I didn’t expect to be woken up at such an unholy hour on the only Saturday off work I’d had in months. And yet, here I am on the first weekend of spring break, sitting in my bed at 4:30 AM with my glasses on upside down, groggily checking the fifteen, loud, text message notifications that have ruined all my hopes for sleeping in.
Two are from my Chemistry partner asking for examples of ionic bonds for our project due the Friday after we get back, and the other thirteen, of course, are from my friend Rory. Rory, as lovable as he is, has a tendency to overdo everything, whether it be how much coffee he drinks or the number of texts he sends.
It might just be the fact that he almost never combines all of his thoughts into one text, because thirteen is barely anything compared to some days (Just imagine me forgetting to turn down my phone in Geometry and having eighty-five, grating “ping” sounds slaughter the beautiful silence for thirty seconds; AKA: four hours-worth of Saturday detention for the both of us). I wonder what’s important enough to interrupt my well-deserved rest.
Rory: dUDE IT’S HERE.
Rory: TODAY IS THE DAY!
Rory: wWWWAKE UUUUUP OLIVER!
Rory: THIS IS EXCITING STUFF COME ONNNNNNNN!!!!!!!
Rory: COME ON BUD REPLY SO I KNOW YOU’RE AWAKE
Rory: O L I V E R
Rory: OLIVER HARRIS TRETZ WAKE THE H E CK UP OR I’M COMING OVER THERE AND POURING COLD WATER ON YOUR FACE
Rory: W A K E U P
Oliver: OH MY GOD RORY IT’S 4:30 IN THE MORNING WHAT DO YOU WANT
Rory: and wait, you do know what day it is, right?
Oliver: It’s March 22nd. Also known as the ONLY DAY OFF I’VE HAD IN LITERAL MONTHS.
Rory: Well, duh it’s the 22nd. But no seriously didn’t you get the email?
Oliver: Jesus, Rory, What email?! I haven’t gotten any for three weeks!
Rory: It’s probably in your spam box.
Rory: I guess lots of people our age around here got it and it’s kinda blowing up online.
Ia sit down at my desk across the room, turn on my light, and open my laptop, the bright white of the screen hurting my eyes for a second. I log onto my email and open the spam box. Sure enough, there is a single message. Its subject line is “ナH˝¡ ഽ 工$ 4 ¥∅Ü” I send a text to Rory again.
Oliver: There’s one there with the subject line ‘This is for you’ in a bunch of weird symbols. Kinda creepy if you ask me. Is that it?
Rory: YEAH OPEN IT
I click the email, and it opens to a painfully cyan-colored message with bold, black text. I have to squint to read it, feeling my eyes are beginning to water. The message reads:
you Might be wondering who this messAge Is supposed to be foR. to put it as simpLy as i Can, tHis is for you. all of you. all of you TWo-hundred wondErful people out there lookiNg To be happY. to achieve your goals. to have a better life. it Sounds impossiblE, but it isn’t. it never was. there is a way that you Can fit in with the crOwd. that you caN live your Dreams. all you have to do is believe.
5:00 AM CENTRAL
If this is phishing I swear to god… I think, calling Rory so I can make sure I’m not going insane.
“DID YA LOOK AT IT?” Rory whisper-shouts into the phone, making me wince.
“Tone it down a notch, dude. You’re practically making my ears bleed!” I hiss under my breath, knowing my parents are both still asleep down the hall.
“Sorry, sorry. Click the link.”
“Yeah, the link at the bottom, it’s to an unlisted live stream that’s been going for almost the whole month inside a dark bedroom without anything happening.”
“That’s real freaking shady.” I rub my eyes and click the link. It pulls up a youtube stream whose chat is exploding with excited users.
“But lots of the people who got the email and opened the link are thinking that on March 22nd at 5 AM Central time, something will happen on the stream that will further explain what this whole thing means.”
“So that’s why you woke me up? One of your nerdy, spooky, technological thrillers come to life again?” I retort.
“Oh, come on Oliver—” Rory scoffs.
“Kidding! It sounds kinda cool this time.” I glance at the clock over my door: 4:50, a mere ten minutes to wait before something is said to happen.”What do you think this whole thing is about? The whole “Live your dreams” stuff that person was talking about.”
“Nobody knows, but like, some are saying it might be a contest like the one in NERVE, y’know?”
“Well from my single semester of French class I know souhait means wish, so I guess whoever it is is like, obsessed with making wishes and dreams come true. I also know I’m never taking French again.”
“So you’re sayin’ like, Make a Wish for kids who don’t have terminal illnesses?”
“Maybe. Or they’re descendant of Disney and want everyone to go to Disney World.” I mention, not noticing how stupid that sounds until right after it leaves my mouth.
“Most likely not the latter.”
I scroll through my Twitter, Rory on speaker, and notice how there are a lot of tweets with #souhait and #souhaitemail on my feed. I don’t question it, though. I know I just heard about it fifteen minutes ago, but I kinda want to know what this thing is about.
“It’s 4:55, I’ve downed six— no, seven Starbucks mocha lattes, and I didn’t sleep at all last night. I’m prepared.” Rory blurts out.
“Don’t make me jealous again that you get to drink coffee.” I jokingly remind him.
“Oh, darn, right. You gotta keep your blood sugar down. Sorry.”
“Nah, it’s not a big deal. It’s for my own good, anyway. And it saves me money since I’m not obsessed with expensive coffee store coffee..”
4:57. Three minutes. I can feel my eyelids shutting ever so slowly, so I go to hold them open, which pushes my glasses up onto my forehead. This is the next best thing to try and keep me awake since caffeine is out of the question.
There are almost two hundred people watching the stream. That’s not a lot, but the number of comments they are posting gives me no other choice than to mute the live chat to keep the page from crashing.
I connect my phone to my laptop's Bluetooth and plug in my headphones so I hear the stream and can continue to talk to Rory at the same time.
I hear a door open in the background of the video, and Rory excitedly says something incomprehensible from his end of the conversation. An odd shape, a person, enters the dark room and crosses the screen. There is a shuffling of papers and a phlegmy cough from off screen. The person returns and sits down in front of the camera, their face almost a full silhouette in the dark.
A desk lamp clicks on, revealing the face of a white man in his mid-30s. His eyes are almost completely blue, with a small section of one being a bold green, and his hair, an astonishingly dark brown, is in a medium length crew cut. He has ill-defined cheekbones framed with a short stubble beard, and his lips are pale and thin.
The man leans on one elbow, runs a hand over his mouth, and mutters, his voice unexpectedly high pitched, “Almost two hundred… that's pretty good…” Turning back to the camera, he licks his lips and takes a deep breath.
“Hello everyone. I can see you all figured out the little email.” He smiles, his teeth a gleaming white. “You're probably wondering what all of this is supposed to mean. And who I am”
“I-is that him?” Rory gasps into the phone.
“I don't know. Probably?” I whisper back, eyeing every little detail on the man’s face.
He speaks up again, “Well… this is a pretty informal introduction, but you are welcome to call me whatever you want.
Some call me The Crow, some call me Shady Guy From the Dark Web, and some even call me the Middle-Aged Hipster Blogger Without a Man Bun. While I don't really mind any of these nicknames, I do prefer to be called something specific: Souhait.
“OH, YES, IT'S HIM! YESYESYESYES!” Rory sounds like he’s hyperventilating, which usually doesn't end up good for him, but I'm not gonna stop him from being excited.
“Now that we know each other, let me ask you something.” He says. I lean closer to the screen, listening attentively.
“What if I told you… that there is a way to make your dreams come true. To make your life happier.
“You want fame and fortune? Boom. Yours. You want to go to a fancy college across the ocean? Pack up your things, kid, because you're getting full ride.
“Anyway, if I told you that there was a way, would you capture it, or just let it slip?”
“Oh my god, is he quoting Eminem?” I snicker.
“I think he's trying,” Rory responds.
“Now, I know what you're thinking: ‘Oh, he sounds like a Disney villain all, “Join me and you can be greater than you ever were!”’ or whatever. But I can assure you that this all is one hundred percent legal and that I'm not fudging any of it.” Souhait puts his hands together like he's praying and presses them up against his thin lips.
“You're now probably thinking: ‘Okay, so I won't necessarily get arrested. But how will this Souhait guy make my dreams come true?’ My answer to that is a game. A game of trials and triumphs. A game of challenges and puzzles. A game of things to find and things that are better off lost. A game of my own invention. A game that I like to call: SØMNIUM.”
The word SØMNIUM flashes in neon green on the top of the screen. “It'll take me far too long to explain all the nuances of this game, so I'm going to turn this stream over my little friend for a minute so they can explain it for you.”
Souhait’s face disappears as another video pops up, SØMNIUM once again in green in the middle of the black screen.
A robotic, androgynous voice breaks the silence, “Welcome to SØMNIUM: a week-long, multiplayer scavenger hunt.”
“You will be teamed up with two to four other players near your area and will be tasked with completing small quests and finding items at various landmarks and locations across the upper half of the central time zone, and possibly in the mountain and eastern time zones.” The screen glitches a few times and then switches to a pink map of the Midwest. Small pinpoints begin to pop up in random spots on the map. “Each team has seven days to find all eight items.” A green graphic of a calendar week appears, and inside each box, a fuschia X pops up.
A cyan graphic of a map replaces the prior, a little trail of dashes going from a single point to a bold, red X. “Each item will give you a piece of the clue to where the last item is hidden, and then to where The Ultimate Prize awaits.
“What The Ultimate Prize will reward is up to the discretion of the winners. This prize is not a certificate or a handshake and a check for $100. Unless you want it to be. This prize entitles each member of the winning team a chance to fulfill their greatest desire.”
“DUDE, DID YOU HEAR THAT?!” Rory and I say in unison. I hold my breath, thinking I heard my parents’ bedroom door opening, but it turns out to be nothing more than my imagination.
Souhait reappears on the screen as the video ends, looking very content with himself. “Now that you know…” he smiles, pointing to the top of the screen. Another website link pops up at the top, flashing. “Go.”
Just as the sound of “go” exits his mouth, the stream ends, and the screen instantly goes black.
“Wait, it’s done?” I ask the obvious.
“Did you get the link?” Rory asks, a subtle hint of panic in his voice.
“No, but since the stream is over it's probably just a regular video that you can scroll through.”
“Or maybe the link’s in the description.”
I click the drop down arrow to open the description, and I’m surprised by what I find. “Or the link is the description.” The link to the site has been repeatedly copy-pasted a hundred or so times, which fills up at least twenty lines of the description text.
“This guy sure has a love for the excessive.” Rory retorts. “Aight, I'm on. You?”
“Just a minute.” I hesitate. What if this is all a sham? I mean, anyone can lie on the internet, right? My sister lied about her age to get a Facebook accou—
I click the link hard, feeling the left button of my mouse almost crunch under the pressure from my finger.
The site pops up, and, in the same manner as the email, is bold, bright, and hurts to look at. What is it with these colors? In the center of the page is another video, just a regular one this time. I hit play, and Souhait appears once again.
“Lovely, you made it! This video is pre-recorded, but it is just here for the purpose of instructing you on the most basic do’s and don’ts of the game.” He speaks more quickly than before, as if he is in a hurry to go somewhere. “More specific information will be revealed if you agree to play. Now, let’s turn things over to my friend again, shall we?”
The voice lists off a bunch of things you can and can’t do, most of them being pretty obvious. I scribble them down onto a page in a notebook:
Injure and/or kill any player, including yourself.
Ask a player to injure and/or kill another player and/or yourself.
Tell a player to injure and/or kill themself.
Commit any crimes punishable by law.
(If your team wins) asking for yourself, your teammate/s, another team or specific player, to be injured and/or killed.
drink, abuse substances, and other things that kids should definitely not be doing.
Make sure you feed yourself.
If it’s not dangerous and/or illegal, go for it.
The video ends, and a black window pops up, blocking out most of the neon screen. It says “Do you want to play?” in a much subtler shade of orange, with two buttons underneath saying “Accept” and “Decline.”
Rory speaks, startling me. I almost forgot we were on the phone. “Did you accept? I did and now it says that my team is being decided.”
“I don’t know if it’s safe to accept an invitation to a game from a guy who calls a computer-generated voice his friend…” I mention.
“You know that it’d be creepier if he named it.”
“That’s true.” I admit, clicking “Accept”. Right as I do, another screen pops up, and a different voice, a more feminine-sounding one, speaks.
“Welcome to SØMNIUM, Oliver Tretz. You’ve been assigned as leader of Team Aquamarine. Your fully insured vehicle, along with an official list of your team members, a box of supplies, and further instructions, will arrive at your current coordinates at 8 AM Central Time. Good luck!”
“Oliver, we’re on the same team!” Rory cheers.
“And I guess I’m getting a car!”