The GAME

I wrote this story a couple of years ago. I posted it on Writing.com, where it can be found with the rest of my portfolio. I’m not really sure where the idea for a maturity exam came from, but I rather like the story that developed.

George paced around his room in the “child” asylum. He expected the notorious journalist Todd Monet to arrive at any moment. George glanced across the cell at a stack of magazine and newspaper clippings piled on a plastic table next to his cot. His strides carried him to the nightstand, and he paused to grab one of the clippings. George had read the clipping every night for the past week, but he never tired of the article, which like all the others on the table, bore Todd Monet’s byline.

“The leaders of our great country tell us daily through the corporate controlled media that though things look bleak around the world, America is more stable than ever. And yet, the majority of the country remains without health care, unexplained massacres by the government occur almost daily, and fewer and fewer people pass the GAME, resulting in too many children without enough legal adults. Problems such as these lead to attacks against the people by the people, and the government continues to blame the ‘terrorist attacks’ on madmen who possess no true provocation. For example, the recently incarcerated George Veigh destroyed the Carson City chapter of the Democratic Bureau of Marriage Regulation in retaliation for the annihilation of a peaceful gay community forty miles from Nevada’s capital. Naturally, the media cannot release that the community in question held no guilt on any count—.”

“Mr. Veigh?” The orderly poked his head through the doorway. “Visitor.”

“Let him in,” George said. He dropped the clipping and perched on the edge of his cot. The door swung open to reveal a slender woman in a simple sundress with a purse slung over her shoulder. George’s brow furrowed in confusion. Noticing his uncertainty, the woman smiled and took the only chair in the room without introduction.

“Todd Monet?” George asked. The woman’s smile deepened.

“Actually they call me Tanya Midal. Out of necessity, I write under a male pseudonym; otherwise I could never get published by a ‘respectable’ paper ever again.” Understanding, George returned her easy smile.

“That the trick in this society?”

“Not the trick,” Tanya said. “Just one of the many.”

“Hearing from you made my day,” she continued. “While I hope I portrayed your story well, I can’t really be sure under the circumstances.” George nodded. Since the GAME began after the signing of the Treaty of Tehran, all information about non-adults stayed out of the media, even in a high profile case such as George’s.

“You wrote pretty accurate information. At least, I didn’t notice any glaring discrepancies between your story and mine. Impressive, and part of the reason why I wanted to meet you.”

“And the other part?”

“Well,” George shrugged. “I enjoyed your work. Even before the bombing. But, when I saw your article that actually included me, I knew I needed to meet you before they found a way around their ridiculous law or found a way to execute me quietly, whichever comes first.”

“You seem very resigned to death,” Tanya remarked dryly.

“They labeled me a child because I failed to pass the GAME, but I possess neither naiveté nor stupidity. My maturity level needs work, but I can completely use my faculties and intelligence.” Tanya’s watch beeped.

“Time to go,” she said as she stood and crossed to the door.

“But you just arrived,” George protested, following her to the door.

“I meant both of us.” Tanya turned back to face him, one hand on the doorknob, the other gripping George’s starched scrubs. “Listen carefully. The orderly that let me in belongs to the same activist group I do. He and I orchestrated a route out of here. We know of a secure base. You decide what happens after that, but for now, you do what I tell you when I tell you, or we both end up executed quietly.”

She released his shirt and opened the door. No one appeared. She strode out with George edging along behind her. The police had quartered George within a maze of hallways in the most secure asylum in Nevada. Tanya led George through them as though she knew the building by heart. First right, then left, then two rights, down identical corridors until George forgot how to return to his room if he even wanted to go back.

A door slamming resounded through the hall, and a hum reverberated within the air. Tanya cursed under her breath.

“What? What happened?” George hissed. He felt a cold sweat breaking along his hairline.

“They know you left your room. Come on,” They continued down the passage. The fugitive pair rounded a corner and collided with a group of black-clad security officers. “Wrong turn,” Tanya muttered. “Run!”

George and Tanya sprinted back the way they’d come with the guards pursuing. George realized they couldn’t outrun the men though the way was clear behind and in front of the pair. He scanned the hallway ahead and saw a door slightly ajar. Not pausing to consider where the door might lead, George grasped Tanya’s hand and dragged her through the entry. The two leaned against the now closed door trying to catch their breath as they heard the team dash past.

“Excuse me, you brought dinner?” An ethereal voice asked from the cot against the far wall. The room mirrored George’s but the tiny old man snuggled in the bed clearly deserved to be in this asylum.

“Sorry to disturb you,” Tanya said in a comforting tone. “We simply got lost.”

“Oh yes,” the man replied, “Quite a maze out there. Watch out for those pesky men in black. Very rude and nasty tempers if you stray across their path.”

“Thank you for your advice,” Tanya soothed. She cracked open the door to case the hallway. “Clear,” she told George. “Ready to try again?” George nodded with little real conviction.

Tanya whipped the door open fully and leaped backward when confronted with a tall man in white scrubs.

“Easy, Tanya,” he whispered, gripping her shoulders.

“Cornelius!” Tanya banged a fist into his chest. “What happened to you?”

“Tied up with a patient, but I came. And we need to leave quickly.” He took Tanya’s hand, pulling her along. George followed, perplexed by the change of events.

Cornelius somehow managed to lead them through the building unhindered to an exit tucked into an obscure section of the building. A small car waited just outside.

“Alright, George get on the floorboards in the back. Cover with the blanket, at least until we leave Nevada,” Tanya instructed. George followed her orders, though he still watched Tanya and Cornelius.

“Thanks, Cornelius.”

“Least I could do. Be careful, alright?”

“Me? You have to go back into that government nightmare.” They just stared at each other for a moment, and then Cornelius kissed her swiftly and disappeared back into the asylum. Tanya stood there a moment longer before climbing behind the steering wheel.

They drove for at least an hour before Tanya let George sit up in the backseat.

“About time,” George grumbled.

“Well I’m sorry for any inconvenience Mr. Veigh, but I can’t provide a vacation under the circumstances,” Tanya snapped.

“You wanted him to come with us.”

“Yes. But he made his decision. Some call this freakish semblance of government a democracy. We disagree, so we make sacrifices.”

“Bit harsh, don’t you think?”

“Not really.”

They rode in silence for a few more miles before George attempted to start conversation again.

“So, what exactly do you want to change about the government?”

“What doesn’t need to change? Just read my articles. Scarce health care, police brutality, few jobs, few ‘adults’, and especially the GAME. All of these contribute to the problem and operate as byproducts.”

“What does GAME stand for, anyway?”

“You mean, you don’t know?” Tanya flashed him a startled glance before returning her eyes to the road.

“Well, Tanya, no one really remembers its development, and no one really cares what the letters mean. I just wondered.”

“It stands for Global Adult Maturity Exam. You already know how it works; you took it enough times.”

“And how many times did you take it?”

Tanya blushed and cleared her throat nervously before answering. “Once. I passed it at sixteen. I had great maturity for my age.”

“Or you just figured out how to beat the system faster than most people do.” George added, “Not that I doubt your ability to exist as an adult in today’s world, of course.”

“Of course. So why haven’t you passed the GAME?”

George stared out the windshield at the intermittent yellow stripes down the center of the road. A bug splattered on the window, and for a moment George felt like that bug.

“I didn’t want to,” He mumbled.

“Sorry, what?” Tanya asked, leaning toward him.

“I wanted to fail the GAME so I could remain irresponsible for what happens in my life. This way, I can blame it on the government.” George turned to face Tanya again. “Besides, a child status certainly comes in handy now.”

Dim security lights of a convenience store glowed just ahead on the right side of the road. Tanya pulled into the deserted parking lot. She and George crawled out of the low vehicle. Tanya leaned against the car and stared at the last vestiges of pink and gold on the western horizon. George stood next to her, arms folded around his body against the desert evening’s chill.

“I don’t understand any of that,” Tanya said suddenly, now standing free of the car. Then, without warning, she struck his cheek with a balled fist. “And, it sounds like a load of bull to me,” she proclaimed.

“Ah,” George muttered as he caressed his stinging cheek. “Why did you do that?”

“Oh grow up, George! You say you don’t want adulthood and yet you decide to blow up a Federal building. You think you did something bold that could possibly start a revolution, but you act more like a little kid flipping his parents the bird so they pay some attention to him. And now you see the real reason you failed the GAME. You and every other middle-aged person out there still considered a child. You all claim you want to fight the system, but when your life hangs on the line, you just whine and say ‘I did my best’ to all your cohorts before the government locks you in an asylum because they managed to tie their own hands behind their collective back.” Tanya stopped, her shoulders heaving.

George looked even more stunned than when she first socked him, and then he whispered, “Why did you help me escape?”

Tanya sighed and leaned back against the car. She rubbed her forehead wearily and brushed a dangling strand of hair out of her eyes.

“I thought maybe I found someone different. I wanted someone among the “children” who wasn’t just bidding for a route to the public eye.” George moved so that he stood directly in front of Tanya.

“And, why me in particular?”

“Because,” Tanya looked him squarely in the eye, “I wanted that person to be the one who avenged my brother and his husband.” She sank to the ground. “So much for hoping.”

George crouched beside her with his back against the vehicle.

“Sorry I don’t know that person,” he sighed. “But I can’t change me. Yes, coward fits me. Yes, I don’t possess the maturity to pass the GAME. But guess what…you get what you see.”

Tanya stood. “Bull,” she said, her voice low. Tanya slid behind the steering wheel again. George tried to open the back door, but it stayed firmly shut no matter how hard he pulled on the handle. Tanya rolled down the window.

“You fly solo from here. I rescued you. I guess if I don’t hear about your capture anytime soon…Well, I guess it means you have a little more maturity than you thought. And if not, well, we risked breaking you out for nothing. Good-bye, George.”

She rolled up the window and pulled out of the parking lot. Once her taillights faded from view, the sounds of the desert encircled George. The wind whispered through the sand, the dying security lights hummed weakly, insects whirred and buzzed, and somewhere toward the fast disintegrating sunset, a coyote whined.

“George Veigh,” he whispered to himself, “Time to grow up.”

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