The sound of the school bell was music to his ears. David looked at his wrist-watch. 03:30 p.m.
He slid off his desk, folded a dog-earred textbook into his bag, said abrupt goodbyes to his classmates and went downstairs, out of the building. The May breeze did little to play down the scorch of the afternoon sun and he immediately regretted leaving his handkerchief at home that morning.
He ignored waving street friends from neighbouring schools, half-walked, half-ran down the partly-constructed road, hopping around mud where he could. He patted his bag occasionally, wherein lay the reason for his hurry. In time, he broke into a run across a familiar intersection, opposite home.
Today, he had another plan.
At exactly 03:45, he knocked on Tunde’s door. Getting inside, he could tell Tunde was as excited as he was.
”Did you bring it?” Tunde asked.
”Why not na?” David said, slipping a video-game disk from his carelessly unzipped bag.
Tunde rushed outside to turn on the generator set, and before four-o-clock, they had inserted the disk into the player, hands glued to controllers, eager to play the new, highly rated game; DIE NOT (for your good). Tunde, as usual, had been the one to suggest they try it. One special feature he especially loved about it was the provided freedom to create a character that fits your description. A character like yourself.
He created David; the tall, long-nosed, wooly-haired, lean-biceped, dark-skinned boy he was.
Tunde chose an existing player, a technique he called ‘first trial trick.’ David shrugged.
He found himself surrounded by tall, misshapen men and women with shrivelled eyes the instant Tunde called it quits and slipped inside his room. He re-focused on the screen, and gradually, the strange-looking creatures multiplied in the game, wielding spears, shields and nameless antique weapons.
”Game on,” he said in ecstasy, turning his hands over the controller as the collision began on-screen. He slayed the first three that approached him, before receiving a deep pierce by the side.
Then they knocked him down, swinging weapons through him like it was the most natural thing to do. Blood spattered over the screen, and for a moment David cringed, a sudden tense air enveloping him. There was also something about the way the blood hugged the screen that brought bile to his mouth. A particular man – tall and muscular – turned the way of the screen as if he was looking directly at the player. There was something disquietingly strange about the way he said: ”DON’T DIE,” then turned back to jab a spear into his game character’s temple.
He let the controller drop to the floor in distaste as the red screen vanished into blackness and words began to appear as if typed by an unseen hand.
REMEMBER, YOU WERE TOLD NOT TO DIE.
”Mumu,” he said and switched off the TV unit.
He punched Tunde awake and reminded him to turn off the generator set. After a brief narration of the game’s end and its sensationalism, he said goodbye.
Then he ran toward home like he never had.
* * *
David gasped awake to an irregular knock on his room door. Rolling on the bed, he noticed, from the corner of his eyes, the torn window net and a dent in one of its grille. Instantly, his eyes recovered from jet-lag.
He checked the wall clock. O4:45 p.m. Surely, that was neither mom nor dad. They both worked as tellers for Access Bank and hadn’t gotten home before seven-o-clock ever since they started the job. Not even once.
The rap on the door became a drum, beating in sync with the droplets of urine already soiling his thighs beneath his briefs. Then, it came harder. Thump-Thump-Thump-Thump.
He fell back on the bed, rolling onto the cold floor, lying perpendicular to the door. It swung open, swaying loosely.
He watched, his gaze shifting rapidly from the hinges to the floor.
A minute passed. Nothing.
He then stood, rubbing his eyes as he laughed at himself, and cursing his loneliness. ”David, you go kill yourself one day,” he muttered, collapsing to the bed with a big sigh.
”One day is too far. It’s today.”
His head swung around toward the door, his mouth agape. He watched the figure emerge from a fair nuance of dimness and felt liquid droplets resume activity between his legs.
At the door, light revealed a tall, muscular man wielding a spear. The recognition was instant.
”You were told not to die. You die in the game, you die in this realm, too. That’s what happens most times you don’t read the content of what you play.” There was a pause as he juggled the cumbersome-looking spear in both hands. ”And, just so you know, we all came.”
Then in a flurry of noise, the door burst outward, ripped from its hinges as more familiar faces shadowed the Spearman. Above the din, he heard the same voice again.
”It’s game time!!”
And then they rushed him. In threes.