Theo took advantage of there being no danger lying in wait at that spot to move away from the screen, with the controller still in his hands, to fetch a can of soda that was waiting patiently for him in the cool of the fridge. Outside, it was still just as muggy. There would be a storm tonight. While he waited for better weather for going out, he might as well keep playing. Besides, he really liked this intriguing game, and he had already spent too much time in that desert to give up now.
As soon as Theo touched a button, the soldier seized his gun and placed it in an aim position, ready to take action. Logically, this cathedral was an important element of the scene, and maybe contained the solution for getting out of the desert. Whichever the case, care was needed, as within the gothic structure numerous dangers no doubt lurked. Rather than go in through the main door, Theo made the soldier go along the wall to a small side door. The inside of the cathedral was dark and dusty, and there appeared to be no living soul within its vast walls of black stone. The soldier wove his way between the statues and overturned pews.
Suddenly, a shadow broke the stillness, and, immediately releasing the pressure that had built up, Theo ordered the soldier to fire a round in that direction. With a few strides, the soldier was standing over his enemy and on Theo’s screen appeared the blood-soaked body of a little girl with golden curls and the face of an angel.
“Shit”, muttered Theo. The image might have been a virtual one but it was so clear and realistic that the player felt a shudder of horror run down his spine. On the screen, the soldier crouched down, overcome by spasms, he vomited. It was the first time the character had behaved in this way.
Feeling uncomfortable, Theo loaded the last save point and the soldier was back as he had been ten minutes earlier in the shadow of the cathedral, the butt of his rifle resting on the hot sand. Like the previous time, Theo made the soldier enter through the small door, but when he was inside, he took care not to put the soldier in a firing position. He soon arrived at the site of the incident and waited. The little girl, full of life once more, came out from behind a colonnade. She rushed to the soldier who, without Theo having issued any command whatsoever, opened his arms to receive her. Then the little being leapt brutally at his throat and sank her teeth into it, ripping his jugular vein. The soldier fell to the ground, his blood draining rapidly from him. The defeat screen flashed up and the game loaded the last save point. The soldier was once more in the shadow of the cathedral.
Theo spent a few more hours getting irritated with the game but could not manage to find a solution. If the soldier killed the little girl, the screen gradually grew fuzzy, a sign that his character’s mental state was deteriorating, and he ended up shooting himself in the head without Theo having ordered him to do so; or else he died accidentally, as the commands were working increasingly badly. If the soldier tried to communicate with the little girl, she always managed to attack his throat, which caused the character to die. All the same, the way out of that burning desert had to be by going through the cathedral, Theo was sure of it. In a fit of anger, he uninstalled the game and forgot about it.
Years went by, during which Theo’s country experienced major crises. The inevitable happened and war broke out. Theo was called up and sent to fight overseas. One day, his unit suffered a terrible defeat, of which he was the only survivor. With the enemy in pursuit, he fled into a desert of burning dunes, hoping to discourage his adversaries from following him. He did indeed lose them, but there then began for him a long trek through the sand. Just when he thought he was lost, he sighted, in the distance, a high building the details of which he could not distinguish. Hope returned and he struggled towards it. As his faltering steps led him to the place, he could make out the building better. It was a huge cathedral. It rose up in the middle of the desert like an old man’s folly as he approaches death, ugly, misplaced and imposing.
Translated by Wendy Cross