage. He was going to do it. Tonight was going to be the night. He opened his mouth to say something like “Thanks!” or “You too!” Instead he only let out a pathetic mew. He had forgotten to practice talking and now he was squeaking. He ran down the street until the blue and orange lights of the convenience store were long behind him. He leaned up against a post and caught his breath. Okay, so talking had been a failure but it wasn't a big deal. He had gone and bought his supplies. He was fine for another thirty days! He looked at the white plastic bag in his hands like it contained the rarest treasure.

Oh no.

He had forgotten the Hot Pockets.

Grant turned in the direction of the convenience store. He had another five on him. He could still go and get them. It wasn't too late.

“I don't need that much protein this month anyway.”

Grant went home.