Former contributor Mike Meginnis is doing something you will love. It’s called, EXITS ARE. He’s recreating those old text adventures, in real time, with authors of note. Remember: “Exits are… (N, S, W, E)”? I used to spend hours playing those games on my family’s Apple IIe. So when I heard about what Mike was doing, I knew I had to bring the game to the readers who would appreciate it, to you. Lucky me that this meant I got to play, too. —Matt Salesses, Good Men Project Fiction Editor
mm: You are a letter carrier. There is a certain house. It wasn’t on your route the year before; and then, one day, it was. Built, and waiting for the mail that you would bring it. You carried bills (electric, gas, water, car insurance, Internet, credit cards, cable) to the house. You carried personal letters made out in longhand. You carried ads for new and used car sales. The mailbox is full, now. No one ever empties it. No one comes. There are no cars in the driveway. There is only the house. And now you have a letter: “IMPORTANT,” it reads, in red ink. “OPEN IMMEDIATELY. REQUIRES YOUR RESPONSE. LIVES HANG IN THE BALANCE.” The mailbox is too full. There is a gate; the gate is locked; behind that gate there is the house, three stories, seven windows wide. Framed by trees, framed by hedges and roses and silent.
ms: Look at lock
mm: A rusty padlock. (When did it find the time to rust?) Holding a rusted chain in place. A heavy chain. The gate is made of iron bars, is 1.5 times your height; the top is lined with sharp black iron points, the ends of these bars.
mm: You have your letter carrier’s bag and all the envelopes therein, the keys to your truck and your home, your uniform, a pocket knife, a bottle of water, a cellular phone. The envelopes of your bag have many contents. It would be a felony to find out what.
ms: Use knife on lock.
mm: The lock crumbles in your hand, around the knife. The rust stains your hand. The chain falls to your feet. (Landing among the envelopes that have fallen from the overfull mailbox.)
ms: Remember I hate my job. Enter gate.
mm: Behind the gate the grass is tall. Its ends are turning brown and semi-transparent. Through the grass there is a path of small white rocks, almost circular, embedded in the ground. There are the hedges, rarely trimmed. There are the roses, choking themselves with overgrowth. North is the front entrance, double doors, wooden: they look thick.
ms: Say: Hello. Remember my family. Do not be afraid.
mm: The doors do not answer. You remember your family. You are not afraid. There is a doorbell button you could press. There is a welcome mat that does not say anything, not even WELCOME, does not even have a picture of a duck. East is the east wing of the house. West is the west wing. South is the way you have come.
ms: Look under welcome mat. Do not open envelope. Smell envelope. Do not open envelope. Hate my life.
mm: The envelope smells like an envelope. You do faintly smell the paste they used to close it: not the envelope’s own adhesive + spit, but Elmer’s glue. Under the welcome mat there is a picture of a key. A large, iron key with three teeth on one edge and no teeth on the other. (A short tooth, a long tooth, a short one.)
ms: Take picture.
mm: You have the picture.
mm: You walk past several large windows with elaborate designs of gold in the glass, like curls of smoke or knots of hair. Through the glass you glimpse rooms both empty and full: empty of life, full of pianos and chairs and candelabras and places to put one’s umbrella, and so on. The roses are densely grown and very thorned. East is the corner of the eastern wing of the house, west is back the way you came, south is the wilderness around the house, and north is a window (closed).
ms: Look at window.
mm: The window’s golden inlaid pattern is reminiscent of a waterfall, with froth and foam at the base, and long vertical strands with only slight horizontal variations. The glass is thick, though it might not be strong (because of its division by the gold). There is a mechanism inside, a small crank, by which it might be opened. Behind the window there is a library, each shelf full of books about how to be a father, a son, a daughter, a lover, a mother, a pet owner, a dead thing, in heaven, in hell. There are also books about World War II.
ms: Feel lonely. Feel like a bad father, son, husband. Remember this is my last stop on my route. Do not open envelope. Do not break window. Use cell phone to call my wife.
mm: Your wife answers on the second ring. “Hello?” she says. “Are you okay?”
ms: Hang up. Use cell phone to break the window.
mm: The cell phone works well as a bludgeon. The glass cracks at the base and these cracks travel upward, half the height of the window, which is twice your own height, and the cracked glass falls away, leaving the gold, which is still soft, and hangs and bends like loose ribbon on the air. When you’re done the phone is broken in half.
ms: Feel sorry. Take gold. Remember when my wife loved me.
mm: The gold comes out easily, and folds up neatly in your pocket. Warm air seeps from the broken window, out of the house. (Thus, you suppose, the gas bills.) Your face is dry.
ms: Drink water. Breathe. Do not panic. I have broken the law before.
mm: And how did that work out for you?
ms: Tell myself I am a good person.
mm: If you need to hear it.
ms: Tell myself I am a good father, husband, son. Look at books. N.
mm: You climb in through the window, careful not to cut yourself on what glass remains in the frame. The books on the shelves all have one-word titles, or as close as they can get, and there are no pictures on their covers, or even words; the words are only on their spines. (FATHERHOOD. DAUGHTERS. DOGS. CATS. FOOD. HUNGER. AFTERLIFE. BEING GOOD. BEING BAD.) There are more rooms through closed doors to the east and the west. There is a hallway through the open doorway to the north.
ms: Take: FATHERHOOD.
mm: You have FATHERHOOD. The book is long. Its pages look water-damaged, warped at their edges.
ms: Use picture of key on book.
mm: The book opens to a page two-thirds deep. The page is a picture of a hand the size of your hand. Open. Its fingers are spread. As if to say “Welcome,” or “Stop.”
ms: Put my hand on the picture of a hand. Do not be afraid.
mm: The hand grows. The book grows. The house grows. Or, it is possible that all these things remain the same: that you, and what you brought into the home, are smaller now.
ms: Look at my reflection in the window’s broken glass.
mm: You see your face, though fragmented, paled by the weakness of the reflection in the glass. It is as handsome or as loathsome as it has ever been. It is as yours as it has ever.
mm: You are in the hall, the hall now twice as wide, the ceiling twice as high, so more like a cavern. There are empty picture frames on the wall, some oriented for a landscape, others for a portrait. The walls are lined with doors — seven on the east wall, six on the west, and one on the northern end, where the hallway terminates. A hallway leads west from this point, as well. Distant fixtures provide enough light to see well but not enough to feel you are welcome.
ms: Feel unwelcome. Feel vertigo. Do not open envelope. Do not leave envelope for owners. Use mail in mail sack in empty frames.
mm: Do you mean to fill each frame, or would you rather apportion one envelope to each?
ms: Use one each.
mm: In this frame you frame Ernest Powell’s Social Security check’s envelope. In this frame you frame a past-due electric bill. In this frame you frame a letter from a soldier posted to a person in a country where no one is fighting. In this frame you frame an envelope full of photo negatives. In this frame you frame a letter in another language, from another continent. Some pink, some yellow, some white.
ms: Wait for the house to grow. Wait to love myself. Wait to be a better person. Wait for my wife to find me. Wait for the owners to come home. Do not open the envelope.
mm: The house will grow as long as you will let it. Not often, but in time. You can’t become a better person by waiting. You might be able to wait long enough for your wife to find you if she knows your route. The owners are not coming if they aren’t already here. You do not open the envelope.
ms: Do I love myself yet?
mm: Tell me what there is to love.
ms: Open the envelope.
mm: There is a cashier’s check inside. You can’t believe how much it’s worth. There is also a letter, one page long, handwritten.
ms: Read letter.
mm: The letter begins: “Dear [Illegible], here is what you asked for. I am not sure you deserve it. This is not all I have to give, though it may seem that way to you. There is more, and there are other things, but you never thought to ask. You could have had them too if you could have this. It stands to reason. It stands to reason. I am not sorry. You are sorry. You are [illegible].” The letter continues:
ms: But do not read anymore. Feel sorry. Feel like it stands to reason. Do I love myself yet? Take the check back to my wife. Do I love myself yet? Ignore the voices in my head. Exit.
mm: It takes all day to leave the growing house. It is late when you come home. What do you tell your wife to explain the money? What can you say?
ms: Do not explain. Do not notice that I am smaller now than my wife. Do not be afraid. Try and try to love myself. Put the Fatherhood book beneath my pillow. Do not look at the picture of the key. Do not forget the growing house.