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You can find all of my work on Royal Road now

If you’ve wondered what I’m about, I’m not just a blogger─ I write novels, novellas, and short stories. (when we aren’t adventuring with our stories on Twitter.)When I have time, I record podcasts and audiobooks for all of you as well. Occasionally, I will post my work on here for you to read but I thought it a good idea to post where you can find all of my work!

I’m aiming to become published, (so that I can write and do podcasting for a living) but until I become one of the lucky few to do that, I like to share it with others. It gives me real joy and excitement to create these worlds for all of you.

If you would like to see what I’m about, you can find all of my written work here. 

I don’t have all of my work up, but I am working toward getting it ALL slowly uploaded (I have to sort through tons of stuff) but I should have it all up in the next month.

If you’re familiar with my work and you’d love to support it, this is a great site to do it through, or through my Patreon page.

For anyone and everyone that takes time out of their day to read my stories and check out my work, thank you.

Have a wonderful Tuesday

❤ Grey

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Hell’s Gate Awakening – A Fantasy Novel

If you would like to read this in it’s entirety, you can find it here. 

 

“My Goddess The Moon Can be as Bright as The Sun,

But She is Only a Reflection.” 

Her eyes flew open, the magnitude of the dream still lingering in her vision. The swirls of darkness lulled above her bed, the last of it lazily rising from her still form. Celeste pressed her eyes closed, willing it away. Please just leave, she pleaded silently, you aren’t real─ you can’t be real. She opened her eyes and focused her vision. The last of the fluid seeped into the ceiling, leaving behind a discolored smudge on the surface. A rustling sounded and she turned her gaze to John. His hair stood out in stark contrast against the sheet─ a sea of black that kissed the golden beach. She frowned, her eyes shifting to the ceiling. Celeste had longed to feel a connection with others, especially with John. But now, she wasn’t so sure. The thought genuinely terrified her.

John sighed softly, and then turned on his side. Her eyes returned to him and then moved down to the chiseled lines along his back. Her eyes lingered on the pale flesh, frowning at the twin scars behind his shoulder blades. Once back when they were first dating, she had mistakenly reached out and touched the marred flesh. He had jerked away and then moved to cover himself. Since then, she mostly kept her curiosity to herself─ but now as he rested, they were open and bare. Celeste couldn’t help but stare.

 Her vision blurred for a moment and she closed her eyes drawing a deep breath. She remembered it like it was yesterday, the first time his lips had graced hers. It had been an exceptionally cold winter last December. They had spent the weekend in her Father’s cabin along the slopes in Aspen. It was John’s first time to travel anywhere. She remembered his infectious grin as he stared up to the sky, marveling at the large flakes as they swirled to the ground. 

 Celeste would never forget how John’s face glowed as they sat by the fire. He was reading his favorite bits of poetry as she lay in his lap. This had been where he found much of his inspiration for his work─ poets that wrote anonymously. He had a real fascination with people not claiming their own work, or working in secret. Celeste never knew where he found them, but they were full of insight, and sorrow─ many speaking of an alternate universe or hidden worlds.

That weekend trip was the first moment she knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. She had always felt something that drew her to him, some force of nature. But as she laid there, watching his face light up as he talked about the meaning behind his latest poetry obsession and tying it to the possibility of a multiverse, she knew he was the one.  

John’s sculptures were profoundly beautiful. Among his regular clients, he was considered a modern Bernini. Known for his exquisite attention to detail, most of his works were portraits of mythological creatures and people. John’s ability to capture other’s lives brought many to tears, including herself. It looked as though the stone could simply stand and walk away. Every detail was hand-molded, even down to the flaws. His stone fabric flowed as if it was a real garment.

His sculptures were something to behold, but John’s paintings were even more so. The colors blended in a way that you would swear it was a window into another world. A secret one, far better than our own. It was otherworldly─ just like him.

Celeste’s attention returned to the present as her gaze fell to the addition on her left hand. Surrounding her finger was a silver band with a princess-cut solitaire. A blood red stone sprouted from the center. It was made from garnet, her birthstone. She had never found diamonds appealing, the lack of color reminded her of death. Her eyes shifted to the Baroque paintings and décor in the room. Father spoiled her too much. He knew it was her favorite period in art and made it a point to collect things for her over the years. Each piece of furniture that surrounded her was dainty and hand-carved from dark mahogany wood.  She adored the crushed red velvet that lined the chaise that was next to the fire. It was her absolute favorite. Every night she would curl up with her blanket and book in hand. Celeste knew it was old-fashioned. Most of her friends had some type of reader or listened to Audiobooks. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but there was something magical about holding a book next to the fire. It brought back memories from her childhood. Mama had read to her every night. She would download the app eventually, but for now she was content with paperbacks.

 Celeste looked over and smiled at the crimson drapes along the windows. It was her first real purchase, one of the few things she could be proud of. She had to defend them constantly against her friends. They said it made the room look like something out of a Dracula novel. She stuck her tongue out at them mentally. Let them think what they wanted─ she preferred it this way. 

Shadows drifted along her marble sculptures, Celeste’s eyes stopped on the one close to her dresser. Deep shadows encased the young mother and child holding hands. It was as if it welcomed them into the shadow realm. She relaxed, thinking that maybe this time the dream left her with nothing to fear. The dreams were coming more frequently now, each more menacing than the last. Her head tipped up to the ceiling again and she stared uneasily at the smear and frowned. It was still there. Were they just dreams? Maybe there were warnings of things to come. 

She jumped at the loud tapping sound on the side of her window. She tensed, straining her ears to see if she could hear anything else. When the sound happened again, she released the breath she had been holding in.  It was the Japanese maple her father had planted some years ago. She closed her eyes, listening as it brushed lazily across the house─slow and rhythmic. Celeste had always been fond of them, so for her twentieth birthday, her father had surprised her with one for her housewarming party. Shaking her head, she grinned at the stubbornness of the old man. No matter how many times she refused his gifts, it only strengthened his resolve to do more.

A crackling came from the foot of the bed and she jerked toward the sound. Celeste half chuckled, half sighed in frustration, feeling foolish. It’s just the fire place, Jesus get a grip, she scolded herself. It was one of the major selling points for Celeste. Even though she lived in Texas, and winter lasted all of two or three months, she used it every year. The fire place acted as a sort of divider, separating the small library from the bedroom. It was designed to provide a reading nook on one side, but kept the space open enough that she could see outside through the bay window. 

Unable to sleep, Celeste stretched and pushed back the covers. With cat-like grace she slunk from the bed, careful to not wake John. Grabbing her robe from the chaise she quickly glanced back at John before slipping from the room. Out cold, she mused. 

Celeste emerged from the long hall, her attention shifting to the left. The robe unclasped as she came to a halt, revealing a petite frame beneath the billowing gown. Just to the left of the French doors sat her mother’s piano─ an oasis of red against the desert-colored walls. The keys were worn, but she could never replace it. Celeste knew it was silly, but somehow the thought of restoring it would feel as if the last of her mother would disappear. Her hand trailed the length of the case, and then slowly pulled it back─ revealing the ivory keys. She sat and placed her slender fingers on the cool surface. A millisecond passed, and she began. The chords started shaky and uneven as her mind struggled to remember the notes. Finally, it smoothed itself out and she eased herself into the composition. Celeste swayed back and forth lost in the melody. There was something familiar about it. She couldn’t remember when, or how she had learned to play it─ and yet, the song now flowed easily from her fingertips. She strummed the last chord, blinking back the wetness that had gathered at the corners of her eyes. The air was heavy with silence. It left her longing for the past. Why did you have to die? Celeste wondered. Her mother’s smile flashed through her mind. You were always so warm, she thought.

Celeste rose from the bench and glided from the piano to the patio doors. The Moon’s light drew her in and she pressed herself into the glass, longing to feel the night on her skin. She clutched at the doors and thrust them open. The Moon sensed her, emitting a soft hum as it pulsed─ her own life force felt as if it was joining with it. She stared openly, captivated by its beauty. She didn’t want to, but finally tore her eyes from the glowing goddess. She crossed the threshold into the cool night air. The wood felt soft and warm beneath her feet, it was similar to the feeling of packed dirt. She walked five feet to her favorite spot on the patio and eased herself down.

Celeste stretched out her arms and leaned back on the wooden swing, her legs dangling. Her skin shone like porcelain in the moonlight, further emphasizing her doll-like figure. She stared down from the patio ledge─ the wind gently combing through her long, obsidian hair. She swept a strand from her eyes, troubled by the thoughts that traveled through her mind. She looked down to the untouched gardens─ at the plant life swaying to the Earth’s sigh. It had been years since Celeste felt so normal─ so nice. John was the best thing that had happened to her this past year.

Then what was this feeling slowly curling in the pit of her belly? It was naïve to think that somehow the curse had vanished and that maybe, John had something to do with it. She cringed as thoughts began snaking through her mind. They undulated and curled, twisting around her head. She gasped, as it bit down, pumping the venomous thoughts throughout her brain. No more, she silently begged. Please. She moaned, clutching her head. John, please, no. The thought echoed through her mind over and over until it lost its meaning. She hugged her knees to her chest as the tears flowed. Images of people lost to her flashed within seconds of one another, their faces full of contempt. You did this to us, they seemed to say. Smiles leered from the dark cracks and crevices. They were calling to her, a mix of jeers, and begging. She couldn’t make out a single thing that was being said, it was all a jumbled mess. 

Then suddenly there loomed a sea of faceless demons behind them. The silence was heavy in the air as they drifted closer. There was a low, menacing hum, amplifying with each of their steps. They lashed out─ their grip ice cold against her flesh. She panicked as they drew their frigid limbs across her frame. Her mind screamed in agony as each entity burned through, trying to be heard. It was so cold that it burned. She prayed that it would stop, raising her hands up to her ears and squeezing them tight. All sound ceased, and in a flash─ they were gone. Celeste sighed, her hands falling to the sides. The earth trembled, then turned on it’s side. She screamed, her hands shooting out and gripping the swing as the violence continued. In seconds, something flashed before her, something far worse than before pushing it’s way through. Celeste stared at the face of pure evil─ at death. She was face to face with what the others must have seen seconds before it had claimed her friends and family’s lives. Celeste was looking into the eyes of Hell. It was soulless─ a deep, black pit. The tunnel stretched, and stretched into nothingness. She wasn’t sure how it was possible, but it was there inches from her face. The black death. It was that same smudge, that tar that had oozed from her ceiling. The darkness released her finally as the remaining images roared across her mind like sirens to the damned. Unable to stand it, her eyes shot up to the pure, heavenly body as she pleaded to the sky.

Kami-Sama, please.” Celeste drew herself up on the railing and looked down. She spoke again, this time with feeling “Please, let this end.” She clasped her hands together, her eyes glued to the massive glowing orb. The goddess flickered, and then grew brighter. It had acknowledged her plea, she felt it. She pressed her eyes together and filled her lungs with the wintry air. It was crisp, and clear. All at once, the idea came to her and she knew what had to be done. A breath, then a blink, and she threw herself from the edge. Like an angel her white gown flowed behind her, the illusion of wings on her dark form. For a few precious seconds, she felt the cleansing glow from the Moon’s light. How she longed to be bathed in Its purity. It wrapped her in Its loving embrace, cradling her delicate figure. Child, my child, It seemed to whisper. The sounds of the passing cars filtered through, their drivers’ unaware of the fast descending girl meeting her end. She felt the wind, and peered out at the sprinkle of lights. Each twinkling, pale yellow glow held families. Families that lay dreaming, and warm in their beds. Celeste smiled. It was the right thing to do. The last of her thoughts were swept into the wind as the deafening blow reverberated down the street.

 

*              *                *

The loud thud woke Celeste from her dream. She bolted upright, pulling the sheets from her chest. Her hands ran along the length of her frame as she made sure she was still in one piece. Her hands moved around her throat and she swallowed thickly. It felt extremely dry, she must have been screaming. She glanced around, confused for a few seconds before realizing that she had fallen out of bed. A dream, she thought bringing her hand to her face. She got up and sighed, apologizing to John about the scream. She paused and frowned at the empty space on the bed. He hadn’t come over tonight. Then Celeste remembered John had mentioned a meeting early in the morning with a client. He had probably stayed at his place Downtown. She picked up her phone to check, and then placed it back on the stand? Of course not, she thought. It had been a week since she last heard from him. She was beginning to wonder if they were still dating. Her mind switched to the dream. What did it mean? She wondered.

Celeste glanced down at her barren hand. Why had she dreamed that John had given her a ring? He had asked questions about how she felt about marriage, sure, but he had not asked yet. Maybe one day, she thought wistfully. Or you’re just fooling yourself, she added. John had been spending long hours away from her lately. It wasn’t as if marriage defined her, or she would simply fall over and die from not being married. She just─ wanted to. It was beyond the whole tax thing, or paperwork. It was something she had dreamed about since she was a girl. It was a dumb, old-fashioned sentiment but it was hers. Things had just felt right with John. Or her ovaries were wreaking havoc on her decision making. Stupid hormones. She had the University to keep her busy, and her piano students, but it wasn’t enough to fill the emptiness she had been feeling. John was still warm and loving with the time they had spent together, he just wasn’t always there mentally. She was being silly. They were, after all, both happy. Wasn’t that all that mattered? Maybe she was being too quick to judge. John had been working hard lately and daddy hadn’t been much help, telling John to ‘get a life and a real job.’ Sometimes her father could be a huge traditionalist and it bugged the crap out of her.

Celeste crossed the room and walked out to the kitchen. Her throat felt like needles had been jammed into it. Her hands shook as she grabbed for the edge of the counter. I’ve never had a dream like that before, she thought. Celeste snatched orange juice from the refrigerator, gulping it down. She was wiping her mouth when a series of booms erupted at the front door. She relaxed, realizing that it was knocking. Then she scrunched her face in confusion, looking at the time. Who could be here at this hour? She wondered. It was four a.m. 

She left the kitchen and slowly walked down the stairs to the front entrance. Standing on her tiptoes Celeste peeked through the peep hole. It took her a minute to focus as she flipped the outside light on. Sighing, she unlocked the door. It was her neighbor Sally. Probably heard me screaming my lungs out, she guessed as she pulled it open. Standing before Celeste was a very unhappy Sally─ arms crossed, and a scowl in place.

“Celeste, what on God’s-green-earth is going on over here? It’s four o’clock in the morning and I have to take the boys to school in a couple of hours.” Celeste opened her mouth to respond but did not get a word out before Sally talked over her, “Not to mention, oh, I don’t know? you scared the bejesus outta all of us.” It took all of Celeste’s strength not to giggle at her neighbor. She pronounced ‘bejesus’ with a southern drawl. She started, realizing that it wasn’t just Sally standing outside. 

Celeste leaned out and glanced at several of the neighbor’s worried faces. She waved nervously and apologized. “Sorry, everyone, I had a horrific dream.” They didn’t budge. One of her neighbors stepped forward and spoke. He had an air of confidence in his speech, someone that took to authority well, “Ma’am, I don’t mean to get in your business, but─” he shifted from his left leg to his right, glancing up the stairs. “That was some yell. It woke up half the neighborhood.” His eyes rested on hers and he softened his tone, “Only reason I didn’t call it in is because I wanted to make sure before I went bothering anyone at the station.” That’s right, now she remembered─ her neighbor was a police officer. She frowned, trying to remember his name. Was it Geoffrey? No that didn’t seem right, George maybe? They all stared at her quietly and she realized they might be taking it for something else. She quickly shook her head, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten any of you. It was honestly just a bad dream.” The man nodded, appearing relieved and walked over to his wife. She waved again, her face feeling like the surface of the sun.

She winced, as Sally hadn’t moved from the doorway. Jesus, did the lady have an ounce of tact? Glaring down at her, Sally opened her mouth to speak, but Celeste quickly interrupted, “I’m sorry I woke you and your family, Mrs. Henderson, I’ll try to keep it down.” Nodding, she looked up at Sally, giving her best ‘I’m sorry’ look and pulled the door toward her. Sally, like Celeste knew she would, put her foot in the way. She always had to get that last word in. Celeste yearned for the polite neighbors in Japan. No one would have dreamed of behaving this way, let alone keep doing it.

“Well, alright,” she boomed, “Can’t be too careful these days, what with all the murders going on.” Sally ran fingers through her frizzy hair, her eyes darting outside, then back to Celeste conspiratorially. The curls took on a life of their own as the copper strands bounced around Sally’s face. She had that kind of hair you wanted to reach out and touch. Her light mood darkened as Celeste thought about the locals. Now it made sense, the neighbors weren’t just concerned about a scream. They thought─ oh god. Now she really felt awful. She made a mental note to write an apology to everyone, maybe send them something. 

The deaths were a great shock to the local community. It was all her students talked about on campus anymore. Every time she turned on the news it seemed like there was another murder. So far they had uncovered seven bodies. Were they ever going to catch this guy? All the victims shared the same appearance─ dark hair, younger, and petite. The main connection was how they were murdered. Each was found in some type of water and drained of blood. It sounded like some sort of lame vampire flick.

When Celeste didn’t respond Sally cleared her throat and added, “I just wanted to make sure, you know?” She paused and peered over Celeste’s shoulder, looking inside. Sally had one of those large frames. She was solidly built, but lumpy, like a sack of potatoes. Her eyes, though a vivid blue, were much too small and set close together. She appeared to be in her late forties, possibly early fifties, but wore clothes that no self-respecting sixty-year-old would touch. She looked like something straight out of a bad 70’s film. Sally was a bear of a woman, but honestly, it didn’t take much. Celeste had the stereotypical Japanese build. But that’s where it ended. Her features were a blended with large, expressive brown eyes. She had a more round nose, yet a petite jaw line. Her hair was a soft black, almost brown, and her skin a peachy-white. She was tormented maliciously in Japan, they called her half-breed. It was something Celeste was very self-conscious about. At least here in the States with her adoptive parents, kids had been slightly more forgiving. 

Her adoptive mother, Kotone, had shared a little about her past. Celeste had always assumed that an American soldier had fathered her, or a European man. She long came to the conclusion that she probably brought shame to her real mother─ so her biological mother had given her up for adoption. All she could do was guess, she had never known the truth. Celeste had the kind of frame that people found adorable. If only they knew how annoying it was to have to use a step ladder every time she needed something. Forget trying to see anything at a concert. 

She stared at Sally, sizing her up. The old minx would have put Nancy Drew to shame. She may have looked frumpy, but that’s where it ended. Sally had that keen sensibility about her, the kind that missed nothing. Celeste noticed that the old woman had checked both her shoe rack, and the coat hanger at the front door. And while, she definitely appreciated it this time, she didn’t normally. For as long as she could remember, Sally was at her front door snooping around and asking questions about her life. Especially about John. He had a tough exterior, but was gentle as a kitten. It was a shame that people had the habit of only seeing with their eyes. She forced a grin, and bowed, “Thank you again for your concern, Mrs. Henderson. I am fine.” Saying good night and apologizing, she firmly closed the door.

 

I will be posting this on royalroad.com

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Recipes moved to my food blog – Link below!

Hey guys! I’m slowly working toward moving all my recipes over to the new food blog. It’s a work-in-progress, but I’ll have them up as soon as I can.

Pinterest

Food Blog

So what happens to this blog? I will keep this as articles, and stories so it doesn’t become confusing for people that are following this for the articles and writing. So, easy peasy─

This blog will be for writing and podcasts, and the food blog will be just for food!

I hope you guys have a great week, and I look forward to posting tons of fun stories (and spooky stories with the holiday’s coming up) and audiobooks.

Take care all,

❤ Grey

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Fantasy Stories – Anna’s Adventures Part III

Part I

Part II

Here is the next chapter of our Twitter stories. More to follow soon. If you’d like to adventure with us, you can vote on my daily polls to see where Anna goes and what she does next!

Anna dove into the grass, rolling out of the direct path of destruction. She pumped her legs as fast as they would carry her. Dirt, and debris showered her. It was getting harder to see. Was she still running in the same direction?

There was no sense in looking back. She ran forward as long as her lungs would allow, the deafening whistle ever-present. Something hard smacked into her side, then after a few more strides across her face. She’d managed to stumble into the woods.

Even as far as she believed she had pushed herself, the screaming of the tornado had not lessened. Trees were being pulled, uprooted as close as 50 feet away. Her body felt as if it would be lifted at any moment. This was it, she really felt it. The end of everything.

#

The ground rushed at Anna’s face as thousands of tiny specs dug into her flesh. She clawed at anything she could as her legs flew out behind her. Her arms were quickly giving out. Maybe this was for the best─ maybe it was meant to be.

Her face crusted with dirt as tears streamed from her eyes. What had she done with herself? What had she done with her life? She was already twenty-nine with a dead end job and living off of her mother’s insurance money. How pathetic could you be?

Anna’s hands kept finding dirt. She stretched with all her strength, each grab more disheartening than the last. How long could this last? When would her arms finally collapse? She choked and sputtered as the dirt flew into her lungs.

Her arms collapsed, the wind whipping her hair in a tangled mess behind her. She felt herself being dragged backward as she pawed feebly at the dirt. The debris pummeled her head as she kept it low to the ground. It was the only way she could breath in the storm.

Anna felt the second she let go. All the good and the bad things she had done with her life flashed into her mind. What would her mother think? Simply letting go without a fight─to what end? Being swallowed up and ripped apart by a bit of rotating air?

A curious thing happened. One that Anna never knew she had within her. It bubbled up and yelled from deep within her, “I will not!” Her hands flew out and clawed deep into the earth. She gripped with all her might, pulling at all the roots, dirt, and debris beneath her.

With a hearty yell, Anna lunged forward a foot, maybe more, and then another. And another. Until her hand found air. She searched it frantically─ looking for solid ground. Finally, she found it. It was directly below her body. A cave? A drop? She didn’t know.

A tree ripped away beside her, a rock narrowly missed her head. It was as if the earth itself were coming uprooted. It was do or die, this moment, and it was her choice. She decided it far better a death than this and took the leap of faith.

#

Anna fell flat onto the other side. She wasn’t quite sure how she had landed on her back and remained upright, but somehow─ here she was.

She sat up, brushing the debris from her face, hair, and neck. The roaring had ceased, leaving behind a deafening silence. She sat very still, just inhaling and exhaling. She wondered if the boy was looking in on her. ‘We’re watching your every move.’ They’d said.

She drew her legs up, and though she didn’t trust them completely, and there was quite a bit of wobbling, she finally stood up. After a few more steadying breaths, Anna finally took a look at her surroundings. Her eyes widened.

The bridge seemed to stretch on forever. The more she looked, the further it went. Surely this was an optical illusion, there had to be a support somewhere. She looked up, and then behind her. It was a dead end, a solid wall of rock. Suddenly she felt very vulnerable on this small, grassy island. It couldn’t have been more than five feet in diameter, the whole of it! She peeked over the edge, only to find that the few pebbles that fell over from her shoes hadn’t made a sound. Was she…on a pillar? Anna spun around searching.

Yes, she found. There was literally nothing around and even if there were, you wouldn’t be able to see it. There was miles, upon miles of fog! It was a wonder that the bridge was so clearly visible. But then, now that she thought on it, they must have done this on purpose.

Anna ran her hands along the rails and gingerly pressed her foot onto the first few boards. There were no creaks or groans, it was incredibly solid. Like it were new, and yet old all at once. Someone had put some incredible work into this bridge.

The first dozen or so feet went by slowly, but after she neared thirty feet, she relaxed to her natural gait. It was a strong bridge, the sort she remembered walking across as a girl when her family went abroad. Those were good times, before her father had gone.

There were noises in the air now. Things that she hadn’t heard before. They were low and continuous, like a drone, and then high pitched sounds mixed in. It was as haunting as it was lovely, ethereal in its own way.

The smell reminded Anna of the sea. The air was chilly and damp. It was the kind of breeze that made you get goosebumps and all the hairs on your arms to stand on-end. She wasn’t sure, but it sounded like water was very near.

To be continued!

Thanks for adventuring with me. Let’s see what Anna gets in trouble with next time. ❤

❤ Grey

 

Fantasy Stories – Anna’s Adventure’s Part II

Here is the next chapter of our Twitter stories. More to come soon!

The boy opened the box to reveal a set of soft, grey robes. He left briefly, and then returned with strange bottles filled with varying liquids. The boy trilled at her, the noise calming and pure.

He waved toward the small enclosure. His hand glittered and then suddenly, the room brightened behind her. His eyes crinkled slightly at the corners and soft, pillowy black soot flowed from them. They didn’t leak, but rather dissipated into thin air.

He tugged at her gently and she gathered that the robes and liquids were for her. He glided from the room, the only sound the door closing behind him. She stared down at the bottles, her brows creasing.

After a few whiffs, she noted one smelled like earth, another very flowery, and a third clean and mild.After making an executive decision, she chose the mild, clean scent. The space that was lit was carved from the same stone as everything else. Jetting out from the space were 3 triangle shaped rocks. Below them looked like some sort of pulley.

When she returned to the room, a letter had been placed on her bed. “The High Order has requested your presence before the hour of normal rising tomorrow. Please arrive on time, and in proper attire.” A strange symbol was stamped at the bottom. Something Anna could only assume to be one of the High Order’s names. Then she remembered earlier conversations with the boy about names, power, and meaning. This must have been their way of protecting their name. How very curious.

Anna shrugged off her robe, stepped into the space, and gently pulled down the latch. A blast of very warm water sprayed from every direction. She opened the bottle and poured a bit onto her palm. It smelled delightfully like laundry detergent.

When she woke, she found a tray of what looked like food. Upon closer inspection, it also smelled like food. She brought it up to her face and nearly melted at the smell of freshly baked bread. She devoured the entire loaf and was on her second, when the door opened.

The boy looked at her, smiled, and then sat in the nearest chair. He had a large book with him that he laid across his tiny lap. Anna looked to him, brushing the crumbs from her face. She suddenly felt very dirty sitting next to him and his tidy robes.

His voice sang out beautifully, like a bit of poetry on a wall of text. The book flew open, there was a flash and then images sprung to life before her. “We, the generation of the few, have waited for some time for a moment such as this.” A beautiful swirl of purple skated across the surface of the book and then formed into images of his people─ somehow managing to perfectly illustrate the swirling soot of their eyes. “Once, we lived side by side in perfect harmony.” The shapes changed to form their kind and hers walking together, laughing and hugging.

“But, like all things, that time came to an end.” The boy closed the book before she could see the lighted story that would follow his words. His expression was as silent as his words, showing nothing. “What happened?” she asked quietly.

“That, I’m afraid, must be saved for another time.” He stood and walked her over to the box. “I must advise that you be sure to dress yourself in the clothing provided.” The boy paused, looking up at her through long lashes. “Unless of course you prefer to die a horrible no good, and very painful death.” He giggled at the last statement & then strode toward the door. “Wait─” she called, “what trial? What do you mean death?” The door snapped shut with a metallic click. She sighed looking over at the box. Well, maybe he’ll disclose that later too.

#

The morning air was far colder than Anna expected it to be as she shivered beneath the robes. Some parts, colder than others. This cloth they gave her was far too thin for her liking. She trailed slightly behind the attendant that had come to get her.

They were now crossing into an even further underground area. She could tell it was further underground because the air had grown damp in her lungs. After several heartbeats, they reached an open field. Human sized grass stretched as far as the eye could see.

A scroll fell to the ground & the attendant boomed loudly, “You will be up against your first trial of many. First, we will see how you compare & judge every action that you make. As we have been doing since your arrival.” With that, the girl nodded curtly and turned away. “Now just hold on a min-” she chased after the girl but ran face first into an invisible wall. “What test?” she yelled as loud as she could. But to no avail, the woman kept distancing herself from Anna.

She turned and the clouds behind her roll in hard and fast with a flash of lightening. 

To be continued as the voting progresses!

Stay tuned for our next adventure. You can vote on my Twitter to add your own spin. Let’s see where the fun takes us~

Until we adventure again.

❤ Grey

🌫️

🌧️

A spiral cloud forms out in the field less than a mile out. It begins to grow larger and with horror Anna realizes it’s getting closer!

 

 

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Fantasy story – Anna’s Adventures!

Deep in the recesses of Grey’s mind is a story aching to be told. Just about all day every day I imagine things, I daydream, and I love to share it. It’s literally killing me not being able to release the novel I’m currently planning on getting published!

But, (oh, hohoho~) that doesn’t mean I can’t write for all of you still in some capacity. I love interacting with all of you, so I have a fun Twitter account that I like to poll, and tell tales. I realized, however, that some of you might not be able to keep up. So I can recap here! Here we go, enjoy~

Today, a young boy no more than 10 stumbled onto the driveway behind Ms. Anna’s home at 2401 Miracle Drive. He was lost, tired, and very malnourished. As luck would have it, she had just arrived from her trip to the local grocer.

The boy was quiet and answered none of her questions, except that he was lost and hungry. It was late, nearly 10 p.m. and Anna was unsure of what she should do.

Anna offers the boy food, not too much as it seems he hasn’t eaten in quite some time. Curiously, he eats most of it but stores the rest in his pocket. After some convincing, she managed to get him to follow her inside.

Anna knows that it is late, but she feels sorry for the boy and decides to let him stay the night before phoning the authorities. After a huge struggle, mainly because the boy was terrified of the shower, she managed to bathe and clothe him.

After several restless hours, Anna wakes to discover the boy has vanished from the bed. There is a soft light coming from the front of her home. The boy’s small frame is outlined by the bright glow of her phone. He stares at it, hunched over like a little golem. He’s watching videos, enamored by the lights and sounds. He hums along and mimics words. Almost like a baby would do.

Anna shook her head and smiled. The poor child probably couldn’t sleep. As she turned to leave, she bumped into her comfy chair. The boy froze and turned toward her. She blinked, then blinked again. Had her eyes played tricks on her? Maybe her tired mind had made it up. Surely smoke had not drifted from the child’s eyes. He smiled at her and reached his arms up, motioning to be held. Swooping him up, she shuffled them both back to bed.

Morning came just as sure as the March Drench. Anna poured the waffle mix into her iron and glanced over at the boy. He stayed glued to the small screen, kicking his legs and humming. He looked serene and so small in one of her shirts.

Suddenly the thought of losing him felt worse than calling the authorities, but in the end she caved. Anna dialed & waited, each ring more jarring than the last. Finally the brisk voice answered. She said child services would be in touch & then the line went dead.

They spent the day watching t.v. & eating junk food. Anna had tried getting his name a few times, but he wouldn’t say. She was sure child services had forgotten when her phone sounded. The woman on the line sounded cold & detached.

Anna finished making his care package & got him ready for the person who would pick him up. She had sewn his tattered clothes & added in a few colorful patches from her old scarf collection. She’d just dressed him when her phone rang.

The woman on the line sounded apologetic as she explained that she was having car troubles. “Would it be alright if I come by in the morning? I’m so sorry for the inconvenience.” Anna smiled and agreed to have her come then. How exciting! Another night.

They had just finished up a movie when the boy yawned and stretched across her legs. He gazed up at her adoringly with deep, dark eyes. She instantly was drawn to how deep a brown they were. They were, in fact, so deep that she spotted something jet across the space next to her t.v. Her head snapped up to barely catch the hint of a small, furry creature no larger than a guinea pig with a long, pillow-y tail. A twinkling laugh escaped from her small visitor as he leaped up & chased after it.

Anna’s eyes grew wide as he rushed through her front door! She had no idea that he could move so quickly. She rushed after him, calling out “boy─wait, it’s dangerous!” She barely saw him fly into the trees behind her home.

Without thinking Anna dove into the forest after the fleeing child. She charged forward as fast as her legs would take her over small dips, brush, and finally leaping over a small creek. She sighed, bending over at the waist.

The boy seemed to have endless amounts of energy, but for some reason or another he paused, staring up at the trees. Anna gulped down a few breaths and lumbered over to him. Her arms wrapped around his small frame and she pulled him close.

Something shone on the edge of her vision, a flash of soft, yellow light. Anna stared at the bend of light, like an event horizon. The center was as black as…the boy’s eyes the other night.

She approached the ring of light, enthralled by the thin yellow line. The black was so dark that it continued forever. Anna felt the boy’s hand encircle her own and he tugged at her gently. His laughter sounded and his other hand extended into the darkness.

For a second, his eyes crinkled and she saw swirls of the same darkness spill from his eyes. Then he stepped into the darkness, keeping his grip on her. Anna stared hard at the direction of her home. What if this sealed up? Would she be able to get back? Her arm passed over to the other side─ It felt warm and safe. When she really thought about it, her life had really taken a turn for the dull.

When had she ever done anything with it? Making a snap decision, she stepped forward and left her world behind.

As soon as she crossed over she felt it. There was no going back. At least, not the way they came in. As far as she could see, there were low ceilings, long stretches of tunnel, & no light. It was just just tall enough for her to stand up─ a little over 5 feet.

Anna screamed as something furry zoomed past her leg. The boy didn’t even seem fazed by it, giggling at her outburst. She quieted, allowing her eyes to adjust. But they never seemed to. Everything was horribly out of focus and dark.

There was a shuffle, and then the child spoke: “lumena” He called softly. From his fingertips came a purple glow. It seemed to encircle only the two of them. It was her turn to latch on to him. “Where are we?” she whispered.

He didn’t answer, but instead let a sort of hum mixed with a …purr? Anna’s brain had decided a purr sounded right. She mimicked the sound back at him questioningly. A loud laugh from him gave her all the response she needed.

Anna sighed as they continued taking a left at one bend, and a right at another. They had been walking for what felt like miles. “At some point,” she said, “you’re going to have to tell me a name.”

He paused, staring back at her. His expression was impossible to read, the only thing that seemed to make any movement was the swirl from his eyes. She’d gotten used to it by now, slowly accepting that it was part of his reality. Which was quickly becoming her own.

“Why do you name all of your things?” he asked. That took her back. “Well, don’t you?” His mouth twisted up at the corner from her question. “We name what is important. And a name, is sacred.” They continued forward, the glow from his hands extending further out.

Finally, they reached the end of the tunnel. By the sounds, Anna knew that they were in a very large space. The boy flicked his wrists & the light streaked over to another area which then lit another, & then another.

A towering, glittering city with millions of lights stand before them. A slight wind picks up Anna’s hair as she stares at thousands of tiny movements below. She couldn’t believe her eyes. Her hand sought his as they moved forward.

After several more hours of walking, they finally reached the entrance. She stared into the open area with people roaming around. They were like the boy, but slightly taller. They took notice of the two of them, but went about their own way.

After several curious moments, she couldn’t help herself. “Why aren’t there any guards?” The boy cocked his head to one side & his eyebrows pressed together, “Guards? Why would we?” She had many more questions after this, but decided to keep them to herself for now.

The two of them finally came to the center. A tower stretched before them, stairs spiraling the outside and lit every ten feet. A double door with carved oak and two brass knockers stood dead center.

The boy pulls her toward the door, knocks three times loudly, and then stands back. The doors open inward with a deep echo. Anna stared around in awe. Everything had been carved completely from stone.

Four large statues depicted human-like faces surrounded by robes. They all surrounded a beautiful glowing stone that shone with a vibrant, purple hue. It dimmed, then grew brighter. The boy next to her froze in place, looking from the stone to her.

Anna watched as the boy’s shoulders dipped down and he let out a sigh. From the shadows, two large figures appeared. A gargled voice sounded from the left, “why have you brought It here?”

A second, smooth and higher pitch voice says, “and on such an occasion, young one.” The boy pressed his hands together in front of him, then spread them apart like he was opening a book. A soft light flashed for a second, and then it was gone.

There’s the briefest of silences and then finally the smooth voice speaks. “You believe It to be so?” The boy hums, then nods. Anna suspects it to be for her benefit. “If I ma─” the smooth voiced figure holds up a hand, silencing the garbled voice.

A long, tense silence follows. The boy’s face stays calm, but there is a gleam there Anna never noticed before. “A trial, then.” The garbled voice states matter-of-factly. The boy flushes, then again nods.

Four symbols appeared in the amethyst stone before them. The boy looked at Anna from head to toe. He appeared to be sizing her up. After a few seconds of deliberation, he chose.

She wasn’t sure what the boy had decided for her as the vertical lines appeared by themselves floating for several moments before vanishing. She was quite certain that this couldn’t be a good thing. Trial? No, definitely did not like the sound of that.

The boy tugged at her arm and inclined his head toward the shadows. After a few heartbeats, he again tugged at her arm. Following suit she bowed her own head and then stood. In seconds, maybe just a breath away, their presence was gone.

#

After sitting in her room for some time, Anna began to worry that maybe the boy had left her. Alone in this strange world. She had no idea where ‘here’ even was. They had traveled through a portal. Were they even still on earth?

The more she puzzled over it, the more it hurt to think about. What of her home? Her job? Would she be here, lost forever? Mother had always warned her she had a squirrel of a brain and jumped from limb to limb without thinking. Anna grinned as the door to her room opened.

Her grin fell at the sight in front of her. It was the boy, yet he was different. He was adorned in deep black robes. So dark in fact that the light wouldn’t bounce from it. With him, he carried a beautifully engraved box. It was purple, with intricate silver etching.

 

More of our story to come soon. Hugs my fellow adventurer’s.

❤ Grey

 

 

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We Are The Last – Chapter 2 – A Sci-Fi Novel

Happy New Year~ (chapter 1 here )

Enjoy chapter two on me. 😀

Chapter 2

I walk back to my computer and sit down. I first need to see how many hours I have left in this semester. I know it isn’t much, considering I graduate in a month. I always thought people that graduated in the winter were weird, but really they were just ahead of the curve. I had busted my ass to get to this point, doing dual credits in high school and then taking five classes a semester. I look over at the empty space in the room. There isn’t much here, just a handmade platform bed, my computer, my state issued VR system and the exercise equipment on days I need to work out. Most people would probably find this place entirely depressing. I have zero art on the walls, with a single shelf for my cups, bowls, and plates.

My clothes can fit in a single drawer and consist mostly of two pairs of jeans, socks, and seven pair of underwear, two pairs of shoes and five shirts. Of the five shirts, two are short sleeved, two are tank tops, and one long-sleeved to go with the single pair of slacks I bought for graduation. To me, it felt a bit ridiculous to even own that many. It annoys me that even in these times you had to dress differently to impress a bunch of strangers. Unfortunately, they still require me to show up to graduation physically. Had I have graduated just a few years later, we would all just be online and I could sit at home and wear whatever the hell I want.
I know changing the timeline will have several repercussions, but I have little choice. My future vessel is completely destroyed right now, on a direct path into the sun for all I know. I knew that I needed to get someone’s attention, but who the hell would listen to a twenty-year-old loser with no money? How did I even begin to get anyone’s attention, let alone the world leaders? The answer is simple, but complicated at the same time. I am going to have to learn how to communicate with myself directly before the first global war. I glance over to the VR. Technology is good right now, but it has no way of being able to do what I need it to. I need time to think, which to be honest was something I had in abundance right now. I cringe thinking about all the wasted time I had spent watching shows and playing video games. I was a devoted student, but not devoted to re-channeling my knowledge to something useful before the age of thirty. I crack up at this revelation. Most people would probably kill to be in my position. I’m a fifty-year-old living in a twenty-year-old’s body, doesn’t get much better than this.

In the future, most of us had started the treatments but to get the permanent one─ the one that kept you twenty-five forever, that was something only the well-off possessed. We lowly peons had to save up several months’ salary to knock off a few years. Most people saved up as much as they could throughout the year and at the beginning of the next, shaved off as many years as they could afford. When I had left the future, I appeared to be the age of thirty which let me tell you, took several years to save up for.
The holidays went back to spending time with your family online because everyone understood that no one wanted to die. And no one especially wanted to age.

It is rare that children are born, and the few that are were normally raised by a colony. Our society was built around adults and it wasn’t socially acceptable to bring children anywhere. Especially to restaurants or movies. You would be told to promptly leave and that you were bothering the other patrons. If you wanted to raise your own offspring, you were what was known as a Breeder. You stayed in the colony until your children were of adult age and then you were allowed to come back out. Living in the colonies, from what I was told isn’t bad. They have their own sub communities with everything they need. The only time any of them venture out is usually when they want to get fresh food. Given that we all were under some sort of strict government salary, however, they didn’t come out often. It used to be an incentive to be a breeder. I remember my mother once talking about a time when people were paid to have children. Now, with the establishment of the world population being a chief concern, you were penalized for having one.
My mind shot back to Harris’s words. That was wrong of him on so many levels. Ash had appeared several years older than us for a damn good reason. She had made the sacrifice for her people to become a Breeder. While most of us had appeared to be in our late twenties to mid-thirties, Ash looked to be in her late forties, which wasn’t too far off from her actual age. Breeders are paid far less than everyone else and you have to have several permits on behalf of your government that your people are dying out. Of course, the majority didn’t use the term Breeders. That was exceptionally derogatory. Especially from my time, when the death rate towered over births. We called them Traditionalists. Ash had to have gone through hell to be able to have just the one child, let alone two. It was a miracle that the state allowed her to keep both at the time she had given birth to them. I still smile thinking about the way she spoke of the twins.

My smile fades as I look over to the outdated equipment and sparse surroundings. That was all before humanity nearly wiped itself out. I don’t like thinking about this, because frankly, it isn’t my favorite subject. I’m hoping that by some miracle the others have found themselves back and are looking for ways to contact me. I can’t count on this, however, and know that I must figure out how the fuck to get started. I need to find out a way to grab people’s attention. As far as I was concerned, the fastest way to grab people’s attention was usually one of two: you had a lot of money, or you made a lot of money. I needed to get to my accounts before the war hit and wiped the entire system effectively getting rid of bitcoins.

Currency, as well as credit cards phased completely out when I had been a baby. I used to laugh at my mother’s stories about how you had to go to a place called a grocery store and sit in line to buy food. She really got me rolling talking about several stories of gas crises and how people would get out of bed early to sit at the pumps until the attendant turned them on. People actually left their homes for things other than social events. It was mind-boggling to me. Of course, eventually, we stopped leaving our homes even for that. Some markets usually existed up north, but they were under strict supervision after what happened back when mom died. Eventually, there was no need to ever leave your home and if you did, it was understood you were either in trouble or causing trouble. I walk over to my VR unit and choose to get into a sitting position. I was too restless to lie down today.
With all the cloud-based systems, technology had changed a fair bit over the years. The year I had gotten my VR, it was at its peak. I, unlike many others, managed to own a server farm. My mother had been smart enough to make several investments in her twenties which meant that I had access to just about limitless space for anything I could ever want. The best part was the privacy act, which allowed me to be able to store whatever the hell I wanted to as long as no one but myself had to access to it. Within certain limitations of course. I mean, I couldn’t go and kill people and then upload the footage. Breaking was still as huge a threat now as it was fifty years ago. It was called something else back then. What had my mother said it was called again? I rubbed my chin. I snapped my fingers at the empty space around me. Hacking, that’s it. It was more of a high-risk factor now. If you managed to get caught, it was instant death─ no questions asked.

I had sold a small portion of it a few years ago to pay off my school tuition, but that had been entirely worth it. Many people had theorized that school would be free, and they were right, but to get a real education, you had to have money. That much hasn’t changed. Because knowledge was free and all you needed was the drive. That meant that degrees were suddenly highly specialized. My mother once told me that a passing grade in most colleges could go as low as sixty-nine percent if a professor felt that you gathered as much as you needed for your degree. Honestly, it was no surprise that that generation fucked us all over. The millennial’s were a shit ton of self-entitled douche-bags that apparently handed out these things called ‘participation ribbons’ at all of their events.

She also told me that anything you wrote online could effectively ruin your life. Unless you were famous or had money, then you would just formally apologize to everyone and be done with it. Mom definitely had some colorful things to say about her generation, but I’m honestly glad that I’m away from all of that nonsense. In this era, if you didn’t like what someone had to say, you just blocked them. If you agreed with them, you followed them. Opinions were accepted as opinions and nothing else was made of it.

Our government was currently run by a three-party system. The two-party system had long been phased out after the 2020 election disaster. I’m pretty rusty on my U.S. president history, but my government history class had glossed over it, explaining that it was a dark time period in our politics. The years before that hadn’t been much better, but that very president had taken it upon himself to outlaw the voting system and turn our country into a dictatorship. Effectively shitting on what our forefathers had taken the time out to build. After that, humans weren’t entirely trusted to run a balanced system and candidates were chosen at random by a computer system. A billion times more logical than the radicalism of their time. I could sit and think about how much our politics had changed for the better all day, but what I needed to focus on was something far more important. The survival of the human race. Besides, if our way is so much better, I suppose we wouldn’t have died off.
I had the whole shebang and had invested in a fully immersive VR kit, complete with sound dampening headgear. These machines could do just about damn near anything except read your thoughts. And honestly, with as many well-placed ads as I saw in a day, I’m fairly certain they were beginning to do that. I say that, but I’m pretty sure it was just recording what my eyes chose to read more of, or if something caught my attention for longer than ten seconds. I looked over to my mother’s account, linked on my home screen and it opened instantly. A familiar jingle sounded as it recognized my microchip. My mother’s voice sounded in my earphones and my eyes closed listening to the soft lilt. I’d forgotten how much I’d missed hearing it. For the first time in over thirty years, I got to hear what my mother sounded like again.
“Morning, tough stuff. What can I do for you?” My eyes teared up and my voice came out a little shakier than I’d like. “Morning, mom. Just checking into the accounts, see where I’m at.” There is a brief pause and then I listen as she drones on for a bit. “Last week’s spending habits went above usual, putting a fairly large dent in your monthly stipend. However, if you return back to your normal spending habits, you can recover this debt in sixty days.” I nod. “I will need to pull all of my available funds by the end of this year. Is there a penalty for this?” Several seconds pass before she answers. “Yes. Though you are legally entitled to all funds from your guardian, the United States government is entitled to treat this as a breach of contract and a forty percent tax will be removed from your funds immediately.” I thought as much. I thank her and close my account screen.

It will be a large chunk of funds that go missing, but at this point, it is better than the alternative. In less than a year’s time, there won’t be a government. I won’t be able to take my funds physically, but I can upload them to my cloud storage and then on my wristwatch I’ll purchase in December. That way, I’ll be able to carry it on me at all times. Since it will be uploaded from a private server, no one will know it exists until after I’ve managed to pull all of it off. I log into the university’s website and glance over my class schedule, then pull up the syllabus for this semester.

Most people’s degrees past bachelors didn’t really mean much unless you were getting a S.T.E.M. degree or going to med school. All universities made four-year degrees free unless you were going for one of these other types of degrees in which longer school was needed. You were taxed based off of what type of practice you would be going into and it was calculated before you graduated how much you would be able to make. A medical degree usually took five years to seven years to pay off, whereas a degree in the science, technology, engineering, math or S.T.E.M took up to ten years to pay off. Especially since it was switched over to everything becoming privatized in that field. It meant that a company could choose how much it felt you were worth. Most scientists and engineers pulled in the realm of several million dollars their first year in the field. But there was a handful that everyone wanted to be. The ones in bio-engineering. That was where the money was now.

If you could solve the problem of aging, or world hunger─ you would be set for life. You would be more powerful than any man could imagine. After the great science movement in the twenty-first century, people changed forever how things were taught. Most religions of the world were found to be detrimental to progression and thereby outlawed by most countries. Religion remained, but only the ones found to be peaceful and progressive. Most religion now moved toward coinciding with science. At least, it did after what happens in the coming year. It’s so hard to know what is going to happen, but not being able to tell others. If I do, they would lock me away as a terrorist. I would be seen as someone that disturbs the peace, therefore a threat to any functioning society.

I’m thinking about this when my screen lights up. I recognize the avatar instantly and break into a huge smile. That mop of platinum blonde hair, blue eyes, and all ego is none other than my buddy Eric. At least, that was his name online.
His avatar reminded me of the old school paladins in MMORPG’s. Which back then, was pretty much like playing Dungeons and Dragons online, only not nearly as in-depth or sophisticated. There was a huge movement nearly sixty years ago that would have made the entire system lame as hell, but that shit got turned right around after the fifth through the seventh edition which made them like 3rd edition without all of the obvious loopholes that made players OP (or, overpowered) as fuck.

We often had arguments over which editions were the best, but we both could agree on 3.5. And when I say 3.5, I mean the superior version called Pathfinder, which was the edition that fixed many of the oversights in the 3rd edition. Eric was always either lawful good, or good. Which bored me to tears, but the guy went absolutely ape-shit on being Mr. goody two shoes. Me on the other hand? I loved sitting in the grey. He was one of those sorts that always felt like good and bad were black and white.

I was in favor of chaotic neutral, chaotic good, or neutral. Which meant that I’m not bound by all of those dumb, boring rules that make my character always do good things or get penalized for it. We would often bust out the Dungeon and Dragons digital world builder and try and to out-DM each other. Since we both enjoyed being the Dungeon Master, we took turns each week telling our stories. Being a Dungeon Master was like being a god. But it took skills to do it. You couldn’t just make something so hard that all of your characters died online, but you couldn’t make battles in which your creatures just fell over in less than two rounds. It was one part story building, and almost always faking it until you made it.

When I first started being the Dungeon Master, my creatures just about always fell prey to the players, because I hadn’t taken the time to actually read through the guides and get to know each player’s abilities first hand. Because it’s so time intensive, D&D came up with cheat sheets for DM’s that allowed us to know our player’s base attacks, abilities, health points, and many other things. Then there was also weapons, and armor that added to that number. Once all that was worked out, you had to figure out what to give as loot and the appropriate time allotted for your characters to level. It is one of those things you have to plan months in advance for. Especially if you are new to it. Needless to say, the world builder took all of that into account and made hours of headaches into a streamlined experience for the DM and the players.
It was our virtual playground, and far more customization than many games out there. It was a sandbox adventure on steroids and the only limit to it was our imagination. We didn’t just play a silly game, this was our haven. Eric was bigger into character development than myself. I was the sort to place all the focus on the players experiencing the world. He liked to gear the story toward focusing on a few key individuals, and I loved for people to become lost and have their own unique experience with not too much focus on the main story arc. Also known as battle porn.

I loved creating bigger and badder assholes to take down the group or create crazy in-depth puzzles that could set back the team by an entire day if they didn’t get it. It drove Eric crazy, but he always went along for the ride. It was refreshing to play each other’s minds and we had made just about any kind of world that you could imagine. The major difference between the two of us was that Eric preferred more classic settings, or Fantasy, whereas I liked to try something new each time. It was extremely rare that he created one with modern day setting. But one thing he did enjoy was adding in modern weaponry and gadgets.

I often worry that he won’t enjoy mine since I prefer changing it up all the time, but he says it is the experience in mine that makes it worthwhile and that he is just set in his ways. Since he knows those high fantasy world’s best, he likes to live in them. Any DM will tell you that the most rewarding, and yet challenging aspect of the craft is your player’s interaction with your story-line. Always be prepared to adjust to situations that your players will throw your way. I once created an adventure that would take my adventurers on a fully thought out mini-game side quest, complete with a wizard’s tower, a bodacious babe, and dueling amongst themselves. It had taken me the better part of two weeks to plot out worst-case scenarios just in case my players found some sort of loophole.

I knew better than to railroad them because that was a DM no-no. Railroading was a trick that DM’s used to force players to go toward their story-line, but it limited the player’s experience. Sometimes it was necessary, but I always enjoyed going with the flow. Until that day. In a matter of two hours, my players had managed to warp all the way to the main bad guy without going through any of my puzzles, or my carefully planned battles, and beat him on a weird technicality that I had to honor on a perfectly rolled D-20. The player actually managed to change themselves into a super virus that the dragon snorted, and then died. I say ‘roll the dice’ but no one actually uses real dice anymore. The dice system usually determined what a player does base off of his stats and his abilities. The dice were rolled to determine how much damage they would inflict, or if they were able to get out of traps, or persuade the non-player characters (or the characters that I created or placed in an area) to not fight, get out of a bad situation, you name it─ there was a dice roll for it. Ultimately, the DM decided what was or wasn’t going to go down in the story, but it was important to take your players into account. That is kind of glossing over the whole thing, but you get the idea.
Since we never saw any of our classmates until we went up to school on lab days, neither of us actually knew what we looked like. On those days, we were sent to assigned sections for testing and no one chanced looking at the other classmates. Not when your degree was riding on these few hours to complete everything you read every six weeks or so. I had no more of an idea of who he was than he did of me. But with all the hours we spent shooting the shit online, I was pretty sure he knew more about me than anyone else. Possibly even my mother.
“What’s up, mi amigo?” I answered smoothly. “Not much, superstar. You get this weekend’s assignment?” I panic. Uh oh. I still haven’t had a chance to research everything I needed to get done today. I relax a degree as Eric erupts in laughter on the other end. “Yeah, me either.” We both laugh. “I don’t know how you manage to score higher than everyone in this entire unit. You must be one of those hyper intellectuals or something. Not fair to the rest of us, who you know, actually have to study for our grades.” He mutters the last part and I know he’s only half joking when he says it. “Hey,” I say, “I study. Once a week or so.” He chuckles on the other end. “Modest as ever I see. You going to share some of those secrets with your buddy anytime soon?” This was something we did. It was a way for us to ease the tension between us. We had been friendly rivals for as long as I could remember. I wasn’t number one in the school system. That honor had been given to the first and only valedictorian for the last decade.

R.A. Cromwell or Robert Cromwell had set the bar on how many extra points were given to students. There wasn’t even a grade that had come close to his and he was a special case. He was the first one to earn several Nobel prizes in his adult life and be imprisoned for treason. There was my clue if there ever was one. If I was going to get anywhere with this, I would need to try and find a way to get into contact with a dead man. No pressure there.

“You wish, shithead.” I countered. He clucked his tongue on the other end and let out a low whistle. “I am appalled at your choice in language today, fuckwad.” I haven’t had this much fun since being aboard the Leviathan. Most people you meet in life take themselves entirely too seriously. Eric was the right amount of both worlds. “At least I have a decent vocabulary, redneck.” Eric has muted his mic which means he’s either cussing me out or laughing his head off. My vote’s on the latter. His somewhat breathy response supports my theory, “Oh yeah? Least I can actually score worth a shit on Phantom.” I bristle slightly but manage to laugh it off. “You mean when I kick your ass tonight and knock you off as top dog?” He snorts on the other end. “Yeah. Fat chance of that. Good luck toppling my score. Have you even logged on today at all?” The color drains from my face. He was already several thousand points ahead of me the last time I checked. “You didn’t,” I say. “See for yourself, friend. You may always get higher scores than me, but you’ll never beat Night Queen.” My jaw drops. “You have got to be kidding me. I just got to her lair last night. How in the hell did you manage to beat her without me? Unless…” I trail off.

Lucky for me, my current memories are integrating with my past. I’m not honestly sure how this was all going to work, but hopefully, I retain all of my prior knowledge. “You sneaky sonovabitch,” I state. “You didn’t sleep last night, did you?” I can hear him snickering on the other side. “Hey, I have to get ahead where I can with you.” We both are quiet for a few moments as I look up his score. My eyes widen as I stare at all the zeros. “H-o-l-y shit,” I blurt out.

His score the following night was at eight hundred and sixty-nine thousand. Today, he topped the charts at a mind-numbing two million points. Two million. My eyes scanned across his name and then over to his avatar. There was something else different about it. “Haven’t noticed it yet, have you?” He asks, practically reading my mind. I zoom in on his avatar and freeze. “No. Way.” I say staring at the colorful marker on the bottom right. There were a few things that Eric was able to do better than me, but this was one. Considering how much time he spent gaming, I’m honestly wondering if he couldn’t actually beat my ass academically but he’s just chosen to channel his efforts elsewhere. This pretty much promoted him to god tier status on campus. Even I was having a hard time believing it. But there it was, the multicolored double moon badge awarded to gaming legends. The double moon was the insignia of the founders of the VR technology, Lunar Lander.
Each color you earned represented your place on the board. They were based on the representation of the color spectrum the human eye could see. Otherwise known as the rainbow. Eric had every single one of them except for one: red. He earned indigo just last night. That meant if he managed to actually gain that last color he would be awarded something far more valuable than school. I started, realizing something. This was something I’d never realized before. While I busted my ass in classes, he channeled his efforts to something that actually worked for him. I’d entirely misjudged him this whole time. So I had great grades, what would that earn me? Notoriety? Fame? The only way I was going to make a dent was if I actually did get US valedictorian and I was down to the last six weeks to do it. He was going to earn all of that and then some.

Suddenly I felt jealous. Something that was making me increasingly uncomfortable. I’ve never experienced this. Mostly because I was always the kid that everyone else envied. I was the one that other kids tried to cheat off of or copy. It was a weird sense of pride I managed to keep up with all these years, until now. Eric needed one more color and then he was gained automatic entry into the United States Special Forces Gaming Division. No one, including myself, could even dream what that was like. It was relatively new and short-lived with the war to come.

War is considered a thing of the past in this time, but competition is still in full force. With just about every aspect of society taken over by machines, roughly eighty percent, we have little to actually look forward to. But gaming? Gaming is worldwide, and the only competition that buys you instant fame.
The most popular games were, of course, sports games. But the next in line were shooters, known as FPS or first-person shooter. They were the most spectated competition online. Traditional sports games were slowly fading as the shooter had evolved to encompass not only the pro-military crowd but puzzle enthusiasts. You could compete in the base game, but the people that obtained top-level scores played the main quest and all of the side quests. Phantom just came out a week ago and it was famous for how many hours it took to solve the puzzles. Night Queen was notoriously hard. An entire team of forty plus people hadn’t even managed to get through the first half of it. Eric had managed to beat it by himself in just over twenty-four hours. I open the game and take a look at the time stamp. It was dated to just over an hour ago, which meant he had beat it in less than twenty-four hours. “Daaamn. Mad respect, man.” I mutter, looking over it all. Maybe he is on to something. “You know it.” He says on the other end.

Suddenly, I need to do some thinking on my own. “Hey man, I need to jet. But, seriously that is fucking amazing. Color me jealous.” I say. He pauses, before adding, “Yeah dude, thanks. You want to try tonight with me?” I look over to my own score and then switch over to my academic scores. I feel a little better, but not much. “Yeah. I need to get to it. Someone’s inspired me to kick my own ass and actually try.” He laughs, “Hey, don’t make the rest of us look too bad, alright?” The right side of my face twitches up, “Cram it out your ass.” I say before logging out.

I don’t have to worry too much about him taking what I say to heart. It was our code for saying ‘take care’ in the only way we knew how. I’m not much of a touchy-feely person, when things get too heavy or I’ve got emotions I need to work out, I find ways to put myself to work so that I can distract myself. After some hard labor, or working out I’m usually good. There are a few times that I can’t get past it with physical activity. Those are days that I pour myself into as much studying as possible or listen to books.
I rarely watch shows and when I do, I get angry. Most of the people on the show are complete morons that make decisions any rational human being would not. I once watched less than one episode of a show, skipped to the end of the season and knew exactly what had transpired. It usually went something like this: Sexy main star is a hard worker, struggles in relationships, and has some dark, broody past that they are ashamed of. They push everyone away until they need help and except it only after some dire situation arises. Enter something that comes in and murders off or seriously maims sidekick, and end season one. It was getting so ridiculously predictable it did nothing but agitate me. Shows that aren’t like real life annoy the shit out of me. I mean, I get it─ if someone just shot the other person in the head instead of chat with them for five minutes about their clever plan that would make for a really boring show.

Drama makes viewers, I suppose and I’m just an asshole that hates things that aren’t real. Don’t even get me started on fantasy shows. Since I can’t imagine anything that isn’t real, fiction has always made me entirely uncomfortable. It’s not to say that I don’t believe in the possibility. Shit, a few hours ago I was on a one-way trip to death and with me the entire population of Earth. And I somehow managed to cheat it by mind traveling to my past self? Yeah, that’s one for the history books.
I had something no one even knew existed and I had no fucking clue how to explain how it worked. I thought back to the ship, then I thought on the position everyone was in before I came back. I have a strong feeling that line of thought is a dead end. It has nothing to do with the crew, and yet we all share something in common that could get us to travel back in town. Then a horrible thought crosses my mind and I don’t want to think about it. What if, I am the only one that made it back? That means that everyone, including Ash, is floating toward the sun at this very moment in the future. Then I have another terrifying thought, what if I am actually dead and these are memories that my mind has managed to conjure before I myself, bite the big one. This one freaks me out the most because if that were true my mind is currently just running rampant and I would have no way of knowing it.

Suddenly my psychology and sociology classes didn’t sound like nonsense. Perhaps my brain was creating my existence in an attempt to protect me from knowing that I was dead. I begin to feel very tired. If that is true, that would mean that I would never know if anything is actually real. God damn it, science, you fuck everything up with your wonky logic. I chuckle, despite my growing apprehension and find myself relaxing. I might as well enjoy my final moments if that’s all that it is. Starting with something I’ve been dying to try since I got here. If I remember correctly, I can still order food and have it delivered within the hour. It would cost me a bit, but it’s been so long since I’ve had it, I can’t help myself. I search online until I find it and stare at all the different possibilities of flavors. Without meaning to, my mouth waters.

Real chocolate. Not that shit made from dates, or artificially flavored protein powder, but real. Purchasing something of this caliber was usually reserved for something like a birthday or graduation day. I rationalized that surviving the apocalypse more than justified a candy bar─ or two. The combinations are insane, but my favorite is always the sweet and salty combinations. I’m torn between two choices, but finally just choose both. This will probably raise my current debt up to four months instead of two, but it’s not like I don’t have the money, it’s just not readily available. So I was doing the typical college thing of spending what I don’t have, who cares? At least I’ll have chocolate. Maturity bonus +1.

I stare longingly at the soda but decide against it. That would set me back for half a year, and I just wasn’t willing to do that. Even if I planned on taking all of my funds out by the end of this year. I could splurge a little, but I needed to be mostly smart about this. True to their word, Alexa notifies me that my package has arrived and I charge over to the front door.
I’m practically skipping as I scoop it up and walk over to the living area. I pull out my portable table and prop up the side so that I can wheel it over my legs. I can hardly wait to tear open the wrapper but try my best to keep it cool. This needed to be done right. I padded over to the mini fridge and propped it open. Everything was stacked neatly. On the right, several packages of mushroom noodles, flavorless protein bricks in the middle and the filtered water pitcher. My glass was still inside, but I knew that I had a little time before I needed to toss it outside. I stare nervously at it. Maybe I should go ahead and do it now before nightfall.

This was a relatively safe area, but crime still happened and it happened after dark. If you were out past sundown, you were pretty much free game. I grasp it and pause at what I see behind it. It is a small bottle of wine, one that I had been saving for graduation day. It wasn’t top of the line but I knew that it had been bourbon barrel aged. It was something I was sent as a gift from Eric to commemorate our special day. It also is probably an unspoken promise to not drink it without him. Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to drink something so special. I’d wait for him. I was becoming a huge softy in this time. It probably had something to do with my mind adjusting to everything. Whether you were actually supposed to keep that in the fridge or not, I had no idea. I stare down at the black label. It looked like a darker wine, and over the years I remember that red wines were something that you kept at room temperature. I pull it out and set it on the counter and then frown, noticing something else lodged in the back of the fridge. Is that… I pull it out and my eyes grow wide. It is. I stare at it for several seconds, not believing my luck. It’s a real sugar soda.

I glance over the red can and flip it to the back, it reads made in Mexico. It may sound completely weird, but after the day I’ve had I start tearing up. I’m not entirely sure if it’s my current consciousness meeting up with my future but the collision floods my mind with emotion. I’m bawling like an idiot clutching a soda can on the floor of my one-room loft. I give the can a longing squeeze and then place it back in the cool air, reassuring it that I’ll be right back. And I mean it.
I snatch the water up and walk toward the front door, then pause. If someone sees me dumping mystery liquid outside, I’ll be reported. I need to check and see if there is some watertight container I can use to take outside, or possibly─ I glance around and then walk over to my shelf. Yes! There it is, I still had the bottle. I pull it from the shelf and unscrew the top. The material is incredibly soft and I run my fingers along the outside. The material was velvety, yet durable with holes for straps on each side. The container itself was shaped to be strapped against your waist and leg while you were running.

There were a few attachments that you could use to get the straw up to your mouth. My mother loved staying in shape and was an avid climber in her days. It was another one of the items I have kept of hers over the years. I’m grateful that not only does it allow tubes, much like a saline pack, but it also had a canteen adapter which could be unscrewed. That meant I wouldn’t have to stand outside for several minutes looking like a jackass as I essentially peed out an ounce of fluid. Then I cocked my head to the side. You know, that might not be a bad idea. It wouldn’t look sanitary, and I would get a lot of weird looks, but it would do the job. I’m laughing at my own private joke as I jog down the first three flights of stairs.
Everyone knows that you don’t want to wait on the elevator from our floor. You would be waiting for at least ten minutes. Since there wasn’t really a need for fast moving elevators with the need for travel minimized, you had to compete with all of the service men and bots that delivered packages to your place. Most buildings had adapted to this in some way with a tube system that funneled from the top, but our building was quite old. And packages literally arrives every few minutes as people ordered everything from home. The building took priority with maintenance users, so naturally, if you needed to get outside, you either took the stairs or you did the smart thing and walked down to the maintenance man’s main office and pressed the button like I’m doing now.

The elevator is here in less than a minute and I hop on and call out to take me to street level. It opens directly onto Cadiz and I turn left toward the small patch of grass and trees. The streets are eerily quiet and my steps come out far too loud but I press forward. The building was maybe fifty feet across the front before I would have to cross a short alley and then reach my destination. My palms are sweating, but I ignore it, placing one foot in front of the other. You got this, I tell myself, passing the first of the six small trees to the right. The sidewalk feels like its sand as I pass the second tree.

Jesus, how the fuck did I get anywhere like this? Was I having a god damned panic attack? I take in several breaths and focus on gripping the water bottle. Somehow, this gets me past tree three and four. My breath comes out more ragged as I get closer to the edge of the building. I grip the container, my knuckles going white. Breathe in, step, grip the bottle, I order myself. I sigh in relief, this seems to be working. I repeat the mantra in my head and do this odd ritual as I finally pass tree six. Ten feet more and then I would be able to cross the small opening near the alley. I halt at the entrance and steady my breathing as my heart screams in my chest. It’s pumping so hard that I can literally hear it drumming in my ears. Keep it together, I spat inwardly.

Despite no one being on the road, I still shoot a glance down the alley and then back to the street. I’m leaning against the building and every fabric of my being is screaming at me to turn around and walk back to safety. My flight system was in full force and it was damn hard to fight.
I let out a huge sigh as the trees are suddenly just several feet away. There’s a loud buzzing noise and I nearly dive under the canopy, hiding from what seems like it may be a potential threat. I’ve somehow made it, but now there could potentially be something worse than my own anxiety. I peer through the multicolored leaves at the increasing buzzing sound and freeze as the object comes into view. Drone. And not just a normal one, it belongs to the local police force. I curse under my breath as it circles our building.

I haven’t been outside more than possibly a handful of minutes and they were already alerted. I know it won’t be long before they actually spot me. I pull at the latch and get the strap from around my leg as I watch the small camera rotate to face the front of the building. Now’s my chance. I dump the entire contents next to the nearest tree and then hastily strap it back to where it was. My eye catches movement and I just manage to pull the second strap in place when the camera spins around toward me. I walk from under the trees and back toward the sidewalk, careful to keep my pace casual as I cross the small alleyway. It pauses and then the camera twists, zooming on my face. It is no doubt reading my chip to see if I am a resident in the building or homeless.

Homeless individuals are not allowed to wander outside of registered citizen’s domiciles. This means that if you are found near one, and not living there, you would be fined and then given cleanup duty. The good news is, if you are actually homeless that means that you are able to have food for your time, and a proper day’s salary. There aren’t many homeless now since most of the lower income people stick together and live in a halfway house. This way, they have the security they need to survive. There are a few actual homeless people that manage to escape microchipping, but those people are stuck to well outside of the city. I’ve honestly never seen a real-live homeless person. My mom told me that there was a lot of them when she was a girl. The bot jingles and then raises back toward the top of the building. It must have cleared me for a resident. This still makes me uneasy. Even though I didn’t technically do anything wrong, it is going to put notes on my record. That is added attention that I don’t need.

Hopefully, I am just written off as some idiot kid and they go on about their business. I am practically running when I reach the elevator. The door jingles and silently slides open. I step in and the door slides shut behind me. I punch the button and lean against the wall, knowing that this will probably take some time. “Welcome, tenant 10127, please do not lean on company property and stand in the center of the circle.” My eyebrows go up at the disembodied female voice, but I quickly comply and stand in the center.

“Thank you. Please place your arms on the side and then raise them slightly to continue.” I again do as I’m told. I’m met with a blast of cool air mixed with a cloud of something pleasant. I’m about to inhale the curious scent more when the voice comes back on. “Please wait to inhale for ten seconds. Never directly inhale the antibacterial liquid, as doing so may be detrimental to your health. Please be sure to remove your clothing upon your immediate arrival and discard them in our bio-hazardous waste bin located on your left as you walk through the front door. Have a wonderful day, goodbye.” I count out the ten seconds, immediately alarmed that I had already inhaled a bit. Thanks for letting me know sooner, jackasses.
The elevator finally gets to the first floor and slides open. A glance at the display tells me that I have been gone a total of twenty-five minutes. Which meant, I have been waiting on the elevator for at least fifteen minutes of that. I’m glad I won’t need to come out again for another month, this seemed like a total ordeal. Even though over twenty minutes have passed, I realize that my heart rate has just not returned to normal. This is extremely problematic if I need to change the world. I make a mental note to look into anxiety disorders and how to treat them. But first, I was going to sit down, do some studying and heartily enjoy two full candy bars, and a soda.

I carefully pull the delicate chocolate out of the wrappers and place them next to each other. One is split into two, 2-inch bars and contains peanut butter, pretzel, caramel drizzled in one layer of peanut butter and one layer of chocolate. The other is nearly four inches and it has hazelnut spread, caramel, nougat, peanuts and covered in chocolate. The soda is labeled as cola, which means it is a brown caramel flavored liquid with fizzy little bubbles. The twelve ounce can of soda was deemed a health hazard by the year 2020 and heavily taxed. Once it was placed on a warning list, companies were required to list that it was linked to both cancer and heart disease, effectively placing it on the same table as cigarettes. This guy probably ran a cool hundred bucks online.

My mom once said that when she was a kid they were served at birthday parties to all the kids along with cake. I found that completely ridiculous given that a single can of soda contained thirty-nine grams of sugar and a whole slice of cake typically had fifteen. Given the choice between the two, I’d take the cake. Liquid calories have always been strange to me. If I’m going to have something awful for my body, I want it to feel as if I’ve eaten it. Liquid calories were a tricky sort of thing, you could have several cans of soda and still be hungry, but a cupcake or a candy bar especially, filled you up because you’ve typically had some sort of protein with it.

I look at my haul and giggle to myself. In total, I was about to consume 77 grams of sugar totaling out to 590 calories. Which is nearly half of my daily caloric intake, and 52 grams of sugar more than I should have. That would mean that at my height, age, and weight, I would need to perform approximately forty minutes of low impact cardio or thirty minutes of high impact cardio. I stare at the three glistening objects of my desire and shrug, totally worth it.
The sun has just about set for the day, but I walk over to the large industrial windows staring at the iconic skyline. It’s one of the most famous, next to Seattle’s, and I’ll never forget all of its soft curves that blended seamlessly with the pointed ones. Reunion tower and all of the tops of the skyline pulsates a soft orange and yellow to commemorate the coming holidays. I stare for quite some time. So much in fact, that the sky is pitch black and the roads look as though they are swallowing the buildings. It is a strange thing, eerie in fact to stare across a vast sea of concrete that is lit by nothing. Streetlights had been removed some time ago when I was just a baby. Mom explained that it was due to light pollution and wasting energy. Especially since travel was kept to a minimum and during the day.

The lighted buildings were kept on until a certain hour, much like what people did with tiny lights they placed on their homes for Christmas. I did not know what that strange tradition was about, but according to mother it was something people did as part of the festivities and people would drive around in their cars, or even go to parks to see them. This confused the utter hell out of me. What sane individual would cram into a death trap and stare at the same three or four colors that were patterned differently according to the property lines? Complete bullshit and an extremely unnecessary rise in the cost of electricity, not to mention the amount of energy it must have taken to do this every year.

It must have been a nightmare for energy companies. Then I looked outside again at my own glowing orb of fascination and promptly laughed out loud. Ok, maybe there was something to it. But, for hours and to do it more than once? No thank you. I brought both arms over my chest and motioned them together in a prayer-like motion. The curtains drew shut and I padded softly to my meal. The soda now had little beads of condensation but was still cool to the touch.

I stared at the tab on the top. “Alexa, how do I open a can of soda?” “Searching,” came her smooth reply. “I found this. Place your index finger underneath the ring and your thumb on the tab in the center. The ring is the part that is above the opening section. When you lift the ring with your index finger, it will simultaneously apply pressure to the opening section leaving an opening that you will be able to drink through. There is a video, would you like to watch it?” “Yes,” I respond and walk over to the VR headset. I pull it on and look at the video. I watch as the person places their thumb on the tab in the middle and their pointer finger on the ring. Reaching over, I grab the can and mimic the video. Then they get the small part of their finger and push down with their thumb and pull up with their index finger. I do this and nearly leap from the chair at the loud crack and then whoosh that’s let out.

I replay the video and realize there is no sound. I’m completely annoyed by this, but let it slide. The video was put online in 2016. I let out a low whistle, jesus this was ancient. I can’t believe someone hadn’t put up a newer version. Now confident that my can isn’t going to explode in my face, I turn the opening toward my mouth. I hesitate for a few seconds, listening to the small fizzles in the can. Up until this moment, I couldn’t wait to try my first real soda ever. Now, I’m not so sure. I mean, these things were later outlawed for a reason, right? The smell that wafts up is delicious and despite it all, I tip the can into my mouth.
My eyes widen at the liquid sugar as it enters my mouth. I’m not even sure what to make of this. Until I take another sip, and then another. The sheer amount of caffeine and sugar in this one can probably keep me awake for three days. I’m guzzling it down and I’m only down to a quarter of a can before I realize that I still have candy bars. I should probably save this until after I eat them, especially the salty one. I take one of the two-inch squares and bite into heaven. They’ve gotten the golden ratio perfect from every bite and in seconds, the second two-inch bar of chocolate is gone.

I’m greedily eyeing the nougat bar when a notification pops up on my headset. I whine, but open it anyway in case it’s important. It’s a reminder that I need to study for next week’s midterm on Thursday. I frown, looking at the subject. It’s global history and this week’s study guide was covering ancient practices on forgotten religions and how it shaped history or some other such nonsense. I sighed and stared longingly the glass that used to contain my way out. Maybe I should have just gone with my first instinct. I sigh and shake my head, “None of that, Bonham. You’ve got a world to save.” I lift up the second chocolate bar and moan softly. My god, it’s no wonder obesity was an epidemic nearly forty years ago.
“Welcome player 10127” the voice announced. It was one of those cheesy announcer voices that got you pumped, and made you roll your eyes at the same time. It was that over-the-top action flick announcer voice. The kind they used way back in the day when fighting was still a legal sport. God, I remember all the greats and I’d sat through just about every single one of them. Boxing was brutal, kickboxing even more so. Then there was MMA, UFC, and thousands of martial arts and action flicks. Those were my favorite.

If there ever was a way for me to lose days of my life to something that would never benefit me in any way, it was action flicks. We’re talking legendary, bonafide badasses. Bruce Lee, Keanu Reeves, Charles Bronson, Jet Li, Clint Eastwood, Jackie Chan, Arnold Schwarzenegger,  Liam Neeson, Vin Diesel, Harrison Ford, Yun-Fat Chow, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donnie Yen, Sean Connery, Jason Statham, Tony freaking Jaa─ I could go on all day. Fight scenes were something to be revered.

There was some otherworldly element to a person that could take something as quick and dirty as shoving your fists in another dudes face and turn it into fantasy land. Matrix? Classic and revolutionary. I only list the one movie though, the rest were just garbage. Then there was Ong Bak─ each movie as amazing as the last and Tony Jaa was a martial arts genius. There was something to a man that did everything himself with no stuntman. That was virtually unheard of during that era of film. But what was more amazing was the trendsetter for the next action flicks to copy.

I’m talking about John Wick. Not only, had Keanu Reeves done all of his own stunts, he learned how to properly fire a weapon and do action scenes in one take while somehow still possessing all the grace of a panther. His level of cool went from that memorable one-liner cool to walking away from an explosion without looking cool. He wasn’t just a cool guy, he was a fucking to scale model of Mt. Everest─ can I get a hell yeah? To quote Samuel Jackson, he was a badass motherfucker.
I glance down at the time and groan. Man, I should get some sleep but seeing Eric’s score has lit a fire under my ass. I couldn’t believe that he was that far ahead of me after just one day. Then I realize something. Wasn’t he supposed to jump on with me later today? I shake my head at the clock, it was after one in the morning. Guess he forgot, or finally ended up hooking up with that one chick he was obsessing over. Eric, like most healthy college boys, had two interests: games and boobs. He liked them both equally, and talked about it so often that I would hit the mute button when he got particularly…uncomfortable.

It’s not like I don’t have thoughts from time to time of my own but they are extremely rare. I just don’t understand the motivation for getting involved in all of that nonsense. Some of the brightest people I met in college compromised their GPA because of other people. It was just strange to me. Why bother with something temporary if your career is everything? There were far more valuable things in my mind than hookups and relationships. Namely, how to work toward some sort of scholarship or dethrone Cromwell.

Or─ I look over the scoreboard one last time and it reads as follows:
ERA – 2,000,000 points
JMB – 475,000 points
ARJ ─ 263,000 points
It was so new that only the top three scores were displayed on the boards. The developers wanted to create an old-school feeling with the top scores listed like an old arcade game. They even had the multicolored letters that flashed and rotated on a pixelated screen. As a matter of fact, the whole opening title was nothing like the gameplay. Curiously enough, the graphics looked like something out of the late eighties or early nineties and were completely pixelated. But that’s where the similarities end. It is something that has been debated over on all of the online forums. Some people think it’s an homage to when video games became popularized and arcades were still a thing. Others suggested that it is an easter egg and a clue on how to beat the game. Eric must have been using his time to study to barely get by school and then really excel at the game. What does he know that I don’t? I pull up a browser and type in Phantom. In seconds there are several stories that have popped up yesterday and today. I click on the first link and scroll through the highlights.

Shocking announcements today as Phantom, a genre-bending first-person shooter and puzzle game, announced its planned prizes for the end of the holiday season. Lunar Lander, Phantom’s creator best known for their adventure puzzle games and first-person shooters, announced that they will be selecting the top three competitors from the game to compete against one another at their private location at the end of the year. Just for being in one of the top three meant that you were awarded─
My eyes nearly pop out of their skull as I read through. Holy shit.

I re-read them again and then pull up another tab bringing up Lunar Lander’s Wikipedia. There it is, I can’t believe it. I knew there was something bothering me about why I was so enthralled by the game. Granted, I also love shooters and especially puzzle games but this─ this explained so much. Was my past self somehow aware that I needed to not only beat him, but get into contact with him as well? This opens up so many questions, my mind is nearly dizzy thinking on them. The founder of Lunar Lander is none other than Robert Cromwell. The prize is to be employed by Cromwell’s company and compete in government-funded competitions around the world. For just competing, you got to sit and talk with the owner and CEO of Cromwell Industries and win a five year supply of food, clothing, and have your rent paid in full. This was insanity. Nothing like this has come along in the history of well…ever. And here it was, play a few games and have it handed to you on a silver platter. I can’t believe it. Fuck school.

If I devote any more than I have to it only buys me a slim chance of some crazy rich dude noticing that I scored higher than Cromwell. To which, I may get a personalized video, maybe a scholarship, but nothing like what this is offering. But this? This is how I’m going to prove that not only is Cromwell alive, but that he is the one behind all of this. I know that I cannot be wrong because if I am that’s it. I would need to definitely jump on the forums and read over several of the popular theories that suggest he is alive. Yes, but the real question is why he is. What did he have to gain by collecting the top three players of a notoriously difficult video game? I have a lot of work ahead of me, but this proves that even if he isn’t alive, his company is and that makes it worth pursuing. Politics were kept to an online vote in this era which meant the key to my success and notoriety is going to be climbing to the top and getting in the spotlight. Now I know why Eric has spent the entire night playing and ultimately beating the first major boss battle. It would also explain why he has decided not to play online with me. This article I’m reading is time-stamped at four hours ago, which would have been the time Eric had called me to hop on with him.

This was how I contacted him. This was how I was going to start changing the world. A concept that would have been laughable some twenty years ago, now it’s a way of life. I subscribe to the popular game feed and then switch back to the whimsical scoreboard. I was still in second place by quite a bit. If I just kept at this pace, I could possibly reach up to half of his points and be ok. The problem is, not only am I behind on how many hours he devoted to this but by badges as well. A thought occurs to me and I re-open the tab that had the story on it. I scroll past the other things and then notice at the end of the contest rules, there’s an asterisk. I’m not sure, but I roll my mouse over the tiny symbol and smile when I see it is a hyperlink. I click on it and smile as it re-directs me to Lunar Lander’s official Phantom page. It’s the second part of the rules that aren’t listed on the gaming page.
Participating players will not only be judged on scores, but also on their in-game conduct and trophies earned. This means that the top three players listed, may not be the contest winners and are up to the owner’s discretion on who the official winners will be. This will be made public the day before the contest wins to anyone that did not bother to follow the link provided to see all of the contest rules. Congratulations, player 10127, you have taken the first step to getting ahead of the curve. Please enter the contest with this link provided. The game page this was linked with was set with a dummy form that will not officially enter any applicants that did not take the time out to read all of the official rules. Best of luck to you.
I’m nearly shouting in my chair with excitement as I click on the link, feeling proud of myself for doing what probably no one else had bothered to do─ pay attention. I scan the entire page before clicking on the link, making sure that there were no other tricks or possibly any rules I’d missed. Satisfied that there aren’t, I click the link and a dark grey screen pops up. It looks like most forms, asking for real name, address, phone, etc. but there is one difference after skimming over the first part with all of the personal information. There’s a disclaimer and not just any disclaimer, several pages worth. Since I know that the possibility is high that there is something tucked away here as well, I click on the link that will bring up the readable file. The first four pages are the typical participation jargon that saves the company from getting sued in case you weren’t happy about the rules of the contest and if you lost. But it’s when I get to the last half of the pages that things start to get… interesting.

Not only have half of the participants probably missed the asterisk section, I was willing to bet that just about everyone that got to the asterisk section also hadn’t read the fine print and had hit ‘agree.’ This guy is good. He is counting on the fact that no one will pay attention and he is right. That got me wondering how many people actually are in the running. Not only are the people that are participating in going to get a job at Cromwell Industries, they are going to hold a share in it. That is expected of most industries once you became management or higher up in the food chain, but to be a shareholder based off of being a guy that comes from the streets and plays video games well? The next section also states that there are more prizes than listed publicly and that they will be announced to the winner of the big competition. There has to be much more to this than any of us ever could imagine. I skim a few more lines and then freeze on the following one,

‘…by checking agree in this section, you are agreeing to also waive your family or friends right to sue Cromwell Industries should your life end while competing in the Phantom world.’ My jaw drops as I read that section a second time.

This isn’t just a game competition, it goes well beyond that. What are these assholes hiding from the rest of the world? This reeks of politics masked as a friendly competition. The last half goes on to say that all participants must live in the United States and that only the winner will go on to compete globally for ‘prizes beyond your wildest imagination.’ What that meant, was for them to determine what they would do with you once you proved worthy to their cause. I’m not sure how all of this ties together, or how I knew to come back to this exact point in time, but I know that ‘prizes beyond your wildest imagination’ meant something big. The fact that the stakes are our lives says enough. I click ‘agree’ and then scroll back up to the top of the form. I’m shocked to find that it has filled out all of my personal information except for one: username.
The corner of my mouth draws up into a sly smile as I know instantly what it is going to be. I hit enter and the screen goes completely black. Words start surfacing as I continue to watch the screen─ ‘Cromwell Industries extends you a warm invitation to attend the official contest ball online on Saturday, November 26th, 2067 at precisely 7:00 p.m. CST. Participants are expected to wear formal attire for the event and to the interview after the event. Failure to do so will result in immediate termination of your application. Thank you for your application. Welcome to Phantom Official, Hull.’