The Black Lab

            Phillip unlocked the back door at nine o'clock. His parents had already fallen asleep. Thus, in his mind, the 'no girls' rule no longer applied. The wind blew through the weeping trees of his back yard, and a stream cried in the distance. Two figures made their way through the uncut grass, and entered soundlessly.

            The basement was cool and inviting. Cushions fell to the floor. Then. the couch creaked as he pulled out the folded mattress, and it became a large bed. There were clean sheets all ready there.

            He's been planning ahead, Laura realized. She and Jenna nestled onto the mattress, and Phillip sat at the end of the bed. Behind them, the TV was mutedly playing an Indie horror film. Too bad Jesse is swamped in homework.

            Laura opened her leather purse, and picked out three cartridges of the game from Andrew. Her own DS lite, a pale pink, opened with a bright screen.

            The smell of popcorn wafted downstairs from the kitchen.

            "Is it just the three of us?" Jenna was worried, not wanting to intrude upon what would otherwise be a special night for Laura with Phillip. She had a black dual-screen out, stylus in one hand and her cartridge in the other.

            "There's someone we want you to meet, Jenna." Laura said mischieviously. "That's why there's an extra copy."

            Footsteps moving above them. The distant beeping of a microwave.

            "My cousin," Phillip said. "He lives down the street. Goes to French Immersion, that's why you don't see him at school."

            Jenna frowned.

            "He's really hot, Jen," Laura mused with a glance at Phillip, "Trust me."

            Phillip moved between them, and slid under the checkerboard quilt. He rubbed his legs against Laura's, and they left them locked together.

            The young man upstairs came down with a large bowl of steaming popcorn. None of it was burnt. And it all smelled so nice. He had the same rich, dark brown hair as Phillip. However, it was straighter, and longer. It curtained his forehead. And below brown eyes, and a strong nose, his grin was toothlessly broad.

            Jenna laughed, "Striking resemblance, eh? I'm calling bias on that one."

            "Huh? Did I miss something?" A very subtle lisp, and a deep voice.

            On the television screen, a young woman was soundlessly butchered by a lust-filled vampire. Teeth tore at her neck, and blood trickled softly from his lips.

            "No, it's nothing, Ryan." Phillip assured him, stifling his own laugh, "Just have a seat."

            The popcorn fell into a second bowl. The bed became crowded, as he slipped in beside Jenna with an awkward smile. And they passed the second bowl down to Laura.

            Ryan was the last to slide his cartridge in, "What are we playing?"

            Eight screens, in four pairs, lit up across the dark room. Laura answered him, "Some game Andrew recommended."

            "Who's Andrew?"

            "Nobody," Jenna said. She pushed the stale crush to the back of her mind. I need to get my mind off him.

            Menus were navigated, and then it loaded. A CGI video introduced the game. It was a dark fantasy world, zooming in and out through barren landscapes, old bastions and torturous dungeons. Every man and woman that passed by the screen was deep in conflict with otherworldly horrors. Their three-dimensionally rendered faces had subtle features of Japanese animation.

            "Is this survival or a role-playing game?" Ryan was inquisitive. It sure pushes the DS graphics capabilities to thier limits. I hope it doesn't lag.

            "We don't know. Frightful, that's all we know. It's multi-player only, that's why I don't know." Can't play it alone.

            "Frightful is right," Jenna said, as she watched a knight getting cleaved in two by the axe of a bloodthirsty minotaur. Then, the video came to a close.

            She looked beside her at Phillip. Though his right leg was locked between Laura's, his left leg was trembling beneath the covers.

            Phillip was looking away from his screen, his face contorted in disgust. Gross. That's gonna give me a nightmare. Better not happen to me in the game.

            "You sure you got the 'nads for this, Phil?" Ryan laughed.

            Jenna squirmed, and found herself leaning against Ryan's arm. She looked across Phil's screens at Laura's. She was setting up a multiplayer game for them.

            "It just takes getting used to," he said with a weak voice. "I'll be kicking your butt in no time at all."

            Hmm... how should I organize this? Laura looked at her screen, "Two on two sound good?"

            "Battle of the sexes!" Ryan exclaimed.

            "No, couz, I ain't teaming up with you." Not since last time.

            "Fine," said Laura with a wry smile. "Couple against couple."

            Jenna shifted herself, so that she was no longer leaning against Ryan, "We aren't a couple! We hardly know each other." As handsome as he is.

            "We know what you meant," Ryan said, winking at Laura. "Tap in."

            Styluses and fingernails danced about touch-screens, and the game was set up. Laura's screen, as host, summed it up. A menu of white text, over the background of a dark laboratory.


  • WORLD: Random
  • HOSTS: 1/2
  • PLAYERS: 4/10
  • TEAMS: 2/12
  • NET: X
  • xLAURAx [Red] [TEAM 1]
  • Shades [Violet] [TEAM 2]
  • Phil-Me-Up [Black] [TEAM 1]
  • Ryan [Blue] [TEAM 2]

v0.9 BETA

            Laura guessed that 'hosts' were counted among 'players'. She also decided that it was not worth scrolling down the player list, as all four of them topped the list. It did not occur to her that the numbers implied the existence of a fifth player. The maximum number of teams allowed for a twelve-player free-for-all. This would be redundant, because the maximum number of players was only ten. Thus, it would be logical to assume that hosts were not counted among players. Therefore, there was, indeed, a fifth player among them.

            "Wow, it's using my Wi-Fi connection," Laura realized. "And it's not even licensed by Nintendo."

            "Easy!? C'mon, darling, we're not twelve - even if this is a new game."

            Ryan tapped at his own screen, changing his chosen colour from Blue to Orange.

            "Hard or Grueling?" Laura asked, as she tapped open a fold-down menu.

            Jenna put a small handful of popcorn in her mouth.

            "Hard," said Ryan. Speaking of hard, daaamn, she's pretty.

            And at the same time, Phillip had answered her, "Grueling."

            A black Labrador dog walked down the stairs, tail between its legs. Then it saw the people, and smelled the popcorn. She ran over and jumped onto the end of the bed, curling up against the four pairs of feet.

            What the heck? Phillip frowned, "Is it just me, or do we have a fifth --"

            "You're too ambitious, if you ask me," Jenna interrupted. "I like a challenge, but I don't want to be kicked around too much by the system."

            Nobody noticed as the Team count rose from two to three.

            Laura set it to Hard. And then she looked at the world options. A separate screen opened up, and she was given a myriad of options. A map of a fantasy world, and an adjustable year spanning from ancient times to a post-apocalyptic future. They had some decisions to make. They were accompanied by pictures of beautiful landscapes and architecture, each tainted and wild its own way.


The End

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