“Welcome back!” the screen proclaimed in mottled green and blue letters.
Norman looked at the message with both bemusement and abject horror, a faint lump in the back of his throat.
It had been many months since the incident with the seaside fort, since the corpse, since he saw such things. Since everything had changed while still staying the same as it all was before. As it all had always been and he just hadn't noticed.
He had held onto the app that started it all almost as a memento that it had actually happened.
He had eventually removed it though, dead weight that it was, and thought nothing of it once it was gone, except for the dreams that occasionally filtered by quietly, forgotten by breakfast.
So when his device suddenly told him that there was a new app he might like, he looked at it.
Horror, AR, Cooperative. He shrugged, and had installed the beta they offered.
No account creation was offered, and instead those letters hung on his phone screen, almost pulsing in time with his heart beats.
He placed a single finger on the screen, clicking on the announcement.
“From your previous experiences, you've levelled to hunter 3!”
“Right. Right. Maybe it uses her old codebase?” he said to himself, chewing on the inside of his cheek nervously. It looked similar, but much more polished, like they had an artist for the game since the start. He had never designed an app before. That wasn't something they taught at the pharmacy. Some people that did design apps occasionally came into the pharmacy, but they never chatted long. Usually just came and went like most clientèle, except for the ones who were into the more...new age side they offered. They could talk forever. But this was not an app to track your psychic mind waves. Probably.
He shook his head, feeling cobwebs growing through his mind as he did so. Clicking the box, he was greeted with several items, both starter items and level up items.
“Flashlight, makes sense. Rope? Are they expecting me to go into a mine? I am not cut out for that. Tin foil? Crystals, okay. A proper grimoire, oooh, that's nice!” Norman mumbled to himself, flipping through the items before they each vanished with a blink and jingle sound, categorizing themselves automatically.
The app gave a short jingle, announcing there was a friend request.
Norman frowned slightly, before clicking it. “Developer Account #1” was the name on the account.
Maybe they're adding all beta players. As soon as he accepted the request, a short message popped up.
“So uh, how the hell are you level 3 already? What bug happened within the first fifteen minutes we posted the game?” the message said.
Norman scrolled a finger over the screen, sweating ever so slightly.
“Just opened the game for the first time today. I know nothing.”
Something felt wrong about that. Like he was lying. Like he should send more.
“I did play a game very similar previously, maybe it saw that in my phone?”
Don't mention that he had uninstalled it, so there should be now way of knowing. Don't mention what happened. Don't mention.
Chat hung there for a moment, a small crashing wave signalling the Dev was writing a message.
“Oh? Damn, we did research and thought we were the first to market. Oh well, keep the levels, it's fine. If we meet up, maybe we can talk about the other game?”
“It never made it to market, it was only in alpha.”
“Oh? Weird. Thanks for your time!”
Norman slumped deeper into his tattered couch, closing his eyes briefly. He could uninstall this one, just like the first one.
He wasn't going to, and he knew it. He couldn't leave it alone. Not now, not with the possibility of seeing what all this was. Why it all happened.
Not with all those dreams that still appeared to him, vague and flimsy and yet so very real.
They weren't haunting, like what they had found in the bunker. They were ephemeral. Whispering things to him that he couldn't hear. That he'd never be able to hear.
But his phone could.
He glanced over at the clock. Only 8pm. He had no work tomorrow though, so he could go to bed early, wake up even earlier, and go from there.
As he slid into the bedroom, phone heavy in his hand, he paused. There were oils and things, to protect from nightmares. The pharmacy often sent him home with samples, to try out so he could recommend them better when people asked. He had never used them, since it seemed silly to. But he might as well, tonight. Not that they would hurt, it was just some essential oil blends.
Rubbing his throat and head with sweetly scented oil, he laid down in bed, phone next to his head, asleep before he touched the pillow.