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Short Story 36

An Unwanted Acquaintance



What’s your favorite game to play?


Is that such a strange question to ask when you first meet someone?


Or maybe you think it’s childish?


I just love playing games though.


How about this, why don’t we play a game together?


I think that would be a perfectly lovely idea, don’t you?


Let’s say hide-and-seek.


You hide.


I seek.


But I do hate counting in minutes.


How about we go for days.


And how about I look for you only for a certain period of time.


Let’s say I search for one thousand ninety-five days.


Also known as three years.


If I can’t find you by twelve O’clock midnight on the last day you win, and I owe you one.


Trust me, that is no small thing, it’s something worth the game.


I am capable of doing almost anything.


If I catch you…


Well, you’ll just have to wait and see what that means when the time comes.


What do you say, do we have a deal?


Your confusion on how to respond answers the question for you.


Remember, there is no such thing as base in this game.


I look forward to seeing you.


Please do your best to hide well.


The last game was no fun at all.


I do hope this one with you will be different.


-


Anziel woke with a start. He glanced at the clock; it was a quarter past three in the morning. He reached for his phone checking the date. It was the one thousandth ninety-fifth day. There were only hours left now. To state it more accurately, there was only twenty hours and fourty-four minutes and a hand full of heavy seconds left. That’s it.


Replacing the phone, he leaned back on the pillow. He wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep. Once he woke like this, it was all over. There was no such thing as returning to a dream. The first few days he hadn’t taken the threat seriously, which seemed to be noticed by the person who had ‘invited’ him to the game.


On the outside of his apartment was glued the message ‘come out, come out, wherever you are’. Later that night he receive a message from this person stating,


It seems you didn’t believe me.


So, I will give you a second chance.


I will give you two days to start moving, and then I’ll come looking again.


If you’re in the same place, I will consider I made an error in my opponent.


I really don’t like feeling cheated out of a good game.


I will not be kind if you continue at this rate.


Please don’t disappoint me again, Anziel.


Since than he had moved nonstop, he had lost count of everywhere he had been or how he had gotten there. Occasionally he would get a message from his mysterious antagonist to the effect of:


So close.


Only steps behind.


Missed you that time.


You’re doing well.


He never responded to these. Just as he had never responded to the first message thread. That didn’t appear to stop this person. His own personal interest was of no concern to them, whoever they were. It was just the idea of this game.


Only these last few hours to go. That was it. For all these years he had been able to avoid whatever strange horror this person had for him, this bizarre entity. To survive another few hours more would be nothing. Nothing.


Agitated he left the bed. A shower and then he would be leaving. He had already stayed in one place far too long. It was close to violating the three days only rule, which he had self-imposed. Cleaned and dressed he packed his few things and left.


He wasn’t sure how this person had found him in the first place. It was something that always irritated him. Anziel had worked for a large advertising firm before getting bound up in this ‘game’ as the entity called it. He was lucky he had had a fairly good position, or he might not have been able to afford all this running around now. There was always this idea that it might have been one of his clients, or possibly a coworker. But, who would have the time and money to chase him like this? Could it be a complete stranger?


He got into his rental car. The second rule he followed closely was only renting a car for a week. Any longer and the plates could become a problem. It had been five days already. The next open rental he would change it out.


Starting the engine Anziel pulled out of the motel parking lot. The sky was only just creased with gray, night still having a wider grasp on this section of the world. He would drive until eleven and then stop to eat. It was a pity he had woken so soon. He preferred to make breakfast and lunch at the continental breakfast offered by most hotels and motels these days. Maybe next time.


The road stretched out. The surrounding world was open blank farmland. Here and there cornfields stretched in the darkness, still only waist high. There was nothing for miles. Endless unknown road was all that existed.


This had been his life. It was endless, or at least it had felt that way. The only relief he had was that the entity promised not to check his cell location. Stating:


That would make the game to easy.


Besides, if I compromise too much of your mental wellbeing I risk you going insane.


And I can’t have that.


A disturbing bit of care toward its prey. It was a kindness he extended to any card transaction as well. It stood for some strange reason that it would wish the game to continue unhampered. To keep him in enough suspense to continue on. There were so many moments where he felt he had totally lost his mind. Where he had driven just that bit too long, staring out into nothing.


The void and the danger of looking into it. It was something difficult not to think about, to be haunted by. Eighteen hours, that was it. That was one thousand eighty minutes. Sixty-four thousand eight hundred seconds. That was nothing. Nothing in comparison to everything thus far. He could do it. He could.


The lonely stretch of I-70 went on in a line of endless vacant asphalt. There were hardly any cars out this early. The world was empty. He was alone, save a few semis.


There had grown to be a beauty to that and yet he missed everything. He missed going to a cafe and meeting a friend. Going to his parent’s house and eating dinner with them. Holidays, parties, celebrations. They hadn’t existed for so long. He had been stuck in limbo, standing there with a rope around his neck on the trap door to the gallows. Waiting for the door to open or the executioner to remove the rope. He had wanted to go to the police to tell them, but the watching eye seemed to know.


Do you think they’ll believe you?


They’ll think you’re schizophrenic.


I’ll delete the messages before you can show them, no matter where they are.


They’ll lock you up, and then I’ll get you.


It’s better to just play the game.


It’s easy for you and funnier for me.


But that would be over soon. He was positive of it. Every moment that passed he was more and more sure of his victory. More positive that he was almost at the end of this madness.


The road bleed into a long strip. He only stopped when it was impossible to make an excuse not to get gas. While he was filling up, he got what he would eat and drink for the day. Taking care of other necessary business to avoid having to stop for a few more hours.


The road bleed away. He took side paths driving as fast as he could when there was no one around to notice. The desire to get to that point of forgetting was suffocating. He didn’t want to remember what time it was, or how many hours, minutes, or seconds he had left any more. They were all there like a second skin, tickling his flesh, reminding him of how slow time could pass when you were aware, when you wanted something, and it was so near at hand.


The day ebbed on with a rigorous liquidity. As he ate his thrown together dinner of a few of the more consciously purchased provisions Anzeil glanced at the clock. It was six. That meant there were only six hours to go. Just six.


Time drugged on that much slower. Every minute. Every second dripping into his tight fingers braced around the steering wheel. The insanity he had been trapped in, the very one that had him running for his life for three years, it was almost over. Was it possible he was winning.


You’re really good at this.


A message popped up on his phone, the screen of its own accord switched to it.


You really have kept me guessing for quite some time.


Of course, you wouldn’t blame me for getting serious now that we are in the home stretch.


Oh, was that insensitive of me.


Of course, I’m sorry if it was.


Anzeil’s jaw gave a convulsive twitch. It was now eleven fifty. The sky was black and there was nothing all around him. Nothing. It was impossible. He couldn’t lose. Not now. Not when it was almost over. He put his foot down on the gas, driving down the dry desolate road.


Do you honestly think going faster will help?


I can’t say that I agree, but you are your own strategist.


This thing was toying with him. It was trying to get into his head. Make him lose confidence in his victory. He wouldn’t, he couldn’t, he had to win. There was nothing else for it. He had to get his life back at any cost. It was eleven fifty-three. There was only seven minutes. Only seven. He could last.


Are you confident?


I mean of course in your ability to best me.


I wonder?


You know your driving is quite sporadic.


It can’t be very safe.


What if something just appeared in front of you.


I imagine they wouldn’t be recognizable with the speed of your car.


Anzeil shook his head as if to dispel the voice. The words, he couldn’t help reading them. Everyone that popped up filtered through his mind. His eyes unable to do anything but swallow them. If what it was saying was true, then that meant it could see him. It knew where he was. But how? Drone?


You’re looking for me, aren’t you?


But you won’t see me until I want to be seen.


The moment is close now.


You won’t have to wait long.


I promise.


Without knowing why Azeil pressed a button on the phone for speech to text. And a simple word escaped his lips and then sent.


Why?


Why what?


Was the quick response.


You must be specific.


Why are you doing this to me?


Oh, that.


What a funny question.


You’re forcing me to get introspective.


The answer is simple.


You see there comes a point in someone’s life who has everything where that everything just isn’t enough anymore.


Try as you might, the world becomes tasteless.


Money, yes.


Fame, yes.


Prestige, yes.


Company, yes.


Absolute anonymity, yes.


But this doesn’t add flavor to anything.


These things lose something the more you have them.


There is nothing refreshing.


You’re always thirsting for something, anything to add value to life.


Anything to add innovation.


After all, how many shoes do you need?


How many new movies can you watch or produce?


How many things can you fund?


Planes and cars can you own?


It creates a void.


You fill that void.


You help me forget.


You entertain me.


In a way, you’re like a friend.


Your someone, important to me.


These past three years you have diverted me from my burdens.


You’ve made life a pleasant, even fun thing.


Given me a sort of passion.


You are the zest I needed.


It was eleven fifty-eight. There was only two minutes. He didn’t know where it was. He turned off the headlights. Naturally he lifted his foot from the gas slowing. There was no point in rushing anymore. Not when he didn’t know where he was. For all he knew he could be charging toward it at that very moment.


And when I win…


Or when you do, what then?


Another very interesting question.


You know, this is much more enjoyable now that you’re talking back.


You really did force me to pull most of the weight, you naughty thing.


Anziel stopped the car in the center of the road. It was eleven fifty-nine. Just a few more seconds that was all he needed. Just a few more.


This game you’re playing…


What happens at the end?


Shall we find out?


His eyes glanced down for the relief of those numbers. For those digits that said he had won. That it was over, but he couldn’t read them through the blinding light that poured through the windshield. In a swift movement, heart in his throat, Anziel turned the wheel and stepped on the gas.


Now this is fun :)




End



Thank you so much for reading everyone!!



Prompt Sentence: What’s your favorite game to play?


Word Count: 2248


©DecemberKnight 2023


Special thanks to Dids from Pexels for the use of the image!


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