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Harper no longer felt anything as the last of the life seeped from her body. All she could do was wait. Wait for the nothing. For a world shivering cold and unbearably lonesome to swallow her 17 years of existence in a single gulp. With the end came a bitter sweet taste in Haper's mouth that made the ends of her mouth twitch up into a twisted sort of smile. It only lasted an instant before a wave of heavy black blanketed her mind. Harper Harkin was dead.
A bright flashing filled Harper's closed eyes. Instinct opened her eyelids and was immediately plagued with regret as the purple neon burned her corneas mercilessly. Harper blinked profusely, an endeavor to both heal and adjust her vision. Finally, able to take a long enough break in between blinks, Harper made out a blurred picture of a sizable rectangle with two words written inside. Too close to read, she took a few steps back in a room so dark she could make out precisely zero features. She wasn't even sure there was a floor, urgently beginning to wonder if she would fall off an invisible cliff. Harper stopped moving, deciding to remain where she was before she discovered the answer. Turning her attention back to the scripture, she could now make out the giant words that changed everything she thought she knew, GAME OVER.
It flickered in and out of existence. The blinding purple there one second then gone the next, each time leaving Harper to contemplate whether it was real or imaginary. The simple words became a confusing mess in her brain, Harper remembered what happened, but didn't understand. She died. She woke up in a room containing a sign that looks like it came straight from the end of an old arcade game. Before she had the chance to dive any deeper on the subject, the words flashed away again for the thirteenth time, but when the light came back to what should've been the haunting, GAME OVER, there was a new set of words. Options, more accurately. Replacing the area where the single rectangle was earlier, now two smaller rectangles, one reading, LEAVE GAME, the other, PLAY AGAIN.
Feeling more lost than ever before, Harper's mind was a jumble of unanswered questions. The brilliance beaming from these choices was stronger than the blinking of the previous sign. The messages held no flicker, only floated in the space in front of Harper, staring at her and waiting patiently for her to choose. She didn’t have the slightest clue what clicking either of the choices would do, however, she knew she didn’t want to stay in the room that resembled what Harper imagined a bottomless pit to be like. Tentatively, Harper took a few steps forward, raising her right arm, and pushed the words PLAY AGAIN.
The entire room transformed, the shadowy midnight that covered every inch reconstructed into a stark white with new screens showered in a variety of options. They besieged Harper, a small circle enclosing her in a form that let her know she had no other means of escape. Each of the six screens around her a profile for different characters, showing names, pictures, strengths, weaknesses, and companions. Harper spun around, trying to absorb the information while processing what it meant. She tried to focus and read her options, but her brain was ransacked and unable to take in any knowledge, that was until, she saw one character she knew all too well.
NAME: HARPER HARKIN
STRENGTHS: SPEED, INTELLIGENCE, CREATIVITY
WEAKNESSES: PHYSICAL STRENGTH, JUMPING, ENDURANCE
COMPANION: KIT WARRING
Below the description lay a picture of Harper she had never seen before. She seemed to be in combat clothes which, admittingly, Harper thought she looked pretty badass in. Nonetheless, it was all too strange. Not to mention the part about how her so called 'companion' was someone she didn't know.
Harper leaned closer to the screen, noticing a little arrow indicating more information next to Kit Warring's name. She clicked on it,
UNLOCKED AT LEVEL 20
The no new information did little to settle Harper's nerves. Level 20? What does that mean? Strengths and weaknesses, companions? What is all this? While Harper's questions remained to be pending in the open space for no one around to explain, she went through the other profiles. Carter Harrington, Abigail Abbot, Pierce Pruitt, Casey Rhodes, but when Harper got to the sixth screen, she didn't find another character profile, she found a score board.
It was yet another blast of puzzlement, but Harper pieced enough together to conclude that her life was a game. Harper was seventeen when she died, almost eighteen, eight days away from her birthday. Happy early birthday to me, Harper thought sarcastically.
18 x 365 = 6,570
6,570 – 8 =6,562
That was it. I'm not Harper at all. I'm RLZ. A pathetic few letters were the only identity Harper could call her own. Three letters representing a first, middle, and last name she had no recollection of. An entire world wiped from her mind. Harper's only way out now was through. And, as it seemed, the way through was the game. Harper dragged her hand across her eyes to shoo away unshed tears of frustration. She whipped around, practically punching the screen with HARPER HARKIN written on it. Due to the emotional hurricane she was experiencing, Harper failed to notice the two hearts out of three remaining at the bottom of her character profile.
The next thing Harper's eyes saw was a hospital room and a woman holding her small and unknowing being. A newborn's body and mind. Harper Harkin was alive.
17 YEARS AND 357 DAYS LATER
She wanted to cry, she really really wanted to cry. She thought about how the flow of unrestrained tears would feel against her checks that had become reddened with fury, anger, and betrayal. But, Harper's will is stronger than steel. She would not cry, would not spend her last few moments in mourning the path her own stupidity led her down. Harper stood, staring in what still registered as shock, waiting for what she knew must be coming next. She was right, per usual. A reverberating gunshot rang throughout the world. Harper fell to the ground, her eyes not daring a blink. It was her heart, and blood oozed out almost as fast as her mix of hatred and unwanted love. Harper no longer felt anything as the last of the life seeped from her body. All she could do was wait. Wait for the nothing. For a world shivering cold and unbearably lonesome to swallow her 17 years of existence in a single gulp. With the end came a bitter sweet taste in Haper's mouth that made the ends of her mouth twitch up into a twisted sort of smile. It only lasted an instant before a wave of heavy black blanketed her mind. Harper Harkin was dead, for the second time.
When Harper opened her eyes to the bright flashing purple that burned her corneas, she remembered.
Harper waited calmly as the words GAME OVER blinked before the same options presented themselves once again. Harper wasted no time clicking PLAY AGAIN. When the character options popped back up, she turned without having to think, facing HARPER HARKIN yet again. She looked herself up and down on the screen as the only person she remembered being. Harper reached up into her hair and pulled out a snap clip that was holding back a few wisps of hair. She broke off the end and pressed the jagged end to her forearm, beginning to carve.
Harper's eyes were fixed on her arm as she silently admired her work. RLZ was bleeding from her arm, her pain a silent reminder of how far she would be willing to go to remember this time. She hoped it would do something, the chance of it scarring in her next life as Harper Harkin wasn't great, but it was something she could at least try. Harper couldn't afford to lose again, which she soon realized once she pressed HARPER HARKIN for what would be the last time and a small warning beep came over the screen, in small print Harper read aloud, "One life remaining. Click 'ok' to continue or 'exit' to leave game." Harper hit OK and left the infinite room and its screens.
Harper Harkin was alive yet again, a baby in a hospital room, everything the same as before except one slight difference, a birthmark resembling the letters "RLZ" on her forearm.
17 YEARS AND 357 DAYS LATER
She wanted to cry, she really really wanted to cry. She thought about how the flow of unrestrained tears would feel against her checks that had become reddened with fury, anger, and betrayal. But Harper's will is stronger than steel. She would not cry, would not spend her last few moments in mourning the path her own stupidity led her down. Wait. Harper glanced down, seeing her forearm, more specifically, the birthmark. It was like a flip in Harper's brain switched. A pounding in her head made Harper's stomach turn. The pounding was fuel, the pressure shoving down on her head was the way the information she had forgotten came back. Harper looked back up at her soon-to-be shooter and jumped to tackle her ex-best friend, Graham Holt. With one life left, there was no time for the emotions she had gone through twice already.
Graham's surprise was sweet enough to eat. Harper rolled over with Graham, punching him in the face as she somehow ended up above him. All it managed to do was bring an immense amount of pain to her knuckles she hadn't been anticipating. The gun was thrown to the side, out of reach, and nestled in a tuft of grass. Harper clawed at his face, relentless in her attempts to leave this moment, this day, this game. Graham's weakening resistance to fight back implied it was working in Harper's favor.
After a minute, Graham stopped moving. Not dead, but fainted was Harper's best guess. It didn't matter to her. He could be dead for all she cared. Graham had never shown any violent behavior towards her before. Harper couldn't even think of any motive he might have to shoot her.
Harper thought about it, tension building up in her mind while Graham lay on the ground unconscious. It's all a game, Harper thought, nothing needs to make sense to me. I'm just one of the characters playing along. Harper deduced that Graham must have been one of the "villians" she would be facing in this place. This revelation did not settle well with Harper. The idea of not having control, knowingly in a game where she doesn't even know what the goal is. How to win? It was a question so vague that even starting to unravel that mystery would require more effort than Harper had left to give. She resolved not to. Not to play along, to play the game in her own way, oblivious. Ignorance was bliss she coveted more and more every torturing second she sat next to Graham. Harper stood up, looked forward, and walked away.
TWO YEARS AND EIGHT DAYS LATER
Harper sighed as she looked pitifully down at her single pink frosted cupcake with a lit candle sitting cozily in the center. "Happy 20th birthday to me," Harper murmured as she blew out the flame. Suddenly the world grew colder, the air sharper, and the noise level of the city dropped to an alarming low. Harper glanced around at her surroundings, her tiny apartment in its regular state, her few belongings where they've always been, with her being the only one occupying the space, as usual. But something was different, off. Harper stood slowly from her chair, moving her head left and right, preparing for anything. She knew one day a weird occurrence might happen again, she just knew it was a matter of time. But what happened next was something hadn't thought of in a long time, Kit Warring.
"Hello! It's me! Congrats on making it to level 20, really. Not many make it this far. Quite impressive. I was a little afraid at first, you know, seeing as you wasted your first two lives dying the same way. Oh well, the past is in the past." The strange man appeared from right behind Harper's couch, seemingly popped into being and talking in a British accent so fast she had to blink a few times before processing that he was real. As the memories ran back through the dusty corners in Harper's brain, she recalled a certain companion on her profile said to be unlocked at level 20.
"Kit Warring?" Harper asked, trying to fit the last pieces together in her mind while the tall man commenced nodding enthusiastically.
"Yup. That's me. I'm finally here. Know what that means?" Harper shook her head, indicating she had no clue what his presence meant, "It means we can really get started. This is when the fun begins." A smile grew on Kit's face big enough to reach through space.