Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
I had just finished another level of my favorite game app when the usual ad popped up. I know the companies that design these games need to make money somehow, but the frequent ads get annoying really fast. The only good thing about most of them is how short they are. This one was different though; it convinced me to watch with its familiar opening tune.
I recognized it the moment I heard those somber violins play. It was Chopin’s “Funeral March”. Anyone who has ever watched a cartoon is sure to have heard that composition before. It was frequently played whenever a character was about to meet his doom.
As the music progressed, a brightly colored noose slowly descended, swaying back and forth, until it reached the middle of the screen and then stopped. The title of the game started to come into focus, letter by letter, while random photos of people’s faces appeared with their heads centered in the loop of rope. The head shots where all cropped neatly so that the rope fit perfectly around their throats.
Holy shit, I thought as the last photo that appeared in the noose was the one I used for my Facebook profile, cropped just like the others. I know it wasn’t a major stretch for a game to do something like that, I just wasn’t expecting it. That upped the cool factor for me.
By the time my picture was displayed the title of the game had fully appeared and the music cut off.
HANGMAN, it declared in an old west style font, each letter hanging from a rope.
Kudos to the game’s marketing department, the ad managed to pique my interest. Eager to learn more, I tapped the screen expecting to be redirected to the app store where I could read an overview of the game, see some reviews, and maybe watch a video or two of the game play.
I was surprised when I was redirected to the game’s website instead. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a game that redirected me straight to a website. I figured there was some sort of contract that forced users to go to the provider’s official app store. I wasn’t going to let that deter me from playing though, not if the game was as cool as I was hoping.
The only information listed on the website was the following: You have been hired as the town’s new Hangman. Executions are scheduled every three days. In order to keep your job, you must execute your target within 72 hours. Do you have what it takes to man the gallows?
The text was followed by several photos showing how to pick your targets and how to go about “hanging” them. From what I gathered, this was another one of those augmented reality games that used your phone’s camera as the “noose” to hang your targets.
When you first start the game, you select your target from a list called THE CONDEMNED. Once you have made your selection, the target’s picture is shown on the bottom left of your screen with a countdown timer underneath it. If you tap the picture, you are then taken to a map that shows your current location along with the projected location of the target which was supposed to be accurate to about 1,000 feet.
Once you have located your target in the real world, you are supposed to tap on the noose icon which would open your phone’s camera app with the minor addition of there being a CGI noose hanging in the middle of the screen. You then hold your phone so that your target’s head appears in the middle of the noose for 3 seconds. If you succeed in doing that the camera takes a picture and you will have successfully hung your target.
After you have hung three targets, you would then be given the choice of being promoted to the next level or retiring. The listed levels were Hangman, Executioner, and Reaper. The game’s site also featured a leader board that had several gamer tags listed as a Hangman, but no one yet listed as an Executioner or Reaper. I suspected that was because the game was recently released and nobody had the time to advance yet.
I love dark games, and this one sounded like a lot of fun, at least fun for someone with a twisted sense of humor like me. I quickly tapped the download button, excited to start playing. Normally, I’d be telling all of my friends about the game, but not this time. I wanted to get a head start and be the first person to make it to the Reaper leaderboard before anyone else.
As I waited for the game to download the typical user agreement popped up. It was a dozen pages of the same legal nonsense presented with every game these days. Does anyone even read those? I had no intention of starting now. I quickly scrolled to the bottom of the text and clicked the agree box, which closed the pop up box and allowed the game to finish downloading.
Moments later I was prompted to enter my gamer tag before it would allow me to continue. I entered the tag I have been using since the sixth grade, “NAMredNELS”; or as many of you may have already guessed, “Slenderman” spelled backwards. What can I say? I went through a phase when I was younger. Like most of my friends at the time, I was obsessed with the character, I grew out of it, but the name stuck.
Once the game accepted my tag I was ready to play. The first thing to pop up was a group of photos of people with the title THE CONDEMNED at the top of the screen. There were about a dozen photos shown and I needed to pick one of them to hang. As I was trying to decide an UNAVAILABLE stamp appeared over one of the photos. I assumed that meant someone else had already chosen that person. Good to know I wouldn’t be competing against other players to hang the same person.
Since this was my initial attempt to play the game I decided to pick the first name on the list, a person whose tag was listed as “Negan8.” How original, I thought. As you can guess he looked like a total ass-hat right down to his bleached blonde crew cut and the sports jersey he was wearing. I hate sports and had no idea what team the jersey was from and didn’t care to find out. The fact that he was wearing it was enough to tell me I wouldn’t like him, but I was sure I was going to enjoy hanging him.
I tapped Negan8’s picture and confirmed him as my choice. Eager to get started I tapped his picture again to determine his location. It looked like he was over in the shopping district near downtown. If I had to guess I’d say he was probably at the mall hanging out with his buddies. They should be easy to find as they walked around like an army of clones who thought they owned the place.
I looked at the time. It was almost four o’clock. If Negan8 was at the mall I doubt he’d be leaving anytime soon. It was Friday and he was likely planning on hanging there all night. I wouldn’t be able to get out of my apartment until after five and wouldn’t be able to make it to the mall until around six. That should have given me plenty of time to track him down and hang him assuming he was still at the mall by the time I got there.
I kept myself occupied by watching TV while I waited for my brother, who was also my roommate, to get home with the car. I frequently checked the Hangman app to make sure Negan8 was where I expected him to be. As I suspected his location didn’t change by more than a few hundred feet which still put him within the radius of the mall.
When I arrived I parked as close to the food court doors as I could. That was where most of the people my age tended to hang out on Friday nights and that was where I thought I had the best chance of finding Negan8. It was also the most central location to the various spots the app had placed him over the past two hours.
The food court is designed in sort of a U-shape, with the doors I entered being in the bottom center and access to the rest of the mall being at the top. I walked around the food court twice without finding him and decided to sit down and see if his location had changed on the app.
As far as I could tell he should be somewhere within 1,000 feet of me if the app’s margin for error was accurate. Since he wasn’t in the food court, that meant he had to be in one of the stores nearby. I got up and walked over to the store directory to try and determine which of the shops he would most likely be interested in.
I had to admit I liked the game so far. I was starting to feel like a detective trying to track down a criminal and the chances were pretty high in my opinion that Negan8 probably was a criminal of some sort. I amused myself by thinking I was doing the world a favor by hanging him and wondered if I could get bonus points for hanging his posse.
I was able to narrow down my choices to three different shops. My number one choice was Champs, a store that sold sports clothing. I figured a guy like Negan8 couldn’t own enough sports jerseys and was probably always on the lookout for more. My number two choice was Lids, a store that sold baseball caps. I never understood how a store like that could survive in the mall. Do they really sell that many caps, or are they just ridiculously expensive? Either way, I figured my target likely owned a few. My final choice was GameStop. I only added it to the list since it was in the vicinity and everyone I know owns a Playstation or an Xbox. He probably did too.
I left the food court and headed towards Champs intending to walk by and see if my target was inside. When I got there and noticed how big the store was I decided to do a quick walk-through instead, but he wasn’t there.
I headed on to my next destination, Lids, but I could see he wasn’t there either. That store was tiny and I could see the interior well before I got there. That just left GameStop.
I stopped for a second and pulled my phone out to check my target’s current location which according to the game hadn’t changed. He was here somewhere I just had to find him.
I continued on my way to the game store which took me past the south entrance on the opposite side of the mall from the food court. Near that entrance is a large decorative fountain filled with coins. It was from there that I heard a group of guys suddenly start laughing obnoxiously. Naturally I turned to see what was so funny and was surprised to see my target sitting on the edge of the fountain his three cronies standing in front of him laughing.
I changed course and started walking around the opposite side of the fountain trying to find a good vantage point for my phone’s camera. I hate the mall and wanted to hang Negan8 and get out of there as soon as possible. Crowds weren’t my thing and the mall was quickly filling up with shoppers.
“Shut up,” I heard Negan8 say to the trio standing before him.
“You’d suck as a detective,” Beanpole taunted. “You’re like Inspector Gadget.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Pimple face whined. “Your time ran out hours ago. Why are you still looking for her?”
“It’s because he has the hots for her,” Chubby answered. “He likes those nerdy girls.”
All three of them started to laugh again. Negan8 just sat there glaring at them.
Interesting, I thought to myself. It seems Negan8 may be playing Hangman as well and failed to hang his first target. I wonder if that is why he was listed as one of the choices under THE CONDEMNED when I was picking a target. If that was the case I wasn’t going to let that happen to me.
I walked around the fountain until I came to a bench that gave me a decent vantage point to sit and aim my camera at Negan8, without being too obvious. I wasn’t able to hear the rest of their conversation from where I was sitting, but from the looks on their faces, it was obvious his friends were still giving him a hard time.
I opened the game and tapped on the noose icon which opened my camera app. I held my phone like I was reading a text, while trying to angle it to get Negan8’s head in the middle of the noose. Once I had him lined up, a countdown started. The number 3 appeared at the bottom of the screen.
As the number 3 was replaced by the number 2, Negan8’s hands flew up to his neck, grasping at something. I looked over at him, then back at my phone. His hands were perfectly lined up with the game generated noose on my screen. It was as if he could feel it and was trying to remove it from his neck.
Beanpole, Chubby, and Pimple Face started to panic after they realized their friend’s distress wasn’t an act. Negan8 stood up as the counter changed from 2 to 1, his face turning blue. Without realizing it, I had also stood up which kept his head locked into my phone’s noose.
I froze. I didn’t know what to do. I watched in horror as the counter changed from 1 to 0 and Negan8 fell backwards into the fountain. His friends just stood there and stared as nearby shoppers rushed to the fallen kid’s aide. That broke me out of my paralysis. I quickly turned and walked out of the south entrance and around the outside of the mall until I reached my car.
I didn’t look at my phone until I was sitting in my car. When I did, what I saw made me sick to my stomach. There was a CGI cut screen of an executioner hanging a man over and over with the words: CONGRATULATIONS, YOU DID IT. Underneath that was: CLICK HERE TO CHOOSE YOUR NEXT TARGET. The worst part was that the picture my phone had taken of Negan8, as he died, was superimposed over the hanging man’s head.
I drove around town aimlessly for the next few hours, trying to make sense of what had happened. Trying to find some way to accept it and move on, but I couldn’t find the silver lining.
When I finally returned home, I walked through the door to find my brother sitting on the couch playing the Xbox.
“Where the hell did you go?” he asked without pulling his eyes away from the military violence exploding on the TV screen. “I thought you were just going to the mall.”
“Out,” was all I offered in explanation and headed to my room.
“Hey!” he called out. “I was meaning to ask you…have you heard of that new app game called Hangman?”
“Why?” I stopped and turned towards him.
“I downloaded it a few days ago and tried it out. Running around trying to take a picture of someone is stupid. I was just going to tell you not to bother with it.”
Once I had locked myself in my bedroom, I opened the Hangman app and tapped the “CHOOSE YOUR NEXT TARGET” button. I wasn’t surprised by what I saw. There was only one person listed on the “THE CONDEMNED” page, MJRgreeff. I always hated that gamer tag. My brother thought it was clever because our last name was Greeff, and he liked being a pain in the ass when he played games, thus the Greeff/grief play on words.
I guess I should have read that user agreement before I started playing.
Want more? Check out K.G. Lewis’s recently-released collection of short scary stories, Through the Mole Hole: Strange Stories for Peculiar People, now available on Amazon.com, containing 28 of the author’s most terrifying, twisted, and thought-provoking tales.
Along the way, you will meet a young man who awoke to find a hole to another dimension in his arm, a couple whose painting is more than the simple portrait it appears to be, and a woman whose cat ate something it shouldn’t have. These are just a few of the unfortunate souls whose stories await you. Do you dare take a peek at the worlds that lie on the other side of the mole hole?
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