I teleported back to my room. The cold that seemed mild at first, now numbed my face and extremities. Any residual heat I had absorbed in the moment was now gone and with each breath came small puffs of white vapour which slowly dissipated into the surroundings. I climbed into my bed, wrapping myself with a blanket and praying that this would keep me safe. Safe from what, you ask? From the night. And everything that comes with it. Many people can’t wait until they are tucked into their blankets with closed eyes, waiting to be surrounded in a world of dreams. It’s supposedly the only time where you are able to relax in a complex life. I know that sleep is unavoidable, as is the coming of the night. I know it must come but right now I fight it with everything I have. Those defenceless hours when your curious mind decides to explore the ideas of natural disasters or the ‘what if’ situations are enough to replace the blood running through my veins with the flow of extreme anxiety. In this case my worries of what could have happened with Zac ran in my head over and over again. I was extremely worked up thinking over it until I could not fight it anymore and the sleep took over even as it was unwelcome…
My eyelids batter open after what felt like an eternity. I swipe up to see my hologram, 6:12 am. I saw the Sun start to rise from my windows. The morning was just as unstoppable as the night. I needed a few more hours of blackness to prepare myself for the challenge that inevitably awaited me. However, I could already distinguish the items in my bare room from the faint rays and I knew that the colour in this virtual city would soon be restored and I was not ready. It’s funny, isn’t it? The way I get so quickly attached to the absence of light after dreading the moments when I’m immersed in the dark. I swipe up the hologram. After the last challenge I knew I had to do my research. I search frantically for the ‘Chrome’ app yet I can’t find it. Everything I had learnt during my time at school on finding information was utterly redundant and with no wifi or internet, I couldn’t just google the answers.
I sighed. How did Zac manage to find out all that information on the previous challenge? It should’ve been me to be captured by the beasts. It should’ve been me in his place. Small droplets brimmed at the edge of my eyes until it eventually evolved into a waterfall of negative emotions. My eyes started to swell and turn red and the world around me became a blur of colour. I’ve seen the movies and the shows. The actors never truly cried. Never like me. All the feelings of isolation, regret, sorrow, pain and misery poured from my internal environment to my external one. I had lost Lily, Zac and soon I would probably lose my state of mind too. What sort of a game was this? I recall James telling me it was aimed to “purify my mental state”. I scoffed in a mixture of sarcasm and sadness. I get attached to things and people way too easily and I missed home way too much.
Out of nowhere, I decided I really did not care anymore. My thoughts, feelings and attitudes were easily swayed and I realised that I really could not be in a worse state than I was right now. Without any second thoughts I hit the ‘Mountain Trek Challenge’ on my hologram and was instantly teleported. I could feel the layers of clothes that were simultaneously put on me. The view in front of me was absolutely stunning. The mountains were pristine and white. They soared up like they wished to challenge the sky itself, dominating the horizon in every which way I looked except behind. I wish that the path behind me allowed me to retreat, to run far away and eventually make it back to Earth but I knew that was impossible. The challenge looked so physically daunting that at the time I even preferred the little comfort I had in my isolated room back in the virtual town. I wish I had thought things through more carefully. After all, this was the final challenge.
The dark green of pines were coated in crystalline snow and the silence hung so thickly in the frigid air. It was almost soothing- the absence of noise. Each step I took created a soft crunch due to the snow and it interrupted the silence and sounded better than music to my ears. I looked across the mountain I seemed to be designated to and saw a path. I stood paralysed in fear even though I knew I needed to keep moving in order to stay warm. My mind started to explode with thoughts as I saw some snow crumble off the mountain. What if I fell? Would I die? This is a game though, you can’t die in a game. Right?
I shoved the thoughts away to the back of my mind. You’ll never know if you don’t try I guess. I walked slowly towards the start of the path. It was basically a very dangerous, extreme version of rock climbing except you were climbing up snow and ice. In other words, you would probably die if you attempted this in the real world. I started moving up, my legs shaking in fear. The land at my feet was becoming even rockier with every step. The incline was getting more burdensome ever so slowly. I decided to rest for a while in order to gain my energy back. I looked up, down, behind and beside. Each view had one thing in common; you could not see any land. The only thing that kept me motivated was the fact that if I completed this, I could return to Earth and restore Lily’s health. The only thing that did give me a bit of trouble was the fact that I just had to trust James’ word that Zac would be alright and trust was something which was very hard for me to do. After all, to trust someone means to recognise the fact that they will always have good intentions when it concerns you which most of the time has led to disappointment from my point of view.
At that present time, the only thing I should really be focused on trusting was myself. I could get to the top and I would get to the top, no matter how many tries it took- preferably only the first one though. When I realised I was giving myself my own pep-talk I knew it was time for me to go back to Earth. However, as soon as my attitude towards this whole experience had completely changed, an incident which I had not expected occurred. I looked up to see a pile of snow crumbling down at high speed. In another moment, the weight of the snow was on my back and I could no longer control the direction I was headed towards. I tumbled over and over, crushed from all sides. Time travelled in slow motion yet also in a flash. Finally, I was still. The snow could be any colour and I wouldn’t know the difference. I’m cold, colder than I’ve ever been. I lay still, stiller than I’ve ever experienced. I closed my eyes, my mind blank. All of my worries were erased from my memory and all I thought about was making the pain stop. I felt a hand on my shoulder but I was too drained to open my eyes. I just hoped they were there to help me through. Before I knew it, I had drifted into a daze in which I had no conscious thought.
My heavy eyelids lifted open and I was first aware of the coolness of the air and its fresh fragrance. The ground was lumpy as if I was sleeping on a bed of rocks and I looked around only to realise I actually was. My clothes felt as damp as a flower in the dew of the dawn. There were no paths around me and no sign of another person. Suddenly, all the memories start flooding back into my head and I feel my body, anticipating wounds and cuts. However, I felt nothing; no pain, no cuts, no wounds. I was awake, perhaps more fully awake than I had ever been. My heart was beating as fast as it possibly could. How could I have been perfectly fine when I had suffered all of that? Why was I not hurt? Who was the last person who came to my rescue, did he or she help me in some way? So many questions were bombarding my mind and I didn’t have the slightest idea on how to answer them.
I looked around to see if I could just continue climbing the mountain and return home, leaving my worries behind, yet I could not find any path. I had no idea where I was. I got up and saw a small sign which I had missed before when scanning the area. I walked towards fearing what it might say. Maybe it would tell me there was no way down or up and I was stranded with no way of ever experiencing another person’s company. I really didn’t know what it would say and I was panicking. “Congratulations!” That’s what it read. I touched the edge of the sign, flicking off the snow that had settled on it. Before I was able to express my confusion as to why this sign was congratulating me, a loud bang shattered the lingering silence in the air. Confetti filled the area and a voice boomed from an unknown speaker. “Annabelle Smith. You are officially the 49th person to complete this challenge. We hope you have had a great time experiencing this game and you are now able to return to Earth. We shall restore Lily’s health and may all of your worries and burdens be left behind before you return home.” I did not know what was going on. My head was spinning. I could not possibly have completed the challenge- I was passed out most of the time. Who was it that helped me get to the top? Would I ever know? Without any warning, my body disappeared into crystals and my identity was wiped away from the virtual world.
My eyes jerked open. I felt the familiar soft cotton sheets underneath me. I was home. And no matter what had happened that allowed me to return, I was not complaining.