The moon doesn’t exist. It’s a hologram, put there by beings unknown. One night it says ‘Error 404’ where the moon should be. You go to tell your roommate but all you find is a red glowing ‘Error 404’ hovering above where they should be sleeping.
It was 3:00 in the morning when something loud startled me awake. I thought it was my roommate. She was always banging around doing something. I swear the girl couldn’t be quiet if her life depended on it. Wearily, I got up out of bed and decided I’d go check on her. As I stood up, something caught my attention outside. It looked like something flew by my window. When I got there, I noticed it was darker than usual. I couldn’t see much more than the pale light from the moon, or lack thereof. I looked up to where the moon should be when I saw it. There it was, up in the sky in large white letters. Error 404. What the hell?
I stepped back inside the room and decided to ask my roommate about it since I knew she was awake. When I opened the door to her room, I was greeted by a red glowing Error 404 sign above her bed. I swiped my hand through the hologram, wondering where it originated from, but I couldn’t find anything. My heart was pounding at all the possibilities of what this could mean. I sat down on my roommate’s bed to think.
Years ago, we were told that the moon was fake. The government was sketchy about the facts surrounding the hologram. We’ve been told conflicting stories and not one of them seemed right. I shook my head to dispel my jumbled thoughts. Now was not the time to start going over those theories. Although, one stuck out in my mind. Especially in my current situation, realizing my roommate has apparently been a hologram. This whole place being a simulation was starting to seem more like a reality. I’ve never felt like I belonged here. Since I was relocated six months ago, I’ve always felt like something was off. I never felt like I could connect with anyone and never made any friends. For the last six months, I have been training and testing for my new job.
I needed more information, so I got dressed and strapped on my carry piece. Within minutes, I left the apartment to head outside. Granted, it was 3:00 in the morning, so I didn’t expect to see much. As I walked down the hallway in my apartment building, everything seemed quiet, but that was normal. As soon as I stepped foot outside, I realized something was very wrong. There were Error 404 Holograms everywhere in place of people. I knew it!
The city felt eerily quiet as I walked down the block. There was nothing going on. I kept hearing static, like the entire city was on the verge of blacking out. Considering all the error signs, it was a real possibility. How could I have been so blind to all this? Why was I here? Was I the only real person in this city? I heard something suspicious that interrupted my thoughts. Off in the distance, I heard movement. It had been so quiet since I woke up that the noise seemed excessively loud. As if on autopilot, I automatically moved towards the sound. I made it a block before they attacked me from above. Something flew down and hit me from behind. I fell back on my rear and looked up, trying to locate what had just hit me. When I finally realized what it was, it took me a moment to comprehend what I was seeing. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was also a simulation.
The creature was circling back around to take another shot at me. I knew I needed to move, but this strange creature captivated me. It was a bat woman. Not like the superhero either. She had leathery wings and a furry head and body, with pointed ears, just like a bat. What made her strange was that her entire body looked very much like a human woman with long legs, ample bosom, and long, flowing hair. I would almost say she was beautiful, if you were into furry things. That was until she turned her crimson eyes on me and they started to glow in the darkness. The time for curiosity had ended, and it was time for action. The bat woman swooped down out of the darkness with lightning speed. I pulled out my pistol and fired off two shots. She was moving so fast that the first shot missed, but the second shot got her right in the shoulder. She screeched in pain and just as quickly flew back into the air. I wasn’t sure where to go, so I ran to the first open building I came upon. Turned out, I ran into a convenience store. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking as the adrenaline pumped through my body. Once I was feeling a bit calmer, I walked to the cooler and pulled out a soda. I sat down on the floor to gather my thoughts and drink my soda. I almost felt normal again when I heard something enter the store. There was a strange dragging sound accompanying the presence.
Given the way my morning was going, I was hesitant to look over to see what had joined me in the store. I wasn’t sure if they knew I was there or if it was just a coincidence. I heard the sound again, close to the door. It was as if it was assessing the room. Perhaps looking for me? I peered around the corner and could see nothing. The silence was deafening as I waited. I looked up and realized there was one of those circular mirrors sitting just above my head and gave me a full view of what was in the store with me and my heart stopped cold. It had its hollowed out nose up in the air as if it was sniffing for something. I realized in that moment when bat lady hit me she drew blood. It trickled down my neck as I made the connection. I groaned internally as I watched yet another strange creature. There was no mistaking this one for human. While it may share a similar type of body with long arms and legs, that’s where the similarities ended. There were long spikes coming out of its hunched back. Its skin was a dull, lifeless gray. Its eyes were almond-shaped, with a strange dark amber color that seemed to glow from within. The eyes took up most of the head, but the scariest part would have to be the mouth. As it sniffed around, it let its mouth hang open as its snake-like tongue drifted out and tasted the air. It had rows upon rows of razor-sharp teeth. Reminding me of a shark’s mouth. The dragging noise I heard was its latest kill hanging out of its grip.
It was in no hurry to find me because it was at that moment it pulled up the body it was dragging and bit into it. I used that moment to tear my shirt off and clean away as much blood as I could before this thing could find me. I threw the shirt down the aisle and headed off in the opposite direction as quietly as possible. Obviously, I wouldn’t be able to get out of the front door. I was hoping there would be a back entrance I could sneak out of. I made my way to the back of the store with relative success finding a delivery area with open bay doors. The thing hadn’t stopped its feeding until I made a stupid mistake and tried to turn the corner too soon, knocking over a ladder. In my haste to get out, I didn’t realize the ladder was just leaning precariously next to the wall. It took but a slight touch to knock it over. When the ladder slammed down on the concrete floor, the creature stopped what it was doing and turned towards the sound. Shit!
The open bay door was within my reach, but that thing was moving fast. Without hesitating for another minute, I made a run for it. As I turned around to slam down the door, I saw the thing almost on me. I screamed as it lunged at me. Thankfully, by the time it got close enough, the metal door was already moving quickly in its descent to slam shut. Just as it made contact with the floor, it rattled with a hit as the creature slammed into the metal, trying to get to me. I heard it hiss as its nails scraped the door again and again. Frantically, I looked around for the safest place to hide. Then I saw what I hoped would be my salvation. There was a sporting goods store across the street. I knew for a fact that they sold weapons, and it was time to arm up and take better control of the situation.
I walked into the store and felt a sense of comfort wash over me. I quickly pulled a fitted t-shirt off the rack nearest to me to replace the one I lost. Running around in just a bra made me feel especially vulnerable. My jeans were holding up well, so at least there was that. My next stop was over to the weapons station in the back of the store. On my way there, I came across some tactical vests. I grabbed one and put it on over my t-shirt. I had a feeling I would need it. Next stop was guns. I needed more firepower than just my carry piece. The selection wasn’t great, but I couldn’t complain. At least I had something. I picked up a dual holster belt and picked up another Glock 18 to match the one I already had on me. I went behind the counter and picked up as much ammo as I could carry. Next, I picked up a few knives and a couple of flashlights. I strapped on as much as I could as quickly as possible.
What bothered me the most was that I didn’t know what else I could run into or where I would go. As I walked back through the store, I saw a light on in the back. I headed that way to find I had stumbled upon the employee area. It appeared the light in the office was still on. So far, this had been the only sign of life I had encountered that wasn’t a monster. I walked to the office and stopped just outside the doorway to listen. There were no voices or any indication that there was someone inside. All I could hear was that static sound that seemed to be consistent with my morning and an erratic beeping noise. I slowly turned the corner and walked into the room. There was another error 404 sign just above the office chair in blue. There was nothing else out of place, just a basic office. Then I heard that beep again. It was coming from the tablet on the desk. I tapped the tablet to illuminate the screen. There was a message notification there addressed to me. What the hell? I frequented this store often, but I didn’t know anyone here by name, nor should they know me. I tapped the screen again to open the message.
If you found this message, congratulations on surviving. Head to Department 404 in the government building for further instructions.
Well, at least I had a destination now. This was getting stranger by the second. I headed back towards the front of the store. Listening for anything out of place. Once I reached the front, I looked out the glass storefront to see if the street was clear for me to exit. The government building was about four blocks from here. Normally that would take maybe 20 minutes to walk there, but considering what I’d been facing all morning, who knew how long it would take. I was about to walk out the door when I saw my next challenge.
My palms started shaking, and my heart sped up. I shook my head no as I stared at them. They were huge and there were two of them. I was terrified of snakes and now I was looking at something that looked like part snake, scorpion and part human. It had a long snake body with a tail ending in a scorpion like stinger. Its upper body had a human-like appearance, with a torso and a chest with muscular arms that were gripping long sculpted spears. Their heads were all snake. They had the hoods of a rattlesnake and the yellow reptilian eyes, but the intelligence behind those eyes was truly terrifying. They seemed to communicate telepathically with each other as they would stare at each other for a few beats before moving on to the next area. It was only a matter of time before they found me.
When they were almost out of sight, I made a run for it. I pushed my body as hard and fast as I could. I got about two blocks before I heard them behind me. The slithering sound a snake makes but much louder. The stingers started coming down behind me, much too close for comfort. I turned the next corner and saw a building under construction. There weren’t many options for cover as I ran for the building. I hid behind some concrete beams, wondering, where the hell do you go to hide from snake people? I got myself into position and took aim behind the beams. If I could get a few shots off before they got too close, I just might make it. They paused at the corner of the building. They were hissing and slithering around. I held my breath and wondered if they knew where I was. I watched from my position behind the beams and saw both of their heads snap up as if they heard something. They went still for a few moments, then they started moving again, but instead of getting closer, they were moving further away. Something had distracted them from their current course, and I was grateful for it.
I wasn’t going to question my lucky break. They were gone and I could see the building from here. I took a good look around and decided it was safe to run for it. When I finally made it to the building, I yanked the door open and ran inside. Once inside, everything stopped. All the doors locked around me and the overhead lights all came on at once, making everything so bright I had to squint my eyes for a few moments. Once I adjusted to the blinding bright light, I looked around the plain white room. There was nothing there. No furniture. No windows. Just two doors. Both were at opposite ends of the room. There were a handful of people standing in a line observing me. There were four armed guards, two doctors, and a man in a suit. They were all staring at me, and I didn’t know why. Finally, the guy in the suit steps forward to shake my hand. “Congratulations on surviving the test. You did well today, but sadly, you were the only one to make it. Now we can get on with the real training. The world has gone crazy and what you saw today was just a small sample. We need you.”