tagNovels and NovellasThe Outsider Ch. 08

The Outsider Ch. 08


Chapter 8 - A suicide

Ruthie looked at herself in the mirror for a few minutes admiring how she looked in her new dress. She felt a tingle of excitement at the thought of having just worn such a revealing outfit in downtown Santa Cruz, but she felt even more excited at the thought that she now actually owned this dress and could wear it whenever she pleased. She spun around and the back lifted up, exposing her bottom. She giggled, realizing that she would have to keep that in mind when outside, to not turn around too quickly, or at least not when she could get in trouble. A naughty thought came to mind; the she could tease Mike by spinning around and flashing her bare bottom every so often.

The morality prudes would be offended at the sight of her in that dress. Satisfaction welled up inside her at the thought of bothering people that she hated. Undoubtedly someone would try to have her arrested for wearing so little, but she could argue that the dress was something she had bought in a clothing store and thus it had to be legal. Besides, the clothing restrictions at Davenport State University were among the most relaxed at any university in the US. Women were allowed to go to the main pool in thong-style swimsuits and topless sunbathing was permitted in some areas around campus, although not many students took advantage of that privilege. Given the relaxed atmosphere of Davenport, Ruthie would not be putting herself at risk nearly as much as she would if she tried wearing the dress in a place like Salinas.

Ruthie took off her new dress and hung it in her closet. She put a towel around herself, grabbed her shower stuff and stepped into the hallway. She would have not bothered to wrap the towel around her body, but at the beginning of the semester the RA had reprimanded her for being naked in the hallway and there had been a couple of disapproving comments from other women on the floor. That had been one disappointment out of several, because she had heard that a couple of decades before it was common for students to walk around the hallways of the dorms of Davenport State University in the nude and the attitude about that was very casual. It was strange, and unfortunate for her, that even in the most liberal part of the US, attitudes about nudity were more conservative than they had been in the past.

As soon as she entered the bathroom she did take off her towel. If other students had a problem with that, that was just too bad. Obviously in the bathroom she was within her rights to be naked. She brushed her teeth, then showered, and then returned to the mirror to run a comb through her hair before going back to her room.

Since Shannon was not in the room, Ruthie took advantage of her roommate's absence to leave her clothes off. She would study in the nude until she heard Shannon's key in the door. Normally Ruthie slept naked, but she kept an over-sized t-shirt handy that she wore whenever she was up and Shannon was present. She knew that Shannon would have a biting comment if Ruthie tried to be undressed in her presence, but also if she were naked around her nemesis, she would be more vulnerable, which was something she did not want. As soon as Shannon came back, she would slip the shirt over her head.

Ruthie spent the next six hours typing her term paper, taking advantage of Shannon's absence and having a rare night of privacy. The noise from neighboring rooms could be heard in her room, but even with the background sounds it was comparatively quiet, given that Shannon was one of the loudest students on the floor. Ruthie made excellent progress with the paper because there was nothing to disturb her concentration. The hours passed and Shannon never showed up. She must be at one of those all-night parties, thought Ruthie to herself.

Finally, at about 3:00 am Ruthie reached a convenient stopping point. She was exhausted anyway and would not be able to continue. There still was no sign of Shannon.

Good, I hope that filthy bitch got alcohol poisoning. On that note she went to bed and for once enjoyed a decent night's sleep.


Mike returned to his room and saw the one thing he had hoped not to see, Todd at the computer playing his on-line game with a new character. It appeared that things were back to normal, and yet Mike could tell that they weren't. There was something strange about Todd's behavior, a bizarre desperation in what he was doing. Mike's thoughts drifted to what he had read about gambling addicts, to what happens to them after a series of losses; that they think the "big win" is right around the corner. Obviously Todd must be thinking along similar lines: that if he could just build up his replacement character, he could score big and restore his status in the game. If only...

Mike gave up on the idea of trying to talk to his roommate. It was too late to do anything to salvage Todd's life. Whatever hope there might have been for him to return to the real world vanished when he created that new character. Mike knew that Todd's situation was going to end very badly. He just wished the end would come quickly so he could get some sleep...


Ruthie woke up refreshed and in a rare good mood. She glanced over at Shannon's bed and saw that super-bitch had never come back that night. A glimmer of hope welled up in her that maybe something indeed had happened to Shannon. She got cleaned up and returned to working on her term paper.

The computer that she was using was an old Compaq that used Windows 98 as its operating system. Now...who used Windows 98? Ruthie Burns. The computer had been given to her as her 16th birthday present by her mother, who had bought it in a surplus sale from the office where her aunt worked. Ruthie's mother had no clue what she was buying, but the price was right: $250 for the tower, monitor, keyboard, and a printer. Shannon, who of course owned a new computer that was given to her the same week that she entered college, had commented: "Where'd you get that? From an antique shop, or did you dig it out of a dumpster?"


The bad thing about hoping that something happened to a person you hate is that the longer you wait and the more hope builds up, the greater is the emotional let-down when your nemesis finally does show up. Ruthie was in high spirits by noon, because she was becoming increasingly convinced that something had happened to Shannon. It would be sweet if super-bitch had been killed, or better yet, critically injured in a car accident. However, something like a DWI or alcohol poisoning or Shannon getting beat-up would have been sufficient to keep Ruthie happy. But, of course, people like Shannon enjoy some sort of cosmic protection and nothing bad ever happens to them.

Sure enough, right at noon Ruthie's heart sank when she heard her roommate's key opening the lock of the door. She rushed to pull her t-shirt over her head. She had the shirt down to her legs just in time, because the door swung open and Shannon entered with her boyfriend. The quiet of the room was shattered as super-bitch immediately turned on her CD player and talked loudly to her companion. Ruthie, as usual, did not object to the intrusion; she simply logged off her computer and grabbed a pair of shorts and a t-shirt out of her closet. With Shannon and her boyfriend firmly planted in her room, she had to go to the women's bathroom to change, which entailed nothing more than pulling off her t-shirt and replacing it with the shorts and shirt. She returned to drop off her sleeping shirt, get her backpack and put on a pair of sandals, and with that she was ready to step outside for the day.

Ruthie's mood was somewhat soured by the re-appearance of Shannon, but at least she did have the room to herself for 18 hours and had made very good progress on her term paper. Oh...it would be so nice to have a room to herself, where she didn't have to clear out every time super-bitch showed up, where she didn't have to worry about pulling a shirt over her head every time she heard a key in the lock...her own space...even if it was nothing more than a room with a desk and a bed.

The stress of dealing with Shannon was starting to get to Ruthie. She knew that what she really needed to do was confront her roommate and tell her that she had to share the room and be more considerate, but she also knew that would get her nowhere. Shannon had an intimidating personality and was quick with demeaning comments and come-backs. Ruthie, on the other hand, was very bad at winning arguments because she couldn't think of quick responses. Instead her thoughts stewed for hours afterwards and she would think of what she should have said, but had not at the moment she needed to hit back. Shannon bullied Ruthie, not physically but with her ability to quickly come up with cutting remarks and sarcastic sneering tirades. Ruthie was no match for her.

The injustice of the situation burned in Ruthie's soul. She was full of resentment, not only against Shannon but also against the university, for having placed her in a dorm room with someone who was so absolutely incompatible.


Ruthie went into the cafeteria to have a salad and rice, and to pick up some fruit to eat during the afternoon. In theory she was not supposed to take food out of the cafeteria, but she always kept a stash of fruit with her so she could snack in the afternoons without having to deal with eating alone in a crowd of other students.

It was Sunday afternoon, a time when usually there were very few people on campus. Ruthie decided to go behind the Econ building and see if the area around her "private spot" was deserted enough for her to take off her clothes and study naked. Sure enough, there were fewer than 20 cars parked in the lot and the grounds behind the building were totally empty of people. Ruthie pulled out a towel and laid it under the trees. She then stripped and settled down to study for the test she had the next day.

She was tempted to step out into the sunshine and walk around to enjoy the sun on her body, but knew that would be too risky. What she'd really like would be to go to Bonnie Doon beach, which was a clothing optional beach only about a two-mile walk away. She had gone a couple of times, but part of the route forced her to walk along the main road, which was something she felt very uncomfortable doing. She hated the walk as much as she loved going to the nude beach, so on that afternoon, laziness won out over her desire to be naked in the sun. She'd have to settle for her little spot under the trees.

As she looked out at the grass and the parking lot that lay beyond, Ruthie's thoughts drifted. Her burning hatred of Shannon subsided now that she was away from the dorm room and not in her presence, so she could try to focus on more pleasant things and finally get to studying. She remembered that because it was Sunday, she'd have to call her mother and once again face the barrage of questions about not finding a church. More lies and more deception...

Well, better not to think about that now. Better to try to study and be ready for the mid-term by 5:30, and then she could see what her evening with Mike Sinclair would bring.


Mike woke up to see that his roommate was gone. That surprised him, because usually Todd played his video game until about 5:00 am, when exhaustion overtook him and he absolutely had to log out. Typically he slept until about 9:00 or so, then went to class, and then started up with the gaming around sunset. It was the first time during the entire semester that Mike had woken up and not seen Todd crashed on his bed.

Mike noticed that Todd's computer had been left on and the screensaver was running. Out of curiosity he moved the mouse to see what his roommate had been doing. He saw the game's death message. At first Mike thought that Todd had, for some reason, managed to bring up the death message for his original character. Then he realized that the message was not for the original character at all, but for its replacement. Mike realized that Todd had been defeated and killed online a second time. It wasn't hard to figure out what had happened: Todd was playing a beginner's character, and instead of slowly building it like he had done with his first character, he must have played it at a level way above its capabilities. Not hard to figure out, but it would be very interesting to see what Todd was going to do next. The fact that he had left the room immediately upon losing the second character indicated that something very serious might be going on.

Mike wondered what he should do. He didn't know anyone who was close to his roommate and had never talked to anyone in his family. He thought about telling the RA, but tell him what? That his roommate had taken off because he lost a video game? That didn't even sound right. What about the police? Like he was going to try to tell that to the police? Mike was convinced that if he did try to call the cops, Todd probably would show up after-all and he would end up looking like an idiot, or worse yet, be accused of making a prank call.

Finally Mike contented himself with trying to find a phone number for Todd's family. He was afraid to dig too deeply into his roommate's desk, but he did make a half-hearted effort to find someone to contact. In the end he couldn't find anything. Todd must have taken his cell phone because Mike couldn't find it. Finally he decided to start studying, with a vague idea of being in the room in case someone called or showed up.

At 2:00 Mike's floor RA knocked on his door. He was accompanied by two uniformed Davenport city police officers. Without being told, Mike knew what had happened; that Todd must have committed suicide. Sure enough, the officers related that several hours earlier Todd had shot himself in his car while sitting in the parking lot of a video game store.

Because Mike was Todd's roommate, he was the first point of contact for the investigation. It turned out he also was more useful than the police had anticipated, because he was able to give them a plausible motive for Todd's death. Mike explained that Todd had been addicted to gaming and how, just two nights before, his character got killed on-line. He described Todd's behavior when he was killed, and then talked about the new character and what he thought had happened.

"If you check his computer, you'll see what I'm talking about."

One of the cops then did something that totally surprised Mike. He didn't move the mouse to verify what he was saying. Instead he simply unplugged the tower and disconnected it from the rest of Todd's hardware. The cops put the CPU in a large bag and carried it out of the room. They searched his desk and closet and bagged up some receipts, CD's, and a couple of flash drives.

The cops asked Mike a series of questions about his relationship with his roommate, whether or not he had any friends, whether or not he had any romantic interests, and what Mike knew about Todd's academic situation. Mike's answers were always the same... no, we never did anything together...to be honest, we never really talked...no, Todd did not have any off-line friends that he was aware of...no, there were no romantic interests that he was aware of...yes, he was failing the semester, but it was because he spent all his time gaming...

Finally, the police put some crime scene tape around Todd's half of the room and left to talk with the RA. Mike sat on his bed, staring at the tape. He had expected something like this to happen, but to expect it and to actually know that it already had taken place were two totally different things. He tried to comprehend that he no longer had a roommate. In a few days either the police or one of his relatives would come into the room to pick up his things; and that would be the end of Todd.

Strange, Mike thought to himself. I lived with this guy for two months, and I don't even have a picture of him...


Several weeks later Mike would find out the sordid detail that had pushed his roommate over the edge. The police were able to retrieve the log from his game and reconstruct what had happened during his final moments online. It turned out that with his new character he had attempted to contact his old battle group and join up with them. At first they rebuffed him because his character was not developed, but when he insisted, one of his former partners led Todd's new character into a trap, insulted him, and left him to be killed by a monster. That betrayal must have been the final psychological blow that pushed him to pull a gun on himself a couple of hours later.


When Mike met Ruthie for dinner, Todd's suicide dominated their conversation. Mike realized that he was extremely lucky to have someone as serious as Ruthie to listen to him and give her own perspective. Suicide might have been too morbid a topic for most students to think about, but it was perfectly suited for his friend's dark personality. She was interested in hearing the details and what Mike had told the cops.

Most important of all, Ruthie was willing to listen to Mike as he worked through his conflicting emotions. He felt guilty that he had not done more to prevent Todd's suicide, and yet at the same time he was glad to be rid of a roommate that annoyed him and who he really did not like. He was glad that he would have the room to himself, but at the same time felt very guilty. His thoughts about Todd ranged from sympathy to contempt to disbelief that he could kill himself over something as stupid as an online game. To an average person Mike's conflicting thoughts would have made him sound totally incoherent, but to Ruthie, his state of mind made perfect sense.

Mike would have expected Ruthie to tell him not to feel guilty about his roommate's suicide. She did tell him that he had no reason to feel guilty, but the reasoning that came with that reassurance surprised him.

"I think what he did was the smartest thing he could have done. From everything that you've been telling me about his life, it totally sucked. He had no friends, no girlfriend, nobody gave a shit about him, you certainly didn't like him, he was gonna fail the semester...so really...what did he have to live for?"

"He would have had plenty to live for if he hadn't blown 18 months of his life sitting at his computer blasting monsters."

"You know that for a fact? You really think his life was oh-so-wonderful before he started gaming? I mean...take a look at him. He wasn't good-looking at all...probably no one gave a shit about him in school...he didn't have much going on anyway...so what'd he do? Went somewhere he could do something he was good at and where people wouldn't give him shit. His life sucked, so he found a place where it didn't suck. That's why he got into it so much, because he had nothing else to live for in his real life. So he escaped, and went to a place where people would respect him."

"The point is; it didn't do him any good and he did not escape from his real life. All he did was make his real life, the life that really matters, a lot worse. He spent 18 months screwing around with that game and what's he got to show for it? Nothing. He spent 18 months of his life doing nothing. Now all he's got is a bullet in the head. I really thought he should've been happy getting killed online, 'cause it was his chance to do something else. He needed to forget about that monster shit and move on with his life. I...I still can't believe that he was so stupid as to kill himself over losing a video game."

"If his life sucked and had nothing else to live for, then he wasn't gonna want to do anything else and wasn't gonna move on with his life. To him it wasn't a game; that was his life. And as for him being 'so stupid as to kill himself', if you're unhappy, killing yourself isn't stupid. It's a lot stupider to spend your life being unhappy than it is to kill yourself. Putting up with a life that sucks is what's stupid."

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