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I was surprised to be having a mental breakdown in the bread aisle. It wasn’t really the mental breakdown that was surprising, and it definitely wasn’t the bread, but there was something about being in the bread aisle that made everything so much worse. I always figured if I had my breakdown somewhere in Grater’s it would be where they keep the potatoes... They grow those little sprouts when they are too old and it freaks me out. Anyways there I was restocking pumpernickel sandwich thins when I came to an unsettling discovery.

You know in video games when there are NPC’s? Yes? No? Okay, well if you don’t know, NPC stands for non-playable-character, AKA computer programs that only interact with the player playing the game. The people who sell you weapons, teach you magic, or in my case restock pumpernickel sandwich thins.

Yes, the crushing discovery I made as I shoved bags of bread deep into the cold shelves of Grater’s was that I was an NPC. I wasn’t the main character running around and saving the world, I was the computer code that sits near sprouted potatoes all day, and maybe sells someone something not-so important if they come to me.

So, as I stood there crippled by the existential dread that I had been wasting my life in the most boring way possible, my manager Chloe waddled her short but amply-blubbered body my way. 

“Oh John!!!” She sung my name with the same pitch and key as a horde of cicadas. That were also on fire.
“Why are you just standing there, John?” For some reason the fact that she kept saying my name over and over again made me realize just how plain it was. God, even my name wasn’t special. It had been far too long of a time for her to be talking to me with no response, so unfortunately, I was bullied into talking to her.
“Sorry, Chloe, I’m out of it today, I think my whole life is a jo-”
“Well you better get into it honey!” She said cutting me off, while simultaneously swinging her hips into my side, checking me into the wall of bread on my right.

They do not pay me enough for this crap.

I solemnly made my way back to my spot as a cashier. Still in my head was the nagging dread of what my life was. I mean I always grew up playing video games and not giving NPCs so much as a second look. I was always too busy playing the game, saving the girl, beating the bad guy. I was the main character, the hero, I didn’t have time to stop and wonder if the dude in the grocery store was fulfilled. Now I was the dude in the grocery store. I was living a life that I had seen constantly, every day, countless times both in video games and real life. I mean how many people can really say they remember or notice the names of the people checking them out at a grocery store? I lost my name-tag a week into this job, and it’s so superfluous my manager and coworkers haven’t even noticed. 

As I sat there festering in my self-pity, the bell from the front door jingled. I looked up to see a girl with a bright face. She had bright blonde hair and dark blue eyes.

The girl screamed main character. I knew this would be my only interaction with her story, and she’d go off on some great adventure with some other main character guy leaving me here, with Chloe, the potato sprouts, and my now crippling depression.

My heart skipped a beat as I tried to look busy when she walked by. Unfortunately, my hand slipped on the register and our stupid busted machine shot the drawer out too fast and the corner caught me right in the stomach, knocking the wind out of me. There I was, doubled in pain, gasping for air, as the most beautiful girl I had ever seen watched in horror from the front door. And to make things worse Chloe rounded the corner, rolled herself to my station and proceeded to chew me out. 

“John! I told you to get into it! Now if you don’t shape up, you’re going to get shipped out! I need competent workers here, not whatever you’re doing right now!”

For the record, what I was doing was not breathing.

“Now get your act together or get your act out of my store!” She was reaching decibels that ought not be possible for human beings. Despite her bellowing, my focus was still on the girl. The horror that was on her face had washed into a kind of endearing look, and she locked eyes with me as she passed to do her shopping.

I saw her disappear into the aisles and I knew I was going to have my shot at redemption. I was the only cashier on duty, it was me or nothing. Suddenly I was no longer depressed, I was determined. Determined to have something good going for me in my life. However, what I was hoping to pull off was no small feat. How many of you would accept an invite for a date from a checkout clerk at a grocery store whom you have never met but had a pretty good idea as to what my effort at work was like? It would be a miracle if she said yes, but I had to try... 

Minutes passed that felt like hours. It made me realize that all those NPCs in games just sit in the store waiting for you to come back. It blows. Finally, she waltzed her way to my station. She glided across the linoleum floors of Grater’s like nothing I had ever seen. Compared to Chloe’s stomping and my moping, she had the grace of an Olympic figure skater. Or maybe she was just walking. I don’t know, it had been an emotional day.

As she approached and I began to open my mouth, she initiated the conversation. “Your boss sucks.” My heart stopped beating. “I guess I should say our boss, I start work on Monday.” My heart exploded. “I just came in to pick up some stuff for the weekend, but I’m Sam,” she shook my hand and put her item on the table. Just one thing. Pumpernickel sandwich thins. 

I checked her out, told her Chloe would probably just keep terrorizing me and she would be safe. She laughed, got her bread and started to leave.
“See you Monday, John,” she said and smiled. I looked down at my name tag but as I thought, nowhere to be found. “I heard Chloe say your name, while she was yelling.”
I couldn’t believe she had remembered my name. Suddenly the dread in my stomach transformed into butterflies.
“Oh, right ha ha my name, John. Wow, funny, very observant, aren’t you?” I was spiraling.
She laughed again, waved, and then left. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face for the rest of the day. I gotta be honest, being an NPC isn’t all that bad.


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Nathan Ousey · ago
Really enjoyed this story! I had always thought about writing a story told through the perspective of an NPC, and this worked well with that!