Adam locked his borrowed bicycle to the viewpoint bench and sat cross-legged on the smooth wood, facing the ocean. Another beautiful morning; they always were. The sky held a pastel promise of dawn—pale violet fading to salmon pinks, burgeoning orange on the horizon. Fluffy clouds floated over the scene, and a magpie’s sweet song chortled from the base of the hill. The perfect sunrise.
Opening his backpack, Adam selected a Polaroid camera. Typical of the game’s creator to require the most common item alongside the rarest. He’d had to forum-search and trade hints about other quests to determine that the means of transport to the viewpoint was as important as the location. Hence the lock. He couldn’t risk another player swiping the bicycle before he completed this final Easter egg.
A clock showed real-world time in his upper screen, shaving seconds into the sea as he waited for the sun. He’d both longed for and dreaded this moment. In finding the creator’s name, Adam would be the first player to complete the global virtual reality phenomenon called Hikari—‘light’—the worldbuilding game that turned anyone into an artist.
It had only taken him a thousand hours or so.
Far below him, virtual waves eroded virtual granite rocks. The cryptic teaser ran through his mind once more.
We ride on borrowed time.
Patient ocean wears us down.
Light will take the night.
A flash reveals a name.
Adam ticked off his list: borrowed bicycle, coastal viewpoint, daybreak, camera. For six days now he’d logged in at this time and place, with six different methods to capture the sunrise. He’d tried sketching, both freehand and with a stylus; he’d painted the digital dawn. His creations proved how far he’d come. But he’d found no flash, no name.
He fiddled with the camera. This had to be it.
A streak of gold painted the bench where his white sneakers rested. Another beam joined, then another, and he raised the camera to his eye as the horizon ruptured. Light poured forth. His finger held the button, ready to depress. But then a breeze brushed the hairs on his neck. The magpie’s song paused, the susurrus of waves continued. He smelled dew-kissed leaves; tasted salt.
A memory from childhood, not part of the VR experience.
Adam hesitated, and lowered the Polaroid. He’d been so intent on capturing colour, he’d forgotten that other elements made an ocean sunrise. Nostalgia swept his heart. What was he doing here, looking for a signature in someone else’s creation? Hikari had taught him how to capture his own interpretation of the world. But what world could he create, if he never lived in reality?
He unlocked the bicycle, emptied his backpack, and logged out.
A flash of light appeared on the final exit screen.
Thank you for playing. My name is Asisa. I died before this game completed.
If I have one hope, it’s that you treat every sunrise as though it’s your last.
Good luck, artist.
This story was my entry to the Australian Writer’s Centre Furious Fiction January 2021 competition, a fantastic monthly short-story contest of 500 words written to a series of constraints. I hope you enjoyed it, and do check out the winner and runners-up on the link!