It was shortly after 2 a.m. when four men and a woman arrived at the childrens' park. They had come from a party and they were dressed in fancy clothes. At this late hour the park lights were turned off and they made their way in the darkness past the slide and the monkey bars to the edge of the playground.
There squatted a merry-go-round. Not the kind with plastic horses and music, rather a relatively small wooden structure with four metal bars. Pushing and pulling the bars propelled the circular thing on its axis. The ride wasn't very merry, but it was a go-round like life itself.
The Controller brandished an automatic pistol and ordered the four participants to take seats on the merry-go-round. Three men and one woman complied nervously.
At this point the Controller explained the rules of the game. He would call the participants Number 1, Number 2, Number 3 and Number 4 instead of using their real names. This was necessary for reasons that would become clear after the game began.
The participants would push and pull the metal bars until the merry-go-round was spinning fast. Then, at the Controller's command, they would let go of the bars and wait for the contraption to slow down and stop.
The Controller brought their attention to a nearby tree limb that jutted out in the direction of the merry-go-round. He explained that whoever the limb pointed to when the ride came to a stop would be deemed the loser of that round.
"What does that mean?" asked Number 1.
"You shall see," the Controller replied. "If the tree limb points midway between two participants, the round will be void and we will spin again."
"How long do we play?" inquired Number 4.
"Until only one is left. Then he or she will be deemed the winner of the game."
"I don't like it," said Number 3, the woman.
"One last point," the Controller said with a smile. "Anyone who tries to run will be shot immediately."
"This is absurd," complained Number 2.
"Of course it is," said the Controller. "But so are all the other games we play every day."
"I still don't like it," repeated Number 3.
"Nevertheless," the Controller said. "Round one commences right now. Start working the metal bars."
Reluctantly, the participants obeyed. Soon the merry-go-round was spinning fast and the Controller gave his signal to let go of the bars. When the device stopped turning, the tree limb pointed to Number 4.
When The Controller shot him in the back of the head, he slumped over the metal bar. Number 3 screamed and Number 1 and Number 2 clambored to their feet.
"Keep your seats," the Controller warned. With one hand he dragged the body of Number 4 off the merry-go-round and dropped it on the ground.
"This is Russian roulette!" exclaimed Number 2.
"Au contraire," said the Controller. "Russian roulette is a game of suicide. This is American roulette, a game of murder."
"Who gave you the right to kill us?" demanded Number 1.
"You did when you followed me here from the party."
"We didn't know you had a gun," said Number 2. "Or that you were insane."
"None of you knew me. I crashed the party."
Number 3 seemed confused. "Yes, the party," she muttered. "I'm afraid I drank too much."
"All of you drank too much," the Controller said. "That's why I selected you."
"Who are you?" asked Number 1.
"The spirit of the modern age."
"I think you're Satan," said Number 3.
"How original," the Controller laughed.
"You can't get away with this," said Number 2.
"It's time for another round," the Controller said, waving the pistol.
"We won't do it," insisted Number 1.
"Then I will shoot all of you. It's your choice. Either one can survive or all will die in the next few seconds."
Grudgingly, the three participants began working the metal bars.
Number 1 was the next loser. After the body was discarded, the merry-go-round spun again and stopped with the tree limb pointing at Number 2.
"Please don't," pleaded Number 2, but the Controller shot him anyway.
"I'm glad you won," the Controller told Number 3.
"You're a beautiful woman. I didn't want to have to shoot you."
"I see. What happens now?"
"We could have a drink somewhere."
"I'd rather go home."
"As you please."
"I'll have to report this to the police."
"Naturally, but they won't be able to find me."
"Because I'm an illusion."
"I don't understand."
"You will after you think about it. Good evening, Number 3."
With those words, the Controller walked away and disappeared into the darkness. A moment later Number 3 began sobbing when she noticed the pistol in her hand.