The builder and his wife pulled into their driveway a little after 9:00pm. They’d tried to stop for margaritas at the Mexican restaurant across from the mall but the place had been too crowded. Instead, they drove home.
Markoff ducked his head to look out the window of his wife’s new Saab. The light was still on in Jose’s room. He struggled to put the gearshift into park and unclipped his safety belt. “I’m going to check in on the boy.” He said.
Myrah just shrugged.
“Look, I’m sorry about what I said about his weight.” He muttered placing a hand on her kneecap. She winced.
“Jesus!” She said, pulling away from him.
“What?” He asked.
“Your hands are freaking cold!” She chided him.
He shook it off. “Sorry.” He repeated.
Inside, he climbed the stairs. He could hear his wife down in the entryway talking with the sitter over the various drama’s of the night. There had been a fight. Something of epic proportions involving Justine throwing a soccer ball at the boys head while he was working on his game. Cheryl had threatened to call the policeman over from his car on the street in order to break them up. In the end, they’d each gone back to their respective rooms and pouted.
His daughter wasn’t taking to Jose’s new obsession very well. The boy had been her best friend and a foil for all the misplaced aggression of her childhood for so many years that she couldn’t handle his sudden absence. She was constantly antagonizing him in an effort to get his attention. Markoff would have to talk to her later on just to keep the peace between him and Myrah.
Jose’s door was closed. The builder knocked.
“Piss off.” The boy spat, his voice muted behind the wooden barrier.
“It’s me.” Markoff answered.
There was a pause as the latch clicked.
It had been the builder’s idea that the kids should have locks on their doors. Myrah had been against it, claiming that they could just seal themselves off whenever they got into trouble making it impossible for her to get to them. His solution was to get each of them separate keys and have copies made for him and her. The children needed to have the ability to barricade themselves away he reasoned lest they kill each other during one of their raging fights.
So far, all this had done was to create two messy rooms that were rarely monitored. Both he and Myrah had never put their copies on their key rings and had lost them soon after they had them made. Meanwhile, neither the boy nor his daughter seemed to use the locks to block each other out when either of them needed their privacy. Instead, they kept them open until they’d gotten provoked enough to cause general mayhem. Only then, when there was yelling and screaming would they lock themselves in. This was usually the point when one of the parents was trying to instill discipline.
“Mind if I see what you’ve got?” The builder asked the boy, looking past him into the room.
“It’s pretty basic.” He answered almost apologetically.
“I probably wouldn’t be able to tell.” Markoff replied.
The boy threw open the door. “Do you really want to see?” He asked excitedly.
“Sure!” The builder said.
Inside, Jose had a stack of crumpled cardboard boxes that once held TV diners on the desk next to his computer. There were empty soda cans scattered across the floor and piled high in the waste basket. Dirty clothes and notepads with crude drawings of maps lay all over the place. The computer screen glowed showing a wire-framed diagram of a building with green and red dots all around it.
There was a frantic attempt to clean up. The boy clumsily kicked the notes under his desk and shoved the boxes into his overflowing trash.
“Sit here!” He said as he grabbed a clump of wet towels and wrinkled pants from off of the bed and threw them onto the floor. “I haven’t got a good introduction yet but I do have some scenes.”
Markoff took a position on the newly cleared off section of the mattress. “What’s your game about?” He asked.
“It’s starts off in India.” The boy said breathlessly. “You’re working for the government but you don’t know why you’re there. They’ve sent you on some kind of covert mission to find a man who will help you to save the world. He’s a weapons maker and he’s got the only gun that can destroy the meteor.”
“So you’re sort of taking this from the headlines?” The builder asked.
“Sure!” He said nodding. “The only thing is that I’m making it more dangerous. It’s going to destroy the world if it’s not stopped. It’s not like these pissy little meteors that keep hitting everywhere right now. This is serious!”
The builder watched his son as jumped into his desk chair. Quickly he exited the screen he was in and began booting up the game. “This is just the first part.” The boy apologized again.
Markoff wondered if Myrah had done this. He wondered if she had come in here to look in on the boy and see what he was up to. Jose was so excited to show him that the builder suspected that she hadn’t.
The monitor flashed. There was no introduction, no title screen. It just threw you into the scene.
The boy pressed the keys on his keyboard. He turned the perspective around so the builder could get a look at the world that he’d created. Birds flew from the tops of gold-plated spires. People walked past carrying baskets that were laden with fruit. Shadows moved in accordance with the angle of the sun. It was uncanny.
“Is that the Taj Mahal?” He asked pointing at the screen.
“Sure is!” The boy smiled. “I took the plans out of your office downstairs and just modeled them into the game-developing software that you and mom bought for me to take my classes.”
“That’s pretty cool.” Markoff nodded.
“That was the easy part.” The boy said.
“It wasn’t easy for me.” The builder laughed.
“Let’s walk around.” The boy said.
The stucco covered walls gleamed starkly in the digital sunlight that shown down on them. Every detail was rendered almost perfectly to plan. The boy had taken a few liberties, positioning the structure on the side of a mountain top and replacing the modern shops with more ethnic looking markets that were carved into the sides of the building where the windows and doors would have been. Still, it was easily recognizable and alive with activity.
Busy, crowd sounds came out of the speakers. He could hear people bartering for items in foreign tongues and a general cacophony of commerce. Occasionally, the boy would let the character who’s eyes you were seeing it all through drift too close to one of the stalls and a man would shout out “Try this perfume!” or “These small pills guarantee instant weight loss!”
“How’d you get these noises?” The builder asked.
The boy shrugged. “Mostly it’s just a loop of some file that I found online labeled ‘marketplace sounds’.” He said. “For the individual shopkeepers, I went to the mall and used the digital recorder on my phone to get those people in the kiosk yelling at all the ladies to stop for them.”
“That’s pretty smart.” Markoff chuckled.
In the game he wandered down a back alleyway. The builder recognized this as the avenue that was used for garbage disposal in the shopping center that he’d designed down the road. Here it seemed to be serving the same purpose except where there were large metal dumpsters at the real Taj Mahal, this one had piles of refuse just laying around out in the open. Flies buzzed and small pixilated rats rummaged through them along the periphery of the screen.
There was a shouting. It sounded as if it were coming from around the corner. The boy turned to follow it.
“This is my voice.” He said sounding a little embarrassed. “Later I want to change it.”
They came upon a scene where an obese looking man wearing a loin cloth and nothing else was being pelted with fruits and vegetables. In his son’s voice Markoff listened to him as he pleaded for them to stop. “No!” He screamed in blubbering jagged despair.
“Is that Baby Man?” The builder asked.
Jose nodded. “It’s like Baby Man but this guy will help you if you chase off the villagers who are throwing stuff at him.” He said looking down at the keyboard. “Here he’s a wise man who everyone just hates because he’s so fat.”
Markoff felt even more guilty than he had before about calling the boy fat.
“Please stop!” Jose’s 12 year old voice called out on screen as the people continued to taunt the man.
“Well?” The builder asked. “Aren’t you going to chase them off?”
The boy pursed his lips together. He sighed and took his hands from off the keyboard. He folded them on his lap.
“I want to see what happens.” Markoff said eagerly.
“I can’t.” Jose muttered.
“Because I haven’t gotten that far in the scripting yet.” He frowned. “All they do now is turn and throw their vegetables at me.”
The builder looked at the monitor. “Someone help me!” Jose’s voice cried out through the speakers. The man lifted his arms to shield himself from the onslaught.
“When I’m done with this they will all go away.” The boy said looking at his hands. “When I get it completed they’re all going to run away and the wise man will tell me where to go next.”
At that instant, Markoff desperately wanted to take him out in the backyard. It was night but the moon was full and there was enough light. He’d stand on one side of the lawn ignoring the holes and grids that the archeologist had laid out and Jose would stand on the other. Together, they’d have a father son moment tossing a football back and forth.