Boredom and technology can make a dangerous duo.
|Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.
Word count 4375
"Are we there yet?" I whined from the back seat.
"It'll be a while," Dad said from the driver's seat. "Why don't you enjoy the scenery?"
I looked out the window to an endless wall of pine trees flying past at 70 miles per hour.
"Awesome," I said, making no attempt to hide the sarcasm in my voice.
"You know, when I was your age," Dad started. "We used to sing or God forbid, talk to each other, on car trips."
"Back in the stone age when you powered cars with your bare feet, Fred?"
"I guess that makes me Wilma, which would make you Bam Bam."
"Is that what you were gonna name me or what you did to have me?"
Mom's face turned beet red.
"You know what," Dad roared. "I don't care if you are 18, this might be our last road trip together as a family and I'll be damned if I'm gonna let you ruin..."
"Hold on," I said staring at my phone. "Ah, finally, I have bars."
Dad's face turned an angry shade of red and I buried myself in my phone.
As I searched for a new game, an ad popped up on the screen.
"Play stupid games, win stupid prizes?" it read. "What kind of game is that?"
I shrugged and clicked download more out of boredom than interest. I watched in frustration as the phone's bars would disappear then reappear one at a time.
"Come on, this is taking forever," I said two minutes later.
Finally, I'd had enough and clicked on 'cancel download'. But instead of returning to the home screen, a message appeared.
"Congratulations! You've won your first game!"
"Really? The first game was to test my impatience?"
"Your prize is ..."
A wheel of fortune type wheel appeared and started spinning. I tried to see some of the prizes on the wheel but it was spinning too fast.
It landed on 'Your choice of game icons!'
I was presented with 4 choices. I picked the one that looked like a skull and a popup appeared.
'PSGWSP wants access to your phone, allow - disallow.'
I clicked on 'allow' and the skull icon appeared on the home screen.
'Would you like to play again? Absolutely! or No way!'
I smiled and picked 'Absolutely!'
'Hide and seek' popped up of the screen.
'Find the icon you chose.'
The skull icon appeared for a split second, then disappeared.
I scrolled through all the screens but couldn't find it. I searched for 5 minutes until I finally clicked on 'settings' and found it hidden in with the security apps.
'Congratulations! You've won a free virus scan.'
Before I could do anything the phone went into scan mode.
"Great, now they're going to say I have 10 viruses and offer me an antivirus program. I should've known this was a scam."
I was about to power off the phone when a popup appeared.
'Scan complete! No viruses detected! Would you like to play again?'
Pleasantly surprised, I clicked 'Absolutely!'
A white dot appeared on the screen and started moving in a figure 8 pattern. I traced its movements with my finger. Then it started moving in a circle. I followed. Finally, it moved in the shape of an upside-down cross. Again I traced the image. When it was done, the dot disappeared, replaced by, 'Congratulations!'
The wheel appeared, spun, and stopped on 'bathroom break'.
"Bathroom break?" I said. "What does that mean?"
The words were barely out of my mouth when my belly started to gurgle.
"Uh oh," I said. "Hey, dad, I need a bathroom break."
"I think I saw a Mcdonald's sign a few miles back. Let's see what's up ahead."
My belly gurgled again.
"I can't wait!" I cried.
"Do you want me to pull over?"
The wall of trees had thinned but there was still enough to provide a little privacy.
Dad had barely stopped the car until I burst out of the back seat and into the cover of trees.
My pants were at my ankles in a heartbeat as a squatted and liquid lava poured out of me. I gritted my teeth, determined not to cry out.
After a few minutes, Dad called towards the treeline, "You ok in there?"
"Umm ...do we have any toilet paper?" I said.
"Hold on," Mom said. "I think I have some tissues."
She brought a handful of tissues to the tree and looked away, holding her nose as I reached for them.
A minute later, we were both back in the car, but no one was happy with the results.
"What did you eat?" Dad said, rolling down his window as he accelerated back onto the highway.
"Yeah," I said sheepishly.
"That'll do it," Mom said, trying to make a show of not holding her nose.
I looked at the phone with a mixture of confusion and disbelief.
Did that happen? I thought. Then reason kicked in.
It was a coincidence. I chuckled at myself for my overactive imagination. then a notification dinged on my phone. I looked and it was from PSGWSP.
'Are you ready to play again?'
I had no reason to hesitate, and yet I did.
I set the phone down and looked out the window.
Two minutes of blurry trees flying past and my phone was back in my hand. Besides, I have to do something to take my mind off the smell.
Mom had subtly sprayed a little perfume on her and Dad, probably hoping I wouldn't notice.
I clicked 'Absolutely!' on the game and was greeted by a simple question.
'What mile marker are you at?'
"What the hell does that have to do with anything?" I said.
"What's wrong, Ben?" Mom asked.
"Nothing, just curious, what mile marker are we at?"
"Let me check here," Dad said. "Coming up on mile 66. We should be there in an hour or so."
"Awesome!" I said with actual enthusiasm as I typed 66 into the game.
Dad turned and grinned at me.
"Won't be long now," he said.
I smiled back at him for the first time this trip, but my smile turned to shock as I screamed, "Dad, look out!"
Time slowed as my father turned back around and saw the tractor-trailer pulling into our lane, pushing us off the road.
He tried to swerve, but we were going too fast. The front tire bit hard into the pavement and launched us end over end. We landed on the roof but still had too much forward momentum. The car turned sideways and started rolling. It rolled for what felt like forever. Every day, items became deadly missiles in the fight between momentum, centrifugal force, and gravity.
I watched the contents of my Mom's purse empty and bombard her face.
Dad was either trying to steer or he was holding on for dear life, I couldn't tell which.
The airbags exploded forcing dad's arm into his forehead.
The last thing I remember seeing was Dad slumped in his seat, covered in blood. Then something hit me.
I woke to the sound of beeping.
"I'm up already!" I said reaching for my alarm clock. but it wasn't there.
I opened my eyes and discovered I was in a hospital bed. There were tubes and wires attached from me to the beeping machines. I knew it wasn't a dream because this room smelled way better than mine. I tried to lift my head and look around when throbbing pain threw me back to the pillow.
"Probably not a good idea right now," I heard.
I slowly turned my head to the side to see my father sitting in a chair beside my bed. His arm was in a sling and he had a bandage on his head.
"What happened?" I said, pointing at his arm.
"The airbag slammed my arm into my forehead. The doc says it's a bad sprain but nothing's broken."
"What about your head?" I said.
"My watch cut it."
"What about my head?"
"They said you have a mild concussion. I guess something hit you in the head."
I tried to look around the room.
Dad hung his head.
"She's in surgery."
The way he said it sent chills through me. I hesitated, not wanting to ask the question on my lips.
"In surgery for what?"
Dad leaned forward like he was going to be sick. When he spoke, his voice was broken as if he was struggling to get the words out.
"Something from her purse, I think it was her lipstick tube, was near the airbag when it went off."
He paused and took a deep breath.
"The airbag hit it and shot it at your mother like a bullet, and..."
For the first time in my life, I saw a tear run down my father's cheek. He wiped it away.
"It hit her in the eye with such force that it went straight through to her brain."
My jaw dropped. Tears welled up in my eyes. I asked the question I was afraid to have answered.
"Is she ...?"
"She's alive. She's been in a coma since the accident. They don't know the full extent of the damage yet."
"I'm so sorry," I sobbed.
Dad stood up and leaned over to hug me.
"It wasn't your fault, Ben."
"But I ..."
"Distracted me? That's my responsibility as the driver to pay attention. And if anything, you tried to warn me about the truck. Don't blame yourself. You did nothing to cause this."
He released me from the hug and dried his eyes.
"Now that I know you're ok, I'm gonna go check on your mother."
He smiled and turned toward the door.
"Oh, I almost forgot," he said as he reached into his pocket. "Here's your phone. I found it on the ground after the accident."
He tossed it onto the bed and left.
I picked it up and pressed the power button.
I looked it over and aside from a crack on the upper corner of the screen, nothing seemed damaged.
"Time for your medication," a young nurse said handing me a pill and a cup of water.
I took it and tossed my phone on the bed.
"You know, you're not supposed to have a phone in here."
"Doesn't matter, It doesn't work anyway," I said.
She looked around as if to see if anyone else was in the room.
"I can charge it for you," she said with a wink.
"Sure, that'd be great."
She took it with her.
I tried to watch some TV and fell asleep watching 'Fail Army'.
When I woke up, my phone was sitting on my tray. I pressed the power and was surprised when it turned on.
After the startup process, I checked my social media and emails. I noticed a notification from an icon that looked like a skull.
"Oh yeah, that stupid game I was playing."
I clicked on it and stopped cold. The phone started shaking because my hand was shaking.
The game wheel had already spun and it said, 'Congratulations! You win a trip to the hospital!'
I threw the phone on the bed and backed away from it sending pain shooting through my head.
How could this be? I thought.
Just then, dad walked into the room.
"You ok, Ben?" he asked.
"Yeah, I just umm... had a nightmare," I said glancing down at the phone.
"Well, I've got good news," he said. "Your mom is in recovery. They didn't find any brain damage."
"That's great! Is she awake?"
Dad looked down.
"I see your phone is working."
"Yeah," I said.
"Well, I'm going back to your mother's room, crash in her chair, and wait for any more news. I'll be back to see you later."
"Thanks for the update," I said.
"No problem," he said with a smile.
I picked up the phone and looked at the message.
Could this be some sort of prank? I thought. If so, it's not very funny. No one else even knew I had this game. How could they know I'm in the hospital?
I looked at the icons on top of the screen and one read, 'GPS'.
Bingo! I thought.
Out of curiosity, I went to the download app to see if the game used GPS or if anyone else was getting pranked.
It only has 5 ratings and they're all 1 star.
'Don't download this game!!!' the first review read.
'Not worth it!!' said the second.
'Stay away from this game! You will lose ... everything!!!'
'Your only hope is to ...'
Just then the screen popped up, 'Play again?'
I clicked, 'No way!'
The screen went blank for a moment, then flashed, 'Penalty!'
The wheel popped up and started spinning. It was slower this time and I could read some of the 'prizes'.
'Maiming' was the first, followed by,
and finally, the wheel slowed and landed on, 'Death'.
I freaked out.
I threw the phone across the room and tried to climb out of bed to get as far away from it as possible. My tubes and wires became tangled pulling me down as their beeping became more frantic.
"What's going on?" the nurse said walking in the room.
When she saw me, she tried to get me to settle down.
"You need to stop so you don't rip your IV out!"
I slowed more from pain and exhaustion than her words.
"That's better," she said. "Now what happened here? Why are you acting like this?"
I glanced at the phone laying on the floor across the room.
Then looked at her and said, "Where am I?"
"You're in the hospital," she trying to look in my eyes. "Don't you remember talking to me before?"
I shook my head.
"We should get you some more tests," she said. "Your head might not be in as good shape as we thought."
"No! No tests!" I said.
"Ok," she said. "No tests. As long as you're settled down."
"I'm good now."
She looked at me with concern.
"Ok, I'm gonna go now. Are you sure you're ok?"
"Yes, I remember I'm in the hospital from a car accident. My mother just came out of surgery."
"Alright. If you have any problems, let me know."
I glanced at the phone. Any problems like my phone trying to kill me? I thought.
"I think I'm fine now, thanks."
She turned to leave.
"Oh, you dropped your phone," she said picking it up. "You must've been thrashing around for it to end up clear over here."
I smiled when she put it on my tray.
My smile disappeared as soon as she left the room.
I stared at the phone like the condemned stares at the executioner, with grim acceptance.
And then an idea occurred to me.
I grabbed the phone, ripped off the back cover, and took the battery out.
Checkmate! I thought.
Then the impossible and the unthinkable merged into one horrible moment.
The phone dinged that I had a notification.
I stared at the battery that I held in my left hand and the phone that was in my right.
I didn't want to but I knew I had to look. I turned the phone over and clicked on the notification from 'PSGWSP'.
It said, '4:57', time to play.'
Then the screen went dead.
I'd like to say that I brushed it off. That I put such silly notions such as a possessed phone out of my mind and watched TV while my head got better.
That didn't happen.
I couldn't sleep. No matter how long I held my eyes shut, I would always open them and a minute was all that had passed.
Is that how it's going to do it? I thought. Kill me through sleep deprivation?
Finally, I fell into a fitful sleep. Dreams of giant phones coming to kill me ruled my subconscious.
When I woke the nurse was standing over me.
"Whoa," she said. "I'm sorry I startled you. I had to take your IV out. The doctor wants you to go for an MRI."
"What's that for?"
"He wants to make sure the swelling in your brain is going down."
"Swelling in my brain?"
"That's what a concussion is. Your brain swells because of being knocked around inside your skull."
"Could that cause me to imagine things?"
"Ok," she said looking at me funny. "Let's get going then."
She helped me out of bed and into the wheelchair. We started down the corridor when I heard my phone ring.
"Did you bring my phone along?" I asked the nurse.
"I thought I heard it ringing."
She looked around and said, "Over there, see the doctor is on a phone that looks like yours."
"Besides, you could never take a phone into the room with you. The machine is like a huge magnet, it would destroy any phones in the room."
My eyes lit up.
My mind worked furiously.
"I don't feel so good, could we go back to the room so I can go to the bathroom?"
"We can use one of the bathrooms in the hall."
"No, I have a phobia about strange bathrooms, can we please go back to the room?"
"But the bathroom in your room is a strange bathroom too."
"I've gotten used to it."
"In less than a day?"
"Yes, it's like a second home."
"Are you serious?"
"We're scheduled for the machine now."
I started retching.
"Ok, we'll go back."
We turned around and made it back to the room much more quickly than we left.
When we got to the room I dove for the bathroom and started making retching sounds.
"You gonna be alright in there?"
My answer was to wretch even louder.
I watched through the keyhole to see if she would turn her back. After a few minutes and several times of glancing at her watch, she left.
I lurched out and grabbed for my phone, tripping on my gown in the process and hitting my head on the floor.
She ran back inside.
"Oh my god, are you ok?"
I nodded, feeling like I wanted to throw up for real now. I held my stomach as she led me back to the wheelchair.
"I'm never doing that again," she whispered through gritted teeth. "I can't believe I let you talk me into doing that. And worse, I left you in there alone."
"I'm sorry," I said weakly.
"How are you feeling?"
"My head hurts."
"Oh no," she said.
"What's oh no for?"
"Umm, nothing," she said as she pushed the wheelchair faster.
I held my stomach as I started to feel woozy.
We arrived in a room with a large machine in the middle of it.
"What's that?" I said.
"That's the machine. You need to hop up on this bed and lay down."
"I'm sorry, I'm not very good at hopping right now."
She helped me up and onto the bed and I vomited.
"Oh crap!" she said.
"That's ok, we need to get you into the machine so we can do the scan."
She helped me lay down on the bed.
"Ok now you lay real still and we'll get this done."
"Ok," I said still holding my stomach.
She went into another room and had an animated discussion with the man on the computer.
"Alright," came a voice over a speaker. "Ben, I hear you had a little tumble."
"I was in a car wreck," I said.
"I mean a few minutes ago."
"Oh, I tripped."
"Alright, well let's see if you did any more damage."
"Ok," I said, my eyes starting to close.
The bed slid into the machine. I could feel the closeness of it. I didn't dare open my eyes.
"Ok, Ben," I heard the voice from much closer. "Quick question, are you claustrophobic?"
"I think so," I mumbled.
"Ok, then I 'm gonna ask you to keep your eyes closed. Is there any music you'd like me to play while we do the test?"
"That relaxes you?"
"Ok, Metallica it is. Any certain album. The black album."
"No, how about Death Magnetic?" I said smiling.
The music started and blocked out the sound of the machine. I found myself humming along and nodding my head.
"Ben, I'm gonna have to ask you not to move your head while I'm doing this scan."
"You can do your headbanging after you've recovered."
"Ok. Just curious, is this machine safe?"
"Of course. As long as you don't have any metal near it."
"Oh," I said. "For argument's sake, what would happen if you had metal?"
"Ben," he said slowly. "Do you have any metal with you?"
"No," I lied.
"You don't have any metal fillings in your teeth?"
"Then you should be fine."
He started up the machine and I focused on the music and holding onto the cell phone I had hidden under my shirt. I gritted my teeth as I felt a burning sensation on my stomach. I began to sweat as I held onto the phone for dear life. Finally, I lost my grip and the phone shot to the top of the chamber.
"What was that?" the tech said.
"It was my cell phone," I said. "I'm sorry, I did have metal with me."
"Dammit!" he said, then composed himself as I heard the machine power down.
I felt myself slide out and waited until I felt fresh air on my face before I opened my eyes.
The face of a very angry tech greeted me.
"What the hell?" he said. "Why would you do that?"
"I take my phone with me everywhere. It's a habit."
"Well, your habit could've gotten you hurt."
"I think it did," I said.
"What do you mean?"
"It burns where I was holding the phone."
"Let me see."
I pulled up my shirt.
"Yep, there are burn marks," he said. "Probably from where the chips were frying."
"Can I get something for the pain?"
"I'm half tempted not to give you anything," he said. "After a stunt like that."
He disappeared into the booth and returned with some salve.
"This should dull the pain," he said. "I'll tell the nurse about it."
"Are we still doing the scan?"
"Not after that," he said. "I'll call the nurse to come to get you. You can brag about your scar."
"Where the phone burned you, it looks like a skull."
My face went white.
"Are you sure?"
"Here," he said, holding up a mirror.
I could see the spot and it looked exactly like the icon I had chosen for the game.
I began to shake all over.
I fell into the darkness.
I opened my eyes and the room was dark. For a moment I forgot where I was and looked around. Dad was asleep in the chair. I tried to sit up but the pain in my head told me to stay still.
"You awake, Ben?"
"Yeah, dad, how are you?"
He didn't answer right away.
"I've had better days."
"You'll get no argument from me."
He smiled but it didn't quite reach his eyes.
"How did my test come out?" I said. "Did I pass?"
"They said you don't have a fracture and you need to rest and stay away from car accidents for a while."
"That sounds like a plan."
"The tech also said you shouldn't headbang for a few weeks."
I laughed but it made my head hurt.
"Sorry, boy," dad said.
"It's ok, dad, you didn't mean to make me laugh."
"That's not what I'm sorry for."
He sat up in the chair.
"What's wrong?" I asked, suddenly frightened.
"It's your mother," he said.
"Didn't you say she was doing good?"
"Yes, I did. That's what they had told me. And then she took a sudden turn for the worse."
"How sharp of a turn?"
"Hundred and eighty degrees I'm afraid."
"So, is she...?" I didn't have the strength to finish the question.
"It's just you and me now, son."
His words hit me like a thousand bullets.
"I'm so sorry," I said.
"I told you before it wasn't your fault."
My mouth moved but nothing came out as the thought raced through my head, Yes it was. If I had just looked out the window like you said, if I wouldn't have downloaded that damn game, mom would still be alive.
"I know you want to take the blame, but it belongs to me and me alone," dad said with a haunted look in his eyes.
I reached up and took his hand.
"I love you, dad."
"I love you, son," he said, tears welling up in his eyes.
He cleared his throat but his voice broke anyway when he said, "I'm going to grab a soda. You want anything?"
"No, I'm ok."
He squeezed my hand and turned to leave.
"Oh, I forgot," he said. "They gave me your phone. You must've taken it into your MRI by accident. The tech said it would be fried."
"Thanks," I said, taking the phone and laying it on the tray. I smiled until he left the room, then stared at the phone. With a trembling hand, I picked it up and tried to turn it on.
I held my breath as the screen stayed blank.
I jumped when the nurse walked in.
"I'm sorry I scared you," she said. "I was coming on shift and wanted to see if you needed anything."
"No," I said, then paused. "Actually, there is one thing."
"Could you tell me what time my mother died?"
I explained about the accident and told her my mother's name.
"I'll see what I can do."
When she came around again she said, "4:57."
"Thank you," I said.
After she left I went to my window and threw the phone out.