[Originally published August 3, 2016]
“Nothing in this world can be said to be certain, except death and [having to go to Kroger to pick up some more ham steaks]” – Benjamin Franklin
Ahhhh. It’s come: that magical time of the month when our cup runneth dry, and we have to re-stock and take stock – of both our pantries and our selves. Video game protagonists are no exception. Hyper Light Drifter is about a blue man who travels from realm to realm, slaughtering his prey in the name of divine duty; but it’s also about going to stores to purchase health, bombs, and other items in the ‘video game consumable’ milieu. Though the hyper light drifter’s ham steaks are items of death, he must purchase them from a variety of unsavory characters all the same. You dread the overly chatty Safeway bagger, and the HLD fears the creepy rat man who runs the health shop. You’re not so different, you and he. Two sides of the same coin, really.
This is a journey through his day.
8:00 AM – The Wakeup
The alarm goes off. Our hero awakens. It’s a custom alarm – Blue (Da Ba Dee), of course. A hand extends, and slams down on the digital clock. The Drifter rises, and looks around at the bedroom. Old bloodstains form a crusty mosaic across the rug floor.
Ah, shit. He thinks. Gotta go to the store and rent a Stanley Steamer. Dammit. He stumbles to the bathroom for his morning relief, and then spends 20 minutes deciding which of his six outfits he wants to wear. Today is errand day for The Drifter, and he wants to be stylin’ when he goes into town. Instead of going with the turquoise pants and a pink cape, he goes with the pink pants and turquoise cape.
Yes, he thinks. Very on fleek.
He sets out, ready to attack the day; first on the list – his morning workout.
8:45 AM – The Dash Dojo
The Drifter enters the dash emporium, and says hello to the Dash Master. The DM replies emphatically, his entire body moving all at once. He has the look and gait of a man who definitely does a lot of coke, but in a ‘rich white guy’ kind of way. Bougie Cokehead Chic. The Drifter goes to dash a few laps, only smashing his face on the walls a few dozen times.
“Woah, buddy! 300 consecutive dashes! Good job! Keep at it and someday–” he takes a puff on his cigar “–you might be as good as me!” The Drifter raises a skeptical eyebrow – thinking about all the smoke and tobacco entering the DM’s ruined, blackened lungs – and brushes off the neg.
9:30 AM – The Swordsman’s Dojo
The Dash Master and the Swordsman are very much the same, but this otter’s style is less BCC and more that dangerous corporate hack, Milo Yiannopolous.
The Drifter walks into the Swordsman’s dojo just in time to see the end of a little boy’s training session. The Swordsman tutors with a vigor and gusto that fills the boy’s precious yellow eyes with awe, but does little to instruct him in the art of the blade. The swordsman is a man of hollow promises and empty rhetoric – galvanizing, but woefully misinformed.
He bows to the hooded boy, who scampers off home. The Drifter wordlessly approaches the Swordsman, blade drawn.
“It’s always so serious with you, chap!” he shouts. He guffaws at a comparable volume, and his chortles ricochet off the walls of the dojo. He raises his sword to meet The Drifter’s, and the sparring begins.
The Drifter wins, handily. He always does. He always will. He’s a utilitarian fighter, whereas the swordsman is one of shack, and awe, and absolutely no fury. A pirouette means little when you don’t bind your feet.
The sparring ends, and The Drifter turns to exit. “We’ll call it a draw!” says the otter.
10:00 AM – The Firearm Store
The Drifter looks at his itinerary, and tenses up – it’s time to visit the Bandit. This is his least favorite shop in town. Everyone’s heard the rumors: the Bandit beat up the local wino – took his things, left him for dead. This is a shady dude. He’s that upstairs neighbor who always has parties attended by sketchy loud people, stinking the apartment complex up with the stench of booze, cigarettes, and unprotected sex. You always want to call the cops, but you’d rather not risk waking up with your TV gone and a lit cigarette in your bed.
I wonder if the Dash Master gets his coke from this guy, The Drifter wonders to himself. He steps into the store.
“Yes, come in friend.” It’s a sentence spoken with a raspy, transgressive lilt. It’s the voice of a creature who lives to exploit. The Drifter shudders, and picks out some ammunition.
“Ahhh yes, fresh stock.” hisses a voice in The Drifter’s ear. HLD feels the Bandit’s uncomfortably warm breath tickle his cochlea, and he gasps. As he begins to cough – spraying blood on his nice turquoise cape – The Drifter catches a whiff of soft meat and hard liquor in the Bandit’s breath.
“Not looking so hot, friend. Got a will?” he asks with delight.
The Drifter puts the ammo down on the counter, and makes eye contact for the first time since entering the store. The Bandit’s mouth remains obscured, but The Drifter can see the wild, carnivorous grin in the Bandit’s eyes. A grotesque hand reaches out for payment, and – as The Drifter pays – briefly caresses his hand with playful malice.
“Always a pleasure.”
The Drifter gets the hell out of Dodge.
11:00 AM – Lunch Break
The Drifter has a simple meal – some meats complimented with a stiff, heady lager. He looks down at the spot where The Bandit’s hand grazed his, and he drinks a little faster.
12:00 Noon – The Bomb Shop
With a full belly – and a bit of a buzz – The Drifter mentally preps for the visit to the Bomb Shop. He steps in the door, and–
“HI!” peeps the Techie. “My favorite customer! How are you today!?” The Drifter points to the blood on his cape.
“Oh no!” says the Techie. “I’m sorry to see that! I hope you’re doing okay! Can I interest you in some Roly Poly bombs!? Perhaps a magazine subscription!?”
The Drifter silently sighs. He’s an introvert. Going outside means killing evil beasts – not long conversations with shopkeeps.
Gonna need to watch a lot of Netflix tonight, he thinks.
The Drifter picks up some bombs for purchase, and the Techie says, “Did you bring your Bomb Shop Plus Card!?” The Drifter shakes his head no. “Would you like to make a donation to children in need!?” The Drifter shakes his head no. “Would you like to take part in our giveaway sweepstakes!?” The Drifter shakes his head n–
Wait a minute. Giveaway sweepstakes?
The Drifter shakes his head yes, and chucks in a few extra gearbits.
“Thank you sir! Be sure to check your email to see if you get any sort of confirmation letter that you won! Your odds are good! You’re one of maybe 7 people that ever come to this store! Thank you!”
The Drifter smiles and nods. He walks away feeling pleasant, but socially exhausted. Fortunately, there’s only one spot left for him to visit.
1:00 PM – The Apothecary
The Apothecary is empty when The Drifter arrives – silent as the grave, save the hot fwoosh of an unattended Bunsen-burner. The Drifter looks nervously at the chartreuse liquid bubbling dangerous close to the lip of its glass container. Fortunately, the shop owner skitters forth from behind his hanging-bead door and shuts off the burner. He then proceeds to pour the liquid into an old dirty mug – “WORLD’S GREATEST DEADHEAD,” says its psychedelic font – and take a sip. He turns wordlessly to The Drifter and grins that grin that only self-righteous stoners have. A grin that says ‘I have a secret, and it’s that I’m SO HIGH.’
It’s never a secret, guys.
The Drifter picks up some syringes full of green Good Juice, and carefully inspects the tips. This apothecary is like the only tattoo shop in town – they can afford to cut corners due to the benefits of monopoly. What are you gonna do, drive 2 hours to get your tattoo done at the swanky parlor three towns over? No. You’re gonna gamble on the inconsistent quality of the shop in town. Them’s the breaks for our Drifter, and – upon picking out the cleanest-looking needles – he makes the safest purchase he can. The owner – still grinning – finishes his mug, and his eyes get a little wider. As The Drifter places his gearbits on the counter, those saucepan eyes focus a little on something just behind The Drifter’s shoulder. HLD turns around to see –
He turns back to the shopkeep, who has now begun to giggle and pick furiously at a scab on his arm – still staring all the while. He has yet to pick up the gearbits, or even acknowledge their presence. The Drifter slowly picks up his syringes, and backs out of the store, his errands complete.
Hate this fuckin’ town, he thinks.