Rule 1.1

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Milk spilled across half of the earth.  Tanks and boats held their ground, while the soldiers were toppled by the sudden white wave.

I stared at the destruction, not sure what to think or who to blame.  The vast puddle of milk continued to expand, tracing the creases of the board and dripping onto the floor.

“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 his glasses.  Opaque dots decorated the deck of cards.

My gears started to turn, and I sprung from the couch.  I hurriedly rescued the decks of cards from the spreading muck, wiping them clean with the edge of my shirt.  I set them aside, then assessed the rest of the mess.  The fewer pieces I had to replace, the better.  All was not lost; something could still be salvaged.

Brad babbled his apologies, favoring quantity or quality, “Fuck, I’m so sorry!  This is my bad!  I wasn’t careful!  I can pay for a new game!”

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 the furniture and discarded trash.  Underneath 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.

Meanwhile, Brad was still apologizing.

“There’s no need to replace the whole game,” I assured Brad, “The cards and figures are fine.  I’m sure there’s a website where we can order a new board.  Or we could make our own?”

“Why the hell would we make our own?” Addy asked, hands scrubbing vigorously.

“It’s just a thought,” I admitted, knowing I sounded looney, “We could make our own countries, print them out, glue them to cardboard.  Maybe make multiple boards?  What if each of us made our own world?”

“Or we could go with your first idea and have Brad buy a new board,” Addy suggested.

“We could,” I conceded.

Well, whatever.  If I really wanted to, I could make the custom maps on my own.

“Does this mean I win?” a fourth voice chimed in.

Blaine.  Lounging on a couch, eyes 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 said, “Give me a few more turns and I would have decimated you.”

I considered, and then nodded my head in agreement.  Blaine had maintained a strong foothold by playing as Germany, but Addy had been playing the game better.  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 shoving his belongings into a backpack.  There was no clear order to it, and I watched as he tossed a laptop in after a bag of chips.

“Leaving?” I asked, masking my disappointment.  He had only been over a few hours and the night was still young.

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.  I’ll see ya, then,” I said, and the words felt lame.

“Auf wiedersehen,” Addy said, slamming the door.

I clenched my teeth at the loud impact.  It was nearly midnight, and we had neighbors.

Maybe I was on edge.  Minutes ago, I had been fully immersed in a game of strategy.  When the game had ended abruptly and without a victor, it left me… disoriented.  I was still in the process of switching into a different headspace.

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 from my glass with satisfaction.

The game is over.  Time to chill.  Kick back with friends.

I raised the glass to my lips, and every sip brought me closer to center.

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 about the true reason for why he was calling it a night. Guilt? Actual fatigue?

It was just Blaine and me now, which sucked because I hardly knew Blaine.  He was one of those people that I only hung out with because we shared mutual friends.  We could still be considered friends, but there was no chemistry.

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.

I paced from kitchen to bedroom, then back to the living room, sipping and checking my phone.  Sure, it was probably giving Blaine a weird vibe, but I felt like I couldn’t sit down.  Besides, this was my place – my rules.  I was allowed to be a little weird.

Brad and I shared a small two-bedroom apartment.  It wasn’t much, and the floors were crude wooden tiles.  But it was ours.

That said, 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.  Small additions here and there as the months flew by.

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!’ he would often remark, ‘You crave the sound of his voice.  Admit it!’

Most nights, I surrendered and answered. But I rarely walked away from his calls feeling like the time spent had been worth it.  For one thing, holding the phone up to my ear made my arms sore.

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:   No, 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.  My eyes came in and out of focus, staring at the foreign object.  When had I picked it up?

It was a card of sorts, with an overly smooth texture, unlike anything I’d ever felt.  The card looked like a piece from a board game I didn’t own yet.  White, with black text, and a fun yellow border.

My eyes scanned the words on the card and a surge of sobriety brought me back to my senses.

Wait.  What is this?  What the hell?

 The font was thick, lacking any serifs or curves:

ALEC
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 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, pounding the bathroom door with the side of his fist.  Brad’s chihuahua mimicked the gesture, scratching at the bottom of the door furiously.

I watched, eyes glazed over.  It was hard to separate the buzz of the alcohol from my outright confusion.  My thoughts departed from the scene and began wrestling with the appearance of the cards.

Blaine had been lying on the couch watching Netflix.  When he had reached down to the floor to pick up his phone, he had noticed a card in his other hand.  He had no memory of picking it up, just like me.

A quick sweep of the apartment had revealed no unexpected guests.  The windows and front door were locked, and the door’s chain was now set into place for extra security.  I couldn’t think of any other point of entry.

Which is to say, I still had zero ideas regarding the nature of the cards and how they had made their way into our hands.  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 he didn’t.

“‘Rob a bank?’” Blaine grinned, “What the hell?”

“What does yours say?” I asked, taking my card back.

“Oh, yeah, you can read it if you want,” Blaine said, handing over a similar card with a blue border.

BLAINE
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

Huh.  Why are his tasks easier?

Before handing it back, I compared our cards side-by-side.  There was a clear 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 had been carefully balanced.

But not careful enough.  ‘Tell a joke’?  ‘Drink beer’?  Our cards didn’t exactly equate.

Maybe these are hard things for Blaine, but not anyone else?

It made sense.  I could vaguely see it.

Which made their existence all the creepier.  Equivalent or not, 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 ability 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.  He was skinny, with hints of muscle across his sun-kissed body.  Somehow, his damp black hair had retained pompadour shape.  As someone who relied on hair gel to maintain any semblance of order, I was envious.

“Brad, did you get a card?” Blaine pressed, barring the door to his bedroom.

“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?”

Point values.  It seemed to fit.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?

“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?”

“Why shouldn’t we assume Brad got one, too?” Blaine countered.

“Whatever, just let me through.  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 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 me.

What was the intent of the cards?  For us to try and complete the tasks?  Or to be confused and disoriented?  The instructions weren’t clear, and the wine was sapping my energy.  Finally, I said, “I have no idea what’s going on.  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.  Rather mechanically, I plucked my toothbrush from the cupboard and got to brushing.

When I re-emerged, Blaine was unfolding blankets and draping them over the couch.  I gave him a nod, and then shut myself inside my bedroom.  My cat was already inside, sprawled across the windowsill and watching me with critical eyes.

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.

Having read it for perhaps the thirtieth time, I set the card down on my bedside table and used an app on my phone to turn off the lights.  Bulbs all across the apartment faded, and I rolled into the covers.

The way I was feeling, I expected I would sleep with knit eyebrows.

Unfortunately, sleep didn’t happen.

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2 thoughts on “Rule 1.1

  1. typo:
    laying on the couch
    laying -> lying
    (“laying” is a transitive verb so you need to be laying an object somewhere.)

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