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Part Two: Tell All The Angels This Could Take All Night

We get out and lock the doors. We set out in the same direction we were driving. We figure if we keep going forward, we’ll find a convenience store or gas station built for these subdivisions. Because going back the way we came is a long trip through miles of nothing to the freeway, which is more miles of nothing. It’s forward or lots of nowhere, which is what forward might be anyway.

We walk along the yellow line, ready to flag down a car if we see one. We don’t see one.

“We should have brought water,” Trevor says from inside his big jacket. “Or coffee. I could use some coffee.”

“I should have brought a jacket. I didn’t know we’d be outside. It’s freezing.”

“We can trade off my jacket. You can have a turn when we get to the top of that hill up there.”

“I don’t even have socks on. I’m supposed to be finishing Crysis.”

“But you said it sucks.”

“I can’t just stop playing because I don’t like something. It’s my job.”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I’m supposed to be playing Rock Band by now. I hope they didn’t sell out. Of the game, I mean. Look.”

It’s a big sign for Valley’s End, announcing “New Phase Release”. It promises stylish homes, up to five bedrooms and 3% broker co-op. There are “special incentives available”. At the bottom of the sign, in italics, it says, “It’s your time to come home!” Out here, in the dark and stranded, it all seems insidious. What special incentives? Could “come home” mean “die”?

There are rows of houses behind the sign. They have dirt where the lawns will be planted and no glass yet where the windows will be. Their door-less front doors gape obscenely.

“Let’s go look at them. Just for a second.”

I sigh loudly again, but Trevor goes up to the nearest door-less front door. He peers into the shadows.

“Come on,” Trevor says, plunging in.

“They probably have security guards for these,” I muse, looking around before I follow him. I’m expecting someone to yell, ‘Hey, you kids, get away from there.’ I’m 34 and I still expect to get yelled at for doing things I did when I was 14. “We shouldn’t be in here.”

“I bet this will be the dining room. This would be the entertainment room. The TV here. Plenty of room for Rock Band. You could even put a computer here so you could work while you watch movies.”

I hate looking at nice houses, because I don’t have one. Some of my buddies have bought nice houses. I don’t want to see them. It just makes me hate where I live. At least this place isn’t finished. It has no personality. It smells of new stuff, that reeking cusp between construction and being lived in. Who would want to live here? Besides me, I mean.

I go out onto where the porch will be and sit down, looking at the row of dark houses. Their gaping window and door sockets look back at me. From the second story window, Trevor leans out and points over the hill. “Hey, I can see a gas station. We’re saved.”

We do a fast walk/jog over the hill and down towards someplace called GaSmart, all the way into the bright lights bearing down from its blue and white overhang. But there’s no one here.

“Fuck a duck.”

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The nozzles on each pump are still wrapped in clear plastic. There are little TV screens over each pump, black and powerless. Inside, behind the glass which doesn’t have beer and snack ads posted yet, the shelves are empty. The doors are locked. This place hasn’t been born yet. In fact, this entire area hasn’t been born yet.

“Here’s a payphone,” Trevor says. It’s next to a humming ice machine with a picture of a polar bear. Trevor opens the ice machine. Inside are stacks of bagged ice. “We could totally steal some ice,” he says.

“Just make the call.” I’m freezing my ass off and he’s talking about stealing ice.

“Wow, phone calls are fifty cents.”

“Please tell me you have fifty cents.”

“Yep,” he says, fishing some coins out of his pocket. “Who should we call?”

“Triple A. Who else?”

“No, who can come pick us up? Who doesn’t have a job and would still be up this late? Peter?”

“What are you talking about? Just call Triple A.”

“We could call Douglas. He doesn’t work. Fuck, what’s his number?”

“Dude, call Triple A.”

“All my phone numbers are in my cell phone. Aw, fuck.”

“Trevor, you’re calling Triple A.”

“I don’t have Triple A,” he confesses.

“Of all the people I know, you’re the one who needs Triple A the most. Your kind of car is why they invented Triple A.”

“It’s not like it broke down. It just ran out of gas. Anyone can run out of gas. Besides, it’s your fault for not getting the directions right. This is not the right way to come.”

“Give me the phone. I have Triple A. We’ll just use my account.”

“You can’t just use Triple A on someone else’s car. Tell them it’s your car.”

I call in the location, and a description of Trevor’s crappy Honda. They say a truck will be here within an hour. Great. An hour.

“Did you bring your DS?” Trevor asks while we’re walking back to the car. He’s given me his jacket, which is about three sizes too big for me.

“Why would I bring my DS?”

“Because it’s portable. Because you can. I swear, I don’t get you. You never bring your DS anywhere.”

He’s right. But frankly, the last thing I need to do when I leave the house is play more videogames. In a weird way, I’m happy to have this enforced down time, out of the house, away from a computer or TV screen. Even if it’s all an accident. One night when I had three articles due the next day, I cut deep into my thumb while opening a package with a bread knife. I had to sit for three hours in the emergency room, doing nothing under the fluorescent light. It was wonderful.

“Here, slow down.” Trevor starts reaching into the pockets of the coat I’m wearing while we walk. He pulls out the Altoids case where he keeps his DS games. He snaps it open and goes through them.

“Phantom Hourglass, Picross, Full Metal Alchemist, oh hey, Elite Beat Agents. That’s like Rock Band. We can take turns playing while we wait for Triple A.” He reaches into another pocket, almost knocking me over in the process.

“Sorry,” he says. He extracts his DS and puts in Elite Beat Agents. He switches it on and tries to play while we’re walking. “Hey, make sure I don’t hit anything while we’re walking. You can have a turn when we trade the jacket back.”

I’m supposed to be finishing Crysis and here I am on a two-lane street with Trevor falling behind me, his face lit by the glow of the DS. I can hear the tinny sound of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance. “Ooh, this one’s tough,” Trevor says, stabbing at the DS with his stylus. When he offers me a turn, jogging to catch up with me because I’m not slowing down, I just shake my head.

“Want to see how far I am in Phantom Hourglass?” he asks while we’re sitting in the car because presumably it’s warmer in here. Which it’s not really. “You finished it right?”

“All I can say is Rock Band better be good.”

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“It’s a good thing we’re not going to a Best Buy. We’d have totally missed our chance. 24-hour Wal-Mart for the win, huh?” I have no idea where he’s getting his enthusiasm. The prospect of a fantastic new game, I guess.

“If they even have it,” I say. I don’t tell him I called. Let him cool his heels for a bit.

“Oh, they’ve got it. They have to. They’re Wal-Mart.”

The Triple A truck appears in the distance, its headlights turning everything white under the yellow street lights. I explain to the guy that we’re out of gas, which he already knows. Trevor hangs back and pretends it isn’t his car. The guy gets a gas can out of the back of his truck.

“You ever hear of Rock Band?” Trevor asks, once he’s sure we’re not going to be busted for using my Triple A for his car.

“What’s that? Rock Band?” The guy is sixty years old and obviously didn’t expect to be called out at 1am to help a couple of yahoos in the middle of nowhere who ran out of gas. He looks like we got him out of bed.

“Yeah, it’s like Guitar Hero, but better. That’s where we’re going. To get a copy.”

“You ain’t going nowhere without no gas,” the guy says, tipping up the can and pouring gas into Trevor’s Honda. “This here is two gallons. It’ll get you to the next gas station.”

“You’ll be hearing about it on the news,” Trevor says. “Just remember you heard about it from us first. Hey, have you heard of the Wii?”

He eyes Trevor suspiciously. “Can’t say as I have.”

“If you have grandkids, you should ask them about it. You should try the bowling. Everyone loves Wii bowling. It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

“Don’t care much for bowling, but next time I see my grandkids, I’ll be sure to ask them about it.”

“If you do, they’ll think you’re pretty cool. Also, ask them about Halo. Kids love Halo.”

We have to pay for the gas. Trevor makes a great show of saying he’ll pay for it even though it’s my car. “Yeah, it’s his car, not mine, but this one’s on me. Oh, and hey, can you tell us how to get to the Wal-Mart in Redwood Hills?”

“Well, I don’t know about any Wal-Mart, but you guys ain’t nowhere near Redwood Hills. You’ll have to go on back to the freeway, then head south to the 117. I believe that goes right on up to Redwood Hills. You can’t miss it.”

He has no idea.

“Do you think he knew it wasn’t your car?” Trevor asks as the guy’s truck pulls away.

“I don’t think he really cared.”

“Well, we totally tricked them. Okay, on to Wal-Mart and Rock Band. Are you ready to rock?”

“I’m ready to finish Crysis.”

“And then to rock, right? There will be rocking tonight. Oh yes, there will.”

To be continued…

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Tom Chick has been writing about videogames for fifteen years. His work appears in Games for Windows Magazine, Yahoo, Gamespy, Sci-Fi, and Variety. He lives in Los Angeles. Shoot Club appears in this space every Thursday.

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