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I wake up, shivering. But it’s like eighty degrees in here. My body is drenched in cold sweat. I’m shaking badly with fear, quivering under the sheets. I can’t’ breathe—the air is getting thinner. Or is it just me? I cringe my arms across my chest, rocking myself back and forth. Is that blood on my hands?
It’s not real.
Nothing is real. I need to focus. Survive—beat the game. It’s a game. I need to win. Outsmart it. Don’t fall for tricks. It targets weak points. Don’t let it control you. Win your life back.
I try clearing my mind. I need to fall asleep again, to jump back into the simulation. But getting one taste of the game and then waking up makes it harder to want to fall asleep again. How long have I been doing this, anyway? It feels like I’ve submerged myself into the simulations for years. Is it really? No, wait—I was told it was supposed to feel like a lifetime. In reality, I might have only been playing for an hour. The games play with my mind. They toy with me, pushing and pulling with my emotions, testing my physical strength. I don’t know what’s real and not real anymore. They shove something out and push something else back in. I can’t keep this on forever. Either win or start over. I lie down on the bed again. Concentrate. Stay focused. Get back in. I close my eyes and steady my breathing.
This is a new one.
It prickles my neck, arms, actually my entire body. Only the areas where my skin is bear. Elsewhere is clothing. The clothing—soft fabric, clean, gentle touch. I brush my hands against the prickles. They’re not hash. Tiny as needles but hardly the level of pain: grass. The air is crisp and fresh. I open my eyes. At first, the sight blinds me. Then I slowly adjust to the light. The vision comes into focus: blue. Blue and some white. A sky! When was the last time I saw one?
This is a new one.
I’m in a meadow. The colors startle me. All the other games put me in harsh situations— dark, damp, cruel, and unforgiving places. The atmosphere is, terrifyingly, gentler. I’m not used to it, but I want to be. I stand up—I’m a simple yellow blouse and light blue jeans. They feel good against my skin, comfortable. My hearing comes into play, too. Trickles, drops, rushing sound. A stream. Not too far from here. And birds. Above me, next to me, around me. I breathe in the pollen, the flowers, the air…
No! Not blood. I do not smell blood.
Stay focused. Don’t let it get to you.
I walk towards the sound of the water. It grows louder and I want to jump into the liquid. I don’t care about getting wet. It’s been a while since I’ve seen pure water. I rush forward and stop. The sound is here, but there is nothing. I listen closely, carefully. It’s definitely water. No wait, I hear something else. It’s water but—pixelated. Muffled. Not a rich, genuine sound. A recording, I realize. I get on my knees and feel the grass, looking for something. I don’t know what. I’ll know it when I get my hands on it. Wait, the grass. It’s not real, either. I heard bird sounds but didn’t see any myself. Artificial world?
I find it, pull myself and it off the ground, and then I survey it.
Not a recording device. Or is it? I mean, it certainly doesn’t look like it. It’s small, tubular. I hold the brass object in my hand, weighing it. Surprisingly light. No writing on the outside.
But there’s something drawing me to it. An attachment. A necessary one? No. No, but I want to keep it. I want it for myself.
I pocket it and turn—
No more meadow. No more grass. No bird chirping or flowers or blue sky. Everything is black except the dome above me. That’s red. Blood red. I’m running. From what, I don’t know. I’m just sprinting and hurdling over the objects that scatter the ground. I look around as a run and see bare, burnt trees. Not a single spec of life. But the display—it’s all familiar. I’ve been here before. No, wait. I still am here. It’s the meadow.
Run! Faster, faster. I leap and jump over—what?—rocks? They’re strangely strewn across the land. As I keep moving forward, the objects grow in numbers until it becomes difficult to land my feet on solid ground. I take another leap and trip, tumbling hard onto the masses. I shake my head. I’m starting to get a headache, but I shake that off too.
I push my arms out to balance myself on my knees and palms. The long rock rolls over—
OH GOD! It’s not a rock—it’s a body!
I scream. C’mon! Get up and move! I chant to my mind. I try getting up and then I see what I’ve been hurdling over. It’s a graveyard of just bodies. Dead. Dead. Dead. Death surrounds me.
I’m panting hard. There’s no oxygen; I’m suffocating. I’m breathing but dying. I will become one of them. I will join this landscape.
MOVE! Please! But I can’t. I’m stuck. My feet won’t move; their glued into place.
And the bodies are alive. They’re dragging me down, gripping my ankles and pulling me to them. I struggle and fail to escape. They achieve their goal and I collapse.
I’m screaming and screaming. The bodies cover me. There’s one last sliver of red that I see. Everything struggles to conceal me. I can’t breathe. The red is gone. Everything is black.
I wake again, screaming. The arms are covering my body. I jump out of bed and scramble away. Then I realize that it’s not real. It’s just the sheets. I clutch my face with my hands.
What’s happening to me!?
What’s the point of all of this? Why me? I can’t keep it up. I just can’t. There’s no goal. I don’t know what I’m doing. I want out. No more. I drag myself to the mirror. It’s covered in dust and gunk to the point of where I can’t even see my reflection. I rub my palm roughly against the glass. I’m pale white, soaking wet from all the sweat. I wear a gray tank top. My brown hair is pulled back into a pony tail. My eyes. My dead eyes. Pitch black. There are heavy circles under them. It looks like I’ve been beaten and tortured for my entire life. I haven’t slept. Impossible. I have been sleeping for years now.
But it’s not rest that I’m getting.
I thrust my fist at the mirror and it shatters. The pain is sharp but I ignore it. My hand is covered in blood. My blood this time. Is it real? I can’t tell anymore. I take one of the fallen shards and hold it in my bloody hand. No more.
With my free hand, I pull my hair off of my sweaty neck. Then I use my finger to trace my spine. I’m not surprised, but it scares me that it’s still there. I point the shard directly above it. The Receiver.
Are you killing me or yourself?
What’s the difference?
They will both end, one game or another.
I don’t want to play anymore. I can’t survive.
Have you tried not surviving?
The games. They have a purpose. I know there is a reason for all of this. My life doesn’t just exist in simulated dreams for no reason. They’re trying to tell me something. Every time I go into one, I try to figure out how to keep myself alive. What if that’s not it? What if living isn’t the answer I’m looking for? It’s not random. Each game is different for a reason. Why?
Pay attention to your surroundings.
The spear chase. The torture station. The gas chamber. The nuclear bomb. The artificial meadow. The body graveyard. How do they all connect?
I die in all of them.
But that can’t be it. Think. They relate to one another somehow. I die in all of them. Why? Each simulation is special. They have different situations but they all end the same. They begin different. Different cause? Same effect. But what?
I die in all of them. It’s not me. I am not an individual. I represent something. Again, again, and again. What am I there for?
One more time.
I climb back into the bed. Relax and focus. You’re not beat the game. It’s trying to tell you something. Pay attention to your surroundings.
I close my eyes and steady my heartbeats.
I’m standing upright. There’s something in my hand: the brass cylinder from the last simulation. That’s different. Nothing ever continued from one to the other. It was always something new.
I’m not in the body graveyard this time. I see myself—my reflection. A mirror. I look around—it’s a room completely filled with mirrors, each one a different shape and size to perfectly cover the room completely. I’m staring at myself a hundred times over.
I stare closely at my reflection. I look different. I’m healthier, stronger, and prouder. My hair hangs loosely out. Is this really me?
Then the mirror-me reaches out, a devilish smile on my face. I’m not doing this. I’m not smiling nor moving a muscle. I grip the tube tighter in my hand. It’s not my actual reflection.
All the hands reach out further. They want the tube. I refuse to give it to them. Whatever it is, I can’t let them have it. I try backing away, but the mirror behind me get closer. I’m trapped.
Just give it.
I shake my head. No.
A hand grips my neck and I make a choking sound. My reflections are grabbing me like they stepped out of the glass imprisonments just to kill me. The all raise a knife. I try screaming.
Dagger. Pain. Red.
Again I wake with a start. The first thing I notice is that the room is colder. How can it be? Has something outside changed?
Focus. What did you see this time?
Myself. My reflection, over and over again. They were different than me. Eviler. They weren’t me, but at the same time, they were. The same, but different.
Hang on—now there’s something. The same, but different. Like, two sides of a coin? We both represented something this time. Two sides of a coin—conflicting sides. Think. What else could be like that on a larger scale?
The spear chase. The torture station. The gas chamber. The nuclear bomb. The artificial meadow. The body graveyard. And the mirror attack. How do they all connect?
Wait. They’re not random. I represent something. The same thing in each one. In the end, I die. I was always alone. Pay attention to your surroundings. My goal isn’t to survive, not yet. I was supposed to observe and put the puzzle together. Each one, I die. I don’t think the question is why do I die. They aren’t random; all the games relate.
They’re not games.
They’re lessons? No. Events. Each one is an event—in history! That’s it! Spears—cavemen. Torture—slavery. Gas chambers—Holocaust. Nuclear bomb—Hiroshima. But the meadow and graveyard—the future? The simulations were historical events pertaining to… what? Hunting? Mistakes? Death?
I represent something. Humanity.
The last one—the mirrors. Two sides to a coin—conflicting sides. The tube represented something, too. Battle for what will not be given.
It will happen again. That’s what you've been putting me through. It wasn't a test. You’re communicating with me. You've been trying to tell me a warning. You saw it coming. War is coming.
Pay attention to your surroundings.
You were the Communicator all along. Then you gave me a name.