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Play the Game

by Ed Blundell

Life is a crazy game, designed by madmen, for playing by fools. I have always hated all kinds of games. Even as a child I saw them as cruel competitions, meaningless, inane ways of frittering time. So, when I got the phone call about “The Game,” I was less than amused.

“You’ve won a place to play The Money or Your Life.” The voice on the telephone was female, slightly shrill and resonating with a forced, artificial enthusiasm. “You’ve been selected as one of a number of lucky contestants—”

I interrupted. “I don’t want to buy anything, and I don’t want to play any silly games.”

“There are no sales involved, sir, and this call is just to inform you that you have been chosen.”

“Then unchoose me. I’m not interested, and I hate games.” I paused as I realised that she had terminated the call. I put the phone down and thought nothing more about it.

She rang again about a week later. I recognised the shrill, gushing voice. “Congratulations!” she almost sang the word. “You are through the first heat and into the next round of the game.”

“I told you clearly I wasn’t taking part in your damn game,” I snapped, irritated. “I don’t want to be involved, and how am I through to the next round when I didn’t engage in the first one?”

My sarcasm was lost on her and, unperturbed, she continued. “Our games don’t require the participants to be actively involved in the first stages. It’s called ‘passive play’, and the games take place at a distance.”

“Oh yes, and what was the game I didn’t play at a distance?” I enquired.

“Hangman,” she replied and hung up.

I read in the local paper that week about two suicides in the town. An unemployed drug addict had hanged himself in his bedroom, and a successful businessman, a happily married father of three, had been found hanging from a tree in the park. Underneath his suit he was wearing what the paper tactfully described as “female apparel.”

I was musing wryly about what particular chains of events had driven two such different souls to such dire extremes when the phone rang. It was her again.

“Just to inform you that the next game starts at midday,” she piped.

Did she have a slight accent? I was getting angry with her. “I won’t say this again. I am not, repeat, not taking part in your wretched games either actively or passively. Stop phoning me. I do not want to be involved.”

“The game,” she continued as if I hadn’t spoken, “is Pass the Parcel.”

This time I put the phone down and ended the call. The next week, the papers were full of a tragic story. A woman living on the other side of town had been killed by a letter bomb. The authorities were baffled. She had no enemies, and there appeared to be no motive for the crime. An animal lover, she was a member of the RSPCA, worked for several charities and was a well-respected member of the community. There had been no threats or warnings, and the police were unaware of any activists in the area. It was speculated that it was a case of mistaken identity.

I had almost forgotten about the telephone messages until about ten days after her last call, when she rang again. “Well done, well done. You are in the last three, and your next game is starting.”

I interrupted her at once; my frustration and anger rising. “I’ve already said I don’t want to hear about your bloody game, and I really don’t want you to phone me again. If you do, I shall report you to the authorities for harassing me. Unsolicited calls are not welcome on this number.”

There was a momentary silence at the other end. “The game is Snakes and Ladders,” she stated and there was a distinct trace of a soft and lilting foreign accent, then there was silence and she was gone.

This time I tried to trace the number but, as I expected, it was withheld. The midday local TV news announced that a man had been bitten by a fer de lance and died at the hospital. It was assumed that the snake had escaped or been released from a private collection.

It was then that a terrible thought occurred to me. The first game had been Hangman, and two people had committed suicide. There had been a bomb when the game was Pass the Parcel. And now it was Snakes and Ladders, and a man had been killed by a deadly poisonous snake.

I couldn’t believe the wild thoughts that ran through my head. What were these games? Was there — could there possibly be — a link between the deaths and the games? It was unthinkable, impossible, crazy... And yet... What could I do? I had no tangible evidence. Was it all a figment of my imagination? I decided I wouldn’t answer the phone again. I would change my number. I had to do something, but I didn’t know exactly what.

The next call I received took me by surprise; it was to my mobile, and it was a man who spoke. He had a strong East European accent which sounded sinister and more than a little threatening.

“There remain only two of you in the contest now. It’s a straight one-to-one; head-to-head, so to speak. The next game, Last Man Standing, is a face-to-face between the two finalists. We give each of you the other’s name and address at noon today and leave the rest to the two of you. The winner — the survivor, that is — gets a hundred thousand pounds. There is some very serious betting on the result and, at present, you are the favourite. May I wish you the best of luck.”

He disconnected, and there was not even a dial tone on the line, only silence.

Copyright © 2019 by Ed Blundell

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