Chapter [03]: The Fall

The parting words of the man in black echoed in Tucker’s mind as he arrived home.

Keep it away from your stepdad…

He clutched the game cartridge in his sweaty hand. He kicked off his shoes in the entryway and hurried past the living room doorway where Vinny was watching television.

His mother was in the kitchen preparing dinner. Tucker swooped into the kitchen to let her know that he was home. When she told him that dinner would be ready shortly, he made up a story of not feeling well.

Without waiting for a reply, he hurried back down the hall and bounded up the stairs and into his room where he shut the door with a sigh of relief.

Curiosity was killing him. He needed to know what this mysterious game cartridge was all about.

Grabbing his handheld from the desk, he ejected the game that was already in it and inserted the unlabeled one. The tiny cartridge fit perfectly in his system. He pressed the power button and the handheld came to life.

“Let’s see what I’ve got here,” he said under his breath. Maybe this was some top secret JRPG straight from being translated! Wouldn’t that be exciting? It would be the first time Tucker had ever played something exclusive. He crossed his fingers.

After a few moments the menu screen of his console appeared, along with the strange game’s icon.

The floating title was dark gray with golden text that glimmered as it rotated in place. The title was totally unreadable, however, since it appeared to be written in some kind of ancient runes, or hieroglyphs. Tucker hoped that this didn’t mean that the game was in a strange language that he couldn’t understand. He had played games with Japanese voice actors before, but those games always had English subtitles.

There was only one way to find out if this was a dud or a hit, so he launched the game.

To his relief, the text that appeared within the game was in English. But, it was not the kind of introduction he expected. His eyes widened as he saw his name on the screen! How was that possible? He hadn’t typed it in, and yet there it was. He scrolled through the information gradually as he read.

Welcome, Tucker Bates, to the start of your new life.

Your path stretches before you. Sometimes it seems like you will never arrive at the destination. How long will you stumble around, you ask, searching for the meaning of it all? Will the darkness always remain unchallenged in this cruel world?

Perhaps it’s your turn to shed a little light of your own.

The text stopped there with a tiny blinking emblem in the lower right corner of the screen signifying that Tucker could press a button to continue. Tucker had the feeling that this game was like some sort of fortune-teller. Was he merely reading into things, or did this game seem to know a lot more about him than he realized?

He felt as if he were dealing with something forbidden - something for his eyes only.

He went over to his bedroom door and turned the lock. Once that was secure, he returned his attention to the game.

Which of these best describes you? - the game asked.

A list of professions filtered onto the black screen, and Tucker recognized many of the specialties as staples of various role-playing games.

The list wasn’t incredibly long, but some of the entries did give Tucker pause. Like most RPGs, he had the chance to shape his character into the kind of person he wanted to be. That meant that he needed to consider his character’s specialty carefully since most times there was no chance to go back and change your skill tree later on.

He read through the descriptions.

Builder - Someone skilled with their hands. Expect to turn a simple piece of wood into a masterpiece, or assemble a pile of stones into a grand mansion. The only limit is the amount of material at your disposal.

Thief - Sneaky and cunning, there is nothing that is beyond your grasp. Pickpocket valuable items or explore the private rooms of the grand castle of Morthaem. The world is yours. Just don’t get caught!

Warrior - You value strength and speed over all else. Only a fool would challenge you to a sword fight. A warrior rushes in with bravado and bravery, hacking and slashing their way to victory.

Healer - This specialty requires someone who prefers a softer touch. Compassion is your prerogative, and you use a combination of herbal mixtures and natural elements to mend the world and people around you.

Mage - A person with the ability to conjure and manipulate elemental and supernatural magic. One of the arcane arts, a mage has a deep connection to the unseen world around them in order to draw on the spiritual energy and bend it to their will. Physical strength is not an obstacle when you have the strength of the atmosphere surrounding you.

Once his eyes met the last option, he knew that was the one he would choose. It seemed only fitting that he would strive to become a mage, since it’s what Richie would have done.

Following in Richie’s footsteps, thought Tucker with a half-smile. It felt right. Tucker also liked the idea of using magic. Magic always took him away from the real world and allowed him to become more powerful than he was in real life. Magic was a lot more effective than fistfights and shouting matches.

Some people thought that being a mage was a cop-out, but that wasn’t true. The real trick of fighting as a mage was the misdirection and twist of appearing to be a weakling in stature, but then pulling the rug out from beneath your enemies with unexpected magical force. It was also fun to brew potions and become invisible for short stretches of time.

Tucker wasn’t sure what abilities he would be able to use as a mage in this game world, which was still unnamed, but whatever those abilities were, he was committing to them.

He selected Mage and was preparing to continue onto the next stage when Vinny’s voice sounded downstairs.

“Where’s Tucker? It’s time for dinner.”

His mother replied that Tucker had gone to his room because he wasn’t feeling well. Tucker felt a pang of guilt for having his mother answer for him, but he couldn’t really do anything about that.

“What do you mean he’s not feeling well? He looked fine to me this morning!” said Vinny angrily. Suddenly his tone changed to that of someone coming up with a conspiracy theory. “I know what’s going on here. You gave him money to go get that stupid game, and he’s upstairs playing it right now. Isn’t he?”

Tucker’s mother must have set down what she was cooking with because a clang precursored her reply.

“No, I didn’t give him any money. He came in here and told me he was sick. Why would he lie about that?”

“All teenagers are liars,” said Vinny, and before anything else could be said, Tucker heard Vinny’s footsteps on the stairs.

At least Tucker’s bedroom door was locked. That spared him from having to look at Vinny, but the man tried the doorknob, and when it didn’t open, he pound three times on the doorway.

“Tucker, you open this door right now.”

Tucker groaned.

“Why do I have to?” he replied.

“You know why,” Vinny said. “I don’t want locked doors in this house.”

This made Tucker chuckle. He wasn’t afraid of Vinny.

“Since when was that a rule?” he shot back.

This was not the answer that Vinny wanted to hear. He was not the kind of guy that liked to be defied, but Tucker was tired of caving in.

“You come downstairs to eat, Tucker. Right. Now.

Tucker did his best to remain calm and lowered his handheld.

“I already told Mom I’m not feeling good,” he said. “I’ll have something to eat later.”

When Vinny replied it sounded like his face was right up against the door.

“You’re playing that game, aren’t you? I know that your mother gave you money to get it. I will not have you taking money from us for junk. You are going to open up this door and hand over that game, or else.”

“I’m not intimidated by you,” said Tucker. “And I didn’t go buy that game. Go away and leave me alone.” He wasn’t going to hand over the game anyway, since he was instructed to keep it away from Vinny. Tucker wouldn’t fail that task.

Again the door shuddered under Vinny’s fist as he pounded on it.

“If you’re not intimidated, then open this door.”

There was no way that Tucker was going to willingly open the door. He sat down on the edge of his bed and tried to ignore Vinny. Maybe the man would go away if Tucker refused him long enough. He returned his attention to the game.

His selection of Mage was successful and suddenly the white text filtered away, replaced with another message.

A Mage, eh? You have an attraction to the supernatural. The journey won’t be easy, but the good things never are. May your abilities serve you well as you take your first steps into this new world. May you find what you need to become the hero you are meant to be.

The message disappeared almost as quickly as it had appeared, and Tucker was left blinking his eyes in confusion. Was that it? There was no other intro to this game? Just text on black? Was he just going to be thrown into the thick of it?

He didn’t have time to ponder this because he suddenly heard his mother’s voice outside his door. She was trying to get Vinny to back down.

“Vinny, please. He’s telling the truth. Just let him have some time to himself -”

Tucker looked up from his game at the sound of his mother’s defense and called out to her.

“Go back downstairs, Mom. You don’t need to defend me. I can take care of myself. This isn’t your battle.”

But, neither of his guardians were paying attention to him. Vinny turned his anger onto Tucker’s mother.

“Stay out of this. This is between the boy and me!”

Tucker’s mother tried to press onward, but before she could get more than a few words in, Tucker heard a sound that made his blood boil.

There was a sharp smack and Vinny following that with, “You listen to me when I tell you to do something.”

Tucker was on his feet and at the door in an instant. He turned the lock and threw open the door with his neck as hot as an oven. His mother cowered a few steps back down the hallway, her eyes locking on Tucker with tears of hurt brimming over.

“Don’t you ever touch my mother again!” he demanded, then before Vinny could even react, Tucker pulled back his fist and swung it at Vinny’s face.

The man was quick to dodge the attack, however, and countered by shoving Tucker in the chest.

Tucker stumbled back and banged his lower back off the desk, which caused him to spin around and tumble to the floor. His game system flew from his hand and slid across the floor until it came to a stop next to his bed.

Vinny stepped into the room, his fists balled up tightly so that his knuckles shone white. The man’s eyes spotted the handheld on the floor and he growled.

“That game is going in the dumpster,” he said and started for the handheld.

Again, the words of the man in black filled Tucker’s ears.

Keep it away from your stepdad…

He couldn’t let Vinny get his hands on it.

Tucker lunged across the bedroom to reach for the handheld, yelling over his shoulder to his mother, “Mom, get out of here and call the police!”

He wasn’t sure if she was going or not, but he didn’t have time to check. Vinny raced him to get the game system, but Tucker was too fast for him. He gripped the handheld tightly and drew it up to his chest, trying to guard it.

Vinny wasn’t giving up.

“I said give it to me,” he demanded, looking as if steam were spewing from his nose.

Tucker drew back, bumping against the side of his bed. He had to get out of here with the game, but his exit was blocked by Vinny’s large frame. He glanced down at his game system for a second, afraid that the screen had been cracked from the fall.

But, to his surprise, the system wasn’t damaged at all. In fact, it was still going strong, and on the screen was an image of his bedroom. The game had somehow activated the handheld’s augmented reality camera.

As Tucker moved to hold the handheld away from Vinny’s grasp, he spotted a glowing object just off the edge of the screen. Maneuvering himself so that the screen pointed at the wall beside his bed, Tucker’s eyes widened when the game revealed a glowing archway made of radiant light sliced into the wall. When he looked beyond the screen, the archway was gone. But, filtered through the augmented reality screen, the arch was clear as day - and the opening was filled with an inky blackness that radiated mystery.

What was beyond that doorway? Was he supposed to go through it somehow? The idea was crazy. He had no time to think about it because Vinny was swiping at the game system like his life depended on it.

Without thinking about what he was doing,Tucker slid over and placed his back against the bedroom wall. Instead of solid sheetrock, he felt himself leaning against nothing but empty, chilled air. It felt like someone had cut an opening in the wall and filled it with a bunch of air conditioning.

With nothing to catch him, Tucker lost his grip on the game system and it fell out of his hand. Before he could scramble to grab it, Tucker tipped backwards and started falling. Vinny was mere inches from Tucker when the wall sealed itself up in front of Tucker and he found himself in some bizarre lightless world.

There was no floor. He tumbled backwards, falling down and down, faster and faster, until it felt like he might never stop.

Eventually, though, he reached the bottom.


About the author


Bio: I have been a writer pretty much from the time I could hold a pencil and scribble letters. I am looking to develop my craft and better my storytelling. I am a huge fan of fantasy and horror in all their incarnations. When I'm not reading, I'm usually hunting for Legos. You can find me trying to decipher the mini-figure blind bags at the local big-box store.

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