John Kills Jenny

This story was originally published as interactive fiction, a little mini-game you could play here at Sub-Q. But it was also written to be readable as a piece of fiction, and has been reprinted on this site in a straight text format. Have fun!

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John Kills Jenny

by S Dean

Welcome to the Rehabilitation Game™! Every choice matters, so please consider all your options carefully.

John sweats beneath the wires that entangle his head and transmit images and words directly to his brain. Soft restraints encase each limb, band his torso. Another thick bar around the neck. Only his right hand can move—to touch the adjacent console panel. Four buttons nestle into its metal surface, a series of differently-coloured squares labelled A, B, C, D.

A new segment pops up in his mind, the words floating in front of his vision.

 

SCENE 1.

Once upon a time, John kills Jenny on a bright summer’s day, because of ________.

Please choose one of the following motivations:

A. Money
B. Revenge
C. Jealousy
D. Bitterness

Why did he kill Jenny? It seems so long ago. There were reasons, good ones, and lots of them. So many reasons he used to count them to fall asleep, the way children are taught to count sheep. He couldn’t move, couldn’t live until she was dead.

Now he can’t move because he’s strapped to this chair, and can’t live until he wins the Game.

John’s finger twitches, pressing a button.

A

B C

D

 

A. Money

Jenny never knew what it felt like to grow up poor. She came from money, married into more money, and by the time her old fart of a husband kicked the bucket, she could buy anything she looked at.

John, meanwhile, was born in a barn and does odd-jobs for spare change. People call it making a living; John calls it life. Jenny hires John to fix her fence, and mow her lawn, and mend her taps. She’s always finding jobs for him; fancies herself a do-gooder. And boy did she do him, real good. Her little charity case. Young, handsome, obedient pet. Everything her husband never was. John doesn’t know he’s for sale, till Jenny buys him up like a damn house ornament.

And heck, why should he complain? She has plenty of money. A wildcat in the sack, despite being older by fifteen years. She even lets him keep his dog, Champ.

But John doesn’t like being on a leash, or having an allowance, or being treated like a stud. She’ll take him to her rich parties and say, Here’s my darling, my sweet; such a good lad, so handsome, so grateful to me. I saved him from poverty. Oh, he were just nothing till I found him.

How that burns. It burns so bad that he can’t look at her without this angry fire smouldering in his chest.

Sometimes, at night, he stares at her sleeping form. Imagining she’s made of gold, not plated or leaf but solid pure gold, like them bricks on the streets of heaven. He’ll cut her open, he thinks, this gold woman, this rich idiot, and have her money for himself. Nobody’s pet no more.

So one morning, that’s exactly what he does. Cuts her open until all her wealth runs out.

 

B. Revenge

John’s da, he isn’t good with drink. Some can hold it, touch it just fine; some take in the devil with every mouthful. John grows up lonely and sullen, learns to keep out of the way of those mean old fists.

At least he’s got Champ. Half-spitz, half-chihuahua, a real handful of a mutt. Gets abandoned by his previous owner for being too much work. Ends up starving at John’s house one day. Damn dog can jump six feet from standing and shreds all of John’s boots, but John don’t mind. Shoes are a small price to pay for unconditional love.

By the time John graduates high school, Champ’s getting on. Blind in one eye. Hearing not so good. Little bit slow, with that limp of his. But he still has a puppy’s joyful heart and a taste for leather shoes. John looks after him real good.

Until some high-flying city-chick knocks Champ down with her hovercar. Jenny’s driving too fast, and poor Champ never sees it coming. Can’t see her, can’t hear her, can’t run with that leg. Jenny doesn’t even stop. What can you do?

John knows what he can do. He’s gonna have a word with this Jenny. He’s only a kid, not well-educated, so he spends two weeks planning every syllable, imagining every scenario.  Mostly, he wants an apology. Contrition.

An android shows him into the living room where Jenny’s painting her nails, and John has his word. Only she won’t even listen. Screw off, kid, she barks. It’s only a fucking dog. The world is full of strays.

Rage runs through him. John’s hands contort around the handle of her fancy fireplace poker, and WHACK, he stoves her head right in.

 

C. Jealousy

John has always believed he’ll find The One. Yer a goddamn romantic, his da would say, but his da is a dumb drunk so what does he know? Not like John, who graduates high school with flying colours, and only makes it to heckin’ college. First in his family, geared up to go places.

Then he meets Jenny. Older. Sassy. Smart as a library. She teaches his nano and mechanical engineering classes; she teaches him how to get her engine going. She tells him nobody make her purr like he does. Who knew college professors could be such a hot, smooth ride?

Lots of people, as it turns out. Mick, for one. Henry, for another. Also Kevin and Ibrahim, and hell, he can’t keep up. In fact, John’s pretty sick of chasing her tail-lights. Of being strung along, stood up, left behind in the dust for other, wilder rides.

He’s gonna be tough. Take a stand. John says to her, You gotta choose. Me, or these other guys. I ain’t putting up with this.

Jenny laughs. Are you kidding me? she says. I’m a free woman, son. I belong to no one.

I ain’t kidding, John says; and you’re right, you belong to no one. If you can’t be mine, nobody gonna have you.

She doesn’t laugh when he ruptures the valves in her heart with a screwdriver to the chest. Nobody made her engine purr like he did. No one else ever will.

 

D. Bitterness

John must have loved Jenny, once. That’s why they got together, right? Their own little West Side Story, the feisty uptown lady and her honest man-of-the-land. Rescuing her from a loveless, brutal marriage; smoothing away her bruises with a kiss. Once upon a time, John met Jenny — a regular fairytale.

Nothing but a fairytale, in fact. Living a fantasy. What man doesn’t dream of rescuing a princess? What woman doesn’t want a white knight? Playing at saving each other. But the years pass, and with each one John knows more and more that it’s a lie. He stops believing in fairytales.

The truth is, he reckons Jenny talks too much. Has a thousand annoying habits. All that money and she still picks her teeth after dinner. Nothing huge, nothing terrible, but that’s not how bitterness works. The bad taste is in every little thing she does, rubbing his nerves raw.

And him. What must she think of him? Always rolling her eyes when he expresses an opinion (honestly, John, what do you have against reprogramming criminals?) and holding her nose when they visit his da. Lord, this woman. Why are they together? What did they ever see in each other?

John should end it… but he can’t. He’s too embarrassed to admit the fairytale is bullshit. That Happy-Ever-After has collapsed.

He doesn’t kill her. Killing is what you do with knives and clubs and whatnot. Instead, John pours a little arsenic in her coffee one morning. And the next. And the next. Every morning until she dies.

That’s what bitterness is. You poison each other, slowly-like.

 

The Game waits…

 

John and Jenny in a thousand different roles, playing a million different people. That something, that same essence of her, persists in each version and it seems like he knows her inside and out. The good and the bad, all possible Jennys. He keeps falling in love, falling in rage, getting mad, getting spurned. Over and over.

Except it isn’t that simple. Every time John plays it’s a fresh scenario, but they miss the muddled grey. And yet the reasons don’t seem to matter, because he always starts by killing her.

He can’t get away from this bad opener, the one thing that really needs to change.

 

SCENE 2. 

After killing Jenny, John hides her body in the ________.

Choose one of the following locations:

A. Fridge
B. River
C. Forest
D. Landfill

 

Every option brings tears to his eyes, because how could he forget? Sure, some people don’t remember the kill, but everyone remembers the burying.

This woman. He doesn’t know what she means to him, anymore. Maybe he never did. Right now, she matters more than the whole universe; she’s becoming his world inside this machine.

John blinks to clear his vision and presses a button.

 

A B C D

 

A. Fridge

John stashes Jenny’s body in his solar-powered refrigerator. For a while, he pretends life is normal, surrounded by the rising stench of her blooming corpse. The automatic air fresheners can’t keep up.

John doesn’t mind. It’s a friendly scent, almost familiar. If he concentrates, he can imagine a hint of her perfume, suffusing the rot. He starts to hear her voice, speaking to him whenever he’s in the kitchen. Sometimes, he lies with an ear against the fridge door and whispers back.

Eventually, the neighbours come to find him. John hasn’t left his house in a week, hasn’t shown up for work.

He’s just there, sitting on the floor, listening to Jenny whisper through the fridge. A hose trails from the sink tap, in case he gets thirsty and needs a drink. Sometimes he opens the fridge and puts the hose in Jenny’s mouth, cause she gets thirsty, too.

Jenny is still whispering as they lead him away, handcuffed and strait-jacketed. He promises to come back real soon.

 

B. River

John’s favourite show growing up was this old crime thing. Deadly Devils: The Raw Story. There were a lot of classic shows, in the post Third World War years, available on cheap holo-discs. But that one had real murderers who committed real crimes, their gruesome endeavours re-enacted with lousy actors and CGI sets. Oh man, it was great.

Anyway, this one episode, a guy saws up his victims and dumps them, bagged, into the river. The Pearl Diver, they call him. Must have killed fifty innocent souls.

John always liked that killer.

So he does the same. Takes Jenny to the treesaw and hacks her up. Damn, it’s a lot messier than the holo-show. He puts her in bags and throws everything into the river.

Naturally, the bags end up in the reservoir, caught on the recycling grates. Water is a precious resource, these days.

When the police come for John a few days later, it occurs to him that maybe he shouldn’t have copied a criminal who famously got caught. That weren’t real smart.

 

C. Forest

A quiet resting place. He owes Jenny that much. Okey-doke, so they didn’t get along. Well obviously, or she wouldn’t be damn dead, would she?  But you gotta respect people, even if you kill them. Especially if you kill them.

There’s not a lot of public forest left anymore. The world is recovering from nuclear fallout, three decades past, and most arable land is owned by the rich. John can’t afford to be choosy with his burial spot. But he does his best.

John carries her in a spare bed-sheet (his mother never liked that one anyway — too yellow, too many flowers) and digs a hole for Jenny’s body. The hole should be six feet down, but damn this is tiring work. And if he hangs around too long, someone’ll see him.

Three feet will do, right? Who goes deeper than that? In she goes. John covers her up, pats the soil down, and says a prayer. You gotta say prayers for the dead.

A couple days later, a bear digs poor Jenny up. Scatters chunks of her all over the place, including on the footpath where respectable sorts walk their overpriced dogs. It’s only a matter of time before they find the rest, and John is done for.

Well, that’s life. Prayers ain’t worth shit.

 

D. Landfill

John drives down to the irradiated landfill, Jenny’s corpse under a tarp in the back of his sedan.

Just putting the trash where it belongs, he thinks.

He drags her body into the heart of the landfill. Stuffs it into the trunk of an old hovercar. Done and dusted. He goes home to decontaminate and relax.

John might have gotten away with it, too, except some drunk high schoolers jury-rig that very same hovercar for a nocturnal joyride. Little bit of drag racing. Predictably, they crash into a tree on Main Street.

Nobody is hurt, not seriously, but the trunk pops open and out rolls the fleshy ragdoll formerly known as Jenny.

John hears all the gory details from the police when they come to arrest him.

 

Is that what really happened? John is no longer sure. Each situation seems equally likely, or equally ludicrous. Whatever he chooses becomes the new truth of his memory. The new reality. It doesn’t help that he imagined so many options, in the days leading up to her death.

The scenarios have muddied his memory. The fact is, John killed Jenny and hid her body. That’s all he knows, now. Everything else is the Game.

 

SCENE 3.

Having been caught and found guilty, John must pay for his crimes by enduring _______.

Please choose one of the following punishments:

  1. Labour
  2. Prison
  3. Torture
  4. The Game™

 

No. No. No. How did he get to this scene, yet again? There must be an option where he doesn’t get caught.

 

Warning: You have thirty seconds to select an option, or the Rehabilitation Game™ will choose one at random.

 

This isn’t right, this isn’t fair. How can they do this to him. He never would have done anything so cruel to Jenny as this damn Game. Would he? Anyway, he killed her, she died, the end. Where is John’s end?

 

Warning: You have ten seconds to select an option, or the Rehabilitation Game™ will choose one at random.

 

John snarls and stabs a button.

 

A

B C

D

 

A. Labour

Error: Per the Rehabilitation Act of 2187, Labour is only available for minor felonies.

Your choice is invalid. Please select a different option.

 

John stabs a different button.

 

A

B C

D

 

B. Prison

Error: Per the Rehabilitation Act of 2187, Prison is only available for the criminally insane.

Your choice is invalid. Please select a different option.

 

John stabs a different button.

 

A

B C

D

 

C. Torture

Error: Per the Rehabilitation Act of 2187, Torture is only available for enemies of the state.

Your choice is invalid. Please select a different option.

 

John stabs a different button.

 

A B C

D

 

D. The Rehabilitation Game v1.6, © 2186

John chooses The Rehabilitation Game™. Who wouldn’t? It’s only an old-school VR sim. Bits of story and reconstructed videos. Pick the right “options” and go free; a total joke.

BAM goes the judge’s gavel. You are hereby sentenced to play the Rehabilitation Game until you are able to select the correct ending. The simulation will not conclude until you do.

John smirks as the bailiff leads him away. These dumbasses and their snowflake justice. First thing he’ll do when he’s out of that stupid video game is piss on Jenny’s grave.

 

The Game waits…

 

John sobs like a three-year-old. He’s so very sorry. Don’t they know how sorry he is? Not this scene. Not again.

 

SCENE 4.

Having chosen to play The Rehabilitation Game™ as his punishment, John soon discovers that his virtual story always ends the same way. No matter what he does.

Please choose one of the following realisations:

A. John cannot change the Future, because…
B. John cannot change the Past, because…
C. John cannot change the Ending, because…
D. John cannot change, because…

 

Round and round and round he goes. Exploring options, reasons, details, but the core story remains: John killed Jenny on a bright summer’s day and nothing he does can bring her back.

 

Warning: You have thirty seconds to select an option, or the Rehabilitation Game will choose one at random.

 

John shuts his eyes tight, but the options still float in his mind. A digital hand hovers over each one. He’ll see what it picks if he doesn’t act. Can’t avoid knowing which choice has been made.

 

Warning: You have ten seconds to select an option, or the Rehabilitation Game™ will choose one at random.

 

He should let the Game choose. Except he can’t. The only power he has left is the illusion of choice and so, fingers trembling, John presses a button.

 

A B C

D

 

A. John cannot change the Future… because the future is determined.

John is doomed. Maybe it’s his upbringing, or his genes. Maybe it’s the way his brain is wired.

Whatever the reason, John cannot be anything other than what he will be—a damn murderer.   

 

B. John cannot change the Past… because Jenny is gone.

When John killed Jenny, he took away her choices. Jenny will never choose anything, ever again.

And neither will John.

 

C. John cannot change the Ending… because the Rehabilitation Game™ is fixed.

If John wants to change the Ending, he needs a story in which he doesn’t kill Jenny.

Since John always begins the story by killing Jenny, the Ending cannot change.  

 

D. John cannot change… because John is written.

If John were capable of making the right choice, he would never have made the wrong choice.

For John’s nature is evil, and the nature of a man cannot be overturned. 

 

But the Game’s still there.

 

Is John a man, or is John a machine? Maybe there is no difference. In the final analysis, people only operate within their parameters.

Man or machine, John is broken. No one can hear him snivel. No one hears him at all, except the Game, and the only answers it will accept are the ones it has already written for him.

Because here is the lesson John must learn: the only choice that matters, he has already made.

 

SCENE 5.

Thank you for playing the Rehabilitation Game™. Unfortunately, you have not selected the correct ending. Would you like to play again?

Please choose one of the following options:

A. Yes
B. Yes
C. Yes
D. Yes

 

John presses a button.

 

<<< THE ACTUAL END >>>

 

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