“Can we play a game?”
“Which one? Minecraft, or—”
“The one we got at the garage sale.”
Oh. That game. The one with the badly-drawn trees on the cover, that was hanging out in the FREE bin at the end of the sale.
But a boring game is better than one of Peter’s tantrums, so I popped the CD in.
And waited, and waited, and waited.
Finally, the scene loaded—but it wasn’t pretty. We were standing in the middle of what appeared to be a forest. The trees, which were identical clones of each other, had leaves that stuck together in big, stiff clumps. A low-resolution dirt texture was mapped to the ground, and the render distance was terrible—beyond a few steps, it was all just black.
And then the webcam light went on.
Was this some kind of virtual reality game, where it was recording our movements, or something? Either way, I didn’t really want the camera recording us, and—
Suddenly, it blinked off.
I shrugged, and turned to Peter. “Where should we go first?”
I jiggled the mouse, so we were facing right, and pressed W.
We walked through the virtual forest. But as the minutes went by, everything stayed the same. The same weird trees, the same dirt, even the same rocks—two small ones and a big one, flitting by every ten seconds. I was just starting to get bored, when the dirt fell away, and the world beyond was pitch black.
“Whoops! The game broke, buddy.”
“No, it didn’t!” he said, grabbing the laptop from me. He marched the character forward, and as the trees faded back into view, I realized we had just been standing on top of a really big hill.
“Hey, it’s like the woods behind our house. You know, when we go down the hill, and then there’s the stream and the boulder?”
“You mean the butt rock?”
“Peter, don’t call it that. That boulder has been there for hundreds of years; it’s a relic that reminds us of how time is fleeting, and—”
“But it looks like a butt.”
I groaned, and took the computer back.
I could only see a few steps ahead of me as I stumbled down the hill. But slowly, the trees started to thin a bit, and the ground began to level out.
And then I saw it.
A stream, snaking across my path.
And behind it—
The vague outline of something large and round.
I mashed down on the W key. The scene bounced as my character jogged toward. Peter was squealing with delight, but I wasn’t listening. Because I knew.
I stopped, and there it was: a large boulder, with a huge crack running down the middle.
The butt rock.
My heart started to pound. The mouse slipped under my fingertips.
“How’d it do that? So cool!” Peter said, grinning from ear to ear.
I circled around it, just to be sure. But it was identical to the boulder in our backyard, down to the very last pixelated lichen. I walked around it again, and again, until I was dizzy. It must be coincidence, right? There was no way—
“What’s that?” Peter asked.
“What’s what?” I said, trying to hide the quaver in my voice.
“That dark thing.”
“That’s the crack in the rock.”
“No, the thing sticking out of the crack.”
He was right; there was something sticking out of the crack, small and dark, near the forest floor. I walked closer to the boulder and panned the camera down.
Stubby things, stained dark red.
It couldn’t be, but they looked just like…
Snap. I closed the laptop, and jumped out of my seat.
“No! I want to keep playing!” He clung to my arm. “Please?”
“This game isn’t appropriate—”
He started screaming. “You never let me play anything fun! Never ever ever!” He got up and stomped on the floor. “Let me play!”
“Peter, this isn’t—”
“Let me play!”
I slowly opened the laptop, and held up my hands in surrender. “Okay, okay.” I grabbed the mouse, turned the character around, and started in the opposite direction. Back up the hill, back into the ugly, uniform forest.
Except, this time, it wasn’t so uniform.
The trees grew thin. The ground faded from dirt to grass. The rocks grew smaller and smaller.
And the distance wasn’t black anymore.
There was light, golden and bright, shining through the trees.
My heart sank. I pounded the W key, running closer, hoping it wasn’t what I thought it was…
A house came into view. A small colonial, tan with green shutters, with a fire pit on the patio, and a toy truck in the grass… All rendered into pixelated, blocky forms.
I crept towards the window. Slowly, shapes faded into view from behind the virtual glass. A person, seated at a table, next to a smaller figure—a little boy…
Peter’s eyes were no longer on the computer screen.
“Who’s that in the window?”