It started off innocently, but then, doesn't it always? It's not like one day you just wake up like this. And I'm not blaming it on our society, or stress, or even video games, tempting as that is. Nah, I've got to take credit where credit is due. I could've stopped any time. But it's too late for that now, isn't it?


We were always best friends, you know? It's clichéd, but we were. Since fourth grade. There was always sort of something there, but we didn't want to ruin our friendship. Which, I mean, didn't really matter for me in the end, eh?


I know having a sleepover is juvenile, but it was our last chance. Never too late to have a good childhood, right? So he had me come over. Completely innocent, by the way. We got to reminiscing, and ended up playing, of all things, Truth or Dare. Oh, and this is important, so listen closely. I play to win.


It isn't surprising, really. Ray's always hung around with a bunch of guys. She had to toughen up. She was always the most competitive of us all. In hindsight I should have paid more attention. But the truth is, I just wanted to get some sleep.


Devin has always been one of those people that needs his 7 hours a night, y'know? Sort of frustrating really, since I'm not that type in the slightest. So after I got over the initial shock, the dare wasn't really too surprising. But there's a difference between your average keep-her-occupied dare and this over-the-top one. Of course, he knew I'd accept. I haven't turned down a dare in my entire life.


It was a lapse of judgement, I won't deny it. More of a joke, really. No one had stayed longer than three and a half hours in The Game before. I should know. Not only did I set the record, I helped design the thing.


He was pretty proud of himself, too. I mean, with virtual reality just getting started, everyone was a little scared of it, y'know? Everyone assumes that kids and teens can't tell games from reality. Hell, they think we'll confuse rap music with reality. So the only games available were pretty wussy with a lot of restrictions. Even though the technology was developed, no one wanted to include being able to feel pain, or hunger, or anything unpleasant. It was all very cheery and escapist and unreal. Devin was out to change that.


Well, sure, it was interesting, but it was just a hobby. Not meant to be too serious or anything, you understand? I wasn't out to change the world. We, that's me and a couple friends, just sort of lumped together a game. The Game. Just your basic survival game. We had to base it on an existent one, to get most of the coding. It was originally some sort of quest. You met all the people in the forest and did whatever they wanted. Got points. Nothing too interesting before we got to it.


That was it, really. You just had to survive. You don't eat? You die. There were still a bunch of minor bugs, but not a big deal. Devin also had some fun coding in demons and stuff. But the best part was the realism. You could feel it, smell it, touch it. Everything. Pain, hunger, everything.


So yeah, since there's a fixed amount of food in the forest, after three hours or so, you starve to death. That's if you don't get killed by the demons first. But, of course, three hours in The Game feels like three days, so that's a pretty big deal. Most people get killed first. Anyone who doesn't, gets bored of it.


All in all, not really worth all the explanation. It's a simple game, just difficult to play. Surviving a whole week in The Game time wouldn't be easy. But now that it was on the table, I couldn't turn it down. He meant to bring me down a peg, but I was determined to prove him wrong.


I told her I was only joking, that I didn't really expect her to, but she was adamant. Seven hours would be pretty impressive, especially since she'd only gotten to hour/day two before. So I just gave her a hint.


It didn't take long before I was hooking myself up to dive into The Game. It was a matter of minutes before I was hugging Devin goodbye. I know that in real life it was only hours, but you really believe that it's that much time when you're in The Game. It's funny how your mind works like that.


I mean, I can definitely see now why everyone was so afraid of virtual reality. Because, it's not like you really get hurt there, but you can so easily believe it. And the longer you stay there, the more your mind begins to buy it. It's dangerous.


As much as Devin might deny it, I wasn't a total rookie in The Game. Actually, two days is the highest record, other than him. So after playing enough, I wasn't worried about the first two days. But as I began to build a shelter, I realized that I had no idea what I was going to do when day three rolled around.


My favourite demon in The Game is this sort of flying cat we put in. It's got these bat wings and cheesy glowing eyes and is totally invulnerable to any weapon. The big joke is that you don't need to kill it. If you manage to catch it, you just need to feed it and the cat goes completely tame. Loses the red in its eyes and everything. Not too original, but it was fun, and manages to frustrate a lot of players. Most, actually. So that's why I let her in on it. After that, though, she was on her own.


It never fails. As soon as day three comes up, so does that stupid cat. I mean, getting through the first two days is simple. Okay, well, simple for me, anyways. That cat was always the death of me. Which is why I didn't exactly laugh when Devin let me in on the joke. I think I left a bruise.

I have to admit it was helpful. When that cat launched at me I just grabbed it by the tail, swung it like a pendulum and rammed a mushroom into its mouth. I half-expected it to choke or be poisoned, but almost instantly there was this purring mass of fur and leathery wings in my arms.


Something people underestimate in there is the loneliness. Three hours, even when it feels like three days, isn't too long to be alone. But when you're surrounded with demons in a dark forest and slowly starving to death, it gets to you. More than you can imagine. There's a reason I wasn't seen without Ray by my side for a week after I set the record. Um... you might not want to write that part down.


I grew strangely attached to it- him- yes, as soon as he began purring, he was a he. All of a sudden I had a companion in this strange world that wouldn't try to eat me alive. Within a couple minutes I felt an odd sense of friendship with him. By the second hour, he seemed like all I had in the world. And when I wasn't trying to catch the one elusive rabbit in the forest, my time was spent keeping him happy.

That's about when I started feeling hungry.


Let's face it, most people who have access to this sort of game have never truly been without the option of food before for a long period of time. They aren't aware of what it does to you. Because the only way to end the game is to starve to death. And you really feel like it. Paired with the isolation, hunger consumes every thought. It becomes your world. And that's only after three days. I can't imagine it after seven.


That's not to say my stomach hadn't been grumbling before. But I was used to that. Not only was a veteran of The Game, I had a fling with what seems to be a right of passage for females now-a-days, but that was nothing. Before day three I had been thinking about it off and on. But after I realized that I had eaten the last edible in the woods, I panicked. Demons can't be eaten. And the sort of foliage that's in the forest comes right back up at best and poisons you more often. My hands glided over his silky fur, rubbing his wings. The cat purred and pushed affectionately against me as I knitted my eyebrows and looked away, distracted.


Face it, we all do things online or in video games we wouldn't do in real life. And there's nothing wrong with that. We need outlets to express these feelings, right? Perhaps there has been too much emphasis put on these actions. Why would we be moral if it won't affect us, or anyone else for that matter?


And that's when my mind went into overdrive. There must be something in this forest I could eat. There must be an escape, a glitch, something nobody noticed. My stomach roared and my thoughts began chasing themselves frantically in circles. He kneaded my thigh in appreciation for all the attention. That's when, with eyes wild with hunger, I saw it.

I wasn't cruel about it. It's not as if he was real anyways. That's like people who cry when their virtual pet is stolen. Get over it. I just took hold of him and cracked his little neck. It's not like he didn't deserve it, even if he had been real. That cat had killed me plenty of time in The Game. I only killed him once. Even while stripping his flesh off the bone, I didn't regret it. That's just life. Don't read too much into it.


The sad thing is, it probably wouldn't have turned out well with her anyways. Ray is a very stressable person. The threat of university looming in the distance had been freaking her out, I could tell. Her parents were hinting it was about time she leave the house, her job was dead-end, it was all adding up. But she'd always been able to overcome that in the end. All the other times, at least.


As I sucked the marrow out of his bone, I did some quick calculations in my head. My health points were already beginning to tick down. He would buy me time, a night's worth, before I would have to find some other source of nutrients. Until then, I thought, I'd have to conserve my energy. So I slept.


I woke up with an uneasy feeling in the night. I decided to check on her. Glancing at my watch, I realized a full three and a half hours had passed. I expected to find her swearing at the computer screen, ripping off the connections. Instead, I found her still hooked up to the computer, eyes closed, a troubled expression on her face. I raised my eyebrows, but smiled. She'd beaten my record and was still going! I looked at the screen, which showed only the bare statistics. Her health points were surprisingly high, but beginning to tick down. An insane part of me wanted to wake her up and congratulate her, but I just squeezed her hand and headed back to bed. Maybe she could make it after all.


I woke up in the worst pain in my life. My stomach felt like it was trying to devour my entire body. I was sweaty, mind racing with vague nightmares. My arm throbbed inexplicably. I sat up and coughed, then gagged, feeling disoriented. I then realized what had woken me up. A primitive raven-type demon had attacked me in my sleep and was currently trying to feed on my arm. I easily fought it off, but my arm still hurt like crazy. I struggled to stand up, then nearly collapsed again. I was weak, dizzy with hunger. It seemed like The Game quickened the metabolism to extraordinary lengths. I was desperate for food. My nightmares flashed on the back of my eyeballs. Dull, dead, feline eyes stared out at me. Limp limbs still warm in my arms.

The blood traced a river down me, dripping steadily off my wrist. It wasn't fatal, but I watched the process with heightened, disconnected interest, like from a long ways off. The wound was taking away precious health points. I would die before the day was done. Before I proved Devin wrong. Before I conquered.


No, I'm not excusing her behaviour, of course not. It's just that fear of death really changes you, right? What? Well, sure, I didn't handle The Game that way, but... How long is this interview?


My dry lips made contact with the crimson blood. I sucked at the wound like an infant, and was surprised to feel some stability. I wasn't gaining any health points, but somehow by drinking my own blood, I was gaining back points equal to the rate I was losing them. But soon hunger would begin to kick in again, banishing me from this realm.

I sucked desperately the wound, even when the copper taste stopped, even as I healed. I began to sob, rocking in place, missing food, missing company, crazed with it all, when I heard a voice. Like a voice from the heavens. A feminine cry: "Can you help me?" Can you? Can you help me? Can you help me? Can you? None of it made sense, no matter how many times my feeble mind went over it.


I told you, it was only a hobby! Of course it had glitches! It was never supposed to be part of The Game! Do you really think I'd do that?

I can still remember her smile... but I haven't seen her for months, now... Not that I'm saying I'd change that, but she was my best friend, y’know? Of course I miss her sometimes. The old her, I guess I mean.


I'd forgotten that The Game was originally just a fantasy quest. This was the glitch! My stomach didn't grumble its approval; it screamed. My sluggish mind was so impressed by its own brilliance that there was no hesitation. I leapt on her, this old lady. This unnecessary bit of code, left to wander aimlessly, calling out. I leapt with a roar and knocked her down. She shrieked as if she really existed. My hand, with its gnawed fingernails, located a suitable rock and I brought it down on her head with a noise I'd never heard before. I won't describe it to you; I wouldn't want your dreams to have the same soundtrack as mine. The brains oozed out of the crack, bubble-gum pink. I couldn't understand why they would include this in any game. It was so real. She slumped, the life leaving her. Except that she was never alive, right? Please?


And don't you see? That's the important part! It's all just make-believe, a girl playing pretend! You can't blame me! Or her, really... But someone always takes the fall.


It took me a minute to get over it, the blood on my hands, the cold death staring at me. But my survival instinct took over. I dropped the red-stained rock and gently closed her eyes, out of a weird sort of respect, before tearing into her. The flesh was soft, yet not yielding. It took effort to rip from the bone. I began to work at it with a rock. Before I could even fully realize what I was doing, I had picked clean every bone. She had been a frail little old lady, and with my boosted metabolism, her entire carcass was barely a meal.

For a second, I stared in revulsion at the skeleton. This couldn't be right. But it was only a game, eh? ... Yeah?


How many? Um, four, I believe. No, three. We had coded out one of the people before we had decided it took too much effort. What was the point?


Look, if you don't mind, I'd rather go into much more detail, alright? The first murder was the hardest. The other two came easy. I didn't close their eyes. By the end, the flesh was almost sweet. There was a certain satisfaction in the crunch when you finally managed to split a stubborn shinbone open and get the marrow out. I even smiled at the last ones screams. Does that make me a bad person? Don't answer that.

It wasn't just irony, it was a sick and cruel irony that the... okay, okay, I'll say it. Cannibalism. Err, yeah, that it lasted me until exactly a week had passed. When they were all gone, and the bones were picked clean, and every time I closed my eyes their lifeless faces were on my eyelids, I just sat in the middle of the forest. I had no more tricks up my sleeves. I starved in the end, anyways. In the last The Game hour I was gnawing hopefully at my shin. I lay down in the grass as I felt my health points slip away. As I closed my eyes, I could see Devin's face, his smile, in my mind. The way he'd always been adorably fat, cheeks rounded. The curve of his arm as he'd place his hand on mine in approval. I smiled and slipped away, like each pixel in The Game was turning off, one at a time.


Well, yes, of course I knew what happened, I was definitely there. I would just rather not talk about it. No, not even a little! Okay... okay. She just looked sort of distant. Her eyes were all glassy. She looked sort of like she was a different person... No, no, I don't want to.


And then, just like I was dreaming, there he was. He was perfect. His eyes looked deep into mine. He had a hesitant grin on his face.

"So, how'd you do it?"

"Shouldn't you be in bed?" I asked, voice cracked, like I had forgotten how to use it.

He smiled and all of a sudden it was too much. I couldn't take it any more. I leaned in to kiss him, with the sort of recklessness even Truth or Dare had never given me.


No, don't worry about it, I'm fine. It's just... My gawd... her lips her on mine and for a split second... wait, you can't write that. Stop writing that!


I know you've been waiting for this part. Go ahead, ready your pens and paper, I have time. Yeah? Okay? Right.

It would have been perfect, but... In the real world, I hadn't eaten in seven hours. I hadn't slept for quite a while. (The day before, I'd pulled an all-nighter studying. And the night before that, I believe I was working. The night before that...) So when my stomach growled, and I felt his skin under my teeth, it was just... instinct.

Yes, I realize he still has the scars. I don't think you realize the strength a bite needs to have to actually eat human flesh. You need to pull at an angle to tear it. For the moment, I had the intent to kill and devour, I've stated this before. Hmm? No, of course I wouldn't do it again. I...

And that explains how I ended up here. I'm recovering, though. Other than Devin, I've only had one major relapse. And she managed to have the fingers re-attached in the end.


What? What are you asking me? You can't ask that! Did I what? ... It doesn't matter now anyways, right?

No. I'm done. That's all I have to say. You're welcome. Goodbye.

FearQuest

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