Strolling through the crowded downtown streets to the new Virtual Reality Theater, Jake Hall — along with his girlfriend, Sara, and his best friend, Leonard — was filled with excitement and anticipation of what the new thriller Murder in the Night might be like. Taking a side glance at Leonard, A.K.A Lenny, he wondered who would be the first to scream like a girl.
“I know what you’re thinking, and I’m not going to scream this time,” Lenny announced as he threw an irritated look at Jake.
“Nobody said you would, Lenny,” Jake whispered with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
Entering the theater, the chatting foursome bought drinks and popcorn and rushed for their seats.
“Whoa, this place is really high tech,” Jake observed, “look at these crazy-cool things we get to put on our heads!” He had never seen anything like them! To him, at least, it appeared to be like one of those things that a guy on Star Trek wore over his eyes. “Hmm, pretty comfy,” he thought, while slipping the device over his head. After everyone was settled and comfortable, he took time to scan the room before the movie began. This movie theater wasn’t like ones he had seen before. On the walls was nothing but strange, large cords that glowed and shimmered in the darkness of the room. Peering over his shoulder, he guessed it was eight-hundred square feet, max. Small, compared to most theaters.
In what seemed like no time at all, the before-movie commercials were running and their film began. With a strange, pulsing, electronic hum, his visor suddenly lit up… and he was standing in the middle of a room, a very dark room, with a single window that had streaks of moonlight glimmering through it.
He squinted in the darkness, trying to adjust his eyes to the dark. “This is amazing!” he thought to himself, “I wonder if I can talk.” He tried to say “hello,” but all he felt was the movement of his lips. Well, I guess if they made it so you could talk, people would be screaming and talking all over the place and that would ruin the movie!
“I bet you’re wondering why I have you here,” a raspy voice growled from behind him. He spun around to see a man, about his height, standing near the window, gazing out at the moon. “Is he talking to me?” Jake wondered as he looked the man over. The mysterious man at the window appeared to be at least in his late twenties with brown hair that hung in his eyes like his own did, a firm jaw, and a slightly hooked nose. He wore dirty jeans and a leather jacket that had mud on… or was… or was that blood?
Stepping in closer to get a better look at him, Jake noticed that it was indeed mud and not blood. “Whew! You got yourself all worked up just because you know it’s a movie about murder!” he told himself.
“I’m a very understanding man, you see,” the man began, “but when people go snooping around in things they shouldn’t be, that’s when I tend to get ugly.” Pulling a large trench knife from an inside pocket of his jacket, the man stood there, smiling grimly. “Nothing you can do to save yourself now, you’re finished,” he laughed, turning to look at Jake… or through him.
Jake did a slow turn-around to try and see what he was looking at. In the far corner of the room crouched a woman, he guessed to be about thirty. With her hands covering her head and a small whimpering coming from her chapped lips, she cowered there, not saying a thing.
“This can’t end well.”
In that moment of thought, the crazy, deranged murderer leapt at the woman with a roar. She screamed and threw her hands over her head to…
A flash of light blasted through Jake’s brain: “Wha, what’s going on?! Something isn’t right!” He felt like he was falling. Falling. Falling…
Crash! He felt his face hit floorboards. The smell of musty, rotting wood reached his nose as he took short, quick breaths. Something wasn’t right. Virtual reality movies were only supposed to make you see things like you were in the movie, not feel them. Right? Not only that, but his head was throbbing and felt like it might explode.
“Uhhhhh…” someone moaned to his left. It sounded like Sara. Jake whipped his head around, then realizing that the quick motion was a bad idea. His head broke out in another violent throbbing in protest of the quick movement. With every bit of willpower he had, he opened his eyes to see Sara, lying on the floor with streaks of blood running down her face. And where was Lenny?
“Puh!” Air left Jake’s lungs as a boot was planted in his back
“Come to rescue your friend, have you?” quizzed a raspy voice, the same voice that Jake was positive belonged to the evil-looking man he had seen in the movie. “But, wait! If this was the same man, then they must be in the movie!
How is this possible?” He gazed around the grim blackness of the room. Behind him, the moon shone through a dusty window set in a rotting wood wall. If this was the movie, they had to do something and quick. With the man’s foot in his back, escaping could prove to be difficult. There! He had just let enough pressure off his back to…
Jake rolled to his right, sending the man a little off balance, and then, swinging his feet around to meet the man’s legs, he sent him for a crash-course with the ground. Thud! He landed on the creaking floorboards with a spray of dust.
“Sara! Lenny! Let’s get out of here!” Jake yelled over his shoulder as he dashed through a doorway in front of him, almost bumping his head. In the split second of his being in the doorway, like an old, thrown-away photograph, a memory unfolded itself and flashed into his mind.
His dad, standing over him with a leather strap in his hands, ready to beat him again for no apparent reason at all. His mom, weeping while leaning against the door, begging his father not to hurt him again…
“Come on Jake! That was a long time ago!” he told himself as his eyes watered up, “Pay attention to how you’re going to get out of this mess!”
Once out the doorway, a narrow hall led to a stairway about thirty feet in front of him. To his left and right were many other rooms, he noticed, as he passed door after door. His own footsteps sounded like a herd of elephants in his ringing ears.
Flying down the massive, winding staircase, he realized that he hadn’t waited for Sara or Lenny.
“Sara!” he called out, never once halting in the middle of his getaway.
“I’m right behind you!” she hollered.
Ok, so Sara was right behind him and Lenny was most likely not far behind her. They were going to make it.
Reaching the bottom of the staircase, he took a sharp right turn and crashed through the front of the old house, almost breaking down the door as he went, sending years of dust into a choking cloud. Outside lay dense forest filled with thick brush and tall trees. He burst through the first line of bushes as limbs grabbed at his face, arms, and legs. It seemed as if they worked for the murderer, not wanting them to escape. Suddenly, his body came to a complete halt as he was met by an invisible wall, causing him to fall flat on his back. Sara appeared immediately at his side.
“Jake,” she cried, “are you alright?” She leaned over him, her hair falling into his face as she looked him over, “You’re not hurt are you?”
“Besides the splitting headache, the bleeding forehead, and the sore back, I’m fine,” he blurted with irritation in his voice. He instantly noticed her wrinkle her forehead and her soft green eyes become watery.
“I’m sorry,” she croaked, “I just wanted to make sure you were alright.” With that said, she turned away and headed for a nearby tree where she plopped on the ground and leaned against its trunk, putting her head in her hands.
“What had happened?” He tried to sit up and look in front of him…
Like a shimmering wall of water, there stood some kind of barricade. In a few moments, it settled and was invisible again until he touched it with the end of his toe, sending another wave through the wall.
“Bizarre,” he thought. “I wonder, in a virtual reality movie, if you can only go out as far as the scene in the movie goes,” he mumbled to himself, “That makes sense. Only, it doesn’t help us any in this scenario!” They had to find a way to leave the movie before the murderer caught up with them, and Jake knew that wouldn’t take long. Well, at least they were all together and safe…
Wait! “Sara!” Jake whispered harshly, “have you seen Lenny?”
Bringing her hands off her face, Jake could see the worried look on her face. “I thought he was right behind me,” she whimpered, more tears welling up in her eyes, “I’m sure he got up and followed us!”
“Then where is he?” he nagged
“Jake, I really don’t know.”
Like a bad dream, the reality of their situation flooded Jake’s mind. He groaned and turned to face the house. He didn’t want to go back into that place. But this was Lenny! The only friend he was sure he would keep a relationship with for the rest of his life! They had to go save him, whether they wanted to or not. With another grunt and some effort, he lifted himself off the ground and began limping for the rickety old house. It appeared to be just as broken down outside as it was inside, if not more so. Window shutters hung limply on single hinges and the windows they surrounded were so worn that they looked like obscured glass. And it got worse as one looked toward the porch. Where there used to be posts holding the overhang that covered the worn wood planks of the porch, there was air. It looked as if someone had driven through the poles, knocking them all out. In result, the overhang drooped low in the middle, as if it would collapse at any moment.
Limping up the front steps to the porch, Jake took a moment to mentally ready himself for what he was about to do.
“It’s ok, Jake,” Sara whispered in his ear, startling him, “I’m going in with you.”
He turned to look at her and wondered what he had done to deserve this wonderful girl now standing at his side. Together, they stealthily made their way up the porch to the front door and crept inside. Once inside, the first thing they realized was how much trouble they were in. Shouts, echoing through the house met their ears. Some of the shouting was from Lenny, but not all of it.
Jake motioned for Sara to take off her shoes and socks as he did the same. They would need to be as quiet as possible. They left their shoes right at the foot of the stairs in case they had time to grab them in their hasty getaway. After climbing the stairs, they had some doubts about their stealth. Almost every board had creaked or groaned under their weight on the way up, and the floorboards in the long hallway were just as bad.
There was more shouting, only it was impossible to tell which room the voices were coming from; so very slowly and as quiet as possible, they crept up to each door and pressed an ear to it. They did this to the first six doors they came across, zigzagging back and forth through the narrow hall. Finally, they came to their door, number seven, and were sure that Lenny was in there. Even though the voices could be heard throughout the whole house, they could hear movements and boots against wood flooring as someone paced behind this door.
“Lenny must have tried to run but didn’t make it,” Jake thought to himself as he realized that they were a couple doors away from the room at the end of the hall where they had been transported into the movie. They stepped back from the doorway.
“Are you ready?” Sara whispered as quietly as she could.
“Ready,” Jake assured her, even though he wasn’t quite sure what the plan was, “On three, we burst in there, I take down the creep, and you see if you can get Lenny to follow you outside. I won’t be far behind.”
“Ok,” Jake sighed, mentally readying himself once again, “One. Two. Th…”
The door in front of them burst open with enough force to send it off its hinges and fell to the floor with a loud crash.
“Well, well. Look what we have here!” the man smirked and pointed at them. “Come back yet again I see. Only, this time there’s no escaping. You’ll all be dead this time,” he announced with a chuckle, still wielding the large knife.
That was all Jake could handle. He lunged for the man with a cry of anger, sending him falling backwards into the room and knocking the knife out of his hand. They rolled there on the floor in an intense battle for control.
A jab to the man’s jaw.
A blow taken from the man’s fist against his side.
Time seemed to move in slow-motion as they wrestled there, beating each other for the right to live. Another memory unfolded itself…
“Dad, I’m too big for you to be beating on me anymore!” Jake cried out, “and I don’t have to put up with it.” He jumped at his father and planted the hardest punch he had ever thrown in his own father’s gut and ran from the room, astonished at what he had just done…
Suddenly, this man he was rolling with on the floorboards, in his mind, became his father.
“Don’t you ever touch me again!” Jake shouted, striking the man again and again with rib-cracking blows. He had never felt this before, this sense that he could fight back, save himself, whether it be from his father or anyone else. He wasn’t a kid anymore.
In two more punches to the man’s face, the murderer was out cold. As Jake lifted himself off the man, he wondered what had come over him. He guessed that the years of living with his father had caused this anger to suddenly rise inside him. He was proud and ashamed of what he had done all at once.
“Wow,” a weak voice croaked, “I’m never going to try a fistfight with you.”
Jake whirled around and bounded over to his friend, throwing his arms around him.
“Hey, you can at least say ‘thanks’,” Jake teased.
“Thanks, man. Really. I’ll remember this for my entire life. That is, if this in fact really happened.”
“Ya, well, for the moment, it’s very real and we need to find a way out of here. Let’s go”
The two of them walked past the now bloody man on the floor, cringing at the sight of his beaten body, and met up with Sara in the hall, once again exchanging hugs. Now they just had to find a way to escape this nightmare. As if reading his thoughts and responding to them, the ground shook.
“Wow, guys,” Sara yelped, jumping a couple inches off the floorboards, “what was that?”
As if on cue, the ground shook once again but didn’t stop this time.
“This whole place is going to come down on us if we don’t get out of here!” Jake shouted over the roar of the rumbling ground and the groaning of the house. Jake grabbed Sara’s hand and dashed down the hallway once again, this time making sure Lenny was in close pursuit. When they just about reached the front door, Jake was lifted off his feet and felt a strong suction on his body, pulling his hand from Sara’s.
“Sara!” Jake cried as he was pulled away from her at lightning speed… then nothing. No, sound, sight, anything that would let him know what happened or where he was. His eyes shot open, and he realized where he was. He was back in the theater.
Paramedics were at his side, pulling off the visor he still wore around his head.
“You alright son?” one of the paramedics asked him.
“Uh, I think so,” Jake coughed. “Where’s Sara?” he asked the man in front of him.
“Well, if you’re talkin’ about the pretty little lady there in the seat beside you…”
Jake slowly turned his head, as if not wanting to look for fear of what he might see. In the seat beside him, where she had been when the movie started, Sara sat, gazing at him with tear-filled eyes.
“We’re home,” she choked, her voice full of emotion.
And beyond her was Lenny, also getting medical attention. They were home.
“Somthin’ short-circuited for all the visors in the front row while you kids were watchin’ the movie,” the man in front of Jake told him, “Luckily, you were the only three in the front row. Some older folks might not have survived the stress on the brain that you just endured.”
Jake shook his head in amazement. Not wanting to hear any more about what had happened, he grabbed Sara’s hand, looked at Lenny, and sighed, “Let’s go home, guys.”
Together, they strolled out of the theater, paramedics in hot pursuit, and never looked back.