Friendly Game

“This better be worth dying for,” Ash grumbled to himself. The highschool senior took tall, careful steps through the tall grass on his way to the clubhouse. He should have been at school, but his friend Chloe insisted they meet during the day. “Mom’s gonna kill me if she finds out I skipped.”

“Hey, Chlo! You here?” Ash called out once the ragged wooden structure came into view. The clubhouse was a discarded toolshed, slightly bigger than Ash’s bedroom. Ash’s dad and Chloe’s father moved it into the woods for them during their elementary school years. Ash hadn’t been there in years; he stopped going once Chloe moved away.

“Come in!” Chloe screamed excitedly from inside.

“Chloe! It’s great to-” Ash swung the door open and rushed inside with his arms out to hug her. He did not get to finish his sentiment about how great it was to see her; he felt a sharp knock on his head as soon as he entered, then blacked out.

“uughh… Chloe?” He woke up with a headache that he could not ease; Ash found himself bound to a chair at his wrists and ankles. “What’s going on?”

“I’m sorry!” He heard her voice behind him. He struggled to turn and see her, but he couldn’t. “I had to do it this way or you’ll think I’m crazy,” she said. Her soft, small hands landed on his shoulders.

“I mean, this is already kind of leaning me that way,” Ash joked and the pair of old friends shared a laugh as she massaged his shoulders.  “Alright, tell me what’s going on, Chlo. This is a hell of a greeting after five years.” Ash trusted her, even in this situation. Growing up together gave him plenty of insight into her; she was basically a good person. She went about things from the wrong angle sometimes, but she wasn’t evil. Otherwise, Ash might not have awoken at all.

“A long time ago you told me you could see numbers over people’s heads. I thought you were making it up and never believed you,” She said. Chloe squeezed his shoulders tenderly then took a deep breath. “I believe you now.” She released his shoulders and walked around to stand in front of him. She gave him a nervous smile; her green eyes rolled upward as if pointing something out to him. Ash looked up and gasped. A red number ’10’ floated above her dark brown curls.

“10!?? How??!”

“Um. Hold on.” She winked at him then walked out of his view again. Now that he had time to think about his situation, he thought it was odd he was put facing a wall. He heard movement behind him, then a faint, wet, gurgle-like sound. “Check it out,” Chloe said as she appeared in his view again. He looked above her head.

“HOW’D YOU DO THAT!?” He shouted at the crimson number ’11’ floating above Chloe’s head. “Did you figure out what it means?” he asked somewhat calmer. Chloe nodded.

“I think it’s a level, like in a game. I feel stronger, faster and smarter at 11 than I ever did at 0 or 1.”

“That’s awesome!” Ash said. He hopped in his seat in excitement. “So tell me how! How did you level up?”

“Um…,” Chloe broke eye contact with Ash. “Well…,” She moved her hand behind her back and pulled something out. “It’s like leveling up in a game.” She held a large, black-handled butcher’s knife out in front of him. He saw thick red streaks on it and; the blade was close enough that he caught the coppery scent of blood. “Wanna play?”

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