Sunday, August 8, 2027 10:13pm
Derek Severson let the car roll to a stop in front of the house, tires
crackling over broken glass, rubbing against the curb. He had killed the
engine three doors earlier, silencing his approach.The street was dark,
forgotten. Nobody cared about this place. But Derek Severson was a
meticulous man. He operated precisely, always considering the unknown.
Trash drifted on a nervous breeze. Even the wind disliked this street.
The house, dilapidated twenty years ago, now rotted where it stood. A
mailbox lay crumpled on a bent metal post, holes shot in it from
joyriding punks no doubt. Thigh high grass obscured a decaying sidewalk
and encroached on the brittle front porch. The windows were sheets of
plywood tagged ages ago, the graffiti now fading into the warping wood.
Nobody lived here. That’s what any neighbors would say.
Severson plucked his driver’s license from his shirt pocket and
slipped it into a nest of wiring under the dashboard. It was a strange
ritual of his. Don’t get caught without it while driving. Don’t get
caught with it anywhere else. Derek Severson was the name on the ID, but
that wasn't his name, at least not the name his mother had given him. It
was the moniker he wore when bad things had to happen. It was the name
for nights like tonight.
He got out of the car and scanned the street methodically, noting every
tree, every house. He counted windows that appeared lit. There were few.
Satisfied he was alone, he crossed the small, dusty lawn and stepped
onto the porch. The boards groaned with the burden of his weight and he
paused again, listening. Nothing moved, and he entered the house.
Inside he paused once more, letting his eyes adjust. Broken furniture,
animal scat, and other random debris cluttered the room. Paisley
wallpaper stained with years of water, dirt and other less palatable
substancessurrounded him. Scavengers had removed anything of value long
ago. At the kitchen he put his hand to his nose, startled by the dense
odor. Some animal had curled up in a corner and died. Others had picked
Severson continued to the last room down a tight hallway. Dressers,
desks, and chairs, stacked on top of each other, filled the room from
dusty floor to the dingy ceiling. Not one piece remained whole or
undamaged. It was a bonfire waiting for a match. Only the narrowest path
snaked through the dusty furniture graveyard. He turned sideways and
edged his way between the stacks attempting to collect as little dust as
possible on his expensive suit. At the far corner of the room, he found
a closet missing its doors piled with more broken furniture and stacks
of decaying magazines. Inside the right edge of the doorway, a rusty
metal cover hung over an opening in the wall. He pried it open to reveal
an electronic keypad. The digits glowed a faint green in the cloying
dark of the room.
He couldn’t quite see the numbers without leaning into the closet,
resting his weight against one of the precarious stacks of magazines,
and craning his neck. The position was awkward, but it gave him the line
of sight he needed to tap in a six digit code from memory. A dull clank
echoed in the closet as a small door not apparent before popped open. He
squeezed through the small opening to find himself in a musty stairwell.
A bare bulb dangling a few inches above his head provided a meager light
inadequate for even this small space. The stone steps in front of him
disappeared down into the darkness, the lowest steps hidden in his
He hesitated on the landing, considering his options if this went wrong.
The low doorway between the landing and the closet was not ideal. He
slouched back and forth through it to get a sense of how best to
navigate the awkward opening. He had to understand the complexities of
his exit. Noting that restriction, he stepped off the landing and
started down into the basement below.
At the bottom of the stairs, the concrete seemed damp around him, cold
with age and neglect. A door stood ajar and a distant humming leaked
through the crack. He pushed through the door, ducking to avoid a low
transom. When he stood upright again, he found himself in a narrow room
softly lit and warmer than the stairwell had been. At the far end of the
room, computer monitors and keyboards littered a single shabby desk. A
dark shape hunched over the center console muttering while pounding on
the keyboard with an angry rhythm. Severson took another step forward
and the shadowy figure stopped his frenzied typing, sitting upright and
raising his head. After a second he turned in his swivel chair and
“Mr. Severson, I was wondering when you'd get here. About time.”
Severson ignored the comment and scanned the room. There were no
windows, no other doors. The thick concrete walls were spalling in
places, stains of effervescence spreading away from cracks. The floor
was heaving, a meandering crevice dividing the space in two. He moved
across the cramped basement, disgusted with the general deterioration of
the place. He wasunaccustomed to this level of neglect.
“I don't design my schedule around your impatience, Mr. Black,”
Severson said, trying to ignore the room and focus on the man. “Are
Black frowned, thought about saying something, but stopped and turned
back to his workstation.
“Yes, I’m in. Come see for yourself.”
Severson moved forward until he stood behind Black, staring at a screen
filled with cryptic commands.
“You’re getting a great deal on this,” said Black. “It took way
longer than I thought it would. This guy’s security is serious. What
the hell is he protecting, anyway? I mean, I know what we’re doing is
over the top, but why would he be expecting this? Hell, I don’t even
know why we’re doing this.”
Black paused and looked back with a nervous sneer. Severson made no
“Are you sure you understand what’s happening here?” Black
continued. “This is messed up if you think about it and seriously
illegal. We’re talking years in the house if we were to get caught.”
“Do you plan to get caught, Mr. Black? I assumed you were better than
“Well, no, I won't get caught.” Another nervous pause. “What are
you talking about? This is what I do. This is the way it works. Hell,
you don’t need to worry about that kind of stuff. We’re in. Nobody
knows it. Nobody will know it. Really, I’m that good.”
All this came in a flurry, Black facing forward the entire time. His
fingers quivered over the keyboard and Severson leaned down to speak in
“Then let’s finish this, shall we? Please remove the locks.”
“Geez, dude,” Black said, pulling away from Severson. “A little
personal space, maybe?”
Severson straightened back up, slipping his hands into his pockets,
feeling the tools of his trade resting there.
“The locks, Mr. Black,” he said, “please remove them.”
“All right. All right. I’m getting to it. I just wanted you thinking
this through. We may need to renegotiate my terms on this. I’m not
sure you understand what kind of trouble we’re creating here.”
“I am growing impatient, Mr. Black. You have been well compensated.
You will be well protected if it comes to that. Now please,” and
Severson took a deep breath to control his anger, “remove the
Another hesitation, but a short one. Black's mouth straightened to a
flat line, and he returned to his work. He rattled off a series of
instructions, interpreting results between each one. After the fourth or
fifth such instruction, he leaned back and slapped his hands together.
“Done,” he announced, “and not even as tricky as I thought it
might be. I have to tell you, though, this is serious shit. There’s a
reason this code incorporates locks like this. In fact, we don’t know
what’ll happen from here now do we?”
Black spun in his chair. “Well, nothing left but payment, Mr.—”
The bullet slammed through Black’s cheek just to the left of his nose
and below his eye with a dull crack. Blood splattered across the monitor
as the back of his head exploded, obscuring some of his finest work. The
weapon was so close when it fired, Black’s head didn't move and his
eyes seemed to hold that unexpected look of recognition. Everything
seemed to freeze, but it was only a second before his head flopped back.
His body slumped to one side, tipping the chair as it crashed to the
floor. The faint echo of the gunshot faded beneath the clatter of the
overturned chair. Then there was just the hum of computer fans,
undisturbed by the sudden, wet violence.
More blood trailed away from the back of Black’s head swelling into a
fuzzy puddle, tendrils of red seeping into the porous floor. Severson
stepped back from the body, avoiding the expanding moisture and moved
around the lump that was once a promising programmer named Ethan Black.
While removing the suppressor from his weapon, he located the computer
associated with the monitor now streaked with vertical red streams and
small clumps of gray matter. Severson dropped the silencer and the gun
into separate pockets, preventing them from clattering against each
other. He smoothed the front of his jacket before sliding the computer
forward and disconnecting all the power cords. The monitor faded to
dark, the blood no longer backlit. He pulled a canvas bag from an inside
pocket, folded there so as not to disturb the line of the jacket. He
opened it and bagged the computer before heading back to the stairs. One
last look around the room convinced him he was done, and he started up
into the darkness. On the main level again, he bent back into the
closet, closed the secret door and re-entered the six digit code. The
door locked in place. He closed the rusty metal panel over the keypad
and left the house. The street was as still as death. Nothing had
changed since he arrived. He walked to his car and drove away from the
house for the last time.
Excerpted from "The Game Within" by Clyde Wonder. Copyright © 2017 by Clyde Wonder. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.