The Game Of Lives

By George Nikolopoulos

sfgenreAlex Miles perched on the ledge of a top floor window of the building that housed his company's offices. Ηis wife Cathleen hung out of the nearest window. Alex’s lawyer and a tired-looking police psychologist stood beside her.

The view from the top floor was spectacular. With a glance, Alex could see the expanse of the Silver City sprawled below, as far as the harbour. Seagulls cawed in the distance, and he caught a whiff of the sea, salty and refreshing. He once admired the view from his building, a pinnacle of glass and steel rising above the inner city, illustrating his own rise from his humble origins. Tonight, he was indifferent to it all.

"Please, Alex, don't jump," said Cathleen, who seemed close to hysterics. "The other night, when you saw me with Karl, I was just holding his hand to comfort him because his girlfriend had..."

Alex cut her off. "I don't give a damn about that," he said. "I don't give a damn 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, 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 your... extraordinary hypothesis is 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 of evidence. Since I realised 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."

"Alex, please don't leave me..."

"Cathleen, I've got nothing else to say to you. I'd ask you to remember me, but it’s highly improbable that you will be able to. I will remember you; well, at least for a while."

Alex jumped.

***

As Ambrose stood by the counter at Big Rupert’s Joint, patiently waiting for Dane to finish 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. People go crazy. 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 want to know why I flipped out? I realised 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 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 every glitch of the cabin. It's not like you're insured or something." He reached into 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 lethal situation. "Hey, bro," he shouted. "Wanna play doubles? Wild West, okay?"

"Right on, Ambry. But I'm older brother, okay?"

"Twins," said Ambrose.

"Nah, I'm better than you and that makes me the older brother."

"Twins."

They entered the doubles' cabin, still arguing.

***

Mr. Kumacher looked at Big Rupert with righteous 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 bruised knees and bloody elbows. Those were games. These kids are old before their times. They're sitting in a damn machine living other peoples' lives instead of their own."

"Well that's fine with me, so long as they pay."

"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 world where humans were intelligent and, goodness gracious, had even developed a civilisation, every stupid kid went crazy and now they all go around playing humans. Ridiculous! Imagine a civilisation 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."

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About The Author

George Nikolopoulos

George Nikolopoulos is a speculative fiction writer from Athens, Greece, and a member of Codex Writers' Group. His short stories have been published in Galaxy's Edge, Grievous Angel, Helios Quarterly, Unsung Stories, "Best Vegan SFF 2016" Anthology, Bards & Sages Quarterly, SF Comet, Mad Scientist Journal, Truancy, Digital QuickFic, 9Tales from Elsewhere, StarShipSofa, Antipodean SF, Manawaker Studio's FFP, Fifty Flashes, Event Horizon 2017, and many other magazines and anthologies.

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In The Next Issue...

Coming In Issue 231

A Game Of Strategy
by J.M. Williams

A Human's Life
by George Nikolopoulos

Apha-Sidhe Space Opera
by Russell W. B. Kirkby

Brew
by Katrina Pekin

Deadline
by Kevin J. Phyland

Disposal
by David Scholes

Manny's Best Friend
by Dianna Zaragoza

The Blood Parrot
by PS Cottier

The Journey
by Wendy Stackhouse

Wolfmother
by Eugen M. Bacon

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