Why the whispers chose him, he never knew. But they were there, and there was nothing he could do.
It all started on a crisp November evening, the full moon shining brightly above. On nights like these, he couldn’t help but be drawn to the outdoors. Few others were out at this time, and he could have the streets to himself. Nothing much happened during this time, except for the occasional person passing by. Sometimes he liked to imagine what these people were doing, who they were, and why they were out. It kept him occupied, and he enjoyed it.
Sometimes, he would go to the top of his roof and observe the world from above, other nights he would stay below, taking in his surroundings from a park bench. On the clearest nights, he would go past the outskirts of the town, where the stars were twinkling in the sky for him to see.
That night was one of those nights.
He lay sprawled out on the grass, observing the universe and bats flying overhead. A red scarf was tied around his neck, and his hat was placed next to him on the ground. He had been there for about an hour, and knew he would have to return home soon. Sitting up, he closed his eyes, taking in the cold breeze and quiet swaying of the tree branches.
“Version 1. Draft saving.”
His eyes flew open. Where had that come from? He had been certain that he was alone.
Glancing around him, he sighed. It was a rather windy day, after all. It was probably just his imagination.
Picking up his hat, he looked to the sky for one final time before he returned home, but stopped cold when he saw what was written in the stars.
The man woke up sometime around nine in the morning, same time as usual. He rolled over to face the window, when he noticed something rather strange. Since when did his bed extend that far to the side?
And since when did it have the imprint of a body on it?
He sat upright, breathing heavily. This couldn’t be his house, and if it wasn’t his house, then where was he?
He got up from his bed, putting on his pair of beige slippers. He began to explore the house, noting any and all differences. Everything seemed to be the same as usual, except for the clues that there was another person in the house — a filled closet that once was empty, an extra toothbrush in the bathroom. He eventually found himself in the kitchen, where a strange woman was sitting, silently sipping coffee.
This is your wife.
But it couldn’t be — he hadn’t been in any sort of relationship the day before, and certainly wasn’t the type of person to want to be tied down.
This is your wife, and she has been for several years.
But things couldn’t just change overnight–
This is your life.
The man smiled and greeted his wife, just as he did every morning, yet had never done before.
They shared a smile, and discussed the newspaper over coffee and bagels, just as they had done every morning, yet had never done before.
The rest of the day fell into this routine, this old routine done for the first time. The day passed by in a blur, and the man soon found that it was nighttime again.
He did not go out, instead choosing to read a book in his bed next to his sleeping wife. Turning the worn pages, it seemed like he could finally relax.
“Version 2. Draft saving.”
The world seemed to stop. The whispers from the night before had returned. Drawing a shaky breath, he returned to his book. He hoped that this was all just a very strange dream, and in the morning, he would wake up alone.
He placed the book on his nightstand, turning off the light. He settled his head into his feather pillow, closing his eyes. As the man drifted off to sleep, he could have sworn he heard another whisper.
He didn’t know if he was should be happy or upset. Nothing seemed to have changed from the day before, which on its own was a cause for celebration, but it was also an issue. It also meant that his new wife from his long-lasting marriage was still present. He slipped on his beige slippers and walked to the kitchen, where he knew his wife would be waiting for him.
“Good morning, Sam,” she greeted, sunshine in her voice.
Sam? What was a sam?
This is your name.
He couldn’t remember having a name.
This is your life.
Sam smiled. “Good morning, Margaret,” he greeted just as cheerfully, using the name he always used but never knew.
And so another day faded into another night with no questions asked and no questions answered.
This night, he sat in a wicker chair facing his bedroom window.
“Version 3. Draft saving.”
He closed his eyes in an attempt to block out the words, but they entered his thoughts despite his efforts.
Where was his house?
For once, there was no soft bed and hot coffee to greet him when he woke up, only him and his sleeping bag under a bridge.
Sam looked around frantically. Over the past week, there had been several changes — some minor, some major — but none had been as drastic as this.
He glanced at the polluted river, seeing his reflection. He looked so tired, and much older than he actually was.
This is your life.
He knew it was his life. He hated that it was his life. He hated that his life had to change every single day.
He hated that nobody else cared.
He hated that nobody else noticed.
He had tried to explain to others what was happening to him, he had tried to ask for help. But nobody understood. And, worst of all, strangers that he had met the day before often didn’t remember him.
This was a vicious cycle that had him trapped and he wanted it to end.
But it was another day, another change. This one might be harder to handle than most, but he could deal with it.
And so the day passed by with no activities. After all, what was the point if it was all going to be different the next day?
The whispers came back, just as they always did.
“Version 8,” they told him, “draft saving.”
Sam settled down in his sleeping bag as the sun lowered on the horizon, silently praying for a better change tomorrow.
And so the days went on. Some days things were one way, some days they were another way, other days they were totally different. Nothing was consistent with every small detail changing at one point or another. But as each came and went, everything was becoming clearer and clearer. A month went by like this, and soon the full moon came again.
The outdoors drew out Sam once again, just as he had been a month prior. He once again ventured past the outskirts of town, the stars shining brighter and clearer than they ever had before.
Hiding in the swaying branches, a whisper called out. “Version 30.”
For the first time in several weeks, the whispers caught him off guard. The whispers had never come this early before!
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. If this was one of the day’s changes, then so be it. Stranger things had certainly happened.
“Save failed. Warning. File may have been corrupted.”
His eyes widened as he bolted upright, confused and terrified. The whispered had lowered in pitch, seemingly warning him of some unknown danger.
He looked to the sky, just as he had done on a night that seemed like a lifetime ago.
His breath caught in his chest.
The moon was gone. In its place was the blackest black he had ever seen.
Now, if it had been a new moon, this wouldn’t be too out of the ordinary. But even if it was, new moons didn’t spread across the sky like a virus.
Sam stood there, petrified, as the void winked away stars one by one.
But the second it reached the trees, he found in himself the strength to run, abandoning his hat on the grass.
He ran, and he ran, and he ran, somehow finding himself at his house, where the mess had first started. But the void had reached it before him, infecting absolutely everything. It swallowed cars, houses, even strangers.
Yet nobody noticed! As the void began to take them away, they were oblivious, continuing on their merry way, even as their bodies began to disappear.
Sam backed away, desperate to escape the spreading darkness. This had to be one of the changes. And if it was just one of the changes, then he only had to make it through the night. He only had to wait until the sun rose. He only had to wait.
His back hit the side of a building — he was cornered. He slid down the wall, curling himself into a ball as he watched the void that he knew would claim him soon.
Somewhere on another plane of existence, a woman sipped her coffee, a warning flashing on the screen in front of her. It was nothing more than a minor annoyance, especially since she had just finalized her prologue.
Placing her mug next to her laptop, she set her hands back on the keyboard. A few keystrokes and clicks of her mouse later, she was able to lean back and smile as she read three phrases on her screen.
Version 30, draft saving.
A War of Love
CyFi cautiously walked through the dark alley, a piece of paper clutched in his hand. He had received instructions to come here for safety and a free ride to Missouri. The offer seemed sketchy, so he was prepared to flee at any second.
A metal door opened ahead of him, and an old man with a beard welcomed him inside.
“I am glad that you have accepted my offer. Come inside, there is somebody waiting for you,” the man said with a smile.
Wary, CyFi stepped inside the building. A bright golden light greeted him, and he blinked a few times to adjust his eyes.
“So, you’re the person I’ve been waiting for,” another voice called from his left. Quickly turning to face the speaker, he found a rugged man leaning against the wall. He smelled of smoke.
“You’re only about an hour late,” the man commented. “My name is Guy Montag, so just call me Montag.”
CyFi flashed an uneasy grin. “I’m Cyrus Finch, but people call me CyFi. It’s a nickname.”
“Very well then, CyFi.”
The pair continued to stand in silence for a few seconds until the old man from before suddenly appeared.
“I suppose it’s my turn to introduce myself. I am General Ivan Zaroff, and I would like to welcome you to my game.”
CyFi had a look of horror on his face. A general? Was he going to be sent back to his dads’? He knew how disappointed they would be, but he also knew how badly he need to get to Joplin. He mentally braced himself, ready to flee at a moment’s notice, but continued to listen.
“This game is a game of death. We are currently in an abandoned restaurant, and you may use anything inside. Your task is to kill the other, and the winner will receive what they came for.”
“Now listen here,” CyFi snapped. “I ain’t killin’ no one.”
A cold smile formed on the general’s lips. “Then you must die or stay here for all eternity.” He left through the same door that CyFi had entered, and a click could be heard as he locked the duo inside.
“You ain’t gonna kill me,” CyFi hesitantly looked up at Montag. “Right, G?”
“We’ll see what happens,” was the curt response. “And don’t call me G.”
CyFi and Montag began to explore the old building. Everything was coated in a layer of dust, with many things broken. They found themselves at the front entrance, where patrons would be greeted and seated by hosts and hostesses. A bell sat on top of the stand, and CyFi reached out and rang it a few times.
Suddenly, the restaurant was ablaze in golden light, and everything came to life. An amazingly beautiful hostess stood in front of them, a pair of menus in her arm. Her nametag read “Aphrodite”.
Aphrodite smiled. “Such a lovely couple.”
CyFi looked first at Aphrodite and then at Montag, who had a clear look of confusion on his face.
“Lady, listen. I was told to come here by the general, and the kid shows up, and then I found out we’re supposed to kill each other.” Montag glanced at her nametag. “Hey, aren’t you that love goddess from The Iliad and The Odyssey?”
Aphrodite gave a sign of exasperation. “Yes, I am ‘that love goddess’ and I’ve existed for far longer than just the Trojan War and Odysseus’ journey. I’ve existed during all of Greece and I exist now.”
As the goddess shot a disapproving look toward Montag, CyFi realized just how stunningly terrifying beauty could be, but his mind shot back to what she had said earlier.
“Wait, couple? Is this even legal? I’m fifteen, and G has to be about forty!” CyFi cut in, concerned.
“Thirty,” Montag interjected, “and I told you not to call me G.”
CyFi waved him off, and Aphrodite returned to her sunny disposition. “There is no need to worry, an age gap such as this was perfectly acceptable before the fall of Greece. Now, if you will please follow me, I will lead you to your table.” She turned on her heel and began to walk away. CyFi glanced at Montag, shrugged, and followed.
The trio headed to a cozy table nestled in a corner set for two, and as Montag and CyFi sat down Aphrodite handed them their menus.
“I will be your waitress this evening. Could I perhaps interest you two lovers in some fine wine this evening? We also have non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice, if you prefer,” Aphrodite winked at CyFi.
Montag looked at CyFi, eyebrows raised. “Is there anything in particular you want to get?”
“I mean, not really.”
“Alright, then we would like to have the sparkling grape juice, please.”
Aphrodite scribbled something down on a small notepad. “I will be back shortly with your drinks,” she nodded with a smile before leaving the pair alone.
“So,” Montag began, “we went from killing each other to going on a romantic date in a matter of minutes.”
“Well, guess we might as well fully introduce ourselves. I’m CyFi, and I’m currently trying to make my way to Joplin, Missouri.”
“I’m Montag, I have a dead wife, and I like books.”
“How’d your wife end up dead?”
“The city was bombed. I was on the run from the government, and managed to escape before it happened, but she was still there. But there was never any love between us to begin with.”
“Aw, that’s a shame. But if there wasn’t any love, then there wasn’t much to lose, was there?”
“No, I suppose not.”
The pair sat in silence until Aphrodite returned with two wine glasses. She set the glasses down and poured each a glass of the juice as they looked at the menus they had been given.
“Are you two ready to order?” the goddess asked once she had finished pouring.
“I am, how about you?” Montag inquired.
“I would like to order the lobster, please,” Montag told her, handing her his menu.
“I guess I’ll have the steak, then,” CyFi followed Montag’s lead and handed in his own menu, him not being used to such fine eateries.
Aphrodite scribbled once again in her small notebook and the duo was suddenly alone again.
“We each came for something. What did you come for?” CyFi inquired in an attempt to fill the silence.
“Oh. Well, I actually came for books.”
“Books? Who would want a smelly ol’ book?”
“Well, you see, where I’m from, books are illegal, and it used to be my job to burn them. But one day I decided to keep one, and soon I began keeping more and more. But eventually I got caught, and I had to leave with nothing but the words from a Bible in my head.” Montag drew a breath. “But this brings up another question – why did you come here?”
CyFi closed his eyes. “I need to get to Joplin, Missouri. I don’t know why, but I need to go there. Tyler needs to go there.”
“Who’s Tyler? Is he a friend of yours?”
“Nah, there’s not enough of him left to be a friend. I got hurt real bad when I was a kid, and I had to get a new right temporal lobe. My parents managed to get me a full lobe instead of a bunch of brain bits, but now I’ve got this kid stuck in my head. He doesn’t know where he is and doesn’t know that he ain’t in his own body anymore. All I know is that he needs to go home, and home is in Joplin.”
“It seems we’ve both got our own interesting stories to tell.”
Loud footprints echoed from the direction of the kitchen, and CyFi and Montag both turned to face the sound. None other than the general emerged from the kitchen, an angry expression on his face.
“What is this?” he shouted, not expecting an answer. “I bring you into a game about killing, and you go on a date?” General Zaroff placed his hands on the table and leaned towards the victims, his voice dropping to a harsh whisper. “Unless one of you kills the other, you will both die here, hungry and alone.”
“Hey!” There was a shout from the kitchen, and Aphrodite joined the trio, holding a plate of steak in one hand and a plate of lobster in the other. “You’re going to ruin my new OTP!”
The goddess angrily placed down the plates. “Everything was set up perfectly, but you just had to have your game of death, didn’t you?”
“Well, of course!” General Zaroff retorted. “My old game became rather boring, and so I made this new one, one that I can’t lose!”
“Well, I think it’s cruel to deprive a new couple of love.”
The two bickered on and on, and CyFi leaned across the table. “Hey, G, how ‘bout we just get outta here?” he whispered to Montag.
Montag nodded, and the pair carefully made their way past the bickering goddess and general. The slipped out the door that the general had unlocked has he entered, said their goodbyes, and parted ways.
CyFi once again stood in the dark alley, a piece of paper tightly held in his hand. But instead of instructions, this time it contained a phone number and the words “Call me, love, G”.