Mindgames

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Contently Deranged Travelers
There are many to be played, but what happens when you’ve got to play one of your own?

Submitted: July 28, 2015

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Submitted: July 28, 2015

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Scott needed sleep. He was desperate for it.

He worked twelve-hour shifts and got home at eight each and every day just to make a living in the world, and to him, it would’ve felt better to be dead. 

He shook those thoughts off, though. Nothing could be worse than death. He had to think that way.

His limbs ached, his head felt hazy, and he couldn’t keep his eyes open. He instantly fell asleep after his head hit the pillow, and he didn’t think he’d be interrupted.

***

“Hello, Scott.”

The room he was in was dark. He couldn’t see anything around him aside from what was near. A light shining down from above illuminated what was before him: a small table and a man sitting across from him.

He was smiling, but not the warming type of grin. His hat was dark and tall, blending in perfectly with the voided background. His eyebrows were bushy, his smirk was wide, and his eyes were a deathly blue. He wore a tattered black suit with tears and scratch marks.

Scott shifted in the chair he was sitting in and got up, looking around then at the man in anger.

“Don’t think about going anywhere. There isn’t anywhere to go, anyway,” the man said. He had a strong British accent.

Scott sat back down. “Who the hell are you?” he asked. He hated being woke up from a deep slumber, and the fact that he had no idea where he was just added fuel to the flame.

“You can call me Hatter.”

“Hatter? Like, from Alice in Wonderland?”

“To an extent, yes.” Hatter’s voice was calming.

Scott paused before speaking, looking at the table.

“Where am I?” 

“You’re here,” Hatter said.

“Don’t test me.”

“Oh, I’m not. I’m telling the truth, Scott,” Hatter said. “I don’t know where this is either.”

Scott sighed. “What do you want?”

“I want to play a game.”

“Great. Are you going to torture me like they do in the movies?” 

“I’m a game player, not a serial killer,” he said.

“Well, what game do you want to play?”

Your game, Scott. We’re going to play your game.”

The Hatter reached under the table and brought out a small figurine.

The figurine was in the shape of a desk.

“Go ahead, touch it,” he said.

Scott gave him a weird look. “Is something gonna happen?”

“Find out yourself,” Hatter said.

As Scott rose his arm to pick up the desk, he felt the world around him collapse. His vision started to fade, the Hatter disappeared, and the darkness swirled into a rainbow of colors; oranges, reds, whites, and some that even Scott himself couldn’t identify. His brain felt fuzzy when he came to. He could feel the iridescent lights burning his eyes and the slouching of his back.

He knew that smell.

He knew those sounds.

He was at his office. 

“You okay?” he heard the Hatter ask. Scott turned his head to the right, seeing the man exercising his limbs on the floor. “Stretching before a big race is always important, Scott.”

“A race? What race?”

“The official office relay, of course. It isn’t really a relay, actually. It just sounded catchy.”

Scott was dressed in your typical racing attire; a white headband, a white shirt, training shorts, and a pair of running shoes. The Hatter was dressed in the same, except completely black. He also wore a light black cap in replacement of the headband.

“Where are we racing to?”

“You see that copy machine over there?” Hatter pointed in front of him where the screeching contraption resided, clunking away at the seams. “We’re racing to that.” 

The copy machine was about three hundred feet away. The hallway stretched for ages, and the machine was a small gray dot in the distance. 

“So we’re running a football field?”

“Basically, yes,” Hatter said.

Scott had confidence. The Hatter wasn’t in the best shape, nor did he look athletic. Scott surely wasn’t either, but he at least looked better than him. They appeared to be about the same age, in their thirties, so one didn’t really have an edge over the other.

A woman walked out onto the carpeted office.

Scott found her to be very attractive.

“Who’s that,” he said, trying his best to hide his shaky voice. He pushed his hair back and fixed his shirt, although neither gesture made him look any better.

“My assistant, Jolene. She’s going to be helping us.”

“I like your assistant.”

Hatter gave him a look. “She’s mine. Hands off.”

Jolene held up a checkered flag, marking the start of the race. Both men took their positions.

“Good luck, Hatter,” he said.

“Thanks.”

“Aren’t you going to wish me any luck?”

“No.”

Jolene brought down the flag.

Hatter turned to punch Scott in the stomach. Scott fell and Hatter took off.

“The hell was that for?”

Hatter didn’t turn his head to speak. “Did I mention any rules?” Scott groaned as Jolene looked down at him.

“Any help here, lady?” he asked.

Jolene shook her head and smiled.

Scott didn’t like Jolene anymore.

He got up and realized that the Hatter hadn’t made much progress; only a fourth of the way there. He could still beat him.

He started at a pace similar to that of the Hatter, steady and slow. He didn’t want to become winded too quickly. The Hatter was showing signs of fatigue at only the early stages of the race, so Scott wasn’t worried.

At the halfway point, Scott took the lead. 

He started seeing his coworkers on the sides of the raceway, shouting his name, asking for papers to be filed and work to be done.

“Scott, can you do me a favor?”

“I need some coffee. Can you go grab me some?”

“These papers need to be filled out and I have the worst migraine right now. You think you can cover me?”

“This makes no sense. I need some help, Scott…”

“Can you pick that up?”

Scott’s mind felt jumbled and lost, just wanting to say yes to everyone, wanting to please each and every person he could. He had to stop. He had to. He couldn’t say no.

He walked off to comply to their needs, leaving the race behind.

***

“I thought you’d be better at this.” The Hatter's voice sounded disappointed. Sad, even; it threw Scott off. They were back in the dark room.

“What?”

“I didn’t think you’d lose so easily.”

“I lost?”

“Yes, Scott. You lost. By a lot, actually.”

“I don’t understand… How could I lose?”

“Because you listened to them,” the Hatter said.

Scott sighed. He looked down at the table and saw the small clay desk figurine in the corner. 

It was broken.

There was a very large crack down the center of the mold.

“Do you like it better now?” Hatter asked.

“Hm?”

“The desk. Does it appeal to you more now? Are you satisfied with it?”

“I’ve never been satisfied with my desk, Hatter.”

“Oh, trust me, I know. I’m glad you broke it for me.

Scott’s eyes beamed. He broke it. How did he break it? Hatter reached back under the table and pulled something new out.

A baby monitor.

“How’s your brother, Scott?”

“I haven’t heard from him in months.”

“I know.”

“You know?”

“Yes.”

“How do you know?”

“Now, do you really think I can answer that?”

“Oh.”

Scott looked down at the baby monitor, then back at Hatter.

“This looks familiar.” Scott recognized it from somewhere.

“It should.”

The memories came flooding back; Scott as a child, neglecting his brother, ignoring his every call. He hated those memories. He wanted them gone, and Hatter was bringing them back.

“Touch it.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Scott, this is your second game. If you don’t touch it, you lose.”

Scott sighs and stays quiet for a moment before leaning forward and grasping the monitor.

***

“Your second game is simple; find a way to get to Michael, your brother.”

Scott heard Hatters voice in his head loud and clear, perking him up in the weirdest of ways. He was in his childhood room. The baby monitor rested next to him on the nightstand, his brother crying through. Scott was a nine-year-old again. 

This also meant that Scott had the mind of a nine-year-old.

He lifted the covers from his eyes and managed to get out of bed, shaking away the fear he felt inside of him.

His house was very quiet.

Sometimes silence can make a person go crazy.

As a kid, Scott was innocent; he never got into trouble, but he never did anything to help, either. He had many fears.

One of these fears was the dark.

He didn’t have a flashlight, so he’d have to brave the journey without a source of safety.

He crept over to his door, slowly opening it as best he could without causing any stir. He saw his hand shake as he turned the knob and cringed as a prolonged creaking sprouted from the wood. He didn’t open it all the way, trying to avoid the sound as much as possible.

He didn’t want to get the attention of whatever was in the darkness.

His house was old and soiled, never repaired. The previous owners left the house in shambles and his family never fixed it up. Money was short and this was all they could afford. Money had always been a problem in Scott’s family, especially after his mother had come down with cancer.

He missed his mom.

He wondered if she was still alive, seeing as how Scott was so young now. Maybe time had been turned back.

No, he couldn’t lose focus. He had to win.

With every step came a creak, and with every creak came another opportunity to awaken something scary. Whatever was in front of him couldn’t be seen. He could only reach out his hands in despair, trying his best to find the walls to his brothers room. 

He stopped when he felt something scaly. This was followed by something slimy.

Cold, gruesome breath chilled the back of his neck.

He jolted upwards, struggling to keep calm.

Beneath him, the floorboards broke. Arms were crawling their way up to him.

They were the dead, cold arms of the previous owners who died in the house.

Their screams echoed through the slivers of darkness below, bellowing shouts of death.

They never found the killer. Scott knew that well.

They were pulling him down, holding him in place, dragging him into the ground.

He heard shouting from his parents’ room. He felt an unease when he recognized the screaming to be that of his father.

The silence had been broken, and Scott’s sanity followed.

He screamed. 

His lungs lacked air, so he screamed for more.

He screamed and screamed and screamed.

***

“Is there some sort of problem?”

Scott’s breathing was still heavy, but he was once again in the dark room with Hatter.

He sighed. “Shut up. I need a minute.”

“We don’t have a minute, Scott. We’re running out of time.” 

Hatter’s eyes were darker, more malevolent and mischievous than before. Very serious.

“I’m sorry, but did you see what I just had to go through?”

“No. It was too dark.”

“What the hell happened back there?”

Hatter leaned close.

“You couldn’t save them, Scott. You never have.

Scott looked down at the table and wasn’t surprised to see the monitor in pieces in the other corner on the Hatter’s side.

“I’m sorry,” Scott said.

Hatter gave him a questionable look.

“Excuse me?”

“I said I’m sorry.”

“Why?”

“Because I lost.”

“Scott, I think you’re forgetting the point here.”

Scott looked at him with curiosity.

“Who’s game is this, Scott?” Hatter had hope in his eyes.

Scott looked down at his hands. They were bruised. Marked. Scarred. He could feel the sadness in his palms, the loss in his fingers, each digit representing a moment he wanted to take back, to fix for the better. He remembered and he spoke the answer.

“It’s my game, Hatter.”

“Good.”

Hatter reached under the table.

“Stop,” said Scott.

Hatter stopped.

Scott smiled.

“Stand up.”

Hatter followed.

“Sit back down.”

Hatter obeyed.

“This is my game. I’m gonna play it and I’m going to win. I control it.”

“Do you know what’s under the table, Scott?”

“Should I?”

“Well, it is your game and all, like you said. If it is your game, then you should know what’s under the table.”

“I think I do,” Scott said.

“Would you like me to start your last game, Scott?”

“Please do.”

Hatter reached under and pulled out a picture in a wooden frame.

The picture was of Scott’s mother.

Two broken memories; two thoughts that aren’t worthwhile. A cracked desk and a broken baby monitor, torn and shattered. Can Scott really break this one, too?

Can he save it?

Scott touched the picture.

***

His mother had developed a rare form of brain cancer; malignant in nature and omnipresent against medication. The only way out was surgery.

He remembered the conditions. How low the success rate was.

He didn’t care back then.

Now he did.

He was in her hospital room, her body laying restless and weary in the bed before him. Flowers rested by her head on the side table. He sat next to her, holding her hand.

He could already feel the tears in his eyes.

Whatever he was feeling right now wasn’t as important as saving his mom.

“Honey, I’m sorry.” Her voice startled him. He hadn’t realized how much he missed that voice.

His phone started ringing.

“Sorry, mom, hang on,” he said, fully aware of who would be on the other end. He swung open his phone and got up from his seat, walking over to the window in the room.

“Save your mom. There are no other rules. Do me proud, Scott. I want to see you win.”

“How do I save her?”

“That would be cheating, Scott. I can’t tell you.”

“Hatter, this is my mother. Her life is on the line.”

“So was your job and your brother. Did you save them?”

Scott didn’t respond.

“You’ll figure it out.”

“Okay.”

“Oh, and one more thing: nothing is stronger than what you feel. Use that to your advantage. Good luck, Scott.”

He hung up.

“Who was that?” His mother was always one to be interested in his social affairs.

“Just a friend.”

Scott sat back down and took her hand into his.

“Mom, can we play a game?”

“Well, it might be a bit hard for me, seeing as we’re in the hospital, but sure.”

“Oh no, not that type of game. This is a different game.”

“Oh.”

“Mom, do you think you’re gonna make it out?”

She had to stop and think about it, and that was all Scott needed.

“If you’re so sure that you aren’t going to make it, then what’s the point?”

“I guess there wouldn’t be one,” she said.

“Yeah, I thought that too. I figured that if death is inevitable, that nothing before it means anything, that whatever happens now doesn’t matter when we’re a rotting corpse buried in the ground.” He thought back to his workplace and his childhood home, and now the hospital. Would he lose his game here, too?

“That isn’t true,” his mother said.

“What?”

“It isn’t true, what you said.” She coughed. “What you do during life doesn’t only affect you but others, and even future generations to come. Scotty, do you still think it’s hopeless?”

“I said that I did. I don’t now,” he said.

“Good. I’m glad.” He could feel her grip weaken.

He stood up and tucked in the blanket around her. He also repositioned the pillow so her head was comfortable resting there.

“So, the game,” he said, sitting back down.

“Oh, yes.”

“Have you ever heard the story of Alice in Wonderland?”

“Of course, who hasn’t?”

“Then you know who the Hatter is.”

She nodded.

“Would you like to meet him?”

“He seems like quite the character, so I guess so, dear.”

“Then you need to live.”

He leaned in closer and reached into his pocket.

He pulled out a folded picture. A picture of his mother.

He gave it to her.

“Take this with you. Never let go. I want to see you come out of that operating room and I want you to finish your game of life. You aren’t done yet, mom.”

She held the photo to her heart and closed her eyes. He could see tears in her eyes.

“You ready, miss?” They were here to take her away.

Scott had to hurry.

He gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead, hugged her close, and whispered into her ear.

“Keep me with you. Don’t give up.”

He stood back as his mother was wheeled out of the room. She smiled on her way out. 

Scott didn’t know if he had won or lost.

It wasn’t his game anymore.

***

The morning sun came through the opening of the broadened window, displaying the thousands of dust particles in the air around Scott’s bed. He woke in a daze.

“Hatter?” 

No response.

He got up and changed into something more suitable for going about the day before heading down to the kitchen.

On the countertop was a big black hat. He knew who owned it.

Next to the hat was a small clay desk figurine and a baby monitor, both in perfectly good condition.

He picked up the hat, expecting something to happen, to find himself back in the dark room.

Nothing happened. 

Beneath the hat was a sealed envelope. He hurriedly tore open the top and pulled out a letter.

“Scott,

I’m sorry I had to leave like that. I couldn’t help you, no matter how much I wanted to. You’ve got a brave spirit. I’m happy to have met you! 

It’s quite the shock that you managed to succeed in such a smooth manner. Usually, when people lose at first, they never come back from it. I don’t know how you managed. Oh, and yes, your mother is alive. After you’re done reading this, I suggest you go and check the answering machine on your home phone. There’s a voicemail from her waiting for you.

Things might seem different, a little strange at first, but I think you’ll enjoy your new game. It’s a bit different from the ones we’ve played, so it’ll take some getting used to. I’m sure you’ll be fine, considering how your mother’s already playing it with you.

I hope you know why we had to play. I really hope you’ve learned something from it all.

Actually, no, I know you did.

Congratulations, Scott.

You’ve won.

We’ll meet again, my friend.

-H”


© Copyright 2019 Hanorbi. All rights reserved.

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