Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2020

DOSBox Dad

DOSBox Dad
Photograph via Unsplash by William Daigneault.

Z:\>mount c c:\

Z:\> c:

C:\>dir

DOOM               <DIR>                  23—9—1999

DUKE                <DIR>                   11—8—1999

HEXE                <DIR>                   15—8—1999

QUAK                <DIR>                   02—9—1999

WOLF                <DIR>                  28—8—1999

C:\>cd DUKE

C:\>DUKE>DUKENUKEM EXE

I sit on one of the dining room chairs while you sit in the computer chair. Your left hand taps the keyboard; your right controls the mouse. I see this because I am right next to you. My chin rests sometimes on my knees or on the edge of the computer table. Cigarette smoke boils from this ashtray, inches from my face, and through the haze, the curved screen flashes colors and zags. You move the mouse; your vision rotates. You fall down an air duct and land on a street. Mutant baddies swarm you with blasters. Some fly. Scrape of mouse against mouse pad, tapping of keys. Their corpses rot on pavement, in bars, under water. You shoot them with handguns and shotguns and rocket launchers and shrink them with a shrink ray, until you can smash them as you run. It is late in the night. Mom is in bed. Brother is in bed. Our TV has no sound, but I can tell it’s on from the changing colors on the wall behind the computer. Smoke still rises. Time passes, and the monsters begin to outnumber you. You breathe harder. You lean in and out of your chair, dodge missiles as they come, absorb the many, many bullets and blasters; you stretch after every death, shake your head and smile at me, tell me it is late, and I should go to bed. You load a saved game, take a drag, and start with lots of ammo and health, a better plan for the baddies around the corner. You speak through the speakers of the computer the words of satire, of bubblegum, of aliens and their invasion of the world, of a time long enough ago that I can revisit today.

C:\>cd HEXE

C:\>HEXE>HEXEN EXE

I know what happens next: You break every stained-glass window in search of health. They float like angels about mid-chest, liquid in a vial, colored a sharp blue that hurts my eyes. There are so many shadows in the living room right now that I think we are in a cave with water. Your hands direct you deeper into the woods. Lightning strikes off-screen; thunder crackles; bats appear, and you flail your gauntlets at them. You punch them to death, and artificial blood stacks on the ground. I know you look for the green key that’ll unlock the next part of this level, but you always forget about the false wall. Whenever you cross the invisible line into the cave, the wall descends, and two-headed demons approach with mauls. I tell you to watch out for the wall, but you keep dragging on a cigarette, sending up smoke signals. You die by the number of blows. This time, you don’t stretch after you respawn. Instead, you kick the desk, tell me to go to bed, that I have school tomorrow, that I need my sleep because I’m growing, that I’m too young to recall this castle and these woods, those bats and demons, those vials suspended and animated for you to find and drink and feel better, to keep fighting and solving for the keys. My movie ends behind us, and we turn to see the TV project the brightest blue you’ve seen.

C:\>cd WOLF

C:\>WOLF>WOLFENSTEIN EXE

You rattle the mouse back and forth. Either you hold down a key, or rapidly switch between two. That is how you fight the Nazis. Mom washes dishes in the kitchen. She checks each plate for smudges by the bright bulb of an unshaded lamp. Brother is in the backyard throwing rocks at our neighbor’s barn. I sit cross-legged in a kitchen chair next to you. I drink chocolate milk out of a plastic cup without a lid. You feel like you’re in a maze with blue brick walls. Doors allow you into other halls, into rooms filled with Nazi soldiers. Sometimes they don’t know you’re there. As soon as you fire your pistol or machine gun, puking bullets, they come to life. They pour out of secret areas, spit at you until you die, again and again. With a laugh, you bring a cigarette to your lips, watch the smoke collect around me before waving a hand. No matter where you run in this maze, the doors blend together until you don’t know where you started. I finish my chocolate milk and Mom takes it away. She brings another pack for you. With a cough, you load another save, and stick to clearing out the right side of the map. I think you think that working this way you’ll find the exit. I know that the exit is not on the right side of the map nor the left side. It is through the middle, at the end of long hall full of Nazis and war dogs and plates of fruit and paintings of Hitler. You shoot Hitler’s face every time you see it. You hear shouting from outside, the real outside, where the sun sets past our pasture and I know Brother has been caught.

C:\>cd QUAK

C:\>QUAK>QUAKE EXE

In this one, you move the mouse faster than ever. The ball inside seems to scream and screech. The keyboard almost bounces off the desk when you switch from nail gun to shotgun. Corpses rise from the shallow pool you are in. They wander in your direction, claw stiff-armed as you march. I sit on your left side, in my dining room chair that I dragged across the linoleum. I eat a red popsicle. Eventually, the juice will cover my hand, drip down my arm. A monster keeps throwing dynamite at you, chases with a chainsaw hand. Mutant dogs run you down. You move so fast that, for a moment, you glitch beyond the walls, and we see the void of development. All the rooms and halls and rivers and bridges and tunnels and courtyards and caves exist in dark gray boxes in a field of fog where we see everything all wrong, exposed. And then you’re out from out and back into action. Sweat grows on your forehead. I touch mine; it’s dry. Body parts cascade from your gunwork; pixelated blood arcs. Mom is asleep. Brother plays with matches downstairs. It is almost midnight. Outside our house, I imagine those monsters crossing through our walls, into my bedroom. I imagine how they would look crowded around my bed as I sleep. You wave a cigarette at my face, tell me to go to bed. It is late. The only light comes from a lamp beside the monitor. Every surface is a hue of yellow.

C:\cd DOOM

C:\>DOOM>DOOM EXE

This one is your favorite. You can play in this Hellscape for hours. You dance with demons before you kill them. Mom is awake. She sits on the couch and watches Seinfeld. Brother watches with her. The computer’s speakers are louder, and soon I forget they are on the couch. It starts with possessed humans with pistols. Then fireball hurling demons appear, brown and thorny. Soon, I know you’ll get to the guys with shotguns, pink two-legged rhinos, flying demon balls, green-goo pitchers. The trick, you say to me, is to get them to fight each other. With a rocket launcher, you manage to get a cyber demon to fight multiple pinkies. They lash at each other. They roar and spit awful sounds. The noise fills the room, and Mom and Brother turn around. Dad puffs on a cigarette, watches the mass of in-fighting. This is how you make it to the next level, and the one after that. By the time you reach the third, we are all settled by your computer chair. We cheer when you find shells, when you find rockets, when you stumble on armor and health. Mom and Brother don’t understand why you ignore some health packs, but I know from all of these past nights in the semi-darkness of our living room why you do: You’re saving them for later, for when they are too many hell things, for when the lava is too hot, for when you can’t find a skull key, for when you encounter traps and teleporters and buttons, for when you run out of ammo and are left with only a chainsaw. When you click the mouse, the chainsaw revs and lunges forward, which you do, because you’re surrounded by imps, by floating souls, because it is all there is left to do before you load another save, light another cigarette, and enter the fray again.