Milk spilled across half of the earth. Tanks and boats held their ground, while the soldiers were toppled by the sudden white wave.
“Damnit, Brad!” Addy shouted, a single hand coming down hard on the game board. The plastic game pieces jumped in unison, and specks of milk splashed onto Brad’s face.
I hurriedly rescued the decks of cards from the spreading muck. The fewer pieces I had to replace, the better.
Brad was consumed by a desire to apologize, “Fuck, I’m so sorry! This is my bad! I can pay for a new one!”
Addy zoomed into the living room with dish rags from the kitchen. He was fit, my height – which was short – and his nimble legs allowed him to dodge around furniture and discarded trash. Below black hair which was half-gelled and half-curled, he wore an expression of contempt. Or determination. It was hard to say. He used one rag to prevent any more milk from spilling off the edge of the table and used the other to dab at the carpet.
“No need,” I assured Brad, “The cards and figures are fine. I’m sure there’s a website where we can order a new game board.”
“So does this mean I win?”
Blaine. Lounging on a couch, face buried in an iPhone. It was a deep couch, and his feet still managed to reach the floor. His brown hair and facial scruff were perfectly groomed for selfies.
“Fat chance,” Addy disagreed, “Given a few more turns, I would have decimated you.”
I considered, and then nodded my head in agreement. Blaine had gained a strong foothold by playing as Germany, but Addy had been catching up. And if Addy hadn’t pulled it off, I certainly could have.
“Not even,” Blaine said, shaking his head, “I would prove it, too, but someone kept setting their glass on the table!”
Addy stopped cleaning and got close to Blaine’s face. He sucked a globule of white liquid from his finger, producing a popping sound, and said, “Aww, poor Blainey-boo. You gonna cry over spilled milk?”
Blaine swatted at him, but Addy backed out of the way.
Brad retrieved the box for Axis and Allies and started the process of meticulously putting each set of pieces into their own plastic bags. I moved to assist.
When Addy had finished with the milk, he began to shove his belongings into a backpack. There was no clear order to it, tossing a laptop in after a bag of chips.
“Leaving?” I asked, masking my disappointment.
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 wet hands through it, “Yeah. Might go to the bar. Probably just gonna head home, if that’s alright.”
“Okay, seeyah,” I said, and the words felt lame.
“Auf wiedersehen,” Addy said, slamming the door. I clenched my teeth. It was nearly midnight, and we had neighbors.
Maybe I was on edge. After the game was boxed up, I withdrew a bottle of chilled wine from the fridge. Clear liquid tumbled from the green bottle, and I sipped with satisfaction.
Brad spoiled it when he announced that he was showering and going to 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. Guilt? Actual fatigue? It sucked because the night was so young.
I spent the next half hour dawdling around the apartment while taking sips of wine. Blaine lay sprawled out on the couch, tuned into The Office and texting girls. Beyond the bathroom door, I could hear Brad adjusting the shower knobs every few minutes.
Brad and I shared a small two-bedroom apartment. It wasn’t much, and the floors were all crude wooden tiles. But it was ours. We had sunk a few hundred dollars into colorful rugs in an effort to make it feel more home-like, and we were gradually getting there.
Addy tried to call me as soon as he got back to his parent’s place, but I forwarded the call and told him to message instead. Calls with him could last an hour sometimes – most times – 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 all been worth it. So we texted.
Addy D: do you get what I was trying to say earlier? Brad was on his phone the whole game just like he always is. Blaine was steam-rolling him and Brad just LET IT HAPPEN
Me: Everyone was on their phone.
Addy D: you werent! And I was texting my mom because she kept trying to call me about stupid shit!
Me: Idk how this matters
Addy D: it matters!!
Addy D: he always jokes about being the STRATEGY MASTER and then he pulls this shit!
Addy D: and he says he read Art of War? Ive read it 4 times! He probably read Sex in the City.
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 lying 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 lying 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 lying 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.
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