Enchanted Spark

Writing Inspirations
Congratulations to our February Winner Holly Jennings!

Judging was tough this month. Shari Klase is the runner up with her story Monkey Shines. Thanks to everyone who entered and please keep submitting!

End Game

by Holly Jennings

The User abandoned us when the infection started. He last logged onto the game 14.3 days ago.

While most nights I sat at the bar enjoying an energy drink, tonight I stood on the roof of my favorite watering hole. Heat from the bar’s sign radiated off my back, the immense electricity buzzing like insects trapped behind glass. Its candy-colored fluorescents shaped like a budding flower--Talia says it’s a tulip--glowed brighter than any other in the city. White lights above spelled the establishment’s name in script.


No one makes fun of a man who drinks at a bar with a pink sign. Especially one who hunts zombies.

Through the crosshairs of my rifle, I watched them trudge along in their slow, stumbling march. The road beneath their dragging feet, once plain gray pavement, now rippled with white web-like energy. It grew a little more with each heartbeat pulse, veins reaching like clawing fingers through the ground as the virus siphoned the game’s energy.

“Hey, John.”

I peered over my shoulder to find Talia standing behind me, leaning against the bubblegum and tangerine lights of the Flamingo. As the blinking fluorescents ascended the sign, reflecting off her curves and the blonde hair curling around her shoulders, I resisted the urge to follow the same path up her frame. She’d casually slung her bow one shoulder while the strap from her arrow-laden quiver cut diagonally across her chest, emphasizing her white, low-cut top that left little to the imagination.

I didn’t look. Well, not really.

I gave her a smile and turned my sights back down the barrel of the gun. Talia moseyed up beside me, hip brushing against mine. Agility was a standard elevated stat for her class--a hunter--though at times I wonder what else it would be good for. Despite the distraction, I managed to focus, pulled the trigger, and nailed a member of the undead horde through the forehead. It crumpled to the ground, letting out a raspy moan as it died. Level 1 mobs always went down with a single hit.

“Without the User, they’ll just respawn,” Talia said, as the zombie faded away. It reappeared further down the road and rejoined the crowd. “You’re wasting ammo.”

My bullets were down to 258/500, and there weren’t any ammo crates in this level, but I shrugged at her remark.

“I’m bored.”

I didn’t look up as I watched both the virus and the zombies spread through the streets, though I felt the weight of Talia’s stare pressing down on me.

“You’re looking pretty sharp,” she finally said, admiring the camouflage armor strapped to my chest and the modified rifle with attached scope in my hands.

“Thanks. I picked this stuff up on my last run through the game.”

“You were always the User’s favorite.” Talia grinned, though it faded when she looked down at the undead mindlessly dragging toward us. “Do you think they have an idea about the virus?”

“No, but everything gets deleted eventually.” Reload. Ping. Another zombie fell.

“There is a difference between accepting deletion and giving up,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. I felt a little irritated by her accusatory tone, almost as if she were implying that the infection was my fault.

“What do you want me to do?” I dropped the gun to my side and pointed at the white veins slithering through the street below. “We can’t fight a virus.”

“It’s just...” her voice trailed off. She turned away and looked out across the city. Finally she sighed, shoulders sagging, and scuffed her foot against the blue neon lining the roof’s edge. “I never got to see the end of the game.”

An unexpected pang of guilt hit my chest. I’d been to the end many times, and it never crossed my mind that Talia had missed out. Even before he’d left us, the User hadn’t played with her nearly as much as me. I sighed to myself, realizing it wasn’t fair.

I considered the circumstance. I knew the paths through the game and how to defeat every enemy, including the bosses. With over 60.8 hours of logged game-time and 150% health, I knew my stats and experience were enough to defeat them all.

I took Talia's hand. She turned and met my stare, curiosity twinkling in her eyes as much as the Flamingo’s dazzling lights. I grinned in response.

“Let’s go.”


Level 17 – Nevada Botanical Park

I hated this level.

Together, Talia and I wove through the jungle surroundings of the park. A howl ripped through the air overhead, mixing with sounds of trickling water and the endless rustling of leaves. As we rounded a corner, a chimp screeched and clawed at Talia, reaching between the bars of its cage. She jumped back, startled, and pressed her body tight against mine.

Maybe this level wasn’t so bad after all.

A gray-skinned hand reached out from the shrubs and grabbed the end of my rifle as a human-turned-zombie staff member of the park sprang out at us. I knocked it down with a swift right hook. Two more came charging toward us, their tan and green uniforms blending into the leafy background. A few bursts from my rifle, and they both collapsed at my feet.

As the zombies faded away, I turned and motioned for Talia to follow but found the path behind me filled with silence and nothing more.


No answer.

Panic tightened my chest as I started back down the path, pulling through the field grass and shrubbery, searching, until Talia’s voice came from behind a grove of trees.

“Hey. Look what I found.”

She stepped out from the brush, leaves rustling around her. A monkey followed, chattering incoherently to itself. Relief flooded my body, quickly followed by frustration.

“Did you know about the bonus back there?” Talia asked, hooking her thumb toward the greenery, eyes wide with innocence.

I sighed as I looked down at the monkey and dropped my arms. The rifle clacked against my knee. “We’re not here to collect pets.”

“I can’t put him back now,” she said, hands on her hips. “He binds on pick-up.”

The monkey hopped onto one of the park’s wooden gates so he was eye level, his brown-gray fur and white belly contrasting with the oversized leaves and foliage behind him. He curled his lips and cooed, as if mocking me. Checkmate, pal.

I tossed my arms up in defeat. “Fine.”

I started back down the path, clearing out zombies, while Talia padded along behind me, hand-in-hand with the monkey.


Level 30 – Mojave Desert

The end boss towered over us nearly thirty feet tall, nothing more than a whirlwind of rocks and dust from the surrounding desert. He moved in a pre-set circular path, not yet pulled by our presence, crushing the odd boulder with a rocky fist that materialized out of nothing. He paced in the center of a narrow valley with a deep shadow cast across it, mingling with the blinding sunlight.

Talia stared up at him, eyes wide and lips split in surprise--or more likely, in fear.

“That’s the final boss?” she gasped, watching as he smashed a fist against the valley wall. The wall trembled under the impact.

I chuckled. “How could you tell?”

I knew this boss well. 5000 health points. Causes 300 damage points per second. Enters a berserker mode at 20% remaining health and increases his speed by 150%. Only has one weak spot.

I looked down at the monkey still holding Talia’s hand.

“You should put him away first,” I said, motioning at the creature with my rifle. Talia waved goodbye to the monkey, signaling him to disappear. He cooed, bouncing in place a few times, and faded away. When he was gone, Talia turned back to me.

“See how narrow it is?” I pointed at the rocky walls of the valley. “That’s what makes this battle so tough. Only fight front and back. Don’t let yourself get pinned against the sides. Watch the shadow and light contrast too. If you move from darkness to sunlight too much, you’ll be blinded. Understand?”

“Yes,” she said with a sharp nod of confidence, though a trace of fear remained in her eyes.

“Good. Now run.” I pushed her forward.

She whirled around. “What?”

“He only takes damage in his back. I need you to distract him.”

She pointed at the valley. “Then you go. I’ll attack.”

“Your bow won’t do enough damage.”

“Then give me your rifle.” She grabbed the barrel and tried to shake the weapon out of my hands. I pulled her hand off the gun and lifted her chin until she met my eyes.

“I’ll protect you. Nothing will happen.”

Talia studied me, eyes thin with suspicion. I stared back, hoping my unwavering expression would convince her. After a few seconds, she reluctantly agreed.

We pulled the boss.

Talia did a good job at keeping the monster distracted and dodging his blows until I got the beast down to 20% health. The increased speed of his berserker mode was more than she could handle. Her foot caught on the rocky terrain, and she hit the ground, backpedaling across the dirt and dry grass away from the advancing boss until she was pinned against the sidewall. I watched as the rock monster descended on her, cocking its fist back for a final blow. Talia cowered beneath with no means to escape.

Rage flared in every cell of my body. As it turned out, I had a berserker mode too.

With strength that came from nowhere, I scaled the monster’s back, feet digging between the rocks, jammed the rifle against its weak spot, and emptied the entire clip. The monster staggered and collapsed to its knees, letting out a dying wail. I jumped off its back as it smashed to the ground. An earthquake rumble rippled through the valley’s floor.

I stood over the creature, trembling with anger, breaths rapidly leaving my chest. Fists clenched, I stared it down as if waiting for the boss to rise again, ready to crush every rock with my bare hands. Instead, it slowly faded into nothing.

Talia’s palms on my cheeks pulled me back to reality. She forced my head up and I met her eyes.

“Whoa, where did that come from?” she asked in disbelief. My breathing calmed as I looked at her face, everything softening until even my innards felt numb. Talia blinked a few times, waiting for an answer. Reluctantly, I pulled her hands off as I searched my thoughts for a response.

“If you died... I’d have to walk all the way back to the start.”

Talia threw back her head and laughed. I chuckled, hoping she wouldn’t notice it was forced.

She grabbed my hand and pulled me through the valley. We passed through the rocky, copper-colored walls, through the flickering shadow and light, trampled over the dry patch of grass, and up the ridge toward the end of the game. With her back turned, I allowed a stunned look to pass over my face. Normally defeating the game brought feelings of victory and pride, but this time, only Talia’s question lingered in my mind.

Where did that come from?


Atop the highest ridge of the desert, Talia and I stretched out and watched the end credits roll across the sky, enjoying a pair of energy drinks she had stashed in her pouch. Around us, faint patches of white veins pulsed and faded throughout the parched, sienna terrain. The virus had spread through the entire game.

“So, what do you do once you reach the end?” Talia asked, propping up on her elbows to take a swig of her drink.

I turned on my side to face her. “There’s always another patch or expansion pack to extend the game.”

My stomach bottomed out as I realized that this time there wouldn’t be any more. This truly was the end. I knew Talia came to the same conclusion when the grin on her face wavered. She looked away and centered her gaze on the horizon.

“Is this what deletion will feel like?” She waved a hand at our surroundings. I looked out across the vast emptiness of the desert. The wind picked up, whistling through the ridges and dry leaves. Mini cyclones of dust twirled around us. Then the breeze dissipated until everything lay quiet and still.

I glanced down at the drink in my hand, trying to ignore the ominous silence pressing down on us. “Nobody knows what it’s like to be deleted.”

I looked back up at Talia. As she watched the credits roll across the sky, a gust of air curled through her hair, blowing rogue strands across her face and neck. Dying rays of sunlight danced across her skin and settled in her eyes until they glistened. In that moment, it wasn’t just her agility I found attractive.

Something pulled at my heart. I leaned toward her, reaching to take her chin in my hand and turn her lips to mine. An inch away, I stopped when Talia’s wandering gaze narrowed at a spot in the sky, and her brow furrowed in confusion.

“What’s that?”

Talia pointed, and I looked up. In place of the end credits, something I’d never seen before flashed across the clouds.

Uninstalling 0%...

The ground rumbled beneath us. The desert floor cracked and split, spreading like lightening streaks through the terrain. Thunder echoed overhead though there was no storm. Blue and white chucks of the atmosphere crumbled out of the sky and smashed to the desert floor.

My body went numb as I realized what was happening. The virus had won. This was the end, and it had come too fast.

I turned to Talia and saw the fear in her eyes. I instinctively pulled her close and wrapped my arms around her as if I could protect her somehow. She clung to me, fingernails digging into my arms as she trembled, blonde hair pressing against my lips.

I closed my eyes and counted each breath, wondering how many we had left. I stroked Talia’s back for comfort. At least she got to see the entire game like she wanted. Despite the horrors around us, it gave me a flicker of happiness that I’d managed to fulfill her wish. I just hadn’t realized it would be her dying one.

I pulled Talia tighter against me, telling her I was here, that I’d look after her. It’s just an upgrade. It’ll be over soon.

My chest tightened with grief and regret for all the things I hadn’t done. Of everything I never told Talia. But instead of the truth, nothing I said in those final moments was true. I couldn’t tell her how I really felt. The words wouldn’t form in my mouth. As the world crashed down around us, all I could do was hold her and whisper little white lies against her skin until there was no more.


Level 1 – Las Vegas

I opened my eyes, head down, and found myself dressed in a shirt and jeans with a basic handgun clutched in one hand. When I looked up, I noticed a horde of zombies standing in the distance, swaying in place, not yet pulled by agro. The gray pavement beneath their feet stretched for miles in all directions.

Behind me, the glistening fluorescents of the sign overhead shaped like a blossoming flower glowed in pink and tangerine. White lights above scrawled out a name that burned against the night sky. Flamingo. Beneath the sign were glass entrance doors, revealing the bar inside. Its tender leaned against the back counter, cleaning glasses with a rag.

Hmm. Seemed like a decent place for an energy drink.

I turned to the sound of high-heeled boots clicking across the pavement. A cute blonde moseyed up to me, hips swaying in a way that could only mean she had a base agility of +20. The bow slung over her shoulder confirmed my suspicions--a hunter. Although, the clothing wrapped around her upper half seemed unrealistically low-cut for fighting zombies.

I didn’t look. Well, not really.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m Talia.”

“I’m John.”

The bell chimed overhead, signaling that the User had logged onto the game. Talia nudged me. “I wonder which of us the User will play with first.”

I nodded in anticipation and readied myself, taking a staggered stance, and waited for the User to take over my body. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Talia move forward with jagged, mechanical movements toward the horde of undead. The User had chosen her. I waited for the sharp pang of jealousy to hit, but watching Talia bull’s-eye the first few zombies with her bow--for some unexplained reason, it made me smile.

I walked into the Flamingo, door squeaking as I pushed it open, and sat at the bar. The bartender slid an energy drink down the counter and into my hand. In the distance behind me, though muffled by the glass doors, I heard Talia’s arrows zipping through the air, followed by soft crumples against the ground as each zombie let out its last hiss.

I took a swig of the energy drink. The refreshing liquid poured down my throat. Maybe once the User logged off, I’d invite Talia to join me.

I smiled again and sighed, the exiting air only leaving behind room for the satisfied feeling within. With the endless gray roads around me, the cool energy drink in my hand, and thoughts of Talia in my mind, somehow, everything just felt right.

Like new beginnings and second chances.

Holly Jennings lives in Tecumseh, Ontario with her Chow Chow named Jake. Whenever she’s not working as an administrative assistant for an engineering and architectural firm, she splits her time between gallivanting through the galaxy and watching over gargoyles, secretly hoping they’ll move. More of her work can be found at Daily Science Fiction.

5 comments | Add a New Comment
1. Deb | March 01, 2013 at 07:19 AM EST

Congrats! Fun story! I really enjoyed this.

2. Shari | March 01, 2013 at 12:59 PM EST

Congrats, Holly. Nice story.

3. Holly | March 02, 2013 at 12:17 PM EST

Thanks so much, especially to Shari for the fierce competition. I read a few of your stories online and I knew was in for a challenge. You're a great writer!

4. Grandma | March 11, 2013 at 08:20 PM EDT

Thanks for bringing me up to date on science fiction. Your words made it very easy for me to understand a different world and enjoy it. Looking forward to the next one. Lov you.

5. Shari | March 30, 2013 at 07:39 PM EDT

Just read your comment, Holly. Thanks for the nice oompliment.

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