the first bridge

We were in high school, and there were four of us: veronica, joe, mark, and myself_ We were friends—not in the cliquey in-the-same-class or share-the-same-interests sort of way but like actual friends… We hung out maybe once a week outside of school, but there was a constant stream of texts and IMs that went on too_ This was high school_ We were pretty well connected_

Veronica and i bickered a lot, about everything_ Of the four, to an outsider we were probably the least-close pairing_ Deep down, though, we were still friends; and anyway, Mark and Joe usually kept us under control_

There was this game—ExcitingGame, terrible title—it was a MMORPG, for those of you who know what that is, like RuneScape except better… Well, maybe it was only fun because we all played it together, but we did, and had a blast_

Veronica had started getting in with "the wrong crowd", as your parents might say—not in the game, in real life—but with no job or source of income she needed a way to fund her newfound hobbies_ She set up a website that stole people's ExcitingGame accounts and she sold them for quick cash—When we found out, the rest of us thought this was horrible, and chatted it out over IMs_ I wanted to turn her in, but joe and mark talked me down_ She was still our friend, after all_ But if anyone asked me about it, there was no way i was holding back_

Veronica grew a lot more distant after that, and before long we stopped hanging out altogether_ Life moved on, and soon it was summer_ I was in sacramento on vacation with my family_ I was in our hotel room, and i got a text: From veronica, help, with an address_ It was nearby… what was she doing in sacramento_?

I told my parents… mostly the truth, that a friend was nearby that i wanted to see, and that i'd be back in a bit_ I arrived at the address and went inside…

I was amazed at what i saw_ ExcitingGame was in 2-D, but this was very clearly a real-life clone of one of the dungeons, complete with bridges that extended and withdrew, a massive pit, stairs leading upward and upward… As i climbed the levels, i wondered what kind of a place this was, and what kind of trouble veronica had gotten herself into_ The whole place was deserted_

I reached the top, and found myself in a room lined with shelves_ It was large, and in need of repair_ There was a sword in one of the shelves; this whole place made me uneasy, and i took it_

There was a single doorway, and i walked through it_ The room i entered was enormous, circular, with a dark grey concrete floor and white walls so tall i found it hard to believe we were still inside_ Veronica was in the centre, kneeling, crying, and towering over her…

A monster_ A demon_ Enormous, red, vaguely resembling a minotaur_? Too real to be a costume_ It just stood there, unmoving_ Veronica was saying something, and as i approached, i started to make out her words_

I can't do it_ I just can't_ She mumbled the words together, repeating them over and over_ I came up behind her, and she noticed my presence_ Her sobbing stopped abruptly_ There was a dagger in her hand_

Without warning, she turned and lunged at me, and i reacted on instinct_ She fell to the ground_ Adrenaline coursed through my system, and i could hardly tell up from down_

But, slowly, the world came back into focus_ My heart-rate slowed as the adrenaline was replaced with a deep, heavy sadness_ At my feet, veronica laid, with a sword through her body_ There was blood on my hands_

The demon spoke_ Congratulations, it said_ You have crossed the first bridge_