The Maze Game, Part 2
The following story contains: Violence, violent imagery, some profane/crude language
His bladder felt full, his body weighted, from the rapid bathroom breaks he took. A bruise on his leg and shoulder added to his collection, so he remained awake all night, playing, fearful of what would happen with his eyes closed to the virtual world. His avatar must have walked miles, but the darkened ground nor the beige brick changed, only the horrors he faced on the TV, they just as real as the controller in his sticky hands.
“Where’s the exit?” The cell rang with a ringtone he recognized. Nothing horrid in sight, he retrieved it. His own voice made him feel fear and shame, a screeching whisper you’d hear from a little girl after a marathon. “Joanne, is that you? Listen, I need your help.” Sniffles and sobs came across. “Joanne? Are you all right?”
“I’m… so… sorry Tavon.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Remember that horror movie with that evil video tape, and how the only way to not die is to show it to someone else? Well, I was on a forum, and it said some other guy was cursed and got uncursed by letting someone else play the creepypasta and-” His hand trembled, his legs quaked.
“How could you do this to me?”
“But it didn’t work! Now we’re both going to die. I can’t sleep; I’m hurt, I’m bleeding, but I’m too scared to get peroxide… I’m so sorry! Help me, please!” She wailed; he nearly broke the phone in his hands. However, hearing her so upset, repentant and begging for her life, awakened something inside him. The loneliness of his predicament evaporated. Tears washed over his anger and cheeks. He responded in a voice supported by a thin piece of dead wood.
“It’s okay, Joanne. It’s okay. Right now we need to survive. Do you have another TV with an HDMI hook-up?”
Her voice steadied. “Y…Yes, but why? If you-”
“I’m coming over. We’re running out of time, but if we-” His leg jolted back, then he felt the pain of ten knives carve his lower leg, before his entire body hit the carpet. Shit! The darn game. He released the phone, heard Joanne screaming his name from its speakers. Eyes on screen, a skinless creature he thought he butchered, its upper half, dragging his character. As Tavon fought, the sprite fought; one fighting an invisible force to reach the controller, the other crawling from a crimson demon to reach his sword. An inch within reach, Tavon felt teeth crush, pierce, tear from his legs, and screamed from the fireworks of his nervous system. The pain had the opposite effect it wanted; adrenaline motivated a hammer fist on the A button, and the monster’s head from its shoulders. He could barely stand on the stained leg. He limped to the phone, deaf from Joanne’s frantic screams.
“I’m okay. I’ll be right there.”
“No! You can’t leave the-” He shut off the phone. No time to argue. He packed the game in his Tri-Force embroidered backpack. As he moved for the door, wind and rotten eggs carried on a breeze, one that kept his loose, graded papers and notes unmoved. Now he could even hear it, along with the moaning of a bear with a bee in its throat. It’s getting more real! His legs carried him in a hastened limp that left trickles of blood. Luckily the female dorm wasn’t far, and her room was on the first floor.
After every step, Tavon thought he would die, or get dragged like before. Several people became skinless and nude during his rush between classes, staring at a limping Tavon with eyes like red billiard balls. He heard dragging across the ground, silent wails carried on nonexistent breezes, until he knocked on Joanne’s window. The five minutes she took to open it seemed like an hour. Upon seeing her, everything stopped. Noise, his breath. Her right arm hung limp by her side, holding similar scars as his leg, her eyes were red from tears and eyestrain, bruises and cuts battered her legs and face, as if a child took a blue, black, and red paint kit to her person. She screamed wordless words, then he woke up:
“Hook your game up!” He plugged his into the flat screen beside hers. She resumed her game, with one hand, surrounded by at least ten Skinless. She cried. “Why won’t they leave me alone?” Tears streamed down his cheeks too. He pushed her aside, grabbed her controller, hacked at the spineless fucks with jubilation.
“Get something on that arm, now! I got this.” She saw his screen: two of the same ran for his PC.
“Tavon!” He finished hers off, got five slashes on the back for neglecting his, then saved his avatar.
“You can’t help me if you have one arm. Go!” She finally did. She had played longer than him, and therefore must be closer to the exit. That’s the only explanation for hordes hunting her while only a few pursued him. If he traveled the virtual distance of halfway across the U.S., how far had she traveled? How much further would he have to travel, and was this game’s level design even completed? Did an exit exist? He shook his head. Such thoughts provided a pathway to surrender, and death. He needed to focus on playing, and on finding the exit.
She came back probably twenty minutes later with her arm heavily bandaged, a family size bottle of peroxide, and a bag of cotton swabs, and some bandages in her arms. Is she in the nursing program or something? Time to ponder it ran out; more Skinless moaned and growled after him.
“Quickly remove your shirt,” she requested. He did, and as he thumbed between controllers like a carnival performer juggling chainsaws, she dressed all his wounds. They both played well into the morning, silent most of it. The nightmares changed in size and shape, yet nothing else changed. Salvation remained elusive, and their hell without an end.
11 am. He kept both characters safe while she microwaved hot pockets and browsed the forums for answers. By now, he could practically play the game in his sleep, but with less than forty-eight hours left, his skill level failed to ease his anxiousness. His fingers pressed on the controllers; her fingers droned away at the mouse and keyboard. Both of their eyes; red, sleepless eyes; scanned.
“You don’t think we should call the police?” she asked, hinting at a suggestion she believed a dead end. “And tell them we’re being held hostage somehow?”
“I don’t see how we could spin that one. Remember that movie when a kid got haunted by an evil ghost, and his psychologist’s solution was to lock him in a dark room to make him ‘face his illogical fantasy?’ If we don’t find a way out ourselves, we’ll end-up like that.”
“Yeah… Hey! This might work. Remember how in a Visual Basic C++ compiler if you made an error on a single line of code, the entire program wouldn’t run? There’s a downloadable program that lets you hack into a game’s code while you’re playing it.”
“What’s wrong?” She ran to him, grabbed her controller so he could defend himself. Her monsters now came nonstop; his came in waves. He blinked for one second, one second, and one of the monstrosities with a man’s head, spider’s body, with razors at the end of each appendage, stabbed his back, three-inch deep incisions, next to his spine.
He spoke through the pain, cold sweat stinging his eyes. “We should head back… let tension ease-up… and download the program.”
“But you’ll be the one downloading it,” she said in tone sharper than the wound on his back.
To be cautious, they only doubled back thirty minutes, or around a mile in the virtual timespace. He frowned while the program downloaded to her laptop.
They couldn’t even make them run like Olympic Sprinters. Jerks. In another ten minutes, it finished downloading, all two gigabytes of the chunky, development software. As she requested in a tone as courteous as a drill sergeant’s, he connected her system to the laptop via USB cable first. As a quick glance of the manual indicated, all he had to do was right-click the icon of the game in Control Panel and click Source. The meat and bones of their favorite game manifested in millions of strings of 8-bit characters. On the left side of the compiler, he saw a list of every operation contained in the overall program. He selected the first one, the one containing all the declarations. Deleting any of these should do the trick. His finger coasted over the delete key, before a chill ran from his index and up his arm. The feeling, it reminded him when he first walked through the eye of yellow light. Salvation rested at the tip of a digit, yet he froze. Why?
Didn’t that email say something about the game crashing?
“Did you compile the program yet?” Six days… crash… bleeding through orifices… death.
“What if we make things worse? Remember the message we both got?”
“In 144 hours, the game crashes, then we die. That reads to me that this game crashing equals death. Messing with the code’s too risky.”
“But the forum said…”
“Forget the forum!” he screamed, more from fatigue inducing a lack of desire to debate. “The forum got me, and probably you, in this in the first place. You’re closer to the exit than me. If you make it, we’ll know I have a chance.”
“So you really think there’s an exit, and that I’m close to it?”
He smiled with a plastic mask. “Yes, I do.” It served its purpose; she smiled back.
“Then we’ll keep playing.” He had no idea whether an exit existed or not. Development phase. And something made him doubt it, but he saw no other option, no other hope for escape. As he stuffed a hotpocket in his mouth with one hand while tapping the buttons with the other, an eye, and some solemn, sneaked his way from Joanne.