Oliver read the fortune a third time, then tossed a look over his shoulder. Somehow his empty house felt a little more occupied than usual. Wake up. Usually he only ordered one fortune cookie but he’d decided to indulge himself today and so had ordered two. He swallowed hard, trembling hand reaching for the second one. Deep breath; breath in, breath out. Wake up. He jumped from the couch and paced the living room.
One could maybe be written off as a weird joke or mistake; twice was intentional. Someone out there wanted him–or the population in general, yet that didn’t seem as likely in his mind–to wake up. What from, he didn’t know. Nor did he have the slightest clue how he’d go about waking up. A more innocuous interpretation crossed his mind. Perhaps the writer had meant it in a social sense, as in they wanted everyone to be aware of the inequalities plaguing society.
He knew damn well that wasn’t the case. This was more a matrix situation, stuck in a simulation, and apparently he was the chosen one of some sort, if those existed in real life. Made more sense to reckon some individuals received the long end of the stick based on nothing but luck purer than Colombian cocaine. He paused for a moment and ran a hand through his thinning hair. Mildly thinning hair, in fairness. Wasn’t even really that noticeable to be honest. He placed a hand atop his head; okay, so it was a tad–
“Wait, what am I doing? I need to focus.”
He picked up the fortune again and frowned. It now read, the narrow path is your salvation. That wasn’t a case of misreading it the first time unless he’d hallucinated an entirely different set of text the first time. The walls of reality were breaking down then. He’d known for some time this would eventually happen, just not so soon, certainly not in his lifetime. The text on the fortune changed before his eyes, morphed into gibberish.
The bottle of pills on his coffee table grew a pair of eyes and sprouted arms. “The world needs your saving, but it can only happen if you wake up.”
He scratched his chin. “Hm. That’s a tall order. I’m sure I can do it but I’m gonna need some help.”
“Put me in your pocket and allow me to guide you throughout this wonderful journey we’re about to embark on.”
He tossed the bottle into his pocket and nodded. Made enough sense. He cracked his neck, grabbed his gun from under the couch, and strolled outside into the chill morning air. Bob from across the street smiled and waved. He’d always been kind to Oliver, waving like that every time they saw each other. He smiled and waved back.
“Dispatch him,” the bottle said.
He frowned. “Why would I do that? He hasn’t done anything bad to me.”
“Not yet, no. But are you really content to just wait for him to stab you in the back someday?”
“Hm. Good point,” he said before shooting his neighbor three times in the chest.
“Yeesh, that was a little personal.”
He shrugged and continued walking down the street. “Perhaps. But it felt good. You had the right idea by telling me to off him. What. A. Rush.”
“Yes, probably felt better than huffing paint cans ever did.”
“You’re not wrong about that.”
For a brief moment that gave him both literal and figurative pause, he wondered if what he was doing might have been the result of unchecked mental issues including extreme paranoia and agoraphobia. He dismissed the idea as soon as it occurred to him. Made more sense that he’d discovered, before anyone else, all of existence was a simulation. One where only death liberated trapped souls, so in that sense he’d become something of a universal savior.
That made him feel much better about the whole ordeal; he was doing the right thing after all, saving more people than anyone else ever had or possibly could even if they tried. It’d take a lot bigger equipment than what he currently possessed to make any progress, though. He shrugged and trudged forth. There’d be plenty of time later to affect greater change with larger toys.
He popped in his earbuds, cracked his neck, and waved at an elderly woman crossing the street. Hard to say whether she was a construct of the matrix or another trapped soul, although it ultimately didn’t matter because she had to perish regardless. He brought his arm down fast and rushed her like a quarterback, tackling the old bitch before he shoved the barrel of his gun into her mouth.
“Any last words, granny,” he asked in a gruff voice.
She merely disrespected him by making a bunch of offensive noises as if her mouth were full of food.
“Good enough,” he said and pulled the trigger.
His eardrums nearly popped from the noise at the same time the back of her head did. He stood up, disoriented, and blinked rapidly until the ringing disappeared. The bottle of pills vibrated in his pocket, so he pulled the little guy to get some fresh air.
“Good, good. The one liner, though–that was eh. Wasn’t really feeling it, Oliver.”
He shoved the bottle back into his pocket and stole the woman’s wallet. “Maybe so. But we all gotta start somewhere, no? Nonetheless, noted.”
He stopped in front of a woman pushing a stroller. Her red dress was a dead giveaway she’d been created in a simulation. The baby looked sort of off too, like a piece of clay that had been tossed to the ground before the creators finished molding it. He shook his head and sighed. A weaker man might have qualms about exterminating a baby; him, not much.
Two shots later he was on his way to his buddy Dylan’s house. That dude managed to be more prepared for an awakening like this than Oliver ever could have hoped to be. Crazy motherfucker possessed all sorts of shit that would make an apocalypse nut’s dick harder than fucking after a night of drinking.
As he walked up to his door, fist raised and ready to knock, he wondered if Dylan wasn’t a part of the simulation too. The door swung open and who might have been his old friend or who might have been a bunch of numbers and code all along greeted him with what might have been a warm smile or what might have been the result of a programmer moving a model just the right way.
He sat across from Dylan, coffee table between them. “It happened. I got the signal.”
“No shit, bro?”
He examined his body language for any signs of deceptive behavior. “Yeah. Yeah. It’s just–” He whipped his gun out and aimed the barrel at Dylan the same time as his old friend pulled out his own pistol and pointed the barrel at Oliver.
“Looks like we’re an even match.”
“I guess so,” Oliver said.
“Put the gun down, man.”
“Better idea. We both shoot each other. If death is the only way to escape the simulation, then I scratch your back, you scratch mine. We’ll do it on the count of three.”
“Fuck. Okay, fine. Fuck it,” Dylan said. “One.”
Dylan took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “
They both pulled their respective triggers.
* * *
Oliver turned his head and groaned, then attempted to move his arms but couldn’t on account of them being chained to a rusty metal wall. He looked down and saw a pool of dark red liquid on the black floor. There were people to his left and right also chained to the wall, naked save for a scrap of fabric wrapped around their torsos. The expressions on their faces were content or happy–even the ones on the edge of his vision having their limbs sliced off and their organs harvested.
“Jesus fucking christ,” he whispered and strained harder.
One of the captors, dressed in red robes that covered their entire bodies minus their green scaly feet, rushed towards him and placed a clawed finger on his mouth. It cocked its head and called another one of its kind over. They looked at a blueprint, then the original one shook its head.
“Not enough juice to put him out again,” it said. “We’ll have to perform the surgery while he is conscious.”
They walked back to the other end of the room, leaving him to scream for help until his raw throat burned more than if he’d swallowed a box of lit matches. No help came, but another member of the ship did with a mobile cart full of sharp and dull instruments of torture alike.
Alejandro Gonzales is a horror author residing in Northern California with stories in publications such as Trembling With Fear, The Drabble, and Cerasus Magazine.
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