1 New Message:
Sub: A brief explanation.
You are likely baffled and upset by what you have just experienced, but all will become clear, I hope, by the end of this correspondence.
First and foremost I'd like to once again offer condolences on the passing of your wife. This statement may prove to sound counter intuitive after you have read the remainder of this letter, but I truly do empathize, and sympathize with you in your loss. That does not negate the other emotions I hold for you in the least. The jealousy, rage, pity and despair I feel all swirl into a whirlwind of confusion even after so many months of analyzing and praying over the loss of our mutual friend...
It's a good thing that some people still take the time to check the spam folders in their e-mail accounts. Jeff Bauman always checked his, and usually found something interesting that he would have otherwise missed. Today, it was a message from a mutual friend of his and his late wife Erynn, a man named Kevin. Kevin... something. Truth be told, Kevin was much closer to Erynn than he had been to Jeff, and that was fine, but the two sometimes used to e-mail each other interesting news stories, or games, sometimes videos. This particular message appeared to have been sent several times in the past week or so, Jeff simply thought that this message contained some especially funny video, or amusing game, and Kevin wanted to make sure it got through.
It was a bit strange to get a message from Kevin out of the blue like this. They hadn't really spoken much since the funeral. Honestly, Jeff had always wondered if his wife had a little bit of a crush on Kevin. Jeff never worried about it too much, at 27 and 24 years old when she died, he and Erynn had been married for a few years, and if she had a little crush on another guy, it didn't make him feel too jealous or threatened.
The subject of the e-mail (Hey man check this out) was vague enough that Jeff had no idea what was in it, only noting that it had several attachments. The e-mail read that the attachments contained a few cracked Steam games, and a bootlegged copy of the new Avengers movie that wasn't coming out for another week or so. The cracked games included titles from the Counter-Strike, and Dead Island series, as well as two stand alones; Goat Simulator, and Huniepop.
Not being much of a PC gamer, Jeff was only vaguely familiar with Goat Simulator and Huniepop, and thought of them as simply novelty games. But free is free, so he downloaded and installed all the games. Goat Simulator was pretty self explanatory, but all he really knew about Huniepop was that it was some kind of "H-dating sim," whatever that was. He knew it was something to do with naked anime chicks, and that was enough to pique his curiosity. So after a quick glance into the life of an adventurous goat, he started up game with the naked chicks, intending to play for a bit before watching the unreleased Avengers sequel. "Forbidden fruit..." as they say.
Huniepop started with a jaunty tune and the image of a harem's worth of busty, western looking anime girls. A promising start. Although he and Erynn had checked out a few hentai videos early in their marriage one drunken night (well, truth be told, only Jeff had been drunk), Erynn had mostly giggled and made fun of the inane plots and ludicrously proportioned women. Jeff played along, too embarrassed to admit that he thought the flick was actually pretty hot. This was the type of game he would likely have hidden from his wife if she was still around... or tried to at least.
Jeff played through the first tutorial round and it became apparent that the main gameplay was going to be based on puzzle matching along the lines of Candy Crush or Bejeweled. Aside from some Columns and Dr. Mario, and the obligatory Tetris binge in his childhood, Jeff had never really played many tile-matching puzzlers, and didn't know whether he liked them or not. As he continued to play through the 'dates' in Huniepop, it became apparent that he did in fact like this style of game. So much so that although he intended to play only for an hour or so, until 10 at the latest, then watch the pirated Avengers film, he wound up staying in the world of Huniepop until just past midnight without realizing how much time had passed.
Sub: A brief explanation.
...I need not remind you of the relationship the three of us had. I think you and I know more about the other than we ever let on, and Erynn was, is the common denominator in the equation.
If a man doesn't have his pride, his sense of self worth; if he lies in bed at night contemplating the day and can put a mental check mark next to each task he intended to fulfill save for one, night after night, what is his quality of life? When one realizes that 'good enough,' despite one's best intentions, has never actually been good enough, what should be the next course of action?...
The following day, Jeff could barely keep his mind focused during his therapy session, or the court ordered Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that came after. He was preoccupied with the thought of getting back to his computer to ask and answer more questions with his digital girlfriends. By the time it came to hold hands and recite the Lord's Prayer at the end of the AA meeting, he was ruminating over what drinks to buy each of his eager, sex-deprived lady friends when he met them at the bar. Their favorites were conveniently listed in the HunieBee, the in-game mobile database of girls, but Jeff thought it would be good to mix things up for them as well.
Returning home that afternoon, the plan had been to watch The Avengers: Age of Ultron, then play some more Huniepop. About 30 minuted into the pirated movie, Jeff realized that he hadn't been paying attention, and barely knew what was going on. He decided to finish the flick later, after a few dates. Before starting the game up, he shot a quick text message to Kevin, thanking him for the movie and the games, the dating sim in particular. The response "np" would go unread until after the Huniepop session was done a few hours later.
Jeff had formulated a strategy for playing the game. By this time he had done some Google research and learned that after a few successful dates with a certain girl, you could take her back to your room for a bonus sex round, that the point was in fact to bed each of the available girls as the difficulty of the rounds increased. His master plan was to play until every available girl was at the stage where one more good date round would result in the sex round, and then go through each of the girls one by one, one in-game night at a time. He had decided to go after the Japanese girl Aiko first, then try for the blue haired gamer-girl Nikki.
Sub: A brief explanation.
...It may seem odd to you to be spoken to about pride from the man who was your late wife's paramour in the final year of her life. I imagine this information comes to you as only a minor shock, I'd be surprised if you didn't at least suspect that Erynn was not being entirely faithful to you, but I bet on some level you were certain. Young married couples rarely last these days. All things considered, you are fairly lucky as far as cuckolds go. I'm clean, and discreet. At heart I'm a good guy, and despite the fact that we haven't known each other very long, I think you're probably not too bad either, otherwise Erynn wouldn't have felt it necessary to keep you in her life. But it could have just been guilt.
I wonder at this point if you even put any of the pieces together. I'm sure you remember the date. As far as the game is concerned, the name of the month doesn't matter, but it was a Thursday. Thursday the ninth. Did that mean anything to you?
For the past year, your wife and I have been in what I would call a wonderful, albeit abnormal relationship. It may have started out as a sex thing, but it evolved into so much more. The fact that she had known you for so long, and really had only ever dated you had her in a kind of blissful ignorance. I brought her to a state of blissful awareness. She seemed to think that a life of unfulfilled promises from a man who drinks and plays video games every day was what marriage was all about. I didn't steal your love away, you pushed her out and took her for granted, whether she ended up leaving you or not, her wavering faith was inevitable.
I could go on about how your faults, and my strengths but it really doesn't matter, especially now. Nothing can bring your wife back. I know that you've suffered in this, how could you not? But that isn't enough, I'm not talking about justice or revenge or anything that dramatic. I'm talking about evening up a little bit. The night she lost her life, the night that you were driving back from some dipshit party with a B.A.C. of .21, a night of mutual regret for all involved. Do you remember that I do volunteer work sometimes? That my main job is driving ambulances and Emergency Response Vehicles? You know I was one of the first responders on the scene, not that it made any difference...
Part of the game involves talking with each of the player's potential mates, asking and answering questions to earn "Hunie," one of the game's forms of currency (the other being called Munie). The questions the player may ask range from inane, "what's your favorite color?" to the keystone of every successful relationship; "...what cup size are you rockin'?" Remembering the answers each girl gives to these questions helps the player earn more hunie. Players are also periodically asked questions by the girls, requiring them to recall the information given in an earlier conversation (or just look up the answers online), or wishing to hear his or her response to a hypothetical, or personal question. Things like "What would you do if you found someone's wallet on the street?" and "How many girls are you seeing right now?"
Sometimes Jeff found the questions to be fun, other times annoying, and sometimes just bizarre. From time to time the game seemed to glitch on certain questions to ask or answer, the words would display on the screen, but there was no voice over. This typically happened on what Jeff felt were the stranger questions. At one point the game's Indian girl Beli asked "Do you ever dream about it?" with no clarification, at another, the cheerleader Tiffany posed the query "How much did you remember the next day?" These odd inquiries were not common, but still confusing and a bit off-putting. They seemed to pop up at random.
Jeff was interested to see if correctly answering these was some kind of subplot or alternate gameplay mode that only a few people knew of. He hadn't read anything about other players encountering weird questions or glitches, but he knew that there were some hidden characters and Easter eggs in the game. It seemed that no one had figured this out yet, and he couldn't tell if he was playing through these segments correctly. He seemed to earn no Hunie from any of the answers he gave or questions he posed. Eventually he just began answering them randomly and moving to the next.
Not being very adept at tile matching puzzle games, it sometimes took awhile for him to achieve a successful date, and he preferred to stick to one girl at a time, attempting to win a date round with her before going to win another date with one of the other girls. He often found himself forgetting to use the power-ups he had earned. This made for a slow go of things, but Jeff was glad to stretch out the gameplay for a little bit longer.
At certain points in the gameplay, an unknown new girl would show up in the selection menu, usually in the evening or nighttime. Her picture was always greyed out, but she was not listed as being asleep. Jeff thought that this must be one of the unlockable characters in the game, and that he needed to do some kind of action at a certain time or place to get to where he could finally meet her. Whenever this girl would show up in the HunieBee, he would attempt to give certain items to whichever girl he was with, to see if this would unlock the hidden character. This never worked, and after he went to visit another girl, or went on a date, the mystery woman would be gone again.
In some of the early research Jeffrey did in the game he read something about the unlockable girls being a cat-girl and some kind of alien woman. He stopped reading so as not to ruin the surprise of finding them, or discovering other secrets. The unknown icon didn't look like it had whiskers or cat ears from what he could tell, so he decided that it must be the extraterrestrial, or some other girl he hadn't read about.
The more date rounds you win, the more hearts are displayed on each woman's profile. After a few days of playing, Jeff had gotten all the girls up to around three hearts out of a possible five. Though when a girl has four hearts it is possible to take her to bed after a date at night, the plan was to keep going on daytime dates until everyone had all five hearts filled. Playing in this manner made the experience last much longer.
In the meantime, Jeff Bauman had started an additional save file on the game to attempt meeting the girls in a different order to see if it resulted in any changes in gameplay. There were no major differences of note, but this also served to extend the time he spent playing. In both save files he encountered a few of the uncharacteristic questions, some the same and a few different.
He came across one inquisition from Audrey, the "mega-bitch" character that read "What's the best part?" with three choices of answers; "No in-laws at Christmas," "The bed all to myself," and "No nagging about booze and dope." This quiz was one that struck Jeff rather sharply as they seemed to relate to bachelorhood, which he recently had somewhat thrust upon him. But at least this question appeared to have some relation to the game, as the Audrey character openly uses illegal drugs, and one of the answers mentioned them. Jeff chose the third option and the reply came up; "At least you're honest, you son of a bitch."
Sub: A brief explanation.
By the time anyone noticed the tire tracks leading into the woods it was already after 9am, you were hours into a blackout sleep, and she had long since bled out, already starting to stiffen up. They think you wrapped around that maple tree around 3 or so, leaving plenty of time for your lovely wife to scream at you to wake up, grope fruitlessly for her cell phone, shout for help into the night, claw for the release on her seatbelt until her nails bent back and snapped away from the quick. I bet you were snoring, she said that you snored like a boar when you were drunk.
You got to sleep and dream away the wee hours of the morning, with barely more than a concussion. Erynn didn't get that luxury, she was awake and aware until the late stages of hypovolemic shock started. Pinned in the passenger seat with a kinked spinal cord, she got to watch the sun rise while her severed, but pinched femoral artery trickled until she was cold and blue. There was something else that never got into the report, that you never heard about.
She had enough room to move her left arm a little, enough to reach a few things like the still functional car lighter, and a few things in the center console. One of these things was one of your "hidden" joints. She once told me that two out of the three times she tried smoking pot a few years ago turned out awful, the other got her pretty relaxed. I guess at one point she decided that you weren't going to wake up and there wasn't any help coming, so she lit it up and took a few drags. We found the roach stuck to her shirt in a congealed stream of blood and vomit. I can only hope that it eased her last moments on the planet.
At last the time came when Jeff could begin taking his digital girlfriends on night dates and hopefully getting the bonus sex rounds. As silly as it may have sounded to others, Jeff had, knowing he had a night off to play the game, picked up a bottle of Chivas Regal scotch for the occasion. Before the car accident it was not uncommon for him to have a few drinks and play some video games, and since the publicity of the wreck and the general knowledge in the community that he had been attending 12-step meetings, he tried to keep his drinking more hidden than ever. He had driven about 40 miles out of his way to hit a liquor store where he and his car wouldn't be recognized.
The save file he loaded started him out on a morning and he set out to chat with some girls before taking the Asian girl Aiko on a date at night. Twice when he was talking to different women before the dating began, he was met with a question screen with no real text on it. Just series of ellipses and the girls making their disappointed faces. He thought he must have done something wrong in playing the game up to that point, but it didn't seem to be affecting the main flow of things. He hoped it didn't affect the dates.
In-game evening turned into night, and he met up with Aiko at the Bar and Lounge stage. He used the Munie he had accrued to buy his date a few drinks, starting off with some sake (her favorite), and later some wine. As he dragged and dropped the the static booze icons over his potential lover's face prompting such realistic replies as "That was a pussy drink! Hit me with something stronger!" Jeff poured himself a neat scotch and gulped the smooth amber depressant.
After a bit of schmoozing, Jeff asked the Japanese college professor out on a date. The puzzle round at Vinnie's Restaurant went very well, and Jeff got the required score to win using seventeen of his twenty allotted moves, resulting in Aiko making the offer to "...come over tonight for a private lesson." Jeff would not have refused the offer even if he had been given the chance to. For a few seconds between the date round fading out and the appearance of the text indicating the change of location to "Your Bedroom," a corrupted image appeared on the screen and flickered before the bedroom/sex bonus round started. It wasn't there long enough to make much sense of it, but it appeared to just be a jumbled up collage of game images.
At long last it was time for Jeff Bauman to be stripped of his digital virginity. The mechanics of the bonus round were slightly different from the normal dates in that all tiles matched gave the same amount of points, and the total score was constantly decreasing. This made for a race-against-the-clock feel, a mad dash to match as many tiles as quickly as one could to achieve the required score. Jeff, playing with a mouse was a bit hampered by having to click and drag the tiles where he wanted to place them, where a touchscreen would have been optimal for speed. No matter, he was determined to max out the pleasure meter and win the bonus round.
Jeff hadn't realized that as he was scanning the tile grid, trying to plan two and three moves ahead, he had begun to sweat and was biting his top lip with increasing ferocity. When he crested the halfway mark on the pleasure meter, he barely even noticed that the bra his inanimate, computerized lover was wearing disintegrated and her shiny, high-definition breasts were on full display. His tile matching became more frantic as Aiko's moans increased in frequency. Before he could fill the pleasure meter and bring to climax the oversexed professor, his monitor started flicking and glitching. Before he could register what was happening, the screen had gone black.
Sub: A brief explanation.
...Not sure if you knew about this, but it also looked like she used the car lighter to try to ignite some papers and the owners' manual. We found a few burned up napkins and the owners' booklet with singed corners a few feet from the wreck. I guess she was trying to start a fire to raise some smoke to signal anyone in the vicinity. It didn't work. She must have realized that starting a fire could have burned the three of you alive, you probably would have slept through it, but she was still awake at that point. Can you imagine the desperation, the loss of hope that would make a person consider that?
I try not to think about it too much...
Blinking his dry eyes, Jeff unclenched his jaw and leaned back from the blank monitor. As a formality, he poured another tall scotch into his tumbler and swallowed it in a single opening of his throat, taking no time to enjoy the taste of the pricey booze. He hissed the burn out through his teeth, then assessed the situation. Before he was able to start clicking around to test the computer, the game returned to the screen. The date appeared in white text as usual, followed by an image that was familiar but also unique.
What Jeff saw was a new girl, one he hadn't encountered or seen pictures of before. She was standing in the park at night looking downtrodden. She was built differently than any of the other girls in the game, she looked overweight, dumpy even, wearing jeans and a black t-shirt with a Judas Priest logo. This detail is what struck Jeff. A plain black Judas Priest shirt. Pretty much identical to one that his wife owned. It was at this point that he glanced down to the lower left corner of the screen and saw the icon of the unknown girl he had noticed greyed out while he had been playing. She was now in color, and had a name; Erynn.
Shock is a word that gets a lot of use in daily conversation, but it is the most appropriate word for Jeff's reaction to seeing a japanese anime interpretation of his dead spouse in an adult puzzle dating simulator. He couldn't find his breath for several seconds, and there was an icy sensation of pins and needles blooming steadily from just under his sternum. He gaped at the unhappy looking cartoon woman on the screen, noting her bright emerald green eyes, a shade of contact lenses that Erynn sometimes wore, her deep violet hair, the color she had dyed it on a New Years eve three years ago, the color she always said, only half jokingly, that she wanted to have it dyed permanently.
The physique that he initially noted as being "dumpy" was in fact a fairly accurate reflection of the way Erynn had looked for the last few years of her life. Following a series of surgeries, she put on quite a bit of weight and was never able to lose much of it. He was gazing at, all things considered, as accurate a representation of her as he could possibly expect. But why?
After finally regaining some of his senses, Jeffrey had another drink, this time foregoing the glass in favor of sloppily kissing the glass rim of the bottle. The cold sensation in his insides began to abate a little, and he started looking at the rest of the game's screen. He made note that all the normal game menus were listed, but not all functional. Many of the buttons did nothing when clicked, the heart meter was empty, as were the hunger and intoxication meters. He was able to check Erynn's profile, and this buried any doubts he could have hoped to have about coincidence or the like.
All the information was on the screen. Her name, her married name... his name was there. Her late winter birthday, job at a gift shop, short stature, even the size of her bra was dead on. He couldn't scroll through the rest of the HunieBee in-game app, but he had no need to. Everything he had already seen was enough to send his head spinning. Again he saw that none of the hearts were filled, and yet one of the only options he seemed to be able to click was the "Ask on Date" one, which stated that it would be a "Night Date" instead of a "First Date." The only other thing to do seemed to be to "Talk With Her," even though it was listed that no Hunie points would be awarded for doing so. Against his better judgement, he clicked the light blue button to engage her in Huniepop's version of conversation.
Sub: A brief explanation.
...And yes, I did say the three of you. That was not a typo. While you spent the past few months in a haze of booze and pot, Erynn told me that you had become as they say; comfortably numb. Everywhere. Maybe you didn't find her sexy since she gained weight, maybe you just lost your libido, but she hadn't lost hers. You may not have noticed, but she told me that she had been waking up in the night and getting sick, that she was weeks late. I've got no doubt who the father was, would have been. The plan was to tell you together, the two of us and you. It seemed obvious to me, but I guess you guys couldn't see that things were through.
Although she told me about your problems in bed, she had also once mentioned you still had a fondness for more 'animated' girls. I had a feeling that you would eventually get around to playing Huniepop. I don't know shit about programming, but my little brother does, and I'm a fair artist. I just wanted to tell you, to show you what I saw and experienced these past few months in a way that might actually make an impact on your slowly pickling brain. In a way, you have a right to know everything. Now you do. Maybe now I can get some closure, as for you, you're on your own. I imagine you have more questions, but I honestly don't care now. I sympathize with you for your loss, but I also never want to see or hear from you again. I hope we can at least grant each other that.
A message popped up in the text window. It read; "How long has it been?" with three choices of answers in the usual fashion. One was "Six Months or so." the next, "Almost a year" and finally "Over a year." Swigging another few fingers worth of scotch, he clicked the second option. Immediately another question appeared. "Are things easier now?" Jeff thought about his answer. His life was most definitely a bigger mess than it had ever been with court orders, fines, and guilt. He chose the answer reading "No. Thing have only gotten worse." This prompted a text reading "I sincerely wish that both of us had thought of that beforehand." Afterward, the main set of options came back up, except that "Talk With Her" was no longer a clickable choice.
The only other option was to go on a date. There was part of him, a really large and glaring part that told Jeff to just stop, and go to bed. Not to even think about what was happening until morning. But the slightly greater majority of his brain felt compelled to click the date button. Jeff was experiencing a strange combination of awe and despair. He hated thinking about his wife and what had happened to her, replaying everything he could remember about the night of the accident in a loop that sometimes robbed him of sleep for days on end.
There was also a sense now that, he was now in this. He was already ruminating about his current conundrum, as well as experiencing the familiar undertow of shame that he feared would tear him apart if he ever really sat and thought about it. If he didn't at least see this through to its end he would have yet another sense of unfinished business to throw on the ever growing pile. The best he could do for his conscience was to play this out a little longer before analyzing it. He clicked the date button.
The images on screen dissembled and faded to black as usual. The standard text faded in announcing that the setting was changing back to the bedroom. It appeared that there would be no formal date round this time. The bedroom appeared and the gameplay grid and girl slid into view. Erynn was standing on the screen, looking sad, or disappointed like she was in the previous screen, but this time in the fashion of the game, she was standing in her underwear. Whereas the in game girls typically had sexy, matching undergarments, she was instead, simply wearing an unflattering ensamble of a black padded bra, and dull blue panties.
There was no sound byte from her as there is in the standard bedroom rounds before gameplay commences, she just stood there for a few seconds before the tiles dropped into the grid. The tiles themselves were not the standard mix of varied colors and shapes, but instead were limited to two varieties, the broken heart tiles which drop the player's score, and a new, round, red tile that Jeff didn't recognize. As there were only two types, it was inevitable that there would occur several three-tile matches without any player input, in fact, Jeff found that if he tried to click in the puzzle grid, nothing happened, the tiles just kept matching, disappearing and being replaced from the top. Despite this, there was no score accumulating, the counter under the tile grid simply read a static "0/0" the entire time.
As there was really nothing to do, Jeff just watched the tiles match and drop, trying to figure out what the red tile tokens were. They were constantly in motion, so it was hard to get a good look, but they appeared to Jeff to look like smudged crimson eyeballs, or little red toned sonogram images. The more he studied them, the more they looked to him like the latter. Shifting his gaze back to the right side of the screen, he saw the half naked girl, his wife, staring back at him, never blinking or speaking like the girls always do in puzzle rounds.
After almost a minute of watching the tiles fall and match themselves, Erynn's image began to change. It flicked a few times, then was replaced by a distorted version of itself. The new Erynn remained static, her skin now pale and tinted blue. There were dark circles forming under her increasingly glazed over eyes. A small bruise appeared in the corner of her mouth. The tiles continued to fall as this new pale woman stared out from the monitor.
Jeff stared, barely comprehending what he was seeing, his hand had moved from the computer mouse and was limply covering his slightly open mouth. Almost before he could register what he was seeing, the image of his wife began to change again. The skin took on a more pallid hue, and became mottled with bruises and a spiderweb of veins. Splotches of purple and grey and sickly green covered her body. Dark streaks soon showed across the forehead, and from the nose of the girl, inky, clotted blood. Two deep gashes were visible, one on her leg, and another on her forearm, oozing rivulets of gore.
The sight was almost more than Jeff could take. He hadn't been awake when the ambulance and police had shown up at the scene of the car accident that had taken Erynn's life, but he was aware that she had lain there dead for several hours when he was passed out. The thought was something that he tried to push from his brain every day, but now it was here staring at him with glassy eyes. He closed his eyes tightly and a tear ran from between the lids down the crease of his nostril.
When he opened his watery eyes again, the tiles stopped dropping and the sound cue for winning a date round played. The word "Success!!" appeared over the grid as usual, but there was no closing dialogue. From his minimal research on the game, he knew that following the bedroom round a graphic and lewd picture was meant to appear onscreen. What Jeff saw when the screen faded back in made his insides sink, and brought a new wave of choking, dry sobs. The image that materialized was not an anime style drawing of a naked woman, but instead a dark and corrupted picture of a woman lying face up in a patch of dead grass, dark streaks running from her nose and a gash on her forehead. Grey veins could be seen creeping up her neck, and her eyes were darkly bruised. This must have been a photograph taken from the scene of the car wreck; this was Erynn before she was taken to the morgue, mere hours after her life had ceased.
Jeff buried his face in his hands and coughed out low moaning sobs. Huniepop closed itself and the standard desktop returned. There was a new notification from the e-mail app in the tray;1 New Message:
Sub: A brief explanation.
You are likely baffled and upset by what you have just experienced, but all will become clear, I hope, by the end of this correspondence...