The Game by Emily Weber
Managing editor Krys Malcolm Belc on today’s bonus story: In this beautiful short short story, Emily Weber considers what happens to our past selves, the ones who squished next to new friends on the bus back to camp and the ones who leave online. Her main character contemplates care and mourning and what exactly is lost when a web platform dies.
Before today, the last time I logged into Suzie’s Curiocats account was the night Obama was elected. I was alone in my bedroom because my parents were downstairs opening and closing cabinets and pacing and sighing. I’d remembered Suzie’s password on the first try. Even then, the website looked dated. The purple left-hand menu, transparent hearts and stars sprinkled everywhere, cartoon cats with saucer plate eyeballs. The homepage advertised a new game called Shenanicats.
Despite the name, the cats weren’t the important thing. If you couldn’t log in during, say, a family vacation, they would go from peckish to hungry to starving but they would never die. When you returned, you could feed them omelets and pies and sandwiches pierced with toothpicks and they would stop starving and they wouldn’t even hold a grudge.
I found my way to Curiocats today from a Medium article headlined Your childhood Curiocats will die with Adobe Flash. Because the website was built on Flash in the early 2000s, most of the site would break when Adobe kills off Flash in favor of HTML5. Today it takes me three tries to remember Suzie’s password. In ten years, I have forgotten and remembered and forgotten so many passwords.
Suzie and I met when she climbed into the top bunk in Cabin 12 and announced I’m Suzie-with-a-Z-not-an-S. I was jealous that her nickname could include a letter that wasn’t in her real name, which had to be either Susan or Susannah. My name doesn’t allow for substitutions. The wood beneath her wailed when she flopped on the bunk above me. She swung her head over the side, dishwater hair dangling like beads, and told me she knew girl who was crushed to death when a top bunk came loose in the middle of the night. She said the girl’s purple hand stuck out from the bunks like lunchmeat when they found her. She said she would try not to toss and turn and cracked a smiled that showed the gaps in her teeth. I laughed because we’d had the same thought and that almost never happened to me.
She didn’t accept Christ as her personal savior that week, but she memorized as many Bible verses as I did. During the memorization hour after lunch, she would sit on her bunk above me kicking her feet and every ten minutes she would climb down, whisper a Bible verse to our counselor and get a check-mark in her booklet, and then I would memorize the same verse. On the bus back to the church, I squished into Suzie’s seat and asked why she wouldn’t accept Jesus into her heart. She said she wasn’t born into a Christian family and I said you don’t have to be born a Christian to become a Christian and she said that’s like saying you don’t have to be born in China to speak Chinese and I said right, you could learn Chinese from your parents, and she blinked at me like that was a stupid thing to say and it took me more than a decade to realize she was right.
Her mom was almost never home. I would say a polite Hi Mrs. Hauska when she came padding through the kitchen in scrubs. She was always yawning, always going to bed or waking up for work. Suzie and I would sit in the den and take turns playing our favorite Curiocats games on the gigantic desktop computer. In the summer of 2006, everyone played Curiocats. By the following spring, it was just Suzie and me.
Today there are 2.2 million Curiocoins in Suzie’s account. Most games give you a few hundred coins if you’re good. I check on her cats: a well-fed gray tabby in a plaid bowtie named SharkB8 and a kitten in a strawberry costume named Soo_Zee_Q. In three months, it will be impossible to earn coins to buy food for them. They will starve but never die. I click around the account settings for the list of recent logins. Three hours ago, from an IP address in the same town as me. Thousands of logins from the same IP address, going back years. I open an email to Suzie’s mom.
Hi Mrs. Hauska, or can I call you Anne now? I’m going to be 30 next year so maybe we can do first names, haha. I know it’s been a while, but I was wondering if you’re the one maintaining Suzie’s Curiocats account. I still think about her all the
I open one of the games that Suzie had been really good at where you pilot a pterodactyl around dinosaurs lunging at you from the ground. As my pterodactyl navigates their gaping jaws, I watch the Curiocoins pour into Suzie’s account.
Emily Weber's work has been published in Bartleby Snopes, The Adroit Journal, Glassworks, Gordon Square Review, and elsewhere. She lives near Philadelphia.