Point of No Return
Copyright © 2002 By Jaguiler
Brandon sat in front of his laptop, the blue gray screen smoking with his latest review. He had earned the nickname “Branding Iron” because of his brutally honest and often scorching game reviews. The gamers loved him. He saved many of them from throwing their cash away and wasting their playing time. Those in the game industry, however, were a little less enthused. Brandon had almost single-handedly succeeded in destroying several startups and inflicted major damage in the profits of some of the larger game companies. Brandon was proud of his reputation, but having reached this peak, he was beginning to get bored. It made his reviews all the more pessimistic and degrading.
Sitting back in his chair, taking a puff off a freshly lit pipe, Brandon read his review to himself.
Brandon rubbed his eyes, the screen’s glow was getting to him, but he tried to ignore it. He knew he needed glasses, but his vanity kept him from getting them. Contacts? Well, he had a thing about putting objects into his eyes, so he wasn’t about to get those either. He just needed a moment to adjust he told himself as he re-focused and began to read aloud again. “History: Okay, here’s another nauseating twist in a long line of fanging tales. It follows Soren-Ity’s 1996 In Vein and their 1999 Through The Heart, already overdue for a good staking. This supposed new game has the usual mazes and chase, fight, and run to the quickest exit as the first two.
Brandon stretched and then set down the empty coffee cup on the stain he had engraved on his desk over the years. He had already laid down his pipe, the last bits of smoke rising in the stale air. Satisfied with his review, he saved the document and then shut down. Closing the laptop, he placed it in its carrying case and prepared to leave the office. As he turned off the light, he thought he heard the shuffling of shoes. He quickly turned the light back on, but there was nothing but the dying ring of smoke from the pipe.
“I’ve been reviewing too many of these games,” he told himself as he again turned off the light and closed the door.
Walking down the hallway, Brandon kept feeling like he was being watched. As he pressed the button for the elevator, he looked around nervously, and then as the elevator arrived, he jumped. “Good god,” he said to himself, “get a frickin’ grip.”
Brandon entered the elevator and pressed the first floor button. He shook his head and laughed, thinking about how stupid this was. Maybe he would ask for vacation time on Monday. Yeah, he thought, time away from games, I’m long over due.
The elevator doors opened, and Brandon stepped out. He nodded to Tynedale, the security guard, who waved at him and said, “Goodnight Mr. Dent.” Brandon simply nodded and kept on walking.
As he got closer to his car, he experienced a haunting feeling again and quickly picked-up his pace. Arriving at the vehicle, he pressed the lock release button on the alarm control and opened the door. Brandon then threw in the carrying case and closed the door, turning around to go to the driver’s side of the car, but upon his turn, he found himself face to face with a man dressed in black.
“What the hell,” Brandon exclaimed.
“I’ll give you a sporting chance,” the man began.
“What,” Brandon asked.
“I’ll give you a sporting chance. You run, and I’ll count to ten. Then I’ll come after you.”
“Get away from you freakin’ psycho,” Brandon shouted as he tried to push the man away from him. But when he touched him, Brandon felt a chill that shot straight through his hands and into his chest. Frozen in shock, Brandon looked directly into the man’s face. It was pale and yet as dark as a shadow. The eyes reflected no light. The man seemed so calm, too calm, and then he smiled. Brandon took one look at the man’s teeth and fell backwards on his car. “Run,” the man told him, and Brandon took off.
The streets were empty, except for a few homeless people, as all the other businesses in the area had long shut their doors. Brandon ran down the maze of streets, weaving left and right, trying not to establish a set pattern. He ran until he was out of breath and his sides ached. In pain, he dodged into an alley and then tried not to gasp too loudly. Then, Brandon tightly tucked himself between a row of trashcans and waited. There was no sound. Not even a bus rolling by. Nothing. Brandon looked at his watch, and then he continued to wait.
Forty-seven minutes went by, and still Brandon heard nothing. Feeling a bit relieved, Brandon let out a heavy sigh and relaxed. Then he shook his head, again disgusted with himself. “Idiot,” he said as he got up and tried to figure out exactly where he was so he could make his way back to his car.
Calmly, he walked back, disregarding the reds and yellows of the traffic lights, just seeing green for go. Once he got back to his car, everything would be all right, and he would definitely begin to plan for that vacation, he told himself. It took him about thirty minutes, but he found his way back.
Looking around and seeing no one, he reached into his pocket for his keys. When he didn’t find them, he realized that he had dropped them when the man in black startled him. “Crap,” he spat out as he began to look around the car for the keys. He searched all over and couldn’t find them. Frustrated, he gently sat on the hood of his car, trying not to set off the alarm and feeling even more disgusted with himself.
Brandon’s thoughts were clouded. He was tired and angry, not a good combination. As he continued to sulk, he suddenly heard the jingling of keys in his right ear. Brandon’s stomach churned and a cold sensation ran down his body. His heart pounded, and he felt like he was going to vomit. Slowly, he turned around and faced - the security guard.
“Good god, Tynedale, you scared the crap out of me.”
“Sorry Mr. Dent, but I heard some noise out here, and when I came out, I found these keys on the ground. When I looked out the glass a minute ago, I saw you on the car and figured the keys were yours. What happened, Mr. Dent?”
“Nothing. Just give me the damn keys so I can go home.”
“Sure thing, here you go,” Tynedale replied as he turned over the keys and went back into the building.
Brandon pressed the lock release button and got into the car. He took a deep breath and then began driving home. He couldn’t believe what had happened and really couldn’t believe how much he felt like a coward. Brandon felt a sense of shame he hadn’t experienced since high school, when some of the football players picked up his car and set it in a ditch. That was almost twenty years ago, and yet, he still felt the humiliation. Tonight’s encounter with whoever that was just brought it all back.
Lost in his thoughts again, Brandon didn’t notice the dog running out in front of his car until the last minute. He swerved and missed the animal, though he drove his car into a telephone pole. The air bag released, slamming his face and pressing his head back into his seat. This was quickly becoming the worst night of his life, he thought.
He got out of the car and inspected the damage. Looking around, he saw a gas station that was still lit up, appearing to be open. Brandon walked the four or five blocks to the gas station and pulled on the door. At first it didn’t open, but then a buzzer went off, and he opened the door.
“Hello,” he called out, not seeing anyone as he entered. Looking around, he did see a phone, however, and so he walked over and picked it up. He punched the numbers of the tow service that came with his insurance package. He had experienced so many problems with this car that he had the number memorized. After he finished putting in the number, he placed the receiver to his hear, and a voice on the other end said, “Gotcha.”
Brandon dropped the phone and ran to the door. It was locked. He looked around for something to break the glass with, but the man came from behind and swiftly took him down. Face to face again, only horizontally, Brandon tried to fight, determined not to be an easy victim. Brandon then attempted to imitate some of the martial arts moves he practiced so often, but nothing ever works in reality like it does in fantasy. His actions made the man laugh, and he quickly put an end to the struggle by knocking Brandon’s head against the floor.
Coming out of a haze, Brandon found himself back in his office, sitting in his chair and in front of his laptop. The review of Point of No Return stared at him from the screen. He shook his head, the pain letting him know that he had not simply had a dream. Then he noticed the note taped to the keys. Brandon tried to focus. It took a minute, but then he saw the words:
Mr. Dent, Sometimes the point takes a little effort to see. Hope you have found your clarity.
The note was not signed. Brandon leaned forward, putting his face in his hands. He rubbed the temples of his forehead and then rubbed his neck. That’s when he felt them - two swelling bumps. Quickly, he sat straight up and pulled his right hand from his neck and looked at it. Clotting blood painted his palm, and Brandon shivered in disbelief. He swallowed hard and then looked at the review. After re-reading it, he checked his watch. It was almost five in the morning. I still have time, he thought as he cleaned his hand on his jeans, reached for his pipe, lit it, and then typed an addendum that began:
Some people will do anything to promote a game . . . .
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