Into the Woods (Short Story)

Everyone’s aware of those schemes that you receive via email, texts, and calls, usually saying something like: “Congrats! You won…”. My short story takes a look at that idea, except with a futuristic twist, and a much more negative consequence than getting a virus on your computer or taking your money. “Into the Woods” is inspired by Ray Bradbury‘s short storyThe Veldt“, and is sort of a sequel, looking at what I think Peter and Wendy are doing after their original story ended. This short story demonstrates my understanding of mood, tone, and connotation from the standards, in addition to being connected to the short story unit. Other standards my short story exhibit are my ability to analyze the ideas an author is conveying, along with determining meanings of words in the text. There is also allusion, as Michael is a child from the Darling family in Peter Pan, which is where the names Peter and Wendy come from.

I mainly showed the figurative language standard of mood, tone and connotation in my description of the ‘creepy woods’ in the nursery. To give the effect of eeriness, I used certain words that had a more negative connotation, such as, “A heavy layer of mist crept in, slinking through and trees slimily, casting what little you could see in a murky, hazy cloud”. In that example, I used words like “slimily” and “murky” to add to the scary mood and give the effect of a more gloomy tone. For the second standard, I used what I thought were themes from “The Veldt” in my story, like how technology makes our lives so easy (e.g. the automated house, the car that drives itself), to the point where it can control you. In my story, the antagonists are Peter and Wendy, but essentially the technology kills Michael, as Peter and Wendy use their computerized voices to speak to him, contact him with his house’s advanced computer system, drive him to the HappyLife Home with his own car, and, in the end, use the house’s nursery to kill him.

Michael tapped on the mail icon with it’s little red circle and a white number one in the middle which had appeared in the corner, the screen of his wall emitting a harsh unnatural blue-white glare that illuminated his face and cast light upon the most simple set of the expensive and advanced technology-fueled and robot-controlled furnishings that occupied homes all over the country now — everything for one person. A house that did all his chores and looked after him, yet it wasn’t enough. A blinding white suddenly filled the screen, making Michael flinch involuntarily. Black letters typed themselves in, scrolling down on their own without Michael having  to lift a finger. It read: “Congratulations for winning the lucky draw! You have been selected out of millions to be the lucky owner of the newest model of our HappyLife Home as part of a trial experiment HappyLife Co. is conducting, effective today. Complete with additions of smarter robots that can now complete tasks based on readings of your actions and thoughts to suit your individual preferences, all incorporated in an interactive room that can mimic any environment you like. Be the first one to experience these new updates by entering this code into the automatic GPS scanner of your personal vehicle, which will then take you directly to your brand new HappyLife Home!” An automated voice came out of the speakers embedded in the walls of Michael’s home: “Message will self-destruct in one minute. Please make sure to enter the code and leave your residence before the allotted time slot ends.”

Michael stood absolutely still for a few seconds, frozen in shock. He was startled into awareness  as he heard the voice continue: “Countdown begins now. 60, 59, 58…”

So completely surprised, he clung on to the last direction he had heard and raced out to his personal vehicle, hurriedly typing in the code. In the distance, he could still hear the countdown: “7, 6, 5…”

As he climbed out of his car and slowly turned back towards his house, a sudden large boom shook the ground, and he watched in horror as his home exploded in a cloud of fire and smoke, a brief, bright flame in the dark night. In a daze of disbelief, he stepped back into the only thing he had left in the world and sunk into the seat, reliving the last few minutes that had completely changed his life and set his future on a new course, not evennoticing as his vehicle smoothly started rolling forward, following the directions of the code he had just entered.

Michael jolted out of his stupor when he felt the gravel crunching underneath the wheels and the subtle jerk as the vehicle pulled up to in front of what looked like a looming, enormous house that seemed to glower at him in the night. He stepped hesitantly onto the gravel, walking tentatively towards the grand silver door that slid open smoothly and silently as he neared it. As he nervously crossed the threshold, the door whooshed back into place behind him and a warm light suddenly filled the room from an invisible source, illuminating a magnificent room. Michael stared like a blind man seeing the sun for the first time, gazing at the newest, state-of-the-art technology decking out the impressive house. Everything was glisteningly new, twinkling and reflecting Michael’s dumfounded expression back at him. All the basic things that had been in Michael’s house, like the kitchen robots, cleaning technicians and mechanical butlers were there, just better. It was like an entirely upgraded version of Michael’s house had been made with everything exactly the same, down to the position of each individual floorboard and the holograms on the walls.

Taken aback by the precision of the invisible architect, Michael scampered from the main room, only to be greeted by a staircase leading upwards. Since his home had had no second floor, he eagerly took this chance to leave the eerily similar first floor. The only thing Michael could hear was the deep, even pants of his own breath as each foot sunk into each carpeted step of the plush staircase. Inhale, left foot. Exhale, right foot. Though the house was full of animated robots that acted as if they were humans, they really were just wires and batteries encased in gleaming silver shells that were currently not shut off downstairs. This entire experience had been so deeply unsettling, right from the start  till now not a single human being had come into contact with Michael — even the voice that had informed him of this prize had been one of a robot. Finishing his trek up the winding staircase, Michael realized all it led to was a single room.

Though it was a giant room, it was empty. Blank walls on four sides and a thatched floor. Michael warily stepped in, then all of sudden lights shot open and he was blasted by the startling whiteness. As his eyes adjusted to the brightness, the same automated voice from before spoke out of the walls: “Hello, Michael. We hope you’ve been enjoying your new home so far.”

“How do you even know my name? Who are you? Why’d you blow up down my house? What even is this place and why am I here?”, Michael yelled out at the invisible speaker.   

The voice faltered for a second, then continued on as if nothing had happened: “The room you’re standing in is our new interactive room as previously mentioned in the introductory informational newsletter.”

“What do you mean ‘introductory informational newsletter’? You made my house explode and then shipped me off to an exact copy of it without a single person to tell me what’s going on! How’d you know what my house even looks like? And seriously, who are you?”

The voice resumed its speech, this time with an irritated tone to it: “Further interruptions will not be tolerated. As mentioned earlier, this room is a special interactive technology the workers of HappyLife Co. have created that will soon be released to the general public. To ensure there are no faults, we would like you test it. It will read your thoughts,  creating an environment based on them. As this invention is still in the testing process, HappyLife Co. would like to warn you that any and all incidents that may occur are at the risk and responsibly of the individual person. Goodbyeandenjoy.” The speaker hastily finished talking, then it was silence again.

“What do you mean by incidents! Hey, come ba—” Michael was cut off when the walls suddenly sprang to life…

A strip of glowing moon sneaked through the branches, illuminating the beaten trail stretching out into the vast darkness. Frigid wind swept past, a bitter chill rustling the few dry leaves still clinging onto the arms of the monstrous trees. Then silence. The gloomy limbs swayed, almost as if beckoning out towards any unfortunate soul who happened to chance upon them, as if ready to grab you. The trees were dressed in shadows, looming out with their gaping black smirks. The forest seemed to never end; towering silhouettes shadowing the ground, the starless sky circling overhead, and screams echoing through the wind.

Michael stared at walls as if hypnotized. He stretched out a hand, the distance between fingers and the wall lessening until he was a fraction of a millimeter away. Then, he touched it. In the time it takes for a lion to pounce on its prey, he was in the woods.

Wails, whispers and moans of the dead floated in the breeze. The souls of the animals and people who had been here before screamed their silent screams with each gust of wind. The complete absence of life in the barren woods, without a single living being making a sound, was unsettling for Michael. Then, up ahead on the trail, a stream of moonlight shifted and shone onto the ground, exposing something that had lay hidden in the shadows up until now — a dying deer lay on its side, her throat slit, fresh blood bubbling out. She struggled to look up, the luminescent moon the last thing she saw before closing her eyes for the last and final time. It suddenly seemed like there was an invisible killer haunting the woods, hiding among the shadows, ready to pounce onto it’s next poor victim, and it seemed like the only living one left was Michael.

The shadows grew longer, the darkness sweeping over everything.  The moonlight’s cruel rays frowned down, catching hold of the skeletal trees, bathing them in an eerie, silver light. The thickness of the menacing darkness seemed to be too much for any sort of life other than the sinister trees, hiding among the shadows. A heavy layer of mist crept in, slinking through and trees slimily, casting what little you could see in a murky, hazy cloud. A wolf let loose a desperate cry in the distance — at last there was a sign of life, a sign that there was hope for Michael. That is until it was abruptly cut off in the middle and it was silence once again. The malevolent presence made Michael shiver as an ever thicker cloud of fog descended upon the dilapidated path he was standing on. Dead leaves crunched, a muffled shriek sounded, then the sickening splatter of something wet and warm. Then the fog cleared, leaving behind an empty path. The moon continued its harsh glare, the bitter wind raked past the bare branches again, waiting for the next unlucky soul. Anyone and everyone was prey in those woods.

The walls had suddenly become blank again. The lights of the mysterious room flickered off, and everything was still and quiet in the Happy Life Home. But far, far, away you could still hear the echoes of that haunted woods. A girl’s automated voice clicked on, “Peter, you’ll have to mail out another of those congratulatory things again. Humans are so gullible aren’t they? ‘HappyLife Co.’ — as if!

Another voice, this time the one that had spoken to Michael:  “Annoying things. That one was particularly obnoxious — but then again, that makes the ending so much more fun. Wonder if one of them will ever catch on that we don’t even have a body anymore. I sometimes miss it, though, you know, not being made of flesh and blood anymore makes life so much more worth living. This way it’s a lot harder to get rid of us too — we’ll never die so long as this house doesn’t. We’ll never be locked out of the nursery again.”

Somewhere, far away in another shabby small house, a little red circle with a white number one appeared on a different mail icon.

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