The snow feels like crushed diamonds beneath my feet, as I slowly walk towards the house. The winter day would be beautiful, if it wasn’t for the fact that I am going to die in this house.
The others are going to try to explain it all away. Worse, they are going to say they “know” how I feel. Why do people always get so awkward when somebody else’s mum or dad dies? It’d be much worse if their own father or mother had died, wouldn’t it? At least most people have normal fathers—who somebody actually misses when they have died.
I know what you are thinking, but really – I am going to die today. At least a part of me is. You see, we went into the Big Pyramid of the fanatic Qaa Priests in search of the Crown of Ancient Glory and got trapped in the main treasure chamber, 200 fanatic cult priests suddenly popping up outside so we had to bar the door. I’ve decided that there is only one way to get us out of this mess and it fits perfectly with everything else that’s happened in my life these past weeks: I have to kill Blade
Yes. It’s a role-playing game. What did you expect from a little ugly nerd-girl like me? When you’ve played this game as long as I have, virtually becoming an addict. Blade is a make-believe character I’ve played for two years now. He is like a Mad Max from the Lord of the Rings, which is the kind of character I love. He is the lone warrior who is not always on the right side of the law but who always has the heart in the right place. His heart hasn’t become a complete pit like mine. However, this is a discrepancy, which I mean to eradicate today. He has to die.
Unlike what my own – real – death will probably be like, Blade doesn’t have to die needlessly, though. My plan is that he has to stay behind and keep the fanatics at bay, when they break down the door to the treasure chamber. The door is narrow, so he can fight them five or so at a time for a few minutes before he is overwhelmed. I had Marlene help me calculate that using every available rule of the game, we could dig up from the rulebooks, but I didn’t tell her why. Meanwhile the rest of the party has time to let Sorcha the Ishatarian Sorceress cast the slow teleportation spell, which will take exactly five minutes to finish, and they can be off safe and sound. The spell can only carry two, besides the caster, so one has to stay behind anyway and get killed.
And I’ve decided to kill Blade … after playing him for two years now, in three different groups. After writing countless of pages on his history, family, checkered past and so on. After saving the world over and over again; having friends meet and leave; enemies hunting you—or being hunted by you—across the vast wilderness – after perfecting a story about a life that never existed. I’m going to end that story today.
Only about half a mile to go, and that’s how I want it. Mum left me enough money to buy the taxi company before she left for London, but I take the bus like normal people, like I did since I got them to put me in a normal high school. So I don’t care that the bus only stops up on Lakeshore Drive and I have to walk down the side roads and around a few blocks because Alan’s family live smack in the middle of Othello Avenue. Believe it, or not – I’m not one for jumping icy garden fences in deep winter, even when I feel like not caring about anything anymore. I walk.
I can already see their burnt-red roof over there – behind the other burnt red roofs dotted by snow clumps, looking like lines of giant squared amanitas. Alan’s parents’ house is not much too look at. Still, I’d rather be living in a square mushroom so close to the highway and for a thousand years than in our creepy fake mansion out in Bay Town. To get over here, to this far side of Cleveland, you have to cross the grimy waters of the Cuyahoga River, which is still attached to Lake Eerie like a poisonous umbilical cord. At least the water hasn’t caught fire since the sixties. That’s one thing that won’t burn any longer. Today I think I could walk on coals and not feel anything. My breath is so white with cold it’ll turn to snow crystals at any moment. Who am I going to be when I reach the house?
First option: The stoic Lin Christakis:
‘Yes, my father is dead. No, it seems somebody assaulted him on a business trip to Haiti. Yes, it’s terrible. My mum and I … we’re dealing with it. It’s hard but … that’s how it is.’
Okay, so how about the second option:
‘Yeah, my dad’s dead and I don’t give a shit. The motherfucker had it coming.’
Sometimes I’m not surprised people see me as more than weird – as downright evil. I am the little black rich witch, am I not? I know what they say in secret, ‘She’s probably keeping men in her basement for slaves, torturing them and tattooing pentagrams on their cocks.’ Of course, when my back’s not turned it’s a completely different show – then I’m “so coool”. And they love to come to my parties because my dad earns a million bucks a month and they get free booze, and nobody cares to check up on that.
There’s only one girl I can trust, but she isn’t here today. I dunno if she’ll ever want to hang out with me again. It was kinda awkward when I was at her place before Christmas so I just dunno. Alan seems to think she’ll call me back, however. He has a thing for blondes, I’m told – the only thing that switches off his nice-guy gene. I mean, if it wasn’t about getting to Carrie through me, why would he insist that I keep coming to the game when I’m so obviously mismatched with the other players, just as I am with everybody else?! I’ve thought about that a lot recently, and it makes a lot of sense now. So I guess it was a mistake fighting so hard to get transferred, but then again, I’d rather be sleeping with the mutated fish in the Cuyahoga before I tell mum any of that.
I crush more diamonds as I pass the last street corner before Alan’s house. Soon I’ll be inside the square mushroom, at the living room table with the others. The table will be pristinely cleared of normal boring stuff like candleholders and fruit bowls. Today it will be prepped with all the essentials for escape. Alan will have covered it with a very different tablecloth than his mother’s flee market horror. Our tablecloth is Alan’s huge hand drawn map of his self-made fantasy world, Arcadia. On the cloth, Marlene will have stacked the 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 20-sided dice ready to roll to decide who lives and who dies. Beside it, Lars will have laid out his collection of leaking ballpoint pens so he can make his little drawings in different colors of the people and monsters we meet in the adventure. And at the very end of it – opposite Alan – we have Mike … little fat, whiny Mike… who will sit behind his own stacks of cola-stained notebooks which he stole from school storage. In each book he has written down all his spells in a neater handwriting than you ever saw him do in Mrs. Mills’ English classes. Well, they are imaginary spells, of course – for this is a game. Except to Mike, it is more than real. It is more real, I think, than it ever was for me. I could be part of this game once again, loose myself in one afternoon’s escapism, but I’m through with that. I’ll just have to figure out how to get it across to Alan, though, that I don’t want him to bring Blade magically back from the dead.
You see Alan is our dungeon-master, the guy who decides what the non-player characters and monsters do. He decides if there’s a strategically placed healing potion hidden in a treasure chest if one of us gets our character badly maimed or killed. He’s much too lenient on us. Especially Mike and his idiotic sorceresses who always fuck up things for the rest of us. Alan should’ve let Sorcha the Stereotypical Sorceress no. I, II and III stay dead or get killed off immediately again by some random monster or lightning from above until the little freak got the message that we were all tired of playing with somebody who thinks of nothing else but racking in magical treasure and killing non-player characters indiscriminately, if he even suspects they have something of value. But I guess if there’s room for a freak like me, there’s also room for someone as devoid of any imagination as Mike – and his slightly creepy penchant for playing lady characters in tight black leather.
However, Alan won’t set a grudge-monster or anything to come after Mike today. Alan is usually a fair master of the game … but sometimes, when Mike has bugged him about something in school, not sure what, then the next monster we meet – maybe even a dragon – it will usually strike at Mike’s sorceress first. Hence the casualty rate of Sorchas. But Mike is as stubborn as Alan and he keeps rolling up new Sorchas, exactly the same as the ones who died, and he won’t budge or change them. Or change whatever the hell is brewing between these two – I don’t even think it’s in school, but in another group.
Perhaps it is that special role-playing group for students that I heard Mr. Zohar started after school hours. Lars says he only did it because he is an old single math nerd, who hasn’t got a life – like “you will be in 25 years, Alan” he quips every time when we hang out at the café. He then goes on to paint a lurid picture of how Mr. Zohar – the most brilliant but also most eccentric of teachers – is cooking up this new after-school activity in the hope that some of the young girls from his class will join so he can fondle them under the game-table. I’ve stopped caring about it. When it’s about Mr. Zohar, Lars insists on being an idiot.
There’s a bag lady scrounging around in a garbage bin over on that corner, opposite the house. She looks like a hippo wrapped in heavy dark-red carpets, her two or three dirty jackets, blouses or whatever, to keep the cold out. Didn’t think they were out here in this neighborhood. ‘She’ looks up and I see it’s a man. He smiles at me with teeth edged with nicotine and half-chewed remnants of something bread-ish he put into his mouth recently. It is a friendly smile to my surprise, reminds me of Mick in a way. But I can’t help myself. For a moment I’m so revolted I wish I could blink him out of existence. Since I don’t succeed I just try to walk faster, past him. He nods and make a vague attempt at lifting his cap but it seems glued to his greasy tangle of hair so he gives up quickly.
“G’day, miss. Lov’ly cold, isn’t it?”
His breath is white mist, the only thing that looks clean on him. I walk faster. He shrugs, and turns back to the garbage bin. Then I get revolted again, but this time it’s over someone else. I know it’s pathetic but I turn back and squeeze a hundred dollar bill into his gloved mit, and before he can even say a word, I’ve withdrawn around the next corner. I walk faster. More diamonds …
That was stupid. But we never get a choice about what life we are born to live, no matter how hard we try to say otherwise, and if there’s one thing I can feel sympathy for it is that. I only have a better choice about who to live like when it’s a game. And I know Alan will start tonight with giving us another choice, once we are ready at the table, once we have those little sheets of paper out that describe our second lives, the lives you’d rather live … until today. Until the day when you don’t want a life that’s better than the one you have – because the truth is that you don’t deserve it. But Alan will proclaim a choice: “You were caught in a veritable death-trap – in the Temple of Qaa,” he will proclaim and wave his arms as if to encompass the whole imaginary temple in a single gesture. “You are surrounded by Qaa the Preserver’s fanatic priests – and I do mean F-anatic with a capital ‘F’.!” He will then smile cozily, survey us like we were frogs in science class, as we sit around his table, listening – tense and ready with our dice and pens like sling stones and swords. He will try to gauge the level of expectation. How long can he draw out the tension to make us doubt that this time he has decided to kill us all off?
How can it be so easy for him, to make us feel like something’s at stake? To make us believe that this time we’re really done for even though “we” are just four imaginary characters? In this fantasy world of ours death doesn’t really exist. There’s always a healing potion or a good cleric around and the bad guys we know from the beginning. They are so Bad you know they deserve to be killed. Like, the super-temple-knight self-proclaimed deity and leader of the cultists – Qaa the Preserver. He is a creep deserving to have preserved whatever is coming to him. Obviously, when the group gets out of this mess, they are gonna hunt him down and kill him because he is this pedophile-type who delight in punishing the poor commoners of Arcadia City if they don’t deliver gold and altar boys for him ever so regularly. Picture Erol Flynn or someone like that gone Extremely Creepy.
Yeah, bet you couldn’t – at least, not right away. At that’s what so clever about Qaa. On the surface he looks like a complete good guy, nice trimmed mustache and slick hair and shining armor and all, but underneath … What did my father’s business partners think of him? Uncle Simonis? The fancy people at the glittering receptions? His little hookers? Who did they see? You have to understand that I’ve never really had a father. Sure, he’d come home a few times – maybe once a week for a bit more than a few hours, and he’d sometimes bring some presents, mostly clothes and. But he never came home more often. It seems like he just went out even more, to his work or wherever. Creating the next big Godzilla in Corporate Accounting Systems programs, because that was so much more important.
When Alan reboots the adventure right there and then in the lair of the cultists, and he makes it all feel like the world is going to come crashing down on us any time, and everybody but me knows that maybe it’s not true, and Lars will just shake his head. He feels a bit superior to the rest of us. I bet he already has a plan to get out, if the rest of us croak for good when the cultists break in and cut our throats. And we will croak the minute we try to open the Sigil Door that slammed shut behind us last time, the split-second someone sticks his nose out of that dead-end because, well, on the other side are 200 bloodthirsty cultists waiting to have fun. I notice that my hand is on the gate, a small dirt brown wooden gate and it’s cold from frost and my hand is getting numb. What the hell did I want to go to a normal high school for anyway?
I open the gate, slouch up the little path, toward the door with the brass sign:
”James and Tricia – Alan and Mary-Ann Stockdale. WELCOME”
There’s light sifting out through the curtains hiding the big living room window from the front lawn. I hear voices now, chattering. Somebody laughs, probably with good reason. They are relaxing now, trying to pretend it doesn’t matter that things changed for the little weird newbie that Alan insisted on getting into the group, because that’s what a guy like Alan does. Alan is such a nice guy it hurts sometimes. So are his folks. Sometimes I’d feel like puking all over them, but on the other hand, you can’t really blame me for not ditching them entirely after only a few months. Who’s home waiting for me? There’s a big brass handle above the brass sign. I knock carefully – equally measured knocks. I’m going to die. I’m going to throw Blade against those priests, so the others can get away up the secret passage. Blade’s strong enough to last long enough to give them a good start. As Alan’s father open the door and I look into those nice friendly spectacles, rimming those nice friendly eyes on that nice friendly face, I wonder if I’ve reached some sort of conclusion about what to say about my dad.
“Hello, Lin – good to see you. Come on in. All the others are waiting.”
“Hullo, Mr. Stockdale -”
Could I pretend that I … cried? No, I’d just keep seeing my dad’s white ass in the air between that little black girl’s spindly legs … and … and smell the crumpled bed sheets with sweat and old spots from previous customers. Of course, it could all be in my imagination, I don’t even know if it happened that way. Just before the little black girl took that nail file and …
“Come in, come in – Tricia and I were just getting ready to leave so you have the house all to yourselves. Just take what you need in the fridge and everything – but stay away from the bar, he-he – here, let me take that coat.”
”No, it’s all right.”
”Okay, fine, fine. But it’s good to see you. It’s so nice Alan is making new friends all the time. So nice. Well’ we gotta split now. The opera is calling, you know?”
Yeah, and so is your old Honda. I wonder if it’ll start in this weather or if it decided to go all deep frost on you. Guess old Mick could take care of it. He was the only one who looked even remotely sad when the broker came and surveyed our ghost castle, like he knew he wouldn’t be around next summer to patch up his precious rhododendrons. Dad was the only one who offered him that job when no one else would. Maybe it was a favor so who cares. Wish I could. That at least would’ve been normal. I wonder where Mick went after he turned in the keys. It’s like he died, too …
I feel myself drift through the hallway, towards the living room, as if I’m not touching the wooden floor at all – something’s dragging me, like a noose around my throat. The others’ voices are getting louder. Now they see me.
Alan makes as if he wants to get up from his chair at the end of the big dining room table, but then sits down again, as if he can’t decide if he’s going to … come over.
“You came … “ he then says, and looks at me, a smile trying to force itself on his lips. “I … thought you wouldn’t.”
“But I would. And I did.”
“Yeah – good. Great, I mean. We were just about to get started.”
Then there’s curly blonde dreamy-eyed Marlene, too – and big, jet black-haired Lars. They don’t say anything. Marlene’s pale blue eyes meet mine for a short second and then she quickly looks down into her character sheet. I feel myself swallow something raw and burning. Then somebody comes up from the kitchen.
It is Mike, with a cola in one hand and a bag of chips in another, his worn Rage Against the Machine-t shirt still trying to creep up over his fat belly. He stops and gawks as he sees me, as if I was the monster he had been expecting Alan to throw at us tonight, and I just want to sit down as fast as possible, as far away from Mike as possible, and get to tell Alan how I want to stop playing in this group. How I want him to make sure my favorite character dies a particularly brutal death. And for a moment I feel vindictive towards little stupid Mike because he is always so protective of his silly characters, treating them like they are really real although Alan kills them over and over again. It’s like Mike thinks they can never die for good because it’s a game. I want to show him that they can. It’s not Mike’s fault – any of this – but it’s Mike who I want to hurt … now.
And then …
Mike drops his bag of greasy chips and gives me a big, greasy … hug.
“Damn, Lin – I’m sorry about your father,” he bawls, “That’s so … I mean, my dad showed it to me in the paper.”
“Uh … yeah … “ I try to withdraw, but he still holds me. Then it’s as if he discovers what he is doing, and that the others are staring. He lets go.
His face turns redder than all the roofs put together. His little fat, pimpled face … that I hated so much just a moment ago.
“My mum died, too, last year,” he sniffles “ … I told you, when you came into the group?”
Yeah, you did, Mike … a thousand times.
Mike goes crimson now, the mushroom of his face is about to burn away faster than the last drop of oil in the Cuyahoga. He quickly bends down to reach for the bag of chips on the floor and then it’s as if he remembers that he is so close to me it’ll come off as he if is staring at my crotch, and then he decides against it and just stands there, looking even more perplex.
“I know what it’s like … “ he then says. “It’s … “ He looks down at the bag of chips, like it was flotsam, lost forever even if it’s just within arm’s reach. The others in the living room are dead silent.
I feel my lips twitch, involuntarily. No, not just that. I feel my whole body twitch. I feel …
“We should go play now,” I say, my voice brittle.
I have to get it over with and have Alan kill me even quicker now.
Outside the window the falling snow still looks like diamonds.
Last edited on June 1, 2019