This story is by Femi Oloyede and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Cold, sharp air drifts aimlessly throughout the streets of Welbim. Down in sector 21, little shelter, heat or clothing can be found. We’re the poorest district in Penzel— possibly the whole world, and the rich only seem to get bigger and bigger each day. But in the welcoming embrace of Myrinium, I may have a chance.
I walk woefully into the spread of my pack-up apartment, knowing full well I had just spent the last of my paycheck on a virtual simulation only the rich could afford. They say if you make a certain amount of money in the Dream-world, you can convert it to real world cash, making the Sim a last-ditch effort for many in the lower class.
Without hesitating, I jump onto my bed and start up my Glyph. A bright flash appears for a moment, stutters, and then finally lights up the room. Several messages appear telling me to upgrade my processor, but I ignore them all and drag the Sim onto the main screen. I’ve been waiting for this moment nearly my whole life. The opportunity to become something… The chance to experience life from the other side.
I lay quietly as a dull hum fills the room and the light from my Glyph fades away. A short moment passes, and in an instant, I open my eyes to Myrinium, a land upon dreams.
I appear on top of a hill overlooking thousands of buildings and homes, a gentle breeze unfurling my straightened hair. I hear the chime and click and creak of the world below me, and feel the hum of prosperity breathing smoothly for the first time.
An animated drone flies slowly out of the shade and onto the ground next to me.
“That’s my business,” I seethe, “and who told you to stand so close to me!”
“My apologies, sir”
The drone fades back into the shadows as slowly as it arrived. I decide that if I’m going to play the rich man’s game, I have to demand authority. If I become a target, I’ll never make it past stage one.
I hesitate for a moment before opening my Glyph and buying the most expensive clothing and weaponry I can find. Everything is purchased on credit, but I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I know the only way to reach the top is to put everything on the line.
“Drone, which area outside Myrinium has the highest death rate?”
The drone pauses for a moment before answering.
“Take me there” I command, “Now”
The drone buzzes to life and morphs into a plane like object.
“The price for traveling from Myrinium to The Hollow is 1,624,099 Pen, is that okay?”
A deep sigh escapes my lips as I consider the question.
“Do it” I say confidently
At that, I climb into the plane and sit nervously inside the life-like interior. The engine roars to life underneath me, and in a few moments, Myrinium stands far and distant under the dimly lit sky.
The ground surges upwards as I drop gently into the darkness. The silent emptiness of The Hollow almost made me long for Myrinium. Every once in a while, a creature with red eyes would spontaneously appear and disappear all within the same second, getting closer and closer each time.
A large red moon sat delicately in the sky, illuminating the land for a brief period before leaving for an even longer one. Faint screams could be heard every so often, and the smell of dried blood filled the air.
I was beginning to have my doubts. Once you step outside Myrinium, you can’t go back to the real world until you bring back three dead bodies— real bodies, and if you die outside Myrinium, you die in the real world too.
The Drone hesitated for a moment before speaking in a shrill, worrisome voice.
“Sir… Are you sure you want to stay here?” It asked in a whisper, “this is your last chance…”
“Go” I say immediately
There’s nothing waiting for me back in the real world, and as I watch the Drone fly eagerly away, I manage to reassure myself. The world won’t miss another member of the elite.The rich have been privileged their entire lives, and now it’s time for a change.
I move swiftly into the cover of a bloodied bush, lurking quietly in the shadows. Each second feels like an eternity, and my senses seem to grow weaker and weaker with every passing minute. I draw my sword as I see an object tumble in the distance, only to find that an animal had fallen from a tree.
A valley of darkness stretches dauntingly in front of me, and every nerve in my body tells me to turn away… But I can’t. Instead, I press deeper into the void and strengthen my senses, never once looking back.
Before long, the recurring screams pass, and the Hollow becomes a vacuum of unending silence— except for one thing.
Somewhere in the grass, I hear sharp, muffled breaths fading in and out continuously.
“I can hear you” I whisper quietly
Off to my left, an elderly woman lays terrified on the ground. Her breathing stops for a moment before coming back in large uncontrollable bursts.
“Please don’t kill me!” she says in between tears, “Please!”
I weigh my options for a moment before starting towards her with slow, shaky steps. If I kill this woman I become a murderer, but if I don’t, I may never have a chance to win again.
“Kill her…” a voice whispers quietly
“This is wrong” I think to myself, “I shouldn’t be here”
“Please…” the woman pleads, “let me go!”
“I can’t let you go” I say surprising myself
“ Do it” the voice spits viciously
“Please…” she says again, “I just want to go home! I just wa—”
Her sentence stops short as I plunge my sword deep into her gut, a crude smile forming across my face. An unnerving calm surrounds me, and my sword falls heavily onto the ground as I pull it away.
“You can’t go home,” I say calmly, “you can never go home”
I take a few steps back. My thoughts jumble into a cloud of emotions as my head thrashes violently between my hands.
“What’s happening to me?” I think to myself
“You’re changing” the voice says as it steps out of the darkness
I look up to see a vile creature towering over me in tattered clothing
“The balance of power has shifted” it says excitedly, “the clothes, the money, the fame, and the glory will all be yours if you follow this path you’ve chosen…”
A wicked grin spreads slowly over its face, revealing two jagged teeth and a thin, flickering tongue.
“It’s a brave new world” it whispers reassuringly
I hesitate for a moment before speaking
“It’s a brave new world” I agree
First, it’s not my genre, so it’s hard for me to get excited about this kind of tale. But it kept me reading, no doubt.
I question the title: it doesn’t seem to relate to the Huxley book, but being that it shares the future-world, class-struggle emphasis, I think the writer is better off with a different title, quite simply. Were it not for Huxley’s famous work, it wouldn’t bother me as much, but still, I think there is a better option.
The story misses for me towards the end. I was surprised that the two-chapter format actually worked in such a short story, although I don’t know that it’s necessary.
What “misses for me,” is a bit of development in character and conflict: I think developing it further, building more suspense and emphasizing the importance of the character’s CHOICE to make his first kill, rather than killing so quickly, will bring out the point of the story. That is, if the writer wanted this piece to stand alone as a story.
If this is only a start to a bigger story, maybe that development isn’t needed. But, for me, there isn’t enough tension/conflict within the main character in making the first kill.
If that were drawn out a bit, the very last lines of the piece could be his finally succumbing to whatever-it-is and taking the plunge – making the kill.
I felt “the voice” needed a little more development/description as well.
The story ended but it seems obvious the story isn’t over. Sure, it’s good that readers may want to keep reading, but bad in that, for this contest, it felt like an incomplete entry to me.
I like all the science fiction details , definitely my genre! Some more foreshadowing of her willingness to do dark deeds to secure her place in the rich side of society would set up the ending but I still liked this.
I do agree that the quote from Huxley is odd given that there’s no other reference to twentieth century society – a strong original line might serve you better. Good work though and it’s always nice to see SF.