SCARED TO DEATH
Story by: Blake Harris and P. Sebes
Written by: Blake Harris
Part 1 – PLAYTIME
“Don’t play this game. It’ll scare you to death,” the forum warned.
But that kind of scare was exactly what Maddie wanted. She sat at her computer, video-chatting with her best friend Mark about how every Halloween was the same. Same haunted houses, same 80’s horror movies, same scary turned sexy costumes — but none of it delivered the rush she so intensely desired.
SCARED TO DEATH was an old virtual reality game, released by FrameScare, a now out-of-business startup company, some 5 years previous. It featured an old farm and a demented murderer — one who would kill in the most gruesome ways imaginable, harvesting your body. The rules of the game were simple (in theory): don’t die; but that was easier said than done.
Leading up to its launch, SCARED TO DEATH was touted as the scariest game EVER made. Sonesoft, creators of the acclaimed virtual gaming system Optica, got exclusive rights to sell the game. With Optica’s technology and FrameScare’s game design, the playability, realistic atmosphere, and sensory wizardry would create an experience unlike anything else — a game with a conscience — a game that could truly make you feel horror. Scares were expected, after-all, it was the name of the game. But allegedly death was to be expected also.
Within one week of the game being available for download, it was suddenly eradicated from the online marketplace. The only explanation FrameScare and Sonesoft gave was, “No comment.” However, plenty of comments arose from the online community. Word quickly spread that the game had a bug. A very bad bug. Supposedly, real-life, gruesome acts seemed to mimic the events that were happening in the virtual realm. Players were dying. And not just from fear…they were being mutilated. This was of course, just internet speculation, but true or false, it inspired lore, cult legend, urban myth — and that made Maddie desperate to play.
“Come onnnn!” she begged, thrill seeking from her bedroom floor, “we have to find this game Marcus! We have to play it!”
It was the 6th anniversary of the initial release, and with virtual reality becoming the mainstay of the gaming industry, SCARED TO DEATH was a trending topic.
“I’m not sure it’s such a good idea,” Mark warned. “I’m on this forum for it now. One kid died from bleeding out through the eyes, another split entirely in half with a rusty saw. There’s even someone rumored to have had their skin removed — so gross — while still alive!!”
“Bull-shit,” Maddie countered. “It’s just a game with a reputation.”
Mark knew computers — he was an awesome coder — but more than anything else, he knew forums. And forums know rumors. Apparently the game was buried so deep in the dark depths of the internet it could never be found…somewhere at the black bottom of the virtual world. But that didn’t curb the twisted appetite of Maddie; it just twisted tighter.
“Why do we watch scary movies?” she asked.
Mark thought for a moment — “Um…because…we like to be scared,”
“Exactly! We love it!” Maddie shrieked. “And if we do this, we’ll be scared out of our minds! Not to mention it’s Halloween. It’ll be the best night of our lives! Just imagine the stories they’ll tell at school tomorrow,” she pleaded. “We’ll be the only ones who’ve actually played the game.”
“And lived,” Mark muttered.
But Maddie just glared at him, “Need I remind you that is bull-shit, Marky?”
Maybe it was the hint of sweet in her half-smile. Perhaps the eyes he loved staring at even if they were giving him a glare. Or the fact he loved hearing her say “Marky” with that raspy voice. He never knew how she convinced him to do things, but whatever it was…it worked again.
With Maddie waiting, Mark began to dig deep into the infrastructure of the FrameScare site — bypassing the outer wall of it. That part was simple. The rules of online robbing were not so different than those of real life. Some games had guards, others had tombstones. But SCARED TO DEATH had both. It was placed in a highly secure virtual vault on an island with a code built specifically for it. It was a virtual Alcatraz. The cell was sophisticated — as sophisticated as any game rumored to have a bloody conscious.
Mark compiled a list of codes. Codes ranging from short to long — rudimentary to overtly sophisticated. He was positive that there was a way in. Anything with a lock could be opened…even if shouldn’t be.
One by one, his fingers led his codes over the gated walls. A graveyard of games — some built and never played, some old and out-of-date, levels upon levels clustered together in video game purgatory. But in the midst of these abandoned worlds, they saw it. A document that made them both freeze.
Maddie kissed Mark on the cheek in euphoria. But with a click, the euphoria evaporated…replaced by words on the screen: “GAME NOT FOUND.”
She glared at him. He persisted with a determined typing, but again “GAME NOT FOUND.” Again and again and again, until finally Maddie shouted, “There has to be a way!” Mark agreed, but “GAME NOT FOUND” continued to haunt his fingers with every strike of the keys.
Maddie’s excitement started to fade. Mark could feel it. But he was determined to not let her down. “There’s always a way,” he assured her. You just have to find the right key…and sometimes, the key to the key.” Maddie half-smiled, hopeful. This made Mark full-smile.
Returning to the forum, Mark created a thread of his very own. He carefully constructed a message:
“SCARED TO DEATH — has anyone ever played?”
With a hard press of “ENTER” he waited. The message lingered for a moment. The moment turned into minutes…its question mark blinking with each beat of his anxious heart…
Then suddenly, a stranger’s reply:
Mark read the mysterious response, confused as to what it meant. But Maddie encouraged him to find out more. The handle belonged to a user by the name of Wayne. Mark clicked on his name — only to discover that Wayne had never replied to a message on the forum before.
“HOW DO WE PLAY?” Mark carefully wrote back.
Wayne’s response was swift and to the point. He knew a way in, but would only divulge the secret in exchange for one thing…PLAYTIME. He would give them the access code — if they agreed to let him play.
“What do you think?” Mark asked Maddie. “I’m not thinking, we’re doing it!” she responded enthusiastically. “If he has the code, then why not?”
Mark wasn’t so sure. All his life he had been weary of trusting strangers over the internet. It was the modern equivalent to in-person stranger danger and Wayne was offering them candy. But Maddie wanted to play…and as she said with her raspy voice, “Pleeeease Marrkkky,” Mark told his gut instinct to get lost.
“YES,” Mark typed to Wayne and almost as quickly as he hit send, a “key” was sent.
Maddie didn’t waste any time to grab Mark’s two Optica Virtual Visors. Mark entered the game code and it immediately opened like an old cemetery gate swinging back and forth. “Holy crap…this is it,” Mark said in disbelief and rising nervousness. “Hell yeah it is!” Maddie exclaimed, tossing one visor in Mark’s lap.
“WHOSE READY TO PLAY?” Wayne typed over the forum post.
“We’re coming Wayne, relax,” Maddie said as she put on her visor. She turned to Mark — “Ready?”
“No,” he responded glumly. “But, guess I’m doing it anyhow.”
They lowered the thick lenses over their eyes, powering the machines on. Suddenly — blackness. Seconds passed and then, static. The static lingered on the screen for a brief moment before an eerie tune brought up a title –
Sonesoft and FrameScare present
On that, the excitement began to rage within Maddie. “Agh, still can’t believe you found it, Marky!”
Mark was happy to hear her say that through his visor earpiece, but he was far from happy to be reading the disclaimer on the screen –
IMPORTANT Message from Developers
If at any point during the game you find yourself too frightened (trust us you will be) and would like to remove yourself from the game, lay down flat on your back and say the words “Playtime over.” This will trigger a transition to calm your state of fear and bring you safely back to reality.
DO NOT REMOVE YOUR VISOR DURING GAME PLAY, NO MATTER HOW SCARED YOU MAY BE. SUDDEN REMOVAL FROM VIRTUAL REALM TO REALITY WITHOUT TRANSITION CAN LEAD TO SEIZURES, HEART ATTACK AND POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER
“Oh dear God,” Mark said, worriedly under his breath. But Maddie just shouted, “WOOT, WOOT, let’s go get some PTSD!”
She nodded forward — the motion of her head clicking on the bloody word, “ENTER.”
“I’m in,” she reported to Mark.
Mark continued hovering on the home screen. “What’s it like in there?” he asked. But his answer by way of a terrifying scream…Maddie’s scream. In a panic, Mark immediately nodded towards “ENTER,” only to be greeted by a laughing Maddie in the game. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I had to,” she said, still laughing. Mark finally had a reason to glare at her. However, that glare quickly changed to a gaze as he saw the creepy old farm directly behind Maddie.
She turned around and took in the excitingly frightful scenery. “It’s so real,” she whispered. Fog began to rise from the grass. The trees swayed, the rustling of their leaves the only sound in the stillness of the night. In a field beside them, old, harvested crops sat in piles, barely lit by the glow of the pale moon and dim stars. “Let’s walk around,” Maddie suggested. And together, they did.
“This is incredible. Easily the most realistic game Optica’s put out. Why the hell did they axe it?” Maddie asked. “Cause people got axed,” Mark reminded her. Maddie looked at him with that half-smile. “I fully expect to see you lying your back screaming “PLAYTIME OVER” any second now.”
“But that won’t work,” a strange voice echoed from behind them.
Maddie and Mark quickly spun round. No one there but the vast, doom filled fog. Mark looked at Maddie… concerned. “So you turning around petrified means you heard that too?”
“Yeah dude, I heard a scary voice in a scary game… totally unexpected,” Maddie sarcastically suggested as she walked towards the barn. “Hopefully they include in-game purchases. You’re for sure gonna need a new pair of pants after you shit those ones.”
“Ha,” Mark dryly responded. He watched Maddie walk towards the barn admiring her bravery. “Let’s go,” she said as she looked back at him and put her hair behind her pointy, cute ears. Those damn little things.
He ran up next to her and they both stared at the terrifying barn ahead of them. Maddie held his hand as they stepped closer. Had this been reality, Mark would’ve called his friends immediately to tell them the big news. “MADDIE HELD MY HAND, LIKE SHE MADE THE DECISION TO GRAB MY HAND.” But instead Mark was concerned…it was something in the way she was gripping his hand…like she was scared for her life…
SCARED TO DEATH (Part 2): A Very Bad Bug
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