Hands tossed a pair of dice over the table and into a wall.
“Why do you even play if you aren’t going to try?” Addy shouted, a single hand coming down hard on the game board. The plastic soldiers and tanks jumped in unison, about a millimeter off of the board, landing in the wrong places and toppling over.
Brad opened his mouth wide to speak, wringing his own hands in frustration, “I am trying. There’s just no way I’ll keep Europe, so what’s the point?”
Addy responded by outlining all of the ways Brad could retain Europe if he had played his previous turns differently. The argument was unfair, but Addy spoke with enough authority to fool Brad. Brad countered with self-deprecation.
I watched the two squabble, sighing internally. Things never seemed to go right when they were together, and there was never a justifiable reason for why. I wanted to say something – to open my mouth and defend one of them – but taking Brad’s side would piss off Addy, and I didn’t have it in me to be mean to Brad. Lose-lose.
Blaine had resigned to his iPhone. I watched as he held the device up to his face, tapped, and then began to type out a message.
“You’re the self-proclaimed ‘Strategy Master’, and you’re supposedly joining the military at the end of the month,” Addy continued to argue, “Don’t you think this game is the perfect showcase for those two things?”
“Look, Germany is one of the hardest factions to play. I had a rough start and now it’s over for me. I might as well sacrifice the rest of my troops to help Russia,” Brad reasoned.
“That’s bullshit! Germany is the easiest to play!”
Addy looked to me for back-up, but I deflected, standing from the couch and walking to the kitchen. To take a side would make things worse in the short run as well as the long run.
Besides, a bottle of chilled wine was waiting for me in the fridge, and I poured the crisp, blue liquid into a wide glass.
“Guys. Can we please just continue playing?” Blaine interjected, phone still in hand.
It made sense that he was eager to play. Presently, he was winning.
Well, on the surface level he was. No one had recognized that I was saving most of my assets for a big play in two-to-three turns.
“Yeah, you can take over for me, Blaine. I’m done,” Addy announced, standing. He then began to shove his belongings into a backpack without any clear order, tossing a laptop in after a bag of chips.
He was leaving mid-game. Damn, that irked me.
I buried half of my face in the palm of my hand, slouching and sighing through my nose. The game had been long and tiring. The constant bickering between Addy and Brad had killed the mood early-on. Trying to win was all that remained, and now there would be no winner.
Addy picked up the unzipped backpack and made for the front door of the apartment. At some point, he had taken off his glasses, and his curly black hair was a mess from continually running his hands through it. His mouth continued to express his dislike for my roommate, “I can’t deal with this shit anymore. It’s no fun playing with this dumbass. I’m sorry, but fuck this. Brad, let me know when you get your fucking life together, and we’ll share a beer. Until then, fuck you, fuck Axis and Allies, and fuck… Go fuck yourself.”
The door slammed, and I clenched my teeth. It was nearly midnight, and we had neighbors.
“Good riddance,” Brad remarked, mostly to himself.
The petty comment felt wrong. Addy and Brad had been good friends for the longest time, most of their lives even.
I set my glass down and began taking pieces off of the game board, plopping each one meticulously into its respective resealable bag. Blaine stood, waving his hands above the board so that I couldn’t easily continue my task.
“Woah, Alec. Hold on! I still wanna play,” Blaine said.
“How? We can’t just drop a player in a game like this,” I reasoned, looking at the board instead of meeting his eyes.
“We’ll figure it out. Come on! I’m crushing you guys!” Blaine begged.
“No, you’re not.”
I considered explaining exactly why he wasn’t winning. Considered pointing out his mistakes as well as my own plans.
“It’s alright,” Brad broke in, “I need to shower and get ready for bed.”
That was a classic Brad move. Even if he did go to bed this early, he would probably spend a few hours in bed on his phone. I wondered at the true reason for why he was calling it a night. Avoiding conflict? Actual fatigue?
I didn’t call him on it; there was no reason to when he was on my side.
“Fine,” Blaine said, stretching his sigh for dramatic effect.
I blinked, then resumed picking up.
I spent the next half hour dawdling around the apartment while taking sips of wine. Blaine sat on the couch in the living room tuned into The Office, and I could hear Brad adjusting the shower knobs every few minutes.
Addy tried to call me as soon as he got home, but I forwarded the call and told him to message instead. Calls with him could last an hour sometimes, bouncing from one topic to the next. Brad liked pointing out the romantic implications of our long, aimless phone conversations. ‘He’s like a clingy girlfriend!’ Most nights, I surrendered and answered. But I rarely walked away from one of his calls feeling as if the time had been worth it. So we texted.
Addy D: do you get what I was trying to say? Brad was on his phone the whole game just like he always is. Blaine was steam-rolling him and Brad just LET IT HAPPEN. Fuck. Him
Me: Everyone was on their phone.
Addy D: you werent! And I was texting my dumbass mom because she kept trying to call me!
Me: Idk. This is between you and Brad.
Addy D: what? You can at least admit that he’s a dumbass. Look at what he did in the FIRST TURN
Addy D: and he says he read Art of War? Ive read it 4 times! He probably read Sex in the City. Or How to be a Worthless Dumbass. I bet he WROTE How to be a Worthless Dumbass
Addy D: ALEC
Me: what’s up
Addy D: you stopped responding! I need to get this out of my system!!
Addy D: here. I’m gonna call u
Me: Sorry, not right now. Busy.
I set the phone down and took another sip of wine. As I meandered into my bedroom for the fourth or fifth time, I realized that I was holding something in my other hand. A card of sorts, with an overly smooth texture that I couldn’t remember ever feeling before. My head pivoted to look at it.
The card looked like a piece from a board game I didn’t own yet. White, with black text, and a fun yellow border. The font was thick, lacking any serifs or curves:
10- Be rude in public and get yelled at
20- Go 20 hours without using a computer
30- Do nothing productive for 10 hours
40- Drop out of college
50- Rob a bank
TB- Break the most chicken eggs
I stared at the strange card for a long while after reading it, a surreal feeling creeping over me like a cold, wet towel. I didn’t remember ever picking up the card. How…
I put down my empty glass, flourished the card, and strode into the living room, all business.
“Blaine, did you put this-,”
I stopped immediately. The Office was paused, and Blaine was laying on the couch, holding a similar card in two hands above his eyes. His face was slightly paler than usual, and his eyebrows were knit with confusion. Slowly, he sat up, then stood, and turned his gaze to me.
“I was about to ask you the same thing.”
“Brad! Open up or I’m coming in there!” Blaine shouted while pounding the bathroom door with the side of his fist. I watched, eyes glazed over. My thoughts departed from the scene and began wrestling with the appearance of the cards.
Blaine had been laying on the couch watching Netflix. It was when he had reached down to the floor to pick up his phone that he noticed a card in his other hand. He had no memory of picking it up.
A quick sweep of the apartment had revealed no unexpected guests. The windows and front door were already locked, and the door’s chain was now locked into place for extra security.
Which is to say, I still had zero ideas regarding the nature of the cards and how they had made their way to us. Were we drugged? Our memories altered somehow? Was this an elaborate prank that Blaine was being dishonest about? The third idea didn’t seem likely; Blaine wasn’t one to prank or to form elaborate schemes.
“Calm your tits, man! I’ll be out in a second! I was almost done anyway!” Brad shouted, adjusting the squeaky shower knobs again.
“You have thirty seconds before I come in there!” Blaine warned, before turning to me and asking, “Your card. What does it say?”
Instead of reading it aloud, I handed it to him. I expected him to reciprocate the gesture, allowing me to read his card. But it didn’t happen.
“‘Rob a bank?’” Blaine grinned, “What the hell are these even?”
“What does yours say?” I asked, taking my card back.
“Oh, sorry man, you can read it if you want,” Blaine said, handing over a similar card with a blue border.
10- Tell an original joke and get laughs
20- Go 20 hours without using a phone
30- Drink a 6 pack of beer
40- Dump your girlfriend
50- Burn your house down
TB- Break the most chicken eggs
Before handing it back, I compared our cards side-by-side. There was a pattern. Each line followed a similar theme, and the severity of the tasks escalated alongside the numbers. If these cards did belong to a board game, they were well-balanced.
Which made their existence all the creepier. Because the tasks aligned to the person who had received them. I had no problem drinking a six-pack of beer, but Blaine went through legendary rounds of puking if he drank more than one. Likewise, only I had the power to ‘drop out of college’ because Blaine already had.
Brad came out of the bathroom with a Batman towel around his waist. His hands clutched fogged-over glasses.
“Brad, did you get a card?” Blaine pressed, not letting him leave the doorway.
“No,” Brad replied, before adding, “What card?”
“Alec and I both had cards magically appear in our hands, and they’re both full of challenges and point values!” Blaine explained, “Where’s yours?”
Huh. Point values. Good point.
“I don’t know what the fuck you guys are talking about. I never received a ‘magic card’.”
“Bullshit,” Blaine said, “Why would Alec and I get cards and not you?”
“Actually,” I cut in, “We’re still unsure what these cards even are. Why should we assume that Brad got one, too?”
“Whatever, man, I’m going to bed,” Brad said, feigning a yawn and walking past Blaine.
That was odd. Was he even a little curious about our predicament?
Brad coaxed his baby chihuahua into his bedroom and then closed the door. Blaine shook his head, and mumbled, “He definitely got one, too. There’s no way he didn’t.”
He says after I already explained why that doesn’t have to be true.
There was an awkward moment where neither of us spoke. This happened often between Blaine and I. We only hung out because we shared mutual friends.
Finally, I said, “I have no idea what is going on with these cards. If anything else happens, wake me up.”
Blaine nodded, looking as if he wanted to say more. I ended the uncomfortable interaction by walking into the bathroom and shutting the door. I didn’t actually have to go, and so I meticulously re-created the sounds of somebody using the bathroom. When I re-emerged, Blaine was unfolding blankets and draping them over the couch.
I spent the next half hour laying in bed, card in hand, waiting for the alcohol to un-shackle my brain. But even as the buzz faded to a whisper, no new explanations came to me that I didn’t immediately reject. With so little evidence to work with, I was well and truly baffled.
After a not-fake trip to the bathroom, I set the card down on the table by my bedside and used my phone to turn off the lights. Bulbs all across the apartment slowly faded, and I rolled into bed.
The way I was feeling, I expected I would sleep with knit eyebrows.
Unfortunately, sleep didn’t happen.