Select Your Character by Kevin Tosca

When Mark was ten, one of his gifts under the tree was the outrageously hyped and highly anticipated video game sequel he and his best friend Spencer had been begging, pleading, whining, and angling for since Halloween. Dutifully, and not without pleasure, he ripped open his remaining gifts and watched as his sister and parents opened theirs, but as soon as the first acceptable moment presented itself, he ran to his room, shut the door, eased the new game into the mouth of his Nintendo, and didn’t reappear until his mother’s fifth and “final” call for lunch.

Usually, on Christmas, he called Spencer and they played with whatever toys and games had been under their trees until dinner stopped them. This time, however, it was Spencer who had to call, and when he finally did and said, “I didn’t get it,” Mark said, “Me neither,” and he said he couldn’t leave because his grandfather was expected from Asbury Park any minute and he, Mark, was being forced to wait. “Ok,” Spencer said, “see you tomorrow.” Mark hung up and continued to play his game, just as he wanted: His grandfather hadn’t tempted highway since Ronald Regan won the Presidency.

The next day, when Spencer came over, Mark hid the game in the bottom of the bottom drawer of his desk.

“Sucks about the game,” Spencer said.

“Yeah,” Mark said.

“Maybe one of us’ll get it for our birthdays.”

“Maybe.”

“Want to throw the football?” Spencer asked.

“No,” Mark said.

“Want to ride bikes to Cumberland Farms?”

“I feel kind of lousy,” Mark said.

“Oh,” Spencer said, gently kicking the carpet. “We recorded Over the Top last night. We could watch that.”

“I should probably rest,” Mark said. “That’s what my mom said.”

Spencer stood there, looking like a stranger in the room he knew so well. “My cousin’s in from Boston. I should probably go, too. Call me when you’re better.”

After Spencer left, Mark rescued the game from the bottom drawer and played it nonstop for the rest of the Christmas vacation, emerging only for meals and fresh cans of soda. He became skilled at inventing excuse after excuse as to why he couldn’t spend time with Spencer.

Even after school started, this continued, right up until Spencer’s birthday on the twenty-eighth of February, a Sunday. Late that morning, Spencer called Mark, breathless.

“I got it!” he said.

“Got what?” Mark said, confused.

“Come over, I’m waiting.”

“I’ll be right there,” Mark said.

When he arrived, he saw that Spencer hadn’t even removed the cellophane, and an awkward moment followed in Spencer’s bedroom when Spencer handed Mark the new game.

“I want you to,” Spencer said.

Mark hesitated, but not for long. He ripped off the packaging and opened the box and shoved the game into the console, all of which catapulted him back to Christmas morning and that distant thrill.

On the easy first and second levels of the game, he made mistakes he thought would be completely see-through, but when Spencer rose and fell with every success and failure, Mark relaxed. Though he had grown bored of these levels, here, with Spencer, he saw them with fresh eyes, and it was good, like being able to start over, like you always could in video games. After a few more minutes, he paused the game and handed the control pad to Spencer.

“But you’re not even close to dead yet,” Spencer said, visibly intoxicated and impressed by his best friend’s mastery.

It was true. Mark couldn’t resist the temptations. He knew where all the secrets were, and he had plenty of lives left to live, but he said, “It’s your turn,” and felt magnanimous when he did so.


Kevin Tosca’s stories have appeared in Fleeting, Litro, The Bicycle Review, Thrice Fiction and elsewhere. He lives in France. His published work can be found at www.kevintosca.com.