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Alternate 21328

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Good. Now that I have your attention, I’m going to tell you how such a universally reviled symbol came to rule my life. For the sake of convenience, if my memoir is ever republished, I request it be under the title Alternate 21328. In the now outdated windows XP, this is the input that results in the above symbol.

I recently became aware that a story posted by an old acquaintance of mine, whose name is John, but whom you may have known as “Jack”, has for some time been circulated in certain corners of the internet.

John understood very little. I feel grossly misrepresented by his story, and so I’ve decided to contribute my own side of the events that lead up to and followed the early months of 2007 when his story takes place. For those of you who may wonder why I would go to the effort to do something like this, I hope that the restoration of my reputation, at least in the eyes of some of you, will be as sufficient a reason as any I may give.

As far as I’ve been able to discern, for as long as mail and telegrams and the like have been around, “The Game”, as it has most often been referred to, has existed in some form or another. In old Europe, stories of “foxfire” and the “will o’ the wisp” may refer to the phenomena surrounding it. Old stories like Karl Maria von Weber’s opera Der Freischutz and even modern media narratives like the movie Drag Me to Hell or the Japanese animated series Jigoku Shoujo seem to be retellings or re-imaginings of its ancient legend in its various forms around the world.

For me, however, “The Game” began in early 2005, in the waning months of my sophomore year of high school. I was a lot like anyone else at that time; a young, idealistic student with hopes and dreams and visions of a bright future. I could never have conceived at that time that my destiny would be redefined by a bunch of spoiled brats and their ill-advised curiosity for occult rituals.

I was a good student. I’d even go so far as to say I was great. I got high marks and always did my homework. I was responsible; I never touched alcohol or cigarettes or drugs, and I steered clear of the students who did. I always thought it would be enough to keep me out of trouble, but I was not so fortunate.

It was Wednesday, April 20th 2005. The irony, or perhaps the appropriateness, of this date may not be lost on those of you who know your history. A number of students from my school were having a party and smoking marijuana together to mark the date, which has been adopted by counterculture movements throughout America. I, of course, was not invited as I did not ever partake in such events, nor did I associate with those who did. Among those who were in attendance was a somewhat disagreeable girl named Kaylee Hernandez.

Kaylee is still remembered fondly in decrepit MySpace memorials as a “bright” and “cheerful” and “carefree” girl who “brightened people’s days with her smile”. All of that irritating nonsense that people make up about someone just because they died or disappeared in order to sound like a good person. But to me, she’ll always just be the annoying bitch who ruined my life.

I can only guess as to what –exactly- happened, but I’d imagine that, at the party, under the influence of alcohol and marijuana she and her friends got together late at night and decided to get together and look up “spooky” occult rituals on the internet. Whatever the cause, I was awakened by the vibration of my cellular phone at about 1 A.M. that night. I remember sleepily rolling over and flipping open the phone, its soft blue glow illuminating my room in the darkness. I had one text message, from Kaylee Hernandez:

“Welcome to the Game.”

At the time I thought very little of it. I was tired, and I figured it was just some sort of bizarre ritual drunken teenage girls undertook in the wee hours of the morning. I even deigned to wonder if it was some kind of roundabout way of saying she fancied me, although I had no interest in her or her ilk. I went back to sleep.

The next day, things began to get strange. I dismissed it at the time, as tricks of the light, but walking to school and all day in class I felt as if I were being watched or followed. I would see the briefest glimpses of black shadows or glowing lights in the corner of my eye. Whenever I looked more closely, however, I found nothing.

On top of that, my Cellular Phone began acting up. I can’t remember exactly what model it was, but it was a Motorola, and for the time it was pretty good. I had a web browser, data plan; all the bells and whistles. I didn’t receive anymore text messages, but I started getting a lot of glitch-y notifications and nonsense text. I also noticed I had a new app which I had no memory of installing. Between classes that day I went to the bathroom to fiddle with it. Cell phones were, of course, confiscated on sight if the teachers caught you using them in class so I dared not fiddle with something seemingly so minute in the middle of English class.

I checked out the new app, thinking it might be a virus that Kaylee had attached to her text message to me the night before. I was taken to a browser menu with a list of 4 glowing blue hyperlinks. The texts of the links were all nonsense; more indecipherable gibberish. I decided to follow the first one; my curiosity having been thoroughly piqued.

I was immediately shown an elaborate map that looked like GPS. At the center, my position glowed in the school bathroom. A few other beacons glowed on the map, but I had no clues as to what they might be. The truth is, I was upset and worried that I had just accidentally purchased some sort of expensive GPS function for the phone, or worse, perhaps someone was tracking me now through the “virus”. I immediately turned off my phone and put it away, resolving to deal with it later. I wouldn’t learn until later that this was a serious error.

As school went on that day my “visions” increased in frequency and intensity. I began experiencing auditory, as well as visual hallucinations. The brief balls of light or shadow that had before vanished at my direct gaze now lingered long enough for me to look directly at them, albeit only for an instant, before they disappeared. The sounds were like hissing, scratching, or perhaps static, or white noise. I began to feel physically ill and thought I may be getting sick.

I decided to go home early. I started walking. It seems, however, that Kaylee and a couple of her friends took notice. She slipped out of class and confronted me on the way, with two of her friends, Gabriella and Anastasia. Both of them were ugly, but I’ll spare you the details.

“What’s up, fag?” she said, as I was passing her. The weird sisters at her sides laughed mockingly, as if the pathetic attempt at cajoling me were somehow hilarious.

I had been hoping to ignore her but it seemed it would be impossible. She pulled out her cellular phone and began fiddling with the keys.

“None of your business, tramp,” I came back and continued walking.

“You need to learn some respect,” one of the others said. I can’t remember if it was Gabriella the fat one or Anastasia the one with bad teeth.

I ignored her and kept moving. Suddenly I felt incredibly weak, as if the blood had all rushed out of my head. I lost my balance and fell on the ground. I think I may have been briefly unconscious but I’m not sure. When I came to, I saw Kaylee staring at me with her ugly friends.

“Dumbass doesn’t even know to keep his phone on. Thanks for the time, douche bag.”

I sat up. They were really getting on my nerves.

“Like I would give sluts like you the time of day. What the hell did you do? And what did you do to my phone?”

“Oh you’ll find out soon enough. Or maybe you won’t. If I were you I’d keep it on though. Not like it matters, you don’t stand a chance in hell anyway.” Kaylee smirked at me and sauntered off with her flunkies.

I didn’t know what she was on about, and I ignored her. Later that night after I got home I turned my phone back on and started trying to figure it out. I couldn’t get the new application to go away, but going through it I checked the various links.

Again the first one displayed the map. I found I could zoom in and out. I saw my position in my bedroom in my house when I zoomed all the way in. The map was detailed enough to have the floor plan. When I zoomed out, I saw in other parts of the city that there were other beacons on the map. After the day’s events, just to be on the safe side I decided I would check some of them out the following day.

This time I also checked the other three hyperlinks on the App’s home menu. The second one brought up a list of other links, but these were all grayed out.

The third one led me to another screen that was all gibberish. More incomprehensible symbols floating across the screen. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

The fourth link on the menu was completely grayed out and I couldn’t access it at all.

I left my phone charging, went to bed and slept. Throughout the night I had more brief visual and auditory hallucinations, and my sleep was full of nightmares I can no longer remember.

School the next day was more of the same. Kaylee wasn’t even in class. On the way home I decided to investigate one of the beacons on the map. It was a glowing blue icon in an apartment complex near my family’s house (At this time I still lived with my father and mother).

When I arrived at the apartment I found that the blinds were closed, and the inside was dark. Having resolved that I did not walk out of my way for nothing, I knocked on the door. There was no answer. I tried again, more forcefully. And again. Finally, I was about to leave when I started hearing a series of dead bolts unlocking from the inside. A stout, heavyset man with spiked hair who looked about 20 answered the door, leaving the chain lock in place.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“I was hoping you could tell me something about this.” I held up my cell phone and showed him the map pointing to his apartment. His eyes narrowed.

“Did you send the message to anyone else yet?”

“The message? I don’t know what you’re talking about. My phone only just started acting up yesterday. I think it started because of a girl at my school. It’s been happening ever since she sent me a text at around 1 A.M. a few nights ago. Is that what you mean by message? If so, then no, I haven’t sent it out.”

He paused a moment and looked at me thoughtfully, as if he were trying to decide if he believed me. At length, he closed the door, undid the chain, and opened it up to let me inside. He bolted the door behind me. I felt a bit nervous, wondering if I had stumbled into a trap at first, but then he began to speak.

“You’re going to rue the day you got that message for the rest of your life, however long or short it may be.”

We talked for a few hours that day. He said his name was Starlov, and he explained to me that I had been brought into a game from which there was no escape. He told me that in a few days, I would be dead unless I found an object which could protect me.

“An object? You mean like a charm or something, like the Chinese exorcists wear on their hats?”

“Not exactly,” he said.

He told me that the item could be anything, but that whatever it was, it would cause me terrible anguish.

Then he told me about his. He patted his knee.

“I always loved basketball, you know. I had high hopes. I was the best once. Then this. It was this, or die.”

He had a knee replacement. An older, primitive model, which caused him great pain when the weather was bad, or sometimes for no reason at all. His hopes of being a basketball player were smashed, and he was left, in his words, “an alcoholic schmuck.”

He told me if I didn’t find the thing I needed, I’d be dead in two weeks.

At this point I decided the whole thing sounded crazy. I rebuked him and said he must not know what he’s talking about.

“I don’t know what they are, or where they come from. I’ve seen glimpses of them, I still do. Out of the corner of my eye. I can tell by the look on your face. You’ve seen them too.”

“The hallucinations…” I started. He interrupted.

“They’re not hallucinations. I can assure you, they’re quite real and they will find you, and they will take you away unless you take what I’m saying seriously.”

He went over a lot of the details with me for the dark chain of murder in which I was now shackled. He told me about a rule that stated if I sent someone else the message I could get an extension of time, but that this person would also be roped in, and that this is what Kaylee had done to me. And how each time you did this you bought yourself only half as much time as the time before, so eventually it got to the point where you bought yourself almost no time at all.

He also told me that I had to keep my phone on at all times, and make sure that I had reception, or else I’d be weak and defenseless to the other “players”. This reminded me of Kaylee and my confrontation with her.

“There’s something else,” I said. “Kaylee, the other day, on the way home from school, when my phone was off, she did something to me. I felt like I was losing energy. She said something, like ‘thanks for the time’ and then left.”

Starlov’s face became very serious.

“That’s not good at all. She must be a time-thief.”

“Time thief?”

Starlov explained that everyone in the “game” had an ability which could help them in some way or another, and that players were vulnerable to this when their phones were off or if they had no cellular reception. Evidently, Kaylee had taken advantage of her ability, which he called “time thief” to steal some of my remaining days for herself. He reasoned that instead of two weeks, I now probably had only about 9 days left.

“If she’s doing that it means that she hasn’t found the thing she needs yet. And that’s why she’s cursing people. This isn’t good… Have you tried your own ability yet?”

“My own? No I haven’t. How do I do that?”

He took me back to the second option on the main screen. The one where before, I had seen only grayed out links of indecipherable text. He scrolled down the list until he found one that was blue. Instead of gibberish, it was a symbol that looked like an eye.

“You’re pretty lucky. Give it a try.”

I selected the link and pushed enter. Suddenly my phone vanished. And so did my hands. I looked down at myself, and found that I wasn’t there. Only two indentations in the shape of my feet were in the carpet beneath me. I was shocked. I fumbled the phone and dropped it in surprise. I became visible again and so did the phone.

“You can use that whenever you like. But be careful, the stealth function is hell on the battery life.”

All at once I was excited, amazed, and terrified. This was technology I had never seen or heard of before. Or maybe it was magic. But whatever it was, as the reality of the “ability” set in, I was forced to accept that everything else Starlov told me must have also been true. I had no doubts now that I really was in some kind of perverse game of electronic tag with unimaginable consequences.

“Alright”, I said. “How do I find the object that can protect me?”

He paused a moment. He took a deep breath.

“I suspect in the coming days, it will come to you. If you truly want to live, you must mentally prepare yourself to accept it, whatever it is. You will know it precisely because you won’t want to know it. Most of the time, players such as Kaylee refuse their item and resolve to find time other ways, using the game.”

I thanked him for his time and he showed me out. As I was leaving, I asked him about the other two options on the App’s home screen. He told me that he hadn’t been able to make anything of them either, but that we could try to figure it out another time if and when such a time came that I had managed to assume my protection.

The next few days at school were torture for me. I kept my eyes open and looked around for anything like clues, anything that might be my item. I had heard Kaylee and her friends had gotten into a big fight over something, but from what I saw Gabriella and Anastasia were actually being exceptionally nice to her. They were catering to her every whim like she was some kind of princess and they were her handmaidens. They looked terrified of her.

My shield came to me on the seventh day. I was walking home on a path that followed the canal when I was approached suddenly by a rough looking girl with a shaved head. She was wearing black leather, and had a black eye. Some of her clothes looked torn, and she had a distant look on her face.

“They…they raped me. They raped me…” she half whispered, half wept. She was holding her cell phone in her hand.

“What?! Who raped you? What happened?!” I asked her.

She grabbed at my shirt and dropped her cell phone. I could see the game’s area map application was open on it.

“I can’t take it anymore. I can’t do it anymore. Here, you can have it. I quit! I quit!!!”

She shoved something into my breast pocket and then backed away towards the reservoir. She looked me in the eyes with tears streaming down her face. Then, before I could even begin to think of stopping her, she pulled a handgun out of her waistband, shoved it into her mouth, and pulled the trigger. Her brains and bits of skull erupted out of the back of her head, and she fell backwards into the canal. I rushed to the water’s edge and looked down at her body as the waters passed over it, turning red.

I reached into my breast pocket and pulled out what she had given me.

It was a red Nazi armband.

I cursed and stuffed it into my bag. I called the police and reported the woman’s suicide. They took my statement, but I left out the bit about the armband, and did not show it to them.

When I got home that night, I put on the armband over my pajamas while I slept. I slept soundly and had no hallucinations.

The next days at school were problematic. I found that I could wear the armband beneath my jacket, and no one would see it, and this seemed to work fine. However, I had to change for gym class each day. I tried to hide it, and changed in a corner, but given that it was bright red it was inevitable that someone saw it. The first day, I managed to laugh it off and say it was a joke, a novelty item. But day after day when they saw me wearing it all week, eventually the other students began to spread rumors.

One day at lunch I was approached by a group of three students who were Mexican. They held me and tore off my jacket. Everyone could see the swastika emblazoned on my shoulder. They cursed me and beat me severely that day. The school counselor forced me to come in for a chat, in which I tried, and failed to explain that I simply “needed” to wear it.

After that I was very careful and managed to avoid expulsion by making sure none of the teachers could see the armband. Even if they knew it was beneath my clothes, I had plausible deniability on my side and they weren’t allowed to strip me to see if it was there. This dealt with the problem of the teachers, but the other students were another matter. They all knew it was there, and this was enough for them. As you may already know from John’s side of events, they also began to call me by a butchered version of my last name.

My own family started giving me trouble too, afraid I had fallen in with a gang of skinheads.

Kaylee seemed to be enjoying my suffering, although it did seem to bother her that I hadn’t vanished at the end of two weeks as she has expected. She went out of her way to make life hell on me after that, calling me out in public about the Nazi armband, and coining the slur that haunted me.

One night, after my two weeks were up I decided I didn’t want to deal with it anymore. I laid down in my bed and pulled off the armband and left it on the nightstand. The hallucinations started up again but I decided to ignore them with all my will. I went to sleep. About an hour later, around midnight I was awakened by a loud noise. Something had slammed into the front door of the house. I sat up in bed, in the dark, listening.

After a few seconds of silence there was another loud bang on the door, this one louder than the first. I began to shake. Then the third bang came. It was like an explosion, and I heard the sound of splintering wood. The house’s security alarm went off. In a panic, I reached over and grabbed the armband and slipped it back onto my bicep. I could hear my parents, awake and shouting from the other room. At length, when I was reasonably sure the sound had stopped and the only sounds were of my father swearing, I left my room to see what had happened.

The metal door of the house was dented inward and it was crooked on its hinges. The decorative wooden paneling that had surrounded it was snapped and in pieces on the floor.

My father turned and looked at me, standing in my pajamas with the Nazi armband on my shoulder.

“You…this is your fault!” he swore at me. “You and your Neo Nazi bullshit! You’ve got gang bangers terrorizing my house at night now, and I won’t have it one more minute! This has gone too far!”

He threw me out of the house that night and I was forced to get my own apartment.

After that, I decided I’d tough it out; that as Starlov had said, if I wanted to live, this was how it had to be. I developed a thick skin. People often accused me of starting fights later on, but I always turned the other cheek. I can honestly say I never returned a single physical attack on my person during my time in high school, save one. I stared at myself in the mirror and told myself again and again, “I Will Endure This.”

I have never been so alone.

Finally sophomore year ended. I thought maybe I’d finally get some relief in the solitude that summer promised. That ended, however, when I got a message from Starlov late one night.

The text of the message simply read: “people u kno?” Attached was a news report on the disappearance of two girls from my school. Gabriella and Anastasia were missing.

I messaged him back. “Yes. Friends of Kaylee.”

I decided she had to be stopped. Not really because of any sense of justice or anything, but because I was aching for some payback anyway, and now I could be sure I had the means and the excuse.

I turned on the area map and tracked down her player beacon after watching it leave her house. I wore all black, a leather jacket, and a ski mask and approached her on the street after she was leaving a party. She was drunk.

“Oh it’s you.” She laughed at me drunkenly. “Good. I was in need of some more days.”

“That isn’t going to work.” I took off my jacket and showed her the armband. Her eyes narrowed and she seemed to sober up.

“Give me that,” she said it hatefully.

“No,” I said.

She took out her phone and fumbled with the buttons. Suddenly she dashed at me faster than my eyes could see and hit me center mass. I went flying backwards across the pavement. I later understood that she had a new ability that allowed her to move at incredible speed.

Fortunately for me she was a careless slob, and the one charge was all her badly neglected and overworked cell phone battery could handle. Her phone’s power went out, and she began cursing at it.

I had the wind knocked out of me, but I managed to pull myself together and get back on my feet. I opened my own phone and activated the stealth function. I was physically stronger than her, and being invisible only made taking care of her even easier. I struck her from behind and took her phone from her. Then I threw it on the ground and destroyed it. I pulverized it with the heel of my boot until it was a smashed mess. I took the SIM card with me.

I turned off stealth and left Kaylee there, scrambling around to gather the bits of her ruined phone.

A few nights later she turned up at my apartment and swore at me. She would have attacked me, but I kept the door chained. This didn’t stop her from reaching in the door and throwing herself against it, trying to break the chain.

“You fucking murdering bastard! You faggot piece of shit!” she cursed me again and again. I called the police. She broke down when she heard the sirens coming.

“You have to help me.” There were tears in her eyes. “Please! I’m almost out of time! Please!” she begged me. Like a worm.

She ran off before the police arrived. I never saw her again. She disappeared without a trace that night. MySpace pages all wore “RIP Kaylee” banners for a while, and people remembered her fondly as the spunky girl who stood up against “that one Nazi bastard” who went unnamed.

If you’ve read John’s side of the story, then I don’t need to go into too much detail about the events of July 2005 to May of 2007. As far as I can tell, he seemed to get what little facts he had fairly correct. I will, however, try to fill in some of the holes.

Jack transferred in at the end of ’05 like his story states (Our Junior year) and the year was uneventful for the most part. I traded messages with Starlov a bit more from time to time, and tried doing some research on the game in online forums and old legends, but finding nothing of use I kind of just adapted to life as a hated National Socialist. It wasn’t easy reconciling this with my Christianity. There’s a theory sociologists talk about, called “Labeling Theory”, which states that if people treat you like something for long enough, you eventually will “become the mask.” Where once I had hated Nazis I started studying them intensely and found a sort of fascination with them. As I sit here typing this memoir, various artifacts from the war litter the room and a Nazi propaganda poster stares down at me.

Labeling theory or not, I could never really get away from who I really was or wanted to be though. I developed a sense of self-loathing for a while, and got into a lot of masochistic practices, trying to punish myself or purify myself through physical pain. I practiced some self flagellation for a bit, but I’ve since then moved past all of that. I’ve seen some speculate that maybe I was using the torture devices as a decoy for my shield, but admittedly I never really thought about it that much. I’m not that smart. Since then however, I have toyed with the idea of a “decoy shield” in case another Stephanie ever comes along.

On that note, I just want to say that Stephanie Chung was an even worse person than Kaylee. Her relationship with John was never as good as he portrays it in his version of events. They did date, on and off, and he did love her, but her treatment of him was abusive at times. I sincerely doubt that they ever actually had sexual intercourse, despite what he may have said; although to be fair I can attest to the fact that the night she vanished, she did in fact threaten me with his gun when she came to my apartment, and it wouldn’t surprise at all me if she did sleep with him that night just to get her hands on it.

As for why his story contained no traces of her using any of the special abilities, or to the app menus, she likely hid it all from him. I’m not sure what her “shield” item may have been, or if one ever even presented itself to her, although I do have my suspicions.

Her problem may have even been as simple as her not having a data plan, or a cellular phone that was advanced enough.

Whatever the reason may be, the only method she ever used to extend her time was the practice of sending the “message” out to more people, and this method quickly ran her out of time. As John noted, she did it all at once, without either of us knowing, and never interacted with her victims in the way that Kaylee did with me, so none of them ever even saw it coming. If any of them got the game “app”, they must have just written it off as a glitch like I did.

In the end, suffice it to say she got exactly what she deserved.

Nevertheless, the whole affair served as something of an eye opener to me. I realized new dangers that the game posed to me and, frankly, the fabric of society. Starlov and I have begun devoting a great deal of our time to attempting to understand the game; if it’s possible to quit it or end it, or what it means, where it came from, why it exists. On most of these fronts, we’ve yet to turn up anything. However, we did discover something about the third function on the app’s main menu. What we had both thought was a string of meaningless text actually has a pattern to it. The symbols recycle themselves over and over again, and each time that they complete a full cycle, they get smaller.

It’s a countdown, ticking away inexorably towards some event.

As of this time, we do not have any evidence as to what that may be.

Jason “Rotten” Rademacher

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