[Warning: This episode contains a discussion of murder. Listener discretion is advised.]
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[Warning: This episode contains a depiction of murder. Listener discretion is advised.]
Matt, you’re not going to believe me but since I failed to sneak up on you, I’m going to start talking. Don’t… don’t point that at me. I know, a hypocrite. But technically, I haven’t. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of the game. That would make everything considerably easier. Feel free to interrupt if you’ve heard this one before. I don’t know how someone could have the capacity to understand that the game exists unless they’ve been playing it. You could call Anne— she’s playing it with me, too, for me— but I don’t think that she normally answers the phone at 2:30 in the morning. God, almost 3 by this point. Why were you up? You don’t look like you want to call Anne and hear about it anyway. I wasn’t kidding about not pointing that at me.
This is going to sound silly but do you remember when you died? It was a long time ago at this point, so I understand if you’ve forgotten. I haven’t, so let me tell you exactly how it happened. It was the first week of August and it felt too bright out for some reason. I remember that so clearly. Overbright. Even before it happened, I felt that way. Going outside felt like getting attacked. Strange for a bad omen, brightness. You got t-boned by a distracted driver. Maybe the sun was in his eyes, who knows. The speed limit was much too fast at that intersection. He wasn’t speeding. They actually lowered it by 10 miles per hour after that. You died out there, in public view of everyone. Overbright.
I wasn’t there, of course. The police and ambulances came and the formal processes of notifying everyone started. Remember when Sophie’s father died in high school and we were on the phone with her when the police showed up to tell her? I’ll always remember what she said to me when Grace went incommunicado that one time and we were all worrying about her: “If she’s dead, they will tell you.” No words travel faster than the words “Matt is dead.” They told your family and your family posted about it on Facebook and the news started to trickle down from there. I’m not Facebook friends with your parents, so I heard it from someone who heard it from someone who heard it from someone. Proof doesn’t travel nearly as quickly as words do. Frantic attempts to call you, to contact your family who of course weren’t being super responsive on their social media pages, and finally confirmation. The sun had gone down by the time I was sure.
The way it all shook out caused me and John to get into a massive right. Remember John? What a meathead. He loved hockey as much as he hated talking about feelings, which was pretty much the whole problem that we had that night. He went to a hockey match instead of staying home and doomscrolling and panicking with me and by the time he got home I was so thoroughly brined in my grief that it led to an enormous argument. Not your fault, of course. Not anyone’s fault, but certainly not yours. I don’t know if things really would have been better had he driven home instead, but I was convinced of it at the time. It took a lot of work to repair ourselves from that event, but the work got done. We ended up breaking up because he loved hockey and hated feelings and I’m kinda lukewarm on both of them so we gracefully parted ways. No really, I swear we did. I don’t normally end relationships on good terms, but John’s a guy that I could still call up in the middle of the night.
It certainly didn’t affect our relationship as the universe stands right now. You might notice that you don’t remember any of this. John doesn’t remember any of this, either. Nobody on Earth remembers the events that I just described. That’s because they didn’t happen. I mean, they did happen but they didn’t happen now. They got undone is what I’m trying to say. You would think after how long I’ve been doing this I would find a better way to describe what is happening. You were killed and I completed a task and my reward for completing that task was that you were brought back to life. I guess you never actually died. It’s not like they dug up your body and resuscitated it. They made it so that the car accident never happened. Or maybe the car accident actually happened but you weren’t killed. I’ve never looked into the revised history of that day. The other guy died in that accident, too, so either the accident still happened in some capacity or he’s walking around in this universe as well. You popped back into existence with all of this moving to Vancouver stuff having already occurred. And I guess cutting me entirely out of the time between the accident and the return in the process, which is why it looks like I stopped talking to you. It’s not a perfect project nor is it magic, as I am learning. I know that me being out of your life hurt your feelings, but apparently the math worked out better that way.
This whole saving you thing was long after you died. It’s not like I was setting out to do something about the past or about you. My initial motivations didn’t have anything to do with you. It always hurt, but it got easier to manage. Sometimes it still hurts even though I know that you are alive. A pang of loss every now and then for a loss that isn’t there– a phantom limb. I was on reddit– and I know reddit sucks but bare with me– and I saw a post about a new ARG-style game with a considerable real-life component and I wanted to see what it was all about. I entered the game and finished the first challenge and, to my surprise, my reward was… you. It’s called WOE.BEGONE[theme abruptly plays]
…And I’ve even started doing a podcast where I tell the story of my adventures with WOE.BEGONE in order. Sometimes people get lost if they don’t start at the first episode, because there’s a lot at stake here, so I suggest to them that they go back and start at the beginning if this is their first time listening. But the gist is that I have to complete challenges in order to stay in the game, but they’re getting more gruesome. They started gruesome, but now they’re Gruesome, with a capital G. Gruesome, gory, macabre, miserables– scratch that last one. WOE.BEGONE is having me kill people, Matt. And if I don’t do the challenges, then the prize gets revoked. You’re the prize, if I haven’t made that clear enough.
Oh, that made you put the gun down? I’m glad you’re finally more intrigued than you are threatened. I’m sure that you don’t believe me. I wouldn’t believe me. But I believe that you believe that I believe what I’m saying. Which means you likely think that I am in the middle of some sort of mental health thing or maybe a drug thing or maybe I’m being extorted by someone because I failed to pay some gambling debts, that’s a good one too. Yeah, and you think that I care that you have money which is why I’m trying to weasel my way back into your life. That’s smart. It’s not correct, but it’s smart. I have some questions about your money, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
I can’t prove that it’s real. It is sort of a paradox to attempt to prove that it is real, even in the best of times. I only get to experience the effects of WOE.BEGONE when I am “rewarded” for completing a challenge, “rewarded” being in the biggest air quotes of all time. Most of my rewards have been that the universe is made such that there is no way to connect me to the horrible thing that I just did. But I had to keep doing them because you were the prize and I didn’t want to lose you again, even if you didn’t want anything to do with me. I’ve only shared the retained memories of a corrected past one time and that was because we were both playing WOE.BEGONE. Even if I could get them to change the past to prove something to you, I’m not sure that you would remember. You might go right on with whatever change like it was always how reality was.
Playing the game just for you is what I was doing at first, at least. I was only playing in order to protect you. I was naive to be so singularly motivated in a game with such dire consequences. After awhile, I started following the trailheads that they– the people running WOE.BEGONE, the gamerunners– left for me and putting together what I was truly dealing with. A lever of power that even the most powerful people in the world could never dream of. A lever so big that it takes a giant to move it. The possibility of altering the past in any way that I deem fit. Screw your life, Matt, or even my own. What I’ve stumbled into is literally bigger than our universe. I have to win for the sake of that power: to save you, to undo everything, and then finally to change things. I don’t even know what I would change, but just the possibility of it makes my blood run hot. But the clock is ticking. If I don’t complete the challenges fast enough, then I’m out of the game. There’s also Anne.
What I haven’t told you yet is that I’m a prize as well. I failed the second challenge and died. I had to cut my own arm off and I bled out on my living room floor. Don’t look at me like that. You weren’t at the funeral, or so I’ve heard. I know, travel is hard right now. I had to pay a shady guy on the deep web to make a fake Canadian passport just to get here and even then I barely made it through customs. Anne thought that something was up with the way that I died and started investigating. This led to her playing WOE.BEGONE and when she completed the first challenge, I was brought back to life. Which means that if she loses, then I die, so I’m trying to win the game before she has the chance to lose it. I don’t know if that’s how any of this works, but it’s the only chance that I have.
Also, and I want you to be extremely calm when I tell you this next bit– let’s practice. On the count of 3, I want you to be as calm as you have ever been in your life. Gentle elevator music. Loosey Goosey. Alright, 3, 2, 1… hey! If anything, you tensed up. I’m being deadly serious right now. It’s something that you need to know but I can’t tell you if I think you are going to snap on me once I do. Okay. Okay, that’s better. Yes. Alright. Deep breaths.
Anne is trying to kill me because the fourth challenge is to kill your prize from the first challenge. Hey, leave the gun on the table. You promised me that you would stay calm. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, that means that my fourth challenge is to kill you. Yes, that is why I’m here. I want you to know that I moved heaven and Earth to try and prevent it from going this far. And by “moved heaven and earth” I mean that I moved an iron rod quickly and with force into the skull of the person that I thought was running the game. This iron rod to be exact. It didn’t go very well, which is why I’m standing here in your kitchen with said iron rod and not sitting atop a throne made of whatever I damn well please because I control all of spacetime. I tried to overthrow the whole game and I completely failed because my puny brain couldn’t even conceptualize the entirety of what was going on.
So, I’m sure that you see the conundrum here. This can’t go well for you, no matter what happens. My fourth challenge is to kill you, so obviously your instinct would be to defend yourself from me. But if you kill me in self-defense, then I will lose the game and you will go back to being dead. If you call the police– what are they called here? The mounties? Do they all ride moose or something or am I misremembering a cartoon?– anyway, I would go to jail for a long time and end up losing the game, most likely. If you tie me up or something, same thing. You’ve really got the short end of the stick here, Matt. I mean, I do too, but my end is slightly longer. But you’re at the end of the shitty hierarchy, so you’re basically beholden to whatever I want you to do. Killing you seems like the only option that saves any of us.
That’s why I came to Vancouver today. Well, actually, four days ago. I’ve gotten great at stalking people as a result of playing WOE.BEGONE. I have a lot of questions. I know that you told me that you have a wife and a kid, but where the hell are they? Wherever they are, they haven’t been here in the last four days. Did you lie to me about them? For what reason? And this house is a lot smaller and schlubbier than I expected it to be. I know that Vancouver housing prices are high or whatever, but did you lie to me about having money? What even is your angle? If you don’t actually have money, then why were you so hostile to me on the phone? Presumably it was because you thought I was trying to get at your non-existent money, no offense. It doesn’t add up. You had no reason to lie to me, at least, no reason that you were aware of. It did make it a lot easier to stalk you and get you alone, though.
Not gonna answer? Well, then I’m going to keep talking. For some reason I’ve got it in my dumbass head that if I keep talking long enough, I can work my way out of any problem in front of me. It doesn’t seem to be working right now, but maybe that’s because I haven’t talked enough yet. I’ve racked my brain for weeks about what to do about this. There must be some solution to this problem that doesn’t end in me killing you. I thought: maybe I could get you to play WOE.BEGONE and maybe your prize could be saving your own life or something like that. That won’t work– the gamerunners choose the challenge and the prize and it is highly unlikely that they would allow such chicanery in their game. It’s real people we are talking about, so any attempt to use a loophole could just be shut down by them saying “uh, nope.” They are also edgy idiots who want a fun story to play around in, so they won’t do anything to make my life easier and thus make the story less fun.
So, can I please kill you? Pretty please. I’m so close to access to WOE.BEGONE that I can taste it and I swear that the first thing that I will do is learn how to undo every horrible thing that they have driven me to do, including killing you. The reality won’t exist anymore just as soon as I can do something about it. This is only temporary. You will awaken into a new reality without any clue that this one ever existed. God, I sound so fucking crazy right now. You’ve honestly been a lot more patient than I could possibly deserve and it is a miracle that you for some reason haven’t wiped both of us off the map already. I guess you do trust me a little, even if you don’t believe me.
I don’t even know if I could do this if even if you enthusiastically let me. CANNONBALL said I was truly a sociopath for playing the game so well thus far, but even I have limited. CANNONBALL is one of the gamerunners, don’t worry about it. You were supposed to be asleep. Why in the world were you awake at 3am? I was going to sneak in, bash your head in, and sneak right back out again. Right out of the entire country. I was never going to have to look you in the eye and explain myself to you. The more I explain, the less it feels right to kill you. But there is an even deeper feeling inside me: a knowledge that it is absolutely vital to kill you in order to survive. That little, ancient piece of lizard brain in the back of my head begging me to do anything it takes in order to not die.
Look, Matt. I’m scared. Honestly, this whole thing is horrifying to me. WOE.BEGONE has completely shattered me and I’m just looking to get slightly unshattered. It’s not like[Suddenly, there is a strange wooshing sound and then some thuds.]
Whooooa! Jesus fucking Christ, what the fuck was that? What was that light? I feel like a doll that just got unceremoniously tossed into a dollhouse. [Labored breathing.] Did you feel that, too? Or see it or whatever? Oof, I’m gonna have to sit down? Can I sit? Op, sorry I’ll have to ask forgiveness rather than permission– I’m sitting. Ugh, what? I’m so disoriented. It’s like you just shook me awake from a nightmare. Did I… pass out or lose time or something? Matt, did I go somewhere just now? Did we teleport or something?
Matt? Matt? Matt, you’re crying. I don’t understand. What just happened? Do you know what just happened? Did something happen? The gamerunners did something fucky to my brain not too long ago so I might have just had some sort of episode. Did you drug me? Wait, how could you have even done that? Why are you crying? What’s going on? Sorry, my mind is racing. Everything’s a blur right now. Okay. Deep breaths. [The sound of deep breaths.] Calm. I am calm. I am here. My name is Mike Walters. It’s a little after 3 in the morning. I am in Vancouver. I am here. I am anchored. I am calm.
Wait. We were on opposite sides of the table. Now I’m on the side by the fridge and you’re on the side by the sink. I didn’t come over to this side of the table. Why would you let me come over to this side of the table anyway? Did we really teleport? That doesn’t make any sense. Ugh, my head. Am I… am I bleeding? Oh, oh no. Why am I bleeding? Do I have a brain thing? Oh god. This is bad. [Deep breaths.]
Matt, are you okay? Are you bleeding? Whatever happened didn’t kill you, so that’s unfortunate. I’ve been talking myself into and out of it this whole time so it would have been nice if the cosmos had made the proverbial chess move for me. Matt, why are you looking at me like that? This whole time, you’ve stood and stared at me with intensity and desperation, like you thought a crazed and delusional killer had broken into your home, which is almost half untrue. Now you look so different. Your… hair is parted the other way, too. I feel like I’m in one of those spot-the-difference puzzles. Everything is so slightly different. I wasn’t paying attention close enough before. I don’t know what all has changed or why. Quiet as ever, but tears running down your face. I don’t understand. Why won’t you tell me what happened? Why won’t you talk?
[There is the sound of something sliding across the table.]
Wh…what? Matt, what? Sorry, but what? I know I sound like the Pulp Fiction meme, but what? I don’t understand. You believe me now? Is that what this is? But why? What happened just now? Where did we go? Why would you pass me the gun? Not five minutes ago, I thought that you were going to kill us both any second now. You passed me the gun. You passed me the gun. [Frustrated grunt.] I don’t know. I don’t know what just happened. I don’t know where we went just now. I don’t know why you won’t talk to me.
Am I overthinking this? This is what I told you that I wanted. You talking would only make this so much harder. But why are you giving me what I wanted? This isn’t something that you should be encouraging in me. Maybe it would be better for the universe if you did kill me and this little tail of the game was tied off. But you passed the gun to me.
[There is a long pause with some stammers interspersed.]
I feel like… I was just freaked out about something? Like, everything was different and it isn’t anymore? But I just walked in here a second ago. I broke in through your kitchen door and unexpectedly found you sitting here at the kitchen table at 3am, crying with a gun in front of you, and you passed the gun to me. That’s all that’s happened. I… I’m sorry, did I tell you the story of WOE.BEGONE? That sounds crazy if I haven’t, but when did I do that? But then why else would you be passing a gun to me? Why would you be awake and expecting me? Sometimes I have a nightmare that there is a spider in my bed and it scares me so much that I wake up standing up beside my bed. Remember when we were roommates and you asked me one day what I was screaming about in the middle of the night the night before? Dream spiders. This feels just like that. Like I was just screaming at dream spiders but the dream just ended.
I… something happened. Something happened! What in the fucking world happened? We went somewhere… someone came here? You believe me now. I don’t know when I told you what was going on and what my only option seemed to be, but you believe me even without me telling you. I… didn’t … tell you this time, did I? But I did tell you. Who…? You got proof, but from who? I didn’t come here with any expectation of providing adequate proof. I don’t even know how someone could provide proof without being one of the gamerunners. Did one of them vouch for me? Surely not. They love the conflict. That’s most of the point.
I have so many questions now. First and foremost, why you have a sawed off shotgun in the first place. What even is your life? It’s not what I thought it was at all. I can’t imagine the Matt that I thought that I knew ever having utility for a sawed off shotgun. I also couldn’t imagine him passing me said sawed off shotgun in order to kill him, in order to save him. So I guess my imagination might be the thing that is lacking in this scenario. I imagined you out here living the perfect, idyllic family live in the suburbs. Not whatever this is. Not that it matters.
I’m sorry, Matt. I guess you know that by now. You wouldn’t be so calm if you didn’t know what was going on and how sorry I am. It completely broke me when you died. I held it together in public decently well, but any time I was alone I would just burst into tears. I became completely non-functional any time I thought about it and when I had time to think I was always thinking about it. I would cry so hard that I would have to lie down and one I lied down it felt like I was floating over my body. I told this to someone and they explained to me that I was dissociating, which isn’t even something that I thought that I was capable of doing. It was like I had died, too. I didn’t take good enough care of myself after that. I didn’t listen to my body when it told me that thing weren’t right. It fully crippled me for a long time. Months, easily. After a year it still felt like a big black pit somewhere in my body that I couldn’t even adequately locate in order to fill. I burned so many bridges that didn’t need to get burned because I didn’t know how to control myself anymore. I should have gone to therapy but I never did.
And now I have to experience that same loss with so much more intensity. I have to be here. I have to be the car crash and the driver and the argument with John and the funeral. It’s all much too much. And I have to keep saying I’m sorry like words are worth anything when I am about to kill you. There isn’t any certainty that I will be able to set everything right again. All of this is for an opportunity. I promise you that I won’t squander that opportunity, Matt. I’m sorry. I love you. You were the first straight boy whose heterosexuality broke my heart. I don’t know if I ever told you that. All straight boys are poison and you should never let them into your heart for any reason, but everybody ignore that advice every single time. I’m sorry Matt, I love you.
All of this, just for WOE.BEGONE. Next time, I don’t know what I’ll do. The challenges aren’t over yet. I’m still playing.
[End Theme Plays]
[A symbolic representation of gunfire.]