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Shoot

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

It was the highest stakes game of rock-paper-scissors ever played.

“Rock, paper, scissors, shoot!”

Another draw. We both sat back, exhausted. Sweat dripped from my forehead and I could feel my ears burning red. Joe sat across from me on the floor. His normally tan complexion had grown pale and there was a visible tremor in his shoulders.

“Twenty-seven out of fifty two?” He asked, wiping his nose on his sleeve. I leaned back against the wall. This was the highest stakes game of rock-paper-scissors ever played. To lose meant certain destruction, if not death. To win was freedom.

We both glanced at the door. A neon light buzzed within.

“We could do it together,” I ventured, haltingly. The moment the words were through my lips, I knew it was a hopeless suggestion.

“There’s no way I’m going in there if I don’t have to.” Joe said flatly.

“Fine,” I said with a sigh, “Twenty-seven out of fifty-two.”

What should my move be this time? Last time, we both picked rock. I had noticed that Joe had been picking that option with increasing frequency as the game progressed. After all, wasn’t a clenched fist the easiest hand shape to make? Maybe it was his default. It took more energy to contort your hand into a scissors and a lot of commitment to offer your hand, perfectly flat, to your opponent. The rule was that it had to be exact upon “shoot!” If there was any fumbling, a pause, or any change after the presentation, the point would default to the opponent.

My mind briefly wandered to people who played this game in competitions. There must be official rules, a handbook somewhere. There must be some dude in a tracksuit and sweatbands doing finger exercises and calling it a “sport.” Some dipstick out there was the “world champion” of this stupid little game. But, I thought, not even that guy (or girl — look, there I was being sexist assuming that it was a man) knew true risk of the game; not like what we were facing.

I’d much rather be facing one of those losers than Joe. Those guys would have a top-notch strategy. I bet they were great at statistics and reading their opponents. In all the years I’d known Joe, he wasn’t much one for strategy or thinking that deeply about odds or manipulation. He’d always been honest and innocent to the core. I wouldn’t care if one of the competitive players lost. I didn’t want to have to sacrifice Joe. But, it was either him or me.

“We doing this or what?” he asked. I nodded, unable to speak. I had to get my mind back on track.

If he had chosen rock last time, would he choose it again? Was he planning or just blindly throwing out whatever first came to mind? He could choose paper if he thought I would stick with rock again… but only if he thought that I thought he was going to change. But what if he thought that I thought that he would stay the same? What if he thought I was going to do paper because he thought I thought he was going to stick with rock? Then, he could choose scissors.

What if he was thinking what I was thinking? What if he were a mind reader? No, that wasn’t possible. Not after that awful Christmas present last year. Definitely not a mind reader.

“You ready?” I asked. He sat forward and prepped his hands. We both took a staggering breath.

“Rock… paper… scissors… shoot!” We shot, and there before us, again, were two rocks. “Oh, come on!” he cried in frustration. He smacked his knees and buried his face in his hands.

We sat back, exacerbated. This was taking a toll on my nerves. A soaking V of sweat was beginning to show on the chest of Joe’s shirt. I clearly wasn’t any better for the wear.

“I can’t take this anymore.” Joe said, his voice shaking.

“There’s no choice. Not unless one of us wants to sacrifice ourselves.” Joe was silent.

“Maybe,” I said after a moment’s pause, “Maybe it won’t be so bad. We’re not the first to face it. It’s for the good of everyone we love. If one of us doesn’t do it, someday one of them will.”

“Easy for you to say!” He said, glaring at me, “You’re just trying to psyche me out — distract me and soften me up! All your heroic talk; you’re full of it. You’re no more willing to go in there than I am! You’re just saying all that so I do it willingly! I’ll die in there!”

“You don’t know that.” I said, feigning confidence, “Just because no one’s lived to tell the tale doesn’t mean that you couldn’t escape practically unharmed — ”

“Practically unharmed!” Joe exclaimed, “Listen to you!”

“Well then, we could draw straws? Or draw a name out of a hat.”

“No.” he said, his face growing somber, “If we do that, whoever loses will say the other cheated somehow and then we’ll be right back to where we are now. No, I like this way better. It’s our choices which will decide the winner.”

“Alright, then let’s go another round. You ready?” I asked. Joe sat up and cracked his neck and fingers.

This was it. Someone was going to win, and someone was going to die.

“Rock…paper… scissors…shoot!”

We balked in amazement. Before us were, again, two rocks.

“Pick something other than rock!” He shouted, slapping my hand away.

“Well, why don’t you!” I shouted in return.

“Let’s just get this over with.” He said.

“Fine.”

“Rock… paper… scissors… shoot!”

Joe sat back, stunned. His fate was sealed. He had, again, chosen rock. I had chosen paper. I let out a cry in exaltation, but my delight was short lived. Joe began to stammer incoherently and ran his hands through his hair.

“I — I can’t do it!” he cried.

“You can,” I said, placing my hands on his shoulders.

He stood, forlorn, and trudged to the door. He picked up the weapons which lay by the doorframe. He gave one fleeting, pleading look back to me, but seeing my face unyielding, he steeled himself and rushed inside. As I heard his shouts of horror and pain, I said a small prayer for his soul.

I stood and wiped the sweat from my brow. It was an ordeal I would not soon forget.

But, at least I didn’t have to clean the bathroom.

Kelsey is a Pomeranian lover and a plot twist enthusiast based in Phoenix, Arizona.

For Reedsy’s curated feed of writing prompts and the chance to enter our prompts-inspired Short Story Contest, head to reedsy.com/writing.

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Kelsey CM Kelleher

Kelsey is a "happily-ever-after addict" and Pomeranian lover from Phoenix, Arizona. She is a Master's Degree Candidate in Creative Writing & Literature.