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by Miranda Foran about a year ago in fact or fiction
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The wrong story

CHAPTER 1

She finished. The last line of code to her video game was completed. Excitement ran through her. This was it. This is the video game to end all video games. Now it just needed to be played; to work out the kinks.

Zoe had been working on this project for 2 years. She wanted to be a pioneer in the industry. Create something that nobody else had yet created. And she had done it. She developed a game in which the reader can upload their favorite book, put in their VR contacts, and participate as a character in whatever book they are reading. With the advancement of today’s technology, they would even be able to feel emotion, touch, use their sense of taste and smell.

She leapt out of her chair and darted to the small kitchen in her one-bedroom apartment. She didn’t live large. She worked for a technical company, editing the code to their games to make them better, living meagerly on a small salary. Her apartment was within walking distance of everything she needed. She didn’t buy clothes, trinkets, or go on vacations. She had done nothing but eat, sleep, work, and code.

Zoe hastily threw a meal cube of spaghetti in the re-hydrator and programmed herself a glass of sweet tea. She’ll eat super-fast, grab a quick rinse in the shower, and then play her game.

CHAPTER 2

Settling comfortably in her gaming chair, Zoe reached for her VR lenses. Technology had come a long way since the 21st century, but she still felt it was in its infancy. VR goggles were clunky and had survived through the ages, but nobody used them anymore. There was newer technology out there. Reynold’s Tech had just created a small little microchip you can have inserted in your brainstem. It engages the reticular activating system that controls the sleep / wake cycle. It also engages the cerebral cortex that processes dreams. The gamer, unfortunately, can only play games that are compatible with the microchip; and this gives Reynold’s Tech the ability to corner the gaming market. Zoe had no desire to let anybody play with her brain stem, thank you very much.

There were stories, though, that people died from using their tech. Something about their brainstems dying or some such nonsense. Zoe didn’t know a whole lot about it, but it wasn’t her business either. Her brain was intact, and her technology would sell. That she was sure of.

Zoe was a romantic and loved the idea of a soul mate and happiness forever and ever. Taking her latest romance novel out of its protective sleeve, she plugged it into her system. She put the contact lenses into her eyes and selected read on her screen, joining her book from chapter one.

CHAPTER 3

Zoe opened her eyes to a crime scene. A middle-aged man was simply laying in the middle of the floor, on his back with his feet crossed at his ankles and his fingers laced together on his chest. Looking at him you would think he was taking a nap. He had thin wire spectacles, working black pants, a plain wool black jacket with a dull white button up shirt. On his feet were well worn boots with miles of wear. Confused and disoriented she looked around. The book she had loaded was not about crime. So, what was this? “Lydia, you okay? You blanked out on me there for a second.” She glanced to her right into the bright blue eyes of an angel. Oh My God, he was gorgeous. Jet black hair, chiseled cheek bones, athletic build. Maybe this book had some perks after all. “No, I’m good. What’s going on here?” He looked at her strangely, “Were you not just standing there five minutes ago when Chris here gave us the run down?”

“Yes. Sorry,” I guess I just had a blonde moment.” She dared a brief glance at his Detective’s shield, “Sean”.

“Okay, well, here we go one more time. Victim is a 47-year-old male, 5’7”, found at approximately seven o’clock this morning by the maid. Time of death is to be estimated between midnight and 4:00 am. Now here is where it gets strange. Come here,” squatting down Sean pulled Zoe with him, “Look,” he rolled the victim and pointed to the back of his head. Where his brain stem should have been, was a giant hole and a large gelatinous mass. It was as though his brainstem just melted. A small microchip left behind.

Zoe felt sick. She quickly sat on the closest chair and put her head between her legs. This whole thing was wrong on so many different levels.

“Hey, you good? What the hell is up with you? Since when do you get squeamish at crime scenes?” Zoe straightened and looked at Sean. “Sorry. I guess just the shock of it all.”

“Yeah well, get it together. You’re embarrassing me.” Sean shook his head and continued. “Only real clue we have right now is what we found on him. He was clutching a little black notebook. We had to pry it out of his fingers. I sent it on to the lab, and we can look at it later.”

Zoe walked back to the crime scene. It was immaculate. No blood or blood splatter, no over-turned furniture, nothing. You can bet that if somebody tried to melt her brain she would fight like hell. Jesus. She had no clue what to do with this mess. She was no detective. She was a romantic.

“Morgue is on their way to get the body. No ID on him so for now he is a John Doe. No known family to contact,” Sean said. “We ran his finger-prints already, and so far, nothing.” Zoe looked around the room one more time. A Time magazine lay on the bedside table, the date reading February 21, 2021. She was a long way from 2250.

“Okay, so don’t you guys like start questioning people now, look at cameras, knock on doors, that sort of thing?” Zoe asked. Sean looked at her suspiciously, “Yes Lydia, you know the drill. Maybe you should head home and get some sleep. Something is really off with you.”

Zoe shrugged her shoulders. “I’m fine. Let’s get to work”.

CHAPTER 4

Three hours later she let herself into ‘her’ apartment. At least she had good taste. Large comfortable chairs and an overstuffed couch in the living room begged for relaxation, bright pillows and blankets everywhere. Plants were placed on the window ledges and tables with pots hanging in the kitchen above the island. Her bedroom a heaven of fluffy comforter, soft mattress, and more pillows. Walking into the bathroom she stopped short. There, on the counter, was a little black notebook. The cover was a soft black leather, the edges were well worn. Well hell. Now what was she supposed to do? What were the chances that this was a different notebook than their John Doe’s? But that was stupid. A lot of people had a lot of notebooks and black was a seriously standard color. Now she was being a paranoid idiot.

She grabbed the notebook and opened it, her stomach dropping to her feet. Inside the book were instructions:

Solve the riddle and get it right

The money you win this very night.

Get it wrong or run out of time

Your life and intellect become mine.

Well, what the freaking hell was this? Solve a timed riddle? She was terrible with riddles! Reading on she found the riddle on the next page:

You measure my life in hours

And I serve you by expiring. I’m quick when

I’m thin and slow when I’m fat. The wind is my enemy.

What am I?

Below the riddle an hourglass appeared and already the clock had started. There was no way she was playing this game. First, she liked her brain. Secondly, she was terrible with riddles. Finally, who cares? All she had to do was remove her contacts to end the game and go home. Even if by some miracle she won the cash in the book she couldn’t take it with her so what’s the point? Laughing at herself, she reached up to remove her contacts, but they weren’t there. Feeling a little panicky, she tried again, and she still couldn’t find them. She blinked rapidly several times to see if she could generate the menu to select stop, and it would not appear. The hourglass was half empty.

With real panic starting to set in, she realized she was in the Jumanji of books. She was going to have to solve the riddle to get home or die. The hourglass had only a quarter of sand left.

With shaking hands, she picked up the notebook and read the riddle again. Chewing on her bottom lip, she ran over the riddle again and again, and again. Her head started to pound right at the base of her skill. A burning sensation that felt like a hot iron was being drilled right into her head. Feeling an overwhelming sense of impending doom, she tried to concentrate on the riddle but couldn’t concentrate. The hourglass was almost empty. The pain slowly getting worse and it felt so hot.

Think Zoe, think. The pain was so intense she didn’t know how she was going to move past it to solve the riddle. She reached up to touch the back of her head and it felt like it was on fire.

Crying, she put the book down and dropped her head in her hands. She was sitting on the bathroom floor and looked around. This was going to be her last view in the entire world. This fictional bathroom. It was a nice bathroom though; clean and tidy. There were soft colors, plush towels, candles everywhere. Thin ones along the counter and big fat ones on the bathtub. Of course! She was such an idiot. Candles. Candles burn slower when they’re bigger, faster when they’re thinner. Wind blows them out.

The sharp burning pain was becoming more intense and her vision started to blur. Not sure how to submit her answer, she shouted it out, “You’re a candle!” At that moment the hourglass emptied. Finally, the pain stopped, her blurry vision cleared, and the notebook was gone.

Reaching up to take her contacts out, Zoe found herself back in her drab little apartment in her gaming chair. Her clock indicated she had been gone for 6 hours. Not long enough for anybody to miss her, not that anybody would.

She stayed in her gaming chair still shaken by the experience. She didn’t trust her legs yet to support her when she stood. Her video screen pinged an incoming message. Tempted to ignore it, but realizing she would think about it all night, she opened it. It was an email from her bank with her daily bank balance. It showed a new deposit of $20,000 from Reynold’s Tech had just cleared her account.

fact or fiction

About the author

Miranda Foran

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