The Maze Game, Part 3
The following story contains: Violence, violent imagery, some profane/crude language
How much further back am I? His variety of Skinless still came in waves, while her creatures came like ants attacking a piece of candy. She handled them, yet her eyes strained almost to tears and a blistering headache bore from the eye sockets to the brain. They had enough coffee and After-Hour Energy, yet a person’s biological needs could beat all the caffeine and fear in the world.
“Joanne, we should switch controllers.”
“They just won’t stop attacking you. You could at least give your fingers a rest-,”
“I said I’m fine! You’re distracting me!” She finished, actually finished killing a group of enemies. She grabbed her sore brain, tilted back her head, then laughed so loud, so shrill, it sounded inhuman, almost like the scream from the many bloody creatures they killed. “I killed them! All of them! They stopped attacking me!”
“Joanne, listen to me!” A knock at the door.
The female knock said: “Are you guys okay in there?”
Joanne responded: “We’re fine, we’ll always be fine! Leave or I’ll piss down your throat!” The knock’s footsteps hurried off. He saw her clenched teeth overshadowing her lips, once beautiful, green irises floating in a sea of red. The longer you played, the less sleep you got, the more the enemies attacked, more stress you endured, the madder you became. Another of her laughs made him jump. “What’s that?” A light shone behind the corpses of muscle and tendon, a golden portal on black, dead dirt. Her mouth opened into a smile. Drool leaked from the corner of her lip.
“I see it! The exit!” she said. He leaned back on an arm, feeling as if life’s programmer divided the end of gravity’s equation by two. What else could it be? She thumbed her female knight into the portal. The screen whited-out, then returned, her knight standing on black dirt and dying grass, beige, brick walls on both sides, the red sky with white clouds, stretching forward forever. “It… wasn’t the exit?”
“That’s impossible.” They sat in shock. Was it a trap? Is she closer, or farther away? Everything looks the damn same. Joanne set her controller down, huddled into a ball while clenching her aching head. “It… it probably sent you further into the maze, Joanne. But just to be safe, I’ll avoid it.” She whipped her head like gunshot, her unwashed, oily hair and hell-green eyes making her resemble an asylum patient.
“You really think so?”
“Yes, of course. Now let’s keep playing. We have just one day left.”
“Yeah, okay!” She jumped up like an excited puppy, grabbed her controller, and thumbed her cute avatar forward. He thought they were as good as dead, but they had to use what time they had for something. His hand gripped the pain swelling behind forehead, felt the warmth of a fever building. Her eyes flashed at him, her crimson orbs reflecting all her hate.
The morning delivered no answers. His character now slashed its way through an army of Skinless and Arachni; her character encountered one or two every ten minutes, forcing Tavon to conclude it was a trap that sent you farther from the exit. The game’s clock read 11:30 am. He had until midnight to find the exit or bust, possibly spontaneously combust, but Joanne started playing earlier than him. But how much earlier? His eyes wanted to fall like weak shutters; cup of coffee, agonizing migraine, and fear kept him tapping A to slash and B to dodge. She was as much a dirty, sleepless rat as he, yet wore a countenance he was too tired to read.
“You’re tired,” she said, keeping her red eyes on her PC’s march to nowhere.
“Who me? Nah, just bored. They could at least give these guys more than two attack patterns.”
She laughed, still the same shrill laugh. “I’m the one who’s bored, and hungry. You fix some noodles for us, I’ll hold off your monsters.” There was no denying it: fighting an endless stream of enemies without a pause option, while hunched over a twenty-inch screen, was taking a toll on his mind and body. He saw creatures when he went on bathroom breaks, but started to blame that on his deteriorating mental state rather than the game’s supernatural qualities. He handed the controller over, stood and walked to the kitchen, too tired to speak.
For speed’s sake, he put both bowls of water and dried ramen in the microwave. Now he had some time to himself, unplugged from the maze. What did he know about this game? It was in development, meaning incomplete. According to the person who sent the message, all testers who failed leaving the maze in 144 hours died in some horrible fashion, because the game would crash after that 144 hours. Crash = Death. What causes a game to crash? Some programming error? One of those errors you can’t detect with a compiler when an error in the overall program produces an undesirable result… He stumbled backwards, caught his balance by gripping the counter top.
We’re so dumb, so stupid. His conclusion brought another thought to mind: he never got attacked while the game was off. He remained safe the last night he slept in the last five days, he remained safe when he ran to Joanne’s place. He was in danger now. As if to agree with him, a trickle of warm wetness ran down his arm, then his own blood dripped to the floor. Three long lacerations ran from his wrist to his elbow. The sight of so much blood kicked his adrenaline.
“Joanne? Are you all right?” He fell on his face; the weight of invisible claws dragged across his back, tore open his old wounds. He felt his back become a puddle of hot liquid as more pain dug into him. “Joanne! God dammit!” With effort, he rolled to his back to crush the invisible assailant, and screamed. He leaped up, ran back to Joanne’s room.
Both games sat unattended, three Skinless shuffling for his standing-stupid PC, Joanne’s character standing forlorn in fields of darkness. Her player sat in front of the laptop, USB cables connecting it to both systems. She looked over her shoulder, smiling like a dirty bat sporting a full-blast grin.
“Joanne, don’t do it! I know how we won’t die!”
“3 pm,” she said, in a voice as audible as a whisper at E3.
“One more hour from now, five days ago, I decided to try a tip I learned on 3 Plagues Gaming Forum. A creepy pasta; there’s no harm in it. It’s not real.” His forehead sweated; his eyes twitched from her to the flat screen he used. “In one more hour, I’ll die. Don’t you see? This is the only way, has always been.”
“No, Joanne! If you crash our games, we’ll die! That’s the equation: Game crashing = Death. But if it doesn’t crash, we’ll be okay. We just have to turn off the game-” the screaming laugh.
“That’s your master plan? Turn off the game? It becomes more real when it’s off Tavon! You can hear them moving and growling in our world then!” Remembering that moment, he regretted that one second, that one moment of weakness, when his eyes left her. That second when he abandoned her, and his tired mind wished that something, anything, could stop her from ending their lives, could have been the second he saved her life. “You see it, right?” He failed to see, but felt her index finger approaching the Enter key.
“Joanne, stop! Please!” Her shoulders slacked, and sanity returned to her voice.
“I see, you don’t truly see.” Her hand reached for the USB cables protruding from the laptop’s side; she pulled one out. “When I’m free, you’ll see.”
“Joanne, no!” Click. The small sound of the key resounded like a curtain fall. She fell to the side. No cry, no wail, no complaint, just fell. But time to ponder her fate ran dry. Her screen resembled a twenty-inch glitch of blocked white and green integers; on his, one Skinless reached for him, while an army approached from behind. He dived to the controller. He loved her for two things: for exterminating many of his the enemies before trying her plan, and for proving her plan; no, the forum’s plan; was wrong. He hated her for killing herself.