24 comments

Fiction Urban Fantasy Kids

Unspoken Antagonist aka Unan should never be spoken to.

But what shall a brilliant eleven-year-old do on a summer afternoon when his Mom is busy prepping the delicacies to be served at the house party that night? The mere anxiety of meeting the grown people with whom he should politely converse and little people with whom he is expected to play can stifle him and make him feel a kinship with the socially apathetic antagonist hidden in the game behind the monitor.

And converse with him. With a few deft clicks on the mouse and keyboard.

I had figured out how to unlock all the mods and reach him within weeks of getting the game on my birthday; an achievement I have shared with my Mom and my best and only friend at school, Kevin. My Dad feels proud of my straight A’s but nurses a secret ache in his cholesterol-filled heart about me not punching the Chipkoo Sports Kids Champ Bag, also a birthday present, to bits.

The conversation goes typed like this-

Ever feel suffocated? Hidden behind glowing towns with sparkling streets filled with loud characters?

All the time.

Ever feel sad? About players who have it all but still want to defeat you?

All the time.

Ever thought about how to escape from it?

Will you help?

What?

To escape?

My sister bounces into the room with her friend. Well, I haven’t yet told you about my sister. She is younger than me by five minutes. I’m sure she propelled me out of my mom’s chute early just by her cheery talk about rhythmic contractions. With her garrulous friend, the cheeriness quotient in the room just goes through the roof. Like unbearable heat.

And I press Ctrl+…+ Esc

Unspoken Antagonist steps out of the monitor just as the two girls run out of the room, giggling.

He is nothing like I imagined him to be. And the first thing he does is roar with laughter!!!

***

One good thing about him is he is audible and visible only to me. Everything else about him is making me regret my decision. He shifts his form like a slinky spring as he squeals,

“Ooh, the delicious aroma from the kitchen! Come let’s hog the goodies.”

“Ah, I hear there’s going to be a party at night. Let’s make a playlist for the dance.”

“Who is that cute girl with your sister? Can you introduce me to her?”

Within half an hour of letting Unspoken Antagonist out I am running out of my limited patience. And losing appetite. I must put an end to this before I am made to dance in the evening. I begin earnestly,

“Listen, Unan, I didn’t free you to force me to change my ways.”

“Am I trying to change your ways?”

“Yes.”

“What are your ways? Being a studious computer geek with no social life?”

“Well, you make it sound all negative. I prefer to call myself a curious, tech-savvy, less needy creator.”

“Ha. And you thought I was the same?”

I nod. He laughs. Uproariously.

I do what I am best at. Think. I have let out a monster. I need to deal with him before he gobbles me up. Like always, I swing into my first course of action, guileless talk.

“I should not have freed you. I am afraid I can’t be a good host.”

“Too late, smarty pants. You are my only conduit to living in the non-digital world. I can’t let you go.”

“Listen, I will never be the conduit you want me to be. It will be best if you go back and wait for someone better suited to your personality.”

He glares at me,

“No way. I have waited for years for this day… You have no choice but to change.”

I am doomed. I resort to the last option of our digital bonding.

“I get three lives to save myself, don’t I?”

Unan pauses. He is not completely without honour. Then speaks.

“Okay, kid. You get three lives. If you don’t get even one play to endorse your way of life, you will be my host, forever.”

I gulp. And head to the only person who always gets me right. My Mom.

***

The lunch is going to be light. Mom has already kept khichdi on the table. Sweat has made her blouse stick to her back. She oscillates between pans, pots, stove, and food processor. Not a good time to ask her questions. But this is an emergency.

“Ma, there’s a project submission due on Monday morning. May I stay in my room in the evening and work on it?”

“Huh?”

I repeat.

She stirs the butter chicken on the stove meditatively and explodes,

“Kiran, it’s still Friday. There’s plenty of time to finish it. You can’t be avoiding people all the time. It is very important you learn how to get along with them, especially as you are in middle school already!”

I want to point out to her how trying to get along with people has made her work a part-time job during the week despite having a master’s degree and prep alone for parties during the weekend, leaving little time for herself; but am distracted by Unan’s exultant grunt.

“Poof! there goes your first life. Up in smoke, buddy!”

I head out through the backdoor. I need a moment to catch my breath after the first blow.

We circle back to the living room through the garden. Unan tries to twist my arm to throw a punch at the boxing bag hanging on the porch. He is getting bolder. My stomach lurches but I soldier on.

One of the things I am good at is staring the odds stacked against me in the eye. And visualising the ways to overcome them. An idea rings a bell.

I pick up the receiver of the landline next to the sofa and make a call. Unan peers through the display unit along the wall.

“Hi, this is Kiran. May I speak to Kevin?”

“Just a moment,” Kevin’s mom answers before hollering his name.

“Hey there, What’s up?”

“Kev, I want you to carefully think and answer the question I am about to ask you.”

“Okay, shoot it.”

I know from the statistics of my previous interactions with my best friend, whenever I ask him to carefully think about something and answer, he just rephrases my question into an assertive sentence. This unquestioning acceptance of my intellectual superiority is the glue that holds us together.

“Am I good as I am? Or do you think I should be more outgoing and social?”

Uh oh, that didn’t come out right. Too late.

Kevin assures me in his supportive voice,

“I think you should be more outgoing and social. You are good.”

Unan rolls on the floor and laughs. Then jumps up and down on the couch and belts out,

“Playlist, playlist, let’s make a playlist!”

***

I’m down to my last life and begin to panic a little. Well, a lot actually.

For the first time, I think maybe I should have made more friends.

I need to be extremely careful now. It’s my last and only chance at freedom.

Making a playlist for children’s dance is more of my sister’s forte. Much as she annoys me, she loves me enough to tide me over my social inadequacies; if only to gloat over it afterwards.

I knock on her door and she shouts back asking to be left alone.

We knock again and get in. She brandishes her freshly painted fingernails at us and spills it is a nude shade and Mom doesn’t need to know.

I want to ask her why bother putting something on that doesn’t show and then hide it, but I have more pressing matters at hand.

“Can you help me make a playlist?”

She raises her eyebrows and her jaw drops.

“What? What’s wrong with you?”

A flicker of hope lights up at the end of a dark tunnel.

“Nothing. I just want to make this evening enjoyable for the little guests.”

She jumps up from her chair. With a look of serious concern in her eyes.

“Are you running a fever or something?”

“No, I am being ordered around by Unspoken Antagonist.”

“First playlist, now a tagonist. What is it, dummy?”

“I made the antagonist escape from the game. Now he wants to make a playlist.”

Her eyes light up. They always do when she is about to pull a prank.

“Okay, I’ll help you make a playlist. But you have to show me how you made this tagonist escape from the game.”

“It’s an antagonist! Don’t you believe me?”

“Nah. I don’t think there is anything called a tagonist.”

Unan’s face grows red. I look into his eyes. He nods in agreement.

The three of us head to my PC. He climbs through the open port.

I press Ctrl+…+num lock. He is back behind the monitor.

I type,

Who is there?

The cursor moves forward with the words,

Your lonely Unspoken Antagonist.

Before I can type anything else, my sister presses the power button. The PC shuts down.

March 14, 2023 07:21

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

24 comments

Graham Kinross
10:16 May 22, 2023

Great story, Suma. I like the inventiveness in this. Surreal in all the good ways.

Reply

Suma Jayachandar
04:22 May 23, 2023

Thanks for the read and comment, Graham! Appreciate it.

Reply

Graham Kinross
05:28 May 23, 2023

You’re welcome.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
18:42 Mar 25, 2023

Hah! The kid sister saves the day. I love the the ghost in the machine concept, it also presents as a modern retelling of the genie in the bottle fairytale, very clever. Lively dialogue and compelling action. Great stuff!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Susan Catucci
18:54 Mar 23, 2023

So clever and fun to read! I felt the panic when he was down to his last life and wondered what he would do now. Each of these characters had impact on the story, not a word was wasted. It's a great modernization and reminded me of Jumanji - a game that turns out to be more than anyone bargained for. Again, Suma, you don't disappoint your fan club. (The delicacies for the party sounded tantalizing and was a minor distraction I enjoyed thoroughly - I shouldn't read when I'm hungry.) :)

Reply

Suma Jayachandar
05:50 Mar 24, 2023

Thanks for your generosity,as always, Susan.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Wally Schmidt
15:46 Mar 22, 2023

These characters come right off the screen and into your living room when you read the story. The interplay between the Unan and his nemesis is so much fun as is Unan's interaction with his sister. Those relationships shine. I suspect that it is a lot of 11 year old gamers fantasy to have one of their video friends come to life and you have shown that the results may be somewhat unexpected. This story has it all-characters, tension, and lots of funny lines. If I had to bring up one concern, I would say the second paragraph threw me off in ...

Reply

Suma Jayachandar
04:52 Mar 23, 2023

Wally, Thank you so much for the read. The second paragraph was meant to be rhetoric. But yeah, I get your point. I'm glad you were able to enjoy the piece inspite of it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Zack Powell
08:01 Mar 19, 2023

What a fun story this is, Suma. Urban Fantasy is my favorite genre on this site, so I had a blast reading this, and I hope you had as much fun writing it. Very original plotline that I wish I had thought of, and a creative use of the prompt. What I like the most about this story is the character's voice and personality. Shines through from the very beginning and is totally befitting of a character who's this young and tech-savvy. Like of course he'd form a bond with a "socially apathetic" person, even if it is someone from a computer game. ...

Reply

Suma Jayachandar
14:01 Mar 19, 2023

Zack! Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a wonderful feedback. I'm glad it was a fun read for you. Yes, I had loads of fun writing it.😊 And a big thank you for your critique. I'm kinda impatient when it comes to writing/editing ( which I must work on if I want to improve, and yes I want to) and it's nice to be told where extra attention should have been paid to. I seem to have this prejudice about describing 'looks' of my characters, but I completely agree with you here. It would have benefitted the story. P.S. Missed reading your...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
17:36 Mar 18, 2023

I am as tech-unsavvy as they come yet enjoyed this dilemma.

Reply

Suma Jayachandar
13:53 Mar 19, 2023

Thank you for your kind words!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Rebecca Miles
19:09 Mar 16, 2023

This has just such a snap, crackle and pop to it Suma; I can hear the fun you had riffing on the unleashed Genie trope jump right from the screen. From the start, Unan seems like a dream that very quickly becomes a nightmare: drooling over the sister's friends, rolling on the floor laughing and heaping pressure on the poor un-tech savvy MC. Still, with the help of sis he pressed the right buttons in the end. Yep, this was a whole lotta fun- thanks for sharing!

Reply

Suma Jayachandar
05:09 Mar 17, 2023

I definitely have a soft spot for the introverted tech-savvy MC kid here. Just want him to pick up a few survival skills from his twin:) Thanks for the read and the comment, Rebecca.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Lily Finch
15:11 Mar 16, 2023

Suma, just like a loving sister, helps her brother save himself from himself! A modern fable of old -- awesome job. I saw two sides of control here in this piece. The Unan threat to change who he was and the issue in the current day of tech controlling the lives of many - especially eleven-year-olds. I thought a child's simple actions can solve the most intricate of problems sometimes, kind of like when they say "out of the mouths of babes." That's the gist of what I derived from your tale. LF6.

Reply

Suma Jayachandar
04:57 Mar 17, 2023

Thanks for your kind words, Lily. Appreciate it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Delbert Griffith
10:33 Mar 16, 2023

Well, it takes a sister to save a brother from himself. LOL What a great tale, with shades of making a deal with the devil or a genie granting three wishes. The moralistic undertones are fabulous; we have an old, old tale taking place in modern times and acting the part of a fable. Favorite passage: "I want to ask her why bother putting something on that doesn’t show and then hide it, but I have more pressing matters at hand." Just hilarious and telling at the same time. And the last line was perfect. Nicely done, Suma. Nicely done indeed.

Reply

Suma Jayachandar
04:57 Mar 17, 2023

Thanks for the read and a nice review Delbert. Glad you enjoyed it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Michał Przywara
21:07 Mar 15, 2023

Ha, a fun, very modern take! Video games bleed into the real world, and of course cause problems. And a cunning sister figures out a way to fix it, no doubt acquiring a hefty debt from her brother. But the tagonist's (heh) point isn't all that wrong, is it? After all, if he had spent less time on the computer, he wouldn't have freed Unan in the first place :P And ultimately, he had to depend on others to be saved. Maybe a lesson learned? Then again, he's 11, so maybe not. "I must put an end to this before I am made to dance in the evenin...

Reply

Suma Jayachandar
05:10 Mar 16, 2023

Heh, an excellent review as always, Michal! I was fascinated by a 6th grader gushing over a particular video game and an 'unspoken antogonist' in it a few years ago. So, that was the inspiration for this piece. I'm glad you found it good fun coz I enjoyed writing it so much!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Laurel Hanson
15:26 Mar 15, 2023

Oh bravo! Such a clever take on the prompt. The phrase "socially apathetic antagonist hidden in the game behind the monitor" is just wonderful and pretty much nails the problem of game addiction in just that moment. You follow the prompt beautifully with the savvy Antagonist, victimized 11-year-old who let him out and the three chances to find support for being the way he is. Which is totally what a kid in this conversation would do. The characters of both the MC and the friend are developed so well in the following: "This unquestioning ac...

Reply

Suma Jayachandar
05:05 Mar 16, 2023

Hi Laurel, Thank you so much for a fabulous review and generous appreciation:) I'm glad you found it a fun read coz I had fun writing it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Irene Duchess
02:01 Mar 15, 2023

this was great. I loved the ending. and how the narrator's little sister kept saying 'a tagonist' instead of 'antagonist'. :D thanks for sharing! :)

Reply

Suma Jayachandar
08:05 Mar 15, 2023

Thanks for the read and generous appreciation:)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply