Contemporary Fiction Fantasy

It was so terribly cold. It was snowing, and it was almost dark.   His boots crunched the frozen ground as he slowly and carefully stepped forward, scanning for signs of disturbance. He held the stun rifle firmly in both hands, tracing the arc of his flashlight, slowly sweeping left then right then repeating. He stopped. It was utterly silent. He could feel the wet cold on his cheeks, the only exposed skin peeking out from between his goggles and the scarf he had wrapped around his mouth and nose. He started walking again and cringed every time his foot came down on the icy dirt. The silence magnified the noise and he was sure the sound reverberated for a distance. Too late to turn around, he needed to press on and finish this. Now it was fully dark and the snowfall had intensified. The tree limbs hung low with the weight. The cold penetrated his gloves and his grip on the rifle was becoming numb. He hoped he could pull the trigger when it was time.  

A footfall. Not his, he hadn’t moved. Where? He squinted through his snow smeared goggles, straining to see. He moved his flashlight. Blackness pierced by a tight light beam, a thin tunnel of brightness rushing into nothing. Waving it slowly back and forth like an illuminated lance, looking for any movement, he inched his way forward into the night, watching through the star stream onslaught of snow. No sounds now. Maybe it was a falling branch, he thought, or a deer. Stay alert. Keep moving ahead. 

The snow was deeper here and walking had become more difficult. No sign of life yet. Stop. Listen. The wind had picked up. An increasing growl of air, rushing towards him, like an auditory Doppler shift. He shifted in his weather gear, muscles aching from the constant tension against the cold, realigned the stun’s scope and wiped a tingling gloved finger across his eyepieces. Misty breath exhaling cloud like from his freezing nostrils. Balloons of vapor. Frozen pellets of fine hail bouncing off his helmet in syncopated percussion. Alone with his adrenaline elevated to flight mode. But from who? He suddenly lost the thread of his mission. Mission? What was his mission? Who was he stalking, hunting? He didn’t know. All he knew was that he was cold, colder than he’d ever been before. He stopped advancing and might literally freeze in place but was still hesitant to lower his weapon. His eyes searched the darkness, rising in their sockets to focus on an unseen whiteboard of facts, only to find none. What is my next move?, he thought. Where am I going? Where exactly am I?  


An all consuming burst of white light blindingly exploded and lit the world. Warmth flooded over him like a solar blanket and he was instantly dry. The headset had been pulled off his face and reality flew at him in a rush of images and senses. A full body orgasm of realization as he was yanked forcibly through an unyielding membrane of illusion. He gasped, doubling over, heaving huge lungfuls of air like a drowning man pulled from an ocean. 

“Holy shit,” he said, headset hanging from a black cord around his neck. “That was, was,  intense,” he stammered, now holding his head with both hands. “I was there, really there. I felt everything. Damn it was cold, I mean really cold, numbingly cold.” He held his bare hands out in front of him, rotating and examining then for frostbite. All good. “Totally immersive, like nothing I’ve ever played before, and this is in beta, correct?, he asked. 

“Yup, beta. We’re still tweaking the software. Any feedback about the game? Sensations, visuals, anything that would help fine tune it?,” Robert asked,

pushing a tea filled Yeti into Nick’s still flexing hands. As co-lead designer on both the software and hardware side of the business, Robert wore both hats very easily. He knew a good system launch wasn’t so much about the system itself but the games that could be played on it and to that end they needed a killer app, a must have game to go with it. He hoped the “Abyss” system and it’s namesake game would be the package to blow away the competition and catapult his company into the IPO stratosphere.  

“There was one thing Bob,” Nick said, between sips of tea, “towards the end, just before you pulled the lens off, I felt, oh I don’t know, I guess lost would be the word. I suddenly didn’t know where I was or what I was doing, who was I looking for, what was the objective? I was just out there, alone, really really cold, trying to remember what I was supposed to do.”  

“And in thinking about it now, do you remember the game’s scenario? The gist of it? Take your time.”

Nick replayed the game in his mind, eyes staring blankly. He shuddered as he remembered the cold. “It was some kind of match, wasn’t it?,” he said. I was hunting someone or something and I was being hunted as well, correct?”  

“Essentially, yes,” Robert said. “Come walk with me and I’ll explain more.”

Nick rose and followed Robert out the door into another room, where two white gowned technicians were studying a bank of monitors. Each screen showed a desolate landscape, dark and snowy, with a black clad figure, dressed in some kind of futuristic battle gear, slowly walking through a forest, arms extended, holding a rifle and sweeping a light across the path. 

“Look familiar?,” Robert asked. “Each monitor is hooked up to an Abyss unit in another room and to other volunteers who have agreed to test it. The whole thing is driven by our new AI chip which takes all the input from the players and structures the game accordingly. In other words, the gameplay morphs as the AI anticipates the players moves and choices. The same AI also gives the player a total sense of reality when in the game and there’s no need for additional sensors or peripherals. It’s all fed into the brain from the headset itself. Pretty heady stuff, huh? No pun intended.” Robert folded his arms, smiled with satisfaction and waited for Nick’s reaction. 

“You could’ve picked a warmer place for your first game, you know,” Nick said. “It was kinda brutal.”  

“Agreed, but we wanted the player to feel a stark difference after extraction.”

“Mission accomplished, I did.”

“We can make our next game hotter. Maybe something tropical? Or desert located?”  

“Sign me up for that, but. . .one question.  Why the displacement at the end? Why did I suddenly feel lost and blank?,” Nick asked. 

“Coulda been the cold was just too intense, and you suffered brain freeze.  We’ll have to tweak the software and maybe program in some matches so you can start a fire in there. Wouldn’t do to have you freeze to death. Not good for sales, you know.”  

“This new AI chip and the hardware have more implications than mere, and I don’t mean to denigrate it, gaming, you do realize?,” Nick said. “If you can give someone a full body experience inside a virtual or Metaverse environment, without all the add ons and bulk of additional gear just think of the ramifications. The paralyzed could experience movement and feeling, the military could train in hostile environments without leaving their bases, you could give the dying a vision of their loved ones and even a version of heaven, and and sex, just think of sex,” Nick spluttered, “that’s your real market,” 

“Don’t you think I’ve thought of all that Nick?,” Robert smugly smiled. “Believe me, I’ve thought of it all, this is just the gateway.”  

March 17, 2023 16:59

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Glenda Toews
03:35 Mar 19, 2023

I quite like the writing style of this story. I like the twist from 'reality' to the AI game and I desired to see where it was going. Its a masculine story that pulled this female along and it was reading well. The ending was a bit flat for me and the reference to sex a bit of an eye roller...a little too predictable and a tad disappointing as the first part of the story was truly pointing to a grand exit. I will read more of your work because I did appreciate that I enjoyed reading something I wouldn't actually pick out on purpose...good j...


Andrew Fruchtman
11:56 Mar 19, 2023

Thank you Glenda for your thoughtful comments and, yes, upon rereading, I agree that I copped out at the end. I originally planned on something a bit darker and convoluted but opted for the easier out. The clock was running on submission time. I very well may revisit this in the future. Again, thank you for reading me and for taking the time to give me feedback. Much appreciated.


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Jeannette Miller
17:03 Mar 18, 2023

Andrew, I love the beginning so much. I could visualize what he was going through and the suspense of wondering what he was looking for or what was looking for him was well built. The sound of the snow crunching and stuff was dead on as someone who lives where it snows and gets that dark :) I thought the transition to reality was also well done and the concept of the game and the way it makes people feel virtually is intriguing; however, the parts after that leave me a bit deflated. Like maybe if he breathes out after the last line and sees...


Andrew Fruchtman
18:44 Mar 18, 2023

Thank you Jeannette, point well taken. After submitting and then re-rereading I agree and so does my wife, who kinda said the same thing. She wanted more after my ending, so I might revisit this and expand on it at some point. Thank you so much for reading me and for your thoughtful comments. Much appreciated.


Jeannette Miller
14:58 Mar 25, 2023

Oh cool :) Glad my thoughts weren't totally in left field then. It's a story worth revisiting.


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