1908 words (7 minute read)


Their tense confrontation was followed by a tense dinner with Jay’s parents, then a tense triage session in Jay’s room. Jay pulled out the Krave III box and gingerly removed the lid. One by one he slowly pulled out the disks. Five of the disks were in near-mint condition, their flimsy plastic shells capable of great endurance. The six disk, however, had a painful looking crease that ran diagonally from corner to corner. It was the “play” disk, the worst possible disk to lose, the one that actually booted up the game. Jay gingerly slipped it into the floppy drive, clicked the Krave III icon on his desktop, and then shrieked when his computer screamed out a rapid-series of clicks. His brain conjured up images of the read/write arm jackhammering his poor disk, and he mashed the eject button and cradled the disk in his arms.

The question now was what to do. They couldn’t play Krave III without the boot disk. The prospect of spending another fifty dollars (plus shipping) to get a second copy was daunting, as both Jay and Colin had burned through their summer jobsavings.

Jay paced back and forth. He didn’t want his disk to endure another clacking, but he couldn’t think of anything else to try. Jay slashed down Colin’s half-hearted suggestions (“try unbending it,” “use another drive?”), until Colin fell quiet and brooded in silence alongside him. Jay was considering if he could hit his parents up for some money, when Colin interrupted:

“We could try Stevie.”

Jay sat on his bed, head in his hands. If anybody could fix the disk, it was Stevie, and she’d take total satisfaction doing it. She’d probably leap at the chance to fix their game, and wouldn’t ask anything from them in return. Heck, she probably anticipated they’d someday break a disk, and already done the research on how to fix it. The thought of her smug smile made Jay want to rip his eyeballs out. God she was annoying. And she was their only hope.

Without a word, Jay handed Colin the rotary phone and pointed to the place on his wall where he’d written Stevie’s number. Blushing, Colin dialed.

“Um, hello? Stevie?”

As Colin laid out their problem, Jay listened in increasing annoyance, as Stevie’s murmurings more and more eager.

Stevie had a national honor society meeting at lunch, so they had to wait until fourth period. Then she insisted on using Jay’s computer time to make the repair. When they finally got to the problem, there was only forty five minutes left in class, and Jay was frantic. He was convinced the disk was deteriorating by the minute, and urged an emergency operation.

Stevie would not be rushed, though, and began a slow, thorough file scan. She opened disks two through six, copied their contents to the desktop, then meticulously went through all EXEs, DLLs, and CFGs, reading through their code in a text editor. Jay squirmed behind Stevie’s chair, looking over her shoulder. He hated having her read his code; it felt like a violation of privacy.

Finally, she picked up the boot disk, examined its crease, then ripped the metal safety shutter off. Jay turned white and groaned so loudly that Colin readied to catch him if he fainted.

“Don’t worry,” Stevie reassured. “That just keeps the dirt out.”

“I know,” Jay whispered back, furious, “but now dirt’s gonna get in!”

“It’s okay, we’re making a copy.” Stevie held up the shutter and pointed to a small bend in the metal. “See that? It wasn’t pulling back. The read / write arm was hitting it. I’ll bet that’s the clicking noise.”

Jay rolled his eyes and huffed. “Anyone would know that.”

They watched in awe as Stevie inserted the disk and dragged the files to the hard drive. The computer beeped harshly at them, informing the disk was corrupt. Jay sucked in, giving Stevie an “I told you so” look. But Stevie clicked through the files on the boot disk, until she found one that wouldn’t open. She dragged it into a word processor, and peered through its code, until she found lines that were asterisked-out. She paused, took a deep breath then began typing.

“What are you doing!?” Jay whispered.

She talked as she typed.“You’ve got a small scratch on the magnetic tape here. The computer can’t read it. I’m taking a guess, but I think I know what the code says.”

Jay held his breath and gripped the back of her chair, until his knuckles were white. In no other universe, under no other circumstance, would he ever let a person fiddle with the code of his favorite game.

Stevie finished, clicked “save,” then dragged the files back over. She clicked. The file opened. Stevie ejected the broken disk, and inserted a new one.

She beamed. “On the house.”

Jay carefully watched the files copy over to the new disk. When they were done, Stevie ejected it and handed it to over.

“Good as new.”

Jay looked at her in awe. “You mean it works?”

She shrugged. “It might.”

She seemed to remember something.

“Oh, and if you use that map editor much, you should put it on a separate disk.”

“What map editor?”

“The map editor on the boot disk.”

Jay leaned down. “Show us.”

In a whirlwind of clicks, Stevie dived into folders until she found one called “custom levels.” Jay and Colin leaned in.

Inside the folder was one tiny file, a white and blue icon resembling a globe, called ‘TheBuild.EXE.’


Jay took over the mouse and double clicked it.

Immediately, the screen filled with thick pixels, earth-toned greens and browns. It looked nothing like the dark reds and greys of Krave III. This was bright and colorful. Thick blue skies hung at the top of the screen. Below, trees swayed hypnotically back and forth. Tiny houses dotted between distant mountains. In front of everything was a bright red logo that read “The Build,” and then under that, in smaller text, “In Beta v0.85” Under the logo, a pixelated sign read: “Welcome to Dunam.”

Stevie pointed to the sign. “Is that a level you guys made?”

Jay ignored her and settled down into the chair. He clicked the mouse, and the screen changed. Now they were staring at a map of downtown Dunam. Jay looked at Colin.

“Did you do this?”

Colin shook his head.

Around the sides of the map were tiny icons. There was a zoom in / zoom out magnifying glasses, an image of a house, a tree, a hammer, a dollar sign, and a graph. Jay held down the mouse button and scrolled. He scrolled past Jewett creek, and highway 24. Then he scrolled up. Past his house. Up to the school.

“This is weird.”

“Is this, like, an easter egg?” Colin offered. “Would they... do that for every town?”

Jay shook his head as he scrolled. “If they do, we’re the first ones to find it. I’ve never read about anything like this. Hey, look at this.”

He pointed to the Dunam Mercantile. It was a dull olive green. “This is wrong. They painted it brown, how many years ago?”

“About a year and a half,” Stevie blurted.

“Check the Dulce Vita,” Colin offered.

The Dulce Vita was a trailer park that had burned down three years ago. It had been abandoned for several years, and was now, finally, being rebuilt. Jay scrolled across it. Sure enough, the trailers were all still in tight formation, as they were before the fire struck.

“Huh. Whoever did this had outdated information.”

Colin laughed softly. “Guess we gotta wait for version 0.86.”

Jay stared, puzzled. “How’s this possible? Krave III just came out. Why would they have an old map in here?”

“Why have Dunam at all?”

Jay scrolled and scrolled through endless trees, and then suddenly the scrolling stopped. “Huh. Here’s the edge of the map.”

The trees terminated into a blank wall of green. Some of the tree icons were sliced in half where the line ran through. Jay clicked on the “minus” magnifying glass and zoomed out.

“Where’s the rest of the world? Where’s Seattle? Where’s Portland?”

Stevie blinked. “It’s just a game, Jay.”

Colin pointed at the map. “Look at this.”

He traced highway 24 with his finger. It ran out of Dunam, followed the Skookullom, headed southwest. But then, at the very bottom, right before the map ended, it curved sharply upwards and headed north, before gradually looping back east, and coming back in through the top of Dunam, and turning onto Snowden road.

“Like a giant race track.”

“Why would they do that?” Jay posited.

“Well, they didn’t want the road getting cut off, so they connected it.”

“But why wouldn’t they just let the road end? I mean, who cares?”

Stevie and Colin shrugged. “Maybe they wanted to make driving more fun?”

Jay stood up from his chair. “Don’t touch anything.”

He went over to the bookshelf by the door. On the bottom shelf was a globe, and to its right were stacks of almanacs and atlases. Jay thumbed through and pulled out a Rand McNally atlas of Washington State. He folded back the cover and flipped open to the section that held Dunam. He flattened the atlas on the computer desk and grabbed a pen. Glancing between the screen and the map, he drew a border on the atlas, approximating the borders from the on-screen Dunam. He held the atlas up alongside the screen.

“Here.” He pointed to three small lakes in the upper right hand corner of the box he’d drawn.

“Where are these lakes?” He pointed to where, onscreen, there was only forest.

Colin shrugged. “They didn’t put them in.”

Jay pointed to four other lakes closer to Dunam. “They did with these, though.”

Stevie chimed in, happy to be of more assistance. “I think the real question is, why’d they ship this with your game?”

“Yes, great question.” Jay had his head down, over the map, eyes closed, thinking. Then he popped up and looked at Colin.

“Let’s go check it out.”

“Drive out there?”

“Sure. You got something better to do this weekend?”

Colin shrugged. The school bell rang, startling them. Jay glanced up at the clock and was surprised to see it was already 3:10. The other Tutorial kids leapt up and ran to the door. Jay held up the atlas and called to Ms. Rotchkey.

“Hey Ms. Rotchkey, can we hold onto this over the weekend? Colin and I are, uh... going for a hike.”

Ms. Rotchkey waved them away dismissively.

Stevie beamed. “Hey, I’m free this weekend; I can come with you.”

“Not a chance.” Jay rolled up the atlas and shoved it into his backpack. “But thanks for your help!”

Next Chapter: O Horizon