In The Ether

Jenna hit the pause button on the control pad and checked her watch.

It was 1:35 am.

She had been sprawled on the sofa for at least five hours now, a red fleece blanket draped over her legs.  Dropping the wireless pad onto the carpet, she twisted her body and leaned over to the coffee table.  A half empty bottle of coke sat on the table, which she grabbed hold of, untwisted the lid, and gulped down the sugary liquid.

Mmm, caffine and sugar. The perfect fix for any late night gameplay session.

Returning the bottle to its resting place on the table, she picked up the control pad again, and unpaused the game.

She never got tired of playing games like Project Zero, no matter that they always scared the crap out her, the exhilaration was too much of a draw.

Almost instantly the pad began to vibrate, indicating that a ghost was about to come one screen and try to tear a piece out of her.  She hit the button to flip the view into camera-mode, and began to scan the screen.

There!

A creepy, long-haired specter flickered in and out of focus, crawling erratically towards her.

Huh, straight out of  Japanese horror film.  Still cool as hell though.

After playing the game so many times, and saving all of the upgrades, Jenna had built the camera obscura up to be a ghost-busting monster.  She quickly trapped the vengeful spirit in record time.

"See-ya!" she crowed at the television.

The buzzing sound of her mobile phone ringing drew her attention.  Pausing the game again, Jenna felt around on the floor next to the sofa, until her hand touched the cold plastic of the phone.  Bringing the device up to eye level, she examined the glowing blue caller display screen.

She hit the button to answer.  "Hey girl.  What can I do for you at this abnormal hour of night?"

At the other end of the line she heard Laura laugh.  "It's only abnormal to people who go to bed at sensible hours.  Which, incidentally, rules us completely out."

Jenna smiled to herself.  It was good hearing from Laura, especially after what had happened with Andrew.  Losing a friend definitely helped to remind you how important your remaining ones were.  It was sad really, that she cherished her friends so much more now, but at the same time she was glad that they had been brought closer together.

"Yeah, sensible doesn't really crop in my daily routine very often." she said.  "So, what up hun? You okay?"

Laura sighed, a long drawn-out sound.  "I just wanted to hear a friendly voice, you know?  I think I've just got the witching-hour blues or something.  Too quiet outside my bedroom window,  too much time to think about . . . things."

Feeling a lump trying to form in her throat, Jenna took a deep breath before speaking again.  Getting all teary was not what she wanted to do, it would just mean another night of crying herself to sleep later.  Besides, it must be even worse for Laura.  She had been so devastated when she heard the news of Andrew's death; just kept saying that she had only spoken to him the other day.  In a way, Jenna supposed that was how it felt for all of them really.  You don't expect to lose a friend so suddenly, it does feel as though they were only in the room with you five minutes ago, and then they're gone.

"I know what you mean." She paused to take another steadying breath.  "I've been kind of avoiding the concept of sleep for a few days.  Don't want to have to face bad dreams and all that.  Hence, lots of caffine, lots of chocolate and a marathon Xbox session."

"Project Zero by any chance?" asked Laura.

"You know it girl.  So, are we still on for the gang getting together Saturday night at yours?"

"Absolutely."  There was definite relief in her voice when Laura spoke.

She must have been worried that we were going to cancel.  Probably doesn't want to spend a weekend alone.

Jenna rana hand through her hair and stretched.  "Awesome, I can't wait.  Look, I better go and try to peel my brain from off the ceiling and get at least some sleep.  I have a feeling we won't be getting much at the weekend."

"Sounds like a plan.  You play too much of that game, I am just waiting for the acid-style flashbacks to start."  Laura laughed.  "Okay, well, I'm going to drink some hot milk or something and try to hit the hay myself."

"I will see you on Saturday then.  Goodnight hun."

"Sweet dreams."

There was a faint click on the other end of the line as Laura hung up.  Jenna stared at the silent phone in her hand for a moment, and then tossed it down by her feet at the end of the sofa.

She was far too wired to sleep, but maybe she had overplayed the whole survival horror angle for one night.  Saving her game, she logged out to the main screen.  Just as she was about to exit all together, she decided to quickly log onto Xbox Live and see if any of her on-line friends were about.

The screen changed, and the list of users logged on appeared.  It was the name fourth from the top that made her gasp.

Andrew.

He can't be logged on.  Even if he had left his console on, his parents or someone would have switched it of by now.

It was creepy.  Seeing his name there, floating in the ether, like a bizarre spirit trapped in cyber limbo.

Okay, you definitely play way too many horror games.  But still . . .

Jenna couldn't help but wonder, how many of the names on her screen belonged to actual living gamers.  And how many might belong to dead ones?

The End

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