Day 21 is here, and that means it’s the final week of this April’s Challenge! I’m surprised, relieved and somewhat saddened by the prospect of it all being over so soon! Today’s story is a bit late because I have been working late today, which has required me to write on the go and almost exclusively on my phone, which is something I haven’t done before. Quite a tricky but rewarding experience, I must say!
Anyway, today’s suggestion comes from the brilliant Geoff Le Pard
, who, as I have previously mentioned, is largely responsible for inspiring my theme for this Challenge. Geoff suggested the word “UNREAL”, which I am delighted to say really forced me to think hard. I discarded several ideas before I settled on this one, and I hope I have done it justice. Thanks, Geoff!
By Adam Dixon
Jack could hardly believe the realism of the game. As soon as he pulled down the visor-screen he could almost swear that he was standing in a meadow during the height of summer, rather than sat in his ergonomic gaming chair in his draughty South-London flat. He could nearly feel the grass tickling his feet and taste the pollen in the air. The box containing the virtual reality system boasted “A gaming world so real, it’ll leave you drained!” It certainly was visually impressive.
“Wow,” he whistled in appreciation. “Pretty good start!” He glanced down at himself and marvelled at the physique of his chosen character. He gazed in wonder at a bare torso covered with rippling, solid muscle and saw equally strong legs supporting him. He almost whooped in delight. He was just like Conan the Barbarian!
“Oh man, this is gonna be good!” Jack squeaked, lifting and flexing his limbs for a better inspection of his new physical prowess. He felt powerful and confident, making his character strut around the deserted meadow with a deliberate swagger. It all seemed so real, even down to the dull thud of his character’s rough leather boots on the soil. The only aspect which reminded Jack that he was in a game was the Head-Up Display fixed permanently in his sight just above his left eye. It displayed a full green health bar, as well as currently empty weapon and potions slots. In the centre of his vision was a flashing red timer counting down from one minute, urgently informing Jack that the “FIRST WAVE” was approaching.
“Hmm…weapons…” Jack muttered, casting to and fro. He spotted a large, double-headed axe leaning against a nearby fence. Brimming with excitement, Jack ran over to it and curled his massive right hand around the haft. As he tensed to lift it, the resistance astonished Jack. It even felt heavy!
“Fuck, this is awesome!” Jack exclaimed as he took a few practice swings with the axe. It made a low whooshing sound as it cleaved through the air and threatened to overbalance him. That didn’t matter, he’d get the hang of it in time. As he moved around the meadow with the axe held high the red timer hit zero. Almost instantly Jack heard savage snarls behind him. He spun around to see three terrifyingly life-like wolves running towards him. Yelping, Jack held the axe at the ready, somewhat comforted by its weight.
“Come on, then!” He shouted, planting his feet and squaring his shoulders. He felt braver than he had ever been as Jack the nerd. He was Conan, and he wasn’t scared of some stupid wolves!
The first wolf attacked, leaping through the air with its razor-sharp fangs seeking Jack’s throat. Jack swung the axe in an awkward sideways motion with all of his new might. His axe slammed into the wolf, sending shock waves up his arms. He felt faint as he heard bones snapping and the wolf howling in pain. Wow, this is a bit too real! Jack thought, his emotions caught somewhere between joy and horror.
Swinging the axe twice more he felled the other two wolves like trees. As he stood panting, he noticed that the red timer had started up again; the “SECOND WAVE” was on its way.
Jack spent the next hour battling various enemies as the timer stopped and restarted. Wolves, bandits, fellow barbarians and even armoured knights fell to his mighty axe as Jack grew in confidence and determination. He was astounded by the VR’s attention to detail; he saw every sickening laceration, every grimace of pain and and every look of terror on his enemies faces. He continually had to glance up at the HUD in order to remind himself that he wasn’t in mortal danger at every turn. He experienced the full impact of the VR’s sophistication when a knight stabbed him through the arm. Pain radiated from his wounds and his forearm grew slick with blood. His health bar decreased by a third and Jack felt a portion of his energy disappear with it. He screamed and almost threw off his visor-screen in a panic. Instead, he despatched the knight and stood trembling, reminding himself firmly that it was only a game. A damned realistic game, but still a game. None of it was real.
Jack was becoming exhausted by the “SEVENTH WAVE”, and he was pounced upon by a huge bear during the “EIGHTH WAVE”. He was forced the ground under the weight of the beast, choking on a mouthful of its reeking fur. The bear tore into Jack’s throat and he screamed again, marvelling at the heightened sensation of pain he was experiencing. As the bear’s jaws opened and closed, Jack felt his strength ebbing away. The virtual meadow began to grow dark as Jack’s health bar emptied. The last thing Jack thought before he died was wondering what the loading screen would look like. He wasn’t sure if he would hit “CONTINUE”. He’d had enough for one day…
Back in Jack’s flat, the vampire Lucius reluctantly finished his feast. He withdrew his own very real fangs from Jack’s throat and stood back, wiping fresh blood from his chin and admiring his handiwork. The overweight, heavily-acned corpse that had once been Jack sat slumped in the preposterous gaming chair, its skin pale and its face contorted in agony.
Lucius laughed as he contemplated how easy hunting was becoming these days. One could always find loners like Jack who would jump at the chance to test out a prototype gaming system, no matter how dodgy it all seemed. Lucius removed the visor-screen from the corpse’s head and collected the controllers and power outlet. Before he left, he turned back and took one last look at the very real, very dead man. He grinned and strode out of the flat. Virtual reality: just another way to turn the vulnerable into the delicious!