We'd Like a Word With You

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Edgemont Publishing


Playing online games can be fun. You meet nice people. You meet angry people. You meet Anagrammers. Will you meet them again? It's only a game.

Submitted: June 14, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 14, 2018

A A A

A A A


 

We’d Like a Word With You

 

By Jeff Macharyas



 

I.

Morning.

 

Tigger jumped up on the bed and landed squarely on Duffy’s back.

 

“Geez, come on, Tigs, let me sleep,” Duffy muttered through his pillow.

 

Tigger clawed at Duffy’s back and breathed fish-flavored Friskies in his ear.

 

“OK, fine, I’m getting up.”

 

Duffy knew the routine. Tigger was expecting his canned food; his one treat he looked forward to all day long. Once he gobbled down a bowlful of poultry by-products, copper proteinate, liver, choline chloride and an assortment of other goodies, Tigger would meow at the door waiting to greet the world from under the car in the driveway.

 

Duffy didn’t look at the alarm clock on top of the dresser, he knew what time it was. Somehow, this cat learned to tell time. He never even set the alarm. Five o’clock. There was just a bit of daylight oozing through the half-open window, where Tigger spent most nights waiting and thinking of poultry by-products.

 

Duffy dragged a leg out from under the covers and shoved one foot into a slipper on the floor. The other one seemed to me missing and he could feel the cold wood floor on his bare foot.

 

Duffy looked under the bed and found it in the exact center, just out of reach. Duffy laid prone on the floor, blowing dust bunnies out of the way and reached for the escaped slipper and pulled it into the open. Duffy stuck his foot into it and Tigger knew this was the signal. Time to chow!

 

With one might meow, Tigger galloped down the stairs like a herd of buffalo and slid on the linoleum floor in the kitchen to stop precisely in front of his food bowl. Ready to play, coach.

 

Duffy retrieved the half can of Friskies Ocean Whitefish & Tuna Dinner from the fridge and scooped the remains into Tigger’s orange food bowl. The cat food looked like aged vomit and made a squishy sound as it slid out of the can and plopped into the bowl. Tigger was up on his hind legs, clawing at Duffy’s knee. Oh boy, oh boy, it’s time!

 

Tigger dug right into the bowl and started slurpin up the poultry by-products before it hit the linoleum. Duffy emptied yesterday’s coffee grinds from Mr. Coffee and replaced it with a new offering of Folger’s Breakfast Blend. Tigger was deeply engrossed in his food bowl, not missing a single molecule of poultry by-products. Duffy waited and watched him because he knew the second Tigger was done he’d be at the door. Rain, snow, hail, meteors, whatever the weather, Tigger was fed and ready to take up position under the car and stand sentry monitoring the neighborhood.

 

The weather was fine this morning, although a little on the cool side. Duffy unlocked the kitchen door as Tigger tried to get out through the hinged side. You’d think by now, he’d have this figured out. Tigger was pushed along the linoleum by the opening door and snaked his way along it until he found the opening. A ha, there it is! As Duffy pushed the screen door open, Tigger leapt from the landing right into the driveway and under the car he went. In two hours, he’d be back at the door, his job done for the day and ready for an eight-hour nap on the windowsill, dreaming of poultry by-products.

 

Duffy grabbed a coffee mug out of the cabinet. This one was a novelty cup he got in Washington. The worn-out image of the White House was on one side and in barely readable script was “Washington, D.C.” on the other. Duffy filled it with Folger’s Breakfast Blend and a little half-and-half from the Mini Moos on the counter and headed for the den.

 

Duffy’s MacBook sat on the desk with its lid closed and power cord unplugged. Duffy turned on the power strip and plugged the magnetic power plug into the left side of the computer and opened the lid. The image of “Google” lit up the room and the wi-fi indicator went up and down until it turned black, indicating tht Duffy could now communicate with the virtual world through Google Chrome and begin his morning routine.

 

He had some work to catch up on and thought he’d better take care of that before he left for work and there were a couple of bills he cold pay online. He’d get to that later. First, he had to catch up on more important matters. Duffy cycled through his bookmarks he had assembled on the bookmark bar. He started with the news. Huffington Post on the left, then Fox News on the right. CNBC next, the local CBS station, the local newspaper, then the socials: Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram and finally Accuweather. 70 and sunny today with no chance of rain for 120 minutes.

 

Duffy shuffled into the kitchen to refill his coffee mug and headed back into the den. Still had more than an hour. Duffy clicked the favicon in the middle of the bookmark bar and Vocabulous came to life. Vocabulous was a crossword-like word game, based on Scrabble, but changed enough to avoid copyright infringement. Thousands of people from around the world would log into Vocabulous to play against each other anonymously. Duffy chose the screen name “Dtavern1941” after the old radio program, “Duffy’s Tavern,” he would listen to via his Old Time Radio app on his phone. He would usually start an episode went he went to bed but would almost always fall asleep halfway through. Some day, he thought, he’d just sit on the couch and listen to the whole thing straight through during the day.

 

There were several virtual rooms to choose from, but Duffy knew that “Bingo Bombers” was the best. He had been playing for almost five years now and would go on long win streaks followed by long losing streaks. When he first signed on, he had a starting score of 1200. He has seen some players with scores over 3,000 and some with scores under 300. In his years of playing, he has reached 1900, but went on an epic slide, losing 50 games in a row to bring him back down to 1250. Humiliating. Since then he’s only managed to get back to 1700 but keeps falling back into his comfortable zone of 1600, a level he just can’t seem to escape.

 

He recognized some of the player names in the room and hit the “Play Now” button to enter his name into the mix. He’d wait to see if anyone challenged him and then he’d start clicking on some of the names. To gain the most points, he would select players with much higher points. If he’d win he might get 10 points and only lose 1 if he lost. If he played a lower ranked player, he might only get 2 points for a win but lose 10 for a loss. He scanned the list for players with scores higher than 1700 and started clicking.

 

He got rejection after rejection and on a few he got the obnoxious “You have been censored by so-and-so” pop-up. Duffy hated that. Players had the ability to “censor” other players they thought unworthy of future play. There were some players who have censored him he knew he has never even played. What was their problem? There were games that Duffy was way ahead of his opponent, having a good streak. The opposing player, feeling humiliated by a lowly 1600 would send him messages through the chat window accusing him of cheating. He didn’t know how he could even cheat as the system would assign the eight letters for each turn. It took skill, and a little luck, to assemble the letters into words on the board and rack up the most points he could.

 

Apparently, there were people out there who have learned to game the system. These people were referred to as “Anagrammers.” Duffy was no Anagrammer. He didn’t know how to become one and had no interest in using his computer to rack up points on his behalf. He liked the challenge of finding the best words and even accepted the frustration of getting stuck with a bunch of Vs, Ys, and Us. Can’t do much with that.

 

There were times when he’d be way behind, but his opponent would still accuse him of being an Anagrammer. He thought he was pretty lousy Anagrammer if his efforts put him 200 points behind. Then the pop-up would appear: “You have been censored!” Duffy would make a mental note of the growing list of angry Vocabulous players who have snubbed him and accused him of crimes against humanity. He would take screenshots of the angry exchanges through the chat window and stash these away in a folder in his “Documents” folder. Maybe he’d use these to write a book some day. But, not before a few rounds of Vocabulous.

 

Duffy stared at the player list as names appeared and disappeared, sipping on cold Folger’s. Finally, he had a challenger! MangoDog63, with 1710 points has accepted and the board appeared. The chat window appeared on the right and the perfunctory exchange of pleasantries were displayed. “gla,” Mongo wrote, “tnx,” Duffy would reply. “hav fun,” Mango would reply. “u2,” Duffy would respond. OK, that’s enough. Duffy hated these exchanges and didn’t understand what half the abbreviations meant anyway. These would continue through the game. Duffy would score many points with a word like “zouave,” and his opponent would offer: “n1.” Duffy would respond with “t.” Near the end of the game the exchange usually went with “ggty,” “u2,” “last 1 4 me,” “m2,” “by,” “bye.”

 

The game began and score stayed within ten points of each other. Halfway through, Duffy a string of luck. He scored 100 points in only two plays and pulled ahead by 70 points. He could win this one, but he could also go on another end-of-game slide. It happens and he’s fine either way. But, winning is always better than losing. Duffy played “qat,” a common word played in the game and scored 40 points. This is where MangoDog63 had just about enough of Duffy’s evil winning ways. The chat window came to life.

 

MangoDog63: u did nothing u took all my work

Dtavern1941: huh?

MangoDog63: u don`t deserve to win lazy slack cow

Dtavern1941 : ok thank you

MangoDog63: you gave back nothing selfish bitch

louise63: go rot

Dtavern1941 : ok. thanks for the feedback.

MangoDog63: fuck off stupid fat cow

MangoDog63: still doing nothing still useing the other person `s work and giving nothing back it`s a game for two people not just you fatso

Dtavern1941: i’m not fat. but thanks for pointing out my character flaws.

MangoDog63: ha ha your loosing

MangoDog63 you will never WIN another game

 Dtavern1941: oh no! whatever shall i do?

MangoDog63: die bitch

MangoDog63: u r loosing because you are tro slack to think for yoursef you have to take everybody else`s work

 

Before the game was complete, the dreaded pop-up appeared: “You have been censored by MangoDog63.” That’s fine, Duffy thought. He made a screenshot of the chat window and saved it to his folder with the other nastinesses he’s received over the years. Duffy would be angry at these exchanges early in his playing life, but now they are just another form of amusement. Why do these people take this so seriously? Who are they? What is a “lazy slack cow” anyhow? He also thought, that for a word game, these angry people would be better spellers, at least, in their tirades.

 

Duffy hit the “New Game” button to add his screen name to the list of players. “99 Players Online.” Should get a hit soon. Duffy squirmed in hi seat. Too much coffee, gotta pee. He got up, grabbed the novelty mug and headed to the bathroom. What’s one more cup? He filled the mug once again and headed back to the den.

 

“Game Unavailable.” Damn, he missed some opportunities. He scanned the list to see who he could engage. FrogBites5, with a score of 1813 sounds good. “You have been censored by FrogBites5.” Hmmm, never even heard of this one. Finally, a hit! SnowMoose accepted his game and with a score of 2000 this could earn Duffy a sweet tenner for a win and only a one for a loss.

 

The chat window came alive: “ggyal.” “u2.” “tnx.” “t.” Well, that was done.

 

SnowMoose went first and played “HOWITZER.” A double, a triple, a Z. 216 points in one play. Well, this should be good.

 

“N1.”

“T.”

Duffy played “ZA” and “AT.” This is gonna be a long five minutes.

 

The chat window began to fill with words. “Dtavern. Are you an old radio fan?”

 

Duffy was surprised. Someone figured out the meaning behind his screen name. Not so mysterious after all. He didn’t know whether to be alarmed or flattered.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Me2. Im a big fan of the shado and jonny dollar and all.”

 

“Yup.”

SnowMoose kept playing triple-digit words and Duffy was ready for more coffee. Why do this every morning?

 

The game ended with a humiliating 555 to 234. One of his worst defeats. Well, it was only one point, so it wasn’t all that bad.

 

“U lissen on way to work to radio show?”

 

“Yes, usually. At the local comm coll.”

 

“O. i work in college too. Jensen College.”

 

“North Sinclair County Comm Coll.”

 

“O, yeh thats wy up there.”

 

“It sure is.” Duffy wasn’t familiar with Jensen College. Maybe he’d look it up later.

 

The scratching noise from the kitchen indicated that Tigger’s watch was over and he was ready for a much-needed break.

 

“Hang on, I’m coming.” Duffy pulled the screen door open and the cat meandered through leaving orange fur stuck to the door frame on the way in.

 

Duffy closed the lid of the MacBook and got ready to start his day in financial services at the local community college, North Sinclair County Community College, home of the Devil Bats. He had a meeting scheduled today with Jerry Tristan, the director to go over next year’s enrollment so he had to put on his game face. But, he couldn’t stop thinking about SnowMoose. Jensen College. Gotta look that up.

 

Duffy spent most of the afternoon in Jerry’s office going over each need case one-by-one. He’d have to organize all these notes later to make a cohesive plan.

 

“OK, Duff, gotta go. I’m sure I’ll get “the call” any minute,” Jerry reported.

 

Duffy knew what this meant. Jerry like to take the scenic route home, but his wife, Jane, would usually redirect him to the Rockford’s superstore to pick up some odds and ends. He knew Jerry hated that store.

 

“Right. Good luck. If you end up at Rockford’s make sure you check out the chicken alfredo mix. I got a few boxes and it’s really good.”

 

“I’ll be sure to do so. See ya later, Duff.”

 

Duffy watched Jerry walk into the parking lot and pull his phone out of his pocket. Duffy switched off the light and headed out in the same direction.

 

II.

Tomorrow.

 

The following morning began as most mornings do. Tigger woke Duffy up with a claw to the nose and Duffy acquiesced. Out the door he went, to take up position. The coffee was ready, the MacBook was connected, he was ready to play. This morning, Duffy skipped MSNBC, Fox, Accuweather and HuffPost and went right for the big blue V in the center and entered the Vocabulous world.

 

Hey, there was SnowMoose again. Maybe another go and he could exact his revenge. Duffy clicked the martini icon next to his name and waited.

 

The board came to life and it was Duffy versus SnowMoose once again.

 

“Gonna giv it another chance?” it read.

 

“Why not it cant be as bad as yest.dy.”

 

Duffy started with “QAT.” What else. 30 points. Not a bad start.

 

SnowMoose responded with “HOWITZER.”

 

Oh, come on, Duffy thought. Can that be a coincidence?

 

“Thats wat u playd last time.”

 

“Its a gud word. Srry it happens.”

 

The game progressed in the usual fashion and Duffy found himself 200 points behind.

 

Damn, how do they do it? If I didn’t have a V and seven Is maybe I could do something!

 

“Hav fun at werk 2day?” the chat window displayed.

 

“Yeah ok.”

 

“Financial aid stuff at Jensen, it sux.”

 

“Oh, i do the same thing i gess.”

 

Duffy remembered to look that up. Maybe he could find out who this person really was. Where was Jensen College, anyway?

 

“Where is jensen coll?”

 

No response.

 

The game ended with another humiliating 520 to 350.

 

Duffy hit the “Play Again.” button.

 

“You have been censored by SnowMoose.”

 

“What?” Duffy yelled at the screen.

 

Jerry hit the “New Game” and waited. Finally, a 1700 who went by “JoeVnx” joined up.

 

“Hiya.”

“Hi.”

“Gla.”

“U2.”

The game remained close and Duffy had a small lead.

JoeVnx: fucking cunt

JoeVnx: beat you

JoeVnx: unbeleiveble chating

JoeVnx: fucking unbeliavble

Dtavern1941: i won by ten and i have score of 1742. really?

JoeVnx: you are fucking sick bstard

JoeVnx: fucking sick cheating c*nt

Dtavern1941: ok if you say so. its only a game keep calm

JoeVnx: go fucking die together with all your filks

JoeVnx: fcking cunt

Dtavern1941: i don’t cheat if i did my score would be much higher

Dtavern1941: ok have a nice day

JoeVnx: when you fucking day

Then, of course, the pop-up appeared: “You have been censored by JoeVnx.”

Good, Duffy thought, I guess I’ll just die together with my “filks,” whatever that means.

Duffy noticed a quick reflection from the top of the laptop. Was that the webcam? No, must have been the sun coming around the front.

Duffy had had enough for today. Two censors in one morning, that’s a new world’s record! Duffy considered censoring random players himself just to see what it was like, but decided not to be part of the problem. It was just a game after all.

III.
When Jerry’s Gone.

Duffy headed to work the next and found Jerry’s desk empty. Odd, Jerry was like a clock. Must have gotten trapped at Rockford’s again, he thought. Out for an errand and stuck all night in the retail black hole.

Duffy was alone in his office in the financial aid department without much to do. He shuffled some papers, wiped the muffin crumbs from his desk and replaced the water cooler jug. What the hell, one quick game. Duffy logged onto Vocabulous on the laptop he carried around with him everywhere.

He scanned the list of available players but didn’t see SnowMoose, MangoDog63 or JoeVnx anywhere. Safe! Duffy added his name to the list.

After a few moments staring at the names coming and going, he finally got a hit from an 1850.

PurpleStorm and Duffy exchanged a few good plays and he even scored two “bingoes” using all the letters in his rack and scoring more than 150 points in the process. It was nice to play someone who played quickly and played well. A good challenge well had.

Duffy played one of his favorites: “ZOUAVES.” A bingo worth 77 points.

Then, the chat window came to life:

PurpleStorm: you got to be kidding me

Dtavern1941: no. it’s real look it up

PurpleStorm: of course it’s real, anagrammer

PurpleStorm: the game would not allow the word if it wasn’

PurpleStorm: my question is whether YOU knew it

PurpleStorm: or a computer helped you get the word

PurpleStorm: go try it with someone else

Dtavern1941: yes, I am a history fan so i knew it was

PurpleStorm: sure, thats what they do in colege right

PurpleStorm: true colors are showing huh?

Dtavern1941 just because i got a good word does not mean i am a cheater you i just happened to get the letters

Dtavern1941: if i was such a great cheater would my score be 1658?

PurpleStorm: do you mind

PurpleStorm: i’m playing a game

Dtavern1941: i do mind because i see this all the time just because i happen to get a good word means i am cheating it’s a random game and it is only a game jsus christ

PurpleStorm: if it’s a game, then go play while you work

Me: i ususlly do not respond to this shit but i have just about had it

PerfectStorm: and quit chatting me

Me: i’ll go hide under my dark rock now

PurpleStorm: i have asked you to stop several times now

Duffy was livid. Another player from somewhere across the world was accusing him of cheating. Once again he was tagged as an “anagrammer,” the worst crime one could commit in the Vocabulous universe.

He knew what was coming.

“You have been censored by PurpleStorm.”

Great. Duffy closed Google Chrome and shut the lid before sliding it back into his briefcase. He noticed that weird reflection again. Where the hell was Jerry? Duffy was too angry to think about work or anything. He thought he’d go home and discuss it over beers with Tigger. Tigs would understand. He would just stare at him with those big orange eyes. Did PurpleStorm mention “colege”? Duffy couldn’t remember exchanging any personal information. Duffy didn’t think any more of it; just making conspiracy theories in his head.

“OK, Tigs, day’s done.” They headed upstairs.

IV.
Five’s Company.

Duffy awoke with a start. Was there someone in his house? It was 3 am. Tigs was oblivious.

“You’re a great watch-cat, Tigs, shoulda gotten a dog.” But, Tigger was nowhere to be seen.

He heard it again. Sounded like a chair being pulled out from the kitchen table. Then a jingling sound, almost like coins being dumped out of bag, but softer.

Yes, definitely someone there. Duffy grabbed a shampoo bottle he had unopened on the bedside table. It would have to do. He stepped lightly to the top of the stairs and listened.

Click, click, clank.

What the hell?

It sounded like there might be three burglars. Sitting at the kitchen table? What was going on?

Duffy tiptoed down the stairs, armed with his Men’s Sport shampoo he got from Rockford’s the other day for only $3.99.

Duffy peered around the corner to catch a glimpse of the interlopers.

No, there were four. Four people sitting at his kitchen table. On the table was a boardgame and each of them had a pad, a pencil, and a rack of letters. There was a fifth seat set-up in the same fashion.

“Have a seat,” the old man on the left said, knowing Duffy was watching the whole time.

“Who the hell are you?” Duffy demanded. The three assembled people at his table just stared at him.

There was the old man on the left, the teenager with his back half turned, and the stern-looking woman who looked like a pissed-off Oprah, and a another older man in a dingy white V-neck T-shirt.

There was something familiar with them but Duffy couldn’t quite figure it out.

The teenager had a carton of ice cream in front of him and and the old man had some fruit pile in front of himself. The Oprah-looking woman was dressed completely in purple, from her tinted hair to the oversized flowing caftan and even to the painted fingernails and rimmed glasses. Her eyes were even purple, Duffy thought.

Who are these people? They didn’t seem to want to steal anything or to kill him, they just sat there at the table. The old man fiddled with his greenish-orange fruit and the teenager started digging into his carton of ice cream. Moose Tracks. Oh, yeah, Duffy’s had that before.

“If you’re here to steal my life savings, I’ve got a jar of quarters in the pantry you are welcome to if you just get out,” Duffy offered.

“We don’t want your quarters,” the teenager replied with chocolate ice cream residue dripping from the corner of his mouth.

“Then what?” Duffy shook the discount shampoo at them.

“Sit,” Oprah said, motioning to the empty chair. There was an old radio set-up on the table in front of the seat.

Duffy was getting an uneasy feeling. This felt worse than being robbed or killed. He took his set in front of the radio and dropped the shampoo bottle to the floor.

Duffy stared at the rack of letters in front of him.

Z-V-U-O-E-A-S.

What does it mean, Duffy thought, but he was getting an idea.

They all stared at Duffy and the man in the V-neck spoke: “Host goes first.”

“Me?” Duffy replied, glanced back and forth between Oprah, V-neck, Moose Tracks and fruit guy.

“What is that pile of fruit you have there?” Duffy snapped at the old man. He knew the answer before the man replied.

“Mangoes. I love them. So did my dog.”

Shit, Duffy thought. What the hell was this? Was this MangoDog63 sitting in his kitchen. Wasn’t he censored by this guy?

“I’m like a whirlwind, everyone says. Always on the move, pushing everyone out of the way like a big storm. Like a big purple storm,” Oprah added, waving her purple-painted fingernails in an arc like a conductor.

“Moose Tracks are the shit, dude,” best ice cream ever,” the teenager exclaimed digging his spork into the chocolate container like a snow plow digging into chocolate snow.

“V-necks. It’s the only shirt I’ve ever worn,” Joe said, pulling on the very v-neck he was describing.

“Turn on your radio, Duffy, your show is on,” Oprah suggested.

"Hello, Duffy's Tavern, where the elite meet to eat. Archie the manager speaking. Duffy ain't here,” the radio crackled when Duffy touched the dial.

Duffy realized this game would last a long time. Forever, in fact. He would never be censored again, though, he was playing with the Anagrammer Gang, now.

Well, first turn. Duffy slapped the letters on the board. Of course, it had to be, “ZOUAVES,” for a cool 77 points.

“You got to be kidding me,” PurpleStorm exclaimed, rolling her purple eyes upward.

“No, it’s a real word…” Duffy replied, the words trailing off.

This would be a really, really long game. Hell was like that.

Note: This story is a work of fiction, however, it is based on real events. Playing online games can be a lot of fun, but there are those who take it very seriously and can get very nasty. The chat window exchanges are taken from actual exchanges with little modification. The players’ names have been changed.


© Copyright 2018 Jeff Macharyas. All rights reserved.

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