Author : J.D. Rice

[Serial 3: Level One. Simulation Start]

The words fade from my vision as the VR hud appears on the edges of the “screen.” From this point on, I’ll be able to track my environmental impact just by focusing on the little blips of light around my eyes. Noise levels, shadows, I’ll know exactly how stealthy I am in completing my objective. VR gaming has reached such a height in recent years, creating levels from real life memories, that at times it’s hard to tell the game from reality.

[Mission One: Your first victim is an elderly woman, living alone in the alarmed house next door. You are armed with a knife. Kill her and escape before the police arrive.]

I grin with delight at the game’s choice. It read my memories and found the nearest person against whom I hold a grudge. Mrs. Mulis is a self-righteous old hag. Killing her will be perfect.

I make my way out of the house, careful not to be noticed by my mother, who the computer has left sitting in the family room, watching old sitcoms. I wait for a laugh track and slip out the back door. Thankfully, our dog is asleep, but I eye my noise levels as I make my way across our yard and into Mrs. Mulis’s. He doesn’t awaken. Perfect.

Stalking my way up to the old woman’s back door, I examine her security box. It’ll be tricky. Using the knife from my pocket, I cut a few wires and wait. No alarm. I turn the doorknob slowly, watching the sound bars on my hud bounce to the creaking of the door. I enter the house without incident.

I hear muted voices above. Mrs. Mulis’s bedroom television. The house is old, and the stairs creak as I make my way up. I wait patiently at the top of the steps. The light from Mrs. Mulis’s television slips through her cracked bedroom door, illuminating the hall. My heart pounds in expectation. Sweat forms on my forehead. I grib the knife tighter, my palms becoming slick.

I remind myself of all the times Mrs. Mulis shouted at me as a child. The times she called my mother a whore or threatened to have my dog put to sleep. I muster up all the rage and anger that I’ve long held in. The lights in my hud change from green to red. Instead of tracking my stealth, it tracks my health and injuries. My knuckles go white. The old woman dies tonight. And I’ll be the one to do it.

All my pent up emotions explode at once. Racing down the hallway, I burst through the bedroom door and dive at the screaming old woman. I slam the knife into her chest, again and again. Blood spatters over my chest and face. My hands are soaked red.

The woman’s screams turn to moans. Her moans turn to silence.

Breathing heavily, I wipe my hands on my shirt. I’ll have to burn my clothes when I get home, if that’s where the game leads me next.

As I look down at the woman’s dead body, my hud changes to yellow. Error report.

[Warning: Simulation malfunction. Please wait for reboot.]

I stand and wait for the simulation to continue. As I wait, Mrs. Mulis’s body goes cold. Blood drips from the bed to the floor. The minutes pass and a creeping sense of numbing horror overcomes my senses. The simulation never started.

This game is too perfect.

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