Level Guide

Margaret Emma Brandl

Level one is the snow and level two is a parking garage and level three is a room full of books. Level four is the middle of the night and level five is the summer, beers and water bottles, cookies and fruit pies and television on the internet. Level six is a smoky patio and level seven is the arena, level eight is a train ride and level nine is a train ride and levels ten through seventeen are train rides, all varying levels of difficulty. The air conditioning is out or your stomach is churning or you are racing the clock and no matter how you play it you can’t get back in time, but that’s not a loss, that’s just how the level goes, because level eighteen is standing sticky in a room with a window unit in a building without air conditioning. Level nineteen is a ferry but that’s unrelated, a carousel in a park and sweating in the subway. After level twenty, cue the cutscenes, image sequences and music that floats and runs longer than each level that follows—long seconds of deep blue dusk-skies, fog-mornings, autumn leaves and feet and feet of snow. Heavy winter coats and phone calls every night, phone calls most nights, phone calls some nights. Level twenty-four is antiques (again), level twenty-five is roses (again), level twenty-six moves through a dance floor and ends at the airport. Level twenty-six always ends at the airport. It’s the kind where once you move forward you can’t go back, there’s an invisible wall, the player can turn around and try to walk but the feet keep moving without getting anywhere and the clock keeps running. After level twenty-six is the finale, no cheat codes, no Easter eggs, no “skip this stage.” Text messages, fewer and fewer of them; geese and goslings at the lake; a bright morning with the blinds closed. Phone call. Taking pictures off the walls. The seconds that stretch between dialogue. Roll credits.