Lage’s Game ~ Chapter One; Part Two

We find ourselves sitting in the living room. It feels empty, hollow, despite my cousins having arrived. They’re in their teens, big almost-men that are on the football team. Their hair is braided back in braids like mine. They looked up to father. Were often borrowing his books and listening to him tell them what university was like. Now they sat there with forced smiles and eyed me nervously.

From at the end of a tunnel, I hear mother come in with drinks. As usual, she chides not to get it on the board, her words strained. The board?

I look at the coffee table between us all. On it sits the thin board game box, green and luscious looking. The lettering was golden and glittering, the letters triangular shaped and strange.

“This a new game?” asked Fred, the beefier of the two, but also the kindest. He’s wearing a button-up shirt and looks ready to go to church. I dimly wondered if this counts towards community hours for them.

Mom sits down on the couch beside me. Fred and Ali are on the two chairs across from us. So often, Father would sit here and counsel them…

I hug my softie to my chest, bowing my head. I felt empty, torn, and hollow. Mother is saying something about how this is an old game, just something we “dug up in the basement,” she said with a grin towards me.

I look up from my softie with a smile. Or at least I thought it was a smile. It makes mother cringe. She passes a hand over my hair and sighs.

“So! Let’s play!” says Fred, looking at me with supposed excitement and happiness in his eyes. It hurts me. How can he be happy? How dare he?

I looked down to stop my quivering lip. I watch dimly as the lid of the box is shimmied up carefully, revealing its interior.

“Ohhh,” coos Fred, Ali leaning forward. Mother leans forward too, a frown on her face.

There was several stacks of cards, a folded up board, and one dice. A d20.

“There’s cards,” says Fred, looking at me. “You like cards, don’t you?”

I nod, pressing my lips together as Fred takes out each of the card stacks and places them carefully on the coffee table. Next comes the board, still folded and gray in its backing. Then the dice. Then – “Where’s the instruction booklet?” Fred asks, and mother frowns. She leans forward, peering at the stacks of cards and the board.

“Maybe?” she unfolds the board, shaking it in case the instructions are trapped in there.

“No, not there,” and she sets the board down, turning to the cards. My eyes widen as I take in the sight of the board. It is an old folk-style image of a forest, viking-styled weaving of knots all around the edges. There is images of a castle, of a village, and – no path?

Fred and Ali are each sifting through a stack of cards along with mom, who is talking. “It came with a stack of VHS,” she was saying. “At worst if we can’t find the instructions, we can watch those, can’t we?”

I nod, squeezing my stuffie to my chest. But I wished for us to have the instructions. The board looked beautiful, intriguing. And the cards – I leaned over and watched as mother flicked through them. They were brightly colored and featured pictures that filled the card. They were styled like ancient carvings, some featuring items, others featuring persons.

“Oops!” Ali said as a card jumped out from his shuffling. It fluttered across the coffee table and landed face down before me. The backing was black, with a diamond image in the center. Leaning forward from the couch, I flipped the card over.

The image was that of a carving in wood, sort of like a totem pole but in an entirely nordic (or was it celtic?) style of carving. Beneath it, there was written “Lage, Type: Player’s Companion Stats: 900/100”

900/100? That seems stupidly high, I thought. Deciding that this was a stupid game, I handed the card wordlessly back to Ali.

“Thanks,” he said as he took it. I didn’t answer, squeezing my stuffie to my chest. My eyes dropped back down to the board. It was so pretty. Why would it have an overblown statistic like that? Maybe I just didn’t understand. Maybe … I leaned over the coffee table, peering at the board, my chin resting on my unicorn.

This must be a rare collector’s piece, I thought to myself. That’s why father would have stored it away so preciously. Probably so that I wouldn’t touch it, or so someone wouldn’t steal it.

Still, I thought, bricking it away seemed a little excessive.

I tried to focus on the mystery of the bricking and not think of Father. But tears began to stream down my face.

“Hey,” mom handed me a tissue, voice soft. “Hey, it’s okay.”

It wasn’t! But the last thing mom needed was a temper tantrum. So I took the tissue and wiped my face quietly.

As I balled up the tissues in my fist, mom set her pack of cards down. “Well,” she said. “There’s no rules. How about them, huh?” She looked playfully at me, so sad and desperate at the same time. “Want some retro anime?”

“Sure!” Fred rose as he set the cards down. “Need help setting it up?”

“Yeah sure,” mom said, rising to her feet. “I haven’t used the vhs player in ages.”

While they began fussing over the cords of the TV and Ali was instructed to bring in the box in the kitchen, I looked at the stacks of cards.

Carefully, I flipped over the top card from Ali’s stack. It pictured a scythe. The next was a book. The next a shoe. So these were items.

I moved on to mother’s stack of cards. The top card featured an image of heiroglyphs. The next, arabic script. Languages? Hm.

Then Fred’s stack. People, all of them. A pharoah’s sculpture, a celtic rock carving named Morrigan – probably inspired by the goddess.

I flip more cards over. I was wondering if there were any from Africa. There usually wasn’t in board games, especially not old ones. But maybe in this one, it would be different.

The card stack toppled over, but I’d have sworn I hadn’t knocked it. The cards slide out across the board, fanning out so their backs are revealed. There are red ones, blue ones, and I spot a black one. It alone has a diamond on its back.

I pluck it out, and the picture of Lage is there. And that ridiculously high number. Setting the cards back in a stack, I begin comparing their numbers. These seemed all to be under a hundred for their first number, such as 80/100 or 60/100. Which would make sense, if it was a percentile. But 900/100? I frowned at Lage’s card again.

Placing a hand on the board to steady myself, I held up Lage’s card to the light. Sometimes cards had finicky light tricks going on – but this one was probably too old for that.

I lowered the card- then froze. Out of the corner of my eye, there was a new shape stepping out of the kitchen. But mother and my cousins were both to my left, fussing over the TV.

Frozen in horror, I tried to lower the card but couldn’t. I was stuck, body turned to ice. The shape stepped closer. I wanted to scream, to alert mom and the cousins, but couldn’t. It was all going to happen again, I thought. This time, it would be my cousins killed.

Leather brown boots stepped near me. A tall shape, green, loomed over me. Then it crouched down at my side. A brown hunting gloved hand rested on my knee. A face framed with a green hood peered at me, but I couldn’t tear my eyes from the card. They were just a blurr.

“Greetings,” a man’s voice said, gentle and musical.

I screamed. The card fell from my fingers. I spun, jumping up and away from the man.

“What is it?” mother yelped. My cousins rushed over, crouching next to me. I stared around, at the empty space where the man had just been.

I- I saw- I stared around wildly.

“There’s nothing, what is it?” Mother asked again, crouching next to me. To my cousins she said “Maybe go check the doors and windows please? She gets anxious about them.”

“Of course,” Fred said, and with a nod at Ali, they left to check the house.

But he was here. In here. Again. An attacker. Would he kill the cousins? What was he here for? Father’s collectibles had all been stolen that day –

Except this one. My eyes dropped to the game. He must have come for the game! The last piece of father, the last thing he owned here.

Mother was rubbing my shoulders. “It’s okay sweetie, there’s no one,” she was saying. “There’s nothing, it’s okay.”

But she was wrong. Someone was here. Right here.

“Here,” mom hands my unicorn to me. I wrap my arms around it and press it to my chest. Stepping over the card on the floor, I walk slowly to the kitchen. Every step brings me closer to the thief, where they must be.

I scream again when Fred steps out of the kitchen and almost into me.

“Hey!” he bends over with a big grin on. “There’s no one. Nothing at all.” Then, catching a look from mom, he crouches down. Everyone looks less threatening when they crouch down below your eye height.

Ali arrives behind him, beaming as well. “Nothing!” he says.

So he left. Ran out the door. A nonviolent burglar. Not one hell bent on violence. Chased away by the fright of two black men. I look down at the floor.

Mother takes my shoulders and turns me back to the living room. “How about the Lion King?” she asks. “You like that movie!”

I did. Before.

But I sit on the couch because mother doesn’t need a tantrum. I will watch the movie because she needs me to be quiet.

“Oh, a card dropped,” Fred says too cheerfully, picking up the card I’d been looking at when the man came to me. He sets it on one of the piles of cards, the wrong pile.

I pick it up. Lage, a character card. It belongs with the other character cards. Mustn’t get them mixed up. Father always said it was good to keep games all orderly and organized.

“That way it’s easier to pick them up again,” he’d say with a smile as we sorted cards into piles.

Mechanically, I sift through the other cards. A pharoah’s statue, a celtic sculpture. I stick the Lage card, overblown with its numbers, straight into the middle and set the other cards atop it. There. Organized.

Then, I sit back and watch the beginning of the Lion King.

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