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The Twisted Game of Life

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Trapped in an artificial world and made into characters for a twisted TV show the hostages are desperate to escape. After two years they are offered their first chance to leave, they just need to die.

Scifi / Horror
Age Rating:

Sale on Rope

The game of Life

“Honey, I’m not sure if this is the color we chose, the tan is too brown,” Matt called from his place on the ladder, his paint brush still in hand. He could hear the noise of cooking in the kitchen and felt very much at home. It was quite domestic, painting the walls because his girlfriend wanted it to be done by their hands even if it didn’t turn out right and listening to her bustling around the kitchen trying to learn how to cook in their new home.

“Sweetheart, tan is brown,” a voice replied, normally he would have laughed, but instead he froze when it reached his ears. It wasn’t right, he didn’t quite recognize the voice and when he didn’t respond the speaker walked into the room. “Matt is something wrong?” He turned to her and found she was distorted, he could almost see her, but everything was slightly off. When he looked around he realized it was the same for the room. Everything seemed both familiar and foreign at that moment, but before he could comment everything disappeared.

He woke up slick with sweat and tangled in his sheets. He wasn’t sure if that was a dream of his past life or a nightmare showing him what he had lost and was slowly forgetting. Being trapped in this mockery of a world for over two years it made sense that he would begin to forget things, but it still troubled him. Becoming a hostage and star of a show had long since become his reality, but at times it still shook him up. Hey was lying in bed, while his real body was hooked up to some machine. His current surroundings came into his vision and the first thing he took note of was that the walls were the perfect shade of tan. He blinked away the remainder of his sleep, but still let himself lay in bed uninterested in moving. Somehow sleeping had tired him out and although he was fully awake his dream kept playing in his mind. Matt didn’t want those thoughts to consume him so he forced himself out of bed immediately shivering when his feet made contact with the hardwood flooring. He’d been planning to replace it with carpet for the longest time, but never actually did it.

He quickly showered threw on some clothes and decided to take a walk to clear his mind. The first thing that hit him when he walked out was the artificial sun, which helped warm his artificial body. He blinked his eyes a few times adjusting to the light, he cursed his blue eyes knowing the lack of melanin was to blame for his momentary blindness. The weather setting was beautiful, the shining sun and warm air were comfortable enough for him to go with just a black long sleeve shirt and jeans. A slight breeze twisted around him playfully, promising a good day. There was something in the air that gave him the impression that something life changing was on the horizon, but he had a tendency to be dramatic it might just be a normal day.

After passing a few houses, all which were disturbingly similar, the noise of yelling caught his attention. When he stepped in front of one of the house of one of his neighbors their door was flung open and a child came barreling out straight at him. Matt scooped the boy into his arms stopping his charge. “Hey little man, why are you running around?” He asked the little boy squirming in his arms.

The three year old looked up at him and breathlessly said, “I broked a vase, you gotta hide me from mommy.” If it was anyone else Matt would have forced them to face the music, but the three year old shooting him puppy dog eyes with his baby blues always got his way.

“Ok, I’ll hide you and it’s broke not broked,” he corrected the child while already moving towards the bushes on the side of the white house. He crouched down in the bushes still toting the toddler. “If we get in trouble I’m blaming you,” he whispered to the boy who shook his head. “Samuel, where are you?” the child’s mother asked looking back and forth as she walked out of the front door. Samuel used his small hands to try and stifle the laughter bursting from his mouth. Apparently he found hiding in this bushes from his mother funny. Despite Matt’s attempts to shush him, the little boy’s giggling gave away their position.

“Here you are, you shouldn’t hide from me and Matt you shouldn’t be helping him” his mother appeared in front of them tapping her foot. Trying admonish them while fighting down a smile at the sight, a grown man hiding in a bush holding a three year in his arms. She looked quite similar to her son they shared blond hair, his was short while hers was in a simple pony tail. They had fair features which she arranged into a stern look, but her blue eyes were still swimming with mirth ruining the image of her being serious.

“This is all your fault for laughing,” Matt whispered to Samuel as he straightened up and placed the boy on the grass.

“I’m sorry,” Samuel apologized his gaze firmly locked on the ground trying to hide the grin he still had from hiding. Neither of the adults knew which of them he was apologizing to, his mother for hiding or to Matt for getting them caught.

“I apologize as well Jane, but you know I’ve never been good at telling him no. He wanted to hide so what else was I supposed to do?” Matt looked at Jane imploringly as if giving in to the three year old should have been expected.

“You could have given him to me,” Jane shot back easily, but she too was aware of her son’s manipulative skills and Matt’s lack of willpower when it came to Samuel.

“Fair enough. Is Richard around?” Matt asked hoping to talk to the man who had become his best friend. Originally walking was supposed to clear his mind, but spending time with his friends would probably do a better job at chasing his problems away

“Sure, he’s inside come on in he’ll be glad you stopped by and of course Samuel is happy to see you. Considering you’re his and I quote, “most favorite person”. Jane smiled down at her son who grinned.

“Trust me, you and Rich come before me, family before friends,” the words hurt him a bit to say considering he was alone, but he felt it was true family did come first.

Matt followed Jane and Samuel, whose hand she was currently holding, into the house. After crossing the threshold he looked across the room and found his friend sitting in an armchair reading a book. “Hey, Rich,” he greeted the other man. Richard looked up and smiled, but quickly took on a more serious look after looking Matt over. He assumed Rich already realized something was bothering him.

“Alright, what’s up?” Richard wasn’t one to talk around a subject, he was straightforward and open which Matt liked about him.

“I had a dream,” Matt stated simply. He was certain that on a normal day Rich would have made a joke, but apparently Rich managed to read the situation and calmly waited for Matt to continue. “It was about my life before this, more and more I’m realizing I can’t remember the people I loved,” Matt paused realizing his mistake. He quickly corrected himself, “I mean the people I love, I do still love them, but I just can’t remember everything clearly.” It felt wrong to speak about his loved ones in the past tense; they were very much alive arguably more so that he was.

Richard sat in uncharacteristic silence listening to Matt recount his dream. Once he was finished Rich closed his eyes and took a minute to think. Once he came to a silent conclusion he opened his warm brown eyes and consoled him, “You shouldn’t worry so much that you’re forgetting the small things. It’s been over two years the fact that you can’t remember a face perfectly is natural.”

“I know that, I understand it’s normal, but somehow I still feel guilty,” Matt frowned not able to shake off the feeling that the difficulty to remember was his own fault and not an effect of the passage of time. Somehow he should have been able to shake off the mental atrophy brought on by his old life slowly getting farther away.

“Look,” Richard sighed, “I was able to come here with my wife and child, most people weren’t that lucky. However other parts of my life I’m forgetting, I can’t remember the faces of my parents, but I know I love them. I still have memories of my mother and father, it’s the same thing when someone dies. My grandmother died when I was a young child, and eventually I couldn’t remember exactly what she looked like, but I still remember things about her. You need to accept these things and know you’re not a bad person.”

Although it wasn’t profound and Matt already knew it, somehow hearing it from someone else’s mouth made him feel better. He turned and smiled at his friend, “You’re thirty-one, not even ten years older than me, so tell me how did you become so mature?”

“It comes with being a parent,” he smiled as Samuel stormed into the room recklessly and jumped into his father’s lap. With a small oomph Richard wrapped an arm around his son bringing him close. Richard’s sense of maturity and heart were wrapped up in the tiny body of a child. Matt figured his sense of maturity came from suffering and because others dealt with worse, he was less mature. In some weird way it made sense to him, if he found something to love or was hurt badly enough he might grow, but he wasn’t hunting for maturity.

A loud beeping stopped him from responding further “I’m sorry I’ve got a message unless it’s important I’ll come back right after,” Matt said before out the door. Once he was alone he said to the air, “Message play.” Rarely were messages important, but privacy was always the norm. Of course in a world where every move he made was monitored privacy was nonexistent.

“Message from: Mother and Father,” a mechanical voice informed him without intonation or emotion. With a simple mention of Mother and Father he stopped breathing and without saying goodbye he went home forcing himself not to literally run. He was too consumed by the dread of what the message could be about to think about being rude.

He thought he had gotten over his fear of them, but hearing their names still had his heart skipping beats. Only moments after he made it into his home the message started. “There will be a gathering in the Center at 12:00 p.m. all work will be put on hold for the event, don’t be late,” Mother’s voice was light and sickly sweet. Father’s deep voice added, “We’ll be introducing a new game.” Just the thought of another one of their ‘games’ made him shiver and this time it had nothing to do with the flooring, no this time it was born from an overwhelming sense of anxiety.

Matt paced trying to reason with himself that it wasn’t necessarily going to be terrible and the game might be completely safe. Unfortunately he couldn’t make himself believe that, he could still see the spray of blood from the last game. It still soaked his clothes, he could still smell the rotting bodies that nobody could force themselves to touch, and the reverberating screams still rang in his ears if he allowed himself to remember. He desperately shook the thoughts out of his head and mechanically went through the process of getting ready to leave the house with enough time to walk to The Center. He walked into his bathroom and stared at his reflection, his light skin was a few shades paler than he would have liked and he looked frightened. Matt quickly schooled his features into a comfortably neutral mask, he wouldn’t allow anyone to have the satisfaction of seeing any weakness. He didn’t want the people watching him to see that Mother and Father still held him in their grasp to such an extent. Once he deemed himself acceptable he made his way to the door prepared to face the day of reckoning.

As he reached for the doorknob he could feel how cold his hands were, it was something that happened every time he felt anxious or afraid. He pulled his sleeves down to cover his cold hands, a habit he developed as a child and still hadn’t broken. To hide the childish habit he tucked his hands into his pockets. He stepped out into the same beautiful weather as before, but it didn’t seem nearly as pleasant. He shouldn’t have relied on a sun that didn’t actually exist to get his hopes of a good day up. He figured it would be better if it was raining, it would suit the mood.

The procession of a single man walking to what may very well be his death would surely have his fans on the edges of their seats; he honestly hated the fact that he was popular among viewers despite it being considered an honor by Mother and Father. His musings carried him the rest of the way to The Center and he stepped into the already formed crowd. Matt had purposefully made it at the last minute, not wanting to listen to the worried discussions of his fellow hostages. He was nervous enough as it was he didn’t want to hear other people’s problems.

“Hello everyone,” Mother’s cheerful voice echoed instantly silencing the crowd. Matt looked up at a floating screen which had changed into the insignia of Mother and Father, a simple capital ‘M’ and ‘F’ in gothic font. Nobody had seen their faces, which Matt thought might have been another message that they were gods and nobody had the right to look upon them. He didn’t particularly care about seeing them, he was more focused on the game they were so excited about.

“Now, we told you we had another game for you and of course we always follow through on our promises,” Father’s normally calm voice held some amount of pleasure. “You don’t need to look so apprehensive you needn’t worry we won’t hurt anyone,” his calming voice did very little to relax the crowd.

“He’s not lying everyone, this game is going to be done by you, we’re only going to be involved in the end,” Mother agreed with Father still not chasing away the almost palpable anxiety in the air.

“So what’s the game?” A male voice which Matt didn’t recognize called out over the hushed crowd. Personally Matt would have wanted to put off finding out for as long as possible, but a few seconds difference wouldn’t have mattered.

“I’m glad you asked,” the excitement was back in Father’s voice. Which by now everyone knew wasn’t a good thing. The last time he sounded nearly as excited was almost two years ago when he announced the first of the many games they would be forced to play. He remembered the lottery, which turned into a torture session. Matt had a few scars, mainly physical, remaining because he was wasn’t very lucky, but compared to his amputated neighbor and the woman who had her mouth sewn shut, he may have well as won.

At the same time Father and Mother called out, “Welcome to The Suicide Game.” Their voices rang out across the town square. For a moment there was a pregnant pause and the entire crowd stood frozen. Then out of the previously clear sky rain started falling and all hell broke loose. Screaming, crying, yelling, hysterical laughter, and noises Matt didn’t care to define starting to mix together forming a soundtrack of human desperation. Matt felt sick and was almost trampled by the crowd as he stood frozen and silent. Somehow the ambiance the rain brought wasn’t as satisfying as he thought it might be, he was busy fighting to keep himself from hyperventilating. A tremor went through his body and if anyone were to ask he would blame it on gray drizzle slowly drenching him, but that was nowhere near the truth.

Matt didn’t make any noise and emotion barely flickered across his features. His fear was hidden under his clothes, his skin was clammy, sweat was trickling down his spine, his entire body was tensed and cold, and his hands were still freezing. He didn’t bother to try and walk away on his shaky legs, he wasn’t completely sure he would even make it home. The screams and crying continued for a few more minutes before Mother and Father put a stop to it. He almost didn’t realize it ended because the sound of his heartbeat pounding in his ears drowned it out. Matt belatedly realized they let it go on so long because he was sure the panic made for good T.V. “Now don’t you want to hear the rules?” Father asked his voice rising above the crowd with a boom of thunder accompanying it.

Everyone knew well enough not to go against the wishes of Mother or Father so silence starting to descend again broken only by a few barely restrained sobs and the deceptively gentle noise of rain. “There is a way to go back home, and wake up if you listen,” Mother revealed. With that the silence almost seemed to deepen and thousands of people held their breaths, possibly millions if the people in the real world were as shocked as the unwilling cast members. Matt was more than slightly skeptical, a chance to escape the show and return back home had never been offered before. “It’s actually quite simple, if you kill yourself then there is a chance your body will be woken up. Of course we also might turn off the support keeping you alive and you’ll die in both worlds. It’s a tossup and a risk, but it’s a pretty good reward,” Mother gave what was probably a highly abridged version of the rules to the sick game.

“What are the chances that death will set us free without actually dying?” One brave person asked from the back of the gathering. That seemed to wake everyone up because suddenly there was a chorus of questions from a curious crowd. Most of which were easily ignored by Mother and Father.

“Now that’s part of the game, you don’t know. Isn’t that fun?” Mother responded to the first question and if she had expected a positive response she was disappointed, the silence returned and was almost painful. “Now don’t worry, if you don’t want to you don’t need to kill yourself. It’s completely up to you, I mean who cares about seeing their loves ones again after all this time? Why bother going home? It’s not like you want to get back to your lives and leave this world, but you have all week so take your time,” Mother finished and the symbols faded from the sky.

It took a few moments before anyone moved, but it seemed all at once the crowd sprang into action. People hunted down their friends trying to see what others were going to do, to help them decide. Matt would have assumed most people weren’t going to take the risk, but just looking at the dull defeated eyes of the unfortunate participants in this mockery of reality made him pause. He looked around and the fear he expected was there the fear of death, of loss, of failure, but hope still glimmered in the eyes of people with nothing to lose. It was a dangerous hope, but it was certainly present. As for his own hope, it had died long ago and his feeling of self-preservation overpowered what little remained.

Just to shake everyone up just a bit more Mother’s voice was amplified one last time over the moving crowd, “There’s a sale on rope, good luck.”

Matt shook his head as if to dislodge any thoughts he had of ending himself. He told himself he wasn’t taking the risk and that it wasn’t worth it, but even in his head the words rang hollow. The rain fell on his neck as he trudged home, trepidation weighing him down. No birds sang, only the moaning of the wind reached his ears the scene was poetic, cliché, and utterly sad. He knew he probably looked pretty pathetic with his soaked black hair flopping over his usually bright blue eyes and his light clothing clinging to his lithe form. He wasn’t even sure if his lanky unchanging body was still considered twenty three or if he was actually twenty five now. The stasis that they were in was keeping them alive and their bodies in this world were kept the same as when they first entered. He felt numb inside and out, the disgust, anger, and fear had all but bled out of him. His footsteps were slow and his eyes were unfocused, he moved like a zombie simply going through the motions

He made it home after an immeasurable amount of time and sank to the ground ignoring that he was dripping on the floor of his hallway. Matt was still trying to come to terms with what he was being forced to deal with. “Bot, order carpet. I don’t care what type just buy it,” he spoke aloud ordering from the automated store. Ordering the carpet he had wanted after everything that just happened ordering carpet seemed disturbingly normal.

“Is one thousand credits acceptable?” The same voice from the morning spoke tonelessly.

“Fine,” he responded and instantly the flooring beneath his body transformed into perfectly white carpet. He sat in wet clothes on his new carpet which was slowing becoming saturated with water and stared blankly at the wall. He wanted to ask how many people would be dead this time next week, how many would escape, and how many would avoid the temptation. Even more importantly he wanted to know where he would be on that scale. Who the hell was going to tell him that?

He couldn’t remember what he did after he arrived home all he knew was that the next morning he was lying in bed and had absolutely no will to move. It wasn’t that he was sluggish or tired, he was just too broken and defeated to face the day. Of course being alone to wallow in misery was too much to ask for and he was interrupted from doing nothing by a call. “Bot answer,” he said without opening his eyes.

“Hello Matt,” it was Mother’s voice that he heard and he refused to open his eyes as if that would somehow keep her away. Unconsciously he felt himself drawing the covers around himself like a child trying to protect himself. “Mother,” was his greeting, he couldn’t afford to be flat out rude, they did rule the world after all.

“I’m see you’re worried about the game we set up, a surprising number of people are. So don’t feel bad,” her voice was the only sound in the room aside from his breathing, which he was managing to keep under control. She continued before he could speak, “To make you feel better I wanted to show you how some of the people you know are dealing with this.”

“What?” Matt’s voice was hoarse as he imagined the implications of what she could mean.

“I have some videos I can show you,” he could almost feel a sadistic smile through the screen he was looking at, his eyes having flown open when she mentioned having videos.

“No, no I don’t- I don’t want to see anything,” Matt’s voice rose in volume as his fear made itself very apparent. Forget being strong and not showing fear, he didn’t want to know what she was planning on forcing him to watch.

“It’s fine, don’t worry,” with those words the screen with Mother’s ‘face’ transformed showing a alarming scene. He saw the woman who liked to garden hanging from her ceiling swinging like a pendulum. Only a few days ago she was planting roses and he made a silly joke about violets. She laughed and covered her mouth with dirty gloves, she was full of life, and now due to a game she was dead. Someone so bright in life was hanging limply with a rope around her neck, in some distant part of his mind he wondered if she got it on sale. He couldn’t look away as much as he wanted to he couldn’t take his eyes off the screen as the scene changed.

The man who loved to jog in order to get his heart pumping was sitting against his bathroom wall dying. His heart was pumping blood out through the slit in his throat from a bloodied knife that slowly slipped from the man’s fingers. Even through the screen Matt could see the hope dying in his dull eyes as he appears to realize he truly is dying. Matt knew the man wouldn’t be jogging past his home again, but somehow it didn’t feel possible that he could just suddenly die.

The man who Matt thought had to have been a scholar had a gun to his head hesitating to pull the trigger of a gun, which he shouldn’t have been able to get, guns weren't supposed to be allowed. The man was always eloquent and intelligent, but he dressed like a high-class hobo. Matt loved running into him at the shopping center and he always seemed to have a good head on his shoulders. Matt almost yelled at him to stop as he pulled the trigger and a bullet went through that good head of his.

Matt jumped out of bed and ran into his bathroom, in that moment seeing the effects Mother and Father had on people made him hate them more than ever. His mask had long since cracked and the nausea worked itself up to the point where he was throwing up in his toilet. He stared at his reflection which was distorted by the combination of water, whatever had been in his stomach, and a few extra drops of saltwater than snuck out his eyes without his consent. When he no longer felt like he was going to be ill, he stood and flushed away the remains of his composure. His voice was raspy when he said to an empty room, “You’re sick.”

Despite the fact that the screen disappeared he knew Mother was listening and was proved right when she responded, “That’s a horrible thing to say, I was just giving you an update on a few of your neighbors.” The only response Matt had was about how Mother and Father disgusted them, but he knew it would be useless to actually say. Mother decided to add cheerfully, “Think about it like this, at the end of the week this will all be over. Possibly sooner if you follow their example.”

“Is that some kind of prod towards me committing suicide?” Matt felt ill again realizing how talking about something so taboo was becoming far too easy and at the same time impossible. He had just been forced to watch snuff films of his neighbors offing themselves and now he was talking about his own life or rather death.

“Of course not, we care for you like everyone else. Actually your probably one of our favorites,” Father’s voice sounded from somewhere behind him meaning he was watching as well. Matt didn’t bother to try and look in the direction of the voice at best it would just be a floating screen at worst it’d be empty air. For a few minutes it was completely silent, but Matt hadn’t moved. Once he did the screens of both Mother and Father had disappeared, this time he was reasonably sure they had actually left. They were probably busy torturing some other people, who he hoped he didn’t know.

With that thought in his mind he specifically hoped Mother and Father hadn’t gotten to Rich and Jane. To check on them he decided to pay them another visit, moving far more quickly than usual. When he stepped out the door again, the rain was gone and the sun was shining again. He wondered if Mother and Father chose the weather ironically, the cheerful chirping of birds playing and the perfumed flowers painted a beautiful picture for the viewers. He hated it, now the sun just seemed to be smirking down at him.

Matt made the same trip past his neighbors houses, it was silent almost creepy in how peaceful the day was. Behind closed doors anything could have happened and he really didn’t want to know. With only the slightest hesitation he knocked on the door and only waited a few moments before it opened. Jane’s pale face and tear streaked face told him more than any words could. She didn’t tell him to come in, but he followed her into the house and closed the door behind him.

The pervasive silence from outside seemed just as thick in the house and even the pitter patter of Samuel’s feet didn’t reach his ears. His friend sat in his favorite chair like usual, but the familiar scene was distorted the dark look on his face didn’t belong. “We’re thinking of doing it,” Richard spoke before Matt could say anything.

“What do you mean?” Matt asked hoping that by asking he’d somehow get something other than the answer he was anticipating.

“We’re planning on leaving,” he replied carefully phrasing it.

“Leaving? Call it what it is, you’re going to kill yourself,” Matt couldn’t help, but sound harsh. Beyond the fact that they were friends, Matt couldn’t believe he was willing to sacrifice his family. Rich had a family the one thing Matt craved and he couldn’t fathom how Rich was willing to put them at risk. “You have a family, are you even thinking about them?”

Anger broke out in Rich and his voice rose as he spoke, “Of course I’m thinking about them! Samuel barely remembers the real world and I don’t want him to lose any semblance of reality. Jane doesn’t want to live here either and I don’t know how much I can take this. This chance was offered to us, how can I let it slip by?”

“So they dangle a carrot in front of you and you’re willing to follow that off the edge of a cliff. If it was a sure thing I would let you do what you want, but you could all die with no gain,” Matt looked at him waiting for Rich to try and rationalize how it was still a good idea.

“Maybe that would be best,” Rich’s voice was soft and bitter. It finally struck Matt that Richard might have been wearing a mask far greater than his own.

“There really isn’t thing I can say, is there?” He asked not expecting an answer. “I’m going to leave while we’re still friends, I hope you make the right decision,” Matt turned away pretending he had any clue of what the right choice was.

“Goodbye Matt,” Rich said with a tone of finality that Matt wanted to ignore.

“What’s wrong, why were you and daddy yelling?” Samuel intercepted Matt right before he walked out the door.

I think that’s a question you should ask your dad,” Matt patted the boy on his head as he stepped out the door lightly closing it behind him. The idea that they may no longer be around him to visit seemed impossible, but so did everything else that was happening.

“Matt,” he looked up as a voice called to him. Jane stood a few feet from him on their lawn.

“Hello Jane,” he spoke lightly not sure how to approach a conversation with her. He wasn’t sure where she was sitting on the spectrum of wanting to ‘escape’ at all costs.

“Richard wants to visit the cliff at the border of town, tomorrow at sunset,” she told him before disappearing into the house. Matt wasn’t exactly sure why she was letting him know. I might have been her way of asking for help, but it didn’t matter because he did know that come sunset he would be at the cliffs.

Matt spent the rest of the day and most of the next locked in an internal debate about what he should do. Suicide seemed like it would be the wrong choice, but most people seemed willing to take the risk. Beyond that with everyone else gone he’d be alone here and would have to face this place knowing he might have been able to leave. The other question was if he really minded dying, he couldn’t see a real future here and he was forgetting his past so he had to ask himself what was keeping him going.

He let his thinking run with him too far and lost track of time. Matt ran outside berating himself for not just going up and waiting at the cliff. He was terrified that he wasn’t going to make it, “Bot order a car. I don’t care about the price just make it fast.”

Bot’s monotone voice started to speak, “Is-

“Yes, the price is acceptable,” Matt replied knowing what he was going to ask. He ran to the black car the materialized he wasn’t particularly worried about the price. He hadn’t driven in over a year and a half, but the streets we clear so he decided speeding wouldn’t kill him. Tires screeched as he made sharp dangerous turns trying to get there as fast as possible, waiting at his house had been a stupid idea. He pulled up as the family was standing by the edge of the cliff talking, perhaps arguing.

“Stop,” Matt yelled and Richard paused out of surprise rather than out of care for what Matt said.

“Matthew, what are you doing here?” He asked his eyes no longer held the warmth Matt always associated with him, instead they made him look like he lost his sanity.

“Jane told me you’d be here,” he replied truthfully glancing at Jane to see her reaction. She was busy trying to calm her husband down and pull her hand out of what looked like a tight grip.

“You can’t stop us, we’re leaving. It’s done, it’s been decided,” Richard turned away to look at the cliff and the sunset sitting on the horizon.

Matt didn’t particularly care what Richard was saying, even if he lost his mind Jane clearly didn’t want it and poor Samuel just looked confused and upset. “Get Samuel,” Jane yelled at Matt who started sprinting.

Richard realizing his intention turned and tried to pull his family off the cliff, one hand holding Samuel the other holding Jane. Matt wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but he managed to cross the twenty feet separating them in a record time and wrap his arm around Samuel just as he fell. He pulled Samuel up and for just a moment his eyes locked with Richard’s and he saw utter betrayal and hatred. Jane on the other hand called out a thank you that was almost swallowed by the wind. In the span of a few seconds his friends had fallen and he had no idea if they made it out or not, if he was wrong and they came back to life he would be at fault for ‘saving’ Samuel.

“Congratulations,” Mother’s voice called out, “Richard is alive and well.” Matthew could only imagine Richard waking up. The pod opening allowing him to take his first breath of truly fresh air in years, but he'd be doing so without his son thanks to Matthew.

Matt felt a sense of guilt rise through him over the fact that he separated a family that would have been better off falling, but he noticed the lack of mention of Jane. “What about Jane?”

“Since Richard pulled her off the cliff we’re counting it as murder, so he killed his wife,” Mother voice had a sense of nonchalance that didn’t belong in the setting.

“To keep it simple, Richard killed his wife and would have killed his child if he wasn’t betrayed by his best friend. So you now have a veritable orphan in your arms, congrats it’s a boy,” Father chimed in.

“What happened?” Samuel looked up at Matt who was at a loss for what to tell the child. How was he supposed to tell him his mother was dead and his father was alive, but in another world. He didn't bother to dignify Mother or Father with another response, it wouldn't get him anywhere.

Matt sat down near the edge of the cliff and looked out at the sunset allowing himself to be honest and tell Samuel the truth, he tried to keep it kid friendly, but it was hard to make the death of his parents kid friendly. He allowed Samuel to cry until far after the sun had set and darkness had descended. “I don’t want to be alone,” Samuel said against his shirt sounding like he was about to slip into another bout of crying.

“You won’t you can stay with me,” Matt told him, but posed it as a question hoping Samuel would be fine with the arrangement. He was a poor choice to fill the role of Samuel's parents, but he couldn't leave him alone now.

Samuel sniffled and said lightly, “Alright, I’ll stay with you.” He looked up and stared directly into Matt’s eyes, “Are they really gone?”

“I’m sorry,” Matt apologized feeling slightly responsible that he could stop his friend and save him from his own insanity. Matt pointed into the sky, “But, look up in the sky do you see the stars?”

“Yeah,” Samuel looked into the sky his face still a mess from crying.

“Your mom is up there watching over you now, so she’ll always be there,” he tried to reassure the child using something he was sure was in some book or movie not really knowing what to say. Of course he didn’t tell Samuel that the stars weren’t real and even among the stars in the real sky many had already died, the light they saw was just their dying breaths. “Let’s go home,” Matt stood and offered a hand which Samuel took allowing himself to be pulled to his feet.

“Your hand is really cold,” Samuel looked up at him as they started walking.

“Sorry,” Matt opened his hand giving Samuel the option of letting to, but he held tighter. Matt realized Samuel’s reality had just changed and he needed something real to hold, even if it was just the cold hand of someone who was terrified of what was coming next. He was scared of many things, how he was going to take care of Samuel, what would come next, and how long would it take for him to forget Rich and Jane.

“So three year olds make messes I have a white carpet do you think I should get something darker?” Samuel didn’t respond he just shot Matt a confused look as Matt made a sloppy attempt at changing the topic. “Ok so what kind of carpet do you have?”

“I think we have wood,” Samuel looked back up at Matt who realized he was right. As they walked to his car he tried to think about the hardwood he would have to buy to replace his new carpeting instead of all the other things going on.

He helped Samuel into the backseat after ordering a booster seat from Bot. Before he got into the front seat of the car he leaned against the hood and looked at the sky.

He was done caring about what other people were going to do or think, it was past that point for him. “Fuck every sick person at home watching this and getting perverse pleasure from what just happened,” he called out hoping they were listening. He jumped into the car and began the drive home much slower than the drive to the cliff allowing the fake stars to watch over them.

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Further Recommendations

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Connie: I really like how you made it easy to get to know the characters. Even how silly Len is has become end. This is a feel good story so far and I hope it continues.

Ebony: I'm truly enjoying the book. It's very refreshing and direct and I love the directness. Most novels are very indirect. This leaves no room for guessing it's exactly what it says it is

kisses007: Absolutely stifling in its descriptions that leave you deliciously frustrated and both throughly teased and curious

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