It is a blustering, windy day around Dublin's Seabrook College for boys, and the air is abuzz with excitement. There is a new boy arriving tomorrow, and smack in the middle of term at that! Nobody knows who he is or what he looks like, but rumor has it that he must be a very important person to be allowed to just join the school without much prior notice.
"Maybe he's related to one of the beaks,"Geoff Sproke speculates."It's no secret that the Automator helps out his favourite teachers."
"He also damns the ones he doesn't like,"puts in Henry Lafayette.
"I think this boy would be a good new follower for me. I could teach him how to get girls around here, especially those from St. Brigid's. You know how good I am at these things." Mario Bianchi is not the least bit modest when giving input about the new boy. "He will be the latest induction into my secret society. But of course, he will not be able to get more chicks than me, for nobody gets more girls than Mario."
"You mean your crappy little Premiership of masturbating,"scoffs Dennis Hoey."In that case, he's definitely not going to beat you at your own game, not when Il Duce is still able to stand upright."
Niall Henaghan chuckles."I still remember last year's Hop, when all the girls wouldn't come near you and said they were diabetic and needed their insulin, just to get away from your sorry ass. You can keep dreaming about getting all the girls, Mario, but it's clearly not going to happen. Even some drooling retard in a wheelchair could get more girls than you."
"Up yours, Henaghan; you were dressed as a girl last year, and not a very realistic one at that. Your tits kept falling down. Unlike the girls I get – their tits are always big and round and perky."
"How you like me, then, Mario?"groans Geoff in his zombie voice. He is behind Mario, holding up two footballs to his chest and pulling a face that made him look very undead indeed.
Mario nearly falls off the bed, where he is sitting. Everyone else in the room laughs. There is only one person not sharing in the collective happiness of the boys, and that is Ruprecht van Doren. The former math and science genius merely sits in a corner of the room, eating a doughnut and watching as Mario gets up and tries to slam Geoff's footballs into Geoff's own face and fail as Dennis get up and boxes Mario around the ears. Day after day, he does nothing but watch his friends – or former friends – quietly; siphoning countless empty calories that came in the form of milkshakes, doughnuts and fast food into his body. Ever since the death of Ruprecht's former roommate Daniel 'Skippy' Juster and his last talk with Lorelei Wakeham (the girl who had broken Skippy's heart into a million pieces and, he believed, indirectly caused his death), things still had not gotten better for him. His results had not started increasing again; he couldn't even bring himself to look at a book, let along study; he still detested the METI transmittor he had on his computer and never opened it; and he kept building up those walls of pure cellulite and flab, as if Skippy's death had robbed him of something vital inside; and his fatty walls would prevent something as devastating as that from ever happening again.
In the blink of an eye, the boys' slightly less than friendly tussle turns nasty as Geoff flips Mario around and the portly Italian boy slams into Ruprecht's table, knocking Skippy's Nintendo console off the desk and onto the floor with an ominous clatter. Ruprecht gets up in a flash and pulls the two boys apart with an amount of strength that neither expected, and bends right over to pick up the Nintendo; performing another incredible feat that everyone had previously suspected him to be incapable of.
"Just stop,"he says to both of them; his voice shaking as if he might break down into tears at any moment. Then he looks back at the Nintendo with an expression that could almost be considered fatherly; placing it back on the desk with extreme reverence. The Hopeland game cartridge is still in the back, as Skippy had last left it that way. Much to the boys' surprise, Ruprecht does not retreat into his corner at once. Instead, he keeps staring at the Nintendo, as if it would suck him into an alternate universe where Skippy was still alive and his life had not taken its steep plunge downhill, and he and Skippy would be happy and stay friends forever.
Without so much as a warning, Ruprecht turns on Dennis. "Don't touch my stuff!"he shouts. "Don't touch... Skippy's stuff."
Dennis reads Ruprecht's thoughts. "It's not gonna happen, Von Blowjob. What did I tell you last year? Skippy's dead. He's not ever coming back. Your stupid generator failed. Skippy never heard your gay BETHani song. Even if he did, what's he going to do about it? He's in Heaven now, or Hell, or wherever the fuck God decides to dump your soul when you've kicked the bucket. He's not going to appear in a big ball of light and give you all high-fives and say, 'Thanks, man, BETHani is so uplifting sometimes, really makes me feel alive. Oh, look, I am alive!'. You can keep dreaming, Blowjob, but he's not coming back. So you can stop hoping."
There is an air of resignation about Ruprecht now. His head sinks down onto a bed of multiple chins, and his entire beings slumps; it makes him look horrendous, like one of those mud monsters from Hopeland that Skippy used to vanquish while playing as Djed in his free time. This time he really doesn't say anything, he just slinks back to his corner and loses himself in another large cup of Sweet Dreamz, the notoriously sugary and one hundred percent milk-free milkshake from Ed's.
"Jeez, Dennis, that was harsh,"remarks Niall.
"Don't be a pussy, Niall; Von Blowjob needed a reality check. He had it coming anyway."Dennis talks as if Ruprecht is not right there, looking at him with his beady little eyes. Niall casts Ruprecht a wary glance, but Ruprecht does not seem to mind Dennis' words. He merely sinks further into his chair, deflating gradually as they watch.
That night at dinner, Ruprecht does not eat. He half-heartedly chews on some peas and throws away the rest of his food into the waste bin, much to the horror of both the cafeteria ladies and the people who have never known Ruprecht to ever skip a meal. When he goes back up to his room without so much as a word to anyone, Dennis actually considers checking up on him, but decides that Von Blowjob can take care of himself and sits back down to finish the rest of his meal.
Up in his room Ruprecht snatches the Nintendo and boots up the Hopeland cartridge. He pushes all thought of the new boy out of his mind; pushes the hope that he might actually garnern a friend tomorrow out of his brain, just as he had pushed his cares for SETI and science and knowledge in general out of his brain, so many months ago. His memories of Skippy have been freed, and they flood into his mind; reopening the old wounds. His flabby, sausage-like fingers clutch the Nintendo gingerly and brush over the buttons. He has no idea how to play Hopeland, but he can't help wondering if he will be able to fool himself into thinking that he can progress through the game. He could be Skippy; he could heal his own wounds by himself.
Ruprecht presses something and the Hopeland title screen appears. He navigates around it for a while, familiarizing himself with the controls, then loads Skippy's saved file. Ruprecht finds himself in a forest. Before he knows it, he is controlling Djed the elf avatar; he is making Djed run through the trees and losing himself in the graphics. Just as he begins to feel good about how he's doing in this game, and just as he's beginning to feel very Skippy-like, a zombie appears out of nowhere in front of him. Ruprecht has figured out the combat controls for himself (he had done so when he started the game, which seemed like ages ago now), but once he is faced with the zombie all coherence leaves Ruprecht. His fingers refuse to obey him; all he can think about is Skippy being dead and the zombie being some grotesque game rendition of the dead Skippy, back from the dead. Ruprecht cannot bring himself to raise his weapon against it; he cannot even think about killing the zombie because no matter how ugly it is, it could still be Skippy! It could still be his best mate! He tries to call out to Skippy, to bring his zombie friend off the screen, but then a thousand other Skippy zombies appear. It is all in his head now, and he can tell – it is as if he is in a lucid dream. There are thousands of zombie Skippys now, all ambling towards him with arms outstretched as if they are going to hug Ruprecht. He does not fight them off; in fact, he totally forgets that he has a sword at all as he waits for any sign that any of these numerous Skippys will recognize him. They are getting closer and closer, and he watches and waits because Ruprecht knows they are going to break into grins and hug him and they will look like Skippy again; Skippy will be back and be here and life will go on and they could pretend that nothing ever happened because Skippy will be here again-
'GAME OVER', reads the screen in Elvish Hopeland font. Djed is seen floating lifelessly on the screen below the words. Ruprecht does not move for a few seconds; he is still waiting for the Skippys, and as reality sets in and the illusion that he has set up for himself fades, his expectant face falls and he turns off the Nintendo in frustration, eyes welling up with tears all because of this single stupid moment; all because of a game. However, it's not just a moment – it is THE moment when Ruprecht truly and finally gives up on Skippy coming back for him, and he falls asleep on his bed with the Nintendo still in his hand, not caring if he doesn't wake up tomorrow.