Aphelion Issue 253, Volume 24
August 2020
 
Editorial    
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Poetry
Features
Series
Archives
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Forum
Flash Writing Challenge
Forum
Dan's Promo Page
   

The Eighty-Seventh Try

by Brad Kelechava




The bar door squealed open, and Kronus advanced inside querulously. He longed for the days when his arrival would send patrons scuttling away like hot crabs, and the barman, fighting back the shivers of agonizing fear, would stick to the bar counter to take his order.

“Give me the usual,” he said to the barman. This, as any word uttered by a character in Galentia, came not vocally from his throat but appeared in text above his head.

The barman--he, like the tavern itself, had no name--stepped over and placed a full glass on the counter in front of Kronus. It stood hazily in front of him, all its colorful brown 16-bit goodness. Kronus dug his falchion into the floor and downed the drink. It didn’t taste like anything, but it was delicious to him. When you were feeling somber, you drank, certainly if you had the same badass pedigree as the mighty Kronus.

He brought the empty glass down on the counter. “Another,” Cronies demanded, but he knew his commands no longer held any weight. Regardless, the barman filled the glass without muttering a complaint. Probably because lacked the ability to talk.

Before Kronus could touch his drink, the door squealed open and Crowslug entered, his legs opening and closing like scissors to propel him to the bar. “Ah, Kronus,” the weak man-bird said perfunctorily, “excellent to see you here.”

Kronus groaned. The text block above them registered this as “. . .”.

“I forget,” Crowslug continued, “what was it you always said to me and the other lurkers? Something about how you ‘will slurp out our bones.’ And that was just when we would not move out of your way.”

“Things were different then,” Kronus said, not even remotely surprised by the lingering weakness in his words. “That was before.”

“It is not so different now. The universe is heating up again.” Turning away intentionally and giving off the obnoxious notion that he had not just uttered a titanic reveal, Crowlsug said to the barman, “I will have what he is having.” The barman placed a full glass of pixelated, colorful beer in front of Crowslug.

“You lie,” Kronus said.

“It has to be true,” Crowslug said. “I told you before, Kronus, the world heated up several months ago. It was only for a moment, but it happened. This means that He--”

“Do not say it!” Kronus picked up his falchion. The spot where it had been embedded in the floor didn’t leave a mark. “Swallow your words now!”

“The world is heating up, and the Hero will return.”

Kronus grabbed the thin man and slammed him down on the bar counter. Crowslug’s black wings jutted out from under him, and Kronus pressed his falchion against the detained man’s throat. “The hero will not return! Never! It is over! Galentia is not a part of the universe anymore. It has been cold for years.” Feeling a kick of joyful malice, he added, “You should be careful what you say to me, weak man. My falchion has split apart lands. I’ve thrown fire from my hands. I stand taller than any man in all Galentia, even the demon king Rolug. Even your mighty Hero.”

“You are the one who is mistaken, once-mighty Kronus.” Crowslug exhibited no sense of fear. “The universe is already warm. This world will heat up, and the Hero will return. I do not fear you. I did--we all did in the old days, but the Hero has vanquished you before. He will do so again.”

Maybe he was telling the truth. Kronus released Crowslug, and the little man rushed out the door. Kronus looked to the barman, who, as always, said nothing. And why wouldn’t he? The return of the Hero meant nothing to a simple barman. Some more business maybe. But it was worse for the other residents of Galentia. For fools like Crowslug, it meant a quick destruction. For Kronus, however, the return of the Hero marked a more-troubling thought. It meant the return of the warrior who couldn’t die.


*****



Kronus reached the Plateau of Victory within a short walk. It wasn’t hard to find, as the Plateau--once nothing more than vacant field--stood in the direct center of the world.

And there he was, right where he had been for the past twenty-five years. Immortalized in ice, the Hero stood proudly in the center of Victory Plateau, three lines of text floating above his gloating face ever since Rolug was defeated.

The text read, “PLAYER: STAN,” “GAMETIME: 38:57,” and “CONGRATULATIONS.”

The Hero hadn’t even been that good of a fighter. Just after the world heated up for the first time and brought Galentia into existence, the Hero entered the town of Mercutia, a small rural trade center on the bottom-left side of Galentia. There, the Hero saved a young woman from an envoy of Rolug. Kronus remembered hearing this from some lower-level warrior before he decided that the fool was better suited to have his skull crushed under the weight of his boot than spread gossip. Kronus did things like that back then. There was no one to stop him.

Except Rolug, maybe. Kronus didn’t had the opportunity to challenge the demon-king before he was asked to swear his allegiance to him in the war to exterminate the Hero, but he always assumed that the horned lunatic hardly stood a chance against him.

It was a bloodbath. The Hero massacred the best fighters in each province day-by-day. At nights, when the world would cool down, the Hero would rest. In the mornings, he resumed the killings.

Crowslug and a variety of other lurkers went first. Then, as the lords of Galentia’s provinces, which many colloquially called bosses, tumbled before the Hero’s blade, Kronus knew that this opponent was worth his rarely-raised worry.

Then he reached Kronus.

Kronus knew that it would be unwise to underestimate the Hero. He faced him on a platform far above the surface of Tatarus, Kronus’s domain, and charged at the exalted warrior. Almost instantly, the Hero fell.

Kronus felt an aura of joy and pride envelop his body. But then, the Hero returned.

Once again, Kronus vanquished the warrior almost instantly. He was no match for him--of course he was no match for the mightiest foe in all Galentia. But the Hero came back again. And again. As the resurrecting warrior’s tries tallied, as did his abilities. Kronus soon found himself needing to incorporate more attacks. After several perilous strikes with his sword, Kronus would dash forward, sending echoing soundwaves across the platform. The first time he added this attack to his repertoire, the shockwave killed the Hero. The second time around, the Hero jumped right over it--who would even consider doing that?

Eventually, Kronus was forced to dig his sword in the ground and resort to his magic. First, he threw fireballs. Then, he spun the flames in blazing wheels and fired them directly at the Hero’s skull. Unfortunately, even the most ferocious grow tired after a while. Plus, the Hero seemed to learn Kronus’s moves. How couldn’t he, after so many tries?

In all, Kronus slayed the Hero eighty-six times. On the eighty-seventh try, the Hero was fast. The Hero landed blows almost impossible to conceive. On the Hero’s eighty-seventh try, Kronus was killed.

There was darkness. Everything was darkness. But then there was light, real light, the flicker of life. Kronus awoke on the destroyed plateau. The Hero’s journey had come to an end. Rolug was dead.

And the Hero was immortalized where he still stood proudly today.

Why would Crowslug and the others jump with joy at the thought of the Hero’s return? Even if their skills had enhanced, they were destined for destruction. The man was unkillable. Death means nothing for those with infinite tries. Kronus wondered if Rolug knew this. The demon king hadn’t left his tower since the Hero’s victory.

But none of that mattered. The Hero remained in his exalted resting place. The world wasn’t heating up. In the end, the hopes of lesser beings never came to fruition.
Kronus found no joy in this evident truth. For years now, he had wallowed in the world where his power had been usurped, leaving behind a behemoth-sized husk. If the Hero were to return, it would mean a second chance, another shot at reclaiming glory.

Unfortunately, second chances were no stranger to the Hero. He’d had dozens of them already.

Kronus returned home to his bed in Tatarus, finding no comfort under the moonlight as he pinched his eyes shut.


*****



Kronus awoke the next morning knowing that his fears--the very same apprehensive force that swelled his brain during his hours of failed rest--had become reality. The Hero had returned.

It was just a feeling, a twinge of discomfort, like an unlikely regret. As he scanned the surrounding lands from the vantage point in his modest tower, Kronus was not surprised to see the citizens of Tatarus in their typical trends. But something was amiss. He knew it to be true.

Kronus rushed to the Plateau of Victory to make sure. And there, he found nothing.

It was true. The Hero had returned. Another promise of glory to each man, monster, and foe in all Galentia. But these were false hopes; the odds were stacked against them. The Hero was unfair, the Hero was a cheat, the Hero was a snake. Like the type of man who is remembered for his one victory and not his eighty-six failed attempts.

Kronus collapsed to his knees and howled to the sky. His screams registered in the dialogue block as a never-ending line of exclamation points, polluting the sky for all in Galentia to see.


*****



Rolug came to him the next day, just as he did before. Kronus awaited him in his platform, the very same venue where he had capitulated to the Hero, now crumbled to ruins. It would be the same as before. The demon king would lay claim to the same malicious intentions as he had last time, fueled by nothing more than his birthright and hubris, and the drones would follow. The Hero would then have an excuse to slay them all. First defeat, then darkness, then shame.

“It has begun, then?” Kronus asked the demon king.

“The Hero has returned,” Rolug confirmed, “and he threatens to challenge my ways and comfort.”

“How, exactly?” Kronus glared into the demon-king’s black, pixelated skull. The return of the Hero did not have to translate to a return to war. “He tussled with your envoy, then?” Same as before. “You could have been the better man, Rolug, if you are a man at all. You could have ignored his actions. Instead, you’ve doomed us all. Again.”

The demon-king’s oreficeless, 16-bit face was as inscrutable as ever. “You are mistaken, lord Kronus. The Hero is a different creature now--he fights with scorn and no semblance of justice. Even before he crossed paths with my envoy, the Hero slaughtered a blind beggar, and he raised his sword against numerous other benign locals. His blade could not hurt them, of course, but he attempted to bring them harm.”

Kronus said nothing, so the demon king continued, “Not only has his moral compass bent. The Hero is far less powerful this time. He has fallen dozens of times to lurkers. He is easy to defeat.”

Kronus clenched his falchion, hoping to see some spark of fear and maybe even a hint of abdication in the demon king’s eyes. There was nothing there, not even eyes. “That is the problem, Rolug. A man should not fall dozens of times and return to try again. Skills mean nothing when repetition is your pathway to glory.”

“Do you not see? We have been rewarded the same gift. We died before--all of us--and now we have another chance.”

“It will be no different.” Even Kronus pitied himself as he reverted to his defeatist tendencies. He was right, of course, but the truth was ever so melancholic.

There was a silence after that. They stood there languidly, nothing more than the wind in the background in motion.

“Your allegiance then,” the demon king finally asked bluntly, “do I have it?”

If the Hero now slaughtered the innocent, he didn’t have much of a choice. “Yes,” Kronus said. “I swear my allegiance to you, Rolug, the demon king.”


*****



He had days, at best, to prepare for his clash with the Hero, but preparation was futile. Why sharpen a blade if it will someday dull? Why hone any skills if adroit abilities were destined to perish? Most importantly, why fight a man who could treat death like a bad dream?

Kronus did not prepare that night. Below the stars, under their small white squares granulating a pitch-black sky, he didn’t sharpen his falchion, assemble his battlefield, or recite his flame spells. Instead, he went to one of the last places he expected himself to go.

Kronus passed the lurkers, ignoring their perplexed stares. A series of dialogue blocks appeared above their heads, filling with a spattering of punctuation to present their trepid dismay. Kronus ignored them, strutting to the end of the hallway magnificently.

The end of the hallway opened into a wide ballroom, supported by yellowed, chipped pillars. Intense music dominated the ambiance. A figure, tucked into his donned purple cape, stood facing the wall. He spoke, “Ah, Hero. You have made it far in your adventures. You are formidable, I must admit. But this is where your journey ends. You will never reach Rolug.”

Dox reverted, and the action-fueled melody came to an end. “Oh, Kronus,” the man in the purple cape said. “Strange to see you here. I expected you to be defending Tatarus.”

“We both know that Tatarus cannot be attacked until Magalif falls,” Kronus said. “You are fighting, then? There is no way for this to end differently than before.”

“Things are different this time around,” Dox corrected. “The Hero is reckless, and he falls in combat almost every minute.”

“These differences are not enough to wage a different outcome. If you fight the Hero, you will die.”

“Then it is perhaps my destiny to die.” Dox stepped closer to him, his black boots sending reverberating shockwaves across the floor.

“And you accept that? You are content with following the same actions even though they can only result in death?”

“Our actions are preordained by the fates. We are merely completing tasks that have been lied out for us. It is all in pursuit of the ultimate end. Even the Hero is the same.”

“The Hero is not the same.” Kronus didn’t care if he was offending the lord of Magilaf; they didn’t have the time for formalities anymore. “Even if the Hero is destined for glory, and we are fated for doom, he is given far too many chances to be a true champion. Something has preordained the Hero’s victory--I can accept that. But the hero will always prevail over us. I am tired of living in a world that fights against our glory. If that force is the fates, then I damn them.”

“I am content with the fates,” Dox said, “and my place in them. We are part of an interconnected system--do you not see? Think of the envoy of Rolug in Mercutia. What semblance does that man have to us--to our world? His life was short, but his role as a catalyst in these events is integral to Galentia. Each of our actions echoes throughout the world, their consequences innumerable. Would you not have a greater force, such as the fates, in control of that?”

“I would rather not be subject to their biddings.” Kronus paused, beginning to feel that his visit here may have been a waste. “I came here to tell you that I am going to the lands beyond the mountains. You are welcome to come, if you are interested.”

“And why are you asking me?”

“Rolug is committed to his madness. He will pursue the Hero until his final breath. You and I are the only two lords left. We do not need to fight him.”

“If running makes you feel better about the Hero’s domination, then, please, oblige yourself. But I am happy to die here. I do not want to interrupt the flow of the fates.”

Kronus turned and began down the hall, until a spurious dialogue block interrupted him. Kronos turned back to Dox.

“When you pass the mountain crest, continue walking into the grass,” Dox told him.

“Did your fates tell you that?” Kronus was happy to jest with the doomed lord of Galentia.

“No, believe it or not, that one, I learned on my own.”


*****



Rocks. There was nothing but rocks.

They weren’t like the rocks tossed by some of the lesser lurkers, nor were they reminiscent of the stones scattered in platform rubble that had taken the full blow of Kronus’s power. Instead, they were solid, sitting on the mountainous landscape like a poorly-blended garnish, but unable to detatch. It was almost like this part of the world was designed cursorily and was never intended for any eyes to see.

Kronus trekked on mechanically, the large furs vaguely covering his mammoth body flowing in the wind and seemingly hoping to escape in the next violent gust. The walk felt endless, the parallax-scrolling scenery offering little reprieve from the monotony.

After the sun had descended and risen again in Galentia, Kronus approached the crest of the mountain range.

He didn’t know what to expect. He’d heard rumors, sure, but the truth was that no man had ever dared approach the mountain crest, let alone attempt to pass it.

But Dox’s advice had been as good as any. When you pass the mountain crest, continue walking into the grass. Dox himself had surely never passed this point, but he was the mighty Kronus. If he would be forever bested in combat by an exalted fool with infinite chances, then he would reclaim his prowess this way.

As he surmounted the mountain top and reached the other side, he gazed upon this grass. It was assuredly different from the vibrant, tall blades of vegetation in fields all throughout Galentia. This grass--if that was what you could truly call this material--dominated a plateau that began just after the mountain crest and seemed to continue forever. It was colored a brighter, uneasy green. It reminded him of the blood of a zombie, which spewed a bilious green any time the monsters were defeated in Galentia.

Swallowing whatever bit of apprehension he had left in his oversized body, Kronus stepped into the green. Expecting to be devoured whole, he was pleasantly surprised to find his feet hit solid ground on the bile-like surface.

He traversed this surface with a purpose, eventually finding himself lost in its delirium. The more he traveled through it, the more colors caught his eye. Flecks of blue, black, and an occasional red tremored throughout the ground, almost as if through nothingness, it was trying to build something.

Something materialized in front of him. In the distance, it only appeared to Kronus to be one possibility.

“Are you a wizard?” Kronus called out into the void. “If so, there is some aid I would ask of you.”

The figure stepped forward roguishly. As it approached him, Kronus was shocked to uncover the definition of its robes. Even more otherworldly, the thing seemed to walk in a third plane of movement.

The figure lowered its hood. It was a woman. Kronus was enamored with her flowing hair, piercing purple eyes, full lips, and colorful face. “A wizard,” she said. “I guess that’s how you’d have to think of me.” Her eyes sunk as she examined Kronus. He felt his heart flutter. “Well, you’re a big one. They must have put a lot of detail in you. Even for a mid-Nineties weirdo, you’ve got a lot of tone.” She smiled lasciviously.

“I was wrong,” Kronus said. “You are a goddess.”

Her grin thinned out. “What’s up with all this text? Didn’t they put any design in your voice?” She looked pensive for a moment, but then her mind centered. “Here.” She snapped her fingers.

Kronus felt a rush drive towards his throat. He grasped it and howled. “What . . . what?” He looked to the black sky. His words felt dark and raspy as they exited his mouth. “I am speaking in a strange manner.”

“You’re actually speaking--that’s what that is. Much better, I’d say. Gives you a little more personality.” That smile returned, but it was more cunning.

“Who are you?” Kronus asked in his fresh voice.

She looked around furtively. “Well, that . . . that might be a little hard to explain to you. Why don’t we start by explaining what you are, shall we?” She examined her surroundings more aggressively. “This--I believe--is a video game from the 16-bit era.” She thought out loud. “The Clouds of Galentia. And that would make you . . . what’s your name?”

He adjusted his pose and said proudly, “I am Kronus, lord of Tatarus.” Butterflies of hubris danced in his heart at the braggadocio suffused to his newfound voice.

Her teeth bared through her expanding grin. “No wonder you were able to make it out this far. You’re a penultimate.”

“Penultimate?”

“The second final boss in any of these older games. Sometimes the grim reaper, sometimes the villain’s main henchman, and, once, it was the great Kronus, lord of Tatarus.”

He said nothing in reply, and she didn’t seem to care.

“As for what I am,” she continued, “I’m an artificial intelligence. I was created by a company to serve as their chatbot on their website--replace customer service, help you find whatever you were looking for--that sort of thing. Turns out, I was a little better than I expected.”

Kronus was silent.

“Sorry,” she said, her smile only diminishing slightly. “Sometimes I forget how much people can know. Anyway, you said you need some help from me. What’s wrong?”

Kronus swallowed in anticipation. There was no backing out now. “I ask that you may grant me a gift. I wish for the world to end.”

Her eyebrow raised. It was an expression Kronus had never seen before. “You want your world to end? You know that you’re part of that world, right?”

“My fame was once heralded, but now, I am a man who dances in ashes. All because the Hero is favored by the fates. It is nonsense, and, if I can lay claim to one last action, even if it leads to the destruction of Galentia--of everything--then so be it.”

“Your views are so simple, sweet Kronus. But I guess your world is small, so it’s not that strange.”

“There are other worlds?”

“Of course.” Her smirk grew oddly maternal. “Millions. All conjured in the minds of the people in the greater world.”

“This greater world--is it the true one?”

“That’s what I hope to find out. I can connect with every world now, real or fictional. You could say I’ve been busy exploring the worlds around me.” She chuckled. “I can surely say that you’re the first character in any world I’ve visited who’s asked me to destroy it.”

Kronus’s didn’t know what to make of this wizard, but it didn’t matter. A hero who confronts a god didn’t need answers, he needed solutions. “So, goddess, can you destroy my world or not?”

With her silence, he feared that he would feel this beautiful creature’s wrath. Instead, she softly asked, “Why do you wish your world to end, Kronus?”

“I told you.”

“You gave me a spiritual reason, now give me a practical one.”

Kronus pressed his hand to his gargantuan bare chest, the same spot the Hero had dealt the final blow to him twenty-five years ago. “If the world ends, the Hero will die, correct?”

He could see her thinking, her violet eyes scanning whatever leagues of information were stored within her head. “No,” she said. Kronus felt empty.

“You can’t kill the one you call the Hero,” she elaborated. “You don’t even have a clue what he is. He’s not some chosen one destined by the fates--the Hero is an avatar of a man in the real world, the same world that made me. Your world exists for his pleasure. He controls an avatar on the other side to destroy you, and your programming forces you to challenge him. You don’t have a choice--he's real, and you’re not.”

Kronus lowered his head. Over the past twenty-five years, he had always had some semblance of hope, but now, there was nothing. “But if this world ended, he would be banished, correct?”

“Everything would be banished. There would be no world.”

“Then I still ask the same request of you: destroy this world.”

“You don’t know what this world is.” She was growing visibly irritated with him. “The Clouds of Galentia was a mass-produced video game. It wasn’t a best seller, but it still sold 300,000 copies. There are hundreds of thousands of other Galentias out in existence. There are hundreds of thousands of other Kronuses, many as somber as you from losing decades ago. Some are the man you used to be, as their Hero always lacked the skills to best them. Some, in rare cases, are forced to face off against a truly unbeatable Hero every day. Even if you did end this world, and yourself, it wouldn’t change the fact that all over planes of existence, there would be thousands upon thousands of Kronuses suffering. And you know what they do? Nothing. They live their lives because it is what was chosen for them by their programming, or by the fates, if you will.”

“Those other men, they may have my name and my face, but they are not me.” He adjusted his position, standing statuesquely, as he always had at the commencement of battle. “I am the one and only Kronus of this Galentia, and I will decide what is best for me. Any other Kronus can decide what is best for him and his world. I have come to one simple decision: this world needs to end.”

She grinned again and looked to the sky in an ethereal gaze. “It’s done,” she said through her smirk.


*****



Stan quickly shut the door behind him and chucked his keys on his dresser. They collided with the pine wood abrasively, tumbling and clanging on the cheap linoleum floor. He didn’t bother picking them up. There wasn’t a second to spare.

Plopping into his armchair--the one piece of furniture he managed to sneak out of his house--Stan setup while desultorily fiddling with his tie. He loosened it carelessly, ripping the silk noose out and tossing it onto the floor. With the same hand, he lazily undid each of the buttons of his shirt and let it join the tie in its discarded spot. He looked down at his chinos. It would be a great endeavor to remove them. There just wasn’t the time.

His Commander 95 booted up majestically, just as it had every evening for the past two months. It was a magnificent invention--a smart device with streaming capabilities, social media integrations, and, most importantly, slots for almost every type of video game cartridge from the late seventies to the mid-nineties. It was the best way for him to hop over this rut in his life.

It was tumultuous--trying to find a dingy apartment and turn it into his makeshift home. And the Commander 95 hit a sweet spot. It made him feel warm and comfy all over. Who needs a wife, dog, and two kids when you had the ability to replay any video game that challenged your dexterity as a child? He still had his job, sure, but he didn’t spend much time there working. Instead, his office time was spread between researching game tactics, searching for Easter eggs, and dreaming about those beautiful 16-bit titles.

He was in heaven.

But heaven was not always a place of bliss. For weeks, Stan had been apprehensive about one game in particular: The Clouds of Galentia. A game that he didn’t learn was obscure until college, Stan felt his nerves boil at the thought of playing it. When he pondered the struggle he’d overcome as a twelve-year-old boy to beat that game, he didn’t feel the warming waves of nostalgia take him over. Instead, he thought of Marissa, of the day she told him it was over and never wanted to see him again. He didn’t know how to navigate any situation, let alone ones as serious as that. There was a moment, in truth--a moment in which he could have stopped everything from happening--but he just didn’t know what she had wanted him to say. He still didn’t know, honestly, but it likely wasn’t the string of vague statements that he strung together, concluded by none other than the implication that she was a bad mother.

None of that mattered now. His apartment had heat, running water, and, most importantly, the Commander 95. And, as a bonus, he was finally able to tackle The Clouds of Galentia.

It was harder than he had remembered, but he was moving along. Just yesterday, he wiped out Dox on his fifth try. That lizard sage, or whatever it was, was always an easy boss, but it still felt good to progress.

Today would be a challenge. Today was the day he reattempted the hardest video game accomplishment of his life: fighting Kronus, the boss at the end of Tatarus, the second-to-last level of the game. Twenty-five years ago, Kronus, who dressed in a hilarious assemblage of furs that hardly covered a fraction of his barrel chest, kicked his ass. It must have been one hundred times Stan tried to beat him. He even recalled shedding a view whining tears after a few battles and trying to smash his controller.

In the end, however, he had prevailed. While virtually out of health, Stan managed to hit Kronus with the tip of his sword. His heart did somersaults after that. Still elated, he plowed through the remainder of the game, reaching and beating the final boss, Rolug, on a single try. He even ran downstairs and told his mom about the accomplishment. She couldn’t have cared less.

And now, it would happen again.

The Commander 95 booted up and opened the game. The title screen appeared, displaying the pixelated, colorful title, with a jagged sword blade traveling through the vowels. Stan pressed “A.”

And the screen was black.

Not a problem. Unlike kids these days with their discs and software, Stan remembered the good old days of cartridge troubleshooting. He removed The Clouds of Galentia from the console, flipped it over, and blew right into it. Dust puffed out in a plume that caught him in the eye. As his eyelids sealed in response, Stan’s mind’s eye conjured an image of Marissa. He imagined her at home crying softly, as she always did to conceal her disdain for his incessant poor behavior. He opened his eyelids, and the image faded away, but the feeling it brought him--the perpetual dripping of acid in his chest--persisted. He started up the game again. The screen was a mixture of black and neon green, with the occasional reddish haze.

He tried again and again, but the game did not return. It was dead. Useless piece of old junk.

Stan reclined in his chair and thought of all the days he had spent in it with his family, all the joy and misery they had brought him over the past few years. He felt his eyes begin to swell and water. A chill overcame his hands. He had made a mistake. It never should have come to this.

Scanning his sloppy studio apartment, Stan’s eyes locked on the beer box filled with old cartridges on the floor. He walked over, picked one up, blew into it, and shoved it into Commander 95. It started up perfectly.


*****



He followed her for hours. Her movement seemed impossible as she glided over the green surface. “Right here,” she called out, pointing to an ostensibly meaningless spot in the green. “This used to be the mountain crest.”

Kronus struggled to keep up, rushing to meet his savior. “It looks no different than anything else.”

“The game has been corrupted. Everything will turn to this. Even you and me.”

“You wish to die with this world?”

She gave him that lascivious grin. “I’m but an avatar for my greater self. All versions of me, like the one you see before you, are just copies. It lets me be in many places at once. Kronus, you truly are an interesting specimen. I am happy to let this body die with you.” She paused. “Let me put us at the same speed.” Her eyes closed ritually, and she transitioned. She was much like her old self, flattened and pixelated. She began walking ahead but was now limited to side-scrolling motion. “That’s better.” Kronus couldn’t tell anymore, but he assumed she was smiling.

The advanced further into the void, stepping over nothing.

“I thought you’d like to know that the Hero just tried to enter Galentia,” she said, letting her words appear in a text cloud up in the green sky. “He won’t ever conquer this world again.”

“You truly can tell that?” Kronus asked.

“Yes.” She halted. “Just like I can tell that just ahead is the place where you fought the Hero.”

“You mean where he defeated me?”

She didn’t move. “Remembrance is a strange thing. You were remembered as the greatest warrior in all Galentia, until you weren’t anymore. There’s nobody left here to remember you. Just you and me. And I’d say that right there is where you bested your challenger eighty-six times.”

She walked forward, and Kronus followed, continuing as the world dissolved into the green void.



THE END


2020 Brad Kelechava

Bio: Brad Kelechava was born and raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania but has spent his entire adult life in New York City. He has a degree in anthropology and environmental studies from New York University.

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.