My friend Frank once told me how he liked to play God.
“I’ve been playing since I was little,” he said. There was an eagerness in him as he tapped his fingers against the counter, an excitement to share his story.
“I don’t remember you mentioning that before,” I said. We’d been friends since elementary school. Whatever game Frank played, I played too. Army soldiers in fourth grade, trading cards in seventh, video games in high school. Recently I’d taken up dart throwing with him at the bar.
“Nothing against you. Playing God is just a bit more complex than the games we were used to.”
“Too complex now?” I asked.
“No, certainly not.” He smiled. “It is, however, addictive.”
I shrugged. “Can’t be worse than drinking or smoking.” Frank kickstarted my relationship with both. I never had an interest until he did.
He pointed a shaky finger at me and burped. “Exactly, my thoughts exactly. That’s why I’m telling you this.” Frank relaxed into his seat. “Let me tell you how it started. I was probably six, maybe seven. Every Thanksgiving a slew of my extended family would come over. The house filled with relatives and some of us kids had to sleep in the living room. I claimed the couch, but my cousin Ronnie stole it from me. Had to sleep in a sleeping bag on the hardwood floor instead. Really pissed me off.”
I listened quietly, wondering how this would connect to whatever game he was talking about. Even in spite of his intoxication, Frank spoke with a contagious sort of charisma. I wanted to hear more.
“That night I was craving a midnight snack, so I tip-toed to the kitchen. I made a PB&J. When I was spreading the peanut butter, I realized I’d used a steak knife by accident. It sliced the side of my finger. I thought about the fact that, if I wanted to, I could kill Ronnie with it.”
“What the hell?”
Frank shushed me. “I obviously didn’t. You know Ronnie. He still comes to town. Love the guy. But he used to be a fucking brat and I thought about killing him that night.” He took a sip of beer and continued. “I stood over the couch holding the steak knife in my hand. I could choose which breath would be his last. Sure, there would’ve been consequences, but there was no denying that I was in control of his life in that moment. His life and his death. I was God.”
“Yeah, him too. I was omnipotent. Since then I’ve been placing myself in positions where I could kill people. The power trip is exquisite.”
I paused, then chose to humor him. “Did you ever play God over me?”
Frank’s face became tense for a moment before he let loose a chuckle. “Sure I did. I have with everyone.”
“What about Dana?”
“Oh, yes. It’s probably saved our marriage.”
“Plenty. I’m a God of mercy.”
“That’s one way to look at it, I suppose,” I said, no longer meeting his eyes.
“It’s not an easy game, you know.” He slid his newest empty bottle to the right, then slouched over the counter. I waited for him to clarify. He took a deep breath and said, “You’re not the first to find this out about me.”
“Who was first?” I asked.
“You remember my grandma? How she lived with my parents once she got sick? I was in my teens.”
“Well, anyway, I’d take a pillow and stand over her bed most nights. She might’ve noticed. It might’ve scared her.”
“Did she say anything? She didn’t live with you long before she passed.”
“That’s because I ended her suffering.”
“I’m sorry?” He was bound to start laughing in my face any minute, mocking me for being so gullible.
“When she was at her weakest, I struck before the illness could. She barely struggled.” His eyes stared left, focusing on the memory I couldn’t see. “That was the most power I ever felt, the most godlike. Really gets your heart racing.” Frank smiled softly in fond remembrance.
My stomach lurched as another moment passed, an opportunity for him to admit this was a farce.
“I think I better get going, Frank.” I slid off my stool and tried to avoid eye contact again.
“Hm?” Frank finally blinked and found my eyes anyway. “Oh, that’s okay, buddy. Say hi to Sarah for me, will ya?”
I nodded and hurried out of the bar, keys in hand, not caring about the tab. It was a quiet drive home. I thought of the times I’d stayed at Frank’s house when we were kids. When my own son had slept over with his children. Or how sometimes he and I would go hunting together, with no one there to watch us but the silent pines.
That night I sat awake in my bed considering Frank’s words. In a moment of curiosity, I pictured myself strangling him, my hands tight around his fat neck, his skin tinted with a purple hue. My chest began to throb and ache. I spent the midnight hour watching the bed sheets rise and fall with my wife’s every breath, the pendulum of my thoughts swinging relentlessly between both Frank and God until only one remained.
Michael Guidry currently attends Winthrop University in South Carolina, where he also works as a Writing Tutor. Michael’s passion for writing began in elementary school, where he wrote stories about heroes and monsters that he created. He likes to think his writing has improved since then.
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