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Don't Stand So Close to Meat: A Hamm & Buble Text Adventure

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Tonight’s the night, making it right — a perfect meal for you and I.

A gust of wind blows through the door as the evening’s first guests arrive for dinner. Your colleague turns to meet them at the door.

You hang back, doing your best to keep your distance and appear otherwise occupied, although in truth there’s not much you could conceivably be doing, squeezed into the corner of the room. Corners, you’ve discovered, are your favorite places to be nowadays; safe and out of the way, hoping he doesn’t notice you. Your colleague. Your coworker. Your — and your skin crawls, just to think it — fellow proprietor.

Somehow, according to the contract you signed under extreme duress, you’ve become a fifty-percent owner of New York’s finest ham and champagne — or, as Jon’s taken to calling it, agonizingly, hampagne — restaurant. The fact that you have no creative or financial control in this venture apparently has no bearing on the fact that, somehow, most of the money to pay for it has come out of your personal savings and investments.

When asked why, if you were equal partners, Jon wasn’t willing to stake half of his own money, he’d replied, “Because I have a wife, Michael.”

“So do I,” you’d said. “I’m married too. I — I have a wife too.”

“Well,” he’d said inattentively, “It can’t be that serious.” He hadn’t even looked up from his paperwork. You weren’t sure he listened. He never seemed to listen to anything else you tried to say. “Besides, I’m the one doing all the work of running this place. It’s only fair you make a contribution.”

To this, you replied, “Can you please unchain my ankle? I want to go home,” but of course he hadn’t really listened.

According to the rainfall archway outside above the door, which, not having been allowed outside, you’ve seen only from the proofs for the TV spot you filmed last week, the restaurant is called Hamm & Bublé. In a fit of brief insanity, one night after he’d let you out of the cooler, delirious and shivering, you’d asked, “Why can’t it be Bublé & Hamm?”

You’ve learned it’s, well, it’s better not to ask things.

Your coworker, Jon Hamm, is not a nice man. In fact, you’re not entirely certain that he is, strictly speaking, on the correct side of sane. He’s as self-involved as he is terrifying, and what’s more, he seems to have a sixth sense for any attempt you make at escape. He’s always there, always watching. You can feel his eyes on you when you’re rolled up in your sleeping bag in the room where he keeps you, even though you know you’re alone. And sitting in his office with him, watching silently as he signs photographs and answers fanmail, even though he’s not looking at you at all, you know, you just know, that somehow he’s still watching.

You’re really starting to reach the end of your rope.

Every attempt at escape has, thus far, been thwarted. The exit points are fairly inaccessible to you, and you haven’t been able to get access to a phone to call for help. Even your stupid, stupid attempts to solicit help via the TV commercial were a fool’s errand: your desperate pleas all landed frame-by-frame on the cutting room floor, unheard and unheeded, and all you got for your trouble was a punch to your solar plexus. Funny how before this month, you couldn’t have pointed out your solar plexus even if you tried. Now it’s nicely labelled for you in purple and blue and a ghastly, jaundice-yellow blush. Thanks, Jon.

Proving your own declining mental state, you’ve now resorted to trying to make a game of this for yourself. To wit:

Welcome to Hamm & Bublé: The Text Adventure. You are standing in an Entry Foyer. In fact, you are hiding in the corner of an Entry Foyer like a sissy. In the Foyer, directly in front of you, is a hostess stand. Sitting open on it is a reservation book, a pencil resting in the crease between pages. Near the door is a small table, bolted to the floor, atop which sit a stack of complementary matchbooks and a small glass bowl of dinner mints. A small plastic container next to the mints contains a number of toothpicks, which it dispenses one at a time. Standing behind the hostess’s station is Jon Hamm.

Exits are west and east.

> look at self

There's a mirror hanging up on the wall behind the hostess's station -- and though you can't get there, the station being guarded hawkishly by your fearsome other half, you take a minute to consider the reflection of the man in the glass.

The fellow in the mirror is five feet, ten inches tall, and if you had to guess, which you suppose you do, you'd put him at about one hundred sixty pounds. He's dressed impeccably in a steel-gray suit and black shirt, the spread of matte color broken only by a slash of black silk down the center line, a necktie that puts you in mind of a noose that's only waiting to be strung up. Someone has pinned this gentleman's sleeves with silver and onyx cufflinks, too, though you don't remember whom, exactly. The image is of a restaurant proprietor for a high-end clientele, modern and immaculate.

This is largely belied by the look of the man inside the suit. He wears it ill, slouching, like a dog that's confused by a pair of reindeer antlers its owner has put on its head and can only think to cower in place and hold still until they're removed. There's a wildness to the man's eyes -- big, blue, haplessly anxious -- and his short, dirty-blond hair has somehow found its way into disarray despite its brief length. The man in the mirror has the look of someone terrorized. God, but you hardly recognize yourself.

> who am i

Your name is Michael Bublé, and up until three weeks ago, you would have said you were an internationally recognized A-list songwriter and vocalist. Recent events have called that assumption into question. Oh, sure, the first time or two, you were willing to discount the instances of squinted eyes as people struggled to place your name. But by now, you've come to terms with the fact that you're probably going to strangle the mortal life out of the next person who tells you how much their mother loved your hit song 'You Raise Me Up.' (The world has plenty of undiscerning Philistines in it, after all. It won't miss one or two.)

At present, rather than being internationally recognized A-list classical vocalist Josh Groban, nor even just occasionally-recognized B-list songwriter and vocalist Michael Bublé, the likelihood of which has apparently dwindled out of existence, you're the unwitting proprietor of a fine dining establishment called Hamm and Bublé, purveyors of pork and champagne to New York's finest and also least-discerning idiots. You're also, according to the marquee, a performing ventriloquist as well as a Faulknerian scholar of some repute. Said amount of repute has, of course, been entirely fabricated by the mastermind behind this entire venture, but nonetheless, that's what's on the sign outside, and you've learned by now that if Jon Hamm says you're doing a ventriloquy show at 8 pm sharp, then come 8 o'clock, one way or another you're going to be onstage with your arm up the business end of a wooden puppet in your own disturbing likeness.

Yes, tonight you are a ventriloquist.

Tonight you are a literary expert.

Tonight, above all else, you are a truly desperate man.

First things first. What will you do?

> stab Jon Hamm with pen

Ha ha ha, yes, that’s likely. You don’t have the pen, of course, and if you could get it, which would require circumventing The Hamm himself, then you’d have to overpower a man with a good three inches of height (and considerable amounts of self-important muscle) on you. He’s wrestled you to the ground before. You didn’t win then. You learned a lesson.

> look forlornly east

Ah, east. You cast a surreptitious eye over to the side, to behold with wistful longing that which lies east of your present location.

The eastern wall of the foyer is made of glass — surprisingly thick glass. Set into the glass is a door, a door which leads outside to the sidewalk. Next to the door is a mailbox currently stuffed with outgoing mail tied into a small bundle with string — Jon’s stack of answered fanmail for the day. This door is only unlocked during normal business hours, and is guarded assiduously by the Hamm. Somehow he can tell when you’re going near it even when he’s not in the room. You have a growing suspicion that he microchipped you at some point.

> go east

At your first step toward the door, Jon looks up from the hostess’s stand and straight at you. You attempt a thin smile. Noticing a couple approaching the door from the other side, you reach out and open the door for them, making a big show of it. Just getting the door, Jon, that’s all. Not fleeing for your life. Not escaping from this waking nightmare or anything! Just a little bit of gentlemanly courtesy, is all.

He doesn’t take his eyes off you as he’s checking the couple in. You can see that he knows.

> look west

To the west is the main dining room. A warm glow and a salty smell emanate from this, the core of the restaurant.

> get hostess stand

It’s a giant piece of furniture. Which pocket were you planning on putting it in?

> just get the damn thing

Or maybe you were planning on putting it on a dolly and wheeling it around. Were you?

> what if I was

You weren’t. Stay focused, Michael.

> get reservation book

Not while Jon’s standing there.

> get pencil

Not while Jon’s standing there.

> get small table

It’s bolted to the floor.

> unbolt it

What did you want to unbolt it with? It’s fastened down with flathead screws.

> unbolt small table with flathead screwdriver

You don’t have any such item.

> use my teeth

I don’t understand your command. What did you want to use your teeth with?

> use my teeth with flathead screws

You don’t have any such item.

> i certainly do have teeth actually

I’m not sure what you want to do with your teeth.

> use my teeth with flathead screws attaching small table to floor in order to unbolt small table from floor is that clear enough for you

I’m not even sure why you’re on this line of inquiry. You don’t expect that to actually happen. Type HINT for more information.

> hint

You should stop throwing a tantrum and attempt to do something productive.

> get matchbook

Not while Jon’s standing there.

> HDFJKHSJKDHJSHDJKSHDKF get dinner mint

Pardon?

> get dinner mint

You pick up a few dinner mints and pop one in your mouth. The powdery coating feels dry on your tongue, but it’s nice to taste something that isn’t pork or wine. It’s been a while. There are two more dinner mints in your hand. You carefully slide them into your pocket.

> get toothpick

You spin the little plastic cylinder and a single wooden toothpick rolls into your hand. Jon notices you before you can pocket it, though. He immediately comes over.

“For God’s sake, Michael, don’t pick at your teeth in front of our guests. I can’t have you embarrassing me. Here, let me see.” He plucks the toothpick out of your hand and tucks it in his own breast pocket. A second later, his hands are on your jaw, using his thumbs to peel your lower lip downward so he can inspect your teeth. “Open up,” he says, and you do, because you have no idea how to stop him. He considers your molars like he’s doing a jewelry appraisal. ‘Do you think they’d work in place of a flathead screwdriver?’ you’re tempted to ask — but you don’t. You stand there until, after a few long seconds, he releases you. He pats the side of your face reassuringly, and with no real emotion. “You’re fine,” he tells you.

Jon takes a momentary peek into the dining room, then goes back to his station.

> examine dinner mints

They’re in your pocket, and you’re not inclined to take them out just to stare gormlessly at them. However, it’s safe to say they’re dinner mints.

> examine reservation book

Perhaps if Jon Hamm wasn’t standing right there.

> examine Jon Hamm

By this point in time, you’ve probably done as much examining of Jon Hamm as you’d ever like to do in a dozen lifetimes. However, as a refresher, in case your sense of horror of him is starting to wane in any obscure respect, you look up and consider the man again.

He can’t be much more than six feet tall — you know that logically — but somehow Jon’s height is imposing compared to yours. Whereas you’re sort of a regular guy, average height and build, really just — you’ve always just felt — normal, okay? You’re normal — whereas the illustrious Jon Hamm is built much more comparably to a brickshithouse, not to put too fine a point on it. His black suit is impeccably cut around his ridiculously triangular frame, the dark silver shirt under it no doubt equally carefully tailored.

In shirt and suit, he’s dressed to be your opposite number, but you both wear the same black silk necktie. He tied yours for you earlier, informing you bluntly that you “couldn’t handle the half-Windsor” and putting you in the four-in-hand instead. His knot, of course, is a half-Windsor. It would be.

His dark hair is perfectly coiffed in a smart, slicked-back style. You don’t really watch his show, but it seems to be straight out of Mad Men. It wouldn’t surprise you.

His eyes shine with danger and an inner light of icy disregard. It’s as though he possesses some sort of gigantic inner glacier, slowly drifting this way and that, which drives him to crush whatever is caught beneath its path, its slow, inexorable advance. His cold fury is crushing the life out of you with painful slowness. That is what you see when you look upon the terrible visage of the one you have come to know as The Hamm.

> fuck Jon Hamm

This is a text adventure, not a dating sim. But feel free to wait three weeks to unlock Stockholm Mode, if you like.

> kill Jon Hamm

Even if you had a way, you’re not a killer. You’re a songsmith. You bring peace and joy to people’s lives! You could never kill someone.

> sure i could, let’s do this thing

Oh, what, smart guy, in front of all these people? Type HINT for more information.

> hint

You should stop throwing a tantrum and attempt to do something productive.

> go west, young man

I don’t understand your command. Was it a stupid joke?

> yes

Would Josh Groban make stupid jokes?

> ...no

Well, then. What would you like to so?

> go west

Jon looks up from his reservation book as you attempt to go by. “Headed somewhere, Michael?”

> fuck off you creep

Don’t say that. Really don’t.

> i’m going to go sing for the guests

Jon narrows his eyes at you, but he nods approvingly. “See that you do. No monkey business. And don’t do Come Fly With Me, either. It’s terrible.” You head west.

You’re standing in the Main Dining Room, a decadent affair of deep burgundy walls and crisp white tablecloths, and more silverware on the table than a ham restaurant could possibly require. The aroma of ham is strong here, and emanates from nearly every table, except those that sit empty. There are customers chattering away and eating disturbingly happily at the tables, and a large painting occupying the back wall over a roaring fireplace. Several small statuettes sit on the mantelpiece, precisely centered.

Exits are north, west, and east.

> talk to customers

The first few times you tried that, you got set for fresh napkins or to refill someone’s water glass. Jon told you not to bother the diners who were trying to enjoy their hampagne. Once, someone asked you to sing “The Prayer.” You had to explain again that you weren’t Josh Groban and that, furthermore, “The Prayer” was a duet. “Perfect for your ventriloquy show, then, eh?” he’d asked. You don’t like talking to customers. Sometimes you suspect Jon may be using them to gaslight you.

> examine tables

The tables are set with silverware and glasses, with corked champagne bottles set at the center of each.

> get silverware

Not while Jon’s standing there. Perhaps if you weren’t in his line of sight.

> get glasses

Not while Jon’s standing there. Perhaps if you weren’t in his line of sight.

> get champagne

Now’s no time to get drunk.

> examine painting

The brown-and-green monstrosity in front of you must be eight feet by four, at least. It depicts a pastoral scene , rolling hills, grazing sheep, and bales of hay. It’s as inoffensive as it is uninteresting, its most exciting crime being that it’s ugly and amateurish. You wouldn’t pay five dollars for it at TJ Maxx.

Jon described it once as “erudite.” It took all your love of not being in physical pain to keep your bitter laugh in check. (Bitter amusement is all you have left in your bleak life these days. That and the yawning maw of despair which threatens to swallow you whole.)

> get painting

You don’t want it. Anyway, it’s pretty big.

> that’s what she said

Dear God, no, Michael. If you can’t get ahold of yourself, I’m leaving.

> that’s what she

MICHAEL.

> okay okay

Honestly, this is getting out of hand. If you don’t get out of here soon, you may go mad.

> look behind painting

Now, that’s not a bad idea. If only Jon weren’t in your line of sight.

> examine fireplace

A roaring electric fireplace. A flickering light glows behind the picture of a fire.

> examine statuettes

The silver and golden statuettes arrayed lovingly on the mantelpiece are Michael’s acting awards he’s received throughout the years. There are over a dozen Emmy statuettes, a handful of Golden Globes, and a few SAG awards among them. You can’t prove it, but you’re fairly certain he didn’t win all of those himself. No one with that many industry accolades is this dedicated to selling pork.

> get statuettes

You’ve been thoroughly informed that you’ll lose a finger for each one you touch.

> is there anything I can do in this room

That’s for you to discover, Michael. You’re the one who wanted this to be an adventure game.

> this adventure game blows chunks

Garbage In, Garbage Out, Michael.

> quit

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

> wallow in despair

You wallow for five minutes. It feels like you’ve earned it.

Jon looks at you, as if sensing your indolence. You muster the wherewithal to strain through a few rebellious bars of ‘Home.’

A nearby diner shouts for Freebird. Your soul-deep loathing is in your eyes when you look at him.

> go west

You put on your least disgusted face and gently sing your way into the room to the west.

You’re in the Dining Hallway. There’s not much here. To the south is the Restroom, to the west is the Private Dining Room. Exits are west, south, and east.

> go south

You enter the bathroom with all due nonchalance.

The bathroom is well-appointed, with black and white tiles and brass fixtures. There’s a single toilet and a roll of toilet paper across from a sink with a soap dispenser and a mongrammed hand towel: H & B. The only exit is north.

> use toilet

Okay, sure. You use the toilet.

> flush toilet

Thanks.

> use sink

Yes, good idea there. You wash your hands using soap from the dispenser, then dry them with the hand towel.

> get soap

It’s liquid. Is that really a good idea?

> get hand towel

You take the hand towel off the brass ring and tuck it inside your suit coat with the rest of your inventory.

> wait i have an inventory

Of course you have an inventory.

> since when

Since always.

> well shit

You did that about eight actions ago. The once was enough.

> not funny

Agreed.

> inventory

You’re currently carrying:

* loose change
* newspaper article
* dental floss
* receipt
* necktie
* cufflinks
* dinner mints
* hand towel
* the burdens of your experiences

> examine loose change

One quarter, three dimes, six nickels. A customer tipped you for your ventriloquy show once. Jon said you could keep it. Then he laughed. You suspect he only told you you could keep it so he could laugh after he said it.

> examine newspaper article

A worn and yellowed clipping from the Toronto Times by a man named Alan Schnaid. It’s his review of your album ‘Call Me Irresponsible.’

The title of the article is ‘Call Me Reprehensible.’

You remember acutely when Michael found the article tucked into your pocket, that first night when he was taking your clothing and all your possessions off of you and locking them away somewhere. He’d unfolded the little newspaper clipping carefully, turning it upright in his hands and then reading it beginning to end by the light of his desk lamp.

“Alright, I’ll let you keep this, Michael,” he’d said finally, with a knowing smile. “I understand what it’s like to want to keep reminders of critics’ feedback close to you.” Then he’d nodded over at his little army of award statuettes and chuckled.

You kept the article anyway. He wouldn’t understand.

> read newspaper article

CALL ME REPREHENSIBLE by Alan Schnaid

This weekend, I had the solemn duty of reviewing ‘Call Me Irresponsible,’ the fifth studio album by jazz singer Michael Bublé. To say that I am hesitant to recommend this album to the consumer is to misconstrue my state of mind at this moment: I am certain, in this moment, of one thing, and one thing alone: any person not currently in a persistent vegetative state should not, under any circumstances, undermine his or her mortal life experience by listening to, or, God forbid, purchasing this worthless, pus-filled abscess of an album.

Bublé’s voice, characteristic for its saccharine vacuousness, does not fail to disappoint here, either: in fact, he aspires to new lows in his ability to emote on this album, pairing his hollow expressionlessness with famously passionate songs like ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’ and ‘Always On My Mind.’ His delivery of the lyrics, should one manage to retain consciousness for the full four and a half minutes, leaves one bereft of any understanding as to exactly how low Mrs. Jones’s standards are that she would turn to Bublé to add excitement to her life.

His rendition of ‘Always On My Mind’ puts one in mind of a soulless airport lounge act. One can, with unnerving clarity, picture the scene: Bublé on stage in a tailcoat, besequined in gold and lamé fabric. At the piano sits an old man, his clothing and his hair all of one faded color; he knows only eight songs and only one tempo. Their audience is mostly empty, but for a few unlucky souls with laptops — they’ve come to take advantage of the electrical outlets in the terminal lounge until their connecting flight arrives. They try not to make eye contact. Every few minutes, overwhelmed with the festering aura of awkwardness about the whole affair, one of them slinks apologetically out the back.

Many of the songs, such as ‘Wonderful Tonight’ and ‘Comin’ Home Baby,’ do not merit the space it would take to mention them, space in this publication which could instead be allocated to more interesting and engaging news items, such as a treatise on Hillary Duff’s new wardrobe. No song could be more emblematic of the paucity of sincerity in this album than its opening number, ‘The Best Is Yet to Come.’ I can only suspect dramatic irony in the selection.

Still, no song on this album constitutes so grievous an offense to the mind and spirit as Bublé’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s raw and savage ‘I’m Your Man.’ Does Bublé even know what he’s singing, or do the words just come out? Has someone dosed him with Valium? Is he a Stepford wife?

If you purchase this album, you should be shunned by all your friends, family, and acquaintances. If you are sent this album in error, you should bring a lawsuit against whoever sent it to you. If you are sent this album on purpose, discontinue your association with the sender immediately. They clearly mean you ill.

I rate this album zero stars out of a possible five. Listening to it left me feeling like a jack o’lantern that someone had hollowed out and then forgotten to carve: expressionless, faceless, achingly vacant.

Associated Press/2007

> alan schnaid is an asshole, throw out the article

You can’t. You’ve never been able to.

> examine dental floss

It’s dental floss. You’ve used about a third of the roll, probably.

> examine receipt

It’s a receipt for dental floss. Go figure. There’s writing on the back in ballpoint pen. It reads:

* The Sound and the Fury
* Absalom, Absalom!
* Light in August
* Soldiers’ Pay
* As I Lay Dying
* Go Down, Moses and Other Stories

> examine necktie

Black silk. You’re wearing it.

> examine cufflinks

Silver and onyx. Fancy. You’re not supposed to lose them.

> examine hand towel

Soft. Slightly damp from recent use. Monogrammed with the initials H & B.

> examine the burdens of my experiences

The burdens of your experiences weigh heavily upon you at all times. No, you must never examine them too closely. For when you stare into the abyss, the abyss starts to get really tired of answering your needless action commands.

> go north

Youre back in the Dining Hallway. The exits are west, south, and east.

> go west

The private dining room is to the west. The doors are currently closed and locked: there must not be anybody in there. You can feel Jon’s eyes boring holes into your back as you release the doorknob. Perhaps you’d better get back into the main dining room.

> go east

You’re in the Main Dining Room. The exits are west, north, and east.

> look north

To the north lies the entrance to the kitchen, partitioned off by a pair of swinging saloon doors. You’ve never thought they matched the decor.

> go north

You can’t just go into the kitchen without an excuse.

> come up with an excuse

That’s your job, not mine.

> offer to refill something for one of the customers

Yes... yes. You could actually do that. That’s actually plausible.

You sing your way over to the nearest table, their Smithfield ‘Ham Bublé’ nearly picked clean, and make up a verse about topping off their servings of Bubbly Hamm. You wonder what Alan Schnaid would say about your rhyming of ‘more’ and ‘encore,’ to say nothing of ‘glass’ with ‘up, this can’t be passed,’ but it works. You lift their champagne flutes by the stems and carry them off into the kitchen. Jon doesn’t try to stop you.

You’re in the Kitchen. The heat is overpowering, but not nearly as overpowering as the salty, briny stench of ham or the pungent reek of champagne that’s soured. In this room are most of the traditional accoutrements of cooking, almost exclusively allocated to the preparation of pig products and the profaning of any number of bottles of fine champagne, as well as what you judge to be too many cooks. Exits are north, west, and south.

> examine oven

You can’t get to it.

> examine stove

You can’t get to it.

> examine knives

You can’t get to them. Go on, sense the pattern.

> examine cooks then

Quite a few men and women who’ve thrown their lot in with the idea that ham and champagne should be married together on the palate. They don't like you at all, and they listen to you even less.

> talk to the cooks

They ignore you utterly.

> look north

You can see the door to the walk-in cooler. It’s unlocked.

> look west

You can see the door to Jon’s office. It’s unlocked.

> go north

Your limbs start to shake as you contemplate the idea of entering the cooler willingly. An irrational terror overtakes you and, instead, you step back, wine flutes still in hand. You nearly run into a waiter. He clucks his tongue at you and deftly plucks the wine flutes out of your quivering hands, then returns to his own business.

You can’t go in the cooler. You just can’t. You lack the desperation.

You can, however, describe the contents of the cooler from experience. It’s a large, temperature-controlled room with sturdy metal racks along each wall to which handcuffs can be readily clipped when one wants to strip someone down to their underwear and lock them into the cold to punish them for saying something disrespectful of what a good friend Jon Hamm’s been to them. In the cooler are an array of thawed hams and champagne bottles, freshly cut flowers in vases to be put on the tables during the dinner service (currently on the tables), pre-plated chef’s salads with champagne vinaigrette dressing, more than a few bad memories, milk and cream for coffee, and, of course, Hamm and Bublé’s signature dessert, ham cheesecake with a champagne caramel glaze. You can’t imagine any of that aiding you in your escape anyway.

> go west

You enter Jon’s Office, attempting to look like you’re there on some sort of important, and more importantly, sanctioned errand from The Hamm. No one follows you, but you think the waiter who took your champagne flutes was watching. You’d best be quick in whatever you’re about.

Jon’s Office is slick, masculine, and seems suspiciously to be a throwback from the fifties or sixties. In addition to his desk, chair, and side table, you can spot a scotch decanter and a rotary phone, as well as a pen on the desk. On the wall is a rather obvious painting with a very large frame which hides the door to Jon’s safe. Exits are north and east.

> use phone to call for help

You’ve tried before. It’s fake. Jon keeps his actual cell phone on him at all times. He just thinks the rotary phone ‘completes the look.’

> open desk

Only the bottom drawer is unlocked. It contains several hundred copies of the same glossy photograph: Jon Hamm and his impeccably square jaw. You’ve sat here before while he answered his fanmail, waiting in the very abjectest of silences. He likes to speak his responses aloud as he drafts them. There are pre-paid mailer envelopes in the drawer as well.

> get glossy photo

You pick up one of the glossies and tuck it into your coat.

> get envelope

You filch an envelope as well.

> get pen

You take the pen.

> can i stab jon hamm with the pen

No. You were doing so well until now.

> because this part was pretty boring

Everyone’s a critic.

> alan schnaid understands me

Alan Schnaid wishes he didn’t understand you.

> can i stab you with the pen

Yes. Yes, you can. Go on, your own eyeball’s right there. Go for it. Live the dream, Michael. Stab yourself with the pen. Type HINT for more information.

> hint

You should stop throwing a tantrum and attempt to do something productive.

> write a help note on the glossy photograph with the pen and seal it into the envelope and address it to your wife and put it in with the outgoing mail

That’s.... that’s surprisingly coherent. That could almost be a plan.

> so do it

I said ‘almost.’ There’s just one problem: you can’t write on that photo with that kind of pen. Jon keeps the marker in his breast pocket.

> son of a bitch

Agreed.

> examine scotch decanter

It’s full of scotch whiskey, the good stuff. 100 proof.

> soak hand towel in scotch

I’m not sure how I feel about where you’re going with this, but you know what, alright. You could be on some kind of a roll here and I don’t want to kill your confidence. You douse the hand towel in alcohol and stuff it back inside your jacket. Maybe no one will notice the giant wet spot on your shirtfront. Still, that’s what you do.

> open safe

I suppose you had to try. Obviously the safe’s locked. However, you’ve seen him open it before, so you know what he keeps inside it: your cell phone, as well as pre-written Golden Globe acceptance speeches he’s penned for years 2013 - 2017. Occasionally he’s hit by a fit of ‘inspiration’ and will invent new speeches for his performances in as-yet-unwritten episodes of Mad Men on the spot. One involved his character running for president.

> go north

Also locked, but you wouldn’t want to go there if you could. To the north is what Jon refers to as your room. It contains the following:

* sleeping bag
* pillow
* stench of ham
* memories you’d rather forget
* White Fang, given to you by Jon to make you ‘more manly’
* Robinson Crusoe, also given to you by Jon to make you ‘more manly’
* ventriloquist’s Bublé, a large wooden dummy in the caricatured shape of yourself
* plastic bib
* packages of new pairs of Fruit of the Loom underwear
* Old Spice anti-perspirant/deodorant

You’re fairly certain none of that’s any use to you, though you have made use of White Fang and Robinson Crusoe in your Faulkner show, describing these as the plots of Light in August and Absalom, Absalom! respectively. You’re pretty sure you also used Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, in parts, when you couldn’t remember the latter half of the only Faulkner you’ve ever read, As I Lay Dying. Somehow they just seemed reminiscent of each other.

> go east

You’re back in the Kitchen. Exits are north, west, and south.

> go south

You’d better have an excuse.

> deliver some food to a table

That’ll do. You grab the nearest ham from under a food lamp and carry it out on a tray to the Main Dining Room before anyone can take too much notice. Smiling for all you’re worth, you deliver it with a flourish to the nearest table that hasn’t been served yet, regardless of what they ordered or whether or not they’ve ordered at all. The restaurant pretty much just serves ham and champagne — how much difference could it really make?

> distract Jon and get the matches

Okay. How?

> tell him the customers you just served have a complaint or something i don’t know

Well, that’s worth a shot.

You approach Jon with sheepish trepidation, hesitant to try out your lie. What if he can tell? What if he can taste dishonesty in the air?

Still, much must be risked.

He looks up at your approach. “Something you need, Michael?”

Say something.

> the customers at table whatever table they’re at said their ham didn’t taste fresh and they want a refund

“Didn’t taste fresh? Are you sure?”

> pretty sure

Jon eyes you for half a beat longer, but he waves you off and goes directly to the offending table to deal with the problem. That’s fine.

> get the matches get the matches

You only need them once. You grab a matchbook off the small table.

> fuck it I want a toothpick as well, get a toothpick

You rebelliously claim the once-denied toothpick for yourself. Bravo, you.

> get the marker

Ah-ah, the marker’s still on his person. In his pocket. How were you planning on getting it?

> okay let me come back to that

Take your time. It’s not as though you’re in a hurry or anything.

> look behind the painting in the dining room

You head west back into the Main Dining Room and, while Jon’s tasting his customers’ ham to judge its oldness, pull back the large pastoral painting to see if anything’s hidden behind it.

You can only find a single piece of paper.

> get paper

Written on the paper are the following five words, mystifying in their meaning:

MAP
FIRE
KNIFE
KEY
A MYSTERY

You have no earthly idea what that means.

> okay I’ve got it now

You do?

> do a sexy interpretive dance to distract Jon Hamm while imagining my samurai schoolboy adventures fighting mecha and dragons in order to symbolize my getting the marker in order to get the marker

I don’t understand your command. I mean I really don’t understand your command. There are so many things wrong with it that I wouldn’t know where to begin.

> okay use pen to write on the map fire knife key mystery paper then and put that in the envelope and mail it how about that does that meet with your approval

Thank God.

You duck back into the Entry Foyer, quickly scribbling out a note as best you can onto the back of the paper and stuffing it into the envelope. You address it to your wife.

> put the envelope in the outgoing mail

You pick up the outgoing mail. It’s tied together extremely tightly with string.

> stuff that fucker in there

Extremely tightly, I said. You’d never untie the knot in time. Jon will be back any second.

> break the string

What do you want to break the string with?

> jfc can I just use my teeth this time

You bite down, tearing through the string with wild abandon and great relish. The string gives with a snap and falls free. You hold a loose pile of letters in your arms.

> now put the help letter somewhere in the middle

You file your letter in near the middle of the stack. It’s indistinguishable from the others now, aside the handwriting differences.

> retie the letters

You broke the string with your super powerful Bublé jaws, didn’t you? It’s not long enough.

> TIE IT WITH THE DENTAL FLOSS

Using most of the remainder of your dental floss, you manage to quickly tie the bundle of letters back together. You’ve just finished shoving it back into the outbox when Jon Hamm comes around the corner.

“Going somewhere, Michael?”

You freeze dead still.

“I hope you weren’t.”

You shake your head, unsure what to say.

Silence is the wrong answer. Jon crosses the floor to where you’re standing, his hand against the glass door next to you. You hope he doesn’t look down at the outbox and notice the dental floss. Up close it’s too obvious.

He glares at you, and for a moment, you think he might hit you — but then he turns up his nose, surprised, and asks instead, “Michael, have you been drinking?”

The evidence is in the powerful scent of whiskey and the stain spreading all over your shirt.

Should you deny it, or tell him the truth?

> those are both the same thing

Too right. You deny it assiduously. “Me? No! One of...” You have to think fast. “One of the cooks threw it at me in the kitchen for grabbing the wrong tray. A customer wanted a refill...”

“Michael,” he says, frowning — but after a moment he smiles coolly and shakes his head. “You’re helpless.”

You follow meekly, pleased that your Plan A seems to have gone off so well — but then the funniest thing happens.

Jon says, “You can’t do anything right.” Casually. Just the way he always talks to you. Like he doesn’t even think about it. And in that moment — that hollow, crushing moment — you think, suddenly, of Alan Schnaid. Is this what he would have done?

> hell no

Hell no. Because Alan Schnaid understands passion. Alan Schnaid understands true motivation. Alan Schnaid would never have sent off some whiny help-me note to anybody, not even the cops. Alan Schnaid wouldn’t have stood for any of Jon Hamm’s shit.

What would Alan Schnaid have done?

> burn this motherfucker down

And so you shall.

You stop walking in the middle of the Main Dining Room. Jon notices, and turns to warn you against stopping without permission.

> use matches

“Jon?” you say quietly.

He’s in no mood. “Yes, Michael?”

You take out the matchbook, striking a match against the side. It takes to light immediately.

“This restaurant sucks,” you tell him. “Asshole.”

What do you want to use the match with?

> me

You do.

There’s light, and pain, and then numbness, and then your vision bubbles up and pops and goes away.

Voices fade out, and the last sense you’re left with is the smell of smoked meat, crisply charred.

Maybe someone left the door to the kitchen open.

Wait, no. You know that smell now.

GAME OVER