by Steven Broe

Sammy sat down to face the daily chore of reading and deleting his e-mail. “70 new pieces of mail,” he read. “Groovy,” he thought, wearily.

After opening several packets of news, jokes, offers for international travel and the lowest possible interest rates on credit cards, Sammy fell into a pattern. “Delete, delete, delete.” And then he softly sang, “Spam, spam, spam, spam, lovely spam …,” until he came to a piece of mail from “Hangman” with the subject line, “I Hate You.”

Sammy grinned. “Probably a virus. Some copycat program of the Philippine ‘Love Bug.’ This is really lame.” He hit the delete key. He stopped to take a sip of his coffee. Only he didn’t. His left arm was missing.

“What the fuck!” Sammy leapt up.

Gone. His arm had just disappeared. No blood, no pain. His sleeve was even sewn up into a neat little terminus. “This is an emergency!” Sammy thought. “But if I call 911, they’ll think I’m crazy.”

Then he glanced at the computer screen. His e-mail program was gone.

In its place was a very simple diagram, showing a stick figure man on a platform, hanging from a noose. The Windows title bar said “Hangman.” The stick figure consisted of a head, torso, two legs.

And one arm.

In the background, Sammy could hear a MIDI version of a Rolling Stones anthem. Sammy mouthed the words silently: “Pleased to meetchoo… hope you guess my name.”

Five blanks for letter spaces. And the instructions, “Choose a letter: __” followed by a blinking cursor.

“And what’s puzzling you … is just the nature of my game!” A clock face appeared. “Time remaining: 60 seconds … 59 seconds… 58 seconds…”

Sammy went pale. He decided not to find out what happened at the zero mark. He typed a “D.” Good! Nothing happened.

Except on the screen—the first letter of Hangman was now filled in: “D _ _ _ _”.

A “V.” And again, nothing happened. Except his balance was gone. Sammy started to tip. Pulling himself upright with his one good arm, he looked down. Only one leg. No pain, just a body erasure.

Hangman was now missing a leg too.

“Something’s wrong here!” Sammy thought, panic coursing through his brain. 25 seconds remained on the clock. He typed an “L,” and he was left without a leg to stand on. He sweated as the clocked ticked down to the final seconds.

Then, with final exasperation, an “I.”

The words, “Time’s Up—You lose,” appeared, followed by, “The correct word was DEUCE.”

Then, this message appeared on the screen: “Thanks for playing HANGMAN.”

The head and torso that was once Sammy closed its eyes.

Besides a love of writing, Steve enjoys public speaking, Zen meditation, and practicing his bass clarinet.