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The Game of Life
When it’s not my turn, I like to close my eyes and fantasize about the world as it used to be. I like to dream about chocolate and riding the school bus and surfing the web and being bored. I want to taste my mother’s burned casseroles again. I even miss my bratty younger sister Suzy. I would give anything to be annoyed by her.
But soon it’s my turn again, and I have to make my move. That’s what the world is now—a game. All of the things in my memories have changed into this sadistic competition.
If I win, I get to return home. Back to Mom and Dad and Suzy and my older brother, Jason. Back to life.
If I lose, though—that’s the part I hate. This is an impossible game. No one ever wins, and if you lose, you have to start over. Again and again and again and…
It’s my turn now. Another player, a boy called Nick, just moved four squares up. He’s looking triumphant. I know the feeling, but I also know it won’t last long. Nick will soon start over on a different board with different players, as will I.
The game is composed of an enormous board made up of one hundred squares, each one square yard in area. Every square has hazards except for ten of them. Every ten squares, you reach one that is hazard-less and gives you a power-up; the ability to temporarily freeze enemies, for instance, or a force field surrounding your body.
I’m on square twenty-three right now. I’m trying to figure out how I can get to square thirty—and therefore a power-up—in the fewest moves possible. I could throw my last remaining fire-ball at that odd lizard thing in square twenty-four, and therefore sprint past the burning creature to square twenty-five. Or, alternatively, I could try to knock the lizard thing out with my bare hands; that would give me a bonus move and I would reach square twenty-six.
I don’t want to use up my last fire-ball; I’ll need it for the Thirties. There are some nasty things in that level. I decide to attack the thing straight on.
I approach it gingerly, my hands in combat position. I don’t wait for it to strike the first blow; that constitutes a weak beginning. Lashing out, I slam the monster with my left foot.
Hissing, it leaps on me. I hadn’t realized that those peculiar shiny bits on its feet were actually claws. It makes for my neck, claws splayed, ready for the kill. I slam my elbow up into its jaw and punch it in the face. It wobbles, dazed, and finally falls to the ground. I smile, but don’t let my victory overcome me as I sidestep to square twenty-six, using my victory bonus.
It’s Nick’s turn now, but I don’t watch him. I carefully inspect my new square, searching for whatever the obstacle is. Aha—there. That little drop of water in the corner. As soon as it’s my turn, the water will spread until the entire square is covered in it. I don’t know what the squares are made of, but whatever the material is, it’s very malleable. In liquid trap squares, the suddenly-appearing liquid can melt through the squares and go down for miles. This particular liquid looks like water, but you can never tell for sure. Good thing Mom taught me to swim when I was three.
Nick’s battling a cobra back in square eighteen. I beat that cobra by making it tie itself into a knot, but he doesn’t seem to have figured out how to do that. He’s perilously close to being bitten in the neck by its fangs. At the last second, he stomps on the part of its neck closest to its head and leaps into square nineteen. I silently cheer him on, even though I shouldn’t. He
is my enemy.
I turn my attention back to my own square, and find the liquid quickly spreading outward. Immediately, I am plunged into icy-coldness. Holding my breath, I swim for my life.
I quickly figure out that this is no tame swimming pool, like that pathetic one we had in our backyard, or even the community pool. It’s wilder than those. It’s wilder than even the ocean. The water itself is—strange. It doesn’t feel quite like water, but it couldn’t possibly be anything else. It feels heavier than water. It feels as though it has a mind of its own.
When I was little I once got pulled under the ocean waves by a piece of seaweed. This feeling reminds me of that, but there’s no seaweed that I can see. The water itself is pulling me by my ankles. I kick and squirm, but it only strengthens the water’s pull.
I’m completely underwater by this point, and running out of air. I try to doggy paddle, and that doesn’t work; I try breast stroke, and that makes it worse. None of the swimming strokes my mother so patiently taught me are working. I’m reduced to struggling wildly, my mind filled with horror at the prospect of having to start over again. Will I ever make it back home?
It’s no use, but I keep struggling as I am pulled down and down, into the murky blackness.
I wake up, soaking and gasping for breath, on a new game board. A girl whose name tag says “Annabelle” is five squares up from me, looking at me curiously. I groan and can barely stop myself from sobbing like a baby.
Back to square one…