THE GAME OF LIVES
Alex Miles was perched on the ledge of a top-floor window of the building that housed his company’s offices. ?is wife Cathleen was hanging out of the nearest window, Alex’s lawyer and a very tired-looking police psychologist next to her.
The view from the top floor was spectacular. With a glance, Alex could see the whole expanse of the Silver City sprawled below, as far as the harbor. Seagulls cawed in the distance and he caught a whiff of the sea, salty and refreshing. He used to admire the view from his building, a pinnacle of glass and steel rising above the inner city, illustrating his own rise high above his humble origins. Tonight he was indifferent to any of this.
“Please don’t jump, Alex,” said Cathleen, who seemed close to hysterics. “The other night, when you saw me with Karl, I was only holding his hand to comfort him because his girlfriend had…”
Alex cut her off. “I don’t care about that,” he said. “I don’t care about anything, anymore. What I’m about to do has nothing to do with you, or anybody else for that matter. I just can’t go on living with the knowledge.”
The police psychologist hung his balding head out of the window. “Mr. Miles,” he said in a dull and fatigued voice, “please reconsider. Be reasonable. If you don’t care about yourself, then at least think of your wife and your lovely daughters who are even now waiting for their dad to come home from work. Just assume that you are wrong; what then? Why throw away your life like this?”
“We’ve gone through all of that already, Dr. Jacobs,” said Alex. “I’m doing the only reasonable thing. I know, so there’s no point in going on with this charade. So it doesn’t matter about them, or you, or anyone. I’ve got no proof, no evidence to show you; I just know, therefore there’s no need for evidence. Since I realized what’s going on, I just can’t carry on pretending that it’s not so. I must get it over with as soon as possible, because I’m just wasting my time here.” He chuckled. “On the other hand, in the unlikely event that I’m wrong, this only proves that I’m a madman. I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my days locked up in an asylum.”
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“Alex, please don’t leave me…”
“Cathleen, I’ve got nothing else to say to you. Remember me…though it’s highly improbable that you will be able to.”
As Ambrose stood by the counter at Big Rupert’s Joint, patiently waiting for Dane to end his game, the cabin door flipped open and his friend stepped out, looking really pissed.
Dane walked straight to Big Rupert and confronted him with an angry scowl. “You owe me, dude. This was my best game ever. I was thirty five, had a really gorgeous wife, two lovely little daughters, I was, you know, rich and successful and I had my own company and a real sky-high-scraper and then pow!–I flip out and I jump out of the fifty first floor. I’d have made a freakin’ high-score, dude.”
Big Rupert looked at him stoically. “You flipped out and you jumped. So what? Shit happens. You win some, you lose some. Here today, gone tomorrow. What do you want from me?”
“You don’t get it, dude, you really don’t. You wanna know why I flipped out? I realized it was all a game, man! Just a freakin’ game! Now this wasn’t ever supposed to happen, dude. It’s all your bloody cabin’s fault. I’d have made a high score, dude.” Dane’s voice was breaking. As he glared angrily at Mr. Rupert, he seemed about to burst into tears.
Big Rupert drew on his cigar and blew a big smoke ring. “You know what, son? I don’t owe you anything. I’m not obliged to compensate you for any glitch of the machine.” He reached in his pocket and produced a small brass coin. “All the same, I’m a generous man. Here, have a chip. Next game’s on the house.”
Ambrose could see that Dane was still fuming. He could also see that Big Rupert’s left eye had started twitching uncontrollably, a telltale sign that the big guy was running out of patience. It was time to drag his friend out of a potentially murderous situation. “Hey, bro,” he shouted. “Wanna play doubles? Wild West, is that right?”
“Right on, Ambry. But I’m the older brother, yeah?”
“Twins,” said Ambrose.
“Nah, I’m better than you and that makes me the older brother.”
They entered the doubles’ cabin, still arguing.
Mr. Kumacher looked at Big Rupert with fury in his eyes and a look of disgust plainly written on his chubby face. “Today’s youth are degenerate,” he growled, “their days and nights wasted in these infernal cabins.”
Big Rupert shrugged. “They’re kids,” he said. “They play games.”
“You call this abomination a game? When we were kids, we went home after a game with scratched knees and bloodied elbows. Those were games. These kids are old before their times. They’re sitting in a damn machine living other people’s lives instead of their own.”
“Well that’s fine with me, so long as they pay.”
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“Oh, I forgot, that’s the only thing you care about. But pray tell me,” said Mr. Kumacher while he kept flicking his tail nervously, “do they really have to play humans? What in the name of the abyss do they see in such pathetic creatures? Ever since this dimwit of a director, whose name I can’t even pronounce, made this movie about a planet where humans were intelligent and, goodness gracious, had even developed a civilization, every stupid kid went crazy and now they all go around playing humans. Ridiculous! Imagine a civilization without tails, and with just a couple of hands.”
Big Rupert scratched his middle eye with his tail. “They’re just kids,” he said. “They play.” He blew another smoke ring. “And they pay.”
Food for Thought
How do you know that what you perceive as “reality” is real?
What is the difference between life and a computer simulation?
How would you react if you realized that your life is just a game that someone else plays?
Do you have to be humanoid to have a civilization?
Are humans better suited to developing intelligence than other life-forms?
About the Author
George Nikolopoulos is a speculative fiction writer from Athens, Greece. His short stories have been published in “Gruff Variations” Anthology, Mad Scientist Journal, QuarterReads, SF Comet, Bards & Sages Quarterly, “Up and Coming – Stories by the 2016 Campbell-eligible Authors” Anthology, Stella’s Literary Bistro, Diasporic Literature Spot, as well as many magazines and anthologies in Greece and Cyprus. His children’s fantasy novel “The Three Princesses” has been published in Cyprus and his poetry collections “Glass Boats” and “Missed Opportunities” have been published in Greece. He has been a semi-finalist in the Writers of the Future contest.
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