Everything is in black and white. Where am I? Is this a dream? This can’t be real. I slap myself on the cheek. I’m still here, lying on the grass of what appears to be a park, and now my face is stinging. The stinging sensation is interrupted by a piercing headache resonating from my eyeballs down into the occipital lobe of my cranium. My vision fades out and all I can see is the static snow reminiscent of an old television set as well as a thunderous ringing in my ears. Just as sudden as it came, the pain and static imagery subsides. I now feel clear headed, but my vision is still in black and white, I haven’t a clue where I am, and my heart is beginning to pound heavily.
A little girl dressed in a blue summer dress and long brown hair tied back in pigtails approaches me as I start to sit up. “Hello, I’m Betty.” the child says.
“Where am I?” I ask.
“You are in Tranquility Lane.” Betty replies.
“How did I end up in this place? I have no recollection of coming here.”
“You are in Tranquility Lane because I brought you here. You are close to home, but in order to leave you will have to complete a few tasks for me.”
Betty points to the far side of the park, showing me where a boy is selling lemonade. “I want you to make that little wuss Timmy cry.”
Betty's smile disappeared. “If you ever want to get home, you don't have a choice.”
As I near the lemonade stand where Timmy resides, he cheerfully asks me, “Hello sir, would you care for a nice cold glass of fresh lemonade?”
I walk slowly across the park pondering how strange this whole situation is. As I near the lemonade stand where Timmy resides, he cheerfully asks me, “Hello sir, would you care for a nice cold glass of fresh lemonade?”
“I w-worked really hard to make this l-l-lemonade,” Timmy sobs and blubblers. “W-why is everyone so m-m-m-mean to me-e-e-e?”
“No! Mooommmmy! Daddddy!” Timmy starts blubbering uncontrollably. He falls to the ground and begins shaking as his sobs wrack his body.
Timmy bursts in to tears, turns around, and flees from the park.
“Your welcome! Have a great day!” Timmy beamed.
I return to Betty and find her seething with anger. “You don't make the choices here! I do! If you won't play by my rules, you won't play at all, and you won't get home!”
She takes a deep breath and calms herself. A smile returns to her face, and she says “I'll give you one more chance. Please don't dissappoint me this time.”
“Now for your next task,” Betty explains to me. “I can’t stand the Rockwells. They are too perfect; it makes me sick to my stomach. I want you to stir things up a bit. Go over to their house across the street and figure out a way to break their relationship up. Remember, I’m the only one who can help you get back home.”
“You think this is a game? Do you honestly believe you have a choice in this situation?” Betty replies with a sadistic laugh.
“You will keep playing!”
I leave the park and enter the cul-de-sac containing the Rockwell's residence. I'm at their door.
I knock on the door and a striking thirty something year old woman answers. “Hi, Mrs. Rockwell?” I ask. “Oh hello! Yes that’s me, pleasure to meet you.” she responds.
“It’s that whore Martha Simpson isn’t it? I knew it! I’m sick and tired of his bullshit; this is the last straw!” She bursts into tears and runs to her car cursing the heavens. Completely disregarding the fact that she left her front door wide open, she peels out of the driveway and speeds away leaving a cloud of exhaust behind.
“Why yes, I’ve never actually had my palm read before!” she says while giggling flirtatiously and extending her hand towards me.
“Wow, I’ve never seen such a prominent love line on anyone before!. When I look at you I’m really not surprised though.” I start stroking her palm with my thumb tenderly. We lock eyes and I gently pull her towards me. Our eyes close as our lips meet. She lets out a soft moan. I hear a car door slam behind me.
“What the fuck is going on here!” yells a skinny man dressed in a business suit who I presume is Mr. Rockwell. She quickly pushes me away and wipes her lips off. “How could you do this to me?” he cries.
"You are almost home. There is only one final task left for you, and I shall show you the way back. There is one resident of Tranquility Lane that I simply cannot stand any longer. I have a deep rooted hate for the decrepit hag that is Old Lady Dithers. Everything about her makes me seeth with loathing and I long for her to die."
Betty's eyes are cold and her gaze unwavering. She hands me a .38 revolver. The weight of the gun feels heavy in my hands. I follow Betty's outstretched finger with my eyes as she points to Old Lady Dithers' house.
I walk over to the house, my heart pounding like it never has before. As I draw near, I see the senile woman through her front window.
I hear movement inside as the senile woman approaches the door. The peephole darkens as she peers through.
Old Lady Dithers opens the door slowly. The hinges creak. I gaze upon her withering frail body; her weary eyes stare into mine with austere intensity, unblinking.
“Hello ma'am, I’m with the electric company...”
She cuts me off abruptly, “I know why you are here. Betty has already tricked you in to killing me 238 times.”
“I’m the only one who remembers what Betty does each time the program we are trapped in restarts. She’s absolutely insane, playing with our lives like toys in a virtual sandbox!”
Old Lady Dithers was in tears as she continued, “The mainframe terminal powering this virtual hell is located in the Rockwell's Cellar. If you can deactivate the failsafe, you can free us from this simulation. It should only take a bullet to the computer to accomplish this task. I am afraid I cannot help you because Betty has restricted my access codes to limit me from leaving this house.”
I run to from Old Lady Dithers' house, back to the Rockwell residency. I sneak around back, and find the door in unlocked. I let myself in, and make my way to the cellar.
The cellar was covered in cobwebs, like it had been untouched for years. Through the cobwebs I could see the red and green blinking lights of the mainframe that Dithers had promised me would be here. I take a deep breath and raise the heavy revolver and take aim for the terminal. I release all five rounds. Sparks and metal debris fly through the air.
As if a power switch was flipped, everything went black.
And then I awoke.
Electrodes are attached to my temples and chest. I rip them free and realize I am trapped in an enclosed pod. I search with my hands for a latch, but find none. I kick with my legs and break the pod's seal and the lid flies open.
Surrounding me are rows of identical pods. They each have labels, indicating which poor soul is trapped inside.
Mr. and Mrs. Rockwell, Timmy, Dithers, and numerous names I didn't recognize. And finally, Betty.
I swing around, and Old Lady Dithers' pod opens. A leg emerges, then a hand, and finally a whole person. But this is not the fragile old woman I knew from Tranquility Lane. Instead, I see a tall muscular man in his late twenties. He sees me, looks at the pod that I'm standing in front of, reads the label, and immediately rushes to Betty's pod's control panel.
Dithers pushes the commands to release Betty form her pod.
I expect to see the little girl who had psychologically tortured us in that virtual reality, however the pod's only resident is an obese middle aged man; greasy and unkempt.
Instantly, Dithers dives at Betty. He wraps his powerful hands around Betty's throat and squeezes. I am paralyzed with shock. All I hear is the gurgling of Betty's last attempts to fill his lungs with air.
The gurgling stops. Dithers releases his grip, turns and heads for the door marked exit. He stops in the doorway, "Thanks, stranger."
I am alone. Alone with the pods.
I go to each pod's control panel. One by one, I enter the release commands, then head for the exit before they awake. I don't want to confront the people I had been swindled into torturing 238 times.
Once I exit the room of pods, I find myself in a suburban neighborhood. I take a deep breath; it feels like my first in years.
I am finally home.Fin.
Tranquility Lane disappeared. There were only two things left: an infinite blackness and Betty's shrill voice.
“You cannot escape my games through death! That doesn't work here when I control life and death!”
Although Betty wasn't by my side, I could hear her. “Yes! Everytime you kill her is so unique; an ecstasy like none other. I can't wait to see how you do it next time!”