This story is by Fiona Evans and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Please contact customer support.
I dropped my takeaway pizza, sat down, grabbed my headset and attempted to slow my breathing. Opening the ‘Eden’ homepage, I tried to get back into the game, but the cursor on the homepage had frozen. So I hit every button on the Xbox remote, switched the console off and on again, whacked it with a shoe, and I guess one or all of those actions did the trick.
“Are you ok?” Jake asked. His dark chocolate eyes gazed at me through the screen. I wondered if he could see me, and blushed crimson at the thought.
Confession time. Picture the obese, greasy guy on the couch demolishing a deluxe pepperoni pizza with extra helpings of cheese – that’s me, the female version. I am a huge gamer, and not ashamed to admit that sometimes I don’t shower for a whole weekend while sitting in my underwear playing games. It’s the only time I can feel better about myself; when I’m not really being myself.
I bought ‘Eden’ at the Brixton markets from a Japanese street seller. He convinced me it was the best game I would ever buy. For the money I paid it had to be, and it was actually pretty good. I was leading an army to prevent the apocalypse, and the idea was to unlock the Garden of Eden at the centre of a maze in order to reset time. The Japanese guy told me that no player has ever managed to get to the end, which is what persuaded me to buy it. I met Jake through the game, a tall, tanned and handsome soldier with a killer smile. I knew he wasn’t real, but the way he interacted with my avatar somehow just felt different.
“I’m ok,” I whispered through my headset, watching my avatar flicking back her blonde ringlets and smiling coyly. Jake smiled and slipped his arms around my minuscule waist, kissing me like we had done so many times before. I let out a raspy breath, wishing so badly that he was here, kissing me for real on my sofa. Although, my avatar was a beautiful blonde in a skimpy leather outfit with a giant machine gun and hand grenades attached to her, in contrast to the real me; a thirty-something fat girl with greasy hair eating pepperoni pizza in her off-white pants on the couch.
“We need to get back to base,” Jake informed me.
I guided my avatar to follow Jake down a corridor in the disused, old hangar. I had my gun cocked and ready should there be any surprises around the next corner. The screen froze again just as Jake walked out of sight. I began cursing. Was this a glitch in the game? The error message came up on the screen again, and this time the shoe whacking and restart trick didn’t work. I picked up my phone and dialled the support number. I was not going to let this ruin my Friday night with Jake.
“Sorry we had to put you on hold Ms. Jones,” the customer support woman from Eden Games told me in monotone. “Error 1313 is fatal. We know you paid a lot of money, so we want to help. Our records show when you signed up for the online community that you live in Brixton?”
“I do,” I answered, trying to convey an extremely pissed off tone in my voice. “You said there is something you can do?”
“Maybe. Our headquarters are near you, but we’re closing in thirty minutes. Do you think you could make it over and we can make the necessary tweaks? I can send our location to your smartphone.”
I wasn’t keen on leaving the house on a cold and rainy Friday evening, but the alternative was not playing ‘Eden’. As I walked, I tried to blend into shadows cast by the terraced houses lining the streets, but even with my head down and scarf up around my neck and face, I could still feel the stares. I’m sure I heard ‘fattie’ and ‘heifer’, but I turned my music up loud to block out the rest.
A while later, I arrived at the map location of Eden Games, which I unnervingly discovered was the same location as HM Brixton Prison. I shivered at the gates and looked around. I was on a dead end street.
“Alison Jones?” I jumped and looked to my right, where a slender Japanese woman had appeared in a grey trouser suit standing under an umbrella. She was holding a clipboard to her chest while looking me up and down. I shuffled from side to side. “We spoke on the phone.”
“Oh … hi,” I mumbled, and stuffed my hands into my pockets. She approached me and shoved the clipboard and pen into my face, holding her umbrella over us.
“Sign and we’ll get your game fixed.”
A thick document written in Japanese was attached to the clipboard, folded over to the last page where there was a signature section.
“What am I signing?” I asked, looking up. The woman frowned, and every line dented into her forehead like a wrinkled prune.
“User agreement,” she snapped, and added quickly; “you want to see Jake again?”
She pushed the clipboard at me once more. I didn’t think to ask how she knew about Jake, as I dripped water onto the last page of the contract with my soggy hand and signed.
“This way,” she snatched the clipboard and walked past me. I followed, despite my stomach twisting. We reached a side door along the prison walls and the woman pushed her hand onto a pad. The door opened and I watched her disappear into the bright light. Hesitantly, I followed.
I was standing in a hangar similar to the one in ‘Eden’, except this one was full of white tarpaulin with sectioned off areas.
“Welcome to Eden Games,” the woman said without looking back or smiling.
She led me through another door and into a small, stone-walled side room. I stopped in front of a stretcher which was hooked up to a heart monitor. Beside it was a flat screen TV which glowed with the ‘Eden’ homepage. Next to the TV, I recognised the Japanese street seller immediately.
“Congratulations Alison,” he said, glancing up from a table of medical instruments. The woman handed him the clipboard and he gave it a cursory glance.
“Congratulations?” That gut-wrenching feeling in my stomach had returned.
“I am Fujishima-san and this is Eden Games,” the street seller answered, taking a slight bow. “Congratulations because you are the highest scoring player of ‘Eden’, and you are here to finish the game.”
“It is a wonderful opportunity!” Fujushima-san said, stretching out his arms and smiling. “You can actually become the player in your game! It is ground breaking technology! If you agree, we just need to wire you up to this machine.” He said. “How does that sound?” It sounded like I could easily just run and be out of the door we’d come through a few seconds ago. I began to back away.
“Don’t you want to become your avatar, so that you can be with Jake?” The woman asked, looking me up and down. I blushed and pulled my ketchup stained tracksuit top down over my stomach.
Fujishima-san turned to the TV screen, and it flicked to Jake. He was sitting under an apple tree, his expressionless eyes staring at the ground.
“He looks so … sad.” After a moment I turned to Fujishima-san. “And I would look like my avatar?”
“Yes,” Fujishima-san replied. “Your consciousness will simply transfer from your body to your avatar, and then back again when you’ve finished the game!”
I’m still not sure why I agreed. I think the thought of becoming my avatar and actually being beautiful for once, along with getting to feel what it was like to be with Jake was just too tempting.
It’s interesting looking back on how I got to the Garden of Eden, a garden about the size of a football pitch surrounded by black prison walls. There is nothing in the garden apart from an apple tree with a digital clock floating above it, and a growing number of avatars agitatedly pacing. Most are inmates from the HM Brixton Prison, some are recluses like me. Every few days, Fujishima-san sends us as characters into his games. Our mission is to get more people to come here. If I refuse, my avatar will be switched off and my body will die.
I realise there is no end to this ‘game’. Even if anyone were to look for us, we all signed our lives away in the Japanese contract. As for Jake, he admits to being a fat balding fifty-something guy, doing time for burglary and arson, far from the gorgeous avatar I was falling in love with. The one thing we have in common is that we are afraid, and we aren’t sure what purpose they have for us. All we know is that tomorrow, the timer above the apple tree is up, and things are going to change.