Thank You For Playing

“Game over, thank you for playing.”

The note rested between my fingers on a piece of thick paper.  I fingered the corners and read the message again.  My head felt like lead and I tried to stand up.  “So?  How was it?”  I spun around so quickly at the strange voice that I smacked my head on the low ceiling.  A girl with hair as green as the grass I remembered was standing behind me in some sort of uniform, I realized shortly I was wearing the same black skirt and red button down.  My head felt fuzzy, I didn’t know how I knew the names of these things or why they seemed familiar.  I missed Marcus, but suddenly my memory of his was distorted.  I searched frantically in my head for my fiance, but he was slipping away.  I tried to remember my little sister Anna, but the moment I started thinking of her, she too slipped away.  I wanted to scream, everything was slipping from my grasp, the cottage, the animals, my beloved sword, I couldn’t even remember how it shone in the morning light.  The card slipping under my fingernail brought me back to my current situation.  All I knew was this strange girl with green hair and this encrypted message.

Then it hit me.

“Gia?  I thought I saw you go offline, are you there?”  The girl’s voice was high pitched and somewhat whiny, making it difficult to block out, but my memories took care of that.  In a flash I remembered it, I died.  It wasn’t a fantastic death, I was repairing the roof for my mother so that she wouldn’t have to do it once I was married and gone.  A freak thunderstorm came up and I foolishly decided to try and finish, but the shingles got wet and I slipped.  I died instantly when I hit the ground and then I wound up here, wherever here was.  It took me a while to realize the girl with green hair was referring to me as Gia, the name sounded completely unfamiliar.  After a while she got tired of prancing around the room and jabbering with no response, so she grabbed my shoulders and forced me to look into her eyes.  They were a deep purple and appeared very concerned.  Somewhere in the back of my head I thought purple eyes weren’t much less natural than green hair, so I resisted registering shock.  She seemed oblivious to all the strains of thoughts running through my mind and continued to call me Gia.  “Are you there or not?”

I flipped the card in my hands over a few times before responding.  At first my words came out in some garbled language I didn’t understand until they gradually formed into whatever she was speaking.  “I-” Pain swirled in my head.  “I died.”
“Well of course you did, stupid.  That’s the only way to leave the game, of course you died.”
“Game?”  I felt my forehead with my hands, surely I was having some sort of dream, but I couldn’t deny that I had died, no matter what was real and what wasn’t, I died.  A person doesn’t mistake something like that.

She seemed bored with my confusion and started rattling off stuff I didn’t understand, but not as one does to any person, she talked to me like she trusted me.  I couldn’t stand for her to accidentally spill some sort of secret to a stranger, so I spoke up.  “Um, do you- well, do you know me?”
All the boredom and irritation drained from her face in an expression of utter shock and pain.  “Do, do I know you?  Of course I know you… You’re Gia, my best-”
“But who are you?”
Her jaw dropped and I noticed tears welling up in her eyes.  “You don’t remember me?”  I shook my head and flipped the card around in my hands again.  “We’re best friends, I’m Kali, you have to remember me!”  She gripped my shoulders and I was scared she might start sobbing.

My mind felt like an empty pit, I couldn’t seem to grasp anything before I saw the card.  Kali was pacing around the room, it also looked rather strange, but I felt like it should feel pretty familiar to me.  There were two hammocks hanging by the window and there was a pile of bags in the corner.  The wall we were sitting by held massive screens and strange devices, I was sitting in some sort of chair with wheels.  Curtains were drawn over the window and in a desperate search for some sort of certainty, I lunged for them.

As my hand touched the strange fabric, I saw Kali grimace.  I didn’t know why until the curtain gave way and I landed on some sort of stone platform outside our window.  “Forgot about the new windows too, eh?  I could have turned them off if you’d told me you wanted to look outside.”
Her words sounded like those of someone insane, but perhaps she was right and I was the one who appeared insane.  I flipped the card over in my fingers before taking in my surroundings.  The exterior of our room looked more like a cube in a stack of thousands, they stretched below, above, right and left almost endlessly.  A yellow light very unlike the sun poured warmth down on my skin, but also unlike the sun, it didn’t hurt to look into.  Instead of a suspended orb, it appeared to be a written schedule in the sky, names alternated with times and words I didn’t understand.  I ran back inside to where Kali was waiting for me.  A few strange people were standing with her.  She gestured to them and looked at me questioningly, “Do you remember them either?”  She didn’t sound bitter, but sad.  I tried my best to, but they all looked strange and I shook my head.  She bit her lip and started with the smallest, “This is my son, Jago.”  He smiled at me weakly, and I felt like he had been something important to me, but I honestly couldn’t place him.  I didn’t have much time for she continued on the line of people listing of their relationships with me and herself, she even listed events in which we had all participated, but it all sounded like a foreign language to me.  She reached the end of the line and sighed, still fighting back tears.  The one she had called her brother whispered something in her ear and she shrugged and started to whisper back when a vibration pulsed through the floor.  It frightened me and I jumped, still clinging onto the card.  The others seemed rather used to it, for they filed outside with silent curiosity.  I later recalled that the pulse signified a change in schedule for someone in the room, being that there were so many of us, one could have easily checked for everyone, but later I was glad we’d all gone.

Upon noticing the change, Jago started jumping up and down excitedly.  “They’re coming home!  They’re coming back!”
Kali smiled and hugged Jago tightly, “They’re probably almost to the front door, let’s go see.”
I followed the group, not knowing what else to do.  My mind was still a wreck, but I thought they would feel better if I at least pretended I understood what was going on.

Suddenly, the door opened and three men filed in.  The one in front appeared to be Kali’s husband, for she ran to him and smothered him with kisses.  The one behind him, I was told was her other son, Kaden, but I hardly noticed him.  When the last man came into my sight, he ran to me and kissed me with such passion that it awakened the deepest memories of my mind and I remembered.  “Oh Vike, I missed you.”  I embraced him tightly and let the tears stream from my eyes.  I suddenly remembered the others, oh poor Kali, how could I do this to her?  I embraced her tightly and all the others, but my apologies were squelched with their gratitude that I was back.

At last I laid the card down and it evaporated into tiny particles of yellow light.  Kali’s explanation was unnecessary, but I let her go on for her own sake.  In truth I remembered signing up to give the game a try, a lifetime in another world.  It had really felt real, though I was only lost to my own for a couple days, the exact time that Vike was away on special assignment, I had lived a lifetime in another world.

I thought it strange how much more real my memories of the other world felt than those of this one, even years after the incident they still do.  I’ve learned since then that the games aren’t just for entertainment or distraction, but to learn more about the human mind and to power our great world.  I’m still not sure what I think about them existing, but after that I don’t think I’ll ever opt out of my own world again.  They say they’ve ironed out the kinks, that it’s easier to disconnect than ever before, but I won’t be trying it again.  No matter how difficult it becomes to cope with or how easy an escape might seem, nothing is worth losing those I love.

~Tori Lynn


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