by Nod Ghosh
BEFORE HE DIED, the boy who drank bleach left me a load of messages on the gaming platform.
The boy’s name was Derek, but we knew him as Digit. Guess I was drawn to him because our names both began with ‘D’. He left clues a week before it happened, but I didn’t see. Only found out after my cyber curfew ended.
Digit/Derek had this metal gadget attached on his phone. Used it to examine his insides. He’d shown me a movie he made in a vocal side chat while we were rescuing alien drabbitts and capturing crazed kitterlings in the game.
‘It’s like a CT scan or MRI,’ he’d said.
‘What’re CT scan or emmaryes?’ I’d asked.
‘Like they used to have in hospitals,’ he said, ‘to look into your body. Only I use my phone to explore my insides.’
I’d figured he was messing with me, that it was part of the game, though there may have been a sniff of truth about it. He’d shown enough about real Derek for me to know his family had money.
His movie clips were good, complete with oozy-woozy music.
You could see Digit’s face – I should say Derek’s, for it wasn’t his white-haired avatar I saw. That’s how I learned he looked like a normie, not a sad loser like the rest of us who lived the game. Derek was all honeyed hair and pouty lips. No glasses.
I’d carried on watching.
The bendy-wiry-thing thing entered his mouth, went deeper. The movie followed. The probe lit its path with a dull light. Everything glowed orange. Further in, things turned ghostly grey. You saw the inside of a tube, streaked red.
‘Why’s the inside of your whatever-it-is bloody?’ I’d asked afterwards.
‘From the bleach,’ he’d said.
‘Yeah. Doing its thing. Maybe I used too much.’
He was convincing, but I still wasn’t sure if it was made up, like most of what we did.
‘That’s neat,’ I’d said, thinking Digit would be able to make money with his movies. He’d written the music himself. He was clever, but not too clever it seems, when deciding what to put in his mouth. ‘Your insides look like my Mum’s raku pottery,’ I’d said.
I should have guessed it was real, that something didn’t sit right. What was a good-looking guy with money doing on a gaming site populated by weirdos and losers? And were those anguished cries from his captured kitterlings supposed to make us feel sorry? Did he feel sorry for them? Is that why he made them squeal? Perhaps Digit was sensitive. Maybe there was something wrong with him.
If his mind was broken, he wasn’t the only one. Poltergeist Abbie said she crunched glass between her teeth. Sunderland Spirit poked knitting needles into their orifices. When I presented as Dipper-Dog, I’d dabbled with mercury. As Darian, I knew the liquid metal was poisonous, and wouldn’t know where to find it anyway.
‘I’m degenerating,’ Digit had announced next.
I’d wondered at the time if I should tell someone. He’d said time was running out. Told us he had to cleanse and repair. The repair sounded good, so I kept quiet, wondered if my Dipper-Dog persona needed to do more with the mercury injection idea. The more realistic it was, the better, right?
That was before the plate incident with Mum and the screen-time ban that followed.
The last time we’d played, Digit had shown me his latest movie clip.
The inside of his tube-thing was bubbling. The ulceration had changed from crimson to purple. Digit’s phone device was sending signals from deep inside his body. It seemed so real. His voice was thorny, like he was in pain.
‘That tube,’ I’d said, ‘ – inside your body – what’s it called?’
‘Gullet,’ he croaked. ‘Also known as the oesophagus.’
Digit’s gullet did look like Mum’s raku pottery, beautiful in an ugly way. She’d make these hollow egg shapes with no opening. No way in or out.
Funny that the last word Digit said to me was oesophagus.
Mum stopped me gaming for a week after I broke the plate. She called it her faience, decorated with winged creatures, blue on a white background. The faience wasn’t like the pottery she made herself. It was hideous in a different way. Said I was glad I’d broken it. Told her it was ghastly.
She increased the punishment from five to ten days.
‘Sometimes I wonder if you do these things deliberately, Darian,’ she said, while mixing chemicals in her studio that doubled as our kitchen. Mum was a bit kooky. She occasionally incinerated dinner by setting the adapted oven onto a kiln cycle. But it’s a good thing she wasn’t psychic. Couldn’t tell I was visualising obliterating her with a swipe of the tea towel as she bent over her potter’s wheel, wishing I could have taken her out like a kitterling in the game.
Anyway, I’m not the criminal here.
You could say my mother was partially responsible for Digit/Derek’s death.
When the ban ended I caught up with his messages. A lump formed in my gullet/oesophagus. Digit said he was planning to bleach three times daily. Not sure what I would have made of it at the time. Would I have told a grown-up? Might have thought it was part of the game. He asked if I knew the optimum parts per million of available chlorine needed to cleanse the body. He wanted to increase the concentration.
I wanted to ask why he did it. I wanted him to stop, but it was too late.
He was gone.
Been six months since Derek died. Feel like I’ve lost part of myself, even though I never met the guy in real life.
I rarely play now.
When I start gaming again, I’ll be ready. Know what to do. Make it real.
I’ve found a source of mercury.
And clean syringes.
Nod Ghosh lives in Christchurch, New Zealand and graduated from the Hagley Writers’ Institute in 2012. Truth Serum Press has published three books featuring novellae-in-flash: The Crazed Wind (2018), Filthy Sucre (2020) and Toy Train (2021). Two novellas are due for publication in 2023: Throw A Seven by Reflex Press and The Two-Tailed Snake, by Fairlight Books.
Further details: http://www.nodghosh.com/about/