Decade A Game by <a href="http://www.salvatore-pane.com">Salvatore Pane</a> <img src="https://salvatorepane.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/static.gif"> [[ Start | Enter Your Name]] [[Credits | Credits]] <audio src="http://freesound.org/data/previews/321/321862_1648170-lq.mp3" autoplay>(put: (prompt: "Please type in your real name:") into $name) The outside of your high school looks exactly how you remember: two brick hallways connected to a gym, crosses everywhere, a rusted fence shielding students from PJ’s Bar. You’re not sure how you got here, can’t remember waking up in your hometown, traveling that distance via plane, train, or automobile. Night has fallen across the rust belt, but the school is illuminated from within, every single light so bright, the gym vibrating with an electronic thud, an SOS call to remember the music of your youth, those songs you played in desperation in beaters and basements, the melodies of acne, gym shorts, bookbags. The way home is blocked by mist, so [[you grit your teeth and enter through the front door. | High School Entrance]]You would have never thought about this hallway again, this vestibule connecting the outside world to that sacred space of hormones and geometry. It's been a decade since you stepped inside, since you returned to your home state, but the two faces behind the check-in table are eerily familiar. Two women. Identical twins still sporting ribbons with the name of the school bedazzled on royal blue fabric. Mary and Melanie? Tanya and Taryn? [[You don’t remember, | Twin Dialogue]]but you’ve followed their progress post-graduation via social media. You know they never left. You know like everyone else they never left. “Oh my god! You’re back!” Mary or Tanya yells. “We’re so glad you could make it,” Melanie or Taryn says. You blink, knowing you should focus on how exactly you arrived here, but you’re distracted by the birthmark on Mary or Tanya’s face. It’s brown, amplified by her otherwise pale, smooth skin. It resembles a human being, a lanky teenage boy, the face prematurely aged, forehead wrinkled, hair cropped close. Her birthmark reminds you of Angelo, your best friend from high school. You remember the hours you two spent playing and making video games. You remember his leukemia, the slow withering of his body. You cough into your fist and sign a name card before sticking it over your heart. The twins nod as [[you glide into the pulsing gym.| Enter the Gym]] The bleachers are pushed against the wall, an echo of the long ago, of stealing glances at the bodies of the basketball team, the legs of the cheerleaders. The gym is full with half-recalled faces and shapes, the lights dim, speakers blaring static. There is an energy in the room, but you are unmoored, reminded of the birthmark, of Angelo, of your sudden appearance in your hometown. You spy an open bar and deliberate between [[wading into the crowd | Dancefloor]] or [[grabbing a much needed drink.| Drink Line]](set: $ELLEN to "1")The dancefloor is a haunted house, funhouse mirrors of bodies and faces that are semi-recognizable but warped and faded, tugged in awful directions. A rap song from the long, long ago plays and the singer instructs the crowd to “drop those asses to the floor!” and you and your classmates respond in unison, remembering the dance like a holy and ancient tongue. Beads of sweat dot your forehead, and you regret not grabbing a drink, especially when the bodies part like the Red Sea and you spot Giana Abategiovanni in the clearing. She’s one of the few classmates you remember by name and only because Angelo was so obsessed with her, how he teared up whenever someone whispered her name, how he doodled her name over and over again in trigonometry like a lovesick malcontent, how Giana Abategiovanni attended his funeral in yellow, as fresh as summer corn. [[You remember| Tailfeather]] a rumor that Giana Abategiovanni used to run with your cousin Andy, the boy who was your best friend until Angelo appeared in fifth grade. You stand in line at the bar. Three people are already waiting, but you only recognize the bartender, a nun, her face like burlap, ladling spiked punch to former students, their names eroded by time. The two at the front of the line are a couple. They wear matching lace, their fingers and necks covered in jewels that sparkle beneath the disco ball spinning overhead. [[The third is a woman, hand on hip. Her body is concealed by a lumpy blue potato sack. Her hair falls in matted curls around her shoulders, and she smacks her gum aggressively.| Ellen]]“I remember you,” she says knowingly. You stare. Try as you might, you can’t place her, not from your faded memories or even from all those nights of social media scrolling. “I remember you too,” you lie. “How have you been?” You think about this for a long time. “Not great.” She glances toward the bar, so you peek at her nametag. Ellen. [[“How have you been, Ellen?”| Ellen 2]] In the space of a nu-metal ballad, Ellen explains the previous decade. She still lives in town and has worked for a string of retail joints in the mall, the one that is dying, fewer and fewer stores each year, the anchors long missing, the foundation literally sinking into the flooded mines another inch each month. The story of her life is written in her hair, those tight curls, the mean way she chews her gum like a minor league base coach. [[You are filled with the sudden urge to respond to Ellen with kindness.| Kindness]] [[You are filled with the sudden urge to respond to Ellen with indifference.| Indifference]] [[You are filled with the sudden urge to respond to Ellen with contempt.| Contempt]] (set: $ELLEN to "2")“I am filled with the sudden urge to respond to you with kindness,” you say. Ellen nods, unsure. The couple collects their drinks from the nun and ambles onto the dancefloor, cooing over some song that reminds them of hope. Ellen accepts her spiked punch from the nun, winks at you, and disappears into [[the swelling churn of bodies. | Wild Nun]] (set: $ELLEN to "2")“I am filled with the sudden urge to respond to you with indifference,” you say. Ellen nods, unsure. The couple collects their drinks from the nun and ambles out onto the dancefloor, cooing over some song that reminds them of hope. Ellen accepts her spiked punch from the nun and disappears into [[the swelling churn of bodies. | Wild Nun]] (set: $ELLEN to "3")“I am filled with the sudden urge to respond to you with contempt,” you say. Ellen spits her gum on your left shoe. The couple collects their drinks from the nun and ambles out onto the dancefloor, cooing over some song that reminds them of hope. Ellen accepts her spiked punch from the nun and disappears into [[the swelling churn of bodies. | Wild Nun]] You are scared to approach the nun. You have been terrified of nuns your whole life and are stunned there are so few horror films that exploit this totally natural and not-at-all-insane fear. You remember the fourth grade nun who held your head against the desk and asked if you still found her lecture about reconciliation funny. You balled your baby fingers into a fist and said hell yes. The nun behind the bar grimaces, and you decide you don’t want a drink after all and [[retreat to the dancefloor.| Dancefloor Alternate]]The rapper commands you to “shake your tailfeather” and you obey, shaking and shaking closer to Giana Abategiovanni. As a teenager, you were confused by Angelo’s devotion. She seemed pleasant enough, but you couldn’t and still can’t comprehend the depth of his emotion. Maybe that’s why you’re so flawed. Maybe the weight of that burden is what spawned those leukemia cells, what turned them rogue in Angelo’s narrow body. You always saw Giana Abategiovanni as a kind of hyper-Italian with her bronze skin and parents’ restaurant, the way her voice boomed, her hands darting everywhere when she tried to answer Mr. Ratner’s history questions. It intimidated you and still does, how her heritage seems to mock and dwarf your own. And although you did not appreciate her then, you can now understand a small fraction of her appeal as you dance alongside her. During the pause between songs, [[you ask Giana Abategiovanni if she remembers you and Angelo or even your cousin Andy. | Do You Remember?]]“You and Angelo… You and Angelo? No.” She studies your face. “Andy? Maybe. Wait. Actually, I remember Angelo. He was the boy who died. I loved him desperately.” A song that is just a series of airhorns and screams comes on, ending all conversation in the gym. You have not spoken Angelo’s name in years, have tried not to think about him excluding those rare drunken benders culminating when you send yet another exploratory message to his social media avatar, another unanswered missive into the digital void. His name on Giana Abategiovanni’s lips is an incantation, and you can feel his energy growing inside you. [[You are terrified by his ghost and back away from Giana Abategiovanni. | Return to the Entrance]] [[You boldly slide your hand around Giana Abategiovanni’s waist and pull her closer. | Grindin']] There is a tension in your stomach, pools of acid dripping through a paper bag. You leave the gym and pat your pockets for Tums finding none. Something else will have to ease your pain on this long, strange night. You return to the high school entrance, but this time the twins are gone. You consider your options, of which there appears to be three. [[You can go outside and face the night mist. | Mist]] [[You can return to the gymnasium. | Locked Door]] [[You can venture deeper into the core of the high school. | Into the High School]] You are haunted, inspired, possessed. You feel Angelo inside of you and the swell of his unlived fantasy tightening like a fist, and suddenly you are obsessed with Giana Abategiovanni and her brown face, wide hips, pink eyeshadow. What always seemed plain and intimidating is now alluring and powerful. But then Giana Abategiovanni waves to some unforeseen face in the crowd. A man appears, just as bronzed and Italian as her, cross glittering under chest hair. They actually touch rings. They are a married couple who touches rings! [[You back away from their well-adjusted happiness and disappear into the crowd. | Return to the Entrance]](if: $ELLEN is "1")[You leave the school and return to the mist. There’s a woman outside smoking. Her free hand rests on her hip, her body concealed by a lumpy blue potato sack. Her hair falls in matted curls around her shoulders. A nametag on her chest reads Ellen. [[You slink towards her and say, “Hi, Ellen.” | Meeting Ellen Outside]]] (if: $ELLEN is "2")[You leave the school and enter the mist. Ellen from the drink line is smoking outside, and, for some reason, you slink towards her and say, “Hi again.” [[“Hello, you.” | Ellen to PJ's Track]]] (if: $ELLEN is "3")[You are completely and utterly alone, and you tell yourself this is exactly what you wanted. You leave the school and sit on the pavement and diddle the mist with your stinky fingers. You think about Angelo. Then you think about your cousin Andy again. You remember how sweet he was as a boy, how you are both the same age, how he sent you valentines every year until high school. You remember him as a teenager at the rival school, how often he was suspended for fighting, how much he loved driving his Jeep in the woods. You remember him receiving first holy communion. A few minutes pass before you tap your pockets again, hopeful there’s at least one Tum hidden away. Instead, you hit cell phone. You retrieve it, alarmed isn’t yours, that you’ve arrived here somehow, someway with a mysterious phone. You swipe it unlocked and discover a single app, the only way to interact with this miniature computer. [[Uber. | Uber 1]]] You turn to the gym, but the door is suddenly locked. You can hear the joy inside, the neon music, the happiness of old friends reunited once more. But you are held apart, you and Angelo, unable to return. [[You can go outside and face the mist. | Mist]] [[You can venture deeper into the core of the high school. | Into the High School]] The halls of the school are not paved with your accomplishments and memories, but the accomplishments and memories of others. Here is the basketball trophy, the debate club ribbon, framed photos of principals past. Your shoes slap across the linoleum in the dark, and you are reminded why you never returned here, why you haven’t been home in years. You try and dig deep, try and remember some trinket from those days you could show to Angelo if he was here, if he was alive, if he returned those messages on social media. You remember the computer lab, your attraction to video games and virtual reality simulators that allowed you both, if even briefly, to become someone else. Before you know what’s happened, you find yourself in front of the computer lab. The doorknob is hot to the touch, but it’s unlocked. [[You let yourself in. | Computer Lab]]The fluorescent lights are painfully bright, so you shield your eyes. The room is comprised of two rows, each with twelve, very bulky, very old PCs. They glow blue and produce a warbling hum, a choir of ancient and knowing bugs that drowns out the techno of the gymnasium. You remember coding with Angelo in the back every afternoon, so [[you walk to Angelo’s computer and sit down. | Computer Lab 2]]How many hours did you waste writing text adventures on this PC’s crummy editor? How many hours did you whittle away playing <i>Zork</i>? Armed with only text and imagination, you and Angelo tried to dig a tunnel out of high school and the rust belt, but no matter what you did the end result was always the same: leukemia. You touch Angelo’s mouse. You touch Angelo’s keyboard. You click open the partition of the hard drive available to students. There, you discover a long list of folders, each marked by the surname of a student. You scroll and scroll and scroll, assuming it’s impossible, that Angelo has been dead for a decade, that there’s no way his folder still exists. But there it is, untouched and immaculate, and when [[you click it,| Computer Lab 3]] you find what you never realized you were looking for. There is an executable file for a text adventure written by Angelo. You stand up. You sit down. You stand again. The date on the game is wrong. It has to be wrong. [[You tell yourself it’s wrong.| Computer Lab 4]] According to the old PC, his game was last modified this morning. Perhaps a current student stumbled onto it and altered the game. That would explain things, right? You repeat this again and again but don’t believe it. You remember Angelo’s ghost surging beside you and Giana Abategiovanni. You move the pointer over the file. There’s no going back. [[You can either play Angelo’s game | Angelo's Game]] or [[leave the school. | Mist]] You click Angelo’s game. The screen goes black before ancient green text appears. <font face="American Typewriter" color="green">Why did you let me die?</font> You place your hands over the keys and type: [[I didn’t let you die, Angelo. | Angelo's Game 2]] [[I was jealous of you. | Angelo's Game 2]] <font face="American Typewriter" color="green">Do you love me?</font> [[Yes. | Angelo's Game 3]] [[No. | Angelo's Game 3]] <font face="American Typewriter" color="green">Am I a ghost?</font> [[Yes. | Angelo's Game 4]] [[No. | Angelo's Game 4]] <font face="American Typewriter" color="green">Are you guilty because I died?</font> [[Yes. | Angelo's Game 5]] [[No. | Angelo's Game 5]] <font face="American Typewriter" color="green">Do you like my video game?</font> [[Yes. | Angelo's Game 6]] [[No. | Angelo's Game 6]] The screen turns off. The computer pops before catching fire. Then the computer next to it is ablaze, then the next and the next and the next, until all of them are burning, a pyre of silicon and zeroes and ones. The sprinklers turn on, drenching the room in water. And in that rush of steam, in that cacophony of confusion, you see him floating above you, smiling, arm outstretched, his face still a teenager’s, his voice still a teenager’s. He shakes his head at the fool you’ve become and smiles. [[THE END | Credits]]“I remember you,” she says knowingly. You stare. Try as you might, you can’t place her, not from your faded memories or even from the ephemera of social media scrolling. “I remember you too,” you say. “How have you been?” [[You think about this for a long time before saying, “Not great actually.” | Ellen Outside 2]] Over the course of her cigarette, Ellen shares the details of the previous decade. She stayed in town and has worked for a string of retail joints in the mall, the one that is dying, fewer and fewer stores each year, the anchors long gone, the foundation sinking into the flooded mines another inch each month. The story of her life is written in her hair, those tight curls, the mean way she hurls her cig into the mist like a minor league pitcher. [[You are filled with the sudden urge to respond to Ellen with kindness. | Outside Kindness]] [[You are filled with the sudden urge to respond to Ellen with contempt. | Outside Contempt]] “I am filled with the sudden urge to respond to you with kindness,” you say. [[Ellen nods. | Ellen to PJ's Track]] “I am filled with the sudden urge to respond to you with contempt,” you say. Ellen spits on your left shoe. Then she turns on her sneakers and returns inside the school. [[You can either go back inside | Locked Door 2]] or [[remain with the mist. | Uber Track]] “Did you have any fun at all tonight?” you ask Ellen. “Not really. I see these people all the time. No one ever really leaves here. Except you I mean.” You nod, unsure if this is a dig or compliment or neither. [[“Please go away forever now,” you say. | Uber Track Alternate Open]] [[“Do you want to have some fun?” you ask. | Ellen to PJ's Track 2]] [[The door is suddenly locked. You can hear the joy inside, the neon music, the happiness of old friends brought together once again. But you are separate, you and Angelo, unable to return. | Uber Track]]You are completely and utterly alone, and you tell yourself this is exactly what you wanted. You sit on the pavement and diddle the mist with your fingers. You think about Angelo. Then you think about your cousin Andy again. You remember how sweet he was as a boy, how you are both the same age, how he sent you valentines every year until high school. You remember him as a teenager at the rival school, how often he was suspended for fighting, how Grandma Valerie said Andy "runs with a fast crowd now." You remember Andy receiving first holy communion. A few minutes pass before you begin tapping your pockets again, hopeful there’s at least one Tum hidden away. Instead, you hit a cell phone. You retrieve it, alarmed it isn’t yours, that you’ve arrived here somehow, someway with a mysterious cell phone. You swipe it and discover a single app, the only way of interacting with this miniature computer. [[Uber. | Uber 1]] Ellen spits on your shoe and returns inside. You are completely and utterly alone, and you tell yourself this is exactly what you wanted. You sit on the pavement and diddle the mist with your fingers. You think about Angelo. Then you think about your cousin Andy again. You remember how sweet he was as a boy, how you are both the same age, how he sent you valentines every year until high school. You remember him as a teenager at the rival school, how often he was suspended for fighting, how Grandma Valerie said Andy "runs with a fast crowd now." You remember Andy receiving first holy communion. A few minutes pass before you begin tapping your pockets again, hopeful there’s at least one Tum hidden away. Instead, you hit the hard plastic of a cell phone. You retrieve it, alarmed it isn’t yours, that you’ve arrived here somehow, someway with a mysterious cell phone. You swipe it and discover a single app, the only way to interact with this miniature computer. [[Uber. | Uber 1]] Ellen looks you up and down, surprised, but vaguely interested. She takes your hand and guides you through the mist. It swirls around you, very cold, almost stinging, yet it’s nothing compared to the warmth of Ellen’s hand. “You remind me of my cousin Andy,” you mumble. “Is that a compliment or insult?” Ellen asks. You remember how sweet Andy was as a boy, how he sent you valentines each year until high school. You remember him as a teenager at the rival school, how often he was suspended for fighting, how Grandma Valerie said, "he runs with a fast crowd." You remember Andy receiving first holy communion. [[“It’s neither,” you say. | Ellen to PJ's Track 3]] She leads you, leads you, leads you, until the mist gives way to PJ’s Bar, the very same you passed every day on your way to high school. The townie bar. The outcome you spent a decade avoiding. “Let’s cause some trouble,” Ellen says. PJ’s feels artificial, half-generated from sitcoms and barely recalled <i>Roadhouse</i> marathons on late night cable. Six old men in flannel and Wolverines down beers and shots at the bar like they’re working the conveyer belt at the closed Ford plant. You see a pool table in back surrounded by a few young bodies, but they’re shadowed by the dull haze of smoke permeating PJ’s. [[“Let’s sit at the bar,” you say to Ellen. | Boozin']] The bartender is a six-year-old boy in overalls, his cheeks smudged with coal dust, purple bags under his eyes. He kneads the inside of a mug with a rag--a gesture long practiced--and spits into a spittoon before cocking his eyes at you. “What’ll it be, Mac?” he asks. [[“A beer and a shot,” you say. | Boozin' 2]] The bartender is a six-year-old boy in overalls, his cheeks smudged with coal dust, purple bags under his eyes. He kneads the inside of a mug with a rag--a gesture long practiced--and spits into a spittoon before cocking his eyes at you. “What’ll it be, Mac?” he asks. [[“A beer and a shot,” you say. | Boozin' 3]] The bartender is a six-year-old boy in overalls, his cheeks smudged with coal dust, purple bags under his eyes. He kneads the inside of a mug with a rag--a gesture long practiced--and spits into a spittoon before cocking his eyes at you. “What’ll it be, Mac?” he asks. [[“A beer and a shot,” you say. | Boozin' 4]] The bartender is a six-year-old boy in overalls, his cheeks smudged with coal dust, purple bags under his eyes. He kneads the inside of a mug with a rag--a gesture long practiced--and spits into a spittoon before cocking his eyes at you. “What’ll it be, Mac?” he asks. [[“A beer and a shot,” you say. | Boozin' 4]] [[“Tab please,” you say. | Ellen Final Choice]] You and Ellen are drunk. You know this because she is red-faced and loud. You know this because it’s a struggle to hold onto the bar. You take Ellen’s face into your hands and sense something significant is expected from you. [[“Show me where you live,” you say. | Ellen Ending]] [[“Goodbye forever, Ellen!” you say. | Andy Ending]] You aren’t sure how she’s even remotely up to the task, but somehow, someway, you find yourself in Ellen’s rusted F150 crawling through the streets of your hometown. You haven’t been here in so long, and the familiar takes on the unfamiliar as you clutch your seatbelt, as the mist rolls by. The dentist’s office is a mausoleum. The supermarket is a mausoleum. The library is a mausoleum. And then Ellen turns onto your street, the street of your childhood home. She parks in front of the house nextdoor. “What are we doing here?” you ask. “I’m showing you where I live.” You point at your house, dark now, always dark. “I lived there.” She points at the identical house nextdoor. “I know. I grew up next to you, [[$name| Ellen Ending 2]].” Ellen spits on your left shoe. Then she turns on her sneakers and leaves. You’re not mad. You deserved this and wanted this, yet your options are running thin. You don’t trust yourself to navigate the mist back to school, and beyond that, there’s nothing left for the bartender or his old men patrons to give you. You hop off the barstool and hear the crack of a pool stick hitting ball and remember the game in back, the young bodies you spied earlier. [[You wander in their direction. | Andy Ending 2]]You stagger toward Ellen’s home. You ask how this is even possible, but she just tells you to be quiet, that her mom, dad, grandmother, grandfather, great aunt, brother, cousin, second cousin, and baby daughter are asleep, and it’s late, so late, do you even understand how late and fucked up this is? She unlocks the front door, and you follow her into a replica of your childhood home, where you and Angelo spent hours playing video games, where your personality first bloomed. Ellen takes your hand and leads you into the basement, where you and Angelo watched WWF and he pontificated for hours about Giana Abategiovanni. Ellen sits on a pullout couch, but you can’t bring yourself to look at her. Instead, you stare at the old console television, the faux-wood a harbinger of all that is to come. You run your hand over the dusty top and say, “We used to have one of these.” [[Ellen says, “Come over here, ok?” | Ellend Ending 3]] After you're both finished, Ellen holds your face in her hands. She looks so, so tired and asks, "Could you learn to love me?” [[“Yes.” | Conclusion 2]] [[“No.” | Conclusion 2]] You wait for her to fall asleep before you escape. Your head is fuzzed by hangover, but you manage to climb out of the basement and slip through the front door without waking any of Ellen’s family. Or maybe that’s an illusion. Maybe they all heard you in the basement and are disgusted. Regardless, you leave Ellen’s house and soon you’re in front of your childhood home. The driveway is empty save for the mist, and every light is off. You want to go inside so very badly, but your legs are sludge, and you’re just so terribly unhappy, so fucking unhappy. You ball your fists at the house and scream. “I want to go back,” you yell. “Just let me go back once! Please, please, please.” [[THE END | Credits]]A trio plays in the corner. Move closer and see them firsthand: &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;a pregnant woman with a scarred face smoking a joint &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;a lady in a basketball jersey and soccer shorts &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;a neaderthal in an NWO t-shirt chalking his pool cue. [[You are extremely drunk. “‘Sup, everybody?” you ask. | Andy Ending 3]] You open the app and order a ride. The tiny digital car navigates the streets of your pixelated hometown, and, before you know it, a limousine appears outside your high school. No one emerges to open your door--isn’t that what happened at Prom when you tripled with Angelo and Andy--but it swings free anyway. [[You crawl inside,| Uber 2]] and the vehicle is off, the divider up front rolled shut. And no matter how much you yell to the driver, they won’t answer your call. You’re at their mercy now. The limousine crawls through the streets of your hometown. You haven’t been here in so long, and the familiar takes on the unfamiliar as you clutch your seatbelt, the mist rolling by. The dentist’s office is a mausoleum. The supermarket is a mausoleum. The library is a mausoleum. Two hours pass before the limo finally rolls to stop in front of PJ’s Bar, the one across from your high school, the one you used to pass every single day. The townie bar. The outcome you spent a decade avoiding. The door opens, and you exit, watching the limo disappear into the mist. You’re alone again, but there’s a solution to that. You can hear voices inside. PJ’s feels artificial, half-generated from sitcoms and barely recalled <i>Roadhouse</i> marathons on late night cable. Six old men in flannel and Wolverines sit at the bar downing beers and shots like they’re working the conveyer belt at the closed Ford plant. You see a pool table in back surrounded by a few young bodies, but they’re shadowed by the dull haze of smoke. [[You sit at the bar. | Alternate Boozin']] You settle up and consider your options. There’s nothing left for the boy bartender or his old men patrons to give you. You can call another Uber, but where would you go? You hop off the barstool and hear the crack of a pool stick hitting ball and remember the game in back, the young bodies you spied earlier. [[You wander in their direction. | Andy Ending 2]]The women glare at you the way you look at moldy takeout discovered in the deepest chambers of your refrigerator, but the man arches his eyebrows. “What are you doing here?” he asks. You stare at him. You look at his pregnant companion, then the basketball fan for help, but they look at the Jordans on their feet. “I’m very flawed,” you say. “Hell yeah, you are,” he says. “A decade, right? A decade since you’ve shown your face?” Normally you’d fake it, but you’re way too drunk. “Who are you?” [[He shakes his head. “Seriously? You’re a monster, $name. It’s Andy. Your gd cousin.” | Andy Ending 4]] Cousin Andy! You’re stunned. Cousin Andy! With his valentines and “fast crowd,” and here he is in PJ’s palling around with pregnant potheads and petite ponytails. “Andy!” You actually move to hug him, but he pushes you off like you’re contagious, cancerous, Angelo in his final days. The long, long ago. “Haven’t been back in a decade,” he says, “and now you waltz into my bar demanding a hug. Nah. Nah, man. You think you’re better than me.” “I don’t.” “You always thought you were better than me. Better than everyone. Better than this town. You hate it here and left first chance you got, and what of us? I’m the ghost of Christmas past, bro. I’m the mirror image of the life unlived. We’re the same soul, bro. You think just because you’re spending your sad little life away from here that it’s better than mine? Is that what you honestly, truly believe?” [[“Yes,” you say. | Conclusion 3]] [[“Not exactly,” you say. | Conclusion 3]] Cousin Andy punches you hard in the mouth and you stagger backwards. You taste blood, and you’re surprised by the salt. You love it and are practically laughing with drunken joy until your tongue touches a hard little nugget, then another, then another. You cup your hand to your mouth and open, and out comes one tooth, two teeth, three. Little brick soldiers spotted in brown blood. You raise them to the sky for Cousin Andy and his women, the kid bartender, the old men, for everyone to see. You raise them high like sacraments, and now you’re really laughing. Everything is just so hilarious and great! “I’m so sorry I left you,” you say. “I’m really sorry for everything I've done to the people of this town.” Cousin Andy smiles, mollified. Then you cross the short distance between you. You use the blood on your hand to pat down his hair, then you squeeze open his mouth. He wants you to do it. So you push those three teeth past his lips, and Cousin Andy swallows and grins. You embrace Cousin Andy and the two of you laugh, laugh, laugh at everything that has happened to your hometown. [[THE END | Credits]]The bartender is a six-year-old boy in overalls, his cheeks smudged with coal dust, purple bags under his eyes. He kneads the inside of a mug with a rag--a gesture long practiced--and spits into a spittoon before cocking his eyes at you. “What’ll it be, Mac?” he asks. [[“A beer and a shot,” you say. | Alternate Boozin' 2]] The bartender is a six-year-old boy in overalls, his cheeks smudged with coal dust, purple bags under his eyes. He kneads the inside of a mug with a rag--a gesture long practiced--and spits into a spittoon before cocking his eyes at you. “What’ll it be, Mac?” he asks. [[“A beer and a shot,” you say. | Alternate Boozin' 3]] The bartender is a six-year-old boy in overalls, his cheeks smudged with coal dust, purple bags under his eyes. He kneads the inside of a mug with a rag--a gesture long practiced--and spits into a spittoon before cocking his eyes at you. “What’ll it be, Mac?” he asks. [[“A beer and a shot,” you say. | Alternate Boozin' 4]] The bartender is a six-year-old boy in overalls, his cheeks smudged with coal dust, purple bags under his eyes. He kneads the inside of a mug with a rag--a gesture long practiced--and spits into a spittoon before cocking his eyes at you. “What’ll it be, Mac?” he asks. [[“A beer and a shot,” you say. | Alternate Boozin' 4]] [["Tab please," you say. | Andy Ending Alternate Opening]]The dancefloor is a haunted house, funhouse mirrors of bodies and faces that are semi-recognizable but warped and faded, tugged in awful directions. A rap song from the long, long ago plays and the singer instructs the crowd to “drop those asses to the floor!” and you and your classmates respond in unison, remembering the dance like a holy and ancient tongue. Beads of sweat dot your forehead, and you regret not grabbing a drink, especially when the bodies part like the Red Sea and you spot Giana Abategiovanni in the clearing. She’s one of the few you remember by name and only because Angelo was so obsessed with her, how he teared up whenever someone whispered her name, how he doodled her name over and over again in trigonometry like a lovesick malcontent, how Giana Abategiovanni attended his funeral in yellow, as fresh as summer corn. [[You remember| Tailfeather]] a rumor that Giana Abategiovanni used to run with your cousin Andy, the boy who was your best friend until Angelo appeared in fifth grade. <a href="http://www.salvatore-pane.com">Salvatore Pane</a> is the author of the novel <i>Last Call in the City of Bridges</i> in addition to <i>Mega Man 3</i> from Boss Fight Books. His work has appeared in <i>American Short Fiction, Hobart,</i> and <i>New South</i>. He is an assistant professor of creative writing and new media at the University of St. Thomas. Music by <a href="http://freesound.org/people/klankbeeld/">klankbeeld</a> and <a href="http://freesound.org">www.Freesound.org</a>. [[<i>Decade</i>|Title Screen]] was created using <a href="http://twinery.org/">Twine 2.0.8</a>.(put: (prompt: "If you could tell Angelo anything, what would you say:") into $Angelo)<font face="American Typewriter" color="green">Just tell me this, $name. What the fuck do you even want from a teenage boy who’s been dead for ten years? Why do you keep haunting me?</font> [[I’m so unbelievably sorry for everything that happened to you, Angelo. Your death. Your youthful potential forever snuffed out, and I just want you to know I think of you often, that I will do my best to live 2x the life, that I have left this place, that I will never return, that I will go out and do things you never got a chance to and this will be enough has to be enough because this is all i can do from my end and i’m so sorry i couldn’t save you so sorry i couldn’t fix you so sorry so sorry sorry sorry sorry that i was not am not a better human being | Conclusion 1]] [[The only thing I want is to be free of you once and for all. | Conclusion 1]]