ago, I was a computer development lecturer; working with small classes, teaching them how to code and design their own games. In one class – my last class – I had a student named Tom, a very intelligent boy with a great mind for game design. However, he later showed himself to have… demons.
One day over the summer holiday, I received an email from Tom, saying he would be leaving my class, but attached was a game folder called ‘Bead Dice Sky’. What followed was a sickeningly accurate portrayal of the events which had occurred a few days before, including the brutal murder of one of my other students. After passing this to the police, I was moved to a small countryside town by the Witness Relocation Programme, cutting all my ties with the city I had lived in all my life.
Soon after my relocation, Tom was sentenced to five years in a psychiatric hospital due to ‘diminished responsibility’ and he would wear an electronic tag to monitor his whereabouts for the rest of his life. When I read this, I was apprehensive. His mental state had saved him from prison, but the fact he would be monitored for life made me feel safer. I breathed a sigh of relief and tried to live as ‘normally’ as I could in my new home.
It’s been just over two years since Tom left the psychiatric hospital. I assumed he went and lived with his parents again or possibly in a secure home to tend to his…needs. My life had normalised at this point. I had a job at the town library and ran a computing night class at the local secondary school. I arrived home one night to find two letters and a small, brown parcel on my doormat. The letters were standard bills, but the parcel intrigued me. I hadn’t ordered anything online and the few people I knew in this town wouldn’t post me anything. It seemed to have one small, rectangular item inside. Overcome with excitement and curiosity, I opened the parcel. The item turned out to be a small, plain USB drive. There was also a letter in with it and, upon reading the scratchy torn page, my heart sank in a way I hadn’t felt in seven years.
I hope you’re well and enjoying you life in the countryside.
I’d like to say I have been good too, but I can’t. After you BETRAYED me, I have spent five years in a ‘loony bin’, being tended to by orderlies with fake smiles and distain for all those within its walls. I didn’t belong there. You of all people should have known that!
Anyway, I’m out now and very happy living with my parents once again. They look at me differently now, like I’m about to snap at any moment. I keep telling them it wasn’t me…Tristan told me to kill her. They would have never known about Becky or Tristan, if it wasn’t for you…
If it wasn’t for you, betraying my trust
I trusted you. I thought we were friends.
I still remember everything you taught me in the two years you taught me. I’ve got a lot better since my last game, and I thought you’d like to be the first person to see it.
We’ll see you very soon,
After reading this, I ran to my phone and rang my contact within the Witness Relocation Programme and read him the letter. He told me to remain calm and proceed with caution while they traced Tom’s electronic tag. He told me as long as they knew where he was then I was safe.
I put the phone down, still shaking with fright. I wondered how he had found me. My brother didn’t know where I had been moved to, yet Tom had found out. Another wave of terror washed over me when I reread the final line – We’ll see you soon. We? Was someone helping him? Or did he mean his other personality, Tristan?
I ran to my front door and locked it. I closed all my windows and curtains. I laid on the couch in the foetal position, failing to remain calm and letting my mind flood with the repressed memories of Becky and the incidents that occurred almost a decade before. I laid there for an hour before the terror that immobilised me passed and was replaced with another feeling – curiosity.
I sat up and looked at the table, where the small, grey USB drive lay. Should I?, I thought with a great deal of trepidation. Before I entertained the thought too much, I contacted the Police back and asked them if I should. He informed me that they have tasked a police unit to my house as a precaution, but any information taken from the game may be beneficial in the investigation. Knowing Tom, he would have left some clues in the game’s levels.
I waited for them to arrive before slowly taking the USB over to my computer with the caution of a bomb disposal unit. I inserted it into the PC and open the folder. There were three files in on the USB, one .exe file, one .txt file and a .gif file all with the same name – “Oath Ruin Sky”.
I ignored the picture file – the last one was horrifying enough from what I was told – and loaded the game file. The window sputtered to life on my desktop, showing a dark cloudy skyline with the word ‘TRUST’ written across it in a large stone letters. The occasional strike of thunder and lightning brought an end to the silent scroll of cloud. The ominous feel of the title screen captivated me for several minutes, partially trying to anticipate what was to come. There was one option under the large monolithic title, ‘BEGIN’.
The screen faded to black and reappeared later as an extremely detailed rendering of a court, complete with judge, jury & gallery. Towards the right was a very familiar sprite with light brown hair, a red t-shirt, dark blue jeans and red and white shoes. This was Tom – the same sprite he used for himself in his last game, only a lot more detailed. The other characters on screen moved subtly, as though they were living, breathing people. The level of detail boarded on disturbing. His sprites seemed almost alive apart from the dead, lifeless eyes that everyone had bar himself.
What came next is what seemed to be the end of his trial, the judge, moving jerkily as if struggling to breathe:
“JUDGE: …You have been sentenced to FIVE YEARS in RAMPTON SECURE HOSPTIAL, where you cannot be a danger to yourself or others around you.”
The crowd and jury looked from side to side jerkily, their faces not changing. They looked grey, almost like they had been drained of life. Tom’s head dropped and the screen faded around him, leaving only Tom’s sprite in the centre of the darkness. His clothes faded away and changed to white overalls. A small, white room faded in behind him, completely void of colour. ‘DAY 25’ appeared above the standing character in stark black writing. Text began to scroll across the bottom of the screen and wavered left and right:
“This is your fault. I told you not to send him your game. What did you have to prove? You would have got away with it as well. No one would believe poor little Tommy could do such a thing…”
Tom went and sat on the bed before crumbling into a ball. Tears began to fall from his detailed eyes.
“Look at you now… Stuck in this, this PRISON for the next FIVE YEARS! All because you felt you could trust that teacher. All because you didn’t think he’d have the nerve to report your work to the police! Well, look at you now…”
I sat there, stunned at what I was reading. Did Tom blame me for his actions? What did he think I was going to do when he sent me the game? This other voice, which I assumed was Tristan though he wasn’t on screen, was trying to blame me for what had happened. For him getting caught and being sent to that hospital. The image of Tom sobbing on his bed lasted for about two agonising minutes before he started to shake and stood from his bed, fists clenched by his side:
“TOM: SHUT UP! Just shut the HELL up! This isn’t his fault! It’s YOUR fault! You made me follow Becky. You made me attack her. You made me bury her. You! You! You!”
Tom was jumping at the walls and running erratically. His anger made his face red as he panted through exhaustion. Suddenly, he fell to the ground with an audible thud. He began to sob again before a rectangular light arrived from the right of his room:
“NURSE: Time for your medication, TOM”
The screen faded back to black once again, and remained like this for several agonising seconds. It gave me a chance to think about what I was doing. I looked back out my window. Both policemen were still stationed outside my door while another was patrolling around the rear of the property. It was surreal for that all of this was set up in less than three hours. Perhaps they saw this as a serious threat and were as concerned about my well-being as I was. I composed myself before returning to my desk to continue the game.
The next few in game days went almost identically to the first day, with the number seemingly growing randomly. Tristan would blame me for turning him in and Tom for being week, before Tom would explode by screaming at Tristan until the Nurse arrived with his medication. Tristan’s lines were different each time. The one’s I took note of still resonate with me:
DAY 53 – “You think he cares about you? You think that he’s done all this for your own good? Don’t be naïve, TOM. You’re in here because he’s SCARED of you. Scared of what you can do!”
DAY 97 – “You don’t trust me, TOM? I’ve been by your side your whole life, inside you. I AM YOU, TOM! If you weren’t so weak, you’d understand how much I look out for both of us!”
DAY 130 – “You need to believe me, TOM; I only had your best interests in mind. You needed to step up, to stop people pushing you around and belittling you! You’re better than this, you always have been!”
Tristan’s tone seemed to shift from accusing to sympathetic, almost like he was trying to convince Tom he was on his side.
Up until this point I was still waiting to take some meaningful control of Tom or, well, anyone. A couple of the days I could walk Tom around the small room, but with no other options open to me apart from laying on the bed. That was until DAY 255, when the control was given to me in a sinister turn.
From this point we played after the nurse left the room, leaving a small tray of blue pixels, indicating his medication. Tristan’s waving text popped up again:
“You know what must be done…”
Then a new box appeared in the top left hand corner of the screen. It read ‘OBJECTIVE: Hide MEDICATION so the NURSE will not find it.’ A timer appeared with two minutes showing on it, indicating how long until the nurse returned. As I took control, Tom picked up the blue pixels and his head began to move left and right, as if he was looking for a hiding place. An actions menu, as you’d find in an old text adventure game, indicated where Tom could try and hide them. There were four options; BED, TRAY, TOILET, PANTS. At first two of these seem like trick solutions. Hiding them on or under the tray would be too obvious and pants seemed far too comical for this game. I chose TOILET, to which Tom approached the slap of off-white pixels, opened the lid, placed the tablets into the bowl and flushed. The Nurse came back in later, a small female character with ginger hair, nodded and left the room. This game continued three or four times. Each time the game was ‘won’, the screen would give a short, sharp static burst, like an old television changing channel.
Intrigued, I decided to hide the pills in a place I knew the Nurse would find it, to see what would happen. After the nurse left the room, I hid the pills under the tray. When the time ran out, the Nurse arrived and, immediately, an exclamation mark appeared over her head. She left the room, and re-entered with two comically large orderlies, with no hair and huge muscles. Suddenly, there was a deafening, high pitch screech. They ran at Tom, pinned him to the wall and the smaller nurse forced the pills down his throat, all the while Tom was struggling and the screeching tone got higher and higher, it suddenly stopped. The orderlies dropped Tom with the thud, and he lay on the floor, all the while Tristan’s text floated at the bottom.
“I trusted you…and you failed me…”
After about five seconds of this incessant buzzing, it abruptly stopped, restarting the game at the beginning of the previous day. It was such an unpleasant assault on the senses, I decided to try my hardest not to let it happen again.
This repeated around four more times, each time the time limit decreased. The final of these missions, DAY 1825, the ending changed dramatically. After the medication was hidden and the nurse left, Tom walked to his bed and laid down, slowly closing his eyes, a wild smile left on his face. A blue tint fell over the screen. And the room expanded passed the large black borders that had inhibited the room earlier. Beyond the room were silhouettes of large trees, superimposing their shapes onto a narrow stone path. The light peeking between the large pines showed the effort that went into this part of the game. Tom hopped down from his bed and a new objective appeared at the top of the screen.
‘OBJECTIVE: Find TRISTAN’
A chill went down my spine. Although I suspected the voice belonged to his alter-ego, the fact he manifests in this game made me uneasy. I took Tom down the path, which twisted and turned at right angles for a good five minutes. Every now and again the television static noise returned, now accompanied with either a flash of lightning or a glitch. Eventually, I reached what must have been Tristan. It was an identical character model as Tom, but taller, wider and in a vivid red colour pallet in contrast to Tom’s dull blues. He appeared to be laughing as Tom approached, before stretching out his arms and embracing the boy. Then he spoke his bold red writing, slithering like a snake across the bottom of the darkness:
“TRISTAN: You have done well, TOM. I am proud of you! I told you to trust me and not that snake of a man you called a teacher…Tomorrow we shall both be free of this PRISON, and we can begin to plan our REVENGE!”
That last work shimmered as the rest of the screen and words faded into a midnight blue.
Stunned with shock, I sat staring at the quivering red text for what felt like an eternity. I started to shake myself before bolting for the phone, peering out the window sporadically to make there were no unsavoury characters around. I told the police on the phone what the game had shown me so far. There was a deafening silence from the other side of the phone. Agitatedly, he said he had to go and would call me back, before abruptly hanging up the phone. I sat by the phone, mesmerised by the silence which seemed to encompass the entire room, the entire world to my knowledge. So many questions raced through my head; why did Tristan blame me? If he knew I would turn him in, surely Tristan could have…stopped Tom from sending me the files. Was Tom just a vessel for Tristan to act through now? Did the medication keep Tristan at bay? What ‘Revenge’ did Tristan have in mind?
The ringing of the phone made me jump out of my chair. Still shaking, I picked up the phone to silence yet again. The news the policeman eventually came back to me with took me off my feet. Firstly, he informed me that they traced Tom’s tag to a river close to the university campus where I used to teach at. Terrifyingly, that’s all they found – his tag. He had smashed it off his ankle, leaving a small puddle of blood where it lay. Secondly, they said they had no luck contacting Tom’s…Tom’s parents, so they were going to send a patrol to his house as soon as they could.
I felt sick. My head was spinning. He was coming for me… to kill me. Tristan was bringing his host to enact revenge for what I’ve done. There was no stopping him.
I asked the policeman what I should do. He knows where I live, that was abundantly clear. He told me to stay where I was, as his officers could keep me safe as long as they knew where I was. They knew Tom was coming for me, so as long as they knew where I was they knew where he was heading.
I returned to my computer desk. I put my head in my hand to try and make some sense of what was going on, of what was happening to my life. It suddenly dawned on me that I couldn’t. This was happening and I would just have to ride it out and let the professionals take care of it. I looked up at my screen and the same blood red text shimmered, but now it filled the entire screen.
I pressed enter to continue, to remove that awful word if nothing else. The screen faded from blue to black, then re-emerged as a familiar site. It was a bedroom, with exquisite detailing. In fact, it was almost identical to where this ‘journey’ all began, in Tom’s in-game bedroom. Even the graphics had regressed from their highly animated pixel art to the original, more basic design of Pokemon Gold & Silver. This is where it started…all this trouble and death…here, in this very room.
There were some concerning differences between the room that was now etched into my memory. The posters which used to hold pictures of rock bands and gaming heroes now were black with indiscriminate scribbles across them in white and red. The television was on the floor and surrounded by the remnants of his various games consoles. The meticulous details were still here, even in this lower resolution. The static buzzes and glitches were loud and often as Tom’s sprite huddled in the corner, slowly moving left and right, almost as if he was pacing. Abruptly, the flickered bright whites and grey. Then, when all had settled, Tristan was there, manifest in the middle of the room. His spite was now identical to Tom’s, except for his clothes, which seemed to be comprised of regal blues trimmed with gold.
“TRISTAN: It’s time…Our destiny awaits beyond that door”
Tom’s sprite slowly walked, one large step at a time, towards Tristan’s glistening figure.
“TOM: I…I don’t think I can do it. No…no I WON’T do it! You can’t make me!”
Tom ran towards his bed and jumped onto it. Tristan seemed to shake his head before walking over to the bed. A hand extended and rested on Tom’s quivering head.
“TRISTAN: Oh, TOM. We can’t stop now. Not after all the time we’ve put into this. Don’t you TRUST me? Did you LIKE being in that mental house? Did you deserve to be there? I think we deserve better, that YOU deserve better. You need to believe that…It’s the only way we can be at peace…”
Tom stopped shaking and rose from the bed. A small nod indicated Tristan’s pep talk was successful. Tom walked towards the door and into the hall. I took control again, the windows were dark as well as the hall. A new objective appeared. ‘OBJECTIVE: Escape the HOUSE…at all costs’. The last three words made me wary, and I slowly made my way down the wide hallway, avoiding the obstacles as they lay on the floor.
I wondered if each door and detail would have the rich flavour text they had in the last game, but I didn’t want to risk learning what Tristan meant by ‘at all costs’. I reached the top of the stairs with a strange feeling of accomplishment, like I had dodged a bullet.
I arrived down stairs and there was a straight beam of light which came from the glass panes of the door. My objective changed to ‘OBJECTIVE: Collect BAG”. Beside the couch was a small blue rucksack, which I slowly made my way over to. The scroll of items which came next was visceral in its detail
“TOM obtained KITCHEN KNIFE
TOM obtained WOODCUTTERS AXE
TOM obtained ROPE
TOME obtained DUCT TAPE”
This was all for me, I thought to myself, now too numb with fear for it to effect my body anymore.
The objective marker now flashed to escaping the house an excited yellow. I got closer and closer to the door. Then, as I was two steps from the end of this tense section, I lost control of Tom. I knew I wouldn’t like what was to come.
“???: …TOM? What are you doing up? Where are you going?”
A silhouette emerged at the top of the stairs. It was Tom’s mother. I could almost hear her soft tones, filled with sleepless confusion. She walked down towards her son and Tristan until they were a step apart.
“TRISTAN: Stop her! She’ll ruin all our plans!
TOM: She’s my MUM! She only wants what’s best for me, just like MR…
MUM: Who are you talking to, dear? Let’s get you back to bed. C’mon…
TRISTAN: STOP HER NOW! WE WILL HAVE OUR REVENGE!”
The battle noise sounded and the feeling of nausea fell over me when I saw the next screen. In the foreground, there was the heads and upper torsos of Tom and Tristan. To the right of them sat two health bars, their names hanging above them. In front of them, stood Tom’s mother, brown greying hair, small gold trimmed glasses and baby blue pyjamas with small anchors on. She had a confused look on her face, which was portrayed further by the small birds floating around her head at the beginning of the ‘fight’
Four options appeared to me. ‘Use KITCHEN KNIFE’, ‘Use WOODCUTTERS AXE’, PUNCH and RUN. I pressed ‘RUN’, hoping there may still be a way out of this situation. Unfortunately Tristan was there to scupper this idea.
“TRISTAN: What are you DOING? You can’t run. Not now, not after all we’ve done. TRUST ME! You will be happier this way…”
I returned to the main screen with the ‘RUN’ option replaced with another ‘PUNCH’ option. I chose this option as it seemed to be the least deadly. Tom’s character jolted forward and about a quarter on his Mum’s health bar drained. Her sprite when from standing and confused to sitting on the floor, blood and tears flooding from her face, terrified.
“MUM: TOM, no! You’re not that person anymore. Please, I love you, don’t do this!
TOM: Don’t make me do this! I don’t want to do this!
TRISTAN: …we’ve come too far, we must have revenge…Finish her”
I lost control.
“TOM used KITCHEN KNIFE.”
His mother’s health bar ran quickly from green, to yellow, to red as her health decreased. As she lay, dying. Her sprite was now lying on the ground, blood oozing from a wound in her side. The screen flickered excessively with glitching static effects. I winced when I saw another sprite swept in from the left hand side of the screen. A tall man, thinning brown hair, large glasses, a dressing gown coving full length argyle pyjamas.
“DAD: What’s going on dow…VAL?...TOM, What are you doing? Wh…What have you done to your Mother?
TOM: I didn’t want to, but TRIS…
TRISTAN: SHUT UP! You need to remove him too, or we’ll be going back to that fucking hospital for the rest of our lives. Kill. Him. Now!”
The controls worked independently of any inputs I gave it.
“TRISTAN made TOM use WOODCUTTERS AXE.”
Tom’s father’s sprite immediately disappeared. Leaving nothing but his prone mother, Tristan’s head and a shuddering Tom.
“TOM: You BASTARD! Why did they have to suffer? It didn’t include them. It was just you, me and the teacher, that’s all!
TRISTAN: Trust. Me. It’s for the best. They’ll be happier after we are free and no longer encapsulated by our rage…
TOM: YOUR rage! YOUR anger! I don’t want to kill anyone! I want to move on with my life but YOU keep dragging me back.”
Tristan turned towards Tom and leant closer, until their foreheads were touching.
“TRISTAN: One. More. Then we can both move on. Trust me…”
The screen went black once more. I was shivering. Not with cold, but with anxiety, as if I was always expecting something else.
Did…Did Tom actually kill his parents? Or was this just in the game? The only other person to die in one of Tom’s games had died in real life, so I thought the worst.
I looked back at the screen to see Tom and Tristan walking through a pitch black void, turning occasionally like they were avoiding invisible obstacles. This continued, almost like a loading screen, for about five more minutes before they stopped, both looking up and away from the screen. The screen faded back in. Once more, my heart sank lower. Tom and Tristan were gazing up at the library where I work. They were in my town, or at least a beautifully rendered, pixelated version of my town.
“TRISTAN: We’re here. We’re almost free
TOM: I don’t want to do this. We can be free without all of this. You need to stop thi…
TRISTAN: SILENCE! WE WILL HAVE OUR REVENGE! Follow me…”
What followed next was Tristan leading Tom through the streets and avenues of my town, walking the exact route I do when I return home from work. Through the park, left passed the post office, everything down the minutest detail. My neighbours were there, the local stray cats, everything. Then they arrived in my street and stared up at my house. A simple objective slowly faded in. This was it.
“OBJECTIVE: Get our REVENGE”
It gave me control and I had only one way to go, up towards my front door. I knocked the door before entering. I entered the door and…and there I was…In the same clothes I had worn the last time I had seen Tom.
“TOM: I’m sorry…”
He quickly moved forward and barged into me, a quick blade sound played, followed shortly after by my character slowly hitting the floor, blood enveloping the carpet around him. The screen went dark apart from me and Tom. Tristan rose upwards, spinning into the air. Tom began to shudder and shake as my eyes closed. Tom stood, turned, and revealed a red face, void of compassion and full of bloodlust and anger. The static grew louder and louder as Tom’s face became more and more contorted, curling into a devilish grin. Then, a word appeared from the top of the screen in large, stone letters.
Then, I heard a short, sharp knock on wood panelling and the door swung open…
The policeman who entered my house that day brought both good and bad news. The good news was that they had found Tom before he had reached the town. The bad news is that they found his lifeless body in the wood on the town’s borders, killed by a suspected self-inflicted knife wound in the abdomen. It was a strange feeling I had about this polarising news. The boy that had come to kill me was…gone.
I write this the day after Tom & his Father’s funeral. Since the events of that evening, I have move back to my home city and tried my best to get my life back on track, but it is difficult after such an experience. Tom’s Mum had miraculously survived her attack as a neighbour had heard the commotion and come to investigate. I stood beside her during the ceremony, her eyes full of tears and fear for what had happened to her troubled family. We still keep in contact and talk about Tom’s difficult life. He found a release from his pains and torments through his games and works. Sadly, it was these demons that took him from us.
I felt this was an appropriate day to share this last message that Tom sent me. Several months after the events leading to Tom’s death, I remembered the remaining files on the USB that Tom had sent me. All the files read the worth ‘Oath Ruin Sky’, so I opened the .txt file and saw this:
I remember in one of our first lessons in that small IT room you talking extensively about the power of individuality. The power of being yourself and not letting others try and change your vision. I kept that advice with me as I fought my secret battle with Tristan.
It wasn’t until after the events of seven years ago, when you turned my game into the police that anyone else knew about Tristan. I told no one about this…this person living inside my head and his insidious thoughts. I thought people would see me as a freak, even my parents.
After it all came out, I found something I thought I’d never find – something that Tristan said I would never find. I found support. I found kindness. People cared about me and wanted the best for me. But by that point, it was too late, Tristan had control and there was nothing I can do about it. Well, almost nothing.
I am writing this in the few moments I do not have…him with me. He is always with me, but sometimes I can suppress him with medication or concentration. That’s why he made me hide the pills at the hospital.
I need to warn you that you’re in danger…If I do not act.
The things Tristan is saying are…horrible, brutal. I cannot allow him to do to others what he made me do to Becky. My life has been ruled by his thoughts, his wants and whims. He has led me down a dark path that I now feel there is no return from.
There has been many times which I have felt like succumbing and just becoming his willing accomplice in his horrible hate crimes against the people he feels have wronged us. But I know he’s wrong, wrong about it all.
Tristan talked about trust a lot. His actions have shown that he is not to be trusted with anything.
I will not allow Tristan to hurt you in the way he wants to. If it means I need to take my own life, then so be it.
The only thing that has kept me from becoming Tristan’s drone is my feeling of individuality, of being someone who is cared for and thought of. I am my own man, and I will do everything in my power to keep myself that way.
Please know that I – the ‘real’ Tom – would never try and hurt you and that your lessons and teachings have taught me much about myself.
You have always shown me kindness and support, and I will always be grateful for this.
The image that came with it was .gif file. In it was a blue sky, with Tom’s sprite, white and winged floating above blocks, no spaces, saying ‘OATHRUINSKY’. They began to spin and rotate, revealing the message within.
“THANK YOU SIR”