Lurch was actually called Lawrence, but before his sister Amelie had been able to speak properly she’d called him something that sounded like Lurch and it had stuck. In fact, he’d grown into it. Sixteen years old and 6ft2in if he stood up straight, which he never did, Lurch had become the teenage archetype: sullen and awkward, the sort to block out the light and empty the fridge, and who was tailed everywhere by the hamster-cage aroma of rooms with closed windows.
He would roll, late on weekend mornings, directly from his duvet to his desk, where an array of three monitors supplied the visuals of the gaming world he inhabited: the blasted post-apocalyptic landscape of Sennight, through whose wilderness of abandoned laboratories and rusting breakers’ yards his avatar Fraglrocc gyrated and dived as he mumbled urgent, incomprehensible instructions to his grenade-wielding teammates through his headset. “What are you actually doing in there?” his mother Grace asked from time to time, but she never understood what he said so decided it was best to leave him alone. She and her husband Duncan adored the boy – and believed in letting him follow his own path. Nothing was too good for him – from the “bleeding-edge Alienware rig”, whatever that was, to the HD monitors and superfast broadband pipe. Until, that is, Grace opened a credit-card bill to find £4,000 on the boy’s Epoch Games account.
“Four thousand quid!” Duncan had shouted not long afterwards, the boy having been prised from his lair like a smelly oyster from its shell. “Four thousand quid! Do you know how long it takes me to earn that?”
Lurch mumbled, “Bout – uh – two days?” Duncan looked faintly put out, since this was more or less exactly right. His fund had been doing well lately. He flailed. “But… but... what did you spend it on?” Lurch heaved a petulant sigh, as if what came next was no more than the essentials of human subsistence. “In-game supplies. Basic epic-rarity dance moves. Couple of hi-burn-rate BFGs. An’ a hyperparrot, obviously.”
Bafflement and rage vied on Duncan’s face. “A hyperparrot?”
“What even is – oh, don’t bother. Your trust fund is frozen. That’s it. No more money until you pay me back every penny you’ve wasted on virtual nonsense. You can get a paper round like an ordinary bloody teenager.”
Lurch looked sullen. “Paper round’s not gonna…” he started, but Grace cut him off: “Go to your room!” Lurch complied.
Lurch never got a paper round. Indeed, though the online purchases stopped, the gaming continued. Duncan and Grace, unable even to elicit a grunt of acknowledgment from their son, were forced to let the matter drop. So they reacted with no small astonishment when, two weeks later, Lurch approached them at the breakfast table with a gleam of self-satisfaction.
“Yur,” he said. He placed onto Duncan’s copy of the Financial Times a small, grubby cheque from the chequebook he hadn’t used since they’d opened him a current account when he went away to school. The scrawl, just about legible, indicated that he’d written his father a cheque for £4,000.
Duncan sighed. Did his boy really understand that little about how money worked? He blamed himself.
“Won’t bounce,” Lurch said.
“Are you expecting me to believe you’ve suddenly come by four grand?”
“Twenny-five ackshy,” Lurch said, looking at his feet. “Won a Sennight tourn’ment.”
“You did what?” said Duncan.
“Gone viral, innit. M’twitch blew up.”
“Winning frag. Took Crabbie97 down with m’hyperparrot ’n’ the railgun.” A little probing revealed that the boy had won some sort of competition online and was now a celebrity. The delivery of a gaudily branded Audi R8 to the driveway not long afterwards cemented it.
Duncan had not, it seemed, appreciated the global popularity of this “virtual nonsense”. A brief Google search revealed that his son’s “winning frag” had been viewed 3.5 million times in a week, and Fraglrocc was “the new name in gaming”. Duncan reluctantly picked up the phone and called work: “We need to take a slice of Epoch Games...”