Accelerated Decline by James Stelzer

My buddy Passion says the weirdest shit sometimes. The guy is a total headcase. We’ll be drinking some beers and playing Rocket League at my place on a Friday night after we finish up at the cinema - chillin’ out, just trying to relax, ya know? - and suddenly he’ll blurt out some nonsense like “This game is a bit of a headfuck, aint it?” Outta nowhere,all frantic-like. So I’ll have another swig of my beer, hand Passion a freshly lit joint, and ask him: “How so, man?” This is me taking the bait, and as the words slip out my mouth I’ll see his face light up like one of those anglerfish: ready to pounce on my breezy nature and devour every last scrap of silence in the air. Regret hits me instantly: when Passion’s all fired up that crazy motherfucker can go on for hours about all kinds of shit. Ancient Egyptians, aliens, ‘the government’ - everything at once and nothing at all. So when he catches me like this and I know the jig is up, I’ll just sink back into my chair and start searching for my king-skins; I won't be getting that joint back any time soon.

Then he’ll tell me “Dude, every time we play this shit I come away from it with more and more questions.” Half-cut me will prompt Passion to continue because if I tell him to shut up now he’ll dash his unfinished beer bottle at my off-white wall again. He can be sensitive like that sometimes - especially since Sarah sacked him off - and I’m not losing my security deposit because of him. He’s been coming over every Friday night after work for like three months now, and it’s costing me a fortune on weed alone. “Sure, a bunch of my problems with this game could probably be cleared up pretty easily if I spent enough time trying to figure them out, but there’s no consistency to this world, is there? Like when I ask myself ‘Where the Hell are the ref and all the linesmen and why hasn’t anyone ever seen them?!’ Well… actually, I think that one could be cleared up easily enough if I put a little thought into it. There’s probably a fairly simple explanation for that now that I think about - something to do with VAR, I reckon. I mean…”

As I roll up another zoot from my dwindling stash I can feel Passion watching intensely - even as the last one I made is still burning in his hand. He’s gonna kill me someday. Someday he’ll be off on one of his weird little rants, eyes fixated on making sure that my roll is perfect, droning on and on like “I couldn’t tell you exactly how the system works but VAR would make sense right? You wouldn’t want the refs out there on the pitch getting in the way of all the magic - that would spoil it for the fans. Even the best refs probably couldn’t handle being so close to the action either, what with all the explosions and stuff. You can bet that all the top drivers would have round-the-clock coaching, highly-regimented diet and training routines, access to all the latest industry tech, all that jazz, too. How‘s anyone supposed to keep up with that?” and neither of us will notice the cherry that he’s knocked onto the floor of my rented apartment until a tiny flame accelerates through the cheap, acrylic carpet beneath us, tearing it up from nought to sixty in seconds. The end for us both.

If Passion wasn’t so oblivious to the little things then maybe Sarah would have stuck around a bit longer. Maybe he wouldn’t be spending his weekends conked out on my couch. But no, he’s a smooth-brained goon, so she packed up her shit and drove off into the sunset (or to her parents in the next town over) which makes me the one-man rescue crew responsible for the burning wreckage left behind. Recently he’s been little more than a plume of smoke pouring out of the shell of a man. No girlfriend, no flat, no future. Nobody will say it but he obviously misses her. So once Passion’s off on one I normally try to just zone out and let him vent while I focus on the game itself. But somehow every time I tune him back in “...and before the big-wigs upstairs even consider putting refs on the pitch they’ll need to fit all their cars with power-steering for sure. You think they’re gonna invest in that? Fuck no, putting them all out there every week would be expensive as hell. Don’t even get me started on the insurance, man” he’s still at it “Obviously all the Unions would wade in, too. What a nightmare that’d be...” like a pirate radio station broadcasting constant insanity from a doomsday compound. This goofy rubbish can’t be doing my brain cells any good either, but we go too far back - I can’t just leave him stranded by the wayside out in the middle of nowhere.

We’ve been close since school, back when our Mums used to spend their Friday nights getting pissed on red wine and complaining about their useless husbands together. I’d gone to Uni by the time they both got divorced, and Passion left the country to go travelling. For a few years we barely saw each other, aside from the one Christmas when we happened to be back home at roughly the same time. That Christmas Eve was a Friday, so we rolled into town together to shoot the shit over a few beers and compare our lives. While stumbling back (to fire up the Xbox at his Mum’s place) we stopped by an ATM because I needed some cash for a kebab. Passion downed like six beers at the pub that night and because he’s a cheap twat he’d gone round necking all the ends on the bar before we left, so on the walk back he found himself desperate for a leak. A nearby alleyway would have to do it. So while he was round the corner pissing all over his Converse, two homeless dudes decided that they wanted to rob me. What they didn’t know yet was that Passion is a fucking lunatic, and as such he carries a penknife with him absolutely everywhere - for ‘practical reasons’. As soon as those dickheads caught sight of him - absolutely smashed with his jeans round his arse, waving the blade around like chaos made flesh - they realised just how insane the man is. Nobody in their right mind wants that smoke, so I got to keep my wallet as one of the few perks of my loyalty to a mentalist. Lucky me, I


For now we’re not dead yet, but Passion still hasn’t accepted his break-up with Sarah, so I spend my Friday nights waiting for a gap in his thought process, waiting for an excuse to run upstairs and take a piss of my own. As I stand over the bowl - while I enjoy a moment of peace and wait for the beer to flow out of me - sometimes I’ll hear him downstairs getting restless. Passion hates being left alone with his thoughts. I would too if mine were as stupid as his. A month or so back he came to the stairwell and yelled up to me “You better wash and dry your hands before you come back down ‘cause if I end up smoking your piss particles you’re gonna get it” and for a moment I considered rushing down and smashing my homie’s head in with the overflowing ashtray by my bathroom window - until I realised how absurd his comment actually was. This was classic Passion, no need for me to overreact. So I slammed the brakes on my fury and let that shit slide. Sure, he’s a bit of a bastard, but it’s best to avoid the extra hassle where I can - and we both know he’ll pull through for me again in the not-too-distant future, once I’ve got him fixed up.

Like he did after my first office job collapsed, actually. Long story short: I’d been out of Uni for about six months and was totally unprepared for the experience of working in an office. Following the most gruelling hiring process I’d ever been through I entered the world of finance with absolutely no frame of reference for what to expect. Like someone playing Frogger for the first time, I was struck down instantly by the daily grind of corporate life. The trivial performance targets and the micromanagers. The coffee machine politics. The passive-aggressive email chains that never really get forgotten. I hated it all, and my life had rapidly become little more than the background detail in a Douglas Coupland novel. So one day I went all in and gave up completely. I lost it with a customer, I lost it with my boss, and I lost the company laptop I’d been working on by launching it out the window of a three-story office building. Game over. A few hours later Passion picked me up from the police station - the company was insured on everything they owned so the cops let me go with a warning - and after a week or so I was cleaning screens with him over at Cineworld, no questions asked. He put in a good word for me and I didn’t miss a single month’s rent. I never even had to tell my Mum. Sorted. So yeah, Passion’s not all that bad, but he’s been a massive fucking headache recently and I don’t want to burn out with him. He just needs some extra boost, a lucky break of his own.

After I’m done pissing I’ll wash my hands and splash some cold tap water onto my face. Then (with the new joint stored in the front pocket of my hoodie) I’ll head back towards the lounge holding another couple of beers and a pack of out-of-date Doritos that I snuck out from concessions as we were finishing up at work. From the doorway I’ll see Passion slouched over on my sofa, aimlessly swiping through Tinder and looking fucking miserable about it. It’s painful to watch him running on fumes. There’s just no drive to him. It hurts my soul. When he notices me he’ll straighten up instinctively, act all startled, and click away quick-time. I’ll pretend not to have seen what I obviously just saw, and without missing a beat the dude will pick right up where he left off. Back on his bullshit like “And another thing, man, the training wouldn’t be easy - those courses that they have to take to be a referee for other sports are loooooong. Fucking expensive too. It would really suck for someone to go all-in on pursuing their dream - with all that debt and pressure - only to get flattened by a jet-fuel powered monster truck as it lands directly on top of them, smushing the very essence of who they are into the ground. Christ, can you imagine the clean-up? Why would anyone want that job?” et cetera, et cetera. I’ll dry my hands on my hoodie in response, open our beers, and offer Passion a Chilli Heatwave tortilla. As I’m sparking up again and he’s setting up another match for us on the Xbox, we’ll look at each other furtively before bursting into spontaneous laughter, and I’ll think to myself: I dunno man, I dunno, but someone’s gotta do it.

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