Phantasmagoria

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The Cryophobic Desert VS The Xerophobic Snow

''This is so cool!'' I hear the kid-sounding guy say as we find ourselves on a strange sandy desert with the sun setting in the horizon and the moon directly adjacent to it. The auditorium where we were just a few moments ago has completely vanished.

It is kind of cool. And what's also cool is that we're on a sandy desert that snows. A sandy desert that snows...backwards.

''It's snowing upwards,'' I hear a man say standing beside me. I turn to see a thin, small white man with ginger hair and glasses staring at the phenomenon taking place around us.

''Yeah, everything seems to be backwards in this level,'' I mention aloud. I marvel at the white snowflakes travelling up toward the sky. I touch a piece and rub it away as it turns to...sand.

''I think the desert is cryophobic,'' the thin man says.

''Cryophobic?'' I ask. I'm not going to pretend I know what that means.

''It means fear of the cold or ice. The snow is either xerophobic, which is a fear of dry places or of the desert, or the desert is cryophobic,'' the man goes on to explain. I hate to think this, but this guy is a nerd.

''Or it's just the product of a Japanese girl's imagination,'' I say. This guy is thinking way too hard about these things.

''My name is Drew Naismith by the way,'' the guy says as he stretches out his hand to shake mine. I accept and shake it before I introduce myself.

''I'm Nathaniel Williams, but everyone calls me Nash,'' I say with a smile.

''Yeah, I heard that other guy say your name as he pointed to you. It's quite an experience this game is, huh?'' Drew asks, making conversation.

''Yeah, it definitely is,'' I reply. It definitely is.

''How many points did you get in the last level?'' Drew asks.

''Uh, I got 1000,'' I say with slight reluctance. I don't know how he's going to react.

''Wow, really?! So you're the one who got it? Oh, I was so close!'' Drew gushes. What is up with this guy?

''You were close? You got 900?'' I ask him.

''Yep. I thought I did pretty well, but then again, I didn't get to see what you or the others did, so I can't compare. The girls must have really liked your challenge,'' Drew explains.

''They liked it more than I did,'' I admit. Drew chuckles lightly, and he gives me a light slap on my arm.

''We've got our work cut out for us. But that guy is quite troublesome though,'' Drew says as he looks around to where Vaughan Davenport is standing.

''Yeah, I saw. I don't think he likes me very much,'' I say to him.

''He doesn't like anyone. He's just a cocky and arrogant person who wants to beat everyone else,'' Drew says with slight bitterness in his tone.

''I can see you don't like him very much,'' I say to him. Drew turns back round to face me and has a solemn expression on his face.

''I just want to enjoy the experience of the game. I don't mind if I lose, but I don't want him to win at all,'' Drew reveals. You and me both, partner.

''I wonder when we're going to start the challenge,'' I say aloud as I look around. I haven't seen the Final Fantasy girl avatar ever since we were transported here.

''Well I'll be damned! If it isn't Nash Williams!'' I hear a loud, hearty male Texan voice shout behind me. I turn to see a chestnut-haired, big, tall white man wearing a brown leather jacket, black top, denim jeans and navy blue shoes coming towards me with his arms spread out to engulf me. I am unable to react as the man gives me a bear hug, holds me up for a while and settles me back down with such speed I thought I was going to fall down. The man laughs heartily as he slaps my arms and grabs my hand to shake it.

''Remember me, soldier?'' the man says as he vigorously shakes my hand and smiles just as hard.

''Uh...is that you, Pete?'' I hesitantly ask as I look closely into the man's face. Pete Driscoll, my old army buddy. We were in the same platoon in Aghanistan.

''Yeah, it's me, Nash! Boy it's been a long time, hasn't it?'' Pete says as he finishes squashing the life out of my hand and begins to pat the life out of my back now with his large hand.

''Yeah, it has. I haven't seen you in years,'' I admit. I haven't seen Pete Driscoll since we left the army. Man, he's gotten...bigger.

''I didn't know you were in this game until I heard that Davenport guy mention your name before,'' Pete says.

''I didn't really know who else was in this game until now,'' I say to him.

''Haha, ah, it's good to see you after so long. How's the family?'' Pete asks.

''They're good. Hannah's doing OK, and my son is good too, thanks for asking,'' I reply.

''Oh, you have a son? That's good! How old is he?'' Pete asks.

''Yeah, I have, he's going to be 8 soon,'' I answer.

''Wow, same age as my little girl,'' Pete says.

''Oh, you and Mani have a girl?'' I ask him.

''Actually, we have three, and one son. You remember Matt, don't you?'' Pete says.

''Yeah, of course. How are you and Mani?'' I ask him.

''She's...OK, but, unfortunately, we got divorced 2 years ago,'' Pete says, his tone dropping from happy to downbeat within an instant.

''Oh, I'm so sorry Pete,'' I apologise.

''No, it's alright. These things just happen I guess, but I'm alright,'' Pete responds. Man, I feel bad. I hate it when people are having really bad problems. I feel so helpless.

''Any way, I wonder when we will be starting this challenge. I'm getting bored already looking at this backwards snow,'' Pete says.

''Me too. Oh yeah, I wanted to ask you why you are here to play this game?'' I ask Pete. I want to know what he is doing here. He doesn't strike me as the gamer type.

''Oh, aren't you here for the government? They've been calling up veterans to take part in it so that they can get their hands on the prize,'' Pete answers.

What?

Pete's here...on government orders?

So...we've been given the same orders...

''Uh, yeah, I got it as well. Promising a better life if we win,'' I say to him.

''Yep, here's to hoping,'' Pete says, slapping his hands on his thighs.

''You were saying they were calling up veterans. Are there are others here too?'' I ask.

''Oh yeah. There's like three others, I believe. They even got that Davenport guy from Special Forces,'' Pete reveals.

''What? Vaughan Davenport's Special Forces?'' I respond. No wonder he's so...nice.

''Yep. The government isn't taking any chances. But at least we got you. Man, I can't believe you got 1000 points! How did you get it?'' Pete responds.

''I just...used my imagination,'' I tell him. Well, I did use it. But I'm not going to tell him how.

''Well, I'm just happy I'm in 3rd place; at least I'm not last,'' Pete says.

''Oh, you're 3rd I've been told I'm 3rd place as well,'' I say.

''Oh, so we're joint. That's cool,'' Pete says with a smile.

''Is Davenport first?'' I ask Pete.

''He might be. Or it could be the nerdy guy you were speaking to,'' Pete suggests.

''Drew? Oh, yeah, it could be. He's seems smart enough to come up with good ideas in this game,'' I say. He is quite a smart person. I think he looks at this game more strategically than others. But it puts him on par with 'Special Forces Davenport'. Man, I really want him to lose.

''Where is the level keeper? I want to know when the challenge is going to start,'' Pete says, becoming slightly frustrated as he looks around.

Yeah, where is she?

What is the challenge any way?

Does any one know...

''Uh, Pete?'' I try to get his attention. Is he seeing what I'm seeing?

''Yeah, what's up Nash?'' I hear Pete answer as I keep my eyes glued to what is happening in front of me.

''I think the challenge has already started,'' I say.

I think Pete is now seeing what I'm seeing because he hasn't said anything yet. We watch in horror as we see Drew Naismith being held up 20 feet in the air by octopus tentacles coming out of another participant's back. We can see the tentacles strangling the life out of Drew as he struggles to breathe. As I behold this carnage unfolding, I notice something else in the corner of my eye. Two other participants are duelling each other. One guy, who I think is called Kevin, has brought out a sword, while his opponent, a black guy, is using a light sabre. Very inventive.

''Hey Pete, what should we do?'' I ask Pete. He doesn't respond. I turn to look at him, and he's suddenly become embroiled in a fight of his own with another participant. He's wrestling with some one but I can't see who.

''Pay attention Mr Williams, you're getting too distracted!'' I hear a voice say. Before I can find out who it is, I feel a punch land hard in my stomach, causing me to fly through the air.

''ARGH!'' I yell in pain. I stumble and roll in the sand before coming to a halt, and I slowly get on my knees as I splutter and cough for air. I struggle to stand up.

This pain is unbearable. Have they increased the level of pain that we can sense in this game?

Is this the level keeper's doing?

I hear someone land in the sand in front of me, and I recognise the shoes the person is wearing. I slowly travel up to the man's face, and see Vaughan Davenport standing over me with with a dirty, wide smirk plastered across his face.

''Time to play, Nash,'' he says to me.

Now I really hate him.


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