I can’t actually remember when I wrote this one, but it was probably 2017-ish. Regardless, I only wrote 4 chapters and started working on something else, maybe “Observing the End“?
I’ve seen all of this before. Maybe it was a different life, another world… But I remember this day, very vividly.
I was only a child back then. No, perhaps I would have been considered an adult? I had already graduated High School and hadn’t been able to find a job yet. My life had just begun.
It was the middle of summer. I was in the very back of the van, while my father was driving and my mother was in the front passenger seat… We were coming home from Pasadena, back to Baltimore. It was dark, so I could easily see the stars while we were driving across the Francis Scott Key Bridge.
All the windows were open and the warm summer air was blowing against my face, while the roaring of the wind made it almost impossible for me to hear my parents talking to each other. At least, until my mother screamed “Woah~, Mike look! It’s a shooting star!”
Both my father and I shared the same name, but she usually called me ‘Michael’. Still, it was loud enough that I assumed she was talking to me as well. By the time I saw it, that shiny burning object was already falling down towards the Baltimore skyline in the distance.
“Holy shit, it’s gonna land in the city!” My dad said those familiar words, which brought me back to reality.
“Drive faster and don’t look at the city!”
Even though I screamed at the top of my lungs, he just yelled “What?! I can’t hear you!”
Then my mother shouted “Michael said something about a dry caster!”
“What the hell is a dry caster?!” My father unfortunately didn’t listen to me… I guess some things are just ‘fate’?
“Ah~! Oh my God~!”
I heard my parents scream those same two phrases, as a blindingly bright light illuminated the entire sky. Then the van swerved to the right and crashed into the side of the road. The front of the vehicle was basically hanging off of the bridge. My mother was knocked unconscious by her airbag, while my father’s glasses were crushed. He was awake, but blinded and in shock.
When I looked out the tinted window behind me, I saw the glowing mushroom cloud billowing up into the sky. It was beautiful, but also terrifying, especially that massive wave of dust, debris and water that was heading our way.
“Cover your ears~!” I screamed, as I swiftly took out earplugs from the drawer to my right and put them in. Then I closed my eyes and used the seat in front of me to brace myself. The entire bridge began to whine and moan, but almost immediately afterwards, the blastwave from Baltimore finally reached us.
The van was lifted up, along with most of the other vehicles on the bridge, and carried up into the air. We were lucky… No, ‘I’ was lucky. It happened the first time as well.
We didn’t crash directly into the water, but landed on top of an enormous barge that was carrying a massive amount of cargo crates. It rode the wave and eventually became beached on Fort Carol. It was an ancient pentagonal artificial island.
Now days, it was just an abandoned sea fort in the middle of the Patapsco River, but it was revamped many times over the past two hundred years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an actual military base, so there were no weapons or armaments. It was essentially just four high concrete walls and elevated platforms, with two very shallow walls. The majority of the three acres within was basically a small forest.
The barge actually crashed into the wall, while the cargo crates slid off and were lifted up by the blast wave. Some of them tumbled and flipped through the air, while others were embedded into the ground. We were lucky enough to be on one of the few that fell down into the forest and got stopped by some trees. Our van continued for a bit, but it was also lodged into the ground.
That first time I experience this, I was temporarily deafened and way too confused to understand what was happening. I was helpless and afraid, but in the end, I was still able to survive. However, my parents weren’t so lucky… No, maybe it was better that they died early. If not, they would have had to suffer a lot more.
I breathed out a sigh, as I felt the water burning my skin. Even though it was extremely tempting, I didn’t bother opening my eyes. It was impossible to see anything in that brackish water, even when it wasn’t really hot, but mixed with all kinds of filth.
Should I try to save them, or not? I only have a few moments left to decide…
“Michael, why are you torturing yourself like this? You know that they’re already dead. Even in the unlikely scenario where they were able to avoid receiving a lethal dose of gamma radiation, who knows what other injuries they’re suffering from right now? Just go, while you still can.”
That voice… I guess if I was sent back here, then so were you.
“We’re the same person. Just because you’re upset with the way I did things, doesn’t change the fact that I’m a part of you. Now move! Don’t waste this chance! If you-”
Alright! Shut the fuck up for a moment!
You don’t need to convince me of anything. It’s not that I don’t want to get out of this scalding sewer water, but the island is still submerged. If I try to leave the van, I’ll probably get swept away into the Patapsco River…
“Good point. Except that you seem to be forgetting something really goddamn important, right?”
What? No, the last time… I was stunned and almost drowned. A few ribs were broken, so I had trouble breathing. By the time the water receded, I struggled to crawl out of the van. My eyes were burning, I was vomiting, my skin felt like he was going to fall off. The fallout was pretty bad, but I managed to survive for long enough that someone rescued me.
“You’re thinking too chronologically! Michael, the System is already in place! This might be the tutorial phase, but the game has already begun!”
Shit, you’re right! Whether the world actually reset, or if this is simply an alternate reality, the System should still exist here!
I obviously can’t speak at the moment, so all I can do is attempt to use telepathic commands.
‘Display Status Screen!’
[Error: Status Screen is unavailable at this time. Program ‘Hell on Earth 9’ is currently in the tutorial phase.]
God damn it… Well, I should have expected as much.
“Hell on Earth Nine… Does that mean the ‘program’ we were in was actually the eighth?”
If I had to guess, I’d say that the first seven times, I probably died before the tutorial was over. And here I thought that I was just really lucky…
“We both know that ‘luck’ is total bullshit. There is no RNG in this game.”
I’m not so sure about that. Anyway, I don’t have time to argue with you about this.
‘Display Storage Space!’
[Error: Extradimensional Storage is unavailable at this time. Program ‘Hell on Earth 9’ is currently in the tutorial phase.]
‘Open the Shop Menu!’
[Congratulations! You are the first Player to open the Shop Menu in Hell on Earth version 9! You have been rewarded with 100 Souls! Spend them wisely!]
Wow, I can’t believe there are actual achievements for this kind of shit!
[Opening the Shop Menu now… Would you like to view Consumables or Equipment?]
[Current level is unknown… Temporarily using the Player’s previous level as a reference… All basic, intermediate and advanced items have been temporarily unlocked. Once the tutorial phase ends, this special privilege will be revoked. Please make the most of this opportunity, Michael.]
“Well that was creepy.”
Who gives a damn about the level of creepiness?! I have access to all of the shit that I could buy before I died!
“Yeah, but so what? It’s not like you’ll be able to afford anything fancy with only a hundred Souls in the bank.”
‘Open the Currency Tab please.’
[Congratulations! You are the first Player to open the Currency Tab in Hell on Earth version 9! You have been rewarded with 100 Souls! Spend them wisely!]
[Current Currency: 200 Souls, 1m Karma, 0 Earth Dollars, 0 Mana Coins.]
“What?! How is that possible?!”
Ha! I told you! How many times did I tell you that helping people wasn’t meaningless?!
“Whatever! You still had to throw your life away like an idiot! This time, no matter what, I will not allow you to get us killed again!”
Alright, be quiet, you’re giving me a headache… Oh, I should probably get out of the van now. By the way, I’ve changed my mind.
“No, Michael, don’t do it. Save your money for important shit!”
How is saving my parents not important?!
“You’re too late. They’re already dead.”
Fuck! This is your fault! Always trying to keep me from helping people…
“There’s a big difference between saving someone and damning them to Hell! They were only background characters in this charade… Do you even know if they’re really your parents? Aren’t they just NPCs?”
I don’t know! There’s no way to know! Damn it! No pulse, their lungs are probably full of this nasty water. Aside from that, their injuries… It’s different from the first time.
Now that I’m out of the van, I can see a little bit. It’s really dark, but I can see that a bunch of tree branches went through the windshield. I need to stop wasting time.
“You should just listen to me and stop worrying about other people. If they die, then they’re obviously not important characters to the storyline…”
I really hate you.
“Fuck you too, asshole.”