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Up-Up-Down-Left-Right

R. Mac Jones updates infrequently and provides links to things at rmacjoneswrote.com. His work has recently appeared in Strange Horizons, Right Hand Pointing, Liminality, and Dreams and Nightmares, among other places.
We choose a side-scroller because we see our lives together as linear, and we believe we both look better in profile. Thoughts download in lumps, jumbled, like a dream, and algorithms blend us and make a smooth narrative, and there we are, 8-bit, and they got your hair so wrong, but that is not you, that is you in our game.
Some of it is familiar. I can see the framework, the metaphor, in bears wearing boardshorts, running through the jungle of lime green vines, then a glitch, pixel-flurry, the screen blanks, back again, and finding the key leads to fighting robots with lamprey faces and picking the green door means a mini-boss battle against a giant baby with a chartreuse scarf in a shopping cart, and just before collecting the golden pencil, the glitch again, the blank screen, but only for a moment, then we are back fighting lizards the size of cattle, slipping down rain barrels, and we are underwater, and there it is again--just the briefest fizzle and blank--and we're back bobbing along, pressing B incessantly for some semblance of weightlessness.
Then the glitch, the screen blanks, and we are back almost at the same place, still running right, still reaching save points, still jumping hedges shaped like hands. You try to head off what is coming. You touch my hand as it hits up-up-down-right-left, and I understand, and I blast creatures like ants with human hands and the rest ant parts, and I swing across ravines and grab hold of pixels that are your hands.
You pull me up.
It ends.
"Yes, it was worth it," I answer.
The skips. The blanks. I want to complain.
"How much money..." starts the old argument.
We just fought together. I marvel at the skills you had in taking out those carnivorous coffeemakers.
"I know, I know, I know," I seemingly relent.
We head out of the booth, into the bright storefront, and it is time to go.
But I need to ask, to mention, to convince myself that I am trying to help improve the experience for the next person.
I explain, in a tone that you know too well, to the man behind the counter, that there is this glitch.
"Oh, yes, I know," he says, and before I can ask why he hasn't fixed it, he says, "It can't process forgiveness, doesn't know how to render it. Cause and effect and such. So, it all just blanks for a moment, but there shouldn't have been more than a glitch. It didn't freeze up on you completely, did it? You should have been able to keep going."
I nod.
You touch my hand.
I say, "I'm sorry, you know. I had to say something."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, June 16th, 2021
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