Friday, March 26, 2021

Fantasia by Simon Vale


Second Shot

by Simon Vale


Release - June 7, 2021

Chapter 1


I swear she was the most beautiful woman in the world. And she was laughing.

“Three huge wet fish,” I said. “I’m not making this up, I swear!”

That laugh! And I was laughing along with her. Not at my own story, which was mediocre, C+ at best. Out of sheer happiness.

The waiter came over and she immediately buried her nose in the menu. She was embarrassed that she had spent the time allotted for studying the menu chatting with me instead. Her red ears stuck out from behind the folded menu, and by God, in that moment, she was the most beautiful woman in the whole wide world. I felt breathless. I needed a moment of respite from my overwhelming joy. I asked the waiter where the restroom was.

“Past the front desk and to the left, by the meat display counter.”

I stood up and she tracked my movement with narrowed eyes. As if I was throwing her to the waiter to eat for dinner. I grinned maliciously. But all my malice involuntarily slipped into the smile of a happy fool, and she reveled in triumph.

I turned and swaggered down the hall as if in a drunken stupor. An elderly couple at a neighboring table studied their menu scrupulously, while further down, a pair of five-year-old twins picked at a basket of french fries. Their sandals lay under the table.

I made it to the display case and saw a white door. My head was swimming. I pushed the door open and turned on the cold water tap. Raising my eyes to the mirror above the sink, I saw my own reflection. And the forest. And then just the forest.


The forest was an undeniable and mind-boggling hallucination. It was just like the real thing, and I saw each detail distinctly: every blade of grass, every leaf. I tried to keep my head as still as possible, afraid that the wondrous vision would vanish, but I moved nonetheless and realized that the hallucination was three-dimensional.

I stood under a tree, sunbeams shining through the canopy above my head. I spun and felt a breeze on my face. The forest was all around. And it was a summer forest. A summer forest in mid-November. I reached out and touched the bark of a nearby tree. The sensation was faint, not real. But there was a sensation.

What I experienced over the next few minutes defies all description. My mind was trying to work out what had happened and was coming up blank. I was in a forest. Alone. Oh my God, Yana! I left Yana back at the table. And I’m in a forest. A completely incongruous smile bloomed across my face. What a stupid prank! This is simply impossible!

I looked down at my hands and was completely dumbfounded. They were no longer mine. There was something very unnerving in those slender hands covered with smooth, yellow-tinted skin. I hastily glanced around and felt my body. With each passing second, a feeling of horror and strange disgust grew stronger within me. This was not my body, and it was a very strange body, as if someone had forcefully shoved my consciousness into someone else...It carried out the signals sent by my brain, but all of my senses aside from sight and hearing were dulled. My sense of smell was almost completely gone, and the sensation of touch lacked any variation. But most importantly: if I was here, then where was my real body?

And then I saw the window. It hung in the air directly in front of me, and bore the following message:


Find your true body within 7 days


The message disintegrated into a thin stream of golden sand, which then flowed through the air towards me. I flinched in fear, but the sand was quicker. It gathered itself into a tiny pyramid, froze mid-air, and took the shape of an hourglass amulet around my neck.

I grasped at the hourglass. Minuscule grains of sand slipped slowly from one side to the other. Seven days! What, I’m just supposed to spend seven days wandering around this forest in—and here, I shuddered at the thought—this body?!!

A golden glow illuminated the bottom of the window, and suddenly, a new notification popped up:


You require weapons


Below the message hung miniature replicas of a sword, bow and spear, all of which were slowly rotating. Maybe it was the woody surrounds that made me jab my finger at the bow. The sword, spear and message disappeared. The bow began to grow until it reached the appropriate size and continued to hang in the air. I reached out a trembling hand. Weapons? Why do I need weapons? Hold on, stop. A stranger’s body, weapons, weird pop-up notifications. Why do I get the feeling that I’m inside a computer game? But that’s just absurd. VR games can be quite spectacular, but the technology to embed VR chips in the brain simply doesn’t exist. Or does it? But for God’s sake, I don’t have one of those chips, and the bathroom of a restaurant can’t be a VR capsule. It’s complete insanity!

The bow was in my hands. A flexible bough with notches to hold the thick bowstring in place. I tested it out. It wasn’t strung too tight, and was clearly not a toy, but a combat weapon. But what about arrows? Acting on an unknown reflex, I felt around to touch my back and felt something rough. Reaching in, I pulled out an arrow. A long arrow, adorned with grey feathers and fixed with an iron tip.

I had never shot an arrow in my life. Why did I choose the bow?

Because I require weapons.

Why did I require weapons?


* * *


I took a few steps forward, then stopped. I didn’t want to wander too far from the place I had spawned. What if the door suddenly opened again and I was far away? But there was nothing there. I had searched the area thoroughly. I stood there for an eternity. What do I do now?


Say: “Character Sheet”


I stared blankly at this message for some time, unable to comprehend its meaning. But no thought was required: as soon as I had read the full phrase, another, more detailed slide filled the window:


Please enter name, level 2 (2 experience points)


Strength: 1 (base level)

Dexterity: 0

Intellect: 0

Wisdom: 0

Constitution: 1 (base level)


Damage: 1x6

Armor: 0

Health: 10 HP


Speed: 5.5

Stamina: 50

Mana: 0



1 character point


I considered the slide carefully. At one point I had devoted a considerable amount of time to video games, and what I saw made little lasting impression. Because the technology was so primitive! There’s no way such a crude system would ever be able to support such a high level of graphics! Another puzzle was the fact that the program’s analysis of me gave me a base level of strength and constitution, but found me lacking in intellect or wisdom. I’m not pretentious or anything, but it kind of hurt. In my head, I wished that my intellect was higher, and it immediately increased by one point.


New Intellect skills available




Build a bonfire



Magical damage 1/2

Prepare a trap

View five more skills…


No further explanation. I turned away from the message, deep in thought.

The sun was low on the horizon. The light was beginning to turn crimson. God, what am I supposed to do? Play the game! And then it dawned on me. With all my mental capacities, I thought, “Exit game!” Nothing happened. I tried several more variations, but in the end, all I had to show for it was a headache. The damn pixels (or whatever they were) in my head actually hurt, just like they did in real life! So they couldn’t find a way to render smells, but they really pulled out all the stops with the pain sensors. For the love of Christ! I was on a date with the most beautiful woman in the world, and now I had no idea what to do, didn’t even know who I was, and hadn’t an inkling where I was standing. And the program was in no hurry to answer any of these questions. Save for the last one. I returned to the list and made my selection.


Open Cartography skill


Not a single damn thing happened! I thought, “Map!” and a wide black rectangle appeared. In the bottom left quadrant, pressed up against the edge of the map shone a tiny white speck, and I realized that this was the very place where I stood.


But then where was the map? There was no map. In its place, a new golden message twinkled:


Your hunger gauge is at 20%. You only have a few hours of strength left to go hunting!

Long-term starvation may lead to your ultimate demise!


* * *


My ultimate demise. In other words, I’m already practically dead, but not entirely? What, am I in a coma? And this is some sort of glitch in the astral plane? God, anything but that!

In a clearing, I found a thick-trunked tree and decided to try out my archery skills. It turned out I only had ten arrows. I lost three of them rather quickly, and was only able to recover one. Some of them somehow managed to hit the tree. But these skills would only catch me a rabbit under a very opportune set of circumstances. I’d have to invest a point in Dexterity. And I’d have to actually go somewhere to hunt. I turned towards the tree that I hadn’t let out of my sight for the past several hours, and thought the words: “Mark a spot on the map”




“Entry Point.”


* * *


Birds. If you step carefully, there are an awful lot of birds in the forest. I didn’t think I’d be able to bag a bird. But I did it on the second shot. With a heavy thud, it fell from the branch where it had been sitting. It was big, with red and ochre plumage. Standing above it, I wondered what someone who chose the sword would have done in the forest. Toss it at the bird? Go after a boar instead? The bow seemed like the best choice. Then I remembered the “build a bonfire” option in the list of skills where I had chosen cartography. There were no fires in the vicinity. The sun was now completely obscured by three trees, and dusk hung heavy over the forest. My hunger was growing. It was odd, but I thought I actually felt something almost like hunger.

I wandered through the forest until I came across a small clearing with two fallen trees. I plopped down on one and gave the bird a sniff. It had no odor. I tried to pluck the feathers off the carcass and succeeded rather quickly. I used the end of an arrow as a knife, and soon held a hunk of bird meat in my hands. I didn’t want to eat it in that state, but what else could I do? I automatically opened my character sheet and spent some time perusing it, until I noticed that I had already reached level three. When? After a brief parley with the program, I gave the command, “Open activity log.” Aha! The bird was apparently level five. Killing it gave me only two experience points, but that was enough! How quickly do you gain levels in this game?

I used a point on “build a bonfire” and a flint and firesteel appeared, held in the newly-created inventory. It could hold a small number of items, which had to be arranged within a small flat plane. Almost like pin the tail on the donkey.

I quickly built a bonfire and must admit that it instantly improved my evening. I laid the bird on the fire and, although the meat had no taste whatsoever, my hunger pains subsided and I warmed up a little. As it turns out, the forest gets pretty cold!

I lay by the fire and thought about Yana. How wonderful it would be to fall asleep now and wake up next to her!

Release - June 7, 2021

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