FAIR GAME

                                        by:  Taniuska


Snow fell just as Maksim reached the three story building. His eyes cast over the sandstone wall for any
sign of number fifty eight. Frustration furrowed his brow as he rummaged his hand in the pocket of his
sheepskin coat. He drew out a scrunched piece of paper, unfolded the sheet and confirmed fifty eight
was correct.

Maksim loathed the fact that the sum of the numbers equaled thirteen. Each time he rode the school
bus, he added the six-digits on his ticket to pre-determine the luck of his day. Everyone knew even
numbers brought misfortune, with the exception of thirteen which always implied mishap.

He ignored his own premonition in favour of joining the role-playing group he found on the internet. To
his surprise the meeting place lay not far from his home.

Maksim groaned when he spotted number fifty eight etched into the frosted glass panels of the door.
Vapors of hot breathe floated from his mouth. He hitched the strap of the back pack, filled with
figurines, higher on his shoulder. Unable to peer inside the building he strode forward and stamped his
brown joggers against the cement floor. He pushed his gloved hand against the door and entered.

Warmth wrapped around his iced body once he stepped inside the small restaurant. No patrons had
arrived, only a waiter who resembled a penguin in both appearance and attire. Uncertainty nudged at
Maksim’s confidence. He crumpled the paper in his hand and shoved it into his pocket.

“Hello,” Maksim said. “I’m looking for the gaming group, but not sure if this is the correct place.”

The waiter grunted in reply, rolled his eyes and pointed to the furthest corner of the room. He toddled
away. Maksim gazed in the designated direction and spotted a short, plump figure wiping a table.
Maneuvering round the furniture, he wondered if a mistake had been made with the group location.

He gripped the front strap of his bag. An older woman dressed in a long black dress, apron and head
scarf stood upright. Rosy blush stained her pale cheeks, drawing attention to her deep brown eyes.

“You come for gaming?” she asked in a thick Eastern European accent and approached Maksim with a
rag in her hand.

He nodded and fought the urge to keep staring at the scores of wrinkles which lined her face.

“You come early. You good boy,” she patted the side of his arm. “Come with me.”

Maksim followed the woman to a shadowy spot of the room where they reached a doorway concealed
by strings of beads. Blackness peered back when he looked beyond the drape of glittery droplets.

“I’m not sure this is the right place, I should probably go,” he blurted.

“No, no, you come to right place,” she said. “The group inside waiting for you, but before you join you
must follow three rules.”

Maksim’s nose bunched. “Sure, I suppose.”

He watched the woman tuck the rag into the side of her apron. She stood shorter than him.

“One, when you join gaming you cannot run off.”

He heard himself huff aloud. “I’m not planning to start a game and then leave it unfinished.” He hated
when other players broke a role-playing game.

“Two, you must leave phone outside the room.”

“No need, I’ll turn my phone off.”

“No,” the old woman’s voice cracked. “This is the rule if you want to join.”

His eyes flickered to the beaded doorway and back.

“Three,” she blurted. “You must enter the room with your eyes closed.”

“These are some strange rules.”

“You want to play?” She confronted him.

“Yeah, I suppose.”

“Good, give me phone and go inside.”

He removed his gloves, wrenched the phone out of his bag and handed the mobile over. The woman
nudged him closer to the doorway. “Go now.”

Eyes shut, he stepped through the doorway. Ice cold beads rolled over his exposed face and hands.
Iciness penetrated through his layered clothing. A burst of light, similar to a car’s high beams, blazed
behind his eyelids taking Maksim by surprise. Stumbling forward, he rubbed his knuckles into his eye
sockets. The light ceased. Blackness shrouded his sight. He blinked in quick succession until his vision
returned.

He cursed under his breath, tired of the theatrics to join a stupid role-playing group. Light poured into
the shadowy room from behind him. Peering through the dimness he saw silhouettes materialized
before his eyes. He gasped when he saw their black eyes and expressionless pallid faces. They stood
against the walls.

“What sort of gaming group is this,” he cried.

Their creepy stares left Maksim feeling like worms were slithering over his skin. He turned around to
leave and stumbled over legs strewn across the doorway platform. Starring at the black pants and
brown joggers, his eyes followed the figure beyond the beaded entrance, past the sheepskin coat and
gawked at the back pack next to the body. When Maksim saw short black hair on the corpse, chills
spiked at the back of his neck. The carcass on the floor mirrored his appearance.

The old woman appeared beyond the beaded drape. She gripped the body’s wrists and hauled. Maksim
watched as legs matching his own dragged out of the room. A yelp quivered past his lips.

Unable to form a thought, he dashed toward the entrance. His forehead bashed into a wall. He
stumbled back and pushed forward again, uncertain what had happened. Once again, he hit an
obstruction. His hands scrapped over a silky, smooth unseen barrier which coated the beaded entrance.
Maksim peered through the entry. He saw his body dragged beyond a swinging white door. His screams
melted into the abyss.

Short, sharp rasps drew his attention. Maksim spun on his feet. Fear swarmed his thoughts.

“What the hell is going on?” he shouted.

The figures in the room slinked closer.

A voice from the group whispered, “Welcome to the gaming group where your body is fair game to
those outside, and your soul is ours.”