A new board game always excited me as a child. Underneath the lid, a sea of bags delighted my eyes to the new realm in which I would live for the next couple minutes. It was a world molded by plastic with the pieces hinting at the game’s structure. My mind entertained several ideas of how to play and, more importantly, win the game at hand.
It was late at night and my uncle had come over to keep my sister and I company while our parents were out. He read the directions carefully, making sure my sister and I understood every rule of the game so that we could be successful in our mission. The game itself was cooperative, which would help us get out of our Tuesday blues, fostered by the constant rain tapping on the dining room window. It was not the only reason, but it was reason enough for now.
The game was fairly simple, our pieces would wander around the board which represented a bank. Once inside, we would work to open the vault in the dead center of the table. Our plan was fairly simple, each of us would take a different corner of the map and grab one of the four keys. My young mind allowed me to get fully immersed in the game, a blessing to keep us focused on something else.
The same day my little cousins were over to play as they often were. The pair was a boy of five and a girl of three and the weather was perfect for backyard adventures. All in all it was a near perfect day with the fun we had and the adventures we went on. As with any day though, my cousins had to leave when my aunt and uncle came to pick them up.
I remember them coming through the door, my uncle, a tall man with a full beard and a smile to match with my aunt following behind. They were laughing about something, probably a remark my aunt had made before opening the door. I always enjoyed seeing my uncle, he was a man I truly admired. He treated me like another son and it was like having two fathers all throughout childhood.
A conversation ensured where we talked about our adventure in the magic television box that took us to distant lands all day. Both pairs of parents asked questions and were involved in our conversation so that they too could picture our travels in their minds.
After the adults had their fill of our day, they ordered us to begin the ritual of cleaning up. My sister and I did the bulk of the labor due to our cousins’ ages but we never really minded as much as we complained. Lucky for us, cleanup was short anyway since the bulk of our time was spent decorating the television box and cutting up magazines. Despite the mess, we had made a masterpiece in our time machine with its random pictures of toys decorating it. That’s what gave it the power to travel, any kid could figure that out.
With a ton of protest, our cousins were packed up and ready to leave. My mother, ever the “baby hog,” went outside with my father to walk them out. We waited patiently for our parents to return as the rain began to fall. The only difference was, our parents did not come back, our uncle did.
We began the game slowly as every group does the first time they play a game. This game was a little less forgiving since we only had thirty minutes to win however. Despite his desire to win, our uncle would remind us of the rules, even if it meant we made less progress than we originally wanted to. It did not matter too much to us though, we were just excited to spend time with our uncle.
I found my thoughts straying from the game every now and then to ponder what my parents were up to. All I knew at that time was that my mother was in the hospital and that a hospital was a place where people went when they were very sick. Even though I knew people could die anywhere, I could not disconnect that point from hospitals. I guess that is just the way a young mind works.
My uncle brings my focus back on the game as the digital numbers continue to tick down on the vault one by one. It is my sister’s turn, and she was sneaking past the guard dog. Sadly, she woke the dog as her piece moved into its field of view. The only penalty in this game was a little bit of “jail time” but our heightened sense of anxiety made it into a big deal. My sister desperately runs from the dog in an attempt to make it to a key before it can. After several tense moments, she makes it into a new room. She has no key but at least she is safe, for now.
Our extended family owned a lot of property in the middle of nowhere Ohio. It was a great place for the extended family to gather. The place was huge with six man made lakes contained within it so every view was lakeside. My cousins and I would run around like we owned the place, exploring the woods around the edges of the property or just climbing on top of anything we could.
This particular day was spent wandering around a section of newly acquired territory. We were all curious what was back in those woods so we spent the day finding new places to escape from our parents. We were quite successful on this venture finding a gazebo and a small camping site with a dock. The whole place was perfect and we decided that we wanted to camp at this site for the night.
Most of us could fit on the golf carts and bikes but we had to leave two of our number behind for the second trip. This was a normal occurrence so no one thought anything of it.
The woods were so pretty as they grew smaller behind us. We hardly had time to see the view though, before it was broken up by the forms of our cousins running out of it. They were being hunted by the neighbor’s dogs and chased deep into the lakeside. The pair dove into the lake to escape the dog’s fury. They would be safe until we got to them.
I subdue the night guard and allow my uncle to secure another key. It seems remarkably easy to rob this bank but it could be because my game piece had better training than I did. My sister was still struggling to get her key from the dog so my uncle and I figured we should move to assist her. Too bad she was on the opposite corner of the board.
In a series of turns, my uncle and I confused the dog to draw it away from my sister so she could get the key and run to the vault but, once she started running, the dog chased her instead. We thought we had outsmarted the little figures of plastic but it seems that the dog had another trick up its sleeve. My sister and it were in a race to the center with each piece desperate to get an advantage on the other. No matter the result, it would change the nature of the game permanently, and we would have to work with that result. Our uncle would not allow us to cheat.
Our parents came home late that night and my mother had a cast on her arm. I relaxed a bit because everyone came home alive so that was good. A broken bone seemed like a major thing back then since nothing really tragic had happened in my life. Our mother told us that she tripped over one of our cousins and fell elbow first on the cement stairs. She broke it pretty good and she even joked how that was her special skill; breaking things and making my dad’s life more interesting. I did not exactly know how a body worked but I trusted my mother’s opinion on the matter.
Mom and dad thanked our uncle and he went home to his family. My sister and I were too awake to go to sleep. Our parents sat and talked with us in the family room until we grew tired and fell asleep on the couch.
We had it. Three of the four keys with my sister in position to get the last one. My uncle and I guarded the doors to the room to make sure she would have a straight shot right back to the vault. It was all wrapped up at this point with ten minutes still on the clock.
My sister grabbed the final key and prepared to run for the room when both the guard and the dog were alerted to her presence. She was cornered and there was nothing we could do about it. The guard took her to the bank’s holding cell and we devised a plan to break her out. We did need her since she had the tool we needed to break the last trap in the bank. Even though we had time, we could not take anymore setbacks. We had one last shot at this and it would have to work.
I can only remember parts of the day that my parents told me that my uncle had cancer. It was a new feeling that I didn’t quite understand about a new disease I’d never heard of. My first thoughts were about my mother’s arm a few years ago. It never healed correctly but at least she could use it mostly. Maybe it would the same for my uncle although, I did not know what part of him was hurt. He seemed alright.
My parents did the normal parenting thing by telling me that everything would be alright, many people live through it and of course no I don’t also have cancer. The only change that I could visibly see in my uncle’s appearance, was that he had less hair on his head but I didn’t mind that much. As far as I was concerned, nothing bad could happen. I knew old people died at some point but my uncle wasn’t old so there was no way that anything bad could happen to him. It would be like mom’s arm, a long recovery and he would be mostly alright afterwards.
Besides, I also knew people who survived diseases like cancer and my parents told me stories that helped me believe it was possible to beat in the end. My grandmother was a prime case of this since she survived stage four colon cancer with low odds of survival. We’re a tough breed, my dad told me so don’t worry about it. He also reminded me again that no, I did not in fact also have cancer. I may have been quite the hypochondriac.
It took some time, but we got my sister out of the cell she was stored in. We made a mad dash to the room we knew had the key in it so my uncle and I could screen for my sister. The guards were right behind us and the hallways just kept getting narrower. Since it was a board game, we could thankfully always see the guards but it did not mean we could outrun them forever.
We got my sister to the door and my uncle and I stayed outside to guard the door. Only time would tell who could win this fight. Only problem was that time was not on our side. We only had two more minutes.
Throughout a year of cancer treatment, my uncle was looking better and it seemed as though he would make it through this in the end if his doctors could ever stop finding new growths that formed around his body. I did a lot more hanging out with my uncle, mostly favoring video games with him and my father throughout the day. My uncle’s cancer never really bothered me because I was constantly reminded that people lived through it all the time and besides, video games are the best medicine I had ever seen.
Life was like a game to me and I was in control. Life was good for the most part and while my uncle had cancer, he was strong of body and mind and seemed to have the ability to beat his cancer, whatever that meant. I had never known anyone with the kind of superpower to beat a disease with force of will but I wanted to learn that power so that I could live forever. I felt it would come in handy next time I got a cold or something.
The guards took down my uncle and I in a relatively short amount of time. It seemed that we might not be meant for this life of crime as we originally thought but we still had my sister and she still had time to make it to the vault. The guards were quite distracted and even though the capture of the rest of the group wasn’t ideal, we would all make it through to victory or defeat together. We win and lose together, that’s how family works.
My uncle hit a rough patch in his cancer treatments and did a lot of laying on the couch. The man who taught me how to play Starcraft and often sang while playing guitar was reduced to a tired husk of who he once was. It was depressing to see his state of being change so suddenly but I was told that even though it didn’t look good, we would never give up. You can never give up on family.
His daughter never really seemed to understand the gravity of her father’s plight. She would joyfully squeal that her father looked like an alien without his hair and that would make him smile. My uncle always loved his family and his family always made him smile, even in dark times such as these.
That was also when I asked if I could show my uncle my new guitar skills that I taught myself over the course of the previous week. He had tried to teach me to play before and I desperately wanted to show him the only song that I knew. My aunt said he was tired though and needed rest which made sense to me. I needed rest when I was sick too, it’s the way of the world and besides, I can always show him next week.
My sister was coming up to what was going to be a buzzer beater as the dice would not cooperate. My uncle and I sat in jail waiting anxiously to see if she would be able to pull it off before we ran out of time. That’s the funny thing about clocks, they never seem to work with you as they tirelessly pound forward.
It was going to be a close one, one key to deliver and thirty seconds to do it. All our work, time and planning leading up to this moment. Just a segment of hallway in front and an army of guards behind her. Could she do it?
That night, my uncle was in the hospital which was becoming a more frequent occurrence than any of us would have liked. It had scarcely been a week and I desperately wanted to show him my new guitar skills.
I had just started seventh grade in a new school and a new home without the time to properly concentrate on any of the newness. Every single thing seemed like a huge occurrence but none more than my uncle’s hospital trips, especially now that I had grown to understand how these treatments worked. I still feared hospitals but since he had gone so many times, I figured he would come home just like he always did.
I always felt better when he was at home, as nothing can go wrong there even though he has been lying there sick for months. At least doctors could not hurt him here. If I could see him, I could watch over him and make sure he was alright.
I remember asking why my Uncle didn’t go to work anymore because he was going to get better right, but my parents only told me that it didn’t look good at all. My grandmother was watching my sister and I that night while my parents were at the hospital with my aunt. We were watching movies about orphans who find their parents or good homes in an attempt to lighten the mood of the house. It seemed rather serious this time.
Even though I was not allowed to be there, I can vividly picture the scene at the hospital that night. My uncle on life support, surrounded by his close friends and family as they waited for him to get better and stand back up. There was no more chances of that outcome though and my uncle passed into the night as my family sang music to help ease his passing. I had never seen someone die but I don’t think I ever want to watch their clock hit zero and see only the remains.
The timer beeped signaling the end of the game. We didn’t make it. The clock flashes zero and the alarm makes a blaring noise like you would hear at the hospital as a heartbeat flatlines.
About the Author
Jayce Rubel is a writer of fiction and creative nonfiction from central Ohio. He is currently working to finish a collection of short fiction pieces while completing his fine arts degree in creative writing at Bowling Green State University.