You’ve Played the Game. Now Read the Story!

Fiction inspired by the incredibly addictive game, Temple Run

The air was dank but cool – a contrast to the fetid all-embracing warmth of the heavy air rising from the steamy swamp outside. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could make out the inside of the temple. The light from the large door through which we had entered had petered out once we had taken a couple of turns in the labyrinth. I wish I had my flashlight – “You don’t need it. All you need is to walk in, pick up the idol and walk out,” was what the man had said. I wished I had listened to my instincts instead of him. Of course, he was the boss – he was the one paying me to do this, plus he was the one with the helicopter that had dropped us off a couple of kilometers away.

The job had seemed simple enough – walk into the temple, grab the idol and run out and be picked up by the helicopter. There would be another man with a gun – just in case some shooting needed to be done. It was all simple enough till we got to the drop-off point – when it became apparent that the closest the chopper could get to the temple was about 2 kilometers away. Between there and the temple was all swamp, filled with crocodiles that seemed to be constantly hungry and on the prowl for food. Someone had built the temple long ago – no one was around now. A labyrinth of broken-down walls, rock paths and wooden platforms criss-crossed the swamp. It was only by walking on this that we were able to get to the temple.

The rock with a temple built into it was easy enough to spot – it towered above the landscape and was visible from anywhere in the swamp. Getting to it was a bit harder – we had to walk on the maze, jumping across breaks in the wall or the wooden walkway. Anything that hit the water attracted a rush of crocs – even a piece of stone I threw into the swamp stirred them up. I made a mental note that swimming across the swamp would not be a wise option.

My companion was a truculent giant with a great big gun. He was 7 feet tall and about 4 wide but moved with the grace of a young monkey. Whatever jumps I struggled to make, he made without even trying hard. He spoke very less, and I had a sneaking suspicion he wasn’t very comfortable in English.

As we neared the temple, we crossed several low gateways festooned with human skeletons – it looked like they were cleverly disguised traps, but we could get past by crawling under them. At some points, massive trees grew across the paths – we had to jump over their huge support roots that straddled the wall like huge athletic hurdles. At other points, the tree trunks themselves grew on the wall – we had to squeeze past them through any gap we could find between the tree and the wall.

When we finally got to the wall leading up to the temple, we could see it clearly. It wasn’t much outside – just a huge entrance that looked like an ape’s open mouth. It was dark inside, and we couldn’t see anything. The temple did not look used – there was the smell of animal feces about the building, rather stronger than the smell of bat droppings that pervades old disused buildings. We stopped at the entrance, and something about the place made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. My companion on the other hand had no such qualms and just walked in.

As he disappeared in to the darkness, I prepared to follow him when I heard a sudden rush of bodies and scrabbling limbs. I slipped into the darkness of the temple along one side of the door, taking care to remain flat against the wall. I kept moving till I was completely in the dark, having hugged the wall and taking a couple of turns. My orientation was completely shot – I did not know in what direction the door was. I stayed very quiet as the sounds exploded – I could hear my companion scream in anger and pain and I could hear several animal screams. There was a sudden burst of light as a flashlight came on. In the few seconds of illumination, I could see my companion completely surrounded by huge ape-like animals. He was fighting, but it was clear he had no chance. The beasts were on knees and knuckles, and they stood as tall as him. They were also strong and powerful and there seemed to be at least ten of them. One of them caught the flashlight and threw it – it smashed against a wall and went out. The beasts moved in for the kill, and their shrieks drowned out the dying screams of my gunman.

I kept as quiet as I could – I needed to get out of there without attracting the attention of the beasts. But for now, it seemed as if they had no idea I was there, hidden in the darkness. The beasts seemed to calm down considerably after they had killed off the intruder. But they kept grunting softly – it seemed as though that was the way they kept each other informed of where they were.

The floor was also smooth and rocky – so I could move without making a noise and attracting attention. I slowly moved back the way I had come – all I had to do was to move as noiselessly as possible out to the door and into the sunlight – surely the beasts of the dark would not pursue me too far out on the wall. Once I outran them, I just had to wait for the helicopter to pick me up. Too bad I couldn’t pick up the idol on the way back.

Like everything else, things turned out to be a lot more complicated than that – as I moved along the wall, I had a sense that I was in a place I hadn’t been before. Sure enough, after I kept going for about 10 minutes, I found myself heading towards a dim light. I stopped, since turning the corner would have thrown light on me. I crouched on the ground and peeped around the corner at almost floor level. What I saw almost gave me a heart attack – I was looking straight at the door and the wall beyond. But between me and the door lay a golden idol – about the size of a baseball. It looked like a crouching ape, but with rather twisted features.

To one side of the idol however, were the beasts, crouching and grunting to each other. I couldn’t make them out clearly, but they looked like large boulders moving around.

I had to make a dash for it when I could – I could snatch up the idol and keep running fast enough to outrun the beasts.

The door was about 25 meters from where I was. All I had to do was make a dash for it – the beasts would surely pursue, but I was counting on the sunlight driving them back into the temple.

I crouched, taking up a stance like an athlete, and called out in my mind, “On your mark. Set. Go!”

I made a dash for the door, picking up the idol on the way…

In the picture: One of the numerous temples near Siem Reap, which inspired the making of the game