They call him Pterodactyl because his long schnauzer retreats up a sloped forehead that ends in a cockatiel tuft of hair. Concave lenses expand his eyes, which look like two fried eggs, except there is a clouded blue where the yellow yolk should be. Jutting shoulder blades poke at a musty flannel shirt and threaten to take flight.
He squints with disdain at the SUV that’s in his spot at the Megamart. There are only two handicap spaces, and everyone knows that the first one is exactly 7 steps closer to the door, steps he cannot afford to lose.
Pterodactyl checks his watch: irritation +2; patience -3; remaining steps = 10,037. The health of his heart is not measured in cholesterol or in % of blockage in his arteries but the number of steps until massive coronary failure.
Inside the door, the best motorized cart is gone. The one that remains is notorious for sputtering out in the dairy section. They call this one the lactose intolerant cart. If he takes it, he will certainly be stranded in the store. He cannot afford to waste steps, but there is nothing more reliable than his walker with its four tennis balls on the legs.
Up ahead he sees the man they call T-Rex because of his swollen head, sharp dentures, slouched shoulders, and shortened arms that end in arthritic claws. T-Rex rides the coveted electric chariot toward the blood pressure cuff in the pharmacy where he will bide his time until the pharmacist fills his nine prescriptions.
This is the last straw, Pterodactyl decides, pulls out a plastic coin purse, and pinches its sides. Instead of nickels and dimes, an EMP flashes white from the purse’s wide smile. T-Rex’s cart instantly expires with the store lights. Until the emergency generators kick in, only the glowing green balls at the end of Pterodactyl’s walker are visible. They illuminate the tiled floor of the Megamart and help him avoid shelves teetering with candy and snacks, surefire threats to his diabetes.
Undeterred, T-Rex claws at the seat belt trapping him in the cart. It clicks open and falls away as he lurches to his feet, careful not to fall and dislocate his hip again. He checks his own watch: determination +2; stamina +1; vision -6; remaining steps = 4,108.
Pterodactyl reaches the cuff first, but T-Rex plows his ginormous head into his competitor’s back. Both men lose their balance and topple on the ground, kicking and throwing elbows as they try to untangle. In the scuffle, T-Rex loses his sharp dentures and Pterodactyl his bifocals.
The backup generator kicks in. T-Rex’s vision stat is now back to normal but so are stamina and determination.
Both of their health stats flash red as they wrestle for control of the cuff. T-Rex slides into the chair, pumps his shrunken forearm in triumph, and then clutches at his chest—the EMP has also disabled his pacemaker! Pterodactyl shoves the gasping T-Rex to the floor, wedges his own arm into the padded ring, and slaps the start button.
Sirens wail as confetti rains down on him and flashing words appear out of thin air: “Winner! 10,000 XP.”
Pterodactyl starts cackling in smug satisfaction but stops when emphysema chokes out his victory cry with phlegm.
“Where’d you get the EMP?” Player 1 asks from behind insectoid-looking VR goggles. He removes one of his haptic gloves and blindly gropes a nearby table with his naked fingers until he grasps a soda can. The brown liquid misses his mouth on the first attempt and connects several dotted stains on his T-shirt.
Player 2 removes his own goggles and blinks back the summer light leaking through the crack in the curtains. Acne doesn’t just live on his pale face; it has set up a summer home across the bridge of his nose and owns several rental properties along the chin line. “Found it hidden behind a package of adult diapers during a previous campaign.”
“Play another game of Epic Dust-Up?” Player 1 attempts another gulp of warm cola. This time it reaches its intended destination.
Player 2 slides the goggles back over his pimpled face. “I love this game. Old people are hilarious.”
Player 1 hits the reset button, and the parking lot materializes before his eyes. This time the goal is to find and purchase the last bag of sugar-free butterscotch candy with an expired coupon. Pterodactyl will need his insulin shot before entering the Megamart.
This flash fiction never found a home. Apparently, the characters were either not-relatable or likable enough. A few editors didn’t like the fact that the main characters don’t appear until the end.