The Maze Game
The following story contains: Violence, violent imagery, some profane/crude language
The dimension of hell merged with reality. He was a demon with a broken back, hunched before the portal of liquid crystals that burned his strained eyes as rainbow fire. Only he wasn’t one of the demons empowered by Lucifer’s fall, but a lost soul, caught in a torment caused by the curse of a creepypasta. Unfortunately for him, his torture didn’t last an eternity, but six days, and now his true tour of hell would begin. His legs were numb, pins produced pain through his spine, his sore arms lay in gravity’s grip, a controller in fingers as flexible as sticks, yet he had to play. If his Player Character, a little man he made laughably similar to himself, failed to find the exit of the virtual maze, he would die. One hour on the doomsday clock, one hour before the end. In that hour, his life flashed before his eyes.
The magazines called it The Golden Grail and the Magic Maze 2. Everyone else called it The Second Maze Game. The world loved the Maze Games for their addictive simplicity: your PC lives in a medieval castle constructed in a maze; you win by finding the exit. Throughout the player’s journey, one finds other NPCs desiring the same freedom as the player, joins parties with those characters to fight monsters and the castle’s pursuers. Tavon Hale and his friends stood in line two hours for the first game, camped outside a night for the second. He arrived “home” at his dorm room on Ashtrail University. Tavon opened the case, held the disc like a newborn made of glass, started as soon as his first level C++ class ended at 6 pm. He strode from the RaFa computer science building, and played until 11:55 that night. Then the call came that damned everything. His Samsung Galaxy 3 vibrated in his pocket. He was about to start a romance with a cute, busty elf too.
“Yeah?” he said, the phone resting on his leg, set on speaker.
“Hey Tavon! Tee-hee!” said Joanne Cross, the hyper chick of their group who instinctively knew how to troll people at the worst times. “Having fun with the game?”
“I was, until you interrupted me. I still have to write that array for class, so I’m trying to get past this part before 12:30. What’s up?”
“Are you on the second dungeon yet?”
“I…I decided to level grind and get enough Gool to get my guy the right weapons, so I haven’t got to the first one yet,” he lied.
She giggled across the wireless waves. “You’re trying to pick the right options to get that busty elf in your party, aren’t you?”
“What do you want, Joanne?”
“I’m on the third dungeon. It’s too late for me… But I discovered a hidden creepypasta while reading a forum. It’s in the Lost Hill Corridor, next to the underground cache, I mean on the wall right next to it. Tap A on the wall and the door’ll open. They say it’s the creepiest one yet.”
“Thanks. I’ll check it out.”
He knew what was coming. “What?”
“Don’t waste so much time on the busty eeelllfff.”
He hung-up the phone.
The door opened just as she said. The edges of an elliptical door shone on the virtual wall, the outline making his PC an iris in a snake’s eye. His controller nearly slipped from his hand, his mouth felt cotton dry. What’s this feeling? A frozen thumb moved his character forward, past the gateway of golden flame. His eyes drew wide with his breath. The console had a GDDR5 graphics card, the best in the market, but this area looked different. Green grass and shrubbery replaced by black earth, the blue sky replaced by a healing wound, white clouds the puss on a red backdrop. The area not only contrasted with previous fantasy aspects of the game, but looked real, camera-picture real. He moved the camera with his right thumb to get a better perspective of the character. The avatar, whom he made similar to himself, was him, only dressed for a night of dragon slaying rather than button mashing. He saw the horrified expression it wore, felt it on his own person. Tavon laughed aloud to himself.
“It must be getting late, if something this simple can scare me.” He reached forward, tapped the power button on the console’s front, not even bothering to save. He saw it, it was eerie, now he needed to finish his homework. Tomorrow he’d try to surpass Joanne’s progress. He booted his laptop, started his compiler program. He wasted one day out of six to save his life. If only he’d given the matter more attention.
Things were different the following day. A constant paranoia stalked him, always hung behind his shoulder. Breezes that left trees and the clothes of his friends unmoved brushed his face and skin; he heard dirt shifting while he sat in class. His friends decided to meet at seven to discuss the game, among other stuff. He declined. An inclination, more a curiosity, drove him back to his dorm room early. Lack of sleep could be affecting him. Maybe too much Red Bull and After-Hour had odd effects on your mind. Maybe it was something else. He turned on the console. The game bypassed the introduction screen entirely; no “Welcome to the Prometheus R+,” or “Eject Disc,” option, or anything else. The system turned to where he left it last night: the picture-perfect copy of himself standing on black earth, bloody sky, and tall, beige brick extending an eternity on both sides. Fingers lightly brushing his hair, the entire left side of his face, chilled his skin. He turned around.
“Who’s there?” No one. Just his messy room within a room in the dorm-suite. He felt it again, this time catching a whiff of rotten eggs as it brushed his nose hairs. “Who’s there?” Footsteps paced from the front, where the flatscreen, the console, and the wall impeded. Nothing could have walked by without knocking him to the floor. Then he saw it. Before his mind could even process it, his body did, and his heart nearly beat into a heart attack. The wind in the game blew on his character’s left side, the cloned strands of polygons flapping with the programmed air-pressure changes. A skinless man, naked as a bloody newborn, approached the character, screaming on each step, and each step soiling the black ground with red. Tavon’s mind went blank. The audio from the experiences stretched across the television, the circuits and boards, and plastic casings, and went to him. This can’t be real. Or so he thought, until the skinless creature slapped his PC with nails the length of kitchen knives. The PC faltered; he felt a little girl slap his cheek, then four cuts blister into blood on that cheek.
“No!” He ceased being a gamer holding a controller, became a cornered animal wielding a weapon. He beat the A button until his character chopped the creature to chunks, feeling like he was the one swinging the sword. Is my exhaustion this game, or stress? A telephone ringing made him flinch. Again the echo, from the LCD’s speakers and from his room. This time he recognized the echo’s source: his cellphone, resonating a ringtone he never gave it, similar to the landlines used in his parents’ day. He checked the game first, since he already held the controller in his cold, clammy hands. He tapped Y to open the player menu, scrolled over Stats, Equipment, Options, settled on Messages. A yellow ‘1’ indicated he had a new one. He opened it. It was sent at 12:23 am, not long after he turned off the console last night.
Greetings Tavon Hale:
Congratulations for locating the hidden maze in The Golden Grail and the Magic Maze 2! This area is designed to provide players with a realistic gaming experience unlike any other. Unfortunately, the level is still in its development phase. Players cannot logout, testers have described the experience to affect their perception of reality, and in six days after accessing the secret maze, the game will crash. Testers who failed in locating the maze’s exit within 144 hours have experienced the following side effects: cardiac arrest, bleeding through the orifices (nostrils, ears, mouth, eyes, anus), spontaneous combustion; self-inflicted bruises, lacerations, and avulsions; seizures, stroke, and death. We are sorry for the inconvenience. Please enjoy your gaming experience.
“Please enjoy your gaming experience,” he read aloud. The fuck is this bat shit shit! Seizures, bleeding, death, Please enjoy your gaming experience. The words bounced in his skull, like a rusty nail bouncing in a bladder, bled through his clenched teeth. “Please enjoy your gaming experience.” He tossed the wireless controller to the floor. “Please enjoy your gaming experience.” His cell rang again like a landline. He marched to the bed, snatched it up, got past the password screen, then he dropped it. He was texted the same message his virtual self received.