My old life seems so far from here. With no more school and only leaving the house for groceries, ever since the plane ride home, I spend most of my time taking care of my parents. My exposure to the outside world goes as far as my news feed will take me. I only ever see my friends through the screen and it’s been difficult balancing stress from work with my other projects. It's been taking a toll on me, at least it did until a few days ago.
Aiden L. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hope you’re taking care of yourself during this hard time. Thanks for being a friend, attached is something I made for you to pass the time.
“Friend huh,” I muttered as I placed my coffee mug down, the rain’s muted drumming outside my window. We were seatmates in one class, sure, but that was pretty much the extent of it. His words from our last conversation echoed through my head.
“It’s been a while.”
I hover my mouse over the attached file, “ech0.exe.”
I double-click and it immediately launches. I’m greeted by a black screen and soft lo-fi music in the background. A choice on the screen fades in.
“A game?” I clicked on Yes but it was greyed out, I press No and the screen slowly faded into the start of the game. Characters animated and full of life walking across the screen, the world in brighter shades and warmer tones than we’re used to—the characters bearing striking resemblances to my classmates. I instantly recognize two of the characters, one is Aiden in his black hoodie, and the other one...
Is that me?
The sound of the school bell woke me from my daze. An empty room with faded green paint and
neatly lined-up chairs and tables appeared—an exact replica of our classroom. I look to the top right of the screen where the date is shown: March 9, 2020. I press on the keyboard, figuring out the controls as my character follows along. I exit the classroom, seeing that the halls were just as empty.
I kept moving forward, heading toward what should be the cafeteria. As I enter, I could see other characters scattered around talking to each other with text bubbles popping up.
“Did you hear about the break?”
“One week, no school?”
“I hope we come back soon.”
My eyes slowly fixated on Aiden’s character near the end of the room. I quickly make my way to him. As soon as I was close enough, an option started to appear.
Press E to interact.
“It’s been a while.”
The screen dims to black. My avatar appears, this time in an airport. Everyone sat around, barely moving, wearing masks. The date, the setting, this is where I was before lockdown. I hear a beeping notification, text bubbles pop up.
“Did you get to the airport safe, anak?”
“Yes, ma. Boarding in 15 minutes. ”
“Okay. Please text me when you land. Love you.”
My eyes widened as the text on-screen disappeared. It was a word-for-word copy of my texts with my mother. How could he have—? The intercom bells prompt my character to start walking towards the boarding area. The game slowly fading to black. A new date appearing on the top right corner, April 17, 2021.
I pull my phone out of my pocket, April 17, 2021. I look back over to my computer screen, my heart sinking to my stomach. Is that my—? A thunderclap perfectly synced up with the flash outside my window. It’s my home—down to the most minute detail. I hesitantly make my character enter, hearing a door slam downstairs. I jump in my chair, having to recompose myself. I begin inspecting the place. The same marbled floors and grandfather clock standing in the living room. The accuracy was uncanny, but it’s a mess, groceries rotting on the counter, TV playing static noise, and two limp bodies sat on the couch. Are those—? I move my avatar up the stairs, hearing footsteps thumping outside my door. I get up from the computer, sneaking over to the door, I press my ear against the wood, nothing.
I sit back down, gripping the mouse tighter. I slowly move my character toward the end of the hallway, listening more intently to the footsteps. It was in front of my door, I steadily turned my head, the monitor casting light in the dimly lit room. I could hear staggered breathing from the other side, a shadow looming underneath the frame. Another beeping notification as an option appears on the screen.
Press E to Interact.
Taking a deep breath, I pressed E and swung the door open, only to be met by an empty room. I sat down at my desk, a cup of lukewarm coffee rested near my hand, the rain softly drumming outside my window. I look over to my computer screen and see I received a new email from a classmate I haven’t seen in a while.
Email from Daniel. <email@example.com>
to Me. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This article is also published in The Benildean Volume 7 Issue No. 1: Confined