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Authors: Bob Defendi

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BOOK: Death by Cliché
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“She stood in front of you, her chain mail bikini holding two luscious—”

Maybe not.

Damico slapped the bar on the rear door, stumbling out into the back alleyway.

There are several species of gamers.

There’s the role-player. He is the ruined thespian, the failed comic, the life of the party. He is the type most likely to be arrested for streaking drunkenly through a renaissance fair.

There’s the tactical genius, the unrecognized savior of Humanity. He is never happier than when he has the advantage of ground. He’s the type most likely to accidentally conquer a small Central American country.

There’s the combat gamer. He only wants to fight. There is a deep, disturbing love of violence in him, but no care for reason or common sense. He’s the type most likely to work at the post office.

There’s the female gamer, an oddity with a stripped chromosome. She probably got into gaming to play a vampire, but then migrated away after discovering she’d rather make love to a cheese grater than pretend an emo kid has maximum Charisma and a Presence of five. She is the type most likely to become possessed by Yoko Ono.

Then there’s the aspiring writer. He has likely started his own game company and claims great fame after selling twelve copies of a PDF. He’s the type most likely to lead a cult of followers in a posthumous rendezvous with an alien comet.

Finally, there’s the loony. The loony worries even the geekiest gamer. He will regale you with stories of the sex comedy he recently ran with a group of local sixth graders. He’s the type of gamer most likely to own a telephoto lens and a ball gag or an improvised silencer.

Ah, hell. I just blew the big revelation, didn’t I?

To the left loomed a red brick wall the shop shared with the local dollar theater. Paper and refuse cluttered the ground. Interspersed among the torn newsprint were discarded beer cans and a single used condom.

To the right sat a big POS Buick with a square mile of trunk space and a gunmetal primer paint job. Damico thought he could just squeeze around it.

The door of the shop opened behind him, and he turned. Standing there was a teenage kid with torn jeans and a T-shirt that said “I’m looking for a Japanese girlfriend” in kanji. He also wore a blue terrycloth cape. A sheen of grease painted Starry Night in pimples across the cheek bones and the bridge of his nose. Mud-colored hair sat in a rat’s nest that might have been fashionable if it resembled belly button lint just a little less.

Damico had left too loudly. This was probably the kid, the one running the game inside.

“Hi,” he said.

“Mr. Damico?” the kid asked.

Damico mustered his courage and nodded. “Yeah, that’s me.”

“Can I show you something?” The kid moved toward the trunk of the POS.

The smell hit Damico next. The kid smelled like day three at a sci-fi convention. Damico stumbled away reflexively, moving back toward the dead-end of the alley and trying not to choke. If this was the demo kid, he needed to figure out a way to rescue the players. This kid in a closed room would peel the dope off an airplane fuselage.

“I’ve been so excited to meet you,” the kid said. “My name is Brandon Carl.”

Great. The kid didn’t even warrant a last name.

“Carl,” Damico said as a greeting.

Carl opened the trunk and rifled around inside. “I’ve read all your books, played all your games.”

Damico edged toward the back door, but Carl stood next to it. He tried to figure out a way to open it without a noise. This kid creeped him out.

“I’m flattered.”

Carl straightened, turning and pointing what appeared to be a two-liter bottle of Coca Cola. Damico stared at the bottom of the bottle and went cold. Instead of soda, charcoal-colored foam filled the bottle. The kid had attached it to the barrel of a Glock 9mm pistol, so any shot fired would pass down the entire length of the bottle. Like a silencer. An improvised silencer.

“You haven’t been answering my e-mails, Mr. Damico,” the kid said in what was probably his best movie-villain voice.

“GameGod?” Damico asked.

[email protected]. He’d harassed Damico with demands to publish his game for months now. The kid didn’t take
please no
, or
please God, no
, for an answer.

But loonies weren’t supposed to be dangerous. They were supposed to be crazy. He was supposed to have to listen to a three hour lecture about this kid’s favorite character, and then it was supposed to be over. It was light stalking of a fifth-rate celebrity. It wasn’t
. It didn’t end in a pistol and a gunshot. This couldn’t be real.

At least the kid had used a two-liter and not a potato for the silencer. Damico was allergic.

Damico had always thought in the face of danger he’d act with bravery, but this was real, not fantasy. A step toward the gun would end with a bullet in the face. A step toward the door would end with it slightly to the left, but still in the head. His knees quivered, and his stomach turned liquid. Tears welled up in his eyes. He didn’t know what he’d do if Carl told him to hit his knees right then, didn’t
to know.

Dear God, he was going to die.

“I’ll publish your game,” he whispered.

The silencer whispered back.

Damico perceived things one sense at a time. He couldn’t see the area around him, couldn’t hear his own pounding heart. He couldn’t even smell the metallic stench of his sudden sweat.

Where was he?

No time to think. Desperation clawed at his heart. He was dying, wasn’t he? Dying. Shot in the head. He remembered that vividly.

He felt his body.

Damico had always considered himself a sexy man, but it had been in
of his body, not because of it. Before, just five minutes ago as far as he could tell, he’d been heavy. (Well, all right, fat.) He reached down and expected to find that comfortable layer of flesh. Instead, he found himself possessing a completely different kind of body.

Sculpted muscles moved under a layer of two percent body fat. The back pain, the heel spurs, all the aches were gone. He examined his arms and wondered how long he’d been unconscious. What would it take for him to lose all that weight? He went to the gym a lot, so this might have been his real muscles if one were to remove all the padding… still, it seemed a little much.

All right. There was an explanation for this. His body might
like it could bench five-hundred pounds, but it was probably just the same straining-for-three-hundred body he’d worked so hard to build up. That didn’t explain the body fat. Maybe they rushed him to the hospital with that head wound and tagged him for liposuction instead of a brain surgery. Maybe they had to call in a plastic surgeon for his face, and he turned out to be the man’s millionth customer.

Maybe he was going crazy. Brain damage. Hallucinations.

His mind danced away from that one. Not crazy. No, no, no. Just dealing.

He reached up to his face.

It felt normal except for the thinness, the sleek, healthy skin. More chiseled but the same nose, the same cheekbones, the same Italian eyebrows. His complexion felt a bit clearer. What the hell was going on?

Only then did he notice his clothes. We should forgive the oversight. He had a lot on his mind just then.

He still couldn’t process any senses other than his hands, so he groped about in the darkness. He seemed to be wearing rough cotton pants and boots, a thigh-long tunic, a long cloak. He had a sword… a
… on one hip. He checked his business and found a codpiece.

And apparently he couldn’t see.

Panic welled up inside him. He needed to find the light. He checked with his fingers, feeling for glass eyes, but only managed to poke himself. He cursed and fumbled in his gear. His hand brushed his pouch, and a glimmer shone out. He managed to pull out a glowing rock. His mind was too busy shouting, “Light!” to realize the more appropriate reaction would be, “What the f—”

A corridor.

Fitted grey stone walls extended into the darkness in both directions, and they must have used cement rather than mortar because the stones
on the ceiling without an arch. In fact, the entire construction showed the geometric precision of laser levels. He could have rolled a quarter across the floor without it bouncing on a seam.


He crept down the hall, holding the rock in front of him, not thinking of drawing his sword. Of course, some part of his mind had figured it all out and jumped up and down, waving for his attention, but he ignored it. There were facts one didn’t confront.

About thirty feet down the corridor, he found a patch that blackened the floor and walls. He stood there and stared at it, the part of his mind that wasn’t firmly in denial leaping about with a megaphone.

The char’s consistency matched what would happen if someone mixed two parts napalm and one part Jell-O Pudding. Bill Cosby would be turning over in his grave… if someone had the presence of mind to run a stake through his heart.

“Odd,” Damico said. That was the type of sentence that reassured when your mind unraveled like a Mexican carpet.

He should have stopped and reassessed the situation. He should have tried to call out or plan or just power through the mental cycles necessary to work this all out. He should have done a hundred different things, but his mind was kicking back at the juice bar of insanity, choking on the sample cup of wheatgrass and wishing it could order a pizza.

Damico moved down the passage and voices rose somewhere in front of him. At first he ignored them until he figured out he heard them through his ears and not in his head. Voices. Voices meant people, and people could answer questions like “Where am I?” and “How do I get out of here?” and “Was that charred spot someone you knew?”



“Never name the main character after yourself. That’s just pathetic.”

—Bob Defendi


ho goes there?” a voice shouted.

BOOK: Death by Cliché
12.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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