THE AGELESS BOX
Wrapped perfectly in a bright red paper
With small excited hands I tore through the paper
Inside, a glossy box, with graphics that bounced
Off of the box
Interlocking Building Blocks
Brick Blocks that Build Boats.
I was delighted.
I would spend hours upon hours
Craving every little click
Completing towering cities
Made purely out of
Interlocking Building Blocks.
Coated in a thick layer of dust
Colours on the box.
With nostalgia, I lift the box off the high shelf
Inside, shaking noises rattle through the box
Noises of clashing
Interlocking Building Blocks.
But I have moved on.
I spend hours upon hours
Craving every little click
Completing majestic computers
Made bit by bit
Motherboards and CPUs.
Thomas Guan spends much of his time looking for another story to read while sitting next to the water in Vancouver, Canada. However, he is extremely picky and doesn’t get much headway in the number of stories he has read. Otherwise, he erratically writes poems and attends slams to try to help him find a way to express his ideas. Thomas is currently looking for the best medium for self-expression, an ongoing journey he has been traveling his entire life. He’s tried many different forms of art, from music, to sketching, to graphic design, but he always find comfort in writing.
Leanne Bridgewater is a poetic practitioner in the key of a visual writer. Her work stems from experimentation of word order and unconventional rhyme, to phonic chants and visual graffiti. There is a blurry line between her art and poetry, with words marrying visuals and visuals cohabiting with language. Leanne’s performances include visual puns where a tomato is placed on a toe, an orchestra of hairdryers, collaborations with multiple language speakers and more conventional readings from the page. She was awarded Foyle Young Poet aged 17. At 23, she graduated from the University of Salford with an MA in Creative Writing: Innovation & Experiment (distinction). In 2015, Leanne was shortlisted for the Melita Hume Poetry Prize. Her debut collection, Confessions of a Cyclist, was published in 2016 with Knives Forks and Spoons Press. You can find some of her multimedia work on YouTube.
Jake’s original plan had been to play Cubes on his own until he became good enough to go online but, somehow, he did not seem to get any better. He had watched dozens of strategy videos but could never replicate what he saw. The game was deceptively simple: the screen filled with a series of cubes, each of which could be rotated. If the player could manoeuvre them to match a line of the same colour or size, they would be transferred to the other player’s screen. One player won when the other could make no moves. To make things more difficult, the player could never see the entire game area at any one time, and at random points, the cubes would change colour. The player could manoeuvre to the edge of the arena to find out what colours would appear next, but doing so often prevented them from making a line.
Jake lost again and had to stop himself from throwing his controller across the room. He had reduced the difficulty to ‘Hard’, but still lost almost half the time. When he heard his mum come into the room behind him, he held his breath. If she saw him getting angry, she might tell him to stop playing.
“You’ve not had any lunch.”
“I didn’t feel like anything.”
“You’ve got to eat, you can’t lie there playing that all day.”
“I said I didn’t feel like anything.”
“Have you been to the Job Centre this week?”
“I’ve been every day. I did three applications yesterday.”
Jake resisted the temptation of replying to her ironically raised voice.
He grew so frustrated at being beaten by the computer that he went online that afternoon and found some players who called themselves beginners. He lost so many games so quickly that his anger turned into gloom. I’ll never be ready for the tournament, he thought. Three days. No chance.
He stayed up until three in the morning. Midnight was a symbol, somehow; after that time, he glanced at a wall clock at the end of every game, constantly justifying to himself why he may as well play another. It made no sense that he did not improve with practice. How can I do the same thing over and over and get worse? None of the others could have practised for as long as he had. It was ridiculous.
Jake got up just before midday. He told his mum that he did not feel well, so did not need breakfast. He slid past her as if he stood on an elevator, inching further away with every word. The fact that he was going to the Job Centre meant she did not put much effort into questioning him.
After a few hours on the job computer, he caught a bus back. His mum had gone out, which meant that he could put his console on without worrying about what she would say. He wished that she did not pester him about jobs, as there was nothing he could do. Jake thought about her whilst a new game loaded. He tried to fill all time, never leaving the house without his earphones, and putting the television on loud enough to hear while brushing his teeth. In the moments when he was not doing anything, he realised how cold and hungry he was. He had agreed with his mum that they would only put the heating on when they were both in the house. It was cheaper that way.
Over the following three days, Jake devoted himself entirely to Cubes, only leaving the house for the statutory time that he needed to attend the Job Centre. He spent much of the night dreaming about the game, grimacing in his sleep, as he did not win often enough even in his imagination. Each day, he got up later, with the images of his dream games still clear in his mind.
Somehow, eventually, imperceptibly, he did improve, and by the night of the competition, he had won almost seventy percent of his last thousand games. When Jake entered his gamer name and other details into the start menu of the online competition and clicked that he understood the rules, his fingers tensed with excitement.
He had to wait almost twenty minutes for his first round game, staring at the dimmed screen, imagining that the amount of players must be slowing his connection. By the time his match started, he could not lie still. To Jake’s amazement, his opponent made a series of errors, allowing him to make five lines straight away. He won in less than five minutes.
His wait at the lobby screen was much shorter the second time, and although his opponent was better, they did not transfer enough cubes into his arena to put him under any pressure. He used the same strategy as in the first round and became so confident that he thought he could waste a few moves to see what the next colours would be. It took him several seconds to realise that he had blocked himself in. He swallowed and pressed the controller buttons futilely as he watched his opponent make their lines. The worst thing was, they were obviously crap, as it took them an age to line them up. When it was finally over, the screen faded to black, to be replaced by an image of a ticket being torn in two, the sound realistic enough to make him wince.
“You need to go to bed now…” his mum said, making him jump.
“Just a minute.”
“Come on Jake, this is the second time you’ve woken me up tonight.”
“I’m switching it off. Just get out.”
His mum’s steps were expressive as she sloped out the room. He switched his console off. The next competition for a food bank voucher was six weeks away. He thought about starting to research the next game, before thinking better of it. There was no point upsetting her again. Especially as he had let her down in a way that he could not explain and she would not understand. He got into bed and stared at the ceiling, destined to dream of cubes.
Mark Reece has been writing short stories for many years, and has been published in numerous literary magazines and anthologies, including a previous edition of HCE, Orbis, and The Delinquent, amongst other places. For more information, see: www.markreece.co.uk