Death and Rebirth
The last day of my life was a Dungeons & Dragons day.
That was just what we called it. We didn’t always play D&D, and that night we were running a homebrew system that our DM had cooked up.
He’d convinced us all to try it, guilting us hard. He was our Forever DM and almost never got to play. At least, not for long. The rest of our group—me included—took a shot at running a game every once in a while, but it never turned out well. None of us had the gift.
So, when Jeremy—our DM—told us that he’d been spending the last six months working on a new tabletop role-playing game, one that centered around mundane things like drug dealers, car thieves, and crime of all sorts the group was skeptical.
Then, the guilting commenced. It didn’t take long before we all agreed to give his new game a shot.
It was just after sunset and my friend Joe and I were on the way to the game when it happened. We entered a convenience store, a family-run one with a name none of us ever remembered. It was just the corner shop, or Kim’s Shop. It was the closest to Jeremy’s house, and was where we always stopped to get our game night refreshments. This night was no exception.
“It’s not going to be the same, Frank. What, we’ll get guns? I just won’t feel powerful, and that’s half the reason I play these games with you guys.”
Joe had been bitching about playing in the new game the entire way over. He had a way of speaking that sometimes really irked me, like he was a slimy courtier trying to convince you to betray your king. I’d once heard him non-ironically address a girl as “M’lady” if that gives you any clue.
“Sure, you’re not going to be invisible and flying at all times. I get it. Give it a shot, Jeremy worked hard on this. And not one of your half-assed efforts, either. A fair shot, man. You never know, it could be brilliant,” I said.
Joe just snorted, and we entered the corner shop. The bell jingled loudly as the door creaked open and closed.
The man behind the counter looked up at us and nodded when he recognized us, but didn’t say hello. Kim was what we called him. It may have been his first or his last name, none of us knew. If you asked him, that’s all he gave. His English was limited, and he didn’t seem like the kind of man that wanted to talk to anyone to begin with. He never smiled, always pure business. He had short black hair and a bulky build. He was Asian, and Jeremy’s wife Kara told us he was Korean. She knew because she’d been there when she was younger and could speak a bit of the language.
Joe followed me into the store. He was a big guy, taller than me at a little bit over 6 feet. Joe was one of those people you’d look at and know immediately he wasn’t a regular member of society. Some of us D&D nerds could fit in, but not Joe. He wore the Matrix trenchcoat, combat boots and black army surplus pants. Long, straggly black hair and a bad complexion rounded everything out. He wasn’t exactly fat, but his days of sedentary hobbies had made him chunky.
I went straight for the chip section while Joe, still muttering to himself, went to get himself a large slushee.
I loaded my arms with four bags, the various flavors that each of us preferred and was moving toward the bottle drink section when the door opened. The bell rang loudly yet again.
I looked up, seeing that Joe had already picked up his slushee and was near the counter, looking at the chocolates. He’d be getting his usual selection of milk chocolate munchies.
The man who entered the store was familiar to me. A meth head that was always around, begging for money. His skin was terrible, and he always smelled bad. His hair was an indeterminate color, something between brown and blonde, depending on the day and how dirty it was. Most of his front teeth were missing, rotted out by the meth.
I looked back down, dismissing him until a moment later when he yelled.
“Kim, open the register and put all the money in a bag. Now! Don’t make me shoot you,” the meth head shouted, a hysterical tone in his voice.
Kim started yelling at him, in Korean. I didn’t understand a word, but Kim was fearless and—it seemed—quite angry.
“I don’t speak your stupid language, you stupid chink! Give me the money or I blow you away! I mean it, I’m not joking.”
I peeked around the corner, potato chip bags forgotten in my hands. Methhead was holding a sawed-off shotgun, the barrel and stock roughly removed. It was a double barreled shotgun, one I was quite familiar with from video games. I hoped that Kim wouldn’t resist, as those same videogames had taught me that up close like this a double barrel shotgun was the last thing you wanted in your face.
Behind Methhead the doors were clear. He didn’t seem to notice I was here, fixated on his task of getting the cash out of Kim.
Joe, his survival instincts on point, was standing silently, trying not to attract the junkie’s attention.
Joe obviously thought this was one of those times where the guy would rob the store and then leave. I didn’t have such a rosy outlook. Methhead had entered a convenience store carrying a gun and without a mask in a neighborhood where people knew him. Either he wanted to go to jail, or he wasn’t planning on leaving any witnesses. I didn’t want to be one of those witnesses he eliminated on his way out. Kim didn’t have any real security cameras. The one behind the counter was strictly for show and everyone around knew it.
Kim opened the register and continued to curse out Methhead in Korean as he filled a plastic bag with the meager contents. Methhead’s attention was entirely on him, and I anticipated my opportunity.
I moved as quietly as I could, first laying the four bags of chips down. I winced as one of them crackled slightly. Methhead didn’t notice.
Once that was done, I crouch-walked along the front of the store, keeping the rack of magazines and newspapers between me and him. Unlike my buddy Joe in his combats I was wearing flat-soled sneakers which were well worn in by a lot of time and miles. I could be pretty sneaky when I wanted to be.
I reached the point closest to the entrance just as Kim handed over the bag of cash. Methhead took his left hand off the shotgun and reached out to take it. This was my opportunity.
I darted for the door, my shoes squeaking on the clean tile floor. Methhead’s reflexes weren’t entirely shot and his head snapped around to focus on me, fear and rage in his eyes. I watched as time seemed to slow down and the gun began to turn my way.
Kim leapt onto the counter, not quite making it over. His large hands pawing at Methhead’s skinny shoulders and neck. Methhead staggered backward, pulling Kim off the counter with him.
The burly Korean screamed in rage as he pummeled Methhead with his bare hands. My shoulder hit the front door, causing the bell to ring loudly just as the shotgun went off. I heard what might’ve been a grunt of pain, and Kim stopped screaming.
In terror I sprinted directly away from the shop and into the twilight. I just needed to get a little distance. It was a double-barreled shotgun. I knew it had no range. If I got some distance I’d be safe.
I was about halfway across the street when I was pushed forward, and face planted into the asphalt. I scrambled to get up, to continue running, but my arms weren’t working. My head was fuzzy and my back hurt like I’d been stung by a lot of bees all at once.
“What? What happened?” I muttered to myself.
Behind me I heard glass from Kim’s shattered glass door rain to the ground. Seconds later, as darkness closed in, I heard running footsteps and saw Methhead running down the street, away from the robbery. He was carrying a blood stained plastic bag full of cash and his empty shotgun. He didn’t look back.
The last thing I saw was Joe looming over me, and the sound of him taking a sip of his slushee through the straw. He looked down at me with an odd expression but said nothing. Then the blackness swooped in and took me.