Lee Fox was always a cunning person. One of the rare ones you wouldn’t suspect to be so manipulative, just an ordinary person. Not that you would ever see the agender nineteen-year- old. Fox was always in their apartment, doing what they did best.
The games. It was rare for any person to say publicly they were in the games, but many people would suddenly be taken from their homes and everyone knew what was happening. Fox was the best player in the world, that was how they had stayed alive for so long. As a gambler and competitor, their efforts often payed off in money and success.
The day the family game was announced, Fox was ready. They had been preparing for weeks, and when the contest was published their family was placed in the draw. It was no shock to them when their name was picked. Their username was widespread underground and people always competed for a chance to play against them. It was enjoyable to watch—the sheep all fighting—and a new competitor was always welcome. Their parents called once they received the news and were clearly not happy about the sudden summons to the bustling city.
“How dare you do this to us, you know how difficult it is trying to cover for what you are doing in the city anyways. Now you want us involved?” But Fox had shrugged it off, in the end it didn’t matter. Life was a game to be played.
Eomma arrived the next day, hugging Fox tightly and smiling. “How are you my daughter?”
“I told you I’m not a girl.”
“You are very much a girl.”
“Just because I was born that way in your eyes doesn’t make me that. I told you—”
“This is no time to fight my dear. We need to discuss what this game you have entered us all in entails.”
Fox was pleased to sit and explain to their Eomma. It was clear that she had no idea what the journey ahead entailed. She came dressed as lavishly as she could, not knowing the city district was a place of filth and rust, the buildings crumbling and the streets always full and busy. No one truly cared about your outward appearance.
Fox had taken liberties with this relaxed state and was covered with artistic statements. Two rings for the lips, multiple styles in the ears, one small ball in the tongue and a few pieces in the eyebrows pierced their skin. Birds wings covered their back, the dark ink spreading from one shoulder blade to the other. Different designs crawled up their arms to their neck where a snake formed. Their black hair was cut choppily so you couldn’t tell if you were facing a man or woman. The only thing truly defining them was their beige skin and eyes.
That was one thing that couldn’t be escaped, ethnicity. No matter what they did to themselves they couldn’t lose their heritage. It was clear in the titles of Fox’s parents. “Eomma” and “Appa” were the Korean titles for parents, and no matter what Fox couldn’t call them anything else. It was ingrained in them from an early age to work hard and always respect their parents. Not that Fox truly did now, the only respect showed was through these titles.
Eomma sat at Fox’s table, reading over the rules for the competition. “Selected to play against three other families. How dare you do this to us! Your brother is coming too, what if he gets caught and then loses his future? He cares so much for you Fox, yet you risk his life like it is nothing!”
“He means the most! I’ll protect him, look at the prize.”
That was when Eomma continued reading. “Ten million dollars.”
“Think of that, Young-Su being put through college. You and Appa are safe to retire, I can continue with my life here. It’s just one time.”
“Alright, just one time.”
Fox grinned and turned away from their Eomma. A plan was formulating in their head, a way to get a better life and get out of the drab city. The image of a bright and better future had been lost to their eyes hours into their stay there. Innocents laid on the dirty streets, none except the educated had a job, and Fox had been mocked upon entering. While no one cared for their gender or ethnicity, many cared for their goals. No one got a better lot in life, that was the philosophy. One that stuck with Fox now as they struggled for the change that could disprove the statement.
Their Appa arrived the next day with Young-Su, and the youngest of the family raced into Fox’s arms. “Noona!” Sister.
Fox froze, pulling away from their brother. “Hello Young-Su, Appa.”
“Sorry we’re late, it was busy trying to drive in. How are you my daughter?”
“Wait! I’m sorry Fox, I forgot you’re not my Noona anymore!”
“It’s okay Young-Su, you’re forgiven.”
“I thought we were over this Fox—”
“Enough of this nonsense! I thought coming to the city would let you forget this pointless identity crisis! You are our daughter, Young-Su’s sister. You need to accept that and move on!”
The conversation died at Appa’s shouting. Fox bit their lip, they had forgotten how hard this would be. Everyone sat together in Fox’s sitting room as the full extent of the competition was explained—questions mainly being answered for Young-Su—and as evening creeped on the family they were prepared. As Fox got ready to sleep, the bedroom door opened and Young-Su joined them on the bed.
“Fox…can I sleep here? Eomma and Appa are fighting again, and I can’t bear it.”
“Of course little brother, I’ll always be there to protect you from the monsters in the night.”
He lay next to Fox and wrapped his arms around their waist, burying his head in Fox’s chest. A moment later, small sniffles could be heard as he cried into their chest. Fox pulled him close, running a hand on his back as he sobbed. It had been hard to leave Young-Su—the most difficult challenge—but it had been for the best. Now seeing the young boy, just reaching his tenth birthday, there was a shred of pity and regret for their actions.
When his cries ceased and Young-Su had fallen asleep, Fox kissed the top of his head and pulled the blankets over them. “Good night little one.”
The game began the next morning, and Fox’s family was ready outside a dreary grey building they had been instructed to find. Eomma and Appa held onto Young-Su’s shoulders as Fox spoke with the bodyguards at the door. Once in a while they looked at their family—to send a sense of hope—but focused on the task at hand. Eventually they were let in, and Young-Su raced to stand next to Fox. “What was that about?”
“They are there to make sure no one leaves. We have to play the game all the way through, if we try to run away they are there to stop us. So even if you’re scared you have to stay strong and go on okay?”
He nodded, smiling up at his sibling. “I trust you Fox.”
“Bad choice little one, but thank you.”
A young woman came out of an office to greet them. “Why hello, you must be the Lee family.”
Fox nodded and the woman faked a smile. She led them towards a large steel door at the end of the hallway, her shoes clicking with each step she took. Her office dress suggested that she was of high status—image was everything in the city—but the idea was also contradicted by her place of work. Only desperate people worked for game leaders. A false sense of wealth was generally present, but Fox had seen so many fakes that this woman looked like nothing but a dressed up doll to their eyes.
The door was opened, and Fox stepped inside, the rest of the family following close behind. A wristband was given to each of them, and the center screen lit up a bright green.
“If it’s green, you’re in the game,” Fox muttered, and everyone else nodded. The next door opened and they moved forward, feet scuffing and shuffling against the floor as the game began.
It was empty, grey walls with cracked paint covering everything but the two doors. A single computer sat in the center of the room. Fox walked over to it and sat down, watching as the screen lit up and began to play.
“You can see me in water, but I never get wet. What am I?”
“A reflection.” Fox answered immediately, smirking as their fingers typed in the answer. Riddles were the best things in the world to them, something fun and easy to do. The screen flashed and the next riddle began.
“I’m made for one but meant for two; I can be worn for many years but usually just a few; You won’t ever need me unless you say you do. What am I?”
Fox sat back and pondered on this one. It was something they had never heard of before. Appa walked over and stood behind them.
“A wedding ring,” he whispered, and was surprisingly correct.
“What did the thief get for stealing the calendar?”
“12 Months,” Young-Su laughed out, it being one of his favourite jokes.
This continued on until the last riddle was given to them, one of great length.
“A king has no sons, no daughters, and no queen. For this reason, he must decide who will take the throne after he dies. To do this he decides that he will give all of the children of the kingdom a single seed. Whichever child has the largest, most beautiful plant will earn the throne; this being a metaphor for the kingdom. At the end of the contest all of the children came to the palace with their enormous and beautiful plants in hand. After he looks at all of the children’s pots, he finally decides that the little girl with an empty pot will be the next Queen. Why did he choose this little girl over all of the other children with their beautiful plants?”
Eomma grabbed the keyboard from Fox’s hands and began to type—even with both her children yelling at her to stop—pressing enter before Fox could stop her. Their wristbands flashed red, and Fox scrambled for the keyboard.
“Idiot! You want us all to die? Because I refuse to die on the first stage.”
“My response was correct!”
“No, the answer is…” Fox trailed off, desperate for the correct explanation.
“The king gave them all fake seeds and the little girl was the only honest child who didn’t switch seeds,” Appa answered, and Fox quickly entered it.
The door in front of them opened and they all sighed in relief. Everyone’s wristband went back to green except for Eomma’s, and Fox sighed. Two large bodyguards escorted her out through the backdoor, and Young-Su clung to his sibling.
“It’s okay little one, I’m here.”
The next game was entirely one of chance. Four dice sat on the floor, and Fox grabbed them, turning them over, checking for traps and any way they could kill them. This wasn’t the first chance game Fox had participated in and tricks were the only way they worked.
“They’re weighted dice, someone roll them.”
“You do it Fox, we’re here because of you,” Appa said, anger entering his voice.
With a shrug the dice were thrown across the room, and Fox shielded Young-Su in case of explosives. Nothing happened and they all made their way to the dice. Four numbers stared back up at them, and Fox scanned them over. Nothing seemed to be wrong, so the players each picked up a die, leaving one on the floor.
“The numbers must relate to—”
“That doesn’t matter now Fox, just give me them.”
“No, what if it’s a trap?”
“Don’t pretend that you suddenly care, it’s not as if you’d ever—”
“I’ve played like this before! I used to be reckless, and I almost died when I did.”
“Appa, listen to Fox—”
“Stay out of this boy.” Young-Su froze and curled into his sibling’s side.
“Don’t you dare hurt him, he’s your son.”
“And you’re my daughter, so you will listen to me!”
Fox was ready to pounce—desperate to let out the anger boiling inside—but instead pulled their brother into an embrace.
“The next time you call me that it will be your last.” Fox threatened, and Appa scoffed. “Now listen to me. This is a chance game, so you have to be wary.”
He snatched the dice from Fox’s hands and raced to the door. “No!”
“Look! There’s places here for each die. So I just put them here. Look, no thinking for a code.”
Fox glanced at the order he had placed the dice, and their eyes widened. “Appa—”
“Not so hard daughter. You with your logic and strategy, we could have been in here for hours. I just saved us time.” he reached for the door handle, twisting it open. “So next time some thanks would be—”
And the door exploded. Fox covered Young-Su’s eyes and threw them both to the floor. Ears ringing, sight temporarily gone, they laid there for a few minutes. When Fox had recovered, they grabbed their sibling and raced through the jagged metal that had been a door frame. The young boy was sobbing into Fox’s jacket, desperately calling out to the—mostly dead—parent who they left behind.
“Fox! No, let me go! Appa!” he screeched, and the elder let him down to the floor.
“Appa’s gone, we have to continue,” Fox said coldly, and Young-Su looked up at the elder.
Fox stripped off their jacket and wrapped it around his body, seeing as he was shivering. The tank top showed off the wing tattoos across Fox’s back, and he reached out to touch them.
“You’re not my Fox…,” he whispered, drawing his hands over all the markings and piercings.
“Little one, you’re going into shock. Focus on my eyes.” Young-Su slowly looked at his sibling, his eyes hazy. “Okay, you’re not hurt. Breathe slowly for me.”
When he had eventually settled, Fox picked him back up and carried him to the next room. “Don’t worry little brother, I will take care of you.”
This room was a brightly lit room, pot lights shining bright beams of light onto the pure white walls. Padding lined the walls, and as Young-Su climbed down from Fox’s tight hold there appeared to be nothing in the room. But that was never the case, and so they both began to gently search the walls.
“Nothing,” Young-Su yelled out, “all of that for absolutely nothing!” He hit the wall with his fist, and a small light flashed.
“Not nothing little brother.” Fox said with a smile, picking at the stitching around the wall. The siblings resorted to tearing at the wall with their fingernails, both of them having ripped and bleeding fingers as a result. But they also had succeeded in opening the wall. A key and gun were stored in a strong box, along with a piece of paper.
Fox unfolded the paper, reading it aloud for Young-Su. “You have fifty seconds to find the exit…”
The younger started to panic, while Fox cursed and grabbed the two items. The lights seemed to grow brighter as Fox’s own panic began to set in. Everything seemed to become hazy as they found a perch on the wall. Then something cleared their mind, a slight breeze coming from the wall.
Immediately, Fox spun around, hitting the wall looking for the hinges. They key held tightly in one hand, the gun in the other. A loud siren began to go off, warning that they had less than ten seconds. One fragment of light in the wall was all it took, and Fox shoved the key towards it. Twisting the key left then right, the door opened and Fox breathed a sigh of relief. Then Young-Su shoved them backwards and ran out, moving to close the door behind him. Fox swore and jumped to their feet. Just before the boy could slam the door shut, the eldest grabbed it and pulled back, running through and letting it close behind them.
Outside, Fox coughed and breathed in fresh air. Then they looked up and saw each family member left behind sitting at a table. A laughed echoed behind them, and a young man stood watching the situation.
“Good to finally meet you Lee Fox, I’ve seen your work before. This is your last game. Pull out the gun I just gave you. Now pick someone to shoot.”
Fox looked at their family: Appa bandaged, Eomma in shock, Young-Su sat there as cold as his sibling. “You’re not my Fox.” The gun was drawn, pointed, and Fox pulled the trigger. Nothing happened, and Eomma laughed at the barrel directed at her.
“Oh, is that the gun with blanks? I can offer you this one, only four bullets so be careful with it.”
Three gunshots echoed through the room and the people at the table lay dead, Fox now holding the gun on the man. “What’s your name?”
“That doesn’t matter, I wanted this. To tell you all games end this way. You just never held the trigger. All those people you beat in the games? They’re dead, not imprisoned. All the other families in this competition chose to die together but you let yours go one by one. Think of all the blood on your hands, but you were just playing weren’t you.”
Fox shrugged, gripping the gun. “I guess so,” a twitch of a finger, weight dropped to the floor, “and now I’ve won again.”