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A game for two

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Augustus imagined the Something with capital S he had told Hazel Grace about; of course he did, he believed in it and people tend to try to understand everything. In his last days, those days that were clouded by never-ending, omnipresent pain, he thought about this Something a lot. When you are unable to move because every single cell of your body protest and nourishes another, alien one, when your own body betrays you and crumbles into pieces and when you just wish everything would finally come to an end, you don’t have much more to do anyway.

Then when he truly passed away, it was almost the same as the world he just left except it was much calmer, less painful and quiet. During his last few days, there were what felt like thousands of people he didn’t really wish to see, because they always made those faces; all of them wore the grim, spleenful expression and looked at him with pity he hated so much. As if he needed to be reminded of his disease – he knew pretty well that he was dying, thank you very much. Only she didn’t give him that look or at least tried not to. It was quite difficult for her not to pity him, he could understand that; he pitied her as well when she watched children running and screaming and was fully-aware she could never get that. But she tried not to pity him and looked away when she knew she had that expression upon her face.

He misses Hazel Grace in the instant he knows he’s dead. It hasn’t been more than few hours – or days, weeks? – since he he’s seen her in Life but he already feels like it’s been ages. It is actually completely normal; people start feeling thirsty if they know there won’t be a chance to drink for some time. He knows Hazel Grace was in another world, she belonged to Life while he is in Somewhere. Maybe, if they are lucky enough, they’ll meet again. Augustus doesn’t know if Something is forever. He doesn’t know if this is the last stop or if there is a station where to change trains again. He doesn’t even know if he still has to fear oblivion.

Fame is a vapour, popularity an accident, the only Earthly certainty is oblivion.

His lips form the crooked smile Hazel Grace loved so much about him and it fades again because she is not there to admire it. Despite the desperate need he feels to have Hazel Grace by his side, he knows he mustn’t wish for her to leave Life, she may not appear here, by his side, and he remembers how much she loved life.

Augustus notices that while all the pain has disappeared, he still doesn’t have a leg. At first he’s angry; did he really die and left all people who cared about him – and whom he cared about even if they were driving him insane in the last days – only to remain crippled for the rest of his time, whatever the time was called? But then, as he got over the first shock, when he makes a few steps and realises his body doesn’t hurt during his every move, he realises he’s glad he doesn’t have his leg. It makes him feel special and more importantly it assures him that he didn’t make Hazel Grace up, the she was real just as the cancer was.

The world around him is the same he knew in Life and he decides to leave the hospital where he is and go home. He doesn’t know what he expects to see there – he knows what or who he wishes to see and he reminds himself that it is a stupid belief. He places one foot in front of another, enjoying the feeling of walking, being normal, without obligation to walk faster than he wants because other people would have to wait for him. That was another great thing about Hazel Grace – she never looked impatient, she was never forcing him to speed up. Sure, it was mostly because she was just as hopelessly ill as him, but it counted anyway.

When he arrives home, he goes downstairs, to the place where he was staying with Hazel Grace back in Life, played videogames with Isaac and where all those stupid basketball trophies were deposited before Isaac had destroyed all of them. The house is silent and he almost thinks he’s there alone when he spots a person sitting on a chair, where Isaac or Hazel Grace sat.

Augustus comes closer to inspect the man and he raises an eyebrow doubtfully when he recognises him – or thinks he recognises him.

“Seriously? Sergeant Mayhem?” he asks and crosses his arms on his chest to show he is waiting for answers.

“Yes. Why not?” The man replies and shifts in the chair to find a more comfortable position.

“Maybe because you’re not real,” Augustus says as if he was making a guess, “besides you never die. That’s the point of all those books, Sergeant Mayhem cannot die.”

“Good point,” Mayhem nods, “why do you think I’m dead?”

“I am here and I am dead. I don’t see any of the living people I’d expect to find in my house so I am dead. If you are here, you’re dead as well.” Augustus smirks to emphasise the logic of his statement.

“That would apply if I were – as you skilfully put it – real. But I am not and therefore I can be here without dying. As you said, Sergeant Mayhem cannot die.” The sitting man looks at Augustus as if he dared him to doubt what was said.

“So you can be both in Life and here because you’re not real.” The youngster tried to understand the absurdity of it all.

“Not exactly. I can be here even if I didn’t die, but you wouldn’t be able to see me while you were still alive.” Mayhem explains.

“So basically I am seeing a ghost of a man who didn’t die, but it’s okay because I am dead and one death is enough.” Gus stares sceptically.

“Oh, you real people are so dramatic. But yes.” The book character smiles and Augustus sees sparks in his eyes.

“What are you doing here?” he asks.

“Finally a reasonable question!” Mayhem exclaims enthusiastically and he pulls a chair beside his own. “To play videogames with you, obviously.”

“Really? That’s the last thing I thought I would be doing when I am dead.” Gus frowns but walks towards the chair hesitatingly.

“Don’t say you don’t want to play with Max Mayhem, I don’t believe it!” Mayhem shouts and Augustus gives up and sits onto the chair.

“I was better at being Max Mayhem than you ever could have been.” He smirks as Mayhem turns the TV on.

“I hope you’re not lying,” Mayhem utters when they appear in an old building and then time stops existing as the game starts.