On the Dangers of Vicarious Living

On the Dangers of Vicarious Living

There was a youth who, by his own reckoning, was ill served by life, family and friends. He retreated into a cocoon of resentful listlessness, seeing himself the victim of any who would beckon him out to study his lessons, take exercise in the golden summer sunshine or, heaven forbid, a shower. 

Each day he would sleep until the afternoon, having stayed up until the early hours of the morning playing on-line games, such as Age of Conan and World of Warcraft, so that like a Lotus Eater, he found consolation in dreams. For here at the click of a mouse, he became an aristocratic shaman with prodigious levels of strength and agility, and talents that included subterfuge and deep stratagems. But the power he sought most was that of being able to cheat death. 

After one particularly long day and night of questing with an on-line crew of acquaintances, who were agreeable because he did not have to meet them in person, he eventually collapsed of exhaustion as early-born, rosy-fingered, dawn appeared. His mother, found our hero unconscious in the wreckage of his bedroom with the discarded remnants of the elixirs of fortune and Elvin food: cans of Red Bull and empty packets of Jaffa cakes. He was lying face down with his arms outstretched wearing the same pair of boxer shorts and dressing gown she’d observed him in two days before. At this her choler rose up and she started to shake him and shout, “Jakey, Jakey, wake up. Look at the state of you and this room!” But had she been able to see his face, buried deep in his pillow then she would have observed signs of blissful REM sleep: for he had passed into a realm that was neither virtual nor real. He dreamt he was his avatar, from the eastern lands Khitai, tall, erect and powerful, in his dressing gown. In the world that lay before him were things familiar but

misplaced. He saw the Temple of Mizrah, with fire pits and dragons and the local chippy from the end of his road. One of his questing companions passed by, tilting his helmet, as his head toppled off his shoulders and rolled towards him. The head smiled and said, “I just been to the Temple of Mizrah. It was mad. I lost my head” and winked at him. 

Our hero hesitated, caught in that moment when two contradictory thoughts demand simultaneous attention: concern for his decapitated comrade and a question: 

“Have you got it?” “Got what Jakey?” “The power to cheat death?” “Cheat death! You having a laugh mate? You have to go to the temple for that.” He beckoned with his eyes while his torso affected a belly laugh. “You’ll have to be careful though, she’ll have you, the priestess. Look what happened to me.” 

Jakey considered his options: he had the Sword of Desolation with him and could deploy Mind-Numbing Poison but would that be enough when all the armour he wore was his thread bare night gown? But he wanted the power to cheat death. He wanted it. Wasn’t he gifted with deep stratagems? He would surprise her by going through the chippy but could he pay the chippy man? 

The chippy man was surprising agreeable when he offered to settle his tab later. He sucked his teeth, “What you tink me chips made of, hmm?” 

The priestess was waiting for him between the pillars of the temple. An unearthly cackle erupted from her Medusa head: a great wave of paralysing dread gripped him. “You want the power to cheat death?” She leapt over to him in an instant and grabbed him by his shoulders and lifted him up. “Wake up!”, she shouted in his face, “you want the power to cheat death when you haven’t lived yet Jakey!”

Karam Ram

My parents came to Britain in the 1950s from a newly independent India. Their experience of migration has, directly or indirectly, shaped my identity: I neither see myself as British or Indian. But being a perennial outsider has its advantages as a writer: it attunes your ear to the absurdity of group think and helps you appreciate the incongruity of the everyday.