New Flash Fiction:
by D. S. Ullery
Author’s note: Due to the subject matter, this story – short though it is- may trigger some readers. I want everyone to know up front this isn’t meant as exploitation. Like every writer worth their salt, I have my own views on a variety of social issues and this is one that strikes a deep chord. This is the natural way for me to write about it. If I did my job as the author of this piece at all well, hopefully the larger point I’m attempting here will come across .
I expect someone somewhere to dislike this, if only because its about this topic at all. Either way, I stand by my work. My take on horror is that it should – at times – be uncompromising and disturbing. Those who are already familiar with my short fiction will likely not be at all surprised I wrote this. Whether or not that’s a good thing, I leave to the individual to decide.
So there it is, my early warning. To those of you who elect to turn away now, I completely understand. Thank you for even clicking on this blog in the first place. For those of you who have decided to push on- thank you as well. I hope the story works for you.
Tyler had waited a long time to play a game like this one. Years.
As he mentally prepared to begin, he reflected on his decades of game play. He’d been gifted his first console back when he was ten. He’d been hooked ever since. Every time a new release was available, he was the first to purchase it. He read all of the gaming magazines and followed industry news religiously, keeping an eye peeled for new games offering next level graphics and user interface. Over time, he’d mastered them all. On occasion, he’d even been selected to beta test a few prior to their release.
He took a moment, cradling the firearm he’d selected from the armory for this initial round. Eyes closed, he expelled a deep, satisfied breath, allowing the excitement to wash over him. With a smile, he opened his eyes and entered the first level.
Tyler drank in his surroundings, gripping the weapon. He enjoyed the feel of the trigger beneath his index finger as he lifted the gun and aimed. Across the street, one of the in-game characters immediately reacted, throwing her hands up as he spun on his heels and ran in the other direction.
He’d never seen graphics so detailed. The cracked pavement beneath his feet, the buildings with their dusty bricks and windows caked in residue from the exhaust of passing cars; In all the years he’d been playing, no system – no specific release- had ever boasted this degree of realism. Curious, he fired off a round. The bullet caught the back of the man’s head, producing billows of red mist. Tyler could actually hear the sound of blood splattering against the concrete, followed by the soft thump of his body as he fell.
He was impressed.
He glided forward, walking a city block in real time to a corner where the avenue connected with an alleyway. All around him, background characters screamed as they saw him. He leveled the rifle at one , who in this instance was a morbidly obese man. Tyler watched in awe as its mouth dropped open, its eyes red and watery as tears streamed down its cheeks. Tyler had to admit, the artificial intelligence programmed into this world was astonishing. These figures were a perfect simulation.
He fired a bullet into the rotund image, watching in fascination as it plopped onto the asphalt face first.
Tyler thought back to all of those other first person shooter games he’d played over the years. Within those, he’d been a soldier on the front lines in a foreign jungle, a Marine in a future science lab facing the armies of Hell, even a criminal on a spree, beating up prostitutes and shooting drug dealers. As vivid as they were, not one of those games had come anywhere close to this.
He cut right into the alley and used it to cross to the next street over. Emerging on the other side, Tyler was surprised to find himself on a large boulevard. Pedestrians populated the sidewalks on either side of a road heavy with traffic. All along the street, patrons of various restaurants enjoyed their lunches beneath large sun deck umbrellas.
This game had all of the mundane details of everyday life down pat.
He cocked his gun, raising the barrel and centering on an elderly woman being led by a small, white poodle on a pink and turquoise leash. Smiling, he steadied the cross hairs, keeping them level. Around him, random characters began to scream and shout, having finally become aware of his presence.
The old woman unwittingly stepped into the cross hairs, the sounds of alarm catching her attention, prompting her to turn her head in his direction to see what was going on. This left Tyler with a direct shot right between her eyes.
Before he could pull the trigger, a loudspeaker crackled, an authoritative voice bellowing “Drop the gun! Get on your knees with your arms extended, palms out!”
Astonished by the richness and clarity of the voice , Tyler turned , greeted by the sight of two police vehicles blocking passage through the street. The officer who had addressed him was standing behind the driver’s side door of his car, the microphone still clenched in his hand. Directly to the policeman’s left, another uniformed officer had a powerful looking assault rifle raised and pointed at him.
Tyler couldn’t resist- he had to see how the A.I. would respond if he attacked under these circumstances. Smiling at the two officers, he raised his gun.
The response was instantaneous. Fire scorched his belly , arms and legs even as the echo of multiple gunshots rang out. His muscles surrendered beneath the onslaught, sending him crumpling to the ground.
Tyler wheezed, the breath knocked out of him. He rolled over onto his back, marveling at the hot, sticky sensation of his life drizzling out of the wounds. He barely managed to lift his head, catching a brief glimpse of his body before the effort became too much. Everything below his chest was bathed in a sea of deep crimson, spreading out from his body in strange, oblong patterns from the ruin of his stomach.
They were the best graphics he’d ever seen. Even the pain felt real.
A deep coldness penetrated his flesh and Tyler suddenly felt very, very tired. Despite this level being set during a sunny, cloudless day, the world was beginning to dim. It was as if the colors were bleaching out of reality.
The sound of people rushing to and fro surrounded him. The noise began to fade, as if he were suddenly moving a great distance from the street. The two officers and some other bystanders crowded in, hovering over him. They were losing all resolution, now no more than silhouettes without detail.
Faint voices cried out, demanding to know who he was and why he had done it. Another – the same he’d heard speaking over the microphone – explained to someone he could not see there was no need for an ambulance. A van from the morgue would suffice.
Game over, Tyler thought as the shadows swallowed him and he drifted away.