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Game, by Donald Barthelme

The story, Game, by Donald Barthelme, is a chronicle from the cold war of two men trapped in an underground bunker by a military "oversight" for one hundred and thirty three days, watching consoles for the signal to launch nuclear missiles against unknown targets (Barthelme). Each has a key and both keys must be inserted together and turned at the same time to launch a missile. They are both armed with a .45 pistol, with instructions to shoot the other if he acts strange. Each has an additional gun, supposedly unknown to the other, one with it hidden under his pants leg and the narrator with his hidden in his briefcase.

They take it in turn to watch the console, and secretly watch each other for evidence of "strange" behavior, but after so long in isolation, and living off frozen meals, they are beginning to lose sight of what is normal and what is strange (Barthelme). One of the men has started to while away the time playing jacks, the other scratching descriptions of inanimate objects on the walls with a diamond ring he had bought for his fiancee before being ordered underground. The narrator, the man scratching on the walls, is beginning to wonder if his behavior is considered strange by the other. At the same time, he considers the behavior of the other man, playing the child's game of jacks, strange and wonders if it is strange enough to consider shooting him.

He is jealous of the other man's pastime, and keeps demanding his turn with the jacks, but his partner refuses to let him play, locking the jacks in his briefcase when he is through playing with them (Barthelme). Each man has tried opening the other's briefcase when they are asleep: one to check the other's weapon, and one to get the jack's, but neither has been successful. When either one cannot get to sleep, the other rocks him to sleep and sings childish songs to help him fall asleep. They are both paranoid about their job, and each has tried, when the...

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Game, by Donald Barthelme. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 22:57, June 24, 2019, from