June 2022 Flash Challenge, Day 1

Photo by Florian Olivo on Unsplash

I glance again at the poster on the front wall. It hangs above the third of five large-screen monitors. Each gamer has a second screen that mirrors what is on their monitor. I swivel behind me and see three cameras sitting at the back of the room. If it weren’t for the colorful poster and big-screen TVs, I could almost think I was in a military bunker, controlling drones over some place in Iraq.

The game administrator, Albert, sidles up to me. One more form to sign. There’s something I’m missing, some inner voice tells me. I don’t remember ever signing as many releases as this tournament has required. But then my eye returns to the poster.


As live-action gaming prizes go, this is the biggest by far.

Weirdly, there are no spectators here. The organizers of these things continue to find new ways to prevent cheating. Removing all spectators is probably smart.

I’m at the end of the row. I’m not sure why I even entered this thing. The three guys, and one girl sitting at stations 1-4 on my left, are big names in the gaming community. I’ve only placed in one gaming tournament. Two years ago I came in third at the Las Vegas COD Blowout Extravaganza. To say I’m the underdog here is an understatement.

The administrator holds the clipboard for me while I initial some clauses I’d missed earlier.

“Perfect. And just here,” Albert says, flipping back a few pages in the thick registration form.

“That’s some document, Albert.”

It is a thick sheaf of papers. My inner alarm is going off again.

“Does anyone actually read these things?”

Albert mutters something incomprehensible as I initial where he points.

“Maybe I should read it,” I joke, knowing I won’t. It would take tedious hours. “Just in case I’m signing away my firstborn child or a kidney, huh?

Albert looks at me oddly for a second, then laughs.

I reread the poster. It’s odd there is no runner-up or second prize offered in this tournament, but there are only five people in it.

Albert returns with my Heineken. Yeah, I know beer isn’t going to help my play, but this is a lark for me. And I requested a beer to be delivered once an hour to my station.

I lean forward and see that I’m the only player who has requested alcohol. I see three bottles of Dasani water and one Topo Chico with a wedge of lemon in front of the other players.

I expected the big names to be here, but when I saw them, my heart sank. The entry fee had only been $250, but I’ve still got to put some rent together before next Thursday.

“Say, Albert, I thought they said this wasn’t going to be televised,” I say, nodding my head towards the three cameras facing the front wall.

“Oh, those? They aren’t broadcast to any TV station. Those are here at the request of the competition’s sponsor,” Albert says, raising his eyebrows.

“And who might that be?” I say, knowing full well he won’t answer.

“Ah, they have requested to remain anonymous in these proceedings.”

I feel hot, sip my beer. I usually have some nerves during a contest, but this is different. I take another swig, then another, then a big gulp from the bottle. When I set it down, the bottle is nearly empty.

Well, that was dumb. I reach for my cellphone. I want to text Wendy to see how her day is going.

Then I remember we were required to surrender our phones at registration. Albert promised that the entire contest would last no longer than eight hours.

250 million dollars AND free drinks? Sign me up! I’ll most likely be eliminated in an hour or less. I’m entitled to the open bar until the end of the tournament anyway, so why not enjoy myself?

Albert steps to the front of the room and turns to face us.

“Players, we will commence gameplay in just a few minutes. During the competition, no one will be allowed into or out of the gaming room. Should you need to use the bathroom, press the large red button to the left of your console. Your game will pause for three minutes.

“Any questions?” Albert says.

No one says anything.

“You each have two lives. Once those lives are gone, you will be eliminated from gameplay.”

Margery raises her hand. Albert nods to her.

“If we are eliminated, can we leave the room?”

Why’d she ask that? We all know we can’t.

Albert laughs once and coughs into his hand.

“The game sponsor has requested that all players stay in the room until gameplay concludes.”

“About the bathroom,” Pete says, “the door doesn’t have a lock.”

“That is not a question, but you are correct. The bathroom door has no lock.”

No one says anything further.

“Good luck, players. Remember, play will continue until only one player is remaining.”

Albert nods to a steward in the back. The aid opens the one door into the room, and five beefy security guards enter. Each one takes a position behind a player.

Albert raises his remote control.

“In 3 .. 2 .. 1 .. begin play,” he says, pressing his controller.

The first round is easy. All five of us sail by; we kill all the bad guys and avoid getting killed.

The second round is harder – not a lot, but enough, and I overstep early. I cleared the room but blew around a blind corner too fast. Of course, there was a sniper hidden behind the corner.

“Well, that’s the first of your two lives,” Albert and a security guard approach my station.

“What are you going to do?” I say with a shrug. I was crazy to enter this competition.

I scan the room.

I remember the thick document I signed and initialed; I bet stuff about this was in there.

“Lady and gentlemen, we’ve had our first fatality. As a courtesy, I’ve paused all games while we administer the first penalty.”

Penalty? What the fuck is he talking about?

The other players all turn to stare. Judging from their looks, they are only now noticing the guards.

“Players, you might wish to cover your ears,” Albert says.

But before anyone can react, the guard next to him pulls his Glock and shoots me in my right foot.

The pain blossoms instantly. There is no sensation in my body that isn’t from my foot.

The guard re-holsters his piece, drops to one knee (is he going to ask me to marry him, some part of me wonders). The guard wraps my foot. I guess to keep me from bleeding out.

“What the fuck did you do? What the fuck, Albert? What the fuck did you do? He shot my fucking foot!” I shout. A line of four gray, washed-out, panicked faces turns to watch me. I see Pete on the end stand. But then his guard steps forward and guides him back into his chair. I see Margery’s lip begin to quiver and have to look away.

“The host feels the gaming community needs a lesson,” Albert says, smiling at the three cameras.

“You play, and you play, and there is never any consequence to you for dying in your games. You always have more players or can restart the game. Our sponsor wanted to see something different. Hence, this tournament was born.”

“The first shot, out of courtesy, was placed in the foot. All subsequent shots will be in the chest, administered without pausing gameplay.”

This is wrong. This is so messed up. No wonder it wasn’t in downtown Tahoe. No wonder it wasn’t televised. We are the pawns of some sadist.

“Any questions,” Albert says.

“But..,” Margery starts.

“Yes, Ms. Van Helm?”

“I want.., to quit.., I want out of this? You can’t do this? This is America.”

“I’m sorry, Miss, but gameplay continues until all but one player is eliminated.”

“But you said we each have two lives,” Pete says, sounding way calmer than he has any right.

“You do. You each have two lives; just because you’re shot in the chest doesn’t mean you will die,” Albert says. The guards laugh.

I don’t want to die. Not for $250 million, but it looks like that will happen if I don’t figure something out fast.

“Players, resume playing now.”

I hear at least two people crying as I turn back to my monitor and try to distance myself from the pain in my foot.

A plan lands in my head.

I press the red button, stand, and begin hobbling toward the bathroom. I walk to the row opening. The exit is straight ahead, but there’s a guard there, studying me.

I can’t remember if he was the one that shot me or not. That doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the four players behind me. I take the two steps down to the ground floor and turn left. The pain is amazing. I have to get through this before I pass out. Because I know that is in my imminent future. On my left, the computer backs and cords are all exposed.

There is only one bathroom in this place, so I sure hope that means what I think it might mean. That only one player can use the bathroom at a time.

I take several deep breaths, trying to ratchet up my nerve to do what I’m going to do.

Gritting my teeth, I reach forward and begin yanking the joystick cables. They’re all red, which helps me get the job done quickly.

Pete, as cool as he was, is the first to die. Once in the game and then in his chair. His guard shoots him in the chest.

Then Margery.

Then Hank.

Finally, Mark puts my little stunt together and reaches for his red button.

“Sorry, Mister Andrews, there’s only one bathroom break at a time. It was in the document. Then his guard steps forward, and Mark is gone as well.

I’m a multi-million dollar winner now, and I just killed four people, but will they let me go?

Star Trek? The Kobayashi challenge? I cheated. Will the host honor his agreement? Not that I even know what the damn contract says.

I sense Albert approaching me. The chirp of a cellphone. Albert answers the call. I pat my empty rear pocket again. I need to get to a hospital. I need to call Wendy.

“Yes, sir. I agree that was quick thinking.”

Albert goes silent as the anonymous host speaks to him.

“Yes, sir, of course, sir. We will erect a barrier between the computers and this walkway before the next competition.” Albert reaches forward and plugs each of the four joysticks back into the computers.

Albert wires the money to my account. It takes a second, but they’ve returned my phone, and it rings immediately. It’s the bank president verifying the wire transfer.

As for gaming, I think I just retired, but then I remember I never read the damn document. Am I contractually obligated to defend my title?

No one read the document. That much is clear. Otherwise, no one would’ve entered this infernal competition. I’d ask, but I don’t want to tip them off. I begin planning the next chapter of my life. I have money now. Wendy and I are both estranged from our families. Tonight I will ask her to run away with me. We will disappear. I don’t have criminal friends, I wish I do, but I don’t. I know you can buy anything. If I have to spend half of my winnings on new identities for her and me, it’s a small price to pay. We will disappear. We will travel incognito. Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Australia, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, Columbia, India, Iceland, Denmark, Greenland, Mexico, Brazil, Africa: we will see everything we’ve ever wanted to see. And I will never play another computer game ever again.

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