by Len Maxwell

Tags: Mystery,

Desc: Mystery Story: Somehow a new game appears on Prescott's computer. How did it get there? What are the rules? He doesn't know, but starts learning.

Even years later Prescott could never explain how the game got onto his computer -- or why. One afternoon he was sitting at the computer streaming a game show from a local TV station when they broke in to show a live police pursuit. He watched a small white sedan weave in and out of traffic and, more than once, sideswipe other cars, and narrowly miss hitting pedestrians.

"We have just received a video feed from the surveillance camera in a local convenience store." There was a meaningful pause and the commentator went on, "The following contains very graphic violence and parents may want to protect their children from seeing it." That, of course, guaranteed that every viewer would move closer to the TV and turn up the volume. Then a grainy black-and-white video came on showing a man holding a gun on a store clerk. Suddenly there was a blast from the front of the gun and the clerk fell to the floor with blood flowing from a wound in his chest. The killer stared a few seconds and then ran from the store. Through the front windows Prescott could see him run to a small white sedan, pull open the door, yank the driver out, jump behind the wheel, and speed away. The scene faded and the station went back to the pursuit.

As he sat watching the pursuit, Prescott was toying with his mouse, randomly moving the cursor around the screen. It took several minutes for him to notice that, each time the cursor neared the small white sedan, it changed from the normal arrow to a hand, indicating he had options available. He moved the cursor to the pursuing police car and the cursor went back to an arrow. Back to the sedan and he had a hand. With a shrug he clicked: Whoa! A dialog box popped up that said, "Are you sure you want to delete that player?"

He sat back and stared at the screen for a few seconds noticing that the action was continuing in the background with the white sedan weaving in and out of traffic, taking corners on two wheels, and the police were right behind him. Pescott stared for a moment, then clicked on the "Yes."

Another dialog box popped up saying, "This player will be permanently deleted. Are you REALLY sure?" Prescott sat back and stared again, then slowly clicked on the "Yes." Another dialog box popped up, "This is an unlicensed version of the game. The undelete function has been disabled. In order to use the undelete function, please register your game and obtain an unlock code. Proceed?"

Game? Prescott thought. What game, I'm just watching television. He clicked on the "Yes" and, on the screen, the white sedan disappeared! Immediately afterward another dialog box popped up for just four seconds. He read, "Thank you for playing Punishment," before the box disappeared.

Watching the screen he saw police cars screeching to a halt with officers jumping out and walking all around the area. The news helicopter pilot was saying, "Frank, did you see that?"

The studio commentator said, "Uh, I'm not sure. What did you see?"

"That car the police were chasing just disappeared. Like disappeared into thin air."

"Yeah, I was afraid you'd say that. That's what I thought I saw too."

Prescott jumped up, ran into the living room, and turned on the TV. He waited the three or four very long seconds it took to come on and then changed it to channel five, watching exactly what he had just seen on the computer screen. He walked slowly back into his room as the phone rang. Sitting down at the computer he listened as the answering machine answered and then he heard, "Prez? Hey, Prez, if you're there, pick up. Dude, you gotta see this."

He picked up the phone and said, "See what?"

"Dude, there was a police pursuit on TV and the dude just disappeared. Like into thin air. One moment he was running from the fuzz and the next instant, he was gone."

Prescott sat there and slowly said, "Uh, yeah, I was watching. I'm not quite sure what I did."

"Dude, you didn't do anything, that dude on the TV just got away from the cops by just disappearing."

"Uh, Geoff, maybe you better come over here. There's something on the computer you have got to see." Without waiting for an answer Prescott hung up the phone as he watched a replay of what had happened earlier. He was shocked as, in the middle of the replay, the various dialog boxes appeared on his screen. Again, the car disappeared and everyone was frantically trying to figure out what had happened. It took Geoff only ten minutes to get there and, as always, he walked in without knocking. Prescott had watched the replay three times and, each time, the dialog boxes had appeared in the middle of it.

"What's that?" Geoff asked from behind him.

"Oh, that's what I was talking about."

"That's weird," Geoff said, "I didn't see those boxes on the TV screen."

Prescott jumped up and ran into the living room just in time to see another replay on channel five. There were no boxes! He went back to the computer and watched another replay and the boxes popped up. He ignored Geoff as he watched another replay and, this time, when the first dialog box appeared he quickly moved the cursor to the "No" and clicked. A new box appeared saying, "We're sorry. That would change history. Unlicensed copies of the game are not permitted to do that. Please register your game and obtain an unlock code. Thank you for playing Punishment."

"Dude, what is that?"

Prescott shook his head and mumbled, "I don't know." For the first time he noticed he had a menu bar at the top of the window and clicked on "File." All the choices were shadowed indicating they weren't available. He moved across to Edit, View, Tools, and finally to Help. There, he saw "Punishment on the Web," and "About Punishment." Making a decision, Prescott clicked on "Punishment on the Web." Because he was already on-line a new window opened almost immediately with the message, "ERROR 666. You are not authorized to access this web site. The system will now remove the game from your computer."

Prescott immediately moved his cursor to the upper right and clicked on the "Close," hoping he had been in time.

He sat back and Geoff asked, "Dude, what's going on?"

As briefly as possible Prescott explained, "I was watching the pursuit and I clicked on the car. All those boxes popped up and when I said yes the car disappeared."

"Are you trying to tell me that you deleted something on your screen and it actually disappeared in real life?"

"It sure looks that way."

"Where'd he go?"

"I have no idea."

Geoff immediately said, "Check your recycle bin."

Prescott minimized the video screen and opened his recycle bin. There, among other files, was an icon of a white sedan. "Dude, you got the bad guy on your computer."

Prescott sat staring at it until Geoff nudged his shoulder and said, "Restore the file."

Prescott turned and said, "Didn't you see that message that said the undelete was disabled?"

"Yes, but this isn't the game, it's the computer. It may be able to do something the game can't."

"Oh, man, this is silly. We're talking as if I really did make that car disappear."

"Do it, dude, restore the file." As Prescott highlighted the icon and then right-clicked Geoff said, "Hold on, let me get out into the living room so I can see what happens." There was a pause of a couple seconds and, from the living room, Geoff called, "Okay, do it."

Taking a deep breath, Prescott highlighted restore and then clicked. Almost immediately he heard, "Dude! You did it. He's back."

Prescott ran into the living room in time to hear the helicopter pilot saying, " ... from nowhere. Suddenly the chase is back on." Talking to the studio commentator, he said, "Frank, I've never seen anything like this. One second the killer was roaring down the street, then he was gone. Just like that. Officers have been combing the area for the past half-hour and haven't seen him. Now he -- I -- I don't know, he just appeared out of thin air and is roaring down the street again."

Geoff turned with a look of awe on his face and slowly said, "Dude, this is weird."

"Man, weird isn't what I'd call it. Come on." With a resolve, Prescott went back into his room and sat down at the computer. With a click he brought up the video screen and watched the pursuit continue. As Geoff walked back in Prescott moved his cursor back to the car, seeing it change to a hand. Without thinking he clicked on the car. Again the same series of dialog boxes popped up and he clicked "Yes" each time.

"What are you doing, dude?"

"Earlier I watched this man kill someone. He needs to be deleted." With a final click the car disappeared from the screen."

" ... okay, that does it," the helicopter pilot was saying, "the car just disappeared again. I have to land this thing. I don't think I can fly any more."

The studio commentator called back to him, "No, you have to stay there. He might reappear."

"That's your problem. I'm going to go back to the airport, land this thing, and go get drunk." There was a click and the commentator started reviewing what had happened so far that day.

Prescott opened his recycle bin, went to the file menu, highlighted "Empty Recycle Bin," and clicked. As soon as the confirm box appeared, he clicked "Yes" and watched as the white car disappeared along with his other files.

He closed his recycle bin and brought up the video feed. He moved his cursor around the screen watching the arrow. Not once did it turn into a hand. He turned to Geoff and said, "I guess that's it."

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Story tagged with:
Mystery /