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Horror American Fiction

The excitement in the air was palpable. Authorities are still trying to determine the source. Suspects include the beachside breeze, the near-fatal intake of Cherry Pibb and cotton candy, and the dozens of distractions populating the Atlantic City Boardwalk. There were many old-school culprits that could be held culpable, but all signs pointed to the new kid in town: Somnambula, the zombie-survival AR experience. 

This revolutionary experience was what brought the Corencia brothers– Chris, Kyle, and Bart– from further up north the east coast along with their unwilling hostage mother –Kristen–. The three amigos were big fans of COD: Zombies, zombie movies, and older ProjectSyndicate videos, so of course they were going to find a way to convince their parents to take them to the shore for this. It took straight As for their last year of middle school, but if anyone polled the three, they’d confirm that it was worth the effort and the wait (as long as they were polled prior to playing). 

Ironically, it wasn’t the loud noises; the disapproval of their parents; or the beating summer sun that made them change their tune. It was instead the age old cautionary tales of not mistaking videogames for real life and for hyping something up in a person’s mind before they are able to experience it for themselves.

Still, saying there was no point where they were excited would be intellectually dishonest. Ex pre facto, they were exchanging typical eighth grader jabs about how each other sucked at gaming and making childish wages on how the person that came in last would have to eat a rotten egg, or something equally childish to be determined at a later date. The idea was even tossed around of shaving the loser’s head and throwing him in the ocean, but this was agreed to make no sense since they’d have to drive two hours to find the nearest body of water.

Throwing around these ridiculous, but ultimately humorous and harmless, ideas was how the three musketeers of the family coped with the heat and the wait. Kristen doubtless wasn’t particularly fond of the conversation, but for at least 75% of the family, it was good for a decent laugh and even helped melt the time away into the summer sun until they noticed they were next in line. 

“Oh hey, we’re next up!” Chris said with pleasant surprise in his voice. They didn’t even pay the mind to previous players that they probably should have, but that didn’t quell their excitement. Their repeated tapping on the metal gate was a sonar plea to let them enjoy everything they had came for. Tap by tap, they let their desires be known until their mother told them to stop, that if they don’t calm down they won’t be able to enjoy what they had waited hours for. They weren’t sure if she was being truthful or not, but it was better not to risk it. 

“Finally!” Bart said as he climbed into the yellow and black chair. The elements had fought against them until this point, but their resolve was stronger. After the gates opened, the only cue they needed was the name and location of the ride, and they were off to the races like a bull being let out of the cage. To them, every second they didn’t spend shooting zombies was a second wasted. Impatiently, the Corencias looked at the metal ceiling imagining what the game and the world would look like (even though they could have attained this information by glancing at the TV for but a moment).

A ride operator came around and bound their torsos and feet with metal bars, but left their hands free.

“The bars are to make sure you don’t move while the simulation is running. THe game will explain what to do if you want to leave at any time.” the ride operator explained.

I can only imagine what mom is thinking seeing this. Kyle joked to himself (even though it wasn’t a joke to Kristen). Her hands were clasped nervously.

Nerves aside, they had no intention of stopping what was in motion. Locking all three in, plus one stranger to make it a four-man squad, the operator gave the cue for the simulation to begin (with a preemptive word of caution, of course). 

“Sleepy Hollow has been overrun by zombies. As part of a secret government cleanup crew, you are tasked with putting the dead back to sleep.”

Somnambula, aka totally not Raccoon City. Chris thought to himself. 

“You will move in teams of four through the graveyard, the countryside, and finally execute the Queen Bee in the town hall. If you feel at any time that the experience is too much, simply press the button on the left side of your InterAct Helmet. Good luck, soldiers. 

After the AI-provided PSA, their senses were dulled with a flash of bright light. Once their senses were returned to them, however, they awoke to a world darkly lit and an environment spattered with grays and olive greens. The audio receptors fed noise into their headsets, simulating zombie grunts to give an extra sense of live-inness (assuming that’s a word).

As is to be expected when someone is brought into a new world, there was a decent amount of experimentation: stretching their legs, admiring how cool their guns looked, and testing to see if the red button actually works. One of the people on the four-man team, however, did a bit better than he intended.

“Hey, did anyone else notice we’re one man short?” Chris asked. Looking around, they saw that there were only three of them and four people that originally got on the chair.

“I guess someone decided it was too scary. Eh, more for us.” Kyle said as he excitedly grabbed his weapon. There was no benefit to following in his footsteps, as all of them still fully intended on getting their fill of fun. Although, some might have taken on more than they even expected.

There was no minimap, but they felt as though they knew exactly where they were going, like it was on-rails even though it wasn’t. Delicately, the three made their way through the graveyard. It was surprisingly difficult to find a zombie where they were, especially considering they spawned in a graveyard, but they weren’t going to complain (so long as they found something to shoot at soon). 

“Dang, this was easier than I was expecting!” Kyle laughed. This mix of boredom and bemusement caused him to push farther ahead of the group. He was still moving somewhat carefully, but his patience was running short. He needed some action and he needed quickly. Little did he anticipate, however, that action would soon find him.

Time went on, and he still didn’t find anything to shoot, so he broke into a quick jog.

“Hey, slow down! There could be anything around the corner!” the guy who wasn’t Chris or Kyle warned, but it was a warn unheeded. That is, until a Grumbler (the lowest level of zombie) popped out from behind a tombstone and swiped at Kyle. A red mark appeared on his screen (which he could now juxtapose against the nine green ones). In retaliation, Kyle stepped back and put two holes in the head of the undead.

“From now on, please be more careful!” the stranger said.

“And you are?” Kyle understandably asked.

“Leon Kennedy.” ‘Leon’ said. It wasn’t his real identity, but there’s nothing wrong with playing pretend.

“Damn, looks like we’re in a real Resident Evil 4, now.” Chris said, employing the internet meme of people unnaturally referencing the titles of a piece of media.

If I had a nickel for every time I made a Resident Evil joke today, I’d have two nickels. Which isn’t a lot, but it’s weird it happened twice. Chris thought, keeping with the theme of meme culture. 

Fortunately, the rest of the time spent in the graveyard wasn’t as painful as Chris’s jokes. It was the sleepy part of Sleepy Hollow, so navigating the literal dead zone was no issue. Robert moved through the Grunters like he had memorized their spawn points, like he knew where they were before they did. The graveyard, however, was sparsely populated, so moving through there was about as easy as could be expected. It was supposed to be merciful to beginners. Wading through the town, however, came with the expectation that they had their feet under them and didn’t account for one person carrying the weight for two or three others. Apart from that retaliatory kill, the Corencias had no blood on their hands, and at this rate, Leon was going to be short on bullets by the time the end credits rolled around.

Kyle’s traumatic experience kept him in check for a bit, Chris learned from watching something dumb that someone else did, and Leon needed no lesson. If even briefly, the Corencia brothers were smart to follow the example of the person who knew well the concepts of teamwork, AI movements, spawn points, and resource conservation. Believe it or not, there was no opportunity to obtain ammo in Somnambula, every bullet was precious, but not so in the hands of people whose only goal was to have a good time. 

Sadly, it’s unsurprising that in an era where attention spans have been reduced to that of a goldfish, Kyle was ready to take off running again as soon as they reached the town. Taking after the adult among them, Kyle decided to change his name to that of a fictional character, hollering “Lerooooooooy Jenkins!” as he rushed towards a horde of Screechers. Leon doesn’t even question it this time, he just throws his hands up and pulls Chris off to the side because, theoretically, those are the two that want to make it to see the end.

Kyle lets the bullets pour, but like an overzealous “The Walking Dead” character, is quickly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the conflict he started. Each of the 100 bullets he started out with were spent swinging at windmills. Every cry of the Screecher, every hollering of hot metal sunk him deeper. While Kyle doesn’t feel the piercing bite of having his flesh torn from his body, he does see his screen flash red every now and again until he doesn’t even have the need or the option of the red button. His arms flailed as he tried to find cover, but he knew it was over once he was backed into a corner. He couldn’t even move his gun to fire it, he just had to watch and wait for the red bumps to cease. 

The jagged horizontal italic marks that served as his health bar depleted one by one until the struggling stopped. Of course, like most people that lose a brother, it didn’t hit him he was supposed to have a reaction until he lost something he couldn’t replace (they’d see each other once the simulation ended, but that’s besides the point). 

He didn’t realize he was supposed to have a reaction until it was just him and someone he barely knew left, and the side that couldn’t discern between fiction and reality took control. It also didn’t help that the game stimulated the brain in a way which made everything believable. 

“Alright, on my mark we move! If we’re fast enough and move the right way, we should be able to make it to the Queen Bee without attracting too much attention” Leon said with a quiet roar. 

“Yeah… I think I’m gonna log out. Losing one brother I can live with, but two… I don’t think I feel like playing videogames anymore. Plus, I’m not having as much fun as I thought I would. I think I’ll just go back to playing COD, gonna hug my bros too.”

“I understand,” Leon said with his voice turning somber, “this game isn’t for everyone. Go be with your family.”

Chris’ nod was bittersweet. This was something he had waited hours to enjoy, just for hus enjoyment to be taken from him at the last minute. Somehow, he was the lucky one among his brothers, even though they shared a fate, just how in a matter of moments they’d all be equally tearful by their mother’s side

Just do it quick, Chris, don’t even think about it. Ready? Three. Two. One.

Chris’ fingers felt heavy as they floated near the red button. Deep down, he didn’t want to press it, but he knew he couldn’t keep going, that he wasn’t in any mental shape to keep up the fight. For something so inconsequential, it nevertheless felt like life and death for some reason, and with a tangy adieu, the deed was done.

February 11, 2023 00:42

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2 comments

Brad Heald
00:21 Feb 16, 2023

I'm unfamiliar with these types of games so thank you for the introduction. I really liked the phrase, "Let the bullets pour." That Chris chose to finish early to be with his brothers demonstrated a family compassion that is noteworthy in one's character. Thanks for the story.

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Dylan Patrick
00:53 Feb 16, 2023

Thank you for the comment! There are some things I'd like to elaborate on 1. Technically speaking, these games don't exist. The closest I know of is on-rails VR (virtual reality) games like Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. AR (Augmented reality) is currently tied to science fiction (see Ready Player One on Sword Art Online). 2. Also, Chris choosing his brothers was meant to juxtapose his naivety in the beginning vs the realization that there's a difference between fiction and real life, a very important distinction that people need to grow up t...

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