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It's that time of year again. Time for a little story with a big chunk of rhyming. I usually post this in Off Topic, but this year, I think it fits in well with Community. So, with out any more prattling on from me, I give you 'Twas XVI. 'Twas XVI: It's Not Always Just a Game by The Coop 'Twas two days before Christmas and throughout the mall, many adults were buying their children's gift haul. Last minute ideas and procrastination made for a time that proved to be stressful, not fun. The place was busy, from the top floor, to the ground. And at the mall's center is where Santa was found. Wearing a red and white suit, he stroked his white beard, letting out “Ho ho ho!” as the next small child neared. While the line to see him wasn't what you'd call long, a few still came to him and gave him that old song whose lyrics told of what they wanted to receive, and hoped that Santa would be kind enough to leave. Not far from where Santa sat was one Paige Murdock, who stood in the Boscov's store checking out their stock of scarfs at a table where all scarfs were on sale. She chose one that was colored a tan that was pale. Paying for it, Paige then walked out of the big store and started to make her way toward the mall's front door. She looked to her left at Santa in his big chair, but saw no line before him. No children were there. “Huh,” she muttered to herself. “Where'd all the kids go? Could have sworn a line was there not that long ago.” Giving a small shrug, she continued on her way so she could head home with what she had bought that day. As she neared the exit, she went by a Gamestop that was filled with people who were looking to shop for a game or two that they could give to someone in hopes of that person having digital fun. At first, Paige just glanced in as she went walking by. But as she did, a box on a shelf caught her eye. She kept walking at first with a curious stare as she tried to study what she was seeing there. It took a few moments before her pace began to slow down with each step, which allowed her to scan the game box that she saw so much more, carefully. It wasn't long before she went over to see the box in question and get a much closer look. Once she stood before it, she then reached down and took the box that had grabbed her attention from its shelf. With it in her hand, she smiled sadly to herself as she looked at the art and the logo that said “World of Warcraft” above an Elven woman's head. Paige said not a word as she stood in the game store and just stared at the game box for a minute more. But while other customers ignored her and talked, in a beeline to Paige, a store employee walked. Once he was standing next to her, the young man said, “You looking for a game or a gift card instead?” “I'm just browsing,” Paige said without looking at him, her voice distant and tinged with a tone slightly grim. “Are you sure?” the man asked. “We've got newer games that-” “I'm sure,” Paige said curtly. “And I don't want to chat.” Giving Paige an irked look, the man then walked away. But alone was something that she just wouldn't stay. More than one employee noticed her and came by to see just what it was that she might want to buy. With preorder talk here and some new games talk there, it seemed she just couldn't get them out of her hair. Once she'd had enough, she just blurted, “Go away! Stop climbing up my ass ev'ry second, OK?!” Much to Paige's delight, her outburst seemed to work, though it undoubtedly made her look like a jerk. For the next minute or so, she was left alone with her thoughts as her mind drifted into a zone. But she was soon pulled out when someone said to her, “I didn't picture you to be a game player.” With a vexed sigh, she turned her head with, “Goddammit! How many times are you going to push your shit-?” A moment later, she saw the one who had spoke. Her eyes went a bit wide and her train of thought broke. Beside her was fat a man dressed up as Saint Nick. Surprised, she stammered, “O-oh, I'm sorry!” quite quick. “Did you think I was someone else?” Santa asked her. Flustered, she said, “Yeah, I did. I thought that you were another store clerk bugging me to buy something.” Santa smiled with, “Looked like you were ready to swing.” Paige gave a small laugh and apologized once more for her swearing at him and behaving so poor. “It's alright,” Santa said. “These guys can be pushy. So, you doing some shopping? For whom, might that be?” “No, I'm not shopping,” she said, her tone, somber tinged. “It's just a game on which my son had always binged.” “Gave up on the game, did he?” the fat man replied. “No,” she said. “My son loved it 'till the day he died.” Santa's jaw slackened and sadness came to his face as he watched Paige put the game's box back into place. “He really loved it,” she said. “He was always on. Sometimes he'd even play it from dusk until dawn. “It was like an addiction, but not quite as bad. Sometimes he'd tell me about the raids that he'd had or the monsters that he and his friends had killed off. It was silly to me, but I tried not to scoff.” “I'm sorry,” Santa said. “When did he pass away?” Paige then replied, “Seven years ago yesterday.” An uncomfortable silence hung in the air as others kept shopping around the sullen pair. In time, Paige gave Santa a little, yet sad smile with, “Makes Christmas time rough, since it's when I lost Kyle.” “That was his name?” he asked, to which Paige replied, “Yes,” in a way that mirrored her visible distress. Santa caught movement from the corner of his eye. A line forming at his chair, was what he did spy. When he looked to Paige, he took her hand in his own. He gave her a warm smile and spoke in a soft tone. “I have to go,” Santa said. “But before I do, I have a small question that I'd like to ask you. This may seem out of place, but please tell me my dear, what is it that you would like for Christmas this year?” Paige met his caring stare, and with ache in her eyes, said, “To talk with him once more and apologize.” She gave a pain-filled smile before she walked away and left Santa standing with a look of dismay. As he returned to his chair to take each request, Paige went out to her truck, doing her very best to keep her emotions under control so she wouldn't find herself on a public crying spree. She drove home and had herself a relieving cry and cleaned her house as the afternoon drifted by. By ten at night, she had climbed into her warm bed and onto her soft pillows, went her sleepy head. She laid there for a time 'fore sleep took her away and bombarded her with thoughts that she'd kept at bay. These thoughts became the dream she was subjected to. The horrid memories that she'd tried to subdue. Of the night she and Kyle got into a bad fight, after she'd been testy toward him most of the night. How she'd chastised him for wasting time with a game that she felt was moronic and fully to blame for his not being social or getting out more, and how he'd sit in the dark behind a shut door. He'd told her that WOW let him play with his friends who they'd left behind after moving a time or two. That he and them could talk like they used to back when they could all meet face to face again and again. She'd told him to make new friends. He'd said that he did. And that was when Paige seemed to fully flip her lid. She'd called him a loser with no real social life, who'd become a fat slob and never find a wife because he was too busy on his computer. That he had become a disappointment to her. Kyle'd gotten angry too and shouted back how she just didn't get it and never would, most likely. She'd shouted at him, “Then explain it to me, Kyle! Tell me why that dumb game's worth a hermit's lifestyle?!” Kyle'd yelled right back, “My new friends here don't play this stuff!” “Oh no!” Paige yelled mockingly. “That must be so rough!” Kyle'd sneered at his mother for a moment or two before he yelled at her, “What am I sp'osed to do, “pretend to like basketball or that NASCAR shit, when I couldn't care less about any of it? “And who are you to give me shit about my game, when you sit on your ass watching shows that are lame? Talk shows and gossip shit for hours ev'ry day. Yet you jump up my ass because I want to play World of Warcraft with friends I can't see any more?” That was when Paige slapped her son with extreme vigor. He'd reeled from the hit, stumbling off to his right. “Go to hell!” she'd screamed. “Get the fuck out of my sight!” “Fine by me,” Kyle'd said, then went to his room to get the keys to his car, which was a beat up Chevette. As he came storming back, Paige'd yelled, “I'm not done, Kyle!” “I'm done listening!” he'd replied. “Done by a mile!” Her eyes flared with rage as Kyle went out the front door, slamming it hard behind him as his mother swore up a storm while she came following him outside with a near hateful glare and a purposeful stride. Outside in the snow that had been falling a while, onto her son, her anger continued to pile. “Get back here!” she'd shouted. “Go to hell!” he'd yelled back as he got into his car. “I'm done with your flack!” Paige'd watched as her son's car backed out of the driveway, then sped off down the street where it faded away. Her dream then became a mix of moments that were filled with images that were like torture to her. Of getting a phone call from a cop who had said there'd been an accident and that her son was dead. Of driving through the snow to a morgue so that she could see and identify his lifeless body. Of a cop telling her how her son lost control of his car in the snow, which then caused it to roll at a high rate of speed into a large pine tree. And with no seat belt on, he'd been killed instantly. Of a funeral and coming back to a home that her son was gone from and would no longer roam. Of guilt and sorrow over what was said and done. Of the last words she had hurled at her only son. But like every bad dream, it was soon left behind as she opened her eyes and was thankful to find that it was Christmas Eve. That the rough night was done and her bedroom was lit up by the morning sun. She let out a yawn and sat slowly up in bed, the echoes of her dream still running through her head. Christmas Eve came and went with almost no fanfare. She stayed home and cleaned and didn't go anywhere. Day turned into night and it wasn't long before she was asleep in bed, letting out a light snore. Christmas morning arose and soon saw Paige awake. She laid there for a while and decided to take some time before she sat up and let out a yawn as she took in the warm glow from the new day's dawn. Paige got out of her bed and answered nature's call, then sleepily made her way out into the hall. Once there, her eyes turned to the shut door at the end, beyond which was the bedroom where her son would spend so much time playing games or just watching TV. But no one was there now, yet it was not empty. Paige strode down the hallway and opened up that door, which revealed a room that looked as it had before Kyle had stormed out on that night seven years ago, when he left one last time into the falling snow. Posters lined the walls, from games to various bands, with a sculpture piece that he'd done with his own hands. On a small shelf, a curvy woman that he'd made stood wearing very little while holding a blade. Beside her, stood a wolf with a snarl on its face. Both looked set to fight as they stared off into space. Nearby was his desk where his computer still sat. She saw some dust there and said, “I'll have to clean that.” But just as she looked away, something caught her eye. Something that wasn't there the last time she'd come by. On Kyle's desk, right next to the keyboard that was there, was what looked like a gift wrapped in Christmasy flare. The paper was red and green, with white snow flakes too. For a few moments, she looked unsure what to do. “Where'd that come from?” she asked and walked over to see. When she picked up the gift, “This thing's addressed to me?” She looked at the present's tag through a wide-eyed stare. “To Paige, from Santa,” was what had been written there. “Where'd this come from?” she asked as she held the present. She then removed the paper after a moment. Within a few seconds, she looked lost and unsure as she held a game box that she had seen before. She recognized the female elf on the cover and the words “World of Warcraft” that were above her. But also on that box was a small, Post-It note. On it, “Install this and play,” was what someone wrote. Paige looked lost and confused; wary of what to do. Were the gift and note some things that she should eschew? Or should she go along with what was asked of her and take a chance to find out just what will occur? She did and said nothing for a good minute more, staring at the box and note intently before she opened the game's box and removed the CD, then turned on the power to her son's old PC. Though the machine was old, it still booted up fast. It was then that she did what the Post-It note asked. She popped in the CD and waited 'till the screen that told her how to install the game could be seen; a screen that asked if she was all set to have fun with “World of Warcraft: Special Christmas Edition.” With a few left mouse clicks, the disc drive came alive and Paige waited until the “finished” screen arrived. With the game now installed and everything all set, she got the game started with, “Let's see what we get.” She watched the game's intro and came to the screen where two spaces to log into an account were there. But those spaces looked to be already filled in. So she clicked on “Login” so the game would begin. It took roughly a minute for the game to load. But once it finished, Paige took in what the screen showed. Before her eyes was the low polygon count of what looked like a tavern that was viewed from above. The chairs, tables, plates, railings and all of the rest, were all a bit blocky. They didn't look their best. But, the warm glow of the fire and candles gave it a cozy and inviting welcoming spirit. Up close on the screen was what looked like an elf lass, whose slinky clothes did little to cover her ass. “Is that who Kyle played as?” she muttered to herself. “Figures that he'd go and pick a scantly clad elf.” Paige grinned, shook her head, and then moved the mouse around. As the game's camera panned, it was then she found that no one else was in the digital tavern, which brought a tone to her voice that was harsh and stern. “Well this looks boring,” she said, still moving her view with the mouse 'till she heard that someone had come through a squeaky swinging door, like from an old saloon. “Why'd Kyle spend so much time with this each afternoon?” At the screen's bottom, a line of text did appear that said, “It's better when more people are in here.” Paige moved the mouse so that the camera swung to show that someone was behind her character, who just stood in place in an idle animation. Then new text appeared that read, “Then it's way more fun.” Paige looked at the character across from her own. It was then for a loop, that she found her mind thrown. “What the-?” she uttered with confusion on her face. “OK. How'd they hear me? Did someone mic my place?” “No,” came text on the screen. “Starting up my PC makes my monitor's mic start automatically.” “Your?” Paige said with suspicion as she eyed the screen. “I bought this for my son, Kyle. This is his machine.” “I know,” came some new text. “That's why I called it 'my' and why you're using the character I named 'Kai.'” Paige started at the screen with an uncertain gaze that told of her confusion and where her mind was at. “What's going on here?” she said. “Who the hell are you?” It was a moment later that she began to see something about the new person's character that began to seem oddly familiar to her. The model was rough with its low polygon count, but it looked like Kyle by a sizable amount. The way the hair was black and scruffy on its head, as if it had just rolled itself out of its bed. The blue eyes and glasses and heavily-bridged nose. The thin arms that stuck out from its thick looking clothes. The oval-shaped face and its quite thin-looking frame that looked very much like him despite how the game had his likeness on an elf, which seemed a bit weird. Seeing what looked like Kyle, but blue skinned and long-eared. But that was surpassed when the game dropped a new bomb, as the Kyle-like elf waved with text that said, “Hi Mom.” Paige stood in stunned silence, not knowing what to say. “Who is this?” she asked as she turned her eyes away. A new bit of text came up. “It's me, Mom,” it read. “This isn't funny,” she stated. “My son is dead.” “I know,” came new text. “It's been seven years since that night that I left home after we had that huge spat.” “I'm turning this off,” Paige said, anger in her voice. “I don't know who you are to make the kind of choice “to play this sick joke on me, you son of a bitch!” “Please Mom, don't!” came new text. “Don't hit the power switch! “Ask me any question. Whatever comes to mind. I'll prove I'm me and not someone being unkind.” “Fine,” Paige blurted. “Tell me, when Kyle was about four, what happened with him and my old desk's middle drawer?” After a moment, some new text popped up on-screen. “You want me to relive that? C'mon Mom, that's mean.” “Now!” Paige shouted. Up came new text that read, “That's when I pinched my small johnson in that drawer in your den.” “Tell me how,” she insisted. “Fine,” read the new text. “I used to run through the house nude, which made you vexed. Well, I was looking for that toy xylophone you regretted giving me when I was about two. You had gone and hid it so that I couldn't play with the thing in the kitchen every single day. I found it in the bottom drawer of the desk you told me to stay out of... something I didn't do. When I heard you coming, I slammed the desk drawer shut. God, the pain that I felt made me think that I'd cut the damn thing right off and lost my little fire hose. But that was what I got for standing way too close to the lip of that drawer with how short I was then. I never did play in that house naked again.” Paige remained silent as she read the text on-screen. Once she had reached the end, budding tears could be seen building in her eyes as she looked once again to the Kyle-like elf and asked, “Is... is it really you?” The text, “It's really me, Mom,” appeared as Paige took a seat in Kyle's desk chair, looking visibly shook. “How are you here?” Paige asked. “I don't understand how I can be talking with you inside this game now.” “I don't get it either, Mom,” the new text did read. “I got pulled into here and told that I would need to go into this tavern as soon as I could. And when I questioned why, I was just told, 'You should.'” “You were told?” Paige inquired. “Who told you to do this?” “Beats me,” came some new text. “They said I shouldn't miss the chance to talk with someone that was close to me. All I heard was a voice. There was no one to see. “That, and that I only had a short time to stay before all this would end and I'd fade back away.” Paige's bewildered look took on a saddened tinge and she could feel her throat had begun to constringe as the weight of what she'd heard pressed down on her heart. “If we don't have much time,” she said, “then let me start by saying I'm sorry for what I did the night you drove away from here after we had our fight.” As she looked away through growingly glassy eyes, “I can tell you how much that I've come to despise “myself for the way that I treated you that night. I went way overboard and it just wasn't right. “I should have never hit you or said what I said.” It was at that moment that her first tear was shed. “And ever since I lost you, at this time every year, all I can think is I'm the reason you're not here.” She said nothing for a time. No text did appear. And as this moment went on, Paige began to fear that the one on the screen who had come from somewhere outside of the living world, was no longer there. “Kyle?” she said softly, as she looked on with a stare that was worry-filled. “Please tell me that you're still there.” “I'm still here,” came new text. “I've yet to leave this place.” As she read those words, relief came to Paige's face. “I screwed up,” Paige continued. “I wish I could take back all I said and did and be able to make things like they had been before I pushed you away. Then you'd still be here with me and you'd be OK.” “I'd like that too,” came new text. “But before I go, there are a few things that I would like you to know. “I don't blame you for my death. That was all on me. I was pissed off and driving pretty recklessly. “I was cursing you out and not watching the road. I'd paid no attention to how much it had snowed. “Driving with one hand because I was too busy hitting the dashboard. And look at what it cost me.” “But I was the reason you left,” Paige insisted. New text then read, “But I was the reason I slid “off of the road and slammed into that stupid tree. I caused what ended my life. Not you Mom, just me. “I could have gone back to my room and slammed the door. Flipped you off behind your back. Sat in there and swore like I'd done a hundred times in the past when you would give me shit about the things I liked to do.” “But this time was diff'rent,” Paige insisted and pled. “I hit you. Put you down. And you ended up dead.” Another silence came. No text or spoken word. All the while, Paige watched through vision that was tear-blurred. She had grown worried when some new text read, “That's true. But I still crashed my car, Mom, and I don't blame you. “You didn't force me out or into that dumb tree. So stop blaming yourself for what happened to me.” Fresh tears rolled down her cheeks as she took a slow breath. She let it out and said, “Since the night of your death, “I've wished so many times that I could hold you so I could tell you that I love you and let you know “how sorry I am for what happened on that night. That I wanted to undo it and make things right.” As she stared at the screen, some fresh text appeared there. “It's alright, Mom,” it read. “I was always aware “that you loved me and whatnot. One fight doesn't change all of that, no matter how heated the exchange.” “Maybe,” she said softly. “But I still went too far. I said and did things to you that left a huge scar “in my heart because of what my ranting cost you. I lost my only son and a piece of me, too.” Her face contorted a bit as she fought back tears. “I've missed you so much over the last seven years.” Text that read, “I've missed you too,” appeared on the screen. After a few moments, more new text could be seen. “There's something I want to say while I have the chance that was given to me with this strange happenstance. “I know that you're hurting over what you said back when we had our big fight and you gave me that smack. “I won't lie to you, Mom. All of that hurt me too. I never expected to hear that stuff from you. “But the fact is, I did and it can't be undone. I lost my life on that night and you lost your son. “But let me repeat this, Mom. You didn't kill me. Don't keep blaming yourself for all eternity. “But if it will make you feel better, let me say that I forgive you on this early Christmas Day.” “W-what?” she stammered as her expression went slack and she did her best to hold all her sorrow back. “I forgive you,” came new text. A moment later, a large swell of anguish forced itself out from her. With her face in her hands, she cried for a good while before she was able to give a saddened smile to the monitor where the Kyle-like character stood in an idle animation before her. “You dried out now?” came text which made her laugh lightly. “Don't be smart,” she chuckled. “That meant a lot to me.” New text that read, “I could tell,” popped up, followed by, “I honestly can't remember the last time I “saw you cry like you did a few moments ago. Hell, I don't think I ever saw you cry, you know?” Paige smiled and then said, “Had to put on a brave front so that my kid couldn't pull some kind of cheap stunt “and play my emotions like they were a fiddle.” As she laughed, new text read, “I never could diddle. “Every time I tried to throw a tantrum so I could have things my way, you would just wait out my cry “and say, 'Are you done now?' as you stared down at me. I don't think you ever caved to one bratty plea.” For the next hour or so, they talked about a lot. Moments that made them laugh, and moments that did not. Of times that made memories, ones both good and bad, throughout many of the seventeen years they'd had together before so much had gone very wrong. But soon something unwanted came creeping along. “Mom?” some fresh text read. “I think my time here's over.” Paige read this, and a sad expression came to her. “Already?” she asked. “I think so,” the new text read, which left Paige looking unsure of what should be said. She brought up a hand and placed her finger tips to the screen as she sadly smiled with, “Kyle, I love you. “I don't know how or why this happened on this day. But I wish so damn much that somehow you could stay.” “I love you too, Mom,” came text on the monitor. “I'm really sorry that we couldn't talk some more.” “Will I get to talk to you here again?” she asked, as her quickly building tears, she tried to keep masked. “I don't think so,” new text read. “I think this is it. But we'll meet again when you kick the ol' bucket.” Paige smiled a bit, with, “Don't be such a smart ass, Kyle.” “Goodbye, Mom,” new text read. “See you after a while.” “Good-bye,” Paige uttered as her emotions did swell. “I love you, Kyle.” Some text read, “Love you as well.” Kyle's elfish character turned and walked from the place, leaving Paige with tears that streamed down her pain-filled face. She cried for a good while and rested her chin on the desk as she stared at where the Kyle-like elf'd gone. But after a while, a window came up that read, “Try not to be sad, Paige. Try to focus instead “on the moments you just shared here with your son, Kyle. Even if that time was only for a short while.” Paige looked confused as she sat up in her son's chair and watched as new text continued to appear there. “I know your old wounds have been reopened by this. By speaking with the son that you very much miss. “But take to heart what was said and let it help you. Let it ease the pain inside and help get you through “this moment in time that gave you a chance to say what you've wanted to since that unfortunate day. “Take care of yourself and know that this was no trick. It was real from start to end. Best wishes, St. Nick.” Paige stared with mouth agape as she came to the end of the text from someone who had helped her to mend at least some of the pain that had grown in her heart. Pain that came from an event that she did impart to an old man at the mall that she didn't know who had been dressed up as Santa from head to toe. A few moments later, the computer shut down. The monitor went blank and Paige brought forth a frown. “Guess it's over,” she said in a voice that was sad as her eyes hinted at the fresh tears that still had yet to roll down her cheeks because of what took place. But before too long, a smile came to Paige's face. A smile that held the glow of a mother's love for the son she no longer had, yet still did adore. And with the blank screen of the monitor in sight, “Thank you, Santa,” she said. “And to all, a good night.” Hope you all enjoyed it. And of course, Merry Christmas