by Steve Gergley
Jorge asked me to be the guest on the first episode of his podcast. I hadn’t talked to him in over two years, and he didn’t say what his podcast was about or if anyone was listening, but I said yes anyway. I’d heard what had happened to him and I wanted to help.
Back when we stocked shelves together at Value King, me and Jorge used to talk every day about our favorite video games. We were both big gamers, and since we only worked part time, we each had enough time to play at least twenty hours of games per week. Over the course of my conversations with Jorge, I learned that he loved to play very difficult third-person action games such as Bloodborne and Dark Souls, games populated with bloodthirsty monsters, nightmarish creatures, and aggressive bosses, and set in medieval worlds filled with hidden traps, poison swamps, and haunted forests. For some reason, Jorge loved the horror and oppression of these worlds.
He often clocked into work each afternoon with a wide smile on his face, eager to tell me about the new, terrifying boss he fought for three hours the night before. One such boss was a freshly born, anthropomorphic fish-demon who wielded his hardened placenta as a weapon, and attempted, often successfully, to bludgeon the player to death with it.
As a shy, conflict-averse nineteen-year-old who had dropped out of college in the middle of my third semester due to stress and anxiety, I never understood why Jorge would willingly subject himself to such punishment. The games I played were the equivalent of colorful cartoons for children, and they were nothing more than a happy distraction from the incessant images of injury and death my anxious mind conjured up dozens of times a day for no good reason. For me, cowering in fear of everyday life was all the eldritch horror I needed.
About a year into my job at Value King, Jorge abruptly quit. True to his impulsive nature, he never said a word to me about his decision; he simply stopped coming to work one day. Through social media I learned that he had gone back to school to become an artist. Years later, I heard from a friend that Jorge had dropped out of school and moved back home due to a gaming addiction. Later still, the same friend told me that Jorge had become a shut-in and had stopped leaving his house altogether. This worried me. So when Jorge sent me a DM on Twitter and asked me to appear on his podcast, I said yes without another thought.
On the night of the first episode of Jorge’s podcast, we sat in his parents’ unfinished basement with two USB microphones standing on the aluminum table between us. After a few words of awkward small talk, Jorge pressed record on his laptop and nodded at me. He’d gained a good amount of weight since I last saw him, and his eyes looked like two dots of ink dripped onto the fleshy globe of his face.
“So, Ken,” Jorge said, “I asked you to be on the podcast today because there’s something I’ve been thinking about lately that I can’t get out of my head. No matter what I’m doing, and no matter how hard I try to think about something else, it always seems to come back. By now I’ve accepted the fact that this is probably just how my mind works and that I’ll have to deal with these thoughts for a very long time or maybe even the rest of my life, but I’d like to ask you about this. Call it morbid curiosity. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m talking about death. My death, specifically, and how I’m going to die. This information came to me in a lucid dream I had six months ago. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but when I woke up from that dream, the images of my death didn’t disappear. Instead, they burned themselves into my memory. And now, every time I close my eyes, I see my death all over again, as real as if it’s happening in reality. Do you understand what I’m saying? Good. So now I’m going to ask you a question. Maybe it’ll make me feel better and maybe it won’t. I don’t know. But what I want to know is this: how do you think you’re going to die?”
I huffed a sharp exhale and stared at the microphone in front of me. My heartbeat thudded heavily in my ears.
“Wow,” I said. “That’s a lot to take in.”
“I know,” Jorge said.
I looked up and waited for him to continue, but he stayed quiet. Soon all my secret fears and anxieties came tumbling out of me, one after another. Then my mind filled with all the terrifying images I tried to ignore on a daily basis: my head smashing against the floor after a slip on slick bathroom tile; my body getting crushed under a car while running the backroads out by Miller’s farm; my Toyota getting T-boned while driving through an intersection on my way to work. As I spoke, Jorge cocked his head to the side and nodded, absorbing every word. Half an hour later, as my body twitched and trembled with anxiety, I looked at Jorge and made the “kill it” gesture at my neck so I could escape this conversation that had dragged these frightening thoughts into my mind once again. But Jorge shook his head and mouthed at me in silence.
* * *
Steve Gergley is a writer and runner from Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Cleaver Magazine, Hobart, Pithead Chapel, After the Pause, Barren Magazine, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. His fiction can be found at: https://stevegergleyauthor.wordpress.com/