Dang, I hope Donny and Brendan reconcile soon. I’m rooting for them.
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[Warning: this episode contains a description of a domestic dispute. Listener discretion is advised.]
[A phone vibrates continuously, having received many messages in a row.]
Ok! That’s it. That’s the messages. If it’s like last time, there’s going to be a lot of them and the real directions are going to be in the middle one so we have to wait. [More vibrating.] Yep, yep, total gibberish. A654JGVM&KJ*, fun stuff, fun stuff. Uh huh, we get it, this is all mysterious and whatever. [Bored.] You’re the spooky online alternate reality game. I’m totally spooked. What could this all mean? So mysterious.
[Harumph.] I guess I can check my notes while they come in. [Sound of pages flipping.] Donny and Brendan, Donny and Brendan. And you’ve got the voice thing ready? It’ll sound right on their end? If it’s Ryan he won’t be able to tell it’s me? [Pause.] Good, good. [Sigh.] I’m nervous. This is weird. Donny and Brendan. An adult man who goes by “Donny.” I mean, glass stones. Stone houses. One should not throw a house through a window. Whatever the saying is.
[Vibrating stops.] There we are. Now we can finally inspect the damage. And… [scrolling] yep! We did it. I mean, you guys did it. Same message as mine, almost. “Call up your brother in the middle of the night and leave him a voicemail about the last time you fought. Tell him that you don’t forgive him. If he answers, hang up and call again until you get the voicemail. Send us the recording. – W.BG” It worked. That sounds perfect. That sounds like the fight from the briefing that you put together for me. That oughta do it. It’s game time. And the number is [flipping through pages] right here in the file. Bingo.
Since you guys are all new to this, let me walk you through it. We signed up on the website and put in the burner number. We didn’t tell them anything else about who I was. That’s whenever you guys fed them Donny’s information, however you did that, highly classified, of course. So WOE.BEGONE looked into Donny and found a person dear to him who died and a high-intensity experience that happened as a result of that death. I guess it’s possible that there are instances where a person dies and nobody argues about it, but that has to be in the smallest of minorities. I think they can reliably find one of these events for each of their players, likely within a couple days of the death occurring. Then, they blindside the player with knowledge of this argument—again, the player doesn’t have any way of ascertaining exactly how WOE.BEGONE figured this out at this point. That moves the game out of the realm of perceived fiction and into the player’s reality. This isn’t a Youtube series with Slenderman in it. This is an entirely different beast.
This reality encourages players to go through with the first challenge and then the first challenge greases the wheels so that players are willing to bust out the amputation instruments in the second challenge to keep their loved one alive, and so on. That’s what “Donny” is experiencing right now as he reads through this message and gets ready to call his brother. “He” doesn’t know what is going on or what will happen as a result of his actions. He doesn’t know that he is bringing someone back to life tonight.
By the way, it’s actually 1:18am, right? I’m supposed to call in the middle of the night. The phone say 1:18 but you won’t let me know what time anything is… [waiting expectantly.] Great. I mean, I’d prefer if it was actually the time it said on the phone but the middle of the night will suffice. I’m ready when you guys are.
Alright, let’s do this. Quiet, everyone else. I don’t want the earpiece to get picked up somehow by the recording app. Okay, I’m turning on the application on 3 and then calling the brother. Okay, 1… 2… 3.
[Sound of a dialtone ringing.]
C’mon, Brendan. Please don’t pick up. Please don’t pick up. Please don’t make this hard. What am I doing? Am I really doing this? For a stupid game? He’s gonna be so fuckin’ mad at me. This better be worth it.
[A generic voicemail plays in a robot voice. Mike breathes a sigh of relief. “At the tone, please record your message.” Beep. Mike begins to speak.]
Hey, um, Brendan. It’s me. It’s Donny. Uh, I’m sorry to bother you so late. I was pretty sure you would be asleep, so maybe you’ll see this in the morning. Honestly, I’m glad I got your voicemail. I don’t know what I would do if you had answered. But, uh, I was thinking about Toph again. I know. It’s probably not best to linger on it for so long like we have. I know that I get worked up every time I try to talk to anyone about him, but now I want to talk about him. I can’t sleep. I’ve got a wild hair up my ass to talk about it. And since you didn’t pick up, I’m just gonna talk about it. You’re not awake to tell me not to. It’s been weighing on me pretty heavily recently. Heavier than normal. Heavy enough to call you out of the blue even after all that. After everything we went through. Maybe when you wake up in the morning you can listen to this and understand better.
What a fuckin’ funeral, right? [Scoff.] That’s what tore us apart more than Toph dropping dead out of nowhere. I mean we hardly ever saw the guy anymore. Maybe that made it worse too: knowing that we blew our chance to ever see him again outside of a funeral home. One last look at the guy and he was staring at us from the other side of the uncanny valley. Fuckin’ weirdo, that guy, and everybody knew it. Our brother, though, remember that. I really wish you would remember that.
I’ve been going through his shit recently, the stuff from his house that I didn’t toss out. There wasn’t much. It’s not like anyone needed a busted old microwave or a ratty couch. I think that couch was older than he was. No idea where he got it from. All that I kept were a few paintings, 5 I think there were, and a journal of his. I flipped through it. It was from high school. He had kept it with him all of those years. Nothing in there from after he graduated. I wonder why he kept that with him all of that time. A bunch of doodles in there, better than anything I could draw. The rest is embarrassing teenager stuff. I rooted through my garage and found my old journals and tossed them in the fireplace after that. When I kick the bucket, you are not digging through my old shit like that. I won’t let you. [Laughs.] There won’t be anything to dig through, I can promise you that. And if anyone is going to do the digging it is not going to be you, Brendan.
I wonder if I’m making you nervous, subjecting you to this. I’m clearly going somewhere and I know that you aren’t too fond of the places I take you when I get to talking like this. I’m fine though. There is nothing to worry about. Nobody is in danger. I just want to talk. And you’re not going to like what I have to say to you, but it needs to be said. Something needs to be said. What happened last time we were together did not have a period at the end of it. Or maybe it has too many periods at the end of it. Either way, it needs an ending. It needs someone to mercy kill it after all of this time. To put it all out there and let the situation die with dignity. It needs closure. I need closure. I am here to take what happened between us and shoot it in the head, to release it from its endless sputtering on, bleeding all over everything it comes into contact with. Sorry for the violent metaphor but I think it is apt. We need to clean this up.
I’m doing better, by the way. I still have trouble getting out of bed in the morning but my wife helps. I don’t even notice anymore until I need to bend and pick something up off of the ground or sometimes if I’m in the car and need to turn all the way around and grab something out of the back seat from the front seat. I thought you would like to know that.
What an awful funeral. Did you know anyone besides our families and Mom? I didn’t. We both moved out of town before he met any of those people. I felt like I didn’t belong at my own brother’s funeral. Like I was at a party where I only knew the host except the host was dead. Fuckin’ depressing. It rained. It was cold out. It was like one of those shitty funerals they have in the movies where everyone is miserable. Not like Dad’s funeral at all. His was almost too cheery. I was already on edge. Me and Laura got in a spat trying to find the cemetery. I get on edge when I can’t understand where the GPS is taking me and the rain made it hard to see and I was terrified that I’d miss the funeral. And then I got there and had to try not to die of hypothermia while all of these strangers mourned my brother dying. And it had been a long time since I had heard from you, too. I knew we were both going to be staying at Mom’s for a few days and I was scared of what that was going to be like. I was dreading it before you even had a chance to do anything. That’s on me, I guess. I was my own worst enemy the entire time.
But I was thinking about that moment, after the funeral. You know the one. After everyone else had gone home or was en route to go home and it was just me and you in our parents’ house like old times—like old times except no Toph. Toph who was always there when we’d come home for the summer because he hadn’t left yet, so really it wasn’t like old times at all. It was like old times if someone blasted through them with a shotgun. As I’m saying this I can see exactly how it was a recipe for disaster. We had both been blown apart. In the moment it just felt disquieting. I don’t think that either of us could tell what was going to happen.
I started shouting first, right? You were casting some stupid Youtube shit to the television and I yelled at you to turn that shit off. Fuckin’ political talking head shit. I was not in the mood. We had just buried our little brother for Christ’s sake and you want to listen to the news!? Not even the news, just some jackass with a camera talking about the news? And of course you shouted back at me because what would this family be if we didn’t shout at each other all the fuckin’ time, right? And if it had been any other day it would have ended right there. I probably would have slunk off into the other room so that you could watch TV and I could pout. I definitely would not have been in the mood to pull some biggest brother shit on you.
But of course this wasn’t “any other day.” It was the day we saw Topher’s corpse. And I don’t even know how we made it from me yelling at you about the TV to you yelling at me about what a fuckup Toph was. I’ve racked my brain about this. I mean, I’m calling you because I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t remember how the subject changed so fast. I think you wanted to say it. I think that you were waiting for any opportunity to say it. No matter what I had said, we were going to argue about Toph, right then and there. Even if I had shut my lip and said nothing at all and let some idiot blather on the TV about politics you would have found a way to weasel it in there. You were dying to say it.
And I was dying to fight you. I knew what you thought of Toph and I knew that you were going to say something and I knew that we were going to fight. I wanted to get pissed at you. I wanted to tell you off because I knew how long you had felt that way. Even when we were all in the house together, I had to protect him from you. Pathetic middle brother envy, like you were a goddamn character in a sitcom. Boo hoo. He stole your attention away from you. You weren’t the baby anymore. And you spilled it out on his grave like you didn’t have decades to get over yourself. I got over you being born just fine, if you hadn’t noticed.
So Topher was dead, unmistakably dead, and you had the audacity to tell me that he didn’t “make enough of himself.” What the fuck does that mean, Brendan? That he never rose to the prestigious rank of insurance salesman like yourself before he died? That he only had one messy divorce and not two? There was a lot about making it in the world as a lowlife middle child that you didn’t get to teach him. What a crying fucking shame! Maybe he made out better than the both of us. He lived in a dingy, dimly lit apartment doing God-knows, but probably more free time than either of us will see in our lives, and exited before he could die from whatever heart disease will kill the two of us when we turn 60 just like it did Dad and Grandpa.
And I’m mad now, you probably noticed, but I was so mad then that I didn’t even get to articulate any of that at you while you were shouting at me. All I could do was throw the remote at the TV. Those new flatscreens break so easy, how I was supposed to know? I didn’t mean to break it, but I didn’t mean not to throw the remote at it either. Then I stood up because it felt like all of my muscles were contracting at once. Then you stood up because I stood up. And then I guess that’s where the real fighting started. I was so ready to fight. Thank God Mom wasn’t home. Thank God Dad was dead and wasn’t there to see us. Thank God Toph was dead. Thank God nobody knows what happened in that house that night between the two of us. Thank God my wife bought the story that I threw my back out trying to move Toph’s fridge out of his apartment before we had to pay another month’s rent on the place. It didn’t help that the next morning I actually did have to move that fridge. My back still isn’t right again yet, by the way. I mean, where do you get off shoving your brother onto the ground flat on his back? Fuckin’ asshole.
We’re getting old, bro. I don’t heal up after a night’s rest anymore. We’re getting old and we’re starting to drop. This was the second funeral. There are going to be more. And they are going to have shorter and shorter breaks between them for the next 25 years until our hearts give out and we are the funerals that get shorter and shorter for someone else. And then we’re the ones that people are arguing wasted their entire lives not doing much of anything. And then we’re the ones whose entire lives are scrutinized as people who don’t know us as well as they thought they did pour over everything in our houses after we are gone. And you think that you’re any different than Topher? Give me a break.
I don’t know what Topher was up to. Kate said that she thought that he got involved in the mob or something after she left him but what the fuck does she know? I’ve never seen a messier divorce in my entire life. What could she know about whatever he was doing? It’s not like he was inviting her to participate in his life. He hated that woman, more than she deserved honestly but that doesn’t matter now. And maybe he was involved in some bad stuff. Maybe his apartment was made up to make it look like a freak accident. People die from CO2 poisonings all of the time. Their house fills up while they are asleep and CO2 makes them drowsy and doesn’t have an odor so they simply never wake up again. Maybe that’s what happened to Toph. Maybe someone made that happen to Toph. It seems like something that would be pretty easy to rig up if you wanted to make sure someone never woke up again.
It definitely felt wrong. It felt wrong from a mile away. Before I got the call, something felt wrong, before I could have known anything at all. While I was at work that day, minding my own business, not having spoken to Toph in weeks. Mom called my cellphone and before she could even get the words out through all of the wailing I knew that it was Topher. I knew that she wasn’t calling to say that he was hurt. I knew before I answered that she was calling to tell me that Topher was capital-d Dead. What the fuck does that say about me, that I knew what was going to happen? What sort of bizarre, cursed psychic am I? Why can’t I ever predict something useful, like that my little brother is going to fuck up my back after the funeral if I throw the remote at the TV? That would have made getting up in the morning easier. But, no. I am not privy to that sort of information. I am only privy to hurting before I get the chance to be told what I am hurting about. To maximize how long I get to hurt. To spend a longer time taking painful things to my grave with me. To increase the weight a little bit more than it had to be increased. That’s what I get for being a psychic.
Maybe Toph did have some dark shit going on. I didn’t poke around on his computer too much out of respect for his privacy. I think that anyone looking at a dead relative’s computer is bound to find something that they don’t want to find. And if you don’t want to find something, don’t go looking for it. Toph is not coming back to explain himself. He’s dead, so it doesn’t matter. What I saw while I was closing everything and shutting everything down was strange. I didn’t understand it. It looked like it might have been some deep web stuff. Crypto or whatever. I never understood any of that shit. Unless something on there proved that someone killed him and who it was so that I could return the favor, there’s nothing on that computer for me. For either of us. Whatever he was up to before he dies doesn’t matter. It isn’t our business. It doesn’t change anything.
And so I destroyed the computer. I beat that fucker with a sledgehammer until it was shards of metal and plastic. Good fuckin’ bye! Would I have done it if I knew that it was going to make you furious with me? Yes, of course I would. What did you even want that was on that computer? Proof that he was a bad guy? Yeah, that’s it. Somehow your opinion of him wasn’t low enough. You wanted to twist the knife a little bit further into your dead brother. You wanted proof that he was an awful person or was into some weird shit because you wanted vindication for how you treated him his entire life. It certainly wasn’t to hold him accountable. He’s fuckin’ dead! And you didn’t hate him because he was a bad guy. You hated him long before he got a chance to be a bad guy. He never stood a chance with you. You know that. You know that and it makes you feel like an asshole. Hmm, I wonder why. Maybe it’s because you’re a fuckin’ asshole. I would smash that computer all over again in a heartbeat. I would smash it with you watching me. I would get in that fight with you all over again with a smile on my face.
So I guess I need to circle back around to why I called you. I feel like I’ve been talking into your voicemail for forever at this point. Why I called started out open-ended: I just wanted to talk about Topher. And now I have talked about Topher and that means that certain possibilities have been excluded as conclusions to this message. Because, no matter which way you slice it, I am not over anything. My face is red. I can feel it even without looking in the mirror. My blood pressure is not under control. My doctor’s mad at me because I eat like shit but what can you do. My point is, I’m still mad. I’m still as mad as the night that we fought. I’m still mad that Toph is dead. I’m still mad at how you responded. Sometimes it erupts out of me when I’m in the middle of something else and I can’t even tell why my body is choosing this opportunity to get angry. I got lunch yesterday and got angry when the cashier repeated my order back to me correctly. This has not been dealt with. It lingers in the back of my throat waiting for the opportunity to breathe fire on anyone unlucky enough to talk to me. And part of that is the result of my little brother who is dead and is never coming back to life. But part of it is from my other little brother who for some reason thinks this whole situation is fuckin’ below him. It wouldn’t be okay if it was, but it isn’t and that makes it so much fuckin’ worse.
So I called to tell you that I don’t forgive you. There.
There. That’s me. That’s me throwing the remote again. I don’t care anymore. There isn’t any way to extinguish this, so at least I have a release valve. I don’t forgive you. I don’t envision a path to forgiveness. I’m never going to sit in a room with a shrink and talk about these shitty feelings and find my softness or what the fuck ever. I’m going to die not forgiving you. And when they find me dead on the floor of a heart attack when I’m 60 years old, you can tell everyone else that I never really amounted to much, too. Because none of us did. And if you live long enough that no one is able to say that about you at your funeral, then that’s just too fuckin’ lucky, isn’t it?
That’s it. That’s what I called to say. [Enraged ugh.]
[We hear a beep of the recording stopping.]
Alright, how was that? I mean, I don’t know any of CANNONBALL’s family, so I went with the notes that you gave me. I hope that was alright. It doesn’t have to be perfect, right? It’s not like Brendan or whoever is going to see it. I mean, I assume. John never got that voicemail that I left for him because that voicemail never existed. So it doesn’t matter that I made up some of that stuff up out of whole cloth, right? The gamerunners won’t know, at least that was my impression from what you told me. Flinchite technology masking and all that. I stuck mostly to what you guys told me so it should pass the smell test at least. It was a lot like my phone call. Building and building until it went all of the way off the rails and by the time I said that I didn’t forgive him I was starting to believe it myself. Then the waves of regret made it all that more emotionally manipulative when all of a sudden Matt was alive again.
So, I guess we’ll know in the morning if it worked. That’s when I knew after my first challenge. I woke up and it slowly dawned on me that Matt was back. So now “Donny” goes to sleep and he wakes up to discover that CANNONBALL is alive again, living his life from the time between the previous gamerunners killing him and… whatever time I’m in. Or whatever time you sent that to. I really might need a briefing on that one if I’m going to talk to him. It would be useful to know how long it’s been when I go to see him. I know that’s against protocol, though.
You better set me up really nice after this. “Donny Evans” is about to need to go out into the real world and start the bloodshed. That means that I’ll need to make it look like I am living a normal ass fuckin’ life in the suburbs. Sorry, I’m still coming out of the character that I was doing. I made Donny a rough-and-tumble take-no-prisoners kind of guy who swears a whole fuckin’ bunch at his asshole brother. That’s sort of the impression that I got from the notes that you gave me about the three of them. Anyway, the second challenge requires a video, which means it will need to look like I am in a house in order to sell it. I assume that the costuming department will take care of everything that I need to look the part. All of the rest of the challenges involve going out in a way that I can’t do if I’m stuck here in the Flinchite compound. That’s my expert opinion anyway, unless you have some disposable police officers around. Put me up somewhere nice so I can get my work done. It’s not like you have to let me out from under your thumb. You can still keep all eyes on me. I’m only asking for a somewhere to lay my head at night.
‘Cause Donny Evans over here is about to have to cut his fuckin’ left arm off at the shoulder, you know?
[End theme plays.]