Brett's left cheekbone, under both ice pack and Tyler's guilty gaze, was inflamed but feeling better.
"I..." Tyler stumbled. He was in the wrong. He punched Brett, and he shouldn't have done that. Normally a simple fact to acknowledge, his thoughts at the moment were crabs in a bucket, each dragging the next into the id, each unable to clamber to the fore to be articulated.
"This isn't you. Just - I - you need to fucking swear this isn't you. Just - tell me this ain't you," Brett intones. Brett didn't blame Tyler, to be clear. He started the shoving. After this thing - both of them unable to name it - appeared, each thought that the other was a brilliant executor of the most complicated, well-executed prank in history. This continued, as they stared down this expressionless avatar, checking their phones - sure enough, they both received identical texts from '547' - and Brett and Tyler, both boys of the age, knew that there were no ghosts. Tyler's argument - if we haven't seen ghosts by this point - on Twitter, where *everything* goes viral - resonated with Brett.
Both of these two knew the figure before them - the text messages - were not supernatural. Likewise, Brett and Tyler they were both adamant that they were not the cause of this. Likewise, they knew that they were the only ones to have known about this.
Logical, this conclusion - and if every one of those premises were true, then there wouldn't be an apparently living avatar of a RollerCoaster Tycoon Guest before them. So one of these premises had to be false.
The old computer in the room wasn't even hooked up to the internet - so the likelihood that anyone outside of the room knew of it was nearly zero, and it's not like any of their friends were smart enough to create this illusion. So that one was probably true.
There wasn't any magic in this world. That one was definitely true.
So either Brett or Tyler was lying. Each of them was certain that they didn't do it, so the only conclusion left to Brett was that Tyler was lying; the only conclusion left to Tyler was that Brett was lying. Inarticulate, intoxicated, male youth boiled into shouting almost immediately, which snapped into shoves and shortly thereafter into fists. Tyler happened to throw the first punch, which was the last - but it was by luck and timing alone that it was Tyler who happened to have ascended that emotional peak first.
So it was Tyler's fist that was raw and Brett's cheek which was swollen. And with each of them now convinced that the other was telling the truth, the two were faced with a reality they could not explain: that which was probably an avatar of a RollerCoaster Tycoon Guest, six feet tall, each of the fist-sized 113 pixels making up a body that may as well have been made of enormous Legos, standing before them.
"What the hell does it want," Tyler murmurs. He and Brett were alike terrified. They had no idea whether this being was malicious, but they were in no position to try to grapple with the hypothetical motivations of a being they had no idea could exist until moments before.
"Hell if I know," Brett whispers, wincing. The ice was beginning to hurt more than the punch, so he took the ice pack off his face.
This didn't make any sense. Tyler wouldn't punch him just to keep a prank going. He was telling the truth. Brett's phone sounds in a ringtone he didn't know was installed on his phone – a three-note tone identical to the game's notification sound.
Tyler's phone did the same. "Guest 547 wants to go home," Tyler reads sheepishly. "Is… how is… it's communicating using the game's messages? To our phones?"
Brett read the message off his phone. "Looks that way."
"Jesus," Tyler murmurs. "Jesus."
"He wants to go home – like, what, inside the game? You want to go back into the game? Is that what you want?" Brett asks, compounding his midwestern discomfort with emotional honesty with genuine confusion.
Silence held the room for a moment. The two gazed tentatively at the avatar. He – it – may have been making eye contact with them – it wasn't clear. The resolution was barely enough to illustrate that the figure had eyes, much less where it was looking – neither were certain if they were being watched, but nor could they be certain that they were not, causing both to grow tense.
"You have achieved your objective with a park value of #ERROR!" appears on both the boys' phones.
"The shit – does that mean that we were right?" Tyler growls.
"You have achieved your objective with a park value of #ERROR!"
"Guess so," Brett demures. "What the fuck does it mean, though – I don't know how you got here, I don't – how do we get you back? How do we get you home? We don't know how you got here? Go back, what does that-"
The notification chime interrupts to display the message: "You must not let the park rating drop below 1000 at any time!"
"Which one?" Brett jumps on it, "Arid Heights is like that, right?"
"Yeah, pretty sure," Tyler nods.
"So we just need to beat Arid – wait, 1000?" Brett backtracks.
"You must not let the park rating drop below 1000 at any time!"
"A thousand, that's fucking impossible, you can't get higher than 999, what does this, what the fuck?" Brett rages.
Tyler jumps in, "Wait, so does that mean it's really hard, or –"
"No, it's fucking impossible. You can't do it. The game will literally not allow you to go higher than 999, it's the fucking maximum, some dude hacked it and proved that 999 is the cap, you can't do a thousand, what the fuck is this shit." Brett storms, the pack of ice now sweating on the floor.
Brett spends a moment cursing beneath his breath, baffled, and Tyler marveling at the popcorn ceiling, at a loss for words and thoughts, still feeling guilty for hitting Brett. Their phones ring out: "Josh is lost and can't find the exit!"
Brett stands up, irate, as his phone goes of. "Josh is lost and can't find the exit, what does that, I eman, what does that mean? What, this whole Josh thing, is that another guest, is that, what is that? Who is that? Does that help us keep a five billion park rating, does that, I mean, what the goddamn shit. Why am I asking this goddamn ghost about this," Brett fumes.
Tyler chimes through his dazed melancholy, "Wait, does Josh have something to do with this?"
Brett went silent. "Let's go," he mutters before leaving his room.
Brett had the presence of mind to not drive to Josh's house. He was still properly buzzed and – yes, only a half-mile, but he had no interest in a DUI.
Tyler was the one who punched him, but Brett was by far the more upset about the whole affair. He was having a hard time keeping up – what would have normally been a 15 minute walk turned into a ten-minute walk, and he was buzzed, but his calves still hurt. Ow. How mad was Brett?
Guest 547 lingered behind them along the entire way to Josh's house, not changing his appearance, just gliding 20 feet behind them. The wind was a little heavy, but the 2D avatar wasn't shaken by it.
Tyler thought, at least. He was a bit tipsy and having a hard time keeping up. He couldn't really pay that much attention to this ghost.
Brett stopped across the street, three houses from where Josh lived. He had a good vantage of the house from just behind a maple tree in the devil strip – it was 1 AM, after all. Josh's phone immediately went to voice mail.
"You son of a…"
Brett ran across the street toward Josh's house, with Guest 547 trailing shortly behind.
"Uh, Brett? It's, I don't know if this is a good idea," Tyler hangs back, running across the street only once Brett had run and put the distance of peer pressure between them. "Brett, I don't think we should, this is a bad idea."
Not hearing him, Brett strides with oblivion toward Josh's front doo, and while in the driveway, sees car lights pull in. Brett jumps out of the way, and sees a heavy-set man park the car and get out.
"Who's there?" Josh's dad booms, the lawn well-lit enough to see clearly who was there.
"Wait, no, we're here to talk with Josh. Is he here?" Brett recoils, taken aback by this second turn of events. Tyler had tried to warn him this was stupid, for all the good that did.
"Is he – what? No. What? We're looking for him. Do you – he got pulled over for a DUI and got arrested. Do you – wait, do you know where he is?" Josh's dad, whom the boys knew only by sight and by title, quickly turned flustered as the boys.
"He got pulled over? Wait, he's on the run?"
"He apparently escaped out of the back of a cop car. Disappeared just out of thin air. No one noticed he was gone until he just, apparently vanished. Do you know where he went? Do you know what happened to my son?" The middle-aged man was imposing but bargaining with Brett, who was suddenly more dazed than the despondent father.
"No, I… he's not here?" Brett replies confused, looking over at the front door, where Guest 547 was standing.
"No, you don't know anything? I – no, I understand, you don't. Please, if you know anything, let me know. If you don't, please leave," the man says tersely, backing away, walking through Guest 547, into his house. The door closes behind him, Brett sitting in the front yard, trying to stand, Tyler looking on, and Guest 547 existing. The boys' phones crows, with all the malice a three-pulse sound can convey.
"Josh is lost and can't find the exit!"
Your boy recognizes that all the characters appear to be dudes. Your boy is very sorry about this. Your boy just had to publish something, because he was worried if he went another day without writing something, no matter how shitty, he couldn't live with himself. Your boy got hit with a wave, sudden and long-coming wave of dread, of the fact that he harbors all the interpersonal importance and vividness of a damn NPC, and of the fact that he isn't of use to anyone, so he had to write something.
Your boy is writing to escape all this. Your boy is sorry for using escapism in any way. And he's very sorry of the basically un-proofread work writing that came of it.