Whispers in the dark. Surrounding, caressing, smothering in their black embrace. You have no recollection of who you are or how you arrived in this realm of endless nothing. You are alone within a world of oblivion, a void landscape vacant of any and all defining features. There is no horizon, no sky, no ground. There is only you. You, and the whispers.

Whether they are the voices of malevolent spirits or tortured minds you do not know; you are simply aware that they are calling, calling to you, calling your name in some archaic and long-forgotten tongue.

How did you get here? You do not know. Where is here? You do not know that either. Your mind is a blank slate, occupied by one sole remnant: a name. Your name. You cling to it like a drowning man clutching desolately at a piece of wreckage, tossed about in a malignant sea.

The voices begin to fade, and you feel yourself slipping, slipping, sliding into the white depths of nihility. You grasp feebly at this pitiful excuse for consciousness, but it is like trying to grasp a greased rope. You are slipping, slipping, slipping...

You strut along the worn and scuffed sidewalk of your hometown, hands jammed in your pockets and a pair of headphones pushed into your ears. You walk in time to your music, stepping in a rhythmic pattern with the endless chorus that your iPod is pumping out. Your tennis shoes slap against the pavement as you walk, and you leap carelessly over a long, jagged crack, streaking across the concrete like a scar on the face of a battle-hardened warrior. Step on a crack, break your momma's back, as the saying goes. You chuckle loftily, scoffing at the foolishness of the little ditty.

A school bus, a Twinkie on wheels, rolls past you, and you pause just long enough to tip a sarcastic salute towards the poor souls trapped within the hot, oil-perfumed confines of the metal box on such a beautiful, sunny day as today. It'd be like riding in a friggin' convection oven, you think, and grin. No yellow prison for you. You walk to school at your own pace, taking your own good time. No hurry. After all, you have a math test with Mr. Purdy first period, and you couldn't be bothered with studying for something so trivial as a simple Chapter 9 assessment.

You stop to take a quick peek into the window of that new store that had just opened up. One of those little junkshops where one could procure anything from vintage thimbles to flamingo-themed sunglasses. God's Attic, the sign said. The only item on display is a delicate necklace on a silver chain, with a teardrop shaped emerald set upon a small red velvet cushion. You debate entering the shop and taking a quick look around, but decide against it. You really should be getting to school.

You reach an intersection, and glance both ways before stepping out onto the pavement. You reach the other side and take a quick glance at your watch. 7:06. Now that its getting right down to it, that math test is seeming pretty damn appealing. More so than your mom's reaction if she gets another call about skipping, that is. You take a quick detour down an abandoned side street, tucked between a discount grocery and a little hobby shop where the school's nerdier attendees gather to play D&D on the weekends.

The alleyway seems jarringly silent after the bustling morning hubbub of downtown, and your blaring music seems only to emphasize the quietude rather than alleviate it. A big metal dumpster is leaned against the brick wall of one of the buildings, overflowing with garbage. The pavement here is littered with debris: crumpled newspaper, old candy-wrappers... there is something unsettling about the place, and you feel a slight chill settle over your heart. You feel a deep urge to leave.

You turn to go, but are interrupted by a sharp tug at your ankle. You look down, in shock and horror, to see a disembodied arm poking out from beneath the dumpster, the bony fingers wrapped around the bottom of your pant leg. You feel a mingling of terror and disbelief rise up inside of you, and you know you're going to scream, but no sound comes out, it only catches in your throat, and suddenly you realize you've made your own little Niagara Falls down the side of your leg.

The arm looks as if it had been torn from a zombie in one of those George Romero flicks, with tattered skin fluttering around the bone and bits of cloth still holding onto the half-disappeared flesh. You kick at it frantically, trying to break its death's grip, but it holds fast. The wind, which was before only a pleasant breeze, begins to pick up, tossing up the litter and dirt in an ever-growing cyclone. Your eyes are locked onto the arm, and as you watch, the limb begins to crumble into dust, becoming one with the wind, until finally it has disappeared completely, leaving you standing there, alone, paralyzed with fear and uncertainty as the wind whirls around you, faster, faster, faster still. You see the dust that was the arm floating in the whirlwind like a miniature sandstorm, and to your horror, the dust envelopes you, flying up your nostrils, soiling your mouth, choking you, obscuring your vision, smothering you...

You remember this with the sudden realization of one waking up from a long, dream filled sleep. The whispers are gone, but you almost wish they were back. Anything would be better than this bleak, endless void, stretching out into black infinity, into who knows what Eldritch depths...

The cloying silence is interrupted by an impossibly familiar sound, seeming to exist in incalculable contrast to this alien no-place. It is the ringing or your cellular phone. You fish it out of the pocket of your jeans, amazed that you still have the thing. Your iPod and book bag are, excuse the pun, gone with the wind.

You flip open the phone to see that you have received a new text. You look at the letters for a long time, shining in the blackness like the beacon of a lighthouse painted against the night sky. Though short, this text seems to contain some incomprehensibly profound and horrific meaning.

There, in plain black letters, are these four words:

Welcome to the game.

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