Level Head

Kurt stared intently at his watch. He sat in his parent’s kitchen on a Monday afternoon facing the door. Bright sunlight poured in through the bay window in front of the sink to his left. He leaned his elbow against the granite island in the center and counted.

“3… 2… 1,” 3:14 p.m. became 3:15 p.m. and the kitchen door swung open. Maria Angeles, Kurt’s mother, walked in carrying a paper sack full of groceries followed by Kurt’s sister. The 10-year-old blonde girl was crunching on an apple. She acknowledged Kurt with a half-wave and continued past him out of the kitchen. His mom set the bag down on the counter across from Kurt.

She pulled a couple of things out of the bag, then seemed to remember something. She walked to the stove on the other side of the counter and reached for the knob to preheat the oven. Kurt’s hand was blocking the dial she reached for and she stopped. Her hand fell back down to her side and she stayed still; her eyes remained focused on the stove’s knobs.

Kurt pulled his hand away slowly. The minute the knob was revealed his mom reached for it again. Kurt blocked it, and she dropped her hand again.

Kurt was an average college student with a below-average sense of awareness. He preferred isolation and often buried his attention in a book or video game. While growing up he only paid attention to the things he needed to, school lessons, his own aches and pains and so on.

Three weeks ago he started noticing patterns of behavior among his friends and family. Not strange patterns, but definitely patterns. Every Monday his mom had meatloaf on the dinner table at exactly    5:00 p.m.

“Hi, mom,” Kurt said suddenly. Maria did not jump in surprise. Her face transitioned to a bright smile and she looked at Kurt.

“Honey! When did you get here?” she asked as she reached over to hug him. Kurt returned the hug and noticed his mom turned the oven on the moment they separated.

“Just now,” he lied. Kurt sat in the kitchen all day watching his mom cleaning and leaving the house to run errands, then coming back and cleaning some more. He kept quiet and stayed out of the way; she ignored him the entire time. “You haven’t started dinner yet, right?” he asked. “I was thinking about treating you and Leah to some pizza?” he asked while pulling his cell phone out.  His mom put her hand on his to stop the phone.

“The oven’s already on and I won’t have you wasting money eating out when we have perfectly good meatloaf cooking. It’ll be ready early today.”

“You just turned it on,” Kurt said. He glanced down at the oven, reaching for the knob. He caught a glimpse of orange light coming from inside it and he pulled the door open. A plume of hot air rushed out of it and he caught a glimpse of a pink meatloaf starting to sweat. His mother slapped his hand to close the door.

“You’ll let the heat out,” she complained.

“Okay,” Kurt said; he was completely deflated. He let himself fall on the stool. It was as if all his suspicions had been confirmed at once, and he was not expecting it. He had a whole plan of things to try over the next few weeks. He hoped to drag out the ‘testing’ as long as possible. As long as he did not have definitive proof he could still deny it. But now, he had definitive proof. 

There was absolutely no way she could have prepared it. Not only did she have no time to do it in the two or three minutes since she walked in the door; Kurt was there watching the whole time.  That oven was empty before she turned it on. He looked up suddenly and looked at the counter. The groceries were gone. His mom started peeling potatoes in the sink, but Kurt had no idea where she pulled them from. He made sure there were no potatoes in the house and she never bought them on Monday.

Kurt knew he wasn’t crazy. Things weren’t normal. He knew it wasn’t just his mom and his sister, but they were the only ones he could test reliably. He’d noticed all kinds of little patterns among his friends and even among strangers. Simple little things, like blocking the dial, could freeze them in their tracks until they were interacted with.

“I’m not crazy,” Kurt said with his eyes closed. “It’s not real,” he said. He grabbed the biggest knife from the butcher block and lunged at his mother before he could change his mind. He pulled her backward by the hair and jammed the knife into her chest. The woman gurgled as Kurt let her fall to the floor. The moment her last breath escaped Kurt heart a loud clanging noise behind him. He turned around; afraid his sister might have seen it. He was blinded by a brilliant golden light. He fluttered his eyes quickly to get enough glimpses to piece together a picture.

[LEVEL UP!] golden text hovered in the air for a few seconds then disappeared. Kurt laughed. It was true. His family. His friends. Everyone was an NPC.

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