From what I remember, it was a pretty ordinary day in January; boring even. Then again, most days are pretty boring when you have nothing to do but sit in front of a computer screen and take calls all day. I work in a small doctor's office as a receptionist for a guy named Dr. Jones. He's a family friend and I had the experience for the job, so he hired me on the spot. It's relatively unbusy compared to your typical doctor's office due to the fact that we're located in a small town in the middle of the United States. Literally, the precise middle. We've been referred to as the Belt Buckle of the Bible Belt on occasion. This stuff is kind of irrelevant probably, sorry if I'm rambling.
Anyway, at the end of the day I clocked out at the computer I was stationed at. As far as the layout of the place, a wall with a wide, horizontal window divided the waiting room from the receptionist's office where I was, a small slot in the bottom for transactions to take place. Once I went to leave, I saw Dr. Jones standing there in his normal doctor's attire, his hand resting on the front counter partially covering up an envelope. Payday, I almost forgot, I thought, a tiny smile coming to my lips.
"Good work this week, Maxwell," Dr. Jones began, sliding the envelope to me. The contents of the envelope elicited a strange look on my part and he seemed to catch on to my skepticism, though I still reached out to grab the envelope. I could feel the paper where my paycheck was pressed into a slim, square-ish object inside. As I felt around along the edges of the envelope, Dr. Jones went on. "Consider it a once-a-year bonus," the gray-haired physician said and gave me a forlorn smile, the wrinkles of his aged face more visible than ever now. "Thank you," I managed to croak out. In the entire year I'd worked there, I'd yet to receive any sort of incentive for doing a good job, so I was overcome by the generosity of his gesture and thought no deeper into it. That look on his face stuck with me, though, as if he were either sad to part with the contents of that envelope or frightened.
After I cashed my paycheck, I headed back to my apartment (as if I had anything else to do on a Friday night), took a shower and got out of my work clothes, opting out for something more comfortable to sit around the house in; after all, I was on vacation for the entire next week, so I might as well get casual. I'd only taken my paycheck out of the envelope so far, so I was pretty ripe with anticipation as I emptied the rest of the contents of the envelope out onto the coffee table. From there, I had a seat in my living room to examine what fell out. It was a transparent CD case containing -- you guessed it -- a CD. Someone had written on the front of the disc in black, permanent marker, which I immediately noticed as Dr. Jones' handwriting. It read: For the son I never had. zk
Normally I'm not the emotional type, but this sort of resonated with me. I nearly got all teary-eyed at the simple fact that Dr. Jones was referring to me as his son. It made me remember how few people Dr. Jones really had left these days. He was a veteran in some war from way back, so most of his friends had passed a long time ago, not to mention the majority of his family. The 'zk' near the end struck me as kind of odd, but it didn't really take away from the message or anything and I didn't dwell too much on what those letters meant. Since it was still fairly early in the evening, I decided to see what was on that CD so I headed to my bedroom and popped it into the disk drive of my PC, having a seat while the disk auto-ran. Once everything opened up, a menu screen popped up; it was pretty bare bones, consisting of a black screen with a black-haired woman caressing a crystal ball, dressed in your typical fortune-teller's garb, and looking rather jovial even despite the pixelation in her face. If I had to guess, this was some old NES game that I hadn't heard about -- after all, I was still pretty young when the NES was a big hit, so it's plausible that I would've missed a few games here and there. After I pressed Enter to proceed, the title faded in slowly in golden bubble letters, reading, "Lola the Space Gypsy".
"Hola, Lola," I greeted her jokingly, laughing to myself ever so gently before I pressed Enter, revealing 'New Game', 'Options', and 'Exit'. Naturally I decided to start a new game because this was a game I hadn't heard of before and I was curious as to what it was all about. Upon selecting new game, the menu screen and Lola faded out to a black screen, then a delightful 8-bit tune started and I was prompted for an answer:
Please enter your birthsign.
Here I was given twelve choices as according to the Zodiac calendar, though I decided to have a little bit of fun with the game (I was bored, after all). Choosing a sign at random along this tiny scroll bar I was given, I put in my selection, Aquarius, only to hear the music stop entirely. A loud buzz sounded as if the game was telling me I'd made a mistake. This was followed by yet another prompt, "Lola" showing up once again. Contrary to how she'd looked before, she looked very displeased, ticking a finger to and fro in a manner which seemed to illustrate 'Tsk tsk'.
Deception will get you nowhere.
That struck me as a little bit odd. Did it only accept certain answers from the player? If that were the case, it was a rather strange feature to put in an old game like this. Deciding to test this theory, I went down the remaining eleven Zodiac signs only to receive the same error. Each time, Lola seemed to get progressively more and more angry, which sort of disturbed me a tiny bit. When I got to the last sign, I decided that enough was enough. Capricorn was my true sign, though I was almost too scared to continue with the game at that point. Sighing gently at how stupid I was being, I laughed, "It's a freaking game, dude, chill." With that, I selected Capricorn and Lola immediately looked satisfied, which caused another text prompt to fade in:
Your integrity is admirable, loyal Capricorn.
This was some seriously freaky shit. Not only did the game not allow me to put in a false birthsign, but now it was praising me for telling the truth? No, I'm getting ahead of myself. It probably linked up to my Facebook and drew information from there, I thought. It was clear that this wasn't just some simple NES game, since this sort of technology wouldn't have been anything more than a pipe dream back in those days. That being said, though, it was still a game, so I decided to keep going and see what else this game could offer me. From what I could tell, the game had no plot whatsoever, and it only allowed the user to type in questions; think of a virtual Ouija board of sorts, if you will. Deciding to give it a go, I gave a tiny smile and started typing, trying to calm myself down a bit. Old games like this were creepy, sure, but was I really going to let some video game get the better of me? Hell no.
"Y U so creepy," I typed in typical internet troll fashion, then sent the message off, waiting for Lola to get back to me. For a moment, she seemed to consult with her crystal ball, peering deeply into it as if searching for an answer. It flashed violently in a pulsating fashion before Lola came back with an answer:
Why do you abandon your logic for fear?
That reply was a bit more personal than I would've hoped. I was expecting some sort of Magic 8-Ball response, though it was as if this thing truly understood the words I'd typed. Cleverbot was the first thing that came to mind, as far as its capabilities to have a realistic conversation with someone. Regardless, it had me in that paranoid mood that I tend to get in after reading a few dozen creepypastas, so I decided that Lola had to go. Closing out of 'Lola the Space Gypsy', one final screen came up with a stretched-out version of the gypsy's face, smiling at me in a way that sent a surge of cold down my spine, another text box popping up.
Until next we meet.
And just like that, the program shut off and returned to my desktop, safe and sound. Letting out a loud sigh of relief, I slouched in my chair, shutting my eyes. How stupid was I to be this terrified of a video game? A crappy program on a disk, at that. It was a nice gesture from an employer, and I should've been grateful that he'd given me this little gift, but I was terrified of it! Sitting there in a stupor for a bit, I paused, hearing a very sudden and loud thud from the living room. It nearly made me jump out of my skin, but then, my own shadow could've made me jump at that point. Once I made my way into the living room, a wave of relief immediately washed over me as the door opened and I saw who it was.
"Are you gonna' sit there like a bump on a log or are you going to help me, Maxwell Briar," she said, carrying a variety of groceries in her hands. "Sorry, Sam, lemme get those," I replied, taking all of the bags from her that I could and going through the process of re-arranging them in our kitchen. At the very least, it took my mind off of Lola, and I wouldn't have to be home alone tonight with my girlfriend staying over. When the groceries were taken care of, the two of us cuddled up on the couch and just went over the days we had. She mentioned some less-than-savory tables she had to wait today and we had a couple of laughs over that, though my stories were pretty boring compared to hers; people calling a doctor's office aren't exactly anecdote material. Either way, the two of us were overall excited that I'd be on vacation next week, so it was nice to relax and enjoy each other's company for a change-- especially tonight in this case. Eventually, Sam got up to get the two of us some drinks. A few seconds passed before she called out to me.
"Hey, what's that," she asked, clearly looking into my room while holding a bottleneck in each hand. Confused, I got off of the couch and looked to my computer monitor down the hall in my room, quirking a brow. Contrary to what I remembered before, the menu screen for 'Lola the Space Gypsy' was displayed, even though I clearly remembered shutting the program down earlier. Hadn't I? Looking over at her, I just sort of shrugged as I grabbed one of the beers, cracking it open and taking a sip. "It's some weird game Dr. Jones gave me. He said it was like a bonus or something," I said in a nonchalant manner. Then, my chest tightened up. "Cool, I wanna' play," she said with a smirk and a kiss to the cheek. I felt her hand tighten around mine then as she led me down the room, a knot filling up my throat as my legs became heavy. No, you're not going to freak out in front of your girlfriend. It's just a game. It's JUST a GAME.
My macho-man act seemed to be pretty impeccable as the two of us sat there, crammed into my tiny computer chair with Sam in my lap. Unlike how I'd played, Sam put in her birth sign the right way and was led to the questionnaire part straight away. I watched warily, running a hand down Sam's back, likely more comforting myself than her. "What should I ask Lola," Sam swiveled a bit in my lap, peeking down at me. Once I shrugged, she gave me a playful slap to the chest. "Useless," she teased with a giggle, deriving a laugh from me as well. "Don't have to be an ass about it," I quipped, still just steadily rubbing her back. Once she thought of a question, she typed it in with a great deal of hunting and pecking on the keyboard. "Are you hitting on my boyfriend," she typed in finally, hitting Enter loudly. Lola peered into her crystal ball once again, showing the same flashing animation she'd done for me. When the answer arrived, Sam looked confused; then, so did I.
Heroes of the Stars do not kowtow to the likes of Mortals. Mind your tongue.
Very briefly, that familiar smile from Lola flashed on-screen before the program shut down entirely, causing the two of us to look at each other in utter confusion. "Is there something you're not telling me," Sam interrogated, narrowing her eyes at me in a playful manner, obviously implying that I was having an affair with this thing. In reply, I shrugged, "I plead the fifth." Smacking me once again, she hopped out of my lap, rolling her eyes. "Yeah, whatever. What a weird game, though," Sam said, still staring at my monitor, looking a little spooked. So I wasn't the only one weirded out by this thing. Good. That was the most we talked about it all night, though. It was almost as if we felt talking about it would summon it or piss it off. That's how I felt, to be honest. Whatever the case, I'm glad we didn't talk about it, as it helped me forget about Lola. At least, for a little while, anyway.
Sam and I spent the majority of the night watching TV on the loveseat until she fell asleep. I couldn't exactly blame her given her line of work and how she often worked twelve-hour shifts. And even when she wasn't scheduled to work, she'd constantly get called in to cover for one of the other waitresses. Though, once she fell asleep, the paranoia began to creep in once again, even despite how ridiculous a fear it was. An all-knowing game that somehow knew things that it shouldn't know? What sort of technology could make that possible? The less I thought about it, the better, obviously. I was going to drive myself insane thinking about these sorts of things, jumping at every creak the house made, every gust of wind pressing a tree limb against the window. Deciding to take solace in Sam's company, I gently ran a hand along her cheek, smiling warmly as I stared down at her. I'd been dating her for two years already and we'd been living together for about a month now, but this was the first time I'd really been able to spend any time with her lately. I bent down ever so slightly to kiss her cheek, not wanting to disturb her, though I noticed something very peculiar on the side of her cheek. A pair of shallow gashes resided there in the shape of two letters.
That was only the first of the nightmares -- and the only one of the nightmares that I remember in vivid detail, though there were so many other bodies with those letters carved into them that I couldn't even count them, but none of them even compared to the imagery of seeing my girlfriend's face cut up like that.
What I remember next is waking up on an examining table with an aged woman standing over me. At this realization, I sat up gradually, though I was blinded by the shear whiteness of the room I was in as well as the overhead lamps. I wasn't able to move my arms in the slightest. Did someone tie me down!? "Let me out of here, Jones," I bellowed, quite furious with being tied down like this. The woman looked at me in a way that suggested she was completely speechless before she removed her glasses, peering down at me with her beady little eyes while cleaning her lenses with her shirt. "Why do you always call me that? Is it because you feel guilt?" Her words stopped me in my tracks as I stared upward, finding myself staring at a middle-aged woman with dark hair. Despite the fact that I'd never met her before, she seemed sad and almost sympathetic. "Where am I? Where's Sam," I began, inquiring as my voice quivered with fear, "where's Dr. Jones!?" Heaving a sigh, she speaks in a robotic voice, as if she's said this many times before, "I am the Chief of Staff here, Lola Turner. You've been a patient here for the past two years, having witnessed the murder of Samantha Jenkins and Roy Jones. No suspects were ever found for either murder." Hearing this was just too much; both Samantha and Dr. Jones were dead? I couldn't believe it. Gulping down my sadness deeply, I mustered the will to speak, my voice shaking, asking the only question I had left, "What is ZK?" Lola looked down at me with a rather sudden blink, obviously surprised by the question. Her reply came rather casually, though it shattered me to my very core.
"They are your initials, Zeke Kramer."