Launch Writing Contest: Arena (by Holly Jennings)

By @noellbernard

Launch Writing Contest: Arena (by Holly Jennings)

By @noellbernard

My submission for the Get Underlined Launch Writing Contest. A short scene (~1,000 words) that delves into the darker parts of the human psyche, in the world of Arena by Holly Jennings.

Chapter 1


“Never. Whenever someone asked if I would try gaming in full immersion virtual reality, my answer was never. Too many things can go wrong. Too many tech errors, hackers, unexpected bugs, and it’s all linked directly to your brain.”

“You never toyed with the idea?”

 I snorted. “Of course I did! I drooled over the idea of jumping into a fictional world and going on an adventure, but there’s not a chance in Hell that I would risk my mental and physical capacities.”

Sitting behind her desk, she unfurls her fingers toward me, as if offering me the floor. “But?”

“But… temptation is strong. And I’m sure I already have a reserved seat in Hell.” I grind my teeth, recalling the weak, pathetic moment I caved.

“As everyone started ‘plugging in,’ I remained in the real world, stuck with a remote control and a screen barring me from the tangible manifestation of my imagination. Worse still was watching other people bask in the wonder of advanced technology every week on Saturday night gaming.

“Then e-sports became the new Olympics, and I cracked. Because when it comes right down to it, a fish can only swim against the current for so long before fatigue – and interest – wins out. I was that fish. And I had exhausted my restraint.”

Still scratching notes down, the woman asks, “Are you still exhausted?”

“No, exhaustion didn’t land me in this office. Something far deadlier did: unhappiness with reality.”

Glancing up from the fake wood lines of the desk, I track the twitching movement of her stylus as it scribbles across the screen. The woman attached to the stylus seems to notice my abrupt silence. She ceases her scrawling and inclines her head just enough so she can see me through her glasses instead of over them.

“It sounds as though you’ve given this a great deal of thought.”

I lean back in my chair, forcing my spine into a horrid shape as I roll my eyes and fix my attention on a decorative picture. “It’s all a matter of perspective.”

“Oh?” She makes the noise as if nothing could drag her away, as if my answer is the most interesting thing on this Godforsaken planet. “How is that?”

“For me – someone who spends quite a bit of time with their own thoughts – this is a general amount of thought I give for a topic. It only seems like a great deal of thought because the average person is incapable of introspection and being alone with themselves. This is why celebrities are born and raved about. They give people distractions from themselves.”

She hmms. It’s that closed-lipped noise people make when they’re put off by or concerned about the things you say. I’ve heard it one too many times in my life. I suppose that’s why I spend so much of time doing anything but what is ‘normal.’ Makes life more interesting and quickly weeds out the people who don’t like me.

Still, despite my distance from society, I’m enthralled by reactions, which is why I revert my focus to her face. She, unlike most people, has a strong grip on her expressions. Not even a crack pokes through as she makes another note on her tablet.

Her deep blue eyes flicker up to meet mine. “And would you consider yourself to not be distracted by the celebrities?”

Disappointment deflates my chest. “Everyone’s distracted by celebrities. At least anyone connected to technology and social media because they’re impossible to avoid, and you are distracted either with interest or disdain. To be completely ambivalent to the noise is to suggest one has no range of emotions nor response stimuli and, if that’s the case, then said person likely would have no social media whatsoever.”

“Do you have social media, miss Van Der-”

“We’re getting off topic,” I interject.

The therapist pauses, her eyes widening with surprise.

“If I wanted to rant about the downfall of society’s catalyst, I’d simply go to the internet. However, I am here for an actual problem.”

Without missing a beat, she counters, “Is it not possible the root of your problem lies somewhere down this path?” Her hands settle over her tablet, one resting atop the other.

I glance at her smooth, delicate fingers and try to calm the frustration boiling inside. “Perhaps. You’re the one with the degree, after all.” Letting my head loll to the side, I glance out the window at… a fake screen of a beautiful meadow. No doubt it’s supposed to offer security to people who feel trapped. Too bad I prefer close quarters and limited light.

“Well, you are the one paying for this time. So, if you would like to discuss something else…”

My eyes roll again, unable to contain themselves from the appeasement of my therapist’s responses. And here I thought therapy was supposed to calm people, not agitate and aggravate them. Whatever.

“I am here because I am trying to find a reason to return to reality.”

“How do you mean?” Her hands retreat from the desk and add more comments to her tablet.

“Reality, to me, is boring. It has limited possibilities with a finite amount of time and only one path that only moves in one direction: death. VR, on the other hand, has infinite possibilities. You can go anywhere, be anyone, do anything. With so many more options, why would anyone want to return to…” The wall-screen glitches, flashing the chaotic, blinding cityscape hiding behind the meadow. “This.”

Only silence greets me. Per usual, I’m left trying to make sense of my thoughts and clawing my way out of them, but finally she speaks.

“Reality is only boring because you haven’t found something to make it interesting.”

I chuckle. “What should I do? Get a puppy?”

“On the contrary,” she retorts. “Find something that doesn’t exist in VR.”

I catch her eye just as she blinks out of existence, replaced by an empty timer. “But… even therapy exists in VR.”

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