FINAL LEVEL

By BJ Bourg


Russell Allen looked across the table at his wife.

Cassie shook her head, freckled cheeks reddening. “Are you going to do something about it, or am I?”

The triple stomp from upstairs made the kitchen lights blink. Russell sighed. “I’ve got it.” His tired legs carried him up the stairs and into his son’s room.

Brock didn’t turn around when the door opened. His gaze was fixed to the television screen, where a character on some video game was walking through town carrying a shotgun. Brock pulled and twisted on the joystick. The character, who could be no more than seventeen, lifted the shotgun and aimed it at an elderly woman. The woman threw her hands up, but the teen pulled the trigger. The front of the woman’s face turned to crimson and she dropped to the ground. Brock laughed.

“Son, what are you playing?”

Brock jerked around. “Hey, Dad, I didn’t hear you come upstairs.”

“I was in stealth mode so you wouldn’t. What on earth are you playing?”

“What’s stealth mode?”

“I walked on the balls of my feet. Now, tell me about that game.”

“It’s called Takin’ it to the Groans. Uncle Ned bought it for me.”

“You’re that kid, that character on there?”

Brock nodded. “He’s the baddest dude on the block. He can beat--”

“Why’d you shoot that lady?”

“Who, grandma?”

“Yeah, that defenseless grandma.”

“She looked at me funny.”

Russell gasped. “What did you say?”

“Relax, Dad, it’s just a game.”

“Don’t tell me to relax, son. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What’s the objective of that game?”

“Nothing, really. The kids just walk around and take over the world.”

“What are groans?”

“That’s code for grown-ups.”

Russell walked over to the gaming system and reached for the “eject” button.

Brock jumped from his bed. “What are you doing?” he yelled. “I’m about to make it to the final level!”

Russell turned and his eyes widened when he saw his twelve-year-old son standing with fists clinched and face painted in anger. He pointed a finger at Brock. “You’d better unclench those fists and drop that attitude, boy! Do you understand me?”

Brock’s lips became thin white lines. Through clenched teeth he said, “Yes, sir.”

Russell turned and jerked the power cord from the wall. Sliding the gaming system from the entertainment center, he collected the wires and tucked everything under his arm. “Now I know where that bad attitude’s been coming from.”

“Dad, I’m sorry, please don’t--”

“You’re punished for a week. And when you get it back, you’ll only be able to play Devin’s games.”

“But, he’s three.”

“Exactly my point.” Russell turned to leave, then stopped. “Oh, and quit stomping on the floor. You’re driving your mom nuts.”

***


Cassie looked up from her plate when Russell reached the bottom of the stairs.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into that boy. All through school he’s had straight A’s, but now he’s poisoning his mind with these killer games.”

“Oh, Russ, don’t you think you’re overreacting?”

“He killed an old lady just for looking at him!”

“It’s only a game.”

“Only my ass. It breeds violence.”

“Give him some credit. He’s smart enough to know the difference between fantasy and reality.”

“He should be smart enough not to play that crap. In fact, no one should be allowed to play those games.”

“Really? What about cowboys and Indians? Or those violent action movies you love to watch?”

“That’s different.”

“ Sure it is.”

Russell turned and walked off.

“Walk away,” Cassie said. “You know I’m right.”

Russell stopped to check on Devin before going to bed. Devin was sound asleep, clutching his new Superman action figure to his chest. Even while he slept he looked happy. Russell ruffled his sandy colored hair and walked to the master bedroom. “I’m in bed,” he called out to Cassie.

“Good for you,” Cassie called back from the kitchen.

“To hell with it.” Russell fell back on the bed and closed his eyes…

***


Russell jerked upright and stared wildly about in the darkness. His heart raced in his chest. “What the hell was that?”

Cassie’s breath was short and her voice was a frightened whisper. “I think someone’s in the house!”

“Are you--”

Suddenly, an explosion from the other side of the house shook them to their very souls. Russell heard Devin crying hysterically from his room. He rolled from the bed and jerked open the nightstand drawer. He reached for the Smith and Wesson .357 that was hidden there. “Shit!”

“What?” Cassie’s face was pressed against his back.

“Did you take my gun?”

“No.”

Russell pulled away from Cassie and ran to the walk-in closet. As he searched the top shelf with frantic hands, another gunshot echoed throughout the house. Devin’s cries abruptly ceased. Cassie screamed. Russell heard her footsteps pounding the floor as she ran from the room. A cold chill crept into his spine when he realized his shotgun was also missing.

“Russ! Get out here! Oh, my God! No! Don’t--”

Russell bolted from the room in time to see Cassie lurch backwards. His ears rang. His eyes burned. Cassie turned. In the dim light, he saw blood seep from her gaping mouth and from the tiny holes in her nightgown. Her shocked eyes slid shut and she collapsed at his feet.

Russell looked up. Heart beating in slow motion, he stared at the muzzle of his own shotgun. Tears formed in his eyes. “Brock, what are you doing?”

“I’m beating the final level.”

“Son, please, put down the shotgun.”

Brock held the twelve-gauge steady for several tense seconds. Finally, he sighed and let the shotgun fall to the floor. “That gun’s too heavy, anyway.”

Russell opened his mouth to speak, but stopped when Brock reached for his waistband. A Smith and Wesson revolver protruded from the beltline of Brock’s jeans.

Russell swallowed hard. “How…how’d you do this? How’d you get my guns?”

Brock smiled. “I went in stealth mode. You know, the one you told me about.”

Russell stepped forward and held out his hand. “Give me the gun. Now!”

“Game over, Groan!” Brock jerked the gun from his waistband, shoved it out in front of him, and pulled the trigger.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

By day, BJ Bourg is the Chief Investigator for a Louisiana District Attorney's Office. By night, he writes mysteries. He has had nearly eighty short stories published in over a dozen print and online venues. His work also appears in four anthologies, the latest of which is called "The EX Factor" (Koboca Publishing). He has recently completed his first novel, "Hollow Crib", and is currently seeking representation. His interests include boxing, shooting his rifles, beating his drums, and strumming his guitar. He lives in southeast Louisiana with his beautiful wife and two wonderful children.


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