The Nightmare Game

An interactive fiction. Copyright (c) 1984 by J.A.Schmehl
You are in a hallway. There are three doors here.

>Examine doors
The left door is all black except for a glowing eye which is watching you. The right door is green and has a frowning emoticon sloppily carved into it’s surface. The carving drips blood. The center door is blue and is decorated with a painting of white fluffy clouds and a yellow sun.

>Open center door
It is locked.

>Unlock center door
You need a key to do that.

>Find key
I don’t see that here.

>Open left door
It is locked.

>Open right door
You open the door. You are sucked into the center of a whirling cyclone. You can’t see or hear anything beyond dust and wind.
There is a monster here.

>Kill Monster
What would you like to kill the monster with?
There is a monster here.

I don’t see that here.
There is a monster here.

>Use magic spell to put monster to sleep
You have no magic spells.
The monster is swinging a club at you.

>Wake up
I do not understand that command. The monster has hit you with the club. (LIFE -50)

>Wake up!!!!
I do not understand that command. The monster has hit you with the club (LIFE -75)

I do not understand that command.
You are dead.
Thank you for playing.

The death of a moment

“I’ve never cheated on my wife before.”

The words emerge from his mouth, swirl, spin, land on my tongue, only a breath away from his own. The words are ice, my mouth slows, shuts around the cold. I will not go where I am not wanted. But his hands have not heard his words and do not release their grasp. The words take the moment, a warm pocket of time, and pull it inside out. The moment, all of its seconds behind, above, below us, all of them building towards something. Some thing that is gone now.

The things I have forgotten, or rather, not forgotten, just…. put aside, ignored, for the sake of the moment, these things fill my mind and I am remembering all of his words, from all the other ruined moments, over all the years we’ve known, or not known, each other. These sporadic moments together only amounting to a number of hours, but spread over a decade or more, maybe, I can’t add it all up, right now. The cold has spread from my tongue to the roof of my mouth, and my brain is freezing, now.

A moment within the moment, the cold is pitying. I only invited him to dinner. I’d hoped we would end up where we were, minus the ice of course, but I know he is married now, I knew he might walk away. It was always his choice.

From the beginning, so long ago it’s almost only a story I tell to myself, I only ever wanted a kiss. I asked for a kiss. One kiss. Knowing everything he knew, I still asked, and he said yes. Every time, he says yes.

And every time I ask again, knowing everything I know. Knowing that every time, after he says yes, he will say something else, a word, a phrase, coated with truth and reality and with a breath, my pleasure from the moment will have ended.

I can say, “Then don’t.” I can say, “You should go.”

I say nothing. I stare. Cold pity pours from my eyes into his. His deep, brown, intelligent, sensitive, kind eyes. I love his eyes. His long lashes, his smooth olive skin, his small ears. I love his soft brown hair, though there is less of it each time I see him. I love the curve of his lips and his tentative tongue. I love the way his hand feels holding mine. In those stories, we are always holding hands, though that only ever happened once.

My silence, my closed mouth, my frozen moment, his words seem to affect only me. His hands are still moving, still holding tight. Despite everything we both know, he does not let go. This is what I wanted. To be wanted.

Words continue to flow from his mouth. What does he want from me? Forgiveness? Permission? A line drawn in the bed sheets. If he doesn’t cross it, it doesn’t count.

Pity dissipates. I’ve done it again. I’ve made up a story. I’ve made myself the hero and given him his lines, and for a while, he played along. But the truth is that he doesn’t really want me, or rather, he does, but only because I have, again, handed him this perfectly crafted moment of passion minus the responsibility of all the moments that must follow.

In a moment, I will be alone, and then…
I will cry over the death
Of a moment, again.

Learn to Play

English: An Atari 2600 four-switch "wood ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The kids are at school, the dishes done, and the laundry started.  She has no more excuses.  She must sit down on the floor, now, in front of the TV, now, turn on the XBox, now, and learn to play.

She hates video games.  She’s hated them all her life.  From the moment her parents gifted her brothers their first Atari console, she’s thought of video games as the worst waste of time.  There were so many more interesting things to do.  As a kid she was always outside, running and playing and riding bikes.  On rainy days, she liked to play house and school or games like trivia pursuit or do crossword puzzles.

It never mattered, before now, that she never got into gaming  the way her brothers did.  No one minded, before now, that she didn’t know the difference between a side-scroller, a first-person shooter or a role-playing game.

It mattered now.

Now she had kids, and her kids were gamers.

In her mind, in her world, a good parent was an involved parent.  A good parent went to every soccer game, attended every recital. A good parent knew what was in the books her children read, because she’d read them.  She knew the TV shows they liked because she watched with them.  She knew how to play the games they liked, because she’d played them.

This month, the favorite game is on the Xbox, and it is a side-scroller. The kids finished level three last night before bed, and when they get home from school they will start level four.  When they get stuck, they must turn to her for help, not the internet, not a friend, her.

She sits in front of the TV, turns on the XBox and logs into the game.  With her laptop beside her, open to a cheat website, she takes the controller in her hands and learns how to complete level four.


One Bite

The New Orleans "Picayune" mascot fr...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh how they stare. They know I don’t belong here, but they know why I’ve come.

A once in a lifetime trip. I’ve spent all of my savings and borrowed a fortune to get here. All for this one experience. This one event. This one meal.

The maître d’ leads me to a table and a waiter produces a chair from somewhere. I would have been fine standing but I am not surprised a galaxy-renowned establishment such as this can handle tourists.

The menu is extensive but I can’t read it. I don’t know any of the words. I look up at the waiter, helpless confusion on my face. He nods, takes the menu, and floats away.

I sit there and try to ignore the looks of the other patrons. They lounge on their hover chairs and mumble to each other. A family of three surround a table nearby.  I know what they are saying, although I can not hear the words.

“Why bother?” asks the son, “She’ll only eat two mouthfuls and then she’ll be full.”

“That poor skinny thing,” says the mother, “She looks like she’s starving. Don’t they have any food on her planet?”

“All they do is swallow nutro-pills, I wonder if she even knows how to chew,” the father responds.

Finally the waiter returns with a huge platter of food. The smells are overwhelming. I take the utensil, the one called a spoon, and hold it like I practiced. The waiter is floating at my elbow and I look up at him. He suggests I try the one he calls ‘spinachsouffle.’ I scoop a small amount onto my spoon and bring it to my mouth.

The combination of texture and flavor explodes on my tongue. It is, simply, orgasmic.

In that moment I know that all the expense, all the time, all the disdainful stares, all of it was worth it. And I would suffer through it again for the pleasure of that one bite.

Collect Call

phone booth
 (Photo credit: Montauk Beach)

He calls from a payphone. “I’m going to the woods,” he says.

I try, “Oh? Um. Yeah?” Then, because I can’t stop myself, “Why?”

“Goddammit!” He explodes at me, “Because it’s all I can f-ing do right now! Ok?”

Quickly, “Yes! Yes, OK.” I take a deep breath. “But just think, you could come here?” He needs to be reminded of choices.

“Yeah, your husband would love that.”

The two men in my life, my engineer husband, with his checklists and fail safes and backups for the backup plan, verses my brother, the artist.

My husband: “If he’s an artist, show me his work. Show me one thing he’s created. Just one.”

I respond with my brother’s words: “Art isn’t quantifiable.”

“Do you have food?” I ask my little brother, “Water, a tent, matches? A shovel? Pliers?”

“Pliers? Really?” He laughs, a low chuckle that flows down my spine like warm water. He knows the joke was contrived, but he laughs anyway. Things aren’t as bad as they seem.

“I’ve got it covered,” He says. This isn’t the first time he’s pulled a Thoreau.

I want to cry. But instead I say, “It’s already fall.” My voice sounds choked. “I wish you’d get a cell phone.”

“You know those things radiate cancer.”

I hold in my sigh. I don’t want to end on an argument. “I love you, Please be careful.”

“I will.”

I hear the clunk of the heavy old handset hitting something, but the connection doesn’t end. Perhaps the bygone pay phone is broken after all. I hear the squeal of the phone booth door and then the sounds of shoes hitting pavement, a brisk walk that quickly fades away.

Long minutes later, I still have the phone to my ear, absorbing the sounds of the occasional passing car and what might be an hooting owl, when my husband enters the kitchen. “Who is it?” he mouths silently. Then he points to the stove. The pasta water is boiling over.

I touch the end call button. “Nothing. Silence,” I say, turning down the flames.

Mad Molly

I’m eight, I think, maybe nine, when Mad Molly whispers in my ear, “The tooth fairy is a lie.”

I lean away from her. Her breath smells of garlic and eggs. My tongue probes the new space between my teeth. I taste blood. In my hand I hold my tooth, white in a tiny puddle of red, not as small as the last one.

“Did you hear what I said?” Her face changes, the skin around her eyes tightens.

I nod my head. I don’t want to move my tongue away from the space. I can feel a roughness in my gum. The new tooth? It is here already?

“Well?” She is angry now but I still can’t move my tongue away.

Mad Molly wants my pain. Her madness feeds on blood and sorrow, spilled milk, broken dishes, and skinned knees. I don’t have anything for her. I am distracted by the sensation in my mouth. I stare blankly at her twisted face, working my tongue in and around the new space, getting used to the change.

She snorts loudly and shuffles away.

Do I care that the tooth fairy is a lie? Will the truth or lie of the tooth fairy’s existence change the reality of the loss of the tooth or the gain of the dime? Probably not.

I cup my hand around the loss and watch Mad Molly disappear. My mother approaches. I show her the tooth. She gasps and smiles and hugs me tight.

“Another one? You are growing up so quickly,” she says. There are tears in her eyes.

“Mommy?” I ask, “Is Mad Molly real?”

“Yes, darling,” she laughs, “What an odd question!” She glances at the tooth in my hand, then over her shoulder. “Don’t listen to her, she’s a sad old lady, full of venom and spite.” She kneels and looks up at my face. Her eyes look like mine in the mirror.

“Did she say something to upset you?”

I pause, probing the space and thinking of the thing I have lost.

“No, mommy,” I say.

“Good,” she says, hugging me again. “Let’s go wash that tooth for the tooth fairy.”


Something More

The question comes from behind me, an unexpected place.

“What do you want?” she asks again.

The question hits my right shoulder, and bounces off my head. I have been waiting for this question my entire life, but the pain of it shocks me into silence.

I turn to see a woman there, asking a child to make a decision. She is surprisingly calm, patent, waiting for her son to answer.

The boy shakes his head, looking up at the sign, “I don’t know.” His mother nods, and takes him by the hand, “let’s wait over here until you are ready.” She waves at the people behind her to go ahead.

But she and her son are not the cause of the delay, and I cannot step out of line, I’ve already started my order. I go back to the basics. I breathe in and out. I listen to my heart beating. After a century of seconds, I am calm. I finish reciting my order to the pimply boy with the paper hat and move away. Nobody yells at me.

The airport is quiet today, not like last week or the week before, when more obnoxious children and mothers, finishing their summer holidays, yelled and screamed about wants and needs. “Just make a decision!” Screeches echoing off vaulted ceilings decorated with model planes that never fly away from home and never crash.

The boy decides. The mother’s kindness infects those around her, who gladly let her and her child back in line. The mother asked, the boy answered, the mother provided.

The question still hurts and I rub at the sore spot, trying to smooth it away.

USSS Theodore Roosevelt

The new president stood in the oval office on January 20, 2053, and finished thanking his supporters, “The speeches are over my friends, we made it!” The group erupted into cheers and applause. The applause was the cue the servers had been waiting for. They entered and passed out twenty-five glasses of poisoned champagne.

A fast acting laxative entered the bodies of the guests and one by one, with polite excuses, they left the room. In minutes, the president was alone with his bodyguard. They looked at each other, then heard a knock at the door. The guard opened the door and let in a small old woman wearing the clothing of a server. She shuffled to the center of the room, spun in a circle while spreading her arms wide, and announced, “The day has come!”

The guard moved forward to grab her. His hands passed right through her body as if she wasn’t there.

“Who are you?” The president asked. His foot found the panic button on the floor, but he didn’t press down on it.

“Me? Oh, I’m nobody. I’m just the messenger.” She stopped spinning and faced the president. “Tonight you will be visited by three spirits!” She laughed.

The president started to press down on the button.

“No! Please! Not yet,” she said, “I was kidding. I’ve been here an awfully long time, waiting for you to arrive. I’m just a bit giddy.”

The guard moved to open the door but it wouldn’t budge.

“I’m sorry dear, you can’t leave yet,” she said. “Don’t worry, this won’t take long.”

The president pressed his foot down.

“Oh, I wish you hadn’t done that. You’ve ruined all my fun! I had so many great lines to say.” With dramatic flourishes she recited, “’Luke, I am your father,’ and, ‘Fly, you fools’ and, ‘Rule one: Cardio.’” She sighed. “Oh well. Here’s the condensed version.”

The old woman was replaced by a young man. He sat in an invisible chair; his eyes focused slightly above the president’s shoulder.

“Commander Hans Lindar, calling from the USSS Theodore Roosevelt. We were wrong about the source of the particles, sir. They aren’t coming from the asteroid, they’re coming from an alien ship that is flying behind it. We think the ship was pushing the asteroid but it’s changed direction and is now closing in on us fast.”

Lindar blinked, then swallowed. “Sir, it has not responded to our hails. I… We have no way to defend ourselves, but it may not be hostile. Either way, by the time you receive this, the outcome of our encounter will be decided.”

The commander looked away. “If this is the last message you receive, please tell our loved ones our thoughts are with them.” He refocused and continued, “Prepare yourselves. That ship is enormous; it’s bigger than the asteroid. I’ve never seen an alien spaceship before but that thing scares the crap out of me. Good luck. Lindar out.”

The old woman replaced Lindar. “You’ve got nine months,” she said, “make ’em count! Hasta la vista, baby!” With a wave, she disappeared.

The president picked up the phone. “Frank. Yeah, we’re fine here, false alarm, but I need to see Hans Lindar right away then get word to NASA that we’re delaying the launch of the USSS Theodore Roosevelt. It needs a few modifications.”

This Time

“It’s different this time,” she says to me, out of nowhere.  We’ve been talking about movies we’ve missed over the summer.

“What’s different,” I ask, although I know what she’s going to say.

“I don’t think I’ll make it out this time.”

A dozen glib comments come to mind, but I don’t say them, because I think she’s right.  Even though I’ve seen her this way before.  The long slide into nothingness, into a sleep that she never quite wakes from.  She has a hard time hearing, a deafness caused by the pressure of unreleased thoughts. The slide is longer this time.  Deeper.  Usually by now there are tears, rages against the unfairness of living because other people say to do otherwise is selfish.

There’s none of the anger this time, just the sadness, growing.  Her eyes are empty.  It’s even in the way she talks, flat, with an economy of breath, like she knows she’s running out of air.

She’s leaving.  She’ll save her breath for the good-bye.

I lean away from her.  I have to leave now.  I can’t let her drag me down into that abyss with her.  I can’t go there again.  I have too much to do.  I have a house to maintain. I have a man to love.  I have a job.  My life is good now, dammit.  It is good.  There is nothing to be depressed about.  Not anymore.  I’ve made all the changes.  I have the mantras.  I know the signs to look for.   Deep breaths and exercise and plenty of sun.

They’ll keep her here for a while. But not forever.  Eventually she will go home, and this time she’ll do it for real, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop her.

She’s already gone.

Not me.  Not me.  I pick up my purse from the tiled floor.  I stand up, my thighs peel away from the plastic chair.  She stands too and misinterprets my pulling away from the chair as a lean towards her.  She puts out her arms for a hug, limply, a habit of motion only.

I don’t want to touch her, but I also respond to the habit of the hug.  My arms go around her and suddenly we are both hugging tight, too tight.  We are each others lifelines but we are both drowning.

I can’t save you, I scream at her, at myself.

At home, he asks me how it went.  I shrug.  I won’t say my thoughts aloud.  It might make them come true.

He kisses the top of my head and tells me he loves me.  “I know, I say.  Our little joke.  Because sometimes I can’t say those words.

“I’m proud of you,” he says.

I feel sick to my stomach.  “Why?”

“I know how hard it is for you to go there.”

“I’m not going back.”

“I know,” he says.

Our little joke.  Because that is what I said yesterday.

image source:

Daily Prompt: Proud – When was the last time someone told you they were proud of you?